Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019

The June slump has hit, as people are less interested in news and politics and going outside.  It’s been a gorgeous few days here in South Carolina.  I left the house Wednesday morning and it was cold.

For non-Southerners, allow me to explain:  here in the Deep South, our only true season is summer, which runs from late March through Thanksgiving.  I’ve seen people mow their lawns a week before Christmas.  If we’re lucky we get a mild summer.  After an oppressively muggy May, a morning in the low 60s is a blessed reprieve here in the Palmetto State.

But talking about the weather is probably why my numbers are down, so I’ll move on to another non-politics-related topic:  my penchant for hustlin’.  Readers know that I have a few gigs running at any time, including private music lessons, adjunct teaching, my History of Conservative Thought summer course, and playing shows.  I also paint classrooms and do sweaty manly maintenance work at my little school when I’m not molding minds.  And while it doesn’t pay anything yet, I’m hoping to get a few bucks for my writing.

But perhaps my favorite side gig is an annual tradition:  my school’s annual Minecraft Camp.  A former school administrator started the camp, and I’ve carried it on for some years now.

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is basically LEGOs in video game form.  The genius creation of programmer Markus Persson, the game places players in a massive sandbox world, with the objective being… anything!  There are no timers (other than a day and night cycle), no goals, and no ending.  Players generate a theoretically endless world from scratch, and proceed to build—craft—their way to civilization (or endless PVP battles).

Players can activate Creative Mode, which allows for endless flights of fancy, with access to every block and resource in the game, or they can play in Survival, which is exactly what it sounds like:  players hide from (or fight) monsters at night, hunt for or grow food, and have to keep their health up.

Minecraft has enjoyed ubiquity since its release in 2011—it’s the best-selling video game of all time—and when we started Minecraft Camp back in the day (I think it was summer 2013 or 2014, but I’m not sure), it was HUGE.  The game has inspired probably tens of thousands of mods, from simple additions like extra monsters or types of blocks, to total conversions that completely rebuild the game’s mechanics.

With the rise of Fortnite a year ago, the game seemed to wane in popularity, but it’s apparently enjoying a resurgence:  our camp was up to twelve Crafters from a low of about four or five last year.  It gets absolutely chaotic at times—like during our final camp PVP battle, and a hectic boss fight against a gigantic, camper-created Creeper named “Creeperzilla,” that saw kids shouting nearly at the top of their lungs with unabashed glee—but it’s also beautiful to see the creativity of young children.  I am constantly amazed to see what they create.

And, let’s face it, there are worse ways to make an extra buck than playing video games with a group of creative eight-to-thirteen-year olds.  It definitely beats raking up old pine straw and spraying Roundup on cracks in the parking lot.

You can check out our camp’s blog here:  https://tbcsminecraft.wordpress.com/

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TBT: Reality Breeds Conservatism

Yesterday’s post, “Conservative Inheritance,” explored the deep grounding of conservatism in hard-won experience.  Rather than existing as an ideology–a framework built upon abstract principles derived in a rationalistic vacuum—per se, conservatism is the product of concrete, empirical observation.

As I’m teaching my summer course, The History of Conservative Thought, I’m delving deeper into this understanding of conservatism.  Last week I wrote about the Russell Kirk’s six characteristics of conservatism, which my students and I discussed (and which they’re writing about for today).  While preparing that lesson, I was struck by the assertion that conservatism is not an ideology.

For so long, I’d been conditioned to think of it that way—and to think of our cultural and political battles as fundamentally ideological.  I still think there is a great deal of truth to that, as the modern Right battles against a progressivism imbued with a Cultural Marxist teleology (apologies, philosophy majors, if I’m misusing that word).  But conservatives must be aware that, by playing by the Left’s rules, we’re implicitly accepting the Left’s frame.

Regardless, all of these ideas and debates were circulating in my mind as I considered this week’s #TBT feature.  I landed, finally, on a piece entitled “Reality Breeds Conservatism” from last June.  The piece is not so much about ideological battles, but about a study (linked below) that argued that fewer risks made people more “liberal”—more willing to take risks—while greater risks made people more “conservative”—less willing to take risks.

Great insights there, Washington Post.  Yeesh.

Anyway, here is June 2018’s “Reality Breeds Conservatism“:

There’s a piece in the Washington Post about how progressives (“liberals,” as the article puts it) and conservatives think differently.  Like many such pieces, it essentially reduces conservatives to being more fearful, and touts that, in the absence of fear, conservatives become liberal.

I don’t entirely disagree with the basic findings of the Yale researchers; beloved Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson makes similar claims.  Peterson argues that progressives are risk-takers, the ones who explore over the mountain or innovate new businesses, while conservatives are the managers (and conservators) of the new institutions that arise from innovation.

