On Strategy: Go Home and Hug Your Kids
On Strategy: Go Home and Hug Your Kids
We must learn to love the everyday; to cherish the mundane; to appreciate the regular; to invest time and happiness in the ordinary. This is the long-lasting and measurable path forward.
"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime… nothing which is true of beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history… nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone." —Reinhold Niebuhr
It is a peculiar characteristic of modern man to think in terms of changing the world, either in triumph over our sinful past or in some grand return to better days. In a world dominated by the political, when all things are related in one way or another to public institutions managed and upheld by the social-administrative nature of Western government—and especially its narratives—so many have a tendency to push toward improvement at a universal scale. As the political extends to the globe, so does the framing of our problems and search for solution.
Whether seeking to overcome the prejudices and cultural inclinations of yesterday, or seeking to re-instill them, our thinking is geared toward colossal shifts that must happen in order to achieve the improvements which we imagine. Our vision is cosmic and there is no hope except in contributing consciously and readily to the unfolding of progress in our time. Man is thrust into the grand and epochal battle for the future of the world, always needing to hone and craft his ideology for the sake of victory over the present conditions of insecurity and tension. Indeed, man feels an obligation, a pull, to jump into the mix and “do something about it.”
Thus, as we sit on the precipice of the Western socio-political framework in decline, there is a constant and implicit demand that we offer an ideological replacement to fill the void created by the Neo-liberal social order (with not only its political structure, but its overall social milieu and interpretive framework). The question constantly asked is: “how do we achieve the successful implementation of our vision?” We each believe that if the world could adapt, however slightly, our own suggestions, the future might indeed be saved.
In a social environment of strife and upheaval, where the animosity and social hostility felt comes via media of entertainment, news, formal education, social media campaigns, and even the narratives that dominate corporate culture, it is becoming obvious that the state is not our only problem. While the managerial state in the West played—and plays— a core role in the transformation of society, the fact remains that it has, undeniably, transformed society itself.
The question therefore is increasingly not merely how do we roll back the influence of the progressive state, the question is what are the causes of a healthy and stable society? In this sense, the answer is not to be found in a loud chorus of ideas offered, understood, and accepted. Civilizations, I’ve said so many times of late, are not phenomena rising out of the application of mutually agreed upon ideological frameworks. The individuals who make up society at large have rarely (perhaps examples can be found in certain religious sects) in history consented to live peacefully among themselves on the basis of a shared ideological vision.
Moreover, the birth and development of sound civilizations are not projects that span the lifetime of a single reformer, whether or not he is fully dedicated to his cause. Western civilization and all its institutions and cultural contributions was the result of over a thousand years of crisis, struggle, and maturation; it was not the result of the intended goal of constructing a brilliant vision for the future. Even more profoundly, the roots of European civilization, which nestled in at the collapse of the Roman Empire, were not the product of revolutionaries seeking to set forth a plan of concerted action.
Throughout American (and European history), the majority of real, everyday, people did not operate their lives in terms of a some fight for liberty; they barely thought about it. The politicization of our thinking has coincided not with the buildup of a strong society, but as it has come at the expense of attention on more important, non-political things, the politicalization of our passions and mental bandwidth has been a key element of the growth of the state and the fracturing of social continuity. Robert Nisbet describes this social breakdown as follows:
It has become steadily clearer to me that alienation is one of the determining realities of the contemporary age. . . By alienation I mean the state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible, or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility. The individual not only does not feel a part of the social order; he has lost interest in being a part of it. For a constantly enlarging number of persons, including, significantly, young persons of high school and college age, this state of alienation has become profoundly influential in both behavior and thought.”
In a recent review of Patrick Deneen’s book on the failures of Liberalism, (a book which may not be agreeable in total), Sam Goldman concludes:
Deneen is probably right that the demand for an ideological replacement for liberalism is not only distinctively modern, but actually part of the problem. In seeking out a course beyond liberalism, we may find ourselves in a position that more closely resembles that of the ancients, who did not possess—and did not generally seek—a comprehensive political and moral doctrine.
