Mark Richardson believes that defeatists, whom he accuses of espousing a practical equivalent of nihilism, are dragging down the traditionalist movement; their influence, he thinks, must be curbed. The reasons for this are not hard to guess: defeatists dismiss any needful action as futile, and they thus demoralize the movement. I agree that no group can afford to embrace the view that all its actions are pointless. However, not all defeatists do this, while some optimists inadvertently do do it. Let me therefore say a word for the defeatists and ask that some of us be allowed to remain among your ranks.
I admit, you see, that I am pleading on my own behalf. I am convinced that the ultimate victory of liberalism–together with the destruction of the family as well as all religions and ethnic identities–is inevitable. What’s more, I am sure that, once achieved, this victory will be lasting. The endpoint after the Enemy’s victory, roughly the world portrayed by the novel Brave New World, will be vile but stable. Man’s soul can shrink to fit into such a condition; he can become unconscious of his degradation, his sensibilities so underdeveloped that he cannot comprehend the moral case against it. I’ve lived in liberal enclaves for much of my life, and I’ve seen it: liberalism works. Now, this is not the place to try to convince you that these beliefs are true. In fact, I don’t want to convince you that they are true. My realizing them is a curse to me, a spiritual burden that I would not want others to share. The question is, do such beliefs mean that I regard all action on our part as pointless?
In fact I don’t; I think the actions we take now are crucially important. Although liberalism will ultimately triumph everywhere, our actions can potentially delay its victory over any particular community. And this is a very important thing. After all, no one would say that because all men are mortal that the work of doctors is futile. If a treatment gives the patient years more of healthy life, the doctor should rightly feel that his work has been meaningful. The work of a conservative is, like a doctor, one of preservation. Like men, peoples are mortal, but their preservation for a time is not thereby pointless. Thus, even in the temporal realm, slowing the victory of liberalism is a worthy goal. For Christians, the stakes are higher. During the time that we delay liberalism’s triumph, many men and women will die, and of those we may hope that many who have not been corrupted by the Enemy will be saved. Liberalism is a factory of damnation. It teaches people to rebel against God as a matter of principle; it keeps their knowledge of the faith limited enough to make it look contemptible but complete enough to make everyone’s participation in the rebellion real, so that no one can be saved by invincible ignorance. Delaying the final triumph of liberalism by ten years may mean thousands of souls going to heaven who would not otherwise have been saved, and this would be to achieve a permanent good.
In fact, the bleaker the situation, the stronger one’s personal incentive to join the fight. The Orthodox can take comfort in the resurgence of piety and moral sanity in Russia, and Protestants know that although most of their denominations have succumbed, a few conservative sects remain healthy. Even the Anglicans can point to their thriving African Church. I, however, am a Roman Catholic, and have no such comforts. My religion is already ruined in most places, and it is collapsing everywhere. The end is imminent, so the actions of orthodox Catholics are especially crucial now. They may determine whether orthodox Catholicism ceases to exist (in the sense of living in communities and not just in isolated individuals) in my daughter’s generation, in my grandchildren’s, or in the generation after (and, if God is merciful, after my death). Whether or not this matter is of any “ultimate” importance, it is certainly very important to me personally. What’s more, the tactics I would recommend for prolonging the existence of orthodox Catholicism are the same as those Mr. Richardson would recommend to promote traditionalism: intellectual attacks on liberalism and small community-building.
We defeatists can be more generous in our regard for previous generations of conservatives. I often read that conservatism to date has been a failure because it never succeeds in conserving anything, that it only slows the advance of Leftism. I, however, regard slowing the advance of Leftism as no mean feat. I suspect this is the best anyone could do, and we should all show a little gratitude for not living in a world where conservatism hadn’t slowed the Left’s conquests.
In fact, inaction on the Right is motivated at least as often by unjustified optimism as by justified despair. I sense that many of my colleagues comfort themselves with the thought that liberalism is somehow intrinsically unstable, that it must destroy the conditions of its own existence, that the truth about sex, race, and the sacred ultimately cannot be denied forever. If this is true, then we have that much less motivation to jeopardize our own careers and social standings by being visibly too far ahead of the curve. (Think about it: nowadays everyone in the West pretty much admits that communism was evil, but the people who were most unequivocal about it early on–e.g. the John Birch Society–are still regarded as kooks, while fellow travelers are still admired for their idealism in promoting atheist tyranny.) In fact, if liberalism is ultimately doomed on its own, we should rather direct all our energies toward positioning our respective traditions to maximize their power after its fall. I should, for example, use my blog posts not to attack liberalism but to attack Protestantism, because the latter would be a credible rival to the Catholic Church in a post-liberal world. I, however, do not believe that this is our situation at all. If I were to learn that, in a century’s time, Protestant Christianity will inherit the Western world, I would be ecstatically happy. This would be much better than any scenario that I think plausible.
In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus was asked whether only a few would be saved. He wisely dodged the question, because any answer would be demoralizing. If we knew that few are saved, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that most are saved, we would be tempted the complacency. ”Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” None of us can help having an opinion about the likelihood of an ultimate victory over liberalism, and although some of these opinions will necessarily turn out to be wrong, those who hold them can still be valuable reactionaries if they avoid their temptations to despair or complacency, at least well enough to put their hearts in the fight.