Thus saith the LORD, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk therein.” (Jer. 6:16)
Telemachus, whose name means “far from battle,” is the central character of Homer’s epic, The Iliad, and son of the hero Odysseus. Western man cannot today look back on his story without a certain sense of shared experience. We, the dispossessed of the West, may readily identify with young Telemachus, who, in his father’s long absence, found himself ineffectually objecting to the usurpation of his father’s estate by pitiless outland invaders. The young lord conceived no means by which he might protect his inheritance from the usurpers’ glut, nor even the virtue of his own mother from their ravages; and so, lacking the physical means by which to remove the aggressors, he could but plead in protest that their occupation of his father’s house was unjust. But, as is the case still, invocations of justice and propriety are lost on those drunk on the spoils of conquest.
So it was that a desperate Telemachus embarked on a quest to find his father whom he knew capable of rescuing his inheritance and the honor of his house from the erstwhile invaders. The object of his quest seems, on some level, similar to our own: we, the castaways of Western civilization, quest now for our fathers because we have need of their strength. Where may their indomitable vigor yet be found? How might we, for the sake of our house, draw them back, as it were, from the wastes of exile?
Though a pagan, he yet saw the dispossession brought on him for what it was – a curse. To the extent that the pagan mind may be said to have an inkling of the good, Telemachus sought the remedy recommended by the prophet Malachi:
And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse. (Mal. 4:6)
And this, of course, is but a reiteration of the the fifth commandment. But this conservative impulse, absent biblical mooring – the Telemachian impulse, if you will – is that on which Dabney waxed incredulous:
It may be inferred again that the present movement [liberalism] will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution to be denounced and adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves towards perdition. . . . It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle.1
Now, the reasons for this are clear, as Henry Regnery states: “Conservatism is not an immutable body of dogma. . . . [T]he essence of social conservatism is the preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.”2
According to many like Regnery, conservatism is just a reluctant strain of moral relativism: a transitory tradition weakly based upon older transitory traditions. So Dabney’s critique of ‘Northern conservatism’ is right on target, and clearly devastating to any abiding notion of conservatism, so defined. But in his refutation, Dabney isn’t denying the need for, or propriety of, preservation of the good. Far from it. His criticism of Regnery’s sort of conservatism (that Telemachian impulse) is precisely that it fails to conserve anything. On the grounds of its subjectivity, Dabney calls for the implied alternative and objective standard: Theonomy. Aside from the objective ideal for society (God’s Law-Word) fixed as the ultimate precondition to justice, equity, and the life communal, conservatism becomes a ship adrift on stormy seas, attempting without compass or guide star to right its course for no port in particular. Absent Theonomy, conservatism is the chasing of the wind, and the tailwind of liberalism at that. Dabney takes all this for granted and expects all Christians to do likewise.
But, it is also clear that conservatism has been addressing this internal debate for a long time.
[M]en do not make laws: they merely ratify or distort the laws of God. . . . God has given man law, and with that law, rights: this is Burke’s premise in all moral and juridical questions. . . . Man’s rights exist only when man obeys God’s law, for right is the child of law.3
Absent God’s Law-Word, the very concept of conservatism is retrograde. Absent the immutable authority of revelation, conservatism can neither halt its slide nor even definitively identify its own anchoring ideals. This is the dilemma highlighted by Schaeffer’s leading interrogative: “by what standard?” Like its sister, progressivism, which has no identifiable goal in mind other than the rejection of all that is, all a-theonomic conservatism is at a loss to define its own objectives except for momentary objection and eventual concession. The observation that today’s conservatism is yesterday’s progressivism is not coincidental, then, because the predominant theory of conservatism accepts arbitrary tradition as its bellwether; and it at length accepts progressivist innovation as tradition.
