Recently Rev Billy Graham said that if people are going to call themselves “Christian” it would be helpful if, from time to time, they would mention Jesus. An obverse to Rev Graham’s point was made by C S Lewis 75 years earlier, in his “Screwtape Letters.” In an exchange between Screwtape, a chief recruiter for the Devil, to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior Tempter, who was in hot pursuit of a new soul, Wormwood expressed concern because he overheard “the Patient” talking with others speaking favorably about the Christian religion because it was “good for society.” Should he intervene? But Screwtape urged Wormwood to encourage this sort of talk, for the more Christians looked upon their religion as a social good, the less they thought about the true Source of their faith.
In this context, I am writing here about people who call themselves “conservative.”
Conservatives and Conservatism
“Conservatism” is like any other intellectual pursuit, it has a body of thought and it has a hierarchy of its practitioners. Ranks. And those rankings are based on various criteria; from scholarship to achievement and experience. The gulf between a freshman in Anthropology 101, only looking for career options, and his graduate assistant instructor, much less the head of his department, is very wide. More symbolically, think of the Boy Scouts, where the ranks run from raw Tenderfoot to majestic Eagle. To go from one rank to the other is a process, where the most dedicated and hardest working get to the top, eagles, while others stop at various levels; some because they couldn’t tie that damned sheep-shank knot, or disliked sleeping on the cold ground, building a fire with only three matches, or not having mom make breakfast. Others just discover that girls are more interesting than weekends in the woods. Wherever they stop, the knowledge they learn stays with them throughout life. Like conservatism, anthropology and Scouting isn’t for everyone.
But “conservatism” and “conservatives” are not mirror images of one another. Conservatism is an ethos, a belief system, some say a unified system consisting of several components, but at its a core a simple unified belief in liberty and the rights of Man to pursue life, liberty and happiness without the permission of the state, and to create his own reciprocal relationships with his neighbor, which binds them all.
“Conservatives” can be found anywhere between Tenderfoot and Eagle, or even none- of-the-above, as these days you find a lot of people calling themselves conservative who only define themselves by who they are not…a trait that used to be exclusively the property of the Left back in the 1960s…and the French since the 12th Century.
You can see the problem. At some point, actually several, conservatism and conservatives are supposed to intersect. Those points of intersection are becoming fewer and fewer, and worse, much shallower, diminishing the value of the transcendent nature of conservatism. This is how grand ideas can die.
Ranks of conservatism are awards other people pay to its highest achievers. William Buckley was anointed as one of our Eagles. He didn’t anoint himself. It was because of men like Buckley that “conservatism” has become hated and feared among the Left. That is not so much the case anymore. If you can, count on your hand the living conservatives the Left fears today. Limbaugh comes to mind. But Jonah Goldberg or Erick Erickson are not among them. Oh, there are some, but few have the star-power at Buckley, Hayek, and Friedman. This is in part because much of conservative modern glory is found among conservatism’s bottom-feeders, which is why I’m writing this piece now. The coming generation, millennial conservatives, haven’t a clue who our eagles are, or why they are important. Namely, that they are the people who would inform them that they are not swimming in very deep water, but rather wading in an ankle-deep pool, only believing it is a swimming pool. Five minutes with Buckley and you know how little the stuff you know really is and you will know swim to those deeper waters.
Tiny minds have a difficult time with big ideas, and conservatism is loaded with big ideas, only the trail to discovering them has been overgrown with swamp grass.
One comes to conservatism with a core set of principles, most of them studied and long-tested against all those other theories of Man and government, such as Rationalism and other beliefs of the Left, which most of their millennials are also clueless about and why the Left’s religion is based almost entirely on rote catechism. Conservatives are supposed to be better. That path from Tenderfoot to First Class to Star to Eagle is a required process. In the same way it takes years, and lots of study, before you can be invited to Jurassic Park to study stegosaurus eggs, you have to know lots if stuff in order to bring all those principles covering so many disciplines into the proper alignment, so that all the pieces fit. You may be able to fake sincerity, but you cannot fake knowing stuff. You can’t defeat the Left by being just like them.
Like Pythagorus’ theorem, that a 2 + b 2 = c 2, you can come away with one body of knowledge if you just memorize the formula, and quite a bit more if you actually prove it yourself on a sheet of paper.
This alone puts conservatives well ahead of the Left, not only as defenders of conservatism and the unique American theology of liberty, but a lifeline of millions of Americans of all ages who have been seduced by this filthy religion of the Left.
One objective here is to try and redirect the attention of millennials who largely know none of these things, yet call themselves conservative, and horror of horrors, call themselves practitioners of conservatism….and turn them toward the light.
Today, “to be a conservative” carries no rank, except that which is self-described, carrying no more weight than David Duke calling himself a Republican. Mark Twain said in 1900 there were always “professing Christians” and “professional Christians” so this sort of fraud is not new. Today conservative stars are measured by how many people will visit their site, watch their show, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and who can then network those connections into a kind of popularity and celebrity, the media nirvana of which is to have one’s own column, and one’s own seat on a network panel discussion, a major-market radio gig, and to be able to fetch at least fives figures for a speaking engagement. In short, to be a really small satellite, think Pluto, revolving around a much larger black hole called The Establishment, which conservatives are foresworn to disavow as the territory of the Enemy.
