November 6, 2005

The future is a come-as-you-are party...

Required reading on the French situation should be this piece by Theodore Dalrymple, from 2002, The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris. (Thanks to Betsy N for reminding me.) I remember vividly reading it back then, and being appalled.

I especially remember his description of the hoodlums openly breaking into a parking meter on a crowded street, and how only some old people told them to stop. And that is a very important detail.

If you were in Paris 20 years ago, those old people would then have been among the strong middle-aged people who were running things, who were in charge. Their values would seem to be the settled norm. And if some evil "social conservative" or "Christian fundamentalist" had tried to point out danger signs, little things that could mean big trouble in the future, you would have laughed at them, and said, "Look around. Things haven't changed much. France is like it always was."

But time's river relentlessly carries whole generations off into old age and death. And floats new ones into positions of responsibility, ready or not. And if they are not ready, it is too late to learn from their elders, who are now too weak to guide anyone effectively.

When I was a boy, the grey-haired leaders of our land were of the generation which had fought in WWI. And the handsome young men in their 30's, who were raising youngsters and moving into what you might call "middle-management," were the men who had fought in WWII. How strong and capable they seemed to me, how confident, and yet still young and capable of doing crazy fun things. It scares the bejeezus out of me now to think that they are mostly retired, they are walking with canes, and we are reading stories about the last few survivors of some long-ago WWII battle or unit.

Time moves too fast. When you are young it seems slow, but let me tell you, it isn't so. Back when I was holding my young children so effortlessly in the crook of my arm, or maybe one on each hip and a few packages besides, older people would come up to me and say, "Enjoy this while you can, it will be over so soon." And I'd already seen enough of life to suspect they were right, but with three kids there was no time for introspection. And they were right, and now I'm saying the same thing to other people. It's shocking how fast it happened. And the point is, I'm really just now getting my thoughts in order, getting my philosophy clarified, but it's too late already to teach my kids much. I can only hope they have acquired from their parents a predilection for sensible things, and will gravitate towards them in their lives.

We are hurtling down that river into the future at a frightful pace, and the voyage is (As James Bennett has put it), a come-as-you-are party. For anyone or any nation caught, in a spiritual sense, with no clothes on, it's not going to be a fun event. There is not now, nor will be, time to invent new philosophies to cope with all the new problems that we are going to be colliding with, like rocks in the river. Any remnants we have of older values, hard-won wisdom, and national character will likely turn out to be more valuable than petroleum or Uranium or all the nano-tech gadgets we may devise.

And conservatives are not old-fashioned spoil-sports trying to stop the party. They are the true futurists, and the things conserved are tools we will need as we are flung into bewildering, even terrifying events-to-come.

Roger Scruton wrote:
...Put bluntly, conservatism is not about profit but about loss: it survives and flourishes because people are in the habit of mourning their losses, and resolving to safeguard against them.

This does not mean that conservatives are pessimists. In America, they are the only true optimists, since they are the only ones with a clear vision of the future and a clear determination to bring that future into being.

For the conservative temperament the future is the past. Hence, like the past, it is knowable and lovable. It follows that by studying the past of America -- its traditions of enterprise, risk-taking, fortitude, piety and responsible citizenship -- you can derive the best case for its future: a future in which the national loyalty will endure, holding things together, and providing all of us, liberals included, with our required sources of hope...
Lovable. That's the key word, the one to remember in the difficult exciting times to come.

[NOTE: The Roger Scruton link leads to a subscription-only page, but I have the whole piece if anyone is interested]
Posted by John Weidner at November 6, 2005 3:50 PM
Weblog by John Weidner