Whether one finds fault with the difficult-to-define project of “liberalism,” the point still stands: constructing a socio-political framework for our human future is not the sole way out. This makes the mistake of presuming that the health of society is a result of a comprehensive and shared vision. In truth, naturally arising social context must come first, it is the soil in which the fruit trees can grow. In the words of Roberty Nisbet (Quest for Community):
The family, religious association, and local community—these, the conservatives insisted, cannot be regarded as the external products of man’s thought and behavior; they are essentially prior to the individual and are the indispensable supports of belief and conduct. Release man from the contexts of community and you get not freedom and rights but intolerable aloneness and subjection to demoniac fears and passions.
Society, Burke wrote in a celebrated line, is a partnership of the dead, the living, and the unborn. Mutilate the roots of society and tradition, and the result must inevitably be the isolation of a generation from its heritage, the isolation of individuals from their fellow men, and the creation of the sprawling, faceless masses.
What we learn from all this is that our strategy may be found in the opposite of our modern inclination. Consider the following suggestion: we may not need a mere mob of more voices on behalf of a better ideology at the expense of the actual development of the roots that are required for civilization to rest on solid ground.
The social mood of our late stage democratic progressivism puts a particular emphasis on the primacy of political involvement, politicized chatter, and the sham of making “your voice be heard.” There is a general atmosphere that encourages one to think in terms of creating a movement, of overcoming the power elite, of rallying the proverbial militia, of changing hearts and minds of the world around us.
But imagine, if you will, the sheer audacity of traveling back in time to the degenerative collapse of the Roman world and rallying a handful of people to tell their neighbors about the Good News of Lockean-style private property rights. What is being posited here is certainly not a plea to ignore ideas, but rather, to direct and preserve them in more meaningful, even self-fulfilling ways.
One must consider finding fulfillment and satisfaction in a completely different civilizational role than that of a visible hero. To echo Warren Harding’s campaign speech on a slightly different context, we need, at a personal level, to “return to normalcy:”
America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise;
Such a return to normalcy must be motivated in a change of personal perspective. We must learn to love the everyday; to cherish the mundane; to appreciate the regular; to invest time and happiness in the ordinary. This is the long-lasting and measurable path forward. A people that find their sole identity in the fight against the zeitgeist will so often find that the fight came at the expense of the truly meaningful elements of our person. And the negative effects of non-meaningful political identities have negative effects on those that come after us, long after we draw our last breath.
Indeed, as Nisbet writes:
the major moral and psychological influences on the individual’s life have emanated from the family and local community and the church. Within such groups have been engendered the primary types of identification: affection, friendship, prestige, recognition. And within them also have been engendered or intensified the principal incentives of work, love, prayer, and devotion to freedom and order.”
Each of us tend to flatter ourselves that we will follow in the footsteps of Cato the Younger or Ron Paul, yet the odds are unfavorable that this is the role for our personal taking. Thus, it is high time that we come to terms with the suggestion that we might take up a similar function of the Celts in those dark years in the vacuum of Rome’s former glory.
Rather than a pursuit of some vague agenda of saving the world, the Irish monks, as told in Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, took the path of restoration and preservation on the home front— their scribes took it upon themselves to collect, copy, and preserve the literary contributions of a world that was quickly slipping away. In an age of barbarianism, anti-intellectualism, and revolt against civilization, the role of St. Patrick and the monks he inspired was to act as a silent medium through an era of cultural darkness.
For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature—everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed.
Without this service of the scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly rebounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one—a world without books. And our own world would not have come to be.
And Kenneth Clark, in his chapter "The Skin of Our Teeth," in his own Civilisation writes:
Looking back from the great civilizations of twelfth-century France or seventeenth century Rome, it is hard to believe that for quite a long time—almost a hundred years—western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock eighteen miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet out of the sea.