So come the lessons of American history: conservatives used to speak of conserving the liberty of our race, until the American government consigned over 620,000 souls to death at the hands of their brothers to disabuse us of the notion. Then, conservatives understandably spoke of conserving the lives of our people, to which the government responded by forcibly integrating us with hostile foreign races and castigating all natural affections as discrimination and terrorism, subject at many levels, thereafter, to prosecution, economic destitution, and social marginalization. In response, conservatives spoke of conserving our religion, until the government-media complex re-imagined the Christian covenant as bigotry and terrorism as well. Subsequently, conservatives took to speaking of conserving what little was left of our language, borders, and culture – until these too were, at length, cast as mental illness, racism, and, yes, terrorism. This conservative retreat from pillar to post continues unabated. They’ve even begun to demur from speaking of “good neighborhoods,” “safe streets,” or the latitude to educate one’s own children, because, as far as the cultural Marxists are concerned, none of those things pass the sniff test; they spy the discriminatory assumptions back of it all, no matter how cravenly the so-called conservatives prostrate themselves. And, wolves that they are, once they have your scent, the cultural Marxists mean nothing but to run you down and devour you.
Far from launching any counter-assault, mainline conservatives have, in their penance, absorbed as their own all the afore-canonized leftist shibboleths which their predecessors denounced as godless communism and Jacobinism. All their protestations aside, they have been reconstructed, reconstituted, and thoroughly assimilated into what Joseph Sobran sagaciously termed “the Hive.”4
Now that all things worth conserving have been declared illegal, conservatives mostly speak of conserving the debt-based economy, totalitarianism at home and abroad, and, of course, the state of Israel – all of which are esteemed and run by the same people who previously used the government to abolish all of the things which we’d once held most dear. Like whipped and starved dogs at heel, the self-described conservatives lie prone beneath their masters’ table, hoping only to win scraps by savaging any who might approach unbent.
It is a simple truism: any professed conservatism which does not at least conserve the people is but a manifestation of “the vengeance of the covenant” (Lev. 26:25), and cannot be regarded as conservative in any meaningful way. The only means by which to pursue the preservation of any objective good is by God’s objective Law, because it is the only thing which authoritatively defines the objective and moral Good.
This is the substance of the scriptural warning: if you keep not the Law, you and yours will at length be dispossessed of the land, diminished in number, overrun, and subjugated by foreign peoples. God’s Law is naturally conservative of the tribes who carry it, for “righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any race” (Prov. 14:34). The diminishment of a covenanted people is the inverse corollary which the Scripture promises to attend their slide into apostasy (Deut. 28; Lev. 36).
Moreover, we recall St. Paul’s disclosure of the divine rationale for the distinction and segregation of the ethnicities: God “separated the peoples that they might grope for Him, seek Him, and find Him” (Acts 17:27). Here is the teleology behind racial distinction: segregation is, and from the most remote times was, for the furtherance of true religion by the limiting of perspective and responsibility via ethno-familial identity. To have a godly nation, we must at least be able to identify our own. Graciously, God has not left us without means to identify our nation, nor even kindred nations. Had He left us without the indelible marks of race and ethnicity, inclusion and/or exclusion based on anything other than patently statist grounds would be impossible. Nations would be defined not by natality, but rather by the arbitrary force of statecraft. Chinamen wouldn’t be Chinese in the sense that we all understand that designation, but rather by accident of political machinations alone.
Therein we see the horns of the foremost political dilemma of the last century rearing up before us: if we disallow the identification of limited groups based upon kinship, the only alternative is statist compulsion and forced integration, ever downward into the pure atomization of the anti-society, which just so happens to be the overt designs of the emergent new world order. Given this dilemma, it is clear that Kinism is the only Theonomy.