Obviously, this basic analysis is a generalization, a reduction that makes it a little easier to understand the world around us.  As such, there are broad exceptions:  we all know conservatives who fight hard in the culture wars, who build new businesses, and who support new ideas or techniques—many at great personal, financial, and political risk.

Meanwhile, progressives politically are still clinging to the same failed ideas that have motivated their policy proscriptions for decades—increasing the minimum wage, expanding the welfare state, pushing identity politics.

That said, the article linked above—which chillingly says “we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals” in the title—points to the fear factor as the key to determining conservative vs. progressive viewpoints.  In doing so, it points to said experiment, which is deeply flawed at its core.

To wit:  researchers conducted an online poll (a bit iffy) of 300 U.S. residents, only 30% of whom were Republicans.  Two-thirds of the survey-takers were women, and 75% were white, with an average age of 35.  This collection isn’t exactly heavy on conservatives to begin with, and it’s unclear who was offered the opportunity to take the survey, which itself has a verysmall sample size.  I’m picturing a group of undergraduate psychology chicks posting a link to a SurveyMonkey survey on Facebook, which is about the amount of rigor I would expect from the “academic” social sciences these days.

Besides the small sample size and lack of diversity, the core flaw is the methodology.  Those surveyed were asked to imagine a scenario in which they were given one of two superpowers:  half were granted the power to fly, the other half granted the power “to be completely safe, invulnerable to any harm.”  The participants then completed the aforementioned survey.

What they found was not all that surprising, although the researchers feign as such:  it turns out that, in the absence of physical harm, conservatives become much more progressive, which—in the context of this study—basically means that they’re more open to people or situations that are different from them, and therefore inherently riskier.

Well, duh—in the absence of objective reality—to be free of any risk of physical harm, broadly-defined—I would partake in all sorts of risky activities that I would be reluctant to attempt when the threat is real.  That’s because I wouldn’t bear the costs of any of those risky actions (and as someone who broke a wrist falling from a ladder last fall, I can say that those costs are very high).

The late Kenneth Minogue wrote an essay in 2001 entitled “The New Epicureans,” in which he pointed out that, historically, only the very wealthy—the aristocratic elites of society—could afford to partake in risky behaviors, things like casual sex, drug abuse, and the like—while the rest of us plebes had to adopt a more Stoical approach to life—avoiding undue risk, living life cleanly and simply, dutifully serving our families and communities.

With broadly-spread wealth and widely-available contraceptives, however, modern chumps can mitigate the risks of a “live fast, die young” lifestyle in the same way ancient elites could—to an extent. What used to be the self-indulgent indolence of a very small group (the hated 1%!) has now become the self-destruction of a majority of modern Westerners.  And, of course, it doesn’t work out well, as most folks don’t have the means to pay for their immoral-but-convenient choices.

While we might be able to avoid more of the consequences of our actions—and, therefore, participate more eagerly in the temptations of a hedonic existence—there are still consequences, often dire ones.  I’ll write about some of these in my upcoming eBook, Values Have Consequences:  Why the West Needs Social Conservatism, but take one lethal example:  abortion.

What could more self-destructive, for more selfish ends, than to snuff out a human life?  Looking at this in the most dispassionately, economic way possible, it boils down to a calculation:  do I buckle down and adopt the Stoic lifestyle necessary to provide for this new life, thereby sacrificing my own personal enjoyment, or do I get rid of this “clump of cells” and avoid the huge costs and time-commitments of childrearing?  The major legal hurdles being removed via the disastrous Roe v. Wade ruling—and in the absence of a deep-rooted moral framework—many women, sadly, have opted for the latter option (which many, sadly, come to regret).

So, yes, if you strip away external costs and the threat of pain, people of any political or temperamental persuasion will indulge in more risk-tasking, for good and for ill, and might be more welcoming of strangers or alternative lifestyles.

But a healthy dose of Stoic skepticism about life is not detrimental.  We should not live our lives in fear, but we should govern sensibly—for example, by enforcing our national borders.  In short, conservatism is rooted profoundly in reality—it responds to real threats, prepares for real dangers, and seeks to build a life that, rather than relying on vague abstractions, grows organically from the nature of things as they are.

***

One final note:  the study found that, when witnessing acts of physical violence or hearing about one group or another causing trouble, liberals will become more conservative, even if temporarily.  This was true of the original “neocons” in the 1960s and 1970s, who were “mugged by reality.”

I believe it also holds true for those soft-liberals and centrists who saw the electoral chicanery, cultural division, racialized politics, and violent tactics of the Left in the 2016 election; having been “mugged” once again, they voted for a safety and reform.

Thank God Trump is a risk-taker.

