This blog is called Antemodernist because I think the term better describes my worldview than “conservative”. That, and having invented a word that means pre-modern and sounds like anti-modernist, all while being the opposite of “postmodern” was too much to resist. Conservative appears everywhere. So far as I’m aware, Antemodernist is unique. For our purposes in this post, I’m more concerned with the former reason I chose the term.
“Conservative” is seemingly straightforward. It means someone who wants to conserve. Or does it mean the opposite of a liberal progressive? It doesn’t matter as much as you might think, because both definitions are void of real substance. If it’s the former, then we still don’t know what is being conserved (much the same problem that Chesterton addressed when he said “Progressive is a comparative for which we have not yet decided the superlative”). If it’s the latter, then it’s merely a raw reactionary movement.
If I were to name these two variations of the word, I’d call someone who wants to conserve a “sentimental conservative” and someone who is the opposite of a liberal progressive an “opposition conservative”. Sentimental conservatism isn’t really a worldview or a political framework of any kind, though. It’s really a disposition, one which I share. Of the two, the one we want to examine further is opposition conservatism.
I once subscribed to over 100 active blogs. I’m not bragging here; I didn’t say I read 100 blogs. I had the unfortunate habit of subscribing to anyone who wrote anything I thought was interesting. Over time, the list grew to impossible size and entire categories – and you know you have too many subscriptions when you need to categorize them – were left unread, sometimes for months. Among the debris was David French’s blog. I didn’t read it much, but the name was fixed in my mind as “mainstream conservative voice”.
Years went by and I forgot about that particular subscription. Then, I read an article about David French’s support for drag queen story hour in local libraries. His reasoning was that “if we tell them they can’t, they can forbid Christians like us from using libraries, too”. I immediately unsubscribed. It was the least I could do.
French is the best example I can conjure of an opposition conservative. French holds positions that twenty years ago would have been considered radical or mainstream left. And yet here he is as a conservative defending same-sex weddings, drag queen story hour, and attacking the mass popular support for Donald Trump; French himself always positioning himself in such a way as to get the most praise for elite liberal media publications*. When I refer to David French for the remainder of this article, it would be fair to imagine all the people like him who fit the description. He simply makes a good foil.
When the left moves as it does ever leftward, French moves left, too, but at a distance. His role in the movement of the Overton Window is to normalize whatever it was the radical left believed 20 years ago and the mainstream left believed 10 years ago. Sure, he opposes what the radical left believes now. He has to. He’s the loyal opposition.
To normalize the old leftist position means there’s some work to do besides regurgitating the sludge of the radical left. You can’t simply say “I now support drag queen story hour because there’s nothing wrong with it”. Even some mainstream liberals think children shouldn’t be sexualized, and French cannot move past them. Normalizing means coming up with conservative reasons to embrace liberal ends. In the case of drag queen story hour, the conservative reason is that we can’t be dictating what beliefs are permitted in public forums and which aren’t, because then our beliefs would be silenced. Of course, classical Christian beliefs are already silenced in public forums. But that isn’t relevant to making the conservative case for liberal ends.
Given all of this, I think it’s appropriate not to see French, etc, as conserving anything. They don’t. They appear conservative when compared to the radical left, but when you watch at a distance for a few years, you see that the whole machine moves as one; the left moves further and further into the abyss and the opposition conservatives try to convince the sentimental conservatives and everyone else that they have nothing to fear; the water is dark and getting deeper, but we can still touch the bottom. There’s nothing to worry about.
Were the battle between opposition conservatives and liberals, there’d be no battle at all. And yet, there is a battle. So what’s going on?
It can’t be explained by the sentimental conservatives. As I said before, that’s more of a disposition than a political movement, and while sentimental conservatives work as an anchor, they have no pulling power of their own. Instead, we have to look to the classical conservative.
