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.