Conservative Inheritance

In 1950, literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in The Liberal Imagination (PDF) the following about conservatism, which he viewed as being virtually extinct following the Second World War:

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas, but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

It’s probably the most frequently cited quotation from a liberal among conservatives, because it did, in 1950, offer a practical assessment for the state of conservatism in the United States.  The twin struggles of the Great Depression and the war led to a triumph of what Russell Kirk called “Rooseveltian liberalism,” which sought to use the power of the government to address economic problems.  With the defeat of Nazism and Japanese imperialism, and entering the long Cold War with the Soviet Union, Americans placed great faith in the ability of their government to solve basic problems.

Indeed, the experience of conservatism since the Second World War has largely been that of accepting liberalism’s underlying propositions.  “Conservatism,” then, came to be more of reaction to the excesses of liberalism—a tapping of the brakes, not a full stop or reversal—rather than a cogent philosophical and social system on its own.

While that’s a controversial statement with many exceptions—there remained many conservatives, like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who continued to resist Rooseveltian liberalism—consider that the first Republican President since 1932, Dwight Eisenhower, accepted much of the New Deal, and left it virtually intact.  His signature achievement as president, other than ending the Korean War, was to champion the construction of the Interstate Highway System.  That was a worthy undertaking, to be sure, but the legacy of a major Republican president was to spend millions, rather than rolling back the interventionist state.

Since then, conservatism has gone through a number of permutations, many of which I’ll cover throughout my History of Conservative Thought course this summer.  My point here, however, is that conservatism, strictly speaking, cannot exist in the dominant framework of modern liberalism.

I’m not rejecting the tenants of classical liberalism—equality before God, the possession of God-given natural rights, the freedom of association—per se.  But conservatism is an empirical, rather than a rationalistic, endeavor.  Indeed, Russell Kirk argued that conservatism is not an ideology, as such, but the result of millennia of human experience.

Or, as Ted McAllister writes in “Toward a Conservatism of Experience” for RealClearPolicy, “Conservatism is an inheritance, not an ideology.”  He continues:

American conservatism emerged out of our experiences as a self-governing people who love their inherited liberties rather than abstract rights; whose laws have historically emerged out of our norms rather than a specious theory of justice; whose gift for creating and protecting political freedom (the freedom to govern ourselves, our communities, our associations) has served as the primary obstacle to the relentless drive toward an egalitarian administrative state.

McAllister’s essay—which is really a book review of Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed—makes a compelling case for a conservatism based not on metaphysical abstractions but on the “discovery, articulation, and defense of a reality we experience and of affections formed long before we needed to defend them.”  McAllister argues that conservatism had to adopt a more universal, ideological paradigm during the Cold War to face the major existential threat of international communism, but should return the localized, particularized forms of organic social arrangements America enjoyed prior to 1945.

Part and parcel to this restoration is a rejection of democracy’s excesses.  McAllister writes that “democratic culture overindulges a love of equality and abstract moral truths,” that it encourages a leveling of all people into bland masses and, paradoxically, hyper-atomistic individuals.  In such a culture, perverse individualism separates Americans from their communities and their heritage.  Instead, our churches, schools, social clubs, and other institutions have fallen prey to progressive ideologues, rather than serving as the glue that binds society together.

There’s a lot to chew on in McAllister’s review.  Permit me one more extended quotation:

American conservatism is rooted in inheritance, in the rough guidance of experience over abstract idealism, and in the protection of the pluralism found in voluntary association and in self-governing communities. This is why something profoundly American is lost when conservatives embrace abstraction and universal slogans in their struggle with either liberalism or progressivism….

Suffice it to say that today we lack a strong and traditionally conservative intellectual — and specifically academic — class. The easiest measure of this weakness is found in both the number and the intellectual range of conservative academics. Of particular importance here is the dearth of conservatives in the humanities. Indeed, the number of conservative scholars devoted to such studies as philology, literature, theology, philosophy, and history as well as themes such as imagination, beauty, and truth, has dwindled both in raw numbers and as a percentage of conservative academics. Of course, outside the academy, there are journals and institutions that engage the moral, literary, historical imagination, which offer some reason for hope. But the overall trend on the Right has been toward intellectual work geared toward contemporary and immediate concerns — more about power than about beauty.

In essence, McAllister argues that, while we often appeal to abstractions in our never-ending battle against progressivism, we adopt their rationalist framework by doing so, albeit out of necessity and expediency.  That said, our focus on the immediacy of political power has led conservatism to sacrifice culture—a key reason, I would argue, as to why progressives are so dominant there.

McAllister overstates the problem slightly—just look at New Criterion to see “conservative scholars devoted to… themes such as imagination, beauty, and truth”—but the Left certainly dominates our culture.

