Pop culture is not something that occupies my concerns a great deal. I do not live for the latest story of who is sleeping with whom; my imagination is not seized by the lifestyles of this or that know-nothing with a microphone or a bully pulpit.
Shock for shock’s sake – outrageous and false and dangerous. Impropriety dressed up as avant-garde; pornography as art; willful ignorance as tolerance – civilizational destruction masquerading as progress.
All that is the domain of the ‘progressives’, and I shun it. It holds no place in the tales of nations – no, not even in the footnotes.
Oh sure, sometimes things seep into my twitter feed and I inadvertently read a blathering quote from a know-nothing and I (sometimes reluctantly, usually not) am forced to stop watching his or her movies (their books I have never read – for know-nothings rarely write, it takes too much effort. Which is a good thing). Incidentally I’m really enjoying Netflix original series, they are very well done and bring together new talent which – wait for it – are not so self-involved as to think that I care one iota what their opinions are about things of which they are not informed, and whether they subsequently want to move to Canada or not.
Then came Milo. I hadn’t really heard about him – maybe the name. As usual I didn’t care. The Berkeley thing caught my attention – more because the closing of America’s academic space has become something that I follow. As America shutters her mind against unwanted ideas, ideas that might indicate a preference for one thing over the other – because we all know preference is the gateway drug for discrimination – somebody needs to occasionally think, reason and respond. If only to a limited forum such as this.
CPAC. A political forum to discuss the fate of our nation, to debate the ideas that have proven themselves in the kiln of history and come out refined and purified, as Zachariah in the Old Testament has said, “And I will put (sic) into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” CPAC is not supposed to be an episode of Real Housewives of Republicans. It is not a Howard Stern assault.
Which brings me to my point, have we lost our minds? CPAC, the greatest forum for conservative political debate reduced to the status of a 12 year old girl, chasing around after a shock-jock celebrity in the hopes that something “cool” might rub off?
I read a lot of The Imaginative Conservative. Their own description of themselves is as follows, “The Imaginative Conservative engages readers in a reflection on the great ideas, the great books and the great persons that make up our Western Tradition.” Dead white men – I suppose – as Berkeley know-nothings say. One of the frequent visitors to the page of the online journal is J.R.R. Tolkien. That British writer who gave the world fantasy – and thereby single-handedly made his indelible mark in the community of civilization. Tolkien’s fantasy is beautiful, and it is profoundly conservative. At the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam return home to the Shire. The scene is called “The Scouring of the Shire”, and they find Frodo’s home, which he went to the fires of Mount Doom to save, defiled by Saruman. Frodo realizes, in shock and dismay, that even after defeating such a great evil as he has vanquished in Sauron, he must undertake one last fight to save his home which is being ‘destroyed’ by ‘progressive progress*’.
I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you.
Tolkien was a true conservative – a romantic of the past – who understood that the value of our lives comes only if we understand the great ideas and epic struggles – those that the fires of time have purified – and learn from them, putting them to use in our own time, sprinkled with stardust product of nostalgia. But he was also of this world. The scene has always bothered me – the previous scene ends on such a high note that I’ve always felt that the story should end there. But Tolkien had one last lesson for us. The “Scouring of the Shire” it is said is taken from his experiences returning home from the Great War**; of how his Oxford countryside was changed forever by rapid industrialization, war-mobilization and a traumatized population. Of how things must change – and of how our fight to preserve that which is good in them is never-ending.
That there are no safe spaces anymore.
Tremendous learning, a depth of wisdom and knowledge and experience put to the articulation of ideas that are good and true – would that Tolkien were alive today to speak at CPAC.
Quite obviously Milo – who I have been forced to learn about against my will – is a deeply troubled lad. I wish him well, and I hope he gets the counseling that he needs for the sexual abuse he has so publically disclosed – because there is nothing in the world more evil, with a more consuming darkness than sexual crimes against our children. But I certainly do not accept that he has a place at the podium to “inform” me about my conservatism – studied and tested and researched as I have developed it to become. “Dead white men” (yes, there were some women too, Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand – don’t tell the know-nothings. Yes, there were some Muslims too, Ibn Tufayl who Jefferson used to read and Al Ghazali and Al Jabbar – don’t tell the know nothings). Ideas old and purified through great tribulation, which are also exciting and strong, which have lasted as our common understanding of who we are, of where we came from – of what is right and good and what is wicked and vapid and passing.
Vargas Llosa once lamented that young people would rather run to listen to some TV actor than to a novelist. I have shared this frustration of Llosa’s at the know-nothings; and it appears now that frustration extends into the heart of conservatism.
And I go in fear.
* Some other time about the Orwellian metamorphosis of our language which is causing a great deal of confusion.
** Tolkien has denied that “The Scouring of the Shire” is allegorical. I, for one, don’t believe him.