Via Wiki­media Commons

No young con­ser­v­ative would be sur­prised to hear that their opinions are coun­ter­cul­tural or fringe, even unpopular.

Nev­er­theless, many may not have con­sidered that rhetoric — not just the ideas them­selves, but the way they are expressed — pre­clude debate and sincere con­sid­er­ation.

Rare is the man whose mind is changed by another’s pes­simism, con­trar­i­anism, mockery, or irony.

Of course, this usage of objec­tionable rhetoric is is gen­erally not an inten­tional, mali­cious practice, but rather the result of a lack of reflection.

Nos­talgia for the good old days (at Hillsdale, perhaps the days of Aris­totle or C.S. Lewis), pre­dis­poses con­ser­v­a­tives to express their beliefs through accounts that beatify the old and reject the new — all without explaining what exactly made the good old days so good.  

Eva Brann, in her treatise “The Para­doxes of Edu­cation in a Republic,” notes that any project formed based in shared ani­mosity “will soon degen­erate into an exercise in nos­talgia, a sen­timent that unwit­tingly under­scores the loss of a living tra­dition, for nos­talgia lit­erally means return ache, a desire to pass back into the past.”

And mil­lennial con­ser­v­a­tives can likewise vouch that a roman­ticism of the past and con­trar­i­anism toward the future has proven unsuc­cessful in the present attempt to per­suade others to con­sider our beliefs.

Despite fre­quent passing remarks about the death of culture, civ­i­lization, Chris­tianity, the West, or any other such victim of modernity, many young con­ser­v­a­tives do pre­cious little to revive, cherish, con­serve, and pass down these “essen­tials.”

If those on the right firmly believe in the truth of their opinions and hope to per­suade others to share in the same truth, an honest, critical look at con­tem­porary con­ser­v­ative expression and, in turn, a greater effort to match rhetoric with the content of our message is crucial to the success of our project.

We should see this short­coming, then, as an oppor­tunity to return to our aims, and sub­se­quently, an oppor­tunity to recon­sider the most effective methods to employ in com­mu­ni­cating our message.

Recently, an article in Jacobite Mag­azine responded to this issue, indi­cating that the fun­da­mental problem is that young people on the right lack joy — not just in the expres­sions of our posi­tions, but in our lives.

This may seem shocking.

After all, as the author of this piece, Felix Miller, notes, “The right con­sis­tently flaunts shib­bo­leths both in person and online, pulling no punches when mocking the sacred cows of our age. Right-leaning young people are awash with ironic memes that call out the con­tem­porary plagues on Western society with humor.”

He con­cludes, rightly, “But mockery and irony are far cries from true, abiding joy.

Joy is an essential aspect of human flour­ishing, and a posture of mockery and irony is dia­met­ri­cally opposed to the expe­rience of joy.”

This is because joy pro­ceeds not from hatred, but rather, from love and love only.

Accord­ingly, shared ani­mosity cannot serve as the rhetorical basis of any account of pol­itics that live up to the name — for pol­itics is the pursuit of, the love of, a common good.

G. K. Chesterton agrees: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

Most impor­tantly, shared hatred cannot provide a proper foun­dation for any pursuit that leads to joy, to sat­is­faction, to rest.

Our common pur­suits — if to succeed — must be rooted, nour­ished, and pro­pelled by love.

“If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affec­tions in his breast,” Miller aptly infers.

Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cul­ti­vating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Without a primary, pos­itive love of some good in our own indi­vidual lives — and dis­course ordered accord­ingly — any influence we once had on the pol­itics and lives of others will be lost.

In response, Miller advo­cates reviving, in our own lives, a fun­da­mental love of what is good.

This can be done by immersing our­selves in the lived prac­tices that have his­tor­i­cally given shape to our tra­dition: simple com­munal meals, reli­gious practice, or engagement with great lit­erary, artistic, and philo­sophical works.

This return, he asserts, “is not aes­theticism, but com­mu­nally gath­ering around all that is true, good, and beau­tiful.”

And Brann agrees, rec­om­mending a revival, immersion, and con­tin­u­ation of our own tra­dition, since, “the past matters, not as it has gone before, but as it has gone into the present.”

This immersion, prompted by love, pro­duces joy.

And joy allows us to describe our account of con­ser­vatism in terms of the human good — a present, pos­itive aim throughout all of history.

This is the type of rhetoric that compels people to con­sider an alternate position.

An account of con­ser­vatism ­— of the past ­— built upon a shared, pos­itive love of some­thing good, is not opposed to the new nor is it apt to degen­erate into nos­talgia, for it is not an attempt to return to the past.

As Brann asserts, this project “is not nos­talgic, because it does not aim at a return to the past but at its reap­pro­pri­ation for the present.”

Rather, it is directed toward the preser­vation, passing down, and reap­pro­pri­ation of past man­i­fes­ta­tions of goodness, truth, and beauty in the present, perhaps even freeing the present for a new rev­o­lution — lit­erally, a return to begin­nings, like the rev­o­lution of a planet.

And this rev­o­lution would be a joyous one.


Morgan Brown­field is a senior studying pol­itics.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    Dank memes > tgb. Who are these Miller or brann ppl ? I bet they like normie memes