Friday, June 26, 2009

When We First Learned We Were Conservative

It was high school. Just a glimmer in those days, really.

Oh, we already had a clear commitment to what often pass for "liberal" causes -- for example, our hometown attempted to pass a gay-rights ordinance, which would have prevented housing discrimination and so forth, and we were there for the debate, even if we had little to say. (So was our boyhood pastor, who had more to say, and who was then as now a profound influence upon us). We read a lot of Shaw in those days, and were pretty much sold on socialism and Wagner, and very nearly on atheism. We frequently spent our lunch hours arguing matters of politics and morality with a devout Mormon, who would later join the Air Force and commit adultery, thus in one heady post-collegiate weekend teaching us everything we have ever needed to know about the the religious right.

But at the same time, we were making a discovery: we liked John Keats more than Dylan Thomas. Both were doomed prodigies, both had enormous (and, in retrospect, somewhat inflated) reputations among the teachers who influenced us. But we liked Keats more. No big deal by itself, except so far as it revealed a pattern. Aristophanes cracked us up, and Sophocles made us really think about the world, while Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett left us cold and unhappy. The Renaissance paintings reproduced in our old Time-Life "Museums of the World" volumes were brilliant and witty and inspiring; occasional glimpses of, say, Jackson Pollock were (and remain) intensely annoying. As for the world of what passed for "music" after Richard Strauss -- seriously, do people listen to Schonberg? On purpose?

So here was out discovery, made somewhere between the ages of 15 and 17: We liked old stuff better than new stuff. And, as we discovered somewhat more slowly, we found the people who liked old stuff a little easier to get on with than the people who liked new stuff. Not that they were more fun to be with -- they generally weren't -- but rather that they seemed a little less likely to be talking nonsense, at least about art. The people who liked old stuff -- aesthetic conservatives -- seemed to have a clearer sense of what was good or bad, and why. In other words, they had values.

This all became much clearer in college. We studied English during the rise of Deconstructionism, and it wasn't pretty. Our English department resisted the worst of it, but still. The idea of the author, much less an historical context, much less a meaning, was in serious danger. (And yes, we fell for all of this; the truth is that we are still a bit edgy about authorial identity). And you might as well forget beauty. So what breath of air could have ben fresher than Charles Pierce (pronounced "Purse"), who ended one class by saying, "I have assigned you two poems on a single subject, written only decades apart -- Goldsmith's Deserted Village, and Tintern Abbey. One of them is a good poem, and the other is not. Go home, read them, and then please explain in writing which one is good, and -- especially -- why."

Now, the sort of conservatism that Mr. Pierce represented -- as did the classmate who spent years analyzing Ingres' oil technique and who has remained our closest college friend -- should not be mistaken for political conservatism. It certainly hasn't worked out that way in practice, although we will argue, given a chance, that this is essentially a problem of semantics, and that our politics are conservative, even traditionalist, in a way that those of the economic neoliberals and foreign policy neoimperialists are not. But it did manifest, especially in our early adulthood, in a certain (if -- ahem -- relative) seriousness about matters of morality and personal accountability. There was a connection of some sort between our aesthetic values and our moral ones.

And we believe, although this is hard to work out in detail, that this same connection extends to our liturgical and ecclesiological vision, what in Lutheran terms is quaintly called "evangelical catholicism" (as though there were any other kind). One doesn't want to overstate the case; Pietism takes its morality seriously as a rule, despite the numerous exceptions which we bite our tongue charitably rather than describe. It is certainly not true, or not entirely true, that good art makes people good, nor that good people make good art. One wishes it were, but it isn't. Nor is "good art" necessarily backward-looking, whatever one's own preference. Nor, again, is good worship -- define it as you like, but we side with "traditional" -- a necessary indicator of good morals, or of spiritual health in a community. And yet these things are not unrelated.

All of which is why, despite our usual misgivings about City Journal, which never seems quite as serious as it means to be, we can't help but nod along with Roger Scruton's essay, linked above. The first half, at least, as he reminds us of why Clement Greenberg was an agent of Satan. In the second half, as he warms to his theme -- "art since 1750 seeks to desecrate the sacred, and target life rather than celebrate it" -- his brush strokes grow far too wide. In particular, he fails to take seriously the attempt of Anglo-European writers to grapple seriously with the Enlightenment as a challenge to traditional values, and to find at least some of those values in nature, and in the nature of human society, even if they had trouble finding them in God. Matthew Arnold, anybody?

12 comments:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Sounds like we have some tastes in common, although you are much more well read in music, art, and religion. I'm trying to learn some things about art lately and I'm running into what seems to be a sort of homage to "collage" style art. Most of it looks like junk plus glue to me, but there it is, article after article in the magazines....I don't have a problem with a person making a personal piece for remembrance, but that doesn't strike me as universal art, whatever that means.