All things being equal, the seven vices, especially, greed, pride, envy, gluttony, beat the seven virtues every time. The tie breaker is always that “Jesus-quotient” Billy Graham mentioned; in the constitutional sense, “life, liberty and happiness”. With it conservatism wins, as does the Constitution. Without it, we lose. And we are losing now…because our armies are all gazing at their navels instead of the Enemy..
So, for the millennial path to conservative victory, well, “you can’t get there from here”, as a fellow in Letcher County, Kentucky once told me when I stopped and asked him how “to get back to civilization”. Only I’m not really concerned about millennials becoming rich and famous (their idea of winning), but in what we stand to lose, which may be incalculable in terms of losing the “Jesus” portion of conservatism.
I’ll not mention Donald Trump, except here, but love him or hate him, you can credit Trump with having outed this fraud. Donald Trump represents conservatives Road-to-Damascus moment, only, instead of being blinded, they’ve been stripped naked and now people can see what their package really looks like.
Looking beyond, my purpose then is to find a few Apostle Pauls from this brood to lead them out of the pool of warm piss they’re standing it, thinking it’s a swimming pool, to begin the really tough task of actually trying to missionize among the lost instead of trying to mock them into irrelevance.
Ben Shapiro, Meet Ramon Llull
Anyone who has every heard of Ben Shapiro has likely never heard of Ramon Llull, and vice versa. So I am probably the first to mention both on the same page. Some here may recognize Ben Shapiro by name, but probably know very little about him personally. He’s 32, a Harvard law graduate (just ask him) and one of the most articulate advocates of millennial conservatism in America, at least in that shallow pool where apparently his entire age group dwells.
Ben is better known to many because of his infamous resignation from Breitbart News because of the ‘vicious manhandling’ Corey Lewandowski (age 42, a Gen Xer…trust me, generation matters here) issued to a Breitbart stringer, Michelle Fields (age 28, GenY), at a Donald Trump (almost 70, a Boomer) event. Inasmuch as Breitbart supports Trump, and also looked at the close-ups of the incident, they made little of Michelle Fields’ assault claim.(As did the prosecutor.) So she walked, followed by Shapiro…which is the right thing to do anyway if you have serious editorial differences with your employers…and…you think you can trade on your resignation to enhance your celebrity and enrich yourself elsewhere.
The jury’s still out on Miss Fields’ ambition, but I’m sure Ben Shapiro can, and probably has, for he is indeed talented.
Or so sayeth my son, (age 45, GenX) who possesses genuine philosophical depth, a Star Scout at least, far outranking, say, Captain Kneepants who now runs RedState.com. But he chose to turn pro at something else, actually enhancing his conservative pedigree (by not being paid for it). My son likes Ben Shapiro, following his career through debates, forums and discussions and in the printed word, four books since 2010. At his behest I watched several of Shapiro’s presentations on a variety of subjects and may even read a book. And I have to say Ben is a cut, maybe even two cuts, above the millennial conservative-writers’ herd, including many of the GenXers at National Review and RedState who consider themselves to be deans of modern conservatism.
Meet Ramon Llull
Ramon Llull was a 13th Century Franciscan monk, philosopher, logician and mathematician. He was also a charismatic Christian, which for Franciscans of the day, is not so rare, but for a renown expert in the mathematical sciences of Greece, earth-shattering. He was an intellectual par excellence, even though he did not attend Harvard.
Clearly he didn’t have to, but Ramon Llull felt compelled to missionize the people of his homeland, Majorca, part of Moorish Spain. In this effort, he developed his own novel approach to conversion and argument. Since he knew the Muslims had their own Holy Book, instead of thumping his with the standard “It is written…” argument you still hear today, Llull pitted his New Testament against Muslim hadiths with points of logic, well enough to bring doubt even to Muslim clerics.
He was so good at this form of conversion the Muslims stoned him to death in North Africa, at age 82. Missionary work, anyone?
Now Ben Shapiro doesn’t do that. Or even try. In fact, I doubt he can, since I suspect his bushel basket of conservative knowledge is about 60% short on sheaves. I get a sense of superficiality, as he dishes conservatism out in the “as everyone knows” jargon of a type of argument usually reserved for what we call a “friendly room”. I’m not even sure he knows there are deep truths buried in that “all men are created equal” gibberish old folks like to recite. If he does, as Billy Graham asks, it would be nice if he mentioned it from time to time.
But as Festus Haggen once said, “That remains to be saw.” for Ben Shapiro strikes me as the sort of fellow who could fill his basket in a hurry, if he only put his whole mind to it.