At this point, though, I wonder how we can get back the old conservatism.  It’s a worthy goal, but it seems unlikely in an age in which progressive and postmodern dogma reign supreme.  The extent to which the progressive frame infects conservatism—even down to our mental processes—is disheartening, and explains the capitulatory approach of once-great conservative publications like National Review, which can barely contain its eagerness to run and apologize to Leftists for challenging them.

In the long-run, though, conservatism’s foundation—its groundedness—in objective reality, as opposed to rationalist abstractions, will allow it to prevail in all its beautiful, localized, variegated permutations.  That “long-run” just might take a very long while to arrive.

Ted Cruz on Ben Shapiro

It was a glorious weekend at Casa de Portly, deep in the heart of Dixie.  It was the kind of weekend that saw a lot of non-blog- and non-work-related productivity; in other words, I loafed a great deal, then did domestic chores around the house.

In case you missed it, on Saturday I released my Summer Reading List 2019.  If you want to read the whole list—and it’s quite good—you have to subscribe to my SubscribeStar page at the $1 level or higher.  There will be new, subscriber-exclusive content there every Saturday, so your subscription will continually increase in value.

Anyway, all that loafing and cleaning meant that I was unplugged from politics.  I did, however, manage to catch the Ben Shapiro Show “Sunday Special” with Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

I was a big fan of Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, and I voted for him here in South Carolina.  Cruz intuited the populist mood of the electorate the way that President Trump did, and combined it with policy innovation and constitutionalism.

There’s a reason Cruz hung in there as long as he did against Trump:  he’s a canny political operator, but he also knew how to pitch a conservative message that was appealing to many voters.  I sincerely believe that had he clinched the nomination, he would have won the 2016 election (and, perhaps, by an even wider Electoral College margin than did Trump).

Cruz catches a lot of flack because he’s a little dopey and looks odd—a whole meme emerged in 2015-2016 claiming that Cruz was the Zodiac Killer—but he’s been an influential voice in the Senate.  He possesses a supple, clever mind, and has urged Republicans to make some bold, innovative reforms to the Senate (he vocally champions and has proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits).

The hour-long interview with Ben Shapiro—which opens with a question about his alleged identity as the Zodiac Killer—shows how affable and relaxed Cruz really is.  I’ve never seen him appear more relaxed and genuine (and I never took him for a phony—I’ve seen him speak live at least once at a campaign rally in Florence, and spoke very briefly to him afterwards) than in this interview.

Granted, it’s friendly territory—Shapiro was a big supporter of Cruz in the primaries—but Cruz spelled out some important ideas, as well as his projections for 2020.  If you don’t have a full hour, fast forward to about the forty-minute mark for his discussion of Trump’s reelection prospects.

To summarize them briefly:  Cruz thinks it all comes out to turnout, and that Democrats will “crawl over broken glass” to vote against Trump.  He even points out that his own race against Democrat Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke was as close as it was because Beto ran against Trump more than he did against Cruz.  He also thinks Joe Biden is going to flame out, and one of the more radical, progressive Dems will clinch the nomination, making the prospect of a truly socialistic administration terrifyingly possible.

That said, Cruz is optimistic.  Discussing his own narrow victory over Beto in 2018, he points out Beto’s massive fundraising and staffing advantages (Cruz had eighteen paid staffers on his campaign; Beto had 805!), but explains that a barn-burning bus tour of the State of Texas pulled out conservative and middle-class voters in a big way for his reelection.

That points to one of Trump’s strengths:  the relentless pace with which he campaigns.  Trump held three and even four rallies a day in key battleground States in the final days of the 2016 election, which likely made the difference in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Great White Whale of Republican presidential elections since the 1980s, Pennsylvania.  If Trump can get his pro-growth, pro-American message out there as effectively in 2020 as he did in 2016 and can excite voters who want to protect their nation and their prosperity, he could cruise to reelection.

Cruz’s optimism, tempered by practical challenges ahead for Republicans, really came through in the video.  Really, the entire interview reminded me why I liked Ted Cruz so much the first time.  I’d love to see him remain a major presence throughout the next five years, and to see him run for the presidency again in 2024 (him, or Nikki Haley).

Regardless, I encourage you to listen to this interview.  Take Cruz’s warning to heart:  don’t get complacent, because the Democrats aren’t.

Lazy Sunday XIV: Gay Stuff

Apparently, June is Pride Month, so there’s a lot of gay stuff going around.  If you’re part of the expansive LGBTQ2+ABCDEFGetc. community in New York City, you get two parades to show off your bedroom antics.  From deplatforming conservatives to avoiding prosecution for hate-crime hoaxes, it’s never been a better time to be out and proud.

To celebrate “pride”—which I take to mean loudly proclaiming who you like to sleep with while wearing ass-less chaps in public—this week’s Lazy Sunday looks back at the influence of gay stuff on our body politic.  Enjoy!

