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The Next Conservatism: Restoring Our Culture

Tuesday, 20 December 2005 12:00 AM

In the last three columns, we have tried to look at where we are as a country. The picture is not very bright. The question facing the next conservatism is, how can we turn the situation around? I want to try to address that question in this column and the next.

The answer has to start not with politics but with culture. As I have said over and over, culture is more powerful than politics. We cannot keep winning politically while the Left wins culturally. Somehow, we have to win the culture war ourselves.

That in turn requires a new movement. I hate to have to say so, but I think the old conservative movement has somewhat played itself out. There are still some courageous and effective fighters in it, people like Phyllis Schlafly and Senator James M. Inhofe, but much of it has been co-opted by the Republican Party, and much that has not been co-opted seems to be out of new ideas.

To create a new movement, we have to have a new idea to build it around. That idea has to speak directly to our national decadence and offer a chance of changing the culture. It has to offer a real potential of reviving the America many of us remember, up through the 1950s.

If it cannot do that, it cannot serve as the basis of a new movement, because anything less will not reverse the country's decadence. We will just be papering over the cracks.

Is there such a new idea somewhere out there? I think there may be. Bill Lind calls it Retroculture. What it means is that, in our own lives and the lives of our families, and eventually in our communities, we would deliberately revive old ways of doing things. Of course, we could not exactly re-create the past, but we would use the past as a guide and a benchmark.

I know America has always been a future-focused country. But that may be changing. As early as 1990, the Free Congress Foundation did a national survey about Americans' attitude toward the past, present and future. The results were a big surprise. Even fifteen years ago, most people said the past was better than the present and the future would be worse than the present. I think millions of Americans might rally to a call to return to the ways we used to live, in many (obviously not all) aspects of our lives.

A good example is public education. Everyone knows today's public schools are much worse than those we had in the late 1950s. That is true in rich areas and in poor. The education lobby says the answer is even more "new math" and other modernist rubbish, plus of course oceans of Political Correctness and money.

What if, instead, our new movement called for "Schools 1950"? We still know how those schools worked. We would go back to teaching the facts, reasoning and skills like adding and multiplying without a calculator, instead of worrying about pupils' "self-esteem." Of course we would teach some newer things as well, such as computer skills. But the basic rule would be "What worked then can work again."

In fact, that might not be a bad slogan for our new movement. It is true in so many areas of our lives. It is true about families, marriage and sexual morals; finance, both family and national (everybody used to know that debt was dangerous); entertainment (it used to be both good and decent); even in areas like public transportation, where streetcars were better than buses. The old America, America before the cultural revolution of the 1960s, was a pretty good place. Even a lot of young people know that is true.

This movement would seek to rebuild our old culture from the bottom up, one individual or family at a time. That is slow, I know. But I don't think there is any other way to win the culture war. We have lost so much that we almost have to start over again. It is too late, when it comes to our culture, to conserve. We have to restore.

The restoration movement in architecture points to where Retroculture might go. In the 1960s, it was fashionable among architects and urban planners to rip down Victorian and even federal and colonial buildings and put up new ones. The new ones were usually awful. Now most people agree that older buildings can and should be restored rather than replaced.

I really think that a next conservatism that included a movement to recover our old ways of thinking and living could win the culture war, which so far we have lost. Still, politics remains important. In my next column, I intend to talk about what we need to do in politics.


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In the last three columns, we have tried to look at where we are as a country. The picture is not very bright. The question facing the next conservatism is, how can we turn the situation around? I want to try to address that question in this column and the next. The...
Tuesday, 20 December 2005 12:00 AM
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