GARLINGTON: Obstacles To An American Renewal

On the Right, it’s no secret that the mission is no longer a “conservative” one, in the sense that the current status quo in America is not worth conserving. What’s necessary is renewal, or, as Hayride publisher Scott McKay writes in his book The Revivalist Manifesto, revival.

But such will not be an easy project to complete. There are barriers to a renewed America. Some of them…

Obstacle #1:  Corrupt Political Elite

Some days it is difficult not to despair over the direction of the US, as the moral corruption of our political leaders crashes over us in wave after wave:

A former Nixon advisor, Kevin Phillips, explains how we have gotten to such a low point, and Republicans don’t fare too well in the telling:

The author of The Emerging Republican Majority contended that elites abandoned Middle American values, leaving their cultivation to the disadvantaged by post-industrial society. During the neoliberal transformation of the 1980s, the gains of the post-war “Great Compression” were largely erased. Those who feared that the American Dream was slipping away from them were left without any voice.

In Phillips’s perspective, the GOP bears the brunt of responsibility for this evolution. Instead of representing Middle America, it has degenerated into an incoherent, individualistic synthesis that advocates for the interests of the top 1 percent. Reagan did not bring about a renewal but rather a nostalgic restoration, with his greatest fault being the creation of a “new plutocracy.” In the 1980’s the Republican Party was in the hands of an elite whose attitude to the middle-class decline fluctuated between “it isn’t happening” and “we can’t do anything about it.” By accelerating financialization, Reagan, as Phillips contends, paved the way for Clinton and the triumph of neoliberalism. This shift ultimately completed the process of deindustrialization and wrecked the material base upon which Middle America stood.

This hyper-financialized, under-industrialized, under-farmed economic system remains firmly in place because of the entrenchment and insulation from outside influences of the globalist, Uniparty elite:

The U.S. has known periods of intense financialization, such as the Gilded Age or the Roaring Twenties. The boom was always inevitably followed by a bust, as speculation faded and a return to the real economy ensued. This self-correcting mechanism stopped working in the 1980s, and with it American capitalism lost much of its vitality. Phillips argues that “financial mercantilism,” the collaboration between financial elites and Washington policymakers, has stifled market forces to a previously inconceivable scope.

The same process of cyclical self-renewal ceased to function in American politics. It has expressed itself through critical elections recomposing political cleavages and elites. Phillips mentions 1800, when Jefferson broke the Federalist consensus; 1828, with the election of Andrew Jackson as president; 1860 with Lincoln’s victory, which introduced a new type of polarization; and 1896, with the presidency of McKinley, which finally overcame the divisions of the Civil War. The election of Roosevelt in 1932 was the last in a series of great realignments that reinvented American politics. Each of these critical elections represented a bloodless revolution.

“During the period from 1800 to 1932,” claims Phillips, “the American people did something no other nation’s population has ever done—they directed, roughly once a generation, revolutionary changes in the nation’s political culture and economic development through a series of critical presidential elections.” Each of these revolutions was aimed at elites who no longer served the nation and turned into selfish oligarchy.

The political cycle of renewal came to a halt with the election of Richard Nixon. The elites in the capital had swelled to such an extent that they could not accept an outcome that did not suit their interests. Over the past 60 years, Phillips argues in his 1994 diatribe Arrogant Capital, Washington has become a fortress of an elite disconnected from the rest of the nation, “a capital city so enlarged, so incestuous in its dealings, so caught up in its own privilege, that it no longer seems controllable by the general public.” Both parties merged into “venal center”; the elite replacement mechanism was effectively disabled by “the permanent Washington.”

Republicans, who were supposedly conservative reformers, did little to change things for the better:

According to Phillips, it was the GOP that governed the country during the most decisive moments of national decline in recent decades. Reagan initiated the process of financialization of the economy, which led to the decimation of the industrial base and ultimately undermined the middle-class. The victory of Bush 41 symbolized the triumph of an establishment of privilege and connections, while his son’s victory drove financialization to the extreme, fostering the “reckless credit-feeding financial complex” that would be responsible for the 2008 crisis.

The America of Bush 43 displayed two additional signs of decadence in full: imperial overstretch and a messianic fever that supported strategic blunders in the Middle East. “What kind of politics or crisis”, asked Phillips in American Theocracy, “could overcome the combination of Bush administration strategic neglect, Washington interest-group entrenchment, and parochial Republican constituency pressures no one quite knew.”