  • Gay Totalitarianism” – This post discussed the prevalence of homosexual hate-crime hoaxes, the most ubiquitous being Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s claim that a couple of white Trump supporters assaulted him with bleach and nooses in a tony, largely gay Chicago neighborhood early in the morning.  I linked to Pedro recent piece for American Greatness, “Our Queer Decline,” which deftly analyzed this phenomenon:  if homosexuals really faced persecution, they wouldn’t feel safe lying to the authorities about being attacked.  Instead, they know they’ll have the full support of and sympathy from the government, corporations, and the media.

    As the Smollett case showed, agents within the government would simply refuse to enforce the law via prosecution.  The issue here is not that gays are receiving legal protection—like all Americans, they should be protected from assaults on their persons—but that there is a dual-standard at play.  Jussie Smollett received egregious preferential treatment in part because he is gay (and, presumably, because he’s black and connected to the Obamas).

  • Buttigieg and Buchanan: Redefining Morality” and “Bland and Gay” – These twin screeds explore South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appeal to voters—and his ungodly misinterpretation of Scripture regarding his homosexual lifestyle.  The former essay pulls heavily from a piece Pat Buchanan wrote for Taki’s Magazine about Buttigieg’s radical redefinition of Christian teaching on homosexuality (essentially, Buttigieg’s argument is “God made me this way, so I’m supposed to ignore His teachings on homosexuality”).

    The latter essay attempts to explain Buttigieg’s appeal to voters, which seems to be waning a bit.  At the time, I argued that Buttigieg’s popularity was due to his blandness—he speaks largely in indefinable generalities, a la Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” slogan—mixed with the mildest splash of exoticism—his homosexuality.  Now that same-sex marriage is legal and homosexual behavior is largely normalized in the United States—but still, we all tacitly acknowledge, abnormal—Buttigieg’s gayness offers the slightest frisson of excitement for voters.  The thought process seems to be “oh, he’s a safe, non-offensive, boring white guy, but I can virtue-signal on the cheap because he’s gay!”

  • First They Came for Crowder” – This piece covered the demonetizing of conservative comedian Steven Crowder, all because a flamboyant “journalist” at Vox pitched a hissy-fit.  If that’s not proof that being gay aligns you with the full power and influence of big corporations and our techno-elites, then there’s no convincing you.

There you have it!  Some celebratory reading for Pride Month 2019.  Here’s hoping your Sunday is as fabulous as Milo Yiannopoulos.

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2019

Today’s post is the first in my SubscribeStar Saturday series.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.  For the first installment of SSS, ALL subscriber levels, including the $1 tier, will have access to this list.

Three years ago, I released my popular “The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016.”  It featured three must-read books for your summer, including a fourth “Honorable Mention.”  The same criteria from 2016 will apply to this year’s list.  To quote myself:

The books listed here are among some of my favorites.  I’m not necessarily reading them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!  These books have shaped my thinking about the many issues I’ve covered over the past two months.  I highly encourage you to check them out.

In that spirit, here is the definitive Summer Reading List 2019:

1.) Patrick J. BuchananThe Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority (2014) – I have to be honest—I’ve been reading this book off-and-on for nearly two years, and am about 75% through it.  That pace is not because it’s a bad book.

Quite the contrary, The Greatest Comeback is a must-read for any political history junkies.  After twin defeats in the 1960 presidential and 1962 California gubernatorial elections, Nixon was a national loser.  Buchanan, who worked for and traveled with Nixon during the long decade of the 1960s as a researcher and writer, gives a first-hand account, culled from what must be a filing cabinet’s worth of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings, of Nixon’s historic, unlikely rise to the presidency.

Nixon’s reputation now suffers from the railroading that was the Watergate scandal.  Lost in the Left’s never-ending victory lap is how shrewd Nixon’s political instincts were.  Nixon’s tireless support for Republican congressional candidates in 1966 led to historic gains in those midterm elections, likely hastening Lyndon Johnson’s political demise and restoring Republicans’ spot as a viable alternative to Democrats.  That loyalty paid off for Nixon in spades.

Consider, too, the challenges that faced Nixon going into the 1968 presidential election:  he had to defeat liberal Republicans within his own party (Buchanan expends a great deal of ink explaining the odious treachery of George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller), while also fending off potential challengers to his right, namely California Governor Ronald Reagan.  An increasingly-unhinged anti-war (and all-too-often pro-Communist) Left reviled the old “Red Hunter,” and their dominance of the press continued to hound Nixon’s every move.