By nature, Ben Shapiro is not a missionary. But who is these days, unless the pay is really good? In the church scheme of things, Ben simply ministers to a flock, which has always been seen as a necessary part of any movement, though not very history-making. Churches need both…missionaries and shepherds…but as any Methodist preacher can tell you, there is not very much unique in what they have to say week-in, week-out. It gets kind of repetitive. But the pay is steady, even sometimes good in a prosperous town, and everyone knows you and respects you. On the other hand, missionaries have to endure all sorts discomforts, up to and including, witness poor Ramon Llull, having rocks thrown at them. Missionaries have to have a special calling. Billy Graham did, and succeeded. Interestingly William Buckley was also a missionary. Every year on his show, “Firing Line”, he sponsored debates at very liberal colleges in the northeast against prominent liberals. (I’m not sure if Ben studied any of these in his preparation for his book on debating the Left.) Buckley and his team would wipe the floor with the Leftists with logic and undeniable truths, as conservatism always does, but when a vote from the student audience was taken, it would be reported that Buckley & Co had lost, usually by a vote of 300-5 or something like that. I think Ben would have a hard time swallowing this kind of loss, but WFB would smile and think, “I got five more tonigh.” and move on.
This is always the math of missionary work…which, unlike Hollywood, does not include the acclamation of strangers…or pay well.
Like the Sunday morning preacher, there is really nothing unique in what Ben Shapiro says…same policy and cultural issues, just couched in a hipper dialogue so that he can better connect with his audience, college kids who are 8-10 years his junior. In watching him, I see the standard millennial snarking-to-the-choir in the cool “Dig Me” (George Carlin, Class Clown 1972) #OnlyIMatter style that seems to define his generation. Ben sits atop a mutual admiration society inside the auditorium, while outside there are hordes (at least 20) of screaming student-leftists wanting to shut him up. You can’t choreograph a better image of risk-free, painless, even uplifting, and often profitable self-martyrdom (Glenn Beck is still the master of this gimmick).
There is only one (moral) problem in this picture for conservatives; all those lost souls outside are supposed to be a principal object of conservatism, only, unless Ben Shapiro’s ever kneeled at the altar of Liberty, he may not know this.
Why Ben doesn’t speak to deeper truths about his “conservative faith” is that he may not know there are such things. C.S Lewis was a quiet, unassuming but very authoritative teacher, who never once had to brag that he taught at Oxford, or was BFF with JRR Tolkien, who in fact was largely responsible for his conversion to Christianity. Lewis was not a missionary either, but a writer, still he was known as the “apostle to the skeptics” – winning souls of no particular denomination in much the same way that Llull did in Moorish Spain, by using the dialect of logic, and authority. “If this is so then this must also be so…don’t you agree?” He never once called anyone stupid, or worse.
My son says Ben is worth saving, for the same reasons Saul was worth saving on the Damascus Road. Because he seems to have that right kind of stuff (thanks be to God for Harvard), maybe Ben Shapiro can lead other men and women to true conservatism…if he will only charge out of that shallow pool of warm piss he’s been standing in the past few years, and enter the deep waters where eagles fish.
Millenials, If you don’t know these three things about conservatism, you don’t know squat
- America was not an accident. If you can explain America Darwinistically as some sort of freak anomaly that merely escaped Nature’s seine net, let’s talk;
- The purpose of America and the Constitution was to enable the common man and woman, the C-students, to rise above their mean existence, economically and intellectually. These are the shoulders we all stand on. Therefore, arguendo, they were not created to empower A-students to look down their noses on these Homer and Marge Simpsons and enrich themselves by exploiting them, managing them or debasing them.
- Arguendo, if the purpose of true conservatism is to defend the Constitution, then its duty is to defend, protect and or rescue these selfsame Homer Simpsons modern self-described conservatives smugly mock and belittle
I’m not saying you can’t continue to troll and snark and chastise all these “mind-numbed robots” (Rush Limbaugh). Or that you can’t get paid for it. Or even wallow in your money and your celebrity and your temporary invitation to a swimming pool in Washington owned by WAPO and frequented by George Will. I’m just saying you aren’t conservative, and (God willing) there will be a growing army of millennials, missionized by just one at first, then a dozen, then hundreds, who will begin calling you out.
My son thinks Ben Shapiro may just be that guy. Or maybe Milo Yiannopoulos. Who knows?
But this has to happen, at which time more and more people will then recognize the mercenary motives behind many millennial conservatives and their intellectual shallowness, which I’m told is abundant on the Harvard law school faculty, so why not their product? Then, like the Great American Tories, the American colonies’ finest in 1776, and who were lost to history by 1782 because they took the wrong turn at the crossroads, they will become the Great American Zeroes of the next decade. Or like Ben Howe, kissing Hillary’s ring.
There is much to be done. I can see Heritage seminars, a 3-hour on-line course at Hillsdale, lots of work to be done. Much to teach and much to learn. Want ads for teachers, from conservative kindergarten all the way to conservative-seminary should be where we put our money.
Just know, if you define conservatism in terms of “me” however you perceive “me’ to be, it’s not conservatism. Conservatism is all about your neighbor.
Finally, since I bothered to wade through a couple of hours of humorous mockery of the lost who don’t know they’re lost, it’s only fair I offer an opportunity to hear John Cleese reading C S Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”‘ on YouTube. It’s very millennial-friendly, broken down into 6-minute segments.