Mr Phillips offers as solutions to these problems a populist platform of referendum, term limits, early elections (in case of paralyzing gridlock), and re-industrialization.  It may sound counter-intuitive, but implementing a populist agenda would likely be helped along by a Christian king, as we have said in the past; the pincer maneuver of the working class from below and the king from above was very effective at neutering the destructive power of a sordid oligarchy in previous ages (see, e.g., Henry Myers discussing the late Middle Ages in Medieval Kingship, Nelson-Hall, Chicago, 1982, pgs. 322-3).

However, populist victories, should they materialize through these measures or others, can be easily undone by foreign adventurism.

Obstacle #2:  Unnecessary Wars

The case of Emperor Louis Napoleon III in France, la Louisiane’s mother country, is very instructive.  He helped raise France out of the dire straits she had been stuck in since the outbreak of the French Revolution:

Imagine what it must have been like to be a Frenchman during this Republic. For the better part of a half-century, your country had undertaken every political lurch and foreign escapade that its leaders deigned to try. You had seen your country invaded and your Churches desecrated. While all this is going on, your standard of living had essentially not changed since the 1780s, with every step forward (removal of forced labor) being coupled with two steps back (hyperinflation, conscription, and stagnation). In the late 1840s and early 1850s, you had suffered through all of that, and what are your leaders now arguing over? Whether to have a “social and democratic” or “liberal” Republic. Politics, the machinations of which politicians got which powers, and not economics, the material well-being of the citizenry, were once again the order of the day.

It is perhaps then no wonder that Emperor Louis Napoleon III (or just Louis Napoleon at this point) won his election to the Presidency in 1848 with almost three quarters of the vote. He ran on a platform of preventing a proto-communist revolution and suppressing the ongoing riots that had been a common feature in France for decades (particularly at the end of the July Monarchy), coupled with his support for mass industrialization and economic development. In so doing, he won the votes of members of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie on the one hand and the working class on the other. It would appear that the law and order, plus economic development, platform used by so many populists was written early.

. . . The results of this effort speak for themselves. In 1851 France had 2200 miles of railway (a quarter of the length of England’s rail system, and not much larger than Belgium’s, a country twenty times smaller than France). By 1870, France had 12,500 miles, transporting 100 million passengers per year. The maritime trading fleet grew to the second largest in the world (after England). Industrial production doubled. Foreign trade tripled. Workers, who now found their wages growing for the first time ever (for some this might have been the first period of stable income ever) were quick to spend their hard-earned wages in newly opened department stores, with the first such store, Bon Marche, being opened in Paris in 1852. Quality of life massively improved for the average citizen as capital flooded into the economy, providing work and wage for laborers. France was transformed from a country of peasant and lord akin to Russia to one of worker and business akin to Britain.

Politically too, he finally liberalized France. He welcomed back political exiles, eased freedom of the press, and gave more powers to the legislature. Culture too flourished, with Offenbach’s works being played the world over. By every stretch of the imagination, the Second French Empire was more successful than the first, and more successful than any political administration in France up to that point. An Empire focused on domestic order and growth had finally brought the liberty and prosperity that Republics and Monarchies had failed to achieve. How on earth could such a successful regime collapse?

The answer to that last question is one the States need to pay very close attention to:

Sadly, Louis Napoleon forgot the other tenet of the populist playbook: no foreign wars. After squandering his hard-won goodwill in Crimea, Italy, Mexico, and, finally, Prussia, defeat at the Battle of Sedan secured the rise of an Imperial Germany, setting the stage for the many conflicts of the twentieth century, and the end of the most successful regime in the long and proud history of France.

Unnecessary foreign wars over the last two decades have destroyed thousands of lives and trillions of dollars of wealth in the US alone.  No amount of populist reform will enable the US to overcome that kind of carnage.  DC’s interventionist foreign wars must quickly come to an end.

Obstacle #3:  The Triumph of Money-Chasing and Ugliness

Pressing practical matters are essential to deal with, but something more transcendental is also needed.  Joseph Robertson, a writer for The European Conservative, provides some details:

In substantial conversations about conservatism, we should hope to hear appeals to such tenets as goodness, truth, or beauty. We might hear plaudits for the greatest achievements of faith, reason, art, and architecture—all the positive characteristics of human ambition, tempered by a love for family.

Since the bloody turmoil of the early 20th century, a separate discourse began to take shape and form the minds of those who broadly believed in the name of conservatism. Across the globe, but perhaps most strongly in the American project, came the mistreated measure stick of economic prosperity. Great minds, which for a long time had considered goodness, truth, and beauty, turned instead to mercenary ambitions, with their suppressed conservatism still driven by a desire to do well for family. Faith gave up place to the god of Mammon. Instead of monuments to beauty, skyscrapers appeared in the financial districts. Thought changed from a focus on what was good to what was useful.