And through it all, Nixon persevered, engineering the titular “greatest comeback.”  He would go on to win a forty-nine-State landslide in 1972, losing only deep-blue Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  For that story, check out Buchanan’s sequel, Nixon’s White House Wars:  The Battle that Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever (2017), which I will probably finishing sometime during Nikki Haley’s second presidential term.

To read the rest of The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2019subscribe now for $1/month or more on SubscribeStar!

TBT: New Summer, New Site

Today’s #TBT feature is a bit of a cop-out, a “recovery day” after yesterday’s lengthy post on Russell Kirk’s Six Principles of Conservatism, “What is Conservatism?”  That said, this little post—the first official post of the TPP 3.0 era—from 1 June 2019 relaunched the blog after a long hiatus.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already.

I originally launched The Portly Politico on Blogger back in April 2009.  Back then, everyone and their dog had a blog, and as I was facing unemployment, I guess 2009 me figured I had a lot of free time to kill.

It’s been fun since relaunching the blog, and especially in what I’m not dubbing the “TPP 3.1 Era”:  the era of daily posts.  Sure, there are weeks like this one where I have to phone it in a bit, but the exercise of writing regularly clarifies the mind wonderfully.

As I wrote Monday, I’ll be dedicating Saturday’s posts to my SubscribeStar page, with a brief “teaser” on this website.  This weekend I’ll be sharing my 2019 Reading List (check out the classic 2016 Reading List to prepare).

Well, that’s enough navel-gazing.  Here’s a bit more.  Enjoy “New Summer, New Site“:

In summer 2016, I relaunched the old Portly Politico blog, and put myself on a rigorous schedule, posting three times a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—at 6:30 AM.  It was, for me, a daunting task, but the more I wrote, the more lucid and easily the words flowed.

It was a great experience, but with the school year starting, I fell behind, and never really did much with the site.  All that effort seemed wasted, even if I got a few good essays out of it.  Even in the wake the historic 2016 election, I couldn’t muster the time or energy to write regularly.

But now it’s time for new beginnings.  Henceforth, I’ll be posting new content here on WordPress, and I’ll use the old Blogger site as an archive.  All the great content you read in 2016 will still be available there, and all my sweet new content will appear here.

As such, I’d encourage you to take a moment to subscribe afresh to receive each post as I write them.

Thanks, and welcome to the new Portly Politico.

Regards,

TPP

What is Conservatism?

Today I’m launching a summer class at my little private school here in South Carolina.  The course is called History of Conservative Thought, and it’s a course idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile.  Since the enrollment is very small, this first run is going to be more of an “independent study,” with a focus on analyzing and writing about some key essays and books in the conservative tradition.  I’ll also be posting some updates about the course to this blog, and I’ll write some explanatory posts about the material for the students and regular readers to consult.  This post will be one of those.

Course Readings:

Most of the readings will be digitized or available online at various conservative websites, but if you’re interested in following along with the course, I recommend picking up two books:

1.) Richard Weaver‘s Ideas Have Consequences ($6.29):  this will be our “capstone” reading for the summer.
2.) The Portable Conservative Reader (edited by Russell Kirk):  we’ll do some readings from this collection, including Kirk’s “Introduction” for the first week.

Course Scope:

I’ll be building out the course week-to-week, but the ultimate goal is to end with 2016 election, when we’ll talk about the break down of the postwar neoliberal consensus, the rise of populism and nationalism in the West, and the emergence of the Dissident Right.

After the introductory week, we’ll dive into Edmund Burke, then consider the antebellum debates about States’ rights.  I haven’t quite worked out the murky bit during the Gilded Age, but we’ll look at the rise of Progressivism in the early twentieth century, then through the conservative decline during the Great Depression and the Second World War.

After that, it’s on to Buckley conservatism and fusionism, as well as the challenges of the Cold War and international communism.  Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and (if I’m feeling edgy) Sam Francis will get shout-outs as well.

Week 1:  What is Conservatism?

That’s the basic outline.  For the first day, we’re going to look at the question in the title:  what is conservatism?  What makes one a conservative?  Feel free to comment below on your thoughts.

After we see what students think conservatism is, we’ll begin reading through Russell Kirk’s “Introduction” in The Portable Conservative Reader.  It’s an excellent overview of the question posed.  The first section of the lengthy “Introduction” is entitled “Succinct Description,” and it starts with the question, “What is conservatism?”

Not being one to reinvent what others have done better—surely that is part of being a conservative (see Principle #3 below)—I wanted to unpack his six major points.  Kirk argues that though conservatism “is no ideology,” and that it varies depending on time and country, it

“may be apprehended reasonably well by attention to what leading writers and politicians, generally called conservative, have said and done…. to put the matter another way, [conservatism] amounts to the consensus of the leading conservative thinkers and actors over the past two centuries.”

