Food is conserved in conditions of scarcity. Forests are conserved when they are being wiped out. We conserve historical sites when they are in a state of disrepair or permanent disuse. The word “conservatism” suggests the preciousness of what is being preserved and a will to defend it, but it also suggests a climate of decay and a general trend toward decrepitude. Conservation, after all, is merely a way of staving off the inevitable.
The source of conservative despair is a weakness not of principles or ideals, but of posture. Our disposition toward the present context lacks adequate direction. We fight for things like neutrality, and the liberty to be left alone. (Acedia’s plea.) We gripe about our losses and reminisce about the good old days (of fifty years ago or fifteen hundred). We huddle together in increasingly isolated enclaves of fellow-thinkers. And this posture of conservatism, which is merely conservative, primes us for failure. The inevitable.
(Emphasis supplied and italics in original.) Milco has identified, we think, this tendency in conservative thought previously. For example, he called the late Antonin Scalia, “the mighty rearguard in our [i.e., conservatives’] long and slow defeat.”
For our part, we’d take a step back: when Milco says that “the source of conservative despair is a weakness not of principles or ideals,” we are not so sure we agree. Certainly, to the extent that the Christ’s teachings and the teachings of Christ’s Church are conservative, we would agree that the foundation of those principles or ideals is as strong as possible (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11–15). But there are plenty of conservative ideals not built upon Christ’s teachings. For example, the sort of unrestrained faith in capitalism and near-idolatry of the free market so popular among some conservatives is to be found nowhere in sound Christian doctrine. Likewise, a concept of the role of government that is divorced entirely from the notion of the common good—by this, of course, we mean the obsession with “limited government” on the right, which is not at all the same thing as subsidiarity—is not a concept in accordance with reason. And, of course, worshipping a Constitution that resolutely and intentionally denies the rights of God and his Church is the very antithesis of Christian doctrine. Now, we mention all this not to demonstrate how little we think of standard-issue movement conservatism in the United States—though we do not in fact think a whole lot of it—but to show that there are articles of conservative faith today that are weak. They are weak because they are un-Christian.
Now, we are under no illusion that Milco meant to imply that basic movement conservatism is founded upon sound ideals; our demonstration was intended to set up this point: Christians have made common cause with movement conservatives over a variety of issues. In some cases, there have been common goals—the defense of life and marriage against the world and the lord of this world—and where the groups’ goals diverged, they were still essentially compatible. Perhaps, however, it is time for Christians to go forward alone and on their own terms. The goal of a Christian is not to win elections, but to win an imperishable crown, as Paul says (1 Cor. 9:24–25)—though serving Christ, who is the lawful king over all nations, may involve government according to Christ’s laws—and perhaps it’s time to start moving forward with that goal in mind.