We have tried to live by bread alone, but this hasn’t satisfied very many people.  Regrettably, in the effort to correct this over-attachment to the Chamber of Commerce mentality, conservatives are turning to people who aren’t all that conservative:

In our present era, there is a still nascent (yet very present) attempt to reconcile this century-old ideological failing with a desire for something much deeper and more meaningful. The so-called culture wars (which, of course, are wars predominantly in protest at discomfort rather than the defence of deep held convictions) have woken an instinct in us once more to do better for reasons other than the pursuit of cash.

Yet, awakened to the evil spirit of that apathetic clarion call, “It’s the economy, stupid,” spiritually awakened conservatives are realising that they don’t really know how to build much else except economies. And even those they cannot build too well.

In this pathetic lack of possibility, inclined by a certain desire to create but without a driving force telling them why (once the job of religion), conservatives often look to outsource their creativity. That is when they choose to intersect with those who are not conservative—those who, deep down, are not even equal to the Mammon-serving sellouts of the post-war pecuniary predicament.

. . . Thus we arrive at this strange point in history. Conservatism without conscience, moistened by the milk of unwitting naivety, stoops to dabble in intersectionality. The plight of Rowling against the droning of the dysphoric acolytes rouses the maternal breast of conservative justice. The plight of the Tates against the anti-manhood mob provokes a defence of masculine tropes. The plight of Musk against censorious arbiters of truth demands unequivocal support of free speech, a blind eye turned to a ghostly ship set afloat in the lake of transhumanism.

The way out of this morass is a return to what Mr Robertson spoke of to begin with:

As long as there is a reason to support the social struggle of weak-willed semi-centrists, or to champion a shared belief of otherwise left-leaning individuals, our misguided troops will too often play a false alliance in pursuit of Pyrrhic victory. What then, is the solution? Goodness, truth, and beauty, used as metrics, did not slip into social parlance by accident. We defined them on the basis of a Christian moral value that taught nations and empires to rely on something deeper than mere prosperity or defiance of social diktat.


Without the proper orientation and goal, it will be difficult to begin, much less succeed in, the work of political and social renewal.  Beauty in particular is important for properly orienting mankind.  In the case of architecture, we find the following from Michael Strand:

In his dialogue with Chris Cuomo in March, Tucker Carlson launched into a characteristic diatribe, railing against modern architecture which is “designed to demoralize you.”[1] Indeed, the “international style,” because it is everywhere, winds up making every place feel like “nowhere in particular,”[2] and people who live and work in such places receive the message that they are replaceable, cogs in a machine, “widgets in a bin awaiting assembly.”[3] . . .

. . . Mental disorder gave us modern architecture, says Ann Sussman, a researcher interested in the way buildings influence brains.[5] Sussman was referring specifically to autism (Le Corbusier) and PTSD (Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe). Mental disorder also helps explain why modernist architecture continues to be built, if we allow that scientific materialism is a kind of disordered thinking. A dogmatic belief in the exclusively bottom-up emergence of all natural complexity, from molecules to minds, easily leads to various other pathologies.

. . . The materialist worldview is waning, and modernist architecture is a failed experiment on numerous fronts. Overcoming both will be a joint venture, because what we produce and surround ourselves with inevitably changes how we think and what we believe—“we shape our buildings and our buildings shape us,” as Churchill put it.

. . . humans naturally prefer curves to straight lines—“curves elicit feelings of happiness and elation, while jagged and sharp forms tend to connect to feelings of pain and sadness.”[8] Not only do humans prefer curves, we also have an innate aversion to horizontal and parallel lines as well—research finds that “as more and more stripes in building facades appear decade by decade, the buildings become less and less comfortable to look at.”[9] Various technologies like eye-tracking, facial expression analysis software, brain wave measurement, and galvanic skin responders which track the activity of sweat glands[10] have confirmed that modern aesthetics induce stress, requiring more oxygen uptake for visual image processing in the brain. It is therefore safe to conclude that, in addition to being preferred by the majority of the population for aesthetic reasons, traditional buildings and cities are healthier, friendlier, and more humane as well. Anyone wishing to argue otherwise has the empirical evidence to deal with, and its results are clear.

Bad architecture literally makes people physically, mentally, and spiritually sick and weak.  Another author, John de Graaf, continues this theme:

There seems to be little doubt that the beauty of nature, finely crafted architectural design, and art bring us pleasure. What I want to argue is that this pleasure is more than a momentary sensation and that beauty is a vital, but undervalued, source of wellbeing. As such, it deserves to be included in our indices, and is worthy of extensive continued research into its origins and contributions to wellbeing.

