What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism

In Mr. Trump we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said.

.. National identity is the origin of the trust on which political order depends. Such trust does not exist in Libya or Syria. But it exists in America, and the country has no more precious asset than the mutual loyalty that enables the words “we, the people” to resonate with every American, regardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative who utters them.

.. Those first words of the United States Constitution do not refer to all people everywhere. They refer to the people who reside here, in this place and under this rule of law, and who are the guardians and beneficiaries of a shared political inheritance. Grasping that point is the first principle of conservatism.

.. Our political inheritance is not the property of humanity in general but of our country in particular. Unlike liberalism, with its philosophy of abstract human rights, conservatism is based not in a universal doctrine but in a particular tradition, and this point at least the president has grasped.

.. But as Edmund Burke pointed out in one of the founding documents of modern conservatism, his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” we must “reform in order to conserve.”

.. In another of conservatism’s founding documents, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith argued that trade barriers and protections offered to dying industries will not, in the long run, serve the interests of the people. On the contrary, they will lead to an ossified economy that will splinter in the face of competition. President Trump seems not to have grasped this point. His protectionist policies resemble those of postwar socialist governments in Europe, which insulated dysfunctional industries from competition and led not merely to economic stagnation but also to a kind of cultural pessimism that surely goes entirely against the American grain.

.. Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family.

.. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.

The secret to Germany’s happiness and success: Its values are the opposite of Silicon Valley’s

a magnetic 38-year-old named Christian Lindner, has openly expressed a desire to shake things up. In an August interview with the Economist, in which he called Germany’s economy “a prosperity hallucination,” Lindner also explained that in his country, “entrepreneurship has long been undervalued … and societies that are prepared to be more daring and have efficient capital markets have overtaken us on this.”

.. The vast majority of Germans don’t want it. For progressive and even centrist Germans, the startup-style definition of Erfolg (or “success”) is utterly incompatible with their values—which do not center on individual wealth, recognition, or even careers.

.. Germany’s cultural mores—which include a vehement defense of the country’s robust social safety net, largely credited for the relatively quick recovery from last decade’s recession—mean it is largely inoculated from the bootstrap fever that has long gripped the US.

.. In an off-script response to a heckler during a speech about startup culture’s positive attitude toward failure, Lindner memorably decried the fact that “people would rather go into public service than start something themselves.” He explained that, “when you’re successful, you end up in the sights of the social-democratic redistribution apparatus, and when you fail you’re sure to be the subject of mockery and derision.”

Lindner was correct on one point: Many Germans would rather go into public service than start a business themselves. But his theory about their motivation is all wrong. Lindner’s country-people simply don’t have the same enchantment with self-made financial success that he does.

.. Thanks in part to a general leftward tilt on economic issues after the student revolutions of 1968, most of them view the collective good, and the comparatively high taxation that accompanies it not as a sacrifice, but as a fundamental component of civilized society.

.. They are largely content with their take-home salaries, but not out of altruism. Rather, they view the role of wealth acquisition and consumerism in a fundamentally different way.

.. To Germans, caution and frugality are signifiers of great moral character. Sure, they favor high-quality consumer goods—but they deliberate on what to buy for years, and expect their possessions to last for decades

.. Moreover, for Germans, a good work-life balance does not involve unlimited massages and free meals on the corporate campus to encourage 90-hour weeks. Germans not only work 35 hours a week on average—they’re the kind of people who might decide to commute by swimming, simply because it brings them joy.

.. And a German wouldn’t be caught tot pounding down a bar or a glass of Soylent to replace a meal

.. just as Christian Lindner is obsessed with making money and driving sports cars, so have Germans been obsessed with making fun of Christian Lindner because they find his thirst for financial success so gauche.

The Joy Of Traditionalism

Many on the right, especially those who identify as “Alt-Right,” spend massive amounts of time rejoicing in the pain of those with whom they disagree. The fact that videos about “libtard meltdowns” and “Butt-Hurt Crying Hillary Voters Compilation” have far more views than videos about Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dante’s Commedia, should tell us something. Young conservatives and reactionaries, much as they flail their hands at the death of Western civilization and the loss of wisdom, do very little in the way of actually preserving the beauty and truth underlying this great tradition. If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affections in his breast. Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cultivating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.

.. Simply change your habits to help bring friends and family into rituals and ways of life that affirm reality. Host a formal dinner! Go to an art museum! Have a picnic in which you read classic poetry aloud! This is how we can create a sustainable traditionalism in the West.