Their objective was far from hoisting a civilized society back on to the then-dead Roman society, it was rather to be faithful in the small things; to accomplish some obtainable and something accessible. In the scheme of things, the Irish saved civilization because they became the living preservation of the elements of goodness taken from Rome in decay.
From their activities of preservation came forth the eventual outward growth and spread of these memories via an impressive chain of monasteries from Ireland back through continental Europe and blossomed into the roots of the soil of what would one day be European civilization. Literature, art, religious writings, history, records, all the recordings of Roman life were transferred across time via the Irish monks.
This is all analogy, of course. We do not need to run for the caves, build fortresses in the mountains— but the analogy is obvious: in a world of politicization, the most prudent use of our time is not to be another voice in the crowd. Even Jesus said as much: "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."
What, in our context, might it look like to hunker down and hold to a mentality of preservation, to “save the books,” rather than reshape the present world? One thing in particular would be to restore, in our personal lives, the social primacy of the family. This is immediate, it is measurable, it is meaningful, and it is long-lasting. It is quite remarkable that such suggestion might come off as a bland and out of fashion in our age of individual liberation.
And yet, the idea of family—the idea of a partnership between those who have passed on, those currently living, and those yet to be born—this is itself a proven model that can act as a via media, or a conduit, if our goal is the preservation and promulgation of the goodness of civilization. These goods, what TS Eliot and Russell Kirk called “permanent things,” must be passed on in a world dominated by the enemies of permanent things.
In our time, our strategy must be to turn back toward the home, a shelter from the broken and loney world around us. In a world of upheaval, there is solace and meaning in the activities of raising a family. The greatest legacy that many of us will pass on are those of our own flesh and blood. The opportunity that we get to impart our own memories and passions, wisdom and insight, habits and prejudices, to the next generation is made manifest in the raising of a family. In a Progressivist world that downplays the importance of the family and sings the praises of alternative arrangements, few things are more important—but certainly not political activity— than just being a dedicated spouse and parent.
Far from defeatism, there rests a very real sense of hope in walking away from the primacy of the political and tending to the care and development of one’s children. To be a voice in the crowd will likely change no one; to be parent is to homestead a living being that can embody the very things worth passing forward to the world unknown. Our friend Nick Hankoff recently offered pushback against a particular phenomenon among libertarians, writing a piece in the Daily Caller titled As Long As Libertarians Reject Traditional Institutions, They’re As Doomed As America:
The only way to correct the inevitable failure of the libertarian movement is through a deeper appreciation and love for family, church, community, and nationality. For too long, these centers of civic life that strengthen the individual and diminish the state have been neglected.
To the detriment of their cause, some libertarians sneer at these social structures and retreat to more familiar ideological territory. The individual owns himself and has natural rights, yes. But he is also the product of his family, religion, and communities.
If you want to have a role on the future, something measurable and something identifiable to your own hand, stop trying to change the world. Go home and hug your kids. If you don't have any, get married and make some. Homeschool them, if at all possible. Enjoy them. Teach them. Impart the memories and customs of your past—their past—onto their soul, that they might bring them forward to posterity. Make them read— most kids can’t; make them write—still fewer know how.
Raise boys to be men. Raise girls to be women. This is the new counter-cultural. But it is the foundation of culture.
Don't envision yourself as a hero of world change and bringer of hope to the world. Be a father or mother. Be a hero to your family. Gramsci had his long march through the institutions. It's time for our long march through Main Street.
To leave a legacy, first look homeward.
It must be remembered that we the living are the catalyst bringing the past to the future.
We must be vigilant to treat this duty with care, for we are our children’s present and tomorrow we will be their past.
About the author
C.Jay Engel is the founder and publisher of Bastion Magazine. He has written for Mises.org, LRC, David Stockman, and related. He owns several consulting business, actively works on the magazine, and lives in Northern CA.