Kirk condenses that grand tradition into six “first principles,” derived largely from British and American conservatives.  To wit:

1.) Belief in a Transcendent Moral Order – conservatives believe there is higher authority or metaphysical order that human societies should build upon.  As Kirk puts it, a “divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”  There is a need for “enduring moral authority.”  The Declaration of Independence, for example, draws on the concept of “natural law” to complain about abuses of God-given rights.  The implication is that a good and just society will respect God’s natural law.

2.) The Principle of Social Continuity – Kirk puts this best:  “Order and justice and freedom,” conservatives believe, “are the artificial products of a long and painful social experience, the results of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”

As such, the way things are is the product of long, hard-won experience, and changes to that social order should be gradual, lest those changes unleash even greater evils than the ones currently present.  Conservatives abhor sudden upheaval; to quote Kirk again:  “Revolution slices through the arteries of a culture, a cure that kills.”

3.) The Principle of Prescription, or the “wisdom of our ancestors” – building on the previous principle, “prescription” is the belief that there is established wisdom from our ancestors, and that the antiquity of an idea is a merit, not a detraction.  Old, tried-and-trued methods are, generally, preferable to newfangled conceptions of how humans should organize themselves.

As Kirk writes, “Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.  It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality.”  In other words, there is great wisdom in traditions, and as individuals it is difficult, in our limited, personal experience, to comprehend the whole.

It’s like G. K. Chesterton’s fence:  you don’t pull down the fence until you know why it is built.  What might seem to be an inconvenience, a structure no longer useful, may very well serve some vital purpose that you only dimly understand, if at all.

4.) The Principle of Prudence – in line with Principles #2 and #3, the conservative believes that politicians or leaders should pursue any reforms only after great consideration and debate, and not out of “temporary advantage or popularity.”  Long-term consequences should be carefully considered, and rash, dramatic changes are likely to be more disruptive than the present ill facing a society.  As Kirk writes, “The march of providence is slow; it is the devil who always hurries.”

5.) The Principle of Variety – the “variety” that Kirk discusses here is not the uncritical mantra of “Diversity is Our Strength.”  Instead, it is the conservative’s love for intricate variety within his own social institutions and order.

Rather than accepting the “narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems,” conservatives recognize that some stratification in a society is inevitable.  Material and social inequality will always exist—indeed, they must exist—but in a healthy, ordered society, each of these divisions serves its purpose and has meaning.  The simple craftsman in his workshop, while materially less well-off than the local merchant, enjoys a fulfilling place in an ordered society, one that is honorable and satisfying.  Both the merchant and the craftsmen enjoy the fruits of their labor, as private property is essential to maintaining this order:  “without private property, liberty is reduced and culture is impoverished,” per Kirk.

This principle is one of the more difficult to wrap our minds around, as the “variety” here is quite different than what elites in our present age desire.  Essentially, it is a rejection of total social and material equality, and a celebration of the nuances—the nooks and crannies—of a healthy social order.  “Society,” Kirk argues, “longs for honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences among people are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.”

Put another way:  make everyone equal, and you’ll soon end up with another, likely worse, form of inequality.

6.) The Principle of the Imperfectibility of Human Nature – unlike progressives, who believe that “human nature” is mutable—if we just get the formula right, everyone will be perfect!—conservatives (wisely) reject this notion.  Hard experience demonstrates that human nature “suffers irremediably from certain faults…. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.”  An Utopian society, assuming such a thing were possible, would quickly devolve into rebellion, or “expire of boredom,” because human nature is inherently restless and rebellious.

Instead, conservatives believe that the best one can hope for is “a tolerably ordered, just and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering continue to lurk.”  Prudent trimming of the organic oak tree of society can make gradual improvements, but the tree will never achieve Platonic perfection (to quote Guns ‘n’ Roses:  “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”).

Conclusion

Kirk stresses in the rest of the introduction that not all conservatives accept or conform to all of the six principles again; indeed, most conservatives aren’t even aware of these principles, or may only dimly perceive them.

That’s instructive:  a large part of what makes one conservative is lived experience.  “Conservatism” also varies depending on time and place:  the social order that, say, Hungary seeks to preserve is, of necessity, different than that of the United States.

Conservatism, too, is often a reaction to encroaching radicalism.  Thus, Kirk writes of the “shop-and-till” conservatism of Britain and France in the nineteenth century:  small farmers and shopkeepers who feared the loss of their property to abstract rationalist philosophers and coffeeshop radicals, dreaming up airy political systems in their heads, and utterly detached from reality.

If that sounds like the “Silent Majority” of President Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 elections—or of President Trump’s 2016 victory—it’s no coincidence.  The great mass of the voting public is, debatably, quietly, unconsciously conservative, at least when it comes to their own family, land, and local institutions.  Those slumbering hordes only awaken, though, when they perceive their little platoon is under siege from greater forces.  When they speak, they roar.