What I am advocating here is not aestheticism, but communally gathering around all that is true, good, and beautiful. Politics is ordered toward promotion of the common good, thus in order to engage in politics we all must first have a love for the good. We cannot base the rejuvenation of our dying civilization upon a shared animosity, for as Chesterton reminds us, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

.. If I could write The Benedict Option over again, I would have a lot more of this in it.

.. “Nothing we make in this life will be eternal, but we have to build them as if they will be eternal,” Marco continued. “That’s what God wants. If you promise yourself to a woman for a lifetime, that is a way of making the eternal present here in time.”

.. “I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”

Trump’s Warsaw Speech Threw Down the Gauntlet on Western Civilization

Is America just ‘an idea’?

The debate centers on whether American values, however they may be defined, are a legacy of the Western heritage or whether America is “an idea,” as Fallows puts it, that transcends any concept of civilization or the people who created it. Indeed, in the Beinart-Fallows view, merely an overly abundant mention of “the West”’ or “our civilization” constitutes a kind of white nationalism or tribalism.

.. Fallows assaults Trump for giving a speech “that minimized the role of ideals in American identity, and maximized the importance of what he called ‘civilization’ but which boils down to ties of ethnicity and blood.”

.. Trump then identified two other threats to the West—first, “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people”; and second, “powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests”—a veiled reference to Russia.

.. What’s missing is any recognition of—or certainly any manifest appreciation for—the fundamental elements of the Western heritage: the theology of Christianity; Western artistic painting, employing light and shadow to burst throughs space and time; the soaring Baroque music; the Gothic cathedrals with their relentless drive toward space; the penetrating sense of tragedy in literature; the regard for the individual, for freedom, for carefully crafted government, free expression, and free markets.

.. Samuel Huntington of Harvard, hardly an alt-right provocateur, once wrote, “Some Westerners…have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.”

.. It was only recently that commentators such as Beinart and Fallows attacked the Western heritage as an impediment to new arrivals being who they want to be, retaining their own cultural sensibilities and impulses while diminishing America’s through numbers and defiance.

.. There are elements within the West bent on destroying any civilizational consciousness because they don’t consider their civilization to be particularly hallowed.

.. I haven’t looked at Fukuyama’s piece since it appeared but if memory serves, he pretty much nailed it. He didn’t say that with Communism defeated, the world was to be conflict-free, just that liberal democracy no longer faced any serious ideological rivals. Islamic fundamentalism, as an ideology, is not a credible challenger to liberal democracy, not in the industrial world or even in the Islamic world. I’m not saying it doesn’t have followers or isn’t a security threat. But it offers nothing to people who aren’t already Muslims or from that part of the world.

Fukuyama was making a more narrow argument than he’s been credited. That end of history business really threw people off.

.. No one in this debate has claimed that American values are not a legacy of Western heritage. But Jefferson didn’t write “all Western men are created equal.” The Declaration is a universalist statement, even though it comes from a specific culture.

The difference between America and pretty much every other nation on Earth, as American presidents used to say on a regular basis, is that America is the only nation on Earth founded on an idea. France, and Germany, and England, and China, and Poland weren’t founded on ideas; they were founded on the basis of ethnic and linguistic ties. The point that Fallows and Beinart were making is that Trump gave no recognition to that at all.

.. Many Americans, perhaps most, hate to see their national and civilizational heritage coming under attack…

As do I. Trump is an attack on our founding ideals. He holds the values and ethics of Western culture in contempt, as a long lifetime of bad conduct and vicious speech make abundantly clear.

Is it really still necessary, some 80 years later, to forswear any use of the word “will” in discussing politics or geopolitics because of this German film? And, if someone uses the term, is that prima facie evidence of fascistic tendencies?

When a speech contains a (completely false) statement that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive” and ends with “and our civilization will triumph,” it’s entirely legitimate to suspect that dog whistles are being used. Someone as loved by the alt-right as is Trump can’t directly quote from a Nazi propaganda film and be considered innocent of having made a deliberate shout-out to the blut-und-boden crowd.

.. The fundamental flaw of the Fukuyama viewpoint, which has been the Bush/Clinton consensus of “globalization” for the last quarter century, is the fictional belief that Western liberal democracy and free market capitalism can exist and spread, divorced from their cultural and civilizational foundations.

And the primary foundation is Christianity. The ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence would never have come into being, or been taken seriously, without the cultural context of Christian teaching. It was not Thomas Jefferson, but Jesus Christ, who first stated that “all men are created equal”.