I mentioned there were two definitions of conservative above because those are the most common uses of the term that I see, but they aren’t the only ones. There’s also the tradition of Edmund Burke and those who wanted to revive his views in America centuries later like Russel Kirk. But I think the term is broader than these formal incarnations. There may be a better word for it (again, I chose Antemodernist), but there’s a common thread. The classical conservative opposes the Enlightenment and not just out of sentimentality. He has a worldview, hates ideology, and is typically a Christian.
Classical Liberalism and Ideology
What about the classical liberals? That’s a common response when you criticize the Marxist direction of the modern left. I followed James Lindsay on Twitter before the thought police deemed my presence unacceptable (I had dared to suggest capital punishment for a child molester and I must have struck a nerve). Lindsay helped expose the replication crisis in so-called “social science”, and he routinely mocks the radical left and it’s truly stupid tendencies. And yet, despite this shared cause, we didn’t seem to get along.
Lindsay believes that the solution to the dangers of the radical left is to return to classical liberalism. I disagreed, and apparently disagreed too much, too often, because he eventually blocked me. His argument was get back to the same worldview that inevitably became the very same radical left he crusades against today. The poison seeds were there from the start; you need something else.
I mentioned the Enlightenment earlier because it is the clearest demarcation between the modern/liberal view and the pre-modern/conservative view of the world. In the Enlightenment, the world was introduced to a new type of religion: the ideology. Rather than Christianity – which seeks to obey God as He has revealed Himself and which desires to know how the world works and the nature of man so that we can live in accordance with our nature – an ideology is a set of ideas imposed upon reality to which reality is forced to conform at all costs. Some of the early ideological stances of the Enlightenment have become foundational to the modern worldview: complete personal autonomy, the perfectibility of man, complete mastery over nature, the unconstrained pursuit of knowledge, and the smashing of taboos. We don’t even think about these things today; even “conservatives”, as they are called, fully embrace these things.
And yet, the roots of transgenderism, climate change religion, the coronavirus hysteria, same-sex “marriage”, drag queen story hour, Marxism, racial quotas, feminism, and all the other denominations in our stupid modern religion are right there from the beginning. You’ll always end up in the abyss if you start at the Enlightenment, because it replaced a desire to know God with a desire to become like God. It replaced a desire to steward creation with a desire to become lord of creation.
The Enlightenment didn’t arrive in the United States quite as quickly in Europe. When we say that “Europe is further left” when compared to the United States, it’s largely because it has suffered with the terrible philosophy longer than we have, but we’re all dying from the same thing.
Conclusion and Caution
We don’t need classical liberalism. We certainly don’t need opposition conservatives dutifully advancing the radical left.
However, we can’t go back in time either. We can’t return to the reformation era and try to continue on, skipping by the Enlightenment. The only way is forward, and that’s where we have to go.
The Enlightenment is coming to an end. We entered the terminal decline over thirty years ago. Rather than try to repair and rebuild it, we need to be building something else. The parallel economy on Gab is a great example, but it’s not the only one (nor should it be). The exodus from government schools during The Great Hysteria has also helped speed along the demise while building up an alternative.
The real danger is that we might continue to make the same mistakes. It’s more important than ever to build up strong families, churches, and local communities, for men to pursue masculine virtue and rule over their families in a godly and loving way, for families to educate their own children. Most of all, it’s important for religion to be central in our lives. We need to understand that evil is in all our hearts and we need to start with ourselves in this great work of rebuilding civilization. The secular divide is gone. Good riddance, but only if we take the same advantage the radical left has taken under the guise of “secular and neutral”. God never left the public square, but we did. After we get our lives and our households in order, we need to worship and follow Him there, too.
* I don’t know and can’t know the motivations men like David French, Tim Keller, Russell Moore and their seeming love for being quoted by elite liberal media publications like the Atlantic and the New York Times. It could be that they simply want to be loved by people who hate those they ostensibly represent. It could be that really do think they’re accomplishing something good. Regardless, there does seem to be an entire class of “conservative”, both in and out of the church, who think it’s important to be quoted attacking other conservatives. But when you always punch right and never left, you aren’t just getting quoted; you’re steering the ship. It’s hard to believe none of them know this.