Vox Day has been on the warpath against conservativism for quite some time. Interestingly, he recently found a passage from the late 19th century showing that his complaint has been around for a while:
It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation.
What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted?
Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always, when about to enter a protest, very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip.
No doubt, after a few years, when women’s suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservatism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby suffrage; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to asses. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position.
– Robert Lewis Dabney, 1871
It seems that a conservative is simply a martyr: they preemptively bemoan change, yet carefully ensure that the change they “oppose” happens, first to ensure they are never seen as a threat to anyone, and second, so that they will have something to moan and “I-told-you-so” about. They hide behind a posture of aloof respectability, and denounce anyone — on any side — so low as to actually do something about any of it.
Vox Day sees this as anti-Christian, because the Christian is called to make an uncompromising moral stand on certain issues. To not be “luke-warm.”
One of the reasons I enjoy Vox Day’s work is his sheer pugnacity. In this regard, he is actually quite similar to another great hero of mine, the late Christopher Hitchens. I think it is the recognition of this combative care for things that led even Vox to like Hitchens:
…it is this emotional aspect that redeems Hitchens as a human being even as it precludes any possibility of taking God is not Great seriously as an attack on religion […] And if Hitchens reveals himself to be a snide, petty, self-righteous, and superficial character throughout the course of the book, he also comes off as an eminently likeable individual, even charming at times. Whereas one finishes The God Delusion and The End of Faith resenting the authors for forcing one to immerse one’s mind in such a sneering slough of asinity, the third member of the unholy trinity rather makes on feel like buying him a drink and asking if the subject of total consciousness ever came up when he was playing golf with the Dalai Lama.
One imagines the respect might have been mutual. After all, Hitchens was also rabidly anti-conservative. Hitchens also probably would have had some choice words about Vox — arrogant, cruel, petty, scientifically deranged and unskeptical of all manner of bizarre conspiracy theories. But there would be a touch of admiration there too.
Both men have this thumotic fighting spirit, and their mutual rejection of conservativism seems related to this. But they stand on opposite sides of Christianity.
Is Christianity related to this spirit? If so, is Day right, and is Christianity really opposed to this kind of conservative martyrdom? Is Jesus the Western foundation for manly resistance, to which Hitchens is a unique, un-Godly exception? Or is it the other way around, and is Vox Day the exception to Christian compromise and defeat from the moral high-ground?
I think that the image of Jesus on the cross is a starting clue. Literally the central image of Christianity is dying on behalf of others, and all believers are called to emulate this spirit (if not necessarily the action itself), accepting our unjust death without resistance, remembering that we too are sinners, and above all else, maintaining the moral high ground.
Perhaps not “moral” in the rhetorical sense usually meant by the term “moral high-ground,” but performative for an audience nonetheless. The only difference is that the audience is God, not other people.
Ferociously denouncing those we think are wrong, yet nonetheless loving our enemies and refusing to defend oneself, let alone go on the offense… when we get right down to it, it is actually rather difficult to see any distinction at all between the Christian spirit and the spirit of the Conservative that Dabney and Day denounce.
To his credit, Day himself does not at all fit this spirit. But his own spirit — a self-described “cruelty artist” with an occasional arrogance problem, a man who loves the fight, not just to the end, but well past the end, a planner, self-reliant, and a man who understands the connection between love and hatred — could not be more opposite to that of Jesus, or any of the other disciples.
The Christian worldview holds that this world is evil — or at least “fallen” — and is in any case transient. It will pass away, and will ultimately be of no consequence, along with all of the people, things, and events that passed through its mortal folds. Only the souls of Gods’ creation will live on forever, and whether they live in heaven or hell is not a matter of their actions, but of their heart. The core of Christian “morality” (if we can call it that) is not right action, but right feeling. And often, the wrong feelings are the very feelings that would be necessary in order to rally the morale and win:
What is evil in War? Is it the death of some who will die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are the love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power…
— Augustine of Hippo
When we look at the noble defeatism of conservativism and compare it with Christian theology, it becomes clear that the two aren’t just similar: there is no functional difference between them whatsoever. The ever-decrying but actionless approach of conservativism is simply Christian spirituality applied only to politics. I say ‘only applied to politics’ rather than ‘applied to politics’ because the noble defeatism of Christianity could be applied in any number of arenas.
If you were to propose this to a Christian, you might hear that this is absolute nonsense, because the Christian is not accepting defeat — he knows his side wins in the end! God will come and take vengeance (eventually), and all wrongs will be righted, and all tears will be wiped away, and the faithless and the traitors and the unrepentant sinners and the demons and devils that turned them will all be cast into a lake of fire.
That’s what’s going to happen. They don’t have to do anything. And of course, this world was never going to be fixed anyway, so trying to fix it would be pointless, faithless, and sinful.
So why is the Christian surprised when the conservative (often Christian themselves) takes the same blustering approach? After all, the conservative believes in the inevitability of history. ‘Hard times make strong men’ and all that. They are convinced that they will ‘win’ (be proven right) in the end, and that’s what’s important to them. The dire warnings of the terrible consequences that their opponents will bring upon themselves by their unreasonableness and violence (“they know not what they do“), all while condemning their own side for taking any potentially successful action to actually prevent the predicted consequences (because “all who take the sword will perish by the sword“).
Christianity is the original conservativism, in the sense implied by Dabney and Day — guiltless martyrdom taking spiritual precedence over survival and success, because both the Christian and the conservative believe survival and success are essentially guaranteed anyway. At least in the long run. And just think about it — if success is guaranteed and the goal is nobility, then why would you want short-term success? It is more noble to be right in the face of persecution and unjust death than it is to simply be right and accepted. Where would be the challenge in that? The heroism? Where would be the chance to go down with the ship like some brave boat-pilot of the soul?
It is no wonder that right-of-center Christians are so keen on shedding the baggage of labels like “theology” and even “religion,” in favor of a supposedly simple “relationship” with God. (Some even say that “Christianity isn’t a religion”). Of course, a relationship with God without theology would being married despite adamantly refusing to learn anything about marriage.
Theology is literally “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience.” Reading the Bible for the purpose of understanding God, or trying to understand how you should be better acquainted with him, is an act both of religion and of theology. To examine Christian theology with any honesty is to see, at the heart of Christian spirituality, the conservative impulse yearning for blessed defeat.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
– Matthew 5:3-12