Regarding worship style, I happen to think that if a song/hymn is singable and has a good theology, then it is probably acceptable. That probably excludes, in my opinion, words that are too syrupy or simplistic, but doesn't necessarily exclude a simple melody. It may well exclude any music that is left vacant if the "praise band" doesn't show up. It certainly excludes any lyrics that talk more about the "praiser" than the "praisee."

I believe that music during a worship service should have a purpose, other than just filling time, use of the traditional liturgical form gives up a purpose at various times during each service or during the year.

Lately I've been thinking that our church has been singing some songs that are just too simplistic. We need to hear more about God's greatness and grace and that just doesn't fit with a simplistic song.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Forget, please, "conservatism." It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

"[Secular conservatism] 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."

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

PS – And “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” Rush Limbaugh never made a bigger ass of himself than at CPAC where he told that blasphemous “joke” about himself and God.

Father said...

Note to readers: We only published the comment above, from Mr. Lofton, to illustrate a curious fact of the blogosphere. There are people who seem to post the same comments all over the Net, to any article

Mr. Lofton, for example, has posted this comment -- in these precise words -- no fewer than 432 times over the past 18 months or so. He keeps it on a clipboard, and pastes it freely.

We are not surprised by his persistence; the Internet is home to every conceivable idee fixe. We are a bit curious about the technical means by which he stumbled upon Madgalene's Egg. Surely he isn't a regular reader, so we assume that a search engine was involved; but which one, and how was it used?

The question interests us especially because of a recent exchange, dissimilar in detail but not in nature, with a representative of Concordia Publishing House. (Readers who missed it can skim the comments to our post regarding Community Church of Joy).

How do such people -- those with a bone to pick, or a product to sell -- go about targeting amateur blogs like this one? We don't know. And should we humor them by posting their comments? The pros and cons weigh upon us.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

An "idee fixe?" Nope. I'm just a Christian who knows and believes his Bible and doesn't want anyone to think "conservatism" will save us.

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

He may use something like Google Alerts. Go to Google, sign in, click on the Alerts tab. Set them up any way you like.

I was told about this feature. I use it to find blogs and news articles about a number of my interests. You might need to find different words or phrases to put in the search feature. I also have my blog names, blog sign-in names, and my real name in the Alerts, although that usually gets rather boring results. I guess there is one other woman in the US with the same name.

The friend who told me about using this has a blog and website for her business, so she uses it to find people with similar interests and also to find out when someone else might be using her words or pictures or methods without permission.

One time I found a blog "with similar interests to mine. And on that blog, I found a lot of my private pictures, some how lifted from my publicly listed Picasa/Google web album. I notified the blog writer, but also changed my web album to private.

Father said...

Which is certainly a perspective worth airing, and one to which the Egg renders no objection whatsoever.

But it doesn't really address any of our other questions, either about how you happened to find this blog and the others to which you have contributed the same comment, or about whether or not posting the same comment all over the Net is fair game.

We're genuinely interested in Mr Lofton's answer to the first question, and the answer of other readers to the second.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

TO JL: I didn't take Father's comment about idee fixe as a criticism of the content of your comment, but rather that you post the same thing regardless of what questions you are answering, when you are answering it, and who you are commenting about. Thus your ideas seem to be as relevant as are those of other peoples' of other political and religious persuasions. Emphasis on SEEM.

I, for one, have sought out well written blogs of various persuasions, in both politics and religion. There is a lot of name calling, straw men arguments, and other means of false arguments, by writers in many groups, unfortunately. I start out reading with an open mind, but when ideas are bashed rather than explained (for or against), then that's the end of what I read of that.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Hope all of you will visit our web site; read some articles; listen to some of my radio shows (particularly the one at the top of the front page now). Also, I'm Communications Director, Institute of the Constitution, IOTConline.com. Hope you'll stop by there, too. Thanks. And may God bless us all, as He does when we OBEY Him...

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

Anonymous said...

mr. lofton is perhaps moving in a similar manner to t.v. advertizers who sell their knives, cds or political & religous views; something i see as a kind of infiltration. they pay their money & t.v. stations make their choice. with a blog no money is involved so perhaps the choice is easy.

Anonymous said...

No doubt a woefully underpaid temp, given the task of posting this same comment to any and every blog that certain keyword lists bring up in search engines, using Lofton's signature to generate hits for their website. Very interesting.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Re-state, please, any questions you have and I will attempt to answer them.

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

Diane said...

plus he didn't really understand your post, or what you mean by "conservative."

by the way, I like old stuff better than new stuff, too.

and, like Robert Frost, I think free verse is like "playing tennis with the net down."