I believe that in our mechanistic age, when we count our blessings in monetary terms and still pay homage to the GDP, beauty is shortchanged. In place of Notre Dames, we get soulless, monotonous, utilitarian towers of steel, a kind of cash register architecture, amidst which increased cortisone levels signal our stress. Sadly, beauty is no longer part of our political dialogue.

Beauty is something every person needs:

The positive psychologist Abraham Maslow considered a need for beauty to be among the highest needs in his well-known hierarchy. He viewed beauty as an urgent need for many psychologically healthy adults and for virtually all healthy children. Maslow thought there were people whose need for beauty was so great they grew mentally ill without its presence in their lives.

It is something every culture strives for in some way:

For Plato and the Greeks, beauty, truth, and goodness were inseparable values—the gods smiled on the exquisite forms of the Parthenon, and far-flung temples, columns, and amphitheaters. By the year AD 1000, communities throughout Europe began centuries-long projects to build magnificent cathedrals with soaring spires, phantasmagorical figures, and windows adorned by stained glass. Beauty as reverence. Their efforts were sustained by faith in God and the future; no one present at their birth would live to see their completion. It’s hard to imagine such endeavors in our age of instant gratification.

Such edifices were not limited to Christendom. In Spain, the Moors completed the Alhambra in 1238; its noble arches still draw beauty seekers to Granada. In 1420, the Chinese finished their Forbidden City, that massive palace with its charming pagodas and imperial gardens. Two centuries later, Islam built its stunning Blue Mosque and India unveiled its incomparable Taj Majal.

It is interesting to stop for a moment and consider that the South has recognized to a significant degree the need for beauty.  Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson is one example to consider:

In the fledgling United States, Thomas Jefferson, elected president in 1800, might well be considered the founding father of a democratic politics of beauty. Jefferson had a deep love for the arts and classical architecture he saw in Europe, especially during the five years he served here, as Ambassador to France. He argued that all communities “should be planned with an eye to the effect made up on the human spirit by being continually surrounded with a maximum of beauty.”

More about him on this subject is here.

But the general pro-beauty ethos is found throughout the South in her numerous gorgeous plantations that continue to attract tourists to this very day, as well as other crafts (pottery, baskets, quilts), her literature, and even in her food preparation (who will deny that many of her signature dishes are pleasant to look upon?).

Significantly for us here in Louisiana, who have such a strong connection to France, is this statement of de Graaf’s:

Where I live, when someone mentions the Sorbonne, a sort of hush settles over the room. I can’t think of any place more appropriate for making the case that beauty should be a measured aspect of wellbeing than Paris. I think of France as a model for the beautiful things in life. You, not just in France, but all over Europe, know that, as John Muir put it, “everybody needs beauty as well as bread,” and the time to enjoy it.

There is every reason for all Louisianans, from the new city of St George to the oldest communities in Natchitoches and New Orleans, to make beauty a part of their political program; it is in fact something both Left and Right seem to agree on:

Such a program could bring us together across current lines of polarization. I believe this because those on the Left like their gardens as much as those on the Right, and those on the Right appreciate the beauty of nature and parks as much as their counterparts on the Left. We get what we measure. We get more stuff whether it makes us happy or not because we measure it. So it will be with beauty. Dostoevsky said that beauty would save the world. So did Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel lecture. I am not sure they are right but we should try to find out. No one can guarantee that a politics of beauty will save the world. But it’s obvious that nothing else is working very well, so it’s worth a try.

We don’t have to be so wishy-washy about beauty.  It is obvious from the foregoing that putting it back into the center of our collective social life would lead to improvements in our well-being.  And it is no mystery why this is so:  It is because beauty is inseparable from God.  As we say in the Orthodox Church’s prayers after receiving Holy Communion:

And so when I have passed from existence here in the hope of eternal life, may I attain to everlasting rest, where the song is unceasing of those who keep festival and the joy is boundless of those who behold the ineffable beauty of Thy face. For Thou art the true desire and the unutterable gladness of those who love Thee, O Christ our God, and all creation sings of Thee throughout the ages.

Final Thoughts

Can we effect all of these things – another overthrow of a parasitic oligarchy in the US, a drastic reduction in foreign wars, and a re-orientation away from rank materialism and toward True Beauty?  Broadly speaking, probably not in the short term:  The Establishment is too thoroughly entrenched in DC, State and local bureaucracies, and big corporations, and spiritually we are too weak.  Such a thing is much more likely to happen in individual towns, counties, and States, like Chino Valley, California, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, etc.  Whether a wider coalition across regions like the South, Big Sky country in the upper Rockies, the Rust Belt, etc., can be patched together, we will have to wait and see.



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