Last November, I wrote an article for the Burkean entitled “In Defence of Conservatism”. It drew two responses, one in December of that year (“Rebuking Conservatism”, 07/12/2020) and one nine months later (“Does Conservatism Pave the Way for Progressivism”, 11/09/2021). Both authors took a rather dim view of my piece. According to the first, my arguments were: “exactly what we have come to expect from status-quo conservatives – misrepresentation, straw-man, and weakness.” The second was even more damning: according to him, my article “highlights the mental decay of a mind infected with the pernicious, debilitating, mind-virus of conservatism.” Burn!
I get the impression, from the vigour of these responses, that they were both written by young men. For my part, I can only reply from the mellowness of middle age.
My reply would be: Look, I get it. You’ve seen conservatives lose battle after battle. Gay marriage. Abortion. The apparently relentless onslaught of political correctness. The unquestioning embrace of post-nationalist multiculturalism. You are tired of always fighting losing battles and you want to go on the attack.
You believe conservatives have conserved nothing. I will address that claim in a moment. However, I think it only fair to ask the corresponding question: what have post-conservatives achieved? What have the populist right, the New Right, the Dark Enlightenment, the Neo-Reactionaries, the Alt-Right, the Alt-Lite, and the whole array of other post-conservative movements achieved? What might they realistically achieve, in Ireland particularly?
Judging from their presence in comment boxes and on social media, one might think the populist right is burgeoning in Ireland. However, the inarguable facts of the ballot box tell a different story. Parties such as The National Party, the Irish Freedom Party, and Anti-Corruption Ireland poll dismally at every election.
Nor has the populist right in any way moderated the hegemony of the liberal left in Ireland, or indeed elsewhere. The Overton window has not been held open one half-inch by all the efforts of keyboard and webcam warriors, but rather it continues to shrink. Big Tech and the mainstream media has managed to swat away anyone who challenges the globalist, liberal secular-narrative, driving them to alternative platforms where “normies” will never happen upon them.
The populist right may have played some part in bringing about the annus mirabilis of 2016, which saw the election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit. However, it’s hard to see either of these as post-conservative triumphs. I doubt that Nigel Farage has even heard of Julius Evola, and Trump is essentially Pat Buchanan with charisma. It’s telling that Richard Spencer announced his support for Biden over Trump in the 2020 election.
My purpose is not to mock the populist right, or to rub their faces in their own failure. Being a fuddy-duddy conservative, I believe in fighting losing battles for their own sake. I happen to believe the post-conservative right is fighting the wrong battles, but I don’t fault them for fighting losing battles.
One might say that this new “red-pilled” right is very young, that it has (in the words of the Carpenters) only just begun. Realistically, however, what prospects lie before it?
We live in a globalized, networked world a million miles from the ethnically near-homogeneous, heavily Christian nation states that existed in Europe before World War II, and for some time afterwards. Fantasies of autarky that never even worked in the twentieth century are, today, untenable even as fantasies. The idea of a (counter)-revolutionary right-wing government coming to power, democratically or otherwise, in a country like Ireland is a ridiculous utopian, or dystopian fantasy, according to your own taste. We are simply never going to see a neo-reactionary regime sweep into office and radically reverse the liberal agenda. The first thing that would happen would be a rush of foreign investment out of the country. Globalization is the only game in town. The only question is how we play it. We would do well, perhaps, to pursue Pope Francis’s ideal: “globalization of the polyhedron, not the sphere”. That is, a model of globalization that seeks to avoid homogenization.
If one chooses to make an idol of success, perhaps one should note that the record of the reactionary right in Ireland has been dismal. The extreme right Ailtirí na hAiséirí party never achieved more than a few local election successes, and Catholic integrist groups such as Maria Duce and An Rioghacht never had any serious influence among the hierarchy, the clergy, or the laity. This at a time when Ireland was overwhelmingly Catholic and nationalist. And yet these are the sort of names one hears invoked by the young Turks of the Irish right who tell us that traditional conservatism has never achieved anything!
Now let me return to the claim that conservatives have never achieved anything. If you restrict your vantage point to the last thirty years, that might be true. Extend it a little further and it’s harder to maintain. Was not, for example, the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War a resounding triumph for conservatism? The figures most often given credit for this achievement— Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, St. John Paul II, Lech Walesa— were all figures who fit comfortably into the “conservative” label.
Besides, let’s think of how much has actually been preserved. For all the advances of political correctness, we still live in societies with a large measure of religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and so on. The nation-state endures, weakened as it is. The Christian churches, and other religious organizations, continue to play a role in society, and have successfully endured the New Atheist moment when they seemed under serious threat.
Another achievement I would list for “old-fashioned” conservatism is the history of Ireland from the achievement of independence to, perhaps, the nineteen-nineties. Irish conservatives were rightly devastated by the abortion referendum result of 2018, which signalled the ultimate rout of traditional, Catholic Ireland. But we could just as well look at it the other way: that it took that long for the liberal-secularists (who had been hard at work since the fifties at least) to achieve their final victory. Enoch Powell famously said that all political lives end in failure. In fact, everything in this world ends in failure; no victory is permanent. Ireland came close to fulfilling the dream of Pearse and De Valera for many decades: a Christian nation, and a nation that was at least making a valiant effort to reclaim its Gaelic culture. That achievement stands in history on its own merits, and can inspire us for the future.
My critics may point out that I have ignored many of their criticisms. Indeed I have. If I responded to them all, this article would never end. I will not, for instance, make a detailed defence of my claim that the crimes of anti-democratic societies are far worse than those perpetrated by democracies. I will leave this to the common sense of the reader. Criticism of democracy has become a commonplace amongst the neo-reactionary right in Ireland; I sometimes feel like asking such critics which of the current one-party states or theocracies they would prefer to move to.
Instead of trying to answer everything, I will address the matter of religion, a much-vexed question in the pages of the Burkean. One of my critics invoked “a traditional Christian worldview”, although he was not more specific than that. It’s fair to say that the populist right in Ireland is either anti-Christian, opposing the universalist claims of the religion, or appeal to a Traditionalist, integrist, pre-Vatican II model of Catholicism.
The problem is that it’s not open to Catholics to reject the Second Vatican Council— the largest assembly of Catholic bishops in history, and a binding ecumenical council, whether or not it propounded any dogmas.
Nor is it permissible for Catholics to disregard the teaching of the vast majority of bishops in union with the Pope, as we so frequently see on the radical right— for instance, in the matter of religious pluralism. Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the Church, puts it succinctly: “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” So no, it is really not an option to choose the Magisterium of Taylor Marshall and E. Michael Jones over that of the actual Magisterium.
Those who would set the historical Magisterium of the Church against the living Magisterium often appeal to documents like Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. However, they often overlook the twenty-second error, which reads thus: “The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.” A condemnation which, taken seriously, would render silent the vast majority of right-wing (and left-wing) dissent from the teaching Magisterium. If Cardinal Cullen and Archbishop McQuaid were with us today, they would undoubtedly give them a firm belt of the crozier and tell them to listen to their God-ordained pastors.
In closing I would like to quote the words of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.” Conservatives have suffered grievous losses in our lifetime. Our response should not be to retreat into fantasy, building castles in air, or the politics of protest. Our response should be to face reality, apply solid conservative values to the situation we find ourselves in, and to continue fighting the good, gradual, painstaking fight. In the great words of Tennyson’s Ulysses:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.