"X-Cons" and the Future of Conservatism [UPDATED]
Mark Shea has commented on an excellent piece by Joe Carter at First Things, in which Joe seeks to define "Generation X" conservatives, who he labels "X-Cons".
He has been one of the few voices in the conservative movement to speak out of actual conservative values and not out of the Consequentialism that dominates the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism. So I was interested in his description of "X-Cons", the rising generation of conservatives (so-called) who have been coming of age in the past decade. I think his description is accurate, rather depressing, and a further proof that Chesterton is right when he says that each revolutionary movement is a reaction to the last revolution--and that it typically knows what is wrong but not what is right. I appreciate Carter's clear-eyed analysis and suspect that he, like me, is not altogether thrilled that this is the desperate pass in which the Thing that Used to be Conservatism now finds itself.Later on, Mark continues:
X-Cons know little about history and their deepest influence is disk jockeys, who "taught us X-Cons to appreciate confirmation of our political views." The perfectly reasonable thing to ask in light of this crushing diagnosis is, "What, precisely, is being conserved by such a 'conservatism'?" A conservatism that knows nothing of engagement with ideas outside the Talk Radio Noise Machine (including engagement with ideas from its own intellectual history) and which has learned, as it's primary lesson, "to appreciate confirmation of our political views" is a conservatism that is intellectually barren and open to manipulation by demagogues who flatter its adherents and teach them to remain safe in the echo chamber.Mark goes further in his assessment of "X-Cons" as the dupes of demagogues:
When Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are your intelligentsia and Buckley is a sort of a ghostly eminence gris you no longer bother listening to, one must again ask what, exactly, is being conserved by such a conservatism. Much that bills itself as anti-elitist is just a celebration of intellectual laziness and a resentment of people who have done the hard work of thought. Yes, there are pointy headed intellectuals who pride themselves on their learning. That's not an excuse to be a wahoo who prides himself on his ignorance.Mark concludes his analysis of Joe's piece lamenting Joe's acknowledgement of the fact that "X-Cons" will soon displace the generation that came before us. Joe writes:
• X-Cons will soon be replacing the Boomers as the dominant cohort within the movement. We’ll be fielding presidential candidates in 2016 and dominating elections in 2020. We are, for better and for worse, the future of the movement. And of America.... and Mark responds:
Bleak words indeed...My Comments:
First, let me note that I tried to leave my thoughts in comments on Mark's blog, but the commenting tool Mark uses rejected the comment as too voluminous. Rather than breaking it up into several comments, I decided to blog my view on the matter here.
While I commend Joe on his piece at First Things, I call B.S. on at least parts of Mark's analysis of Joe's piece, and ESPECIALLY on some of the commenters who have responded favorably to Mark's analysis by blaming the so-called "X-Cons" for the commenters' decisions to continue to support the party of abortion-on-demand.
The "X-Cons" aren't responsible for "the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism" (hereafter, "the Thing") - in fact, we are increasingly skeptical of "the Thing" and especially the Republican Party claiming the mantle of "the Thing". As evidence, I submit my own blog as well as a piece today at National Catholic Register by Pat Archbold (recently described by one of Mark's sycophants as a "Republican shill").
No, the folks responsible for bringing us huge deficits, Wilsonian foreign policy, and consequentialism dressed up as "the Thing" were decidedly NOT members of the "X" generation, but were baby boomers and even members of the so-called "Greatest Generation". Given that fact, Mark's assessment as "bleak words indeed" of Joe's acknowledgement of the rise of the "X-Cons" to replace the previous generation seems completely without merit. Surely we can't do any worse with respect to "the Thing" than the generations that have come before us. In short, given our increasing distrust of what "the Thing" has become and the party that champions it, it is the "X-Cons" who are the antidote to "the Thing", not the purveyors of it.
In addition, rather than criticizing the "X-Cons" for rejecting elitism and embracing what they see as middle-class authenticism, why not ask whether the elites have actually served them well and, if the answer is "HELL NO!" (which it most assuredly is), whether there are better alternatives for leadership from among the "riff-raff" who actually share the values of the "X-Cons"? Mark asks what is it that is actually being conserved? Well, if you ask me, the traditional family values of protection of life, protection of the institution of the family, hard work, integrity, loyalty, etc., etc., are being protected far more on the front porches, parish halls, and town halls of flyover country than they are in the halls of academia and, yes, even on the pages of National Review. Maybe "X-Cons" see the people Mark derides as base and demogogic as being the actual preservers of the values we hold dear (i.e. they're the ones doing the "conserving" these days), as opposed to the new generation of Buckleys who view us as so much white trash and instead embrace The One.
