Romantic Conservatism and the Decline of the West

I have a link on my blogroll to The Front Porch Republic. I enjoy reading their blog, and they seem like a generally congenial bunch. They have a pretty good read on the fact the Western Civilization is in deep trouble, and have a pretty good diagnosis as to why.

But I have to sigh when reading some of their posts, because too often their solution is to go back. Stop drilling for oil, stop using computers, go back to the Christianity of 1900 / 1800 / 1700 / 1500, or whatever period they think it was best, go back to Thomistic philosophy, and so on.

Now, it's one thing to realize that history does not march forward without a glance back, and that, in reaching 2010, we have lost some good things along the way. We might even look to the past for hints as to how to remedy present problems. But one thing that never happens is that history reverses itself. Even if you think 1400 was a better year to be alive than today, you can't get back there. Our civilizational crisis will not be solved by restoring what had been, but by the rise of a new civilization. (Which, of course, will contain many elements of the one we are losing.) And the thing is, no one knows what that new civilization will look like. Just like no one in Rome in 400 had any clue what the High Middle Ages would be like. The best we can do is to keep alive as much that was good about the old as we can, do our part to create whatever new good we can suss out, and hang on.


  1. I've found Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World to be a good inoculation against conservative pseudo-nostalgia. (The extent to which one can really miss, on an emotional level, a social order one never experienced is a open question, I think. Echoes may come down to us in literature and tradition, but today's admirers of the pre-modern world are themselves modern men and women.)

  2. I like to think of nostalgia and mythologizing the past as a way in which we distill our vision for modern society. If one is obsessed with some century and wants to reenact everything about it, that's silly; however, if one projects ones desires (usually more traditional, or non-progressive anyway) onto the past, this seems to be a valid way of figuring out what's worth preserving, building or tearing down in the modern world. Stories and myths are important.

  3. John, what purpose is served by projecting one's desires onto the past? Why not see the past and one's desires both for what they are?


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