Thursday, June 22, 2023

Turning Into Monsters

In one of his messages, a self-styled philosopher sent this line:

“Conservatives are monsters.”

I’m not really sure what he means by “conservatives”. In the context of the discussion, he meant anti-abortionists, definitely.

Oh, believe me: the irony’s not lost on me.

But I think he meant to speak more broadly, as well. I think he also meant social conservatives like Libertarians, Republicans and Brexiters, and maybe even Christians. Anyway, he gets them all with one broad brush: “conservatives”.

It’s obviously rhetoric. But let’s take him seriously.


Here’s the problem with that claim.

“Conservative” is not a particular ideology, but rather an answer to the question, “How do things need to be changed?”

Conservatism’s answer is “Slowly and carefully, so as to preserve what we have — to ‘conserve’ what we’ve got, all the goods from the past.”

In contrast Radicalism, in its various forms, says, “We need to change quickly, radically and even sometimes violently (by revolution), in order to achieve the level of change we need. Anything less is not radical enough.”

Left and Right

And there are times when each one is right.

Sometimes a sudden upheaval gets the job done, where a slow and patient process would not. If the cancer is aggressive, you don’t want a passive treatment. If the habit is strong, then unconditional abstinence is necessary. If wickedness is being perpetrated, then any compromise is collusion. Yet revolutions are often costly, breaking with all that has been achieved, ginning up hatred, creating victims and violence, shattering the good along with the bad, and leaving lingering resentment in their wake.

In far more situations, caution, patience and negotiation prove better. The gentle hand is better than the bludgeon. Soft persuasion can change hard hearts. Institutions that would be destroyed by sudden changes of direction can often be reformed with slow, steady pressure. The processes of growth, learning and development are inherently gradual, and conserving the good while improving the bad is the least wasteful way to go.

Christian Conservatism

So it’s not the case that it’s exclusively Christian to be either conservative or radical … but it’s usually the case that Christians tend toward the conservative.

This is not by accident. A spirit of humility counsels us to caution in our social actions; we do not know everything, and our times are in God’s hands, not our own. Violence, even against true enemies, is forbidden to us; we are told to love them and pray for them instead. Ginning up hatred against the establishment is not what we do, and breaking the machinery of government, tearing up social institutions and dominating the political processes are not for Christians. We are usually to support the authorities, and to pray for those who rule over us.

Radicalism, by contrast, is not our native mode. It does not suit the Christian character or mandate. True, we are called to defend the poor and the needy, to release the prisoner and relieve the oppressed; but this is really a personal duty, not a call to seize power and restructure society. It’s only when it comes to a direct choice between obeying God and obeying men on an issue of spiritual moment that we are morally obligated to take an uncompromising stand. And then, we do.

Radical obedience to God, even to the sacrificing of life itself, then follows.

Secular Radicalism

However, radicalism is, in general, a secular impulse.

The feeling that “If it’s to be, it’s up to me,” as the old saying goes, is characteristic of a mindset that has no place for thoughts of God. Because secularists place all possibility of change in the hands of men, they tend to look to collectivism and social reform for progress. More people, plus more radical reforms will produce change for the better, it is hoped.

Secularism gravitates to political parties, to partisanship, to the mechanisms of government and, barring any effectiveness there, to protest, upheaval, and disobedience to authorities, whether civil or not. And the more ardently these activities are conducted — the more fierce the rhetoric, the more uncompromising the stand, the more violent the antipathy to opposition — the more moral and high-minded the secular radicals feel themselves to be.

This is why shouting, sloganeering and tarring one’s enemies have become the stock in trade of the radical Left today. The goal is seizing the mechanisms of government, and turning them to the “noble” purposes of the next revolutionary fad. And this requires influencing the minds of the masses. The truth is often complex, but mass mobilization is more effective on simplistic terms. If the truth has to be bent, it’s being bent in a “noble” cause; so let’s not trouble ourselves much over that.

And why not? There’s no God to relieve the “oppressed” if we don’t do it, and there’s no God for us to answer to for the things we do on the way to achieving our social-justice goals. When they are achieved, there will be no one but us to secure and maintain our achievements. Absent God, all things depend on us, and to ourselves alone are we accountable.

The Paradox

But this is why yesterday’s radicals become tomorrow’s conservatives.

Because once the radical revolution has achieved its goal, it only has two choices: push for another revolution, and thereby put at risk its own achievements, or preserve the gains of the last one. Pushing for a new revolution every time is destructive: nothing lasts, nothing is stable, everything is in constant upheaval, overturn and flux. It’s unlivable and destroys society. But conserving the gains of the revolution requires becoming a force for conservation ... a conservative.

Consider the Marxists. They push for a revolution. But no sooner is it achieved (as in Russia or China or everywhere else it’s been tried), then the same forces that produced the revolution have to convert to become the defenders of the new status quo ... but being radicals, they don’t just “conserve”: they radically repress. They become hyper-conservatives for the new regime, bullying their political dissenters, putting their perceived enemies into gulags and “re-education camps” or shooting them in lines.

And they have to; because the people they fear now are really themselves — they fear that the new potential “revolutionaries” will be just as bad and violent as the radicals know themselves to be. So they have to suppress them with extreme prejudice, or risk becoming the victims of radicals like themselves. In fear, they “conserve” their revolution with violence.

The Message Back

So you don’t like today’s “conservatives”. Okay.

What change are you pushing for; and when you get it, how do you plan to keep it without becoming “conservative” about it?

As The Who once sang, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” It should have been, “Meet the new boss / More violent and deadly than the old boss ever dared to be.”

The Truth

Once able to achieve their revolutionary goals, there’s no such thing as a radical who doesn’t end up being a conservative. But whereas a regular political conservative may be a moderate, and whereas a Christian conservative is morally bound to be non-violent, the most dangerous creature on earth is a radical Leftist who has achieved his revolution.

In the last century, well over 100 million bodies piled up on the altar of secular radicalism-turned-conservatism. You would think that would be sufficient to make the message clear.

There is a sense in which “conservatives” can end up being “monsters” after all. But it turns out that the road to it is Leftist radicalism.

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