(You'll forgive me if I don't take seriously the criticisms of Bill Buckley's sole offspring aimed at a mother of five who has not only lived out her pro-life credentials and put them into practice, but who has placed herself into the arena rather than carping from the sidelines and living off daddy's reputation. Elites, indeed. And while the average "X-Con" is probably unfamiliar with Russell Kirk, I think you'd find that Russell Kirk would not have been unfamiliar with, and might even have approved of, the views of many typical "X-Cons".)
So, let me reiterate that I find Mark's assessment, in which he chooses so-called "X-Cons" as the object for beating on some of his favorite hobby horses, ridiculous. And let me extend that, as well, to those comments at Mark's blog from folks who just cannot bring themselves to be "conservative" because of the alleged influence of the "X-Cons". The guys who vote Democrat long after they should have stopped aren't voting Democrat because of the influence of the "X-Cons" and those who have shaped their thought; they continue to vote Democrat because they continue to treat differences over fiscal and budgetary matters as if they were matters of Catholic dogma, while giving short shrift to the holocaust of the unborn and the coming crisis the Church will face once same-sex marriage becomes the hammer for beating the Church into compliance with the social agenda of the left. In short, they are shaped by a culture of materialism moreso than they are a culture of life. (This final criticism by me is aimed at some of those commenting at Mark's blog, not at Mark himself.)
UPDATE (26 May)
For the record, I am not anti-intellectual, by any means. In fact, I'm quite proud of the fact that I have a law degree from a top-10 law school at a university founded by, arguably, this nation's most intellectual President. But I don't believe that much "conserving" is going on these days in the halls of academia or in the pages of the sorts of publications that the hoity-toity tend to patronize.
Sufice it to say that, if I were to hold to the views that most graduates of top-10 law schools hold, I would acutally have LESS claim to objective truth (which, in my view, is what conservatism is about) than the weekly-mass-attending guy in flyover country with only a high school diploma working an hourly 9-5 job to ensure that he can support his family of 6 and struggle to send his kids to Catholic school. I'd gladly vote for that guy to represent me over the typical graduate of a top-10 law school ANY DAY.
And, since Mark alludes to Buckley in his post, let us not forget that it was the man himself who once said that he would rather entrust the government of the nation to the first 400 people in the Boston phone book than to the Harvard faculty.
UPDATE #2 (27 May)
Commenting at The American Catholic, American Knight absolutely nails it with respect to X-Generation conservatives:
Speaking as a so-called X-con, a label I like even less than Gen X I can say that we are a generation that is resistant to be defined by these labels. Although the X factor has some truth to it. We are far less homogenous than previous or subsequent generations. We are a relatively small generation sandwiched between two generations of collectivists, yet we are probably more powerful because we are nimble, intelligent rather than educated, conservative rather than Republican, creators more than consumers, religious more than spiritual, leaders more than followers.
We did grow up knowing that we survived the most dangerous place in the world, our own mothers’ wombs only to face being burned alive by the Soviet nuclear threat. Yet most of us came of age when it was Morning in America again. Have you noticed how much happier the music of the 80s is compared to the whinny, sentimental, depressing tone of today’s so-called rock and even the corporate bubble gum pop? Our musicians for the most part played real instruments. Even the movies were better, now we can only remake 70s and 80s shows, comic books and video games. Creativity is dead.
We experienced a sanitized Catholicism and yet more of us hear the Tridintine Mass and thinks the liberals in the Church are no threat because they’ll be dead and gone soon and Gen-X priests are true soldiers of Christ. We are the triumphant remnant of orthodoxy.
Our politics are reactionary because the work of the 20th century to destroy America from within and merge her with the USSR, which was supposed to come to completion during WWIII in our years of coming of age DID NOT happen. The timetable moved because morning came to America and the masters of the universe where not expecting it. Although the 80s and 90s seemed prosperous, we knew that the bedrock of society had been eroded and we wanted it restored. We have to battle two large anti-American, globalist, socialist age cohorts. One that has practically destroyed this country, both the Rs and the Ds and the other which is their spawn and far more violent and nihilistic and way, way dumber and more manageable by the cult of personality.
We are hopeful and yet totally aware that we are being screwed. If this generation cannot restore authentic conservative principles and return American to where the right is traditional and the left is libertarian and they both operate under the Christian God; and the liberals are dead, in prison or exiled, then no discussion will be necessary because America will be no more.
Trying to fit a generation like that into a neat little box like the hippies before us and the socialists after is going to prove to difficult for anyone, even us...