But that’s a topic for another time.  What do you think conservatism is? Leave your comments below.

–TPP

The God Pill

There’s some interesting developments in the “manosphere,” a sometimes seedy, always lively corner of the Internet.  The manosphere grew out of the pickup artist (PUA) phenomenon of the early 2000s, then morphed into a catch-all philosphical, cultural, and lifestyle movement that encapsulated all manner of ideas about relations between the genders.  While not necessarily “conservative,” the manosphere broadly occupied a space on the fringe of the Right, overlapping with Dissident or Alt-Right thinkers.

It also promoted strongly the idea of the “red pill” and “red pill awareness”:  its leading lights and most avid followers purported to see things as they really are, not the fantasy realm of blue pill NPCs.  That came with a number of time-tested insights about the nature of male-female relationships, along with some unfortunate detours down the dark by-ways of discourse:  anti-Semitism, racism, libertine sexual mores, and the like.

Ultimately, though, it was a beautifully messy example of what free speech should be:  free-flowing, raucous, even unsettling discussions about every conceivable topic.  We like to imagine the public square as some kind of sanitized, lofty forum of David French-ian gentlemen debating arid abstractions.  In the world of the Internet, it’s more of a mud-flecked, bloody arena.

The 2015-2016 election cycle probably witnessed the greatest growth in this movement.  Donald Trump—a man known for his success in business and with beauties—captured the imagination of the manosphere the same way he won over the Silent Majority:  he was tough, brash, and unpredictable.  More importantly, he challenged a stagnant, ossified establishment and status quo.

The manosphere glommed onto Trump like herbal supplements on an Alex Jones live-stream.  Until the implosion of the Alt-Right at Charlottesville, the ‘sphere was going strong.

There are many strains of thought within the broad Red-Pill/manosphere movement, and I can’t do justice to them in a short blog post.  What I found interesting while reading some of these authors—the “Big Three” are Rollo Tomassi, Roissy, and Roosh V—was their gradual transition from PUAs to snake-oil sophists to political theorists.  One might scoff at the idea of a dude teaching guys how to pick up chicks formulating political and cultural ideas, but, hey, they did it.

What’s even more fascinating was watching the probing into the foundations of political systems.  On the old Return of Kings website, controversial founder Roosh V wrote a series of articles examining the different world religions, weighing their perceived pros and cons.  He also seemed to grow increasingly disgusting with a life of meaningless sex (I’ll provide some actual links when I write a longer treatment of this transition).

Now, Roosh has done a dramatic turnaround, after he has undergone—he claims—a profound religious conversion.  Consistent with that conversion, he’s banned posts on his popular forum about “pre-marital sexual activity,” to great scorn from his readers.  He’s also removed eleven of his Bang guides from his website (books for hooking up with women at home and abroad).

Some of his readers are accusing him of engaging in censorshipa la big tech companies shutting down InfoWars.  This comparison is absurd.  Roosh is a single entity, maintaining a server with his own funds and for his own purposes.  He’s not crushing political discourse or criticism of a regime.

Other comments accuse Roosh of “selling out”—as if telling people not to talk about sex is somehow going to sell more books.  Maybe the eleven books he’s removed from his website weren’t selling well anymore, but it does seem like a sincere example of “putting your money where your mouth is.”  Sure, maybe he’ll parlay his newfound faith into giving talks to churches, but that’s a pretty big transition to swing.  He’s not tapped into that market at all.

I could be naive, but this doesn’t seem like a case of “conversion-for-cash.”  There was a distinct undertone of disgust with his former lifestyle in Roosh’s recent writing, and a subtle repudiation of the West’s culture of sexual license.

Even before his conversion, I noted the Augustinian quality of the path Roosh trod.  He gave himself fully to the pursuit of earthly pleasures, only to find that pursuit was fruitless:  no amount of casual encounters could give him meaning.  Indeed, a theme that was beginning to emerge on sites like Return of Kings was a call to return to traditional gender and sexual roles, including a renewed embrace of Christianity in the West.

“Game” practitioners like Roosh were researchers in the dark field of dating and relationships in the twenty-first-century West.  They developed some useful techniques and stratagems for navigating those murky, painful waters, but their experiences also led them to Truth.  Roosh might have been a dime-store Sophist, but he’s come to realize that only Christ can fill the void.

I do hope his conversion is sincere.  If it is, his moves to remove potentially damaging books from his website is commendable, and a show of good faith.

It’s no wonder, though, that heads are exploding.  Christians are guaranteed persecution.  As Roosh puts it:

If you’re not a believer, it is unlikely you will understand the nature of these decisions and similar ones that will come in the future.

Amen, brother.  God bless.