Performative conservatism and honesty with oneself

Continuing with our discussion of “performative” or “existential” conservatism (i.e. conservatism after the last hope is lost)

One no longer fights liberalism with hopes of victory or even stalemate.  Defiance is a performance, an act of fidelity–to God, to the truth as one sees it, or to oneself–carried out for its own sake.  Because it cannot accomplish anything, there is no obligation, no uniquely right decision.  The very fact that a man has only the present compels him to decide what he wants to do with his time (a short time, but the only time that is real to him), how he wants to live it.

A conservative must always be honest with himself.  Part of his job is to acknowledge and defend motives not sanctioned by liberalism.  It is dishonest, and ultimately pointless, to defend illiberal goods with liberal arguments.  The only real victory is to establish our true motives as legitimate.  Such have been the main themes of this blog:  the legitimacy of authoritarian motives, of tribalist motives, etc.

Why am I a conservative?  Of course, like everyone else I imagine myself to be committed to the truth whatever it should turn out to be, but like everyone else I keep finding the world to be the way I want it to be.  All reasoning is a little bit motivated.  I am a conservative because I care more about meaningfulness than about freedom, and I am more horrified by nihilism than by inauthenticity.

Why am I a conservative blogger?  Why does anybody become publicly conservative, even in an anonymous or pseudonymous way?  Those of us who do it often sink a lot of our free time into it.  Why?  One could invoke “the cause” of course–we’re trying to save Western civilization or whatever.  What, me, save Western civilization?  Well, maybe not me personally, but as one part of a larger group, like soldiers in an army.  No individual soldier wins the war even when the army collectively does.  But we are not like soldiers in an army.  We are each fighting alone.  Our efforts don’t add in any visible way.  (Liberals participating in protests and marches are much more like soldiers in an army.  There are not enough people on the Right for that sort of thing.)  And in any case, all hope of victory, or even preserving the Church, is long gone.

Some protest purely intellectual goals.  I have done so from time to time.  Some bloggers I like say that they write as a way of developing their thoughts, with the existence of their readers an almost incidental matter.  Perhaps this is entirely truthful for them, but for me it only captures part of the truth.  Yes, I’ve been conditioned by long years in academia to only value efforts that wind up being published, and this has spilled over into my hobby.  But I can’t imagine that I would keep this up if I had zero readers.

This blog was an act of performative conservatism long before I started explicitly thinking in those terms.  When one has convictions but no hope, the only thing one can do is make a scene.  Not that it accomplishes anything, but the thought of going to my death having never said anything is horrifying, as if I will somehow be more dead if my beliefs never escape my brain before its destruction.  And a performance requires an audience.  A drama in one’s own person is preferable, of course, and I still hope to perform one someday, but the practicalities will take time to work out.

Now, if the goal is just to say something offensive, that is easy enough.  I admire this kid.  With a forbidden act of piety, he defied the world.  I hope he’ll be able to make a living somehow, having aroused the wrath of media-academic-corporate America.  JMSmith, in a recent comment, as alluded to the strange desire to get the un-personing over with, the fatigue of evading progressive censorship, which many today undoubtedly sometimes feel.  Still, how one brings it about is a very personal thing.  One only gets expelled from polite society once, and one wants a performance to be proud of.  Something that makes the best use of one’s personal strengths and the enemy’s collective weaknesses.

4 Responses

  1. Von Abele is right and the people freaking out are ignorant savages, including the white people. He is explicitly not a racist, and I can’t find the lie. I don’t even like fash the nation.

    The fact that he’s a physics student at Columbia is also greatly encouraging and probably better for the world than a professional grievance monger.

  2. Funny thing about martyrdom. It’s entirely irrational and useless and never accomplishes anything.

    Except when it does.

  3. People in the early Church had, if anything, an addiction to martyrdom. It was a clear and quick (if not easy) path to Heaven. Hence, if I recall correctly (it’s been a while since I read these topics obsessively), the priests had to issue explicit canons forbidding Christians from abandoning their more mundane duties by provoking unnecessary martyrdom.

    Later on this path was taken away: first, the Church and empire joined forces to mandate Christianity as a default, which led to the paradox of missionary endeavours in hostile lands having a more vigorous and optimistic energy than the shepherding of lukewarm Christians at home. Compare the outlooks of St. Francis Xavier and St. Leonard of Port Maurice. Second, the Church lost its status, but its enemies quickly learned that martyrdom is counterproductive, and it’s more effective to persecute the Church in ways that are less definitive than someone dragging you into a basement and saying “renounce Christ or die”.

  4. […] fidelity to what must look like a hopeless cause we might do something worthy in itself.  This is performative conservatism.  The goal of performative conservatism is to get me to stop thinking about the long-term, […]

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