Sociologists are coming to recognize what Christians have been saying about this all along:
[E]thnicity is the skeleton of religion in America because it provides the “supporting framework,” “the bare outlines or the main features,” of American religion. . . . [T]he black child in the ghetto or the Amerindian youngster may engage in ceremonies of civil religion. But they may think of something quite different from the world of the white child’s pilgrims or founders when they sing of “a land where my fathers died.” This is the land where their fathers were enslaved or killed. Most of the movements of racial and ethnic consciousness have found it important to oppose militantly the symbols of civil religion. The delineations of civil religion themselves are never universal in origin, content, ethos, or scope; they are informed by the experience of the delineators’ own ethnic subcommunities. It is precisely this feature that has led to attempts at rejection of civil religion and “common faith” on the part of so many ethnic and racial groups.5
There is simply no way to institute or nurture orthodox Christian religion, much less orthodox Christian nomology, in an equalitarian, multiracial environment, for the differing narratives of disparate peoples carry identity-grounded perspectival commitments. The more racially disparate, the more perspectively disparate they prove to be as well. Far from arbitrary, these perspectives are inescapable and irreconcilable under the umbrella of a single society. A man of African stock, even if converted to the Christian religion, is not likely to embrace anything resembling the Christian ethic as we know it on any number of social, familial, economic, or governmental matters. For instance, the African’s history in relation to states’ rights in America will expectedly dispose him to a federal-totalitarian politic, rather than a republic of limited government under law. His relation to the American founding was under domestic servitude. Insofar as his endemic condition is pawned off as resulting merely from the institution of slavery, or injustice, he will reflexively disdain property rights, free speech, the bearing of arms by white men, and every other founding American sentiment. He insists that all men, but especially the class that had previously held him in domestic servitude, be subjected to universal federal servitude (if not death), for he prefers a secular state as a master favoring him over the white Christian to domestic servitude under the white Christian.
Though the American context begs to be examined on its own, this juxtaposition of perspective between the races isn’t merely a matter of this context alone; no, all recorded history of African interaction with other breeds is a tale of seesawing civilization wherein we observe law and civility imposed upon the black from without, sometimes as a means to profit (as was the case with the early Pharaohs, Jews, and Arabs), but often, too, as a matter of mercy and genuine philanthropy (as was the case with the Christian white). Sadly, all such endeavors at imbuing the African with civilization, regardless of motives and means, have, as soon as he is loosed from white paternalism, repetitiously been met with reversions to his original state – savagery. Marxian class-revolution has been, long before the terms themselves were even coined, the patent ethic of the African. Though his best moral and even physical conditions have been achieved in servitude to other races, he ever dreams of toppling this chain of being and avenging his kind for their natural condition; these things, rather than innovation or virtue, are ever the proofs of his power. His sense of “liberty” is, to the historic Christian perspective, nothing but societal catastrophe; and in his higher inclinations, he tends to contemplate order only in the brute force of a totalitarian state. This means that his conception of liberty is always and intrinsically the inverse of the white man’s. Liberty for the black is a crushing enslavement and/or annihilation of the white. By contrast, liberty for the white, though subjugating the black, elevates both. This blacks will not admit, as their own identity militates against it. But it is nonetheless true.
Africans, Christian or not, are prone to a very different view of property, family, and justice in general. Some of this is definitely by way of hereditary predilections, but much also is due to the confusion of bounds. Within the church, liberationism is their default perspective of the relations between our peoples, but there is little application of such in their dealings amongst their own tribes and in their own lands. In spite of their intertribal ethnocidal wars and perpetual enslavements of another, claims of historic grievances and social guilt just don’t work at all amongst them. In fact, it seems only to work in regard to the white man in particular. The white man’s tendency toward self-deprecating introspection, bordering on morbidity, as well as his apostasy-born Christ-complex, renders him the soft target for every indictment at which other peoples would, and do, simply laugh.
The result of this confusion of bounds – pretending the African to have legitimate membership in our nation, granting him the franchise, forcing social equality and integration – is a redefinition of the mainstays of Christian justice and liberty to mean everything inverse from the historic and biblical view of these things. This transvaluation necessarily works backwards into our history, reassessing every iota of our heritage in terms of the foreign perspectives of races aggrieved by the historic administration of Christian law amongst us. Our past is thus swallowed up by the present in the overthrow of foreign vantages working toward an alien eschaton. This foreign eschaton of cultural Marxism unleashes in the present assumptions which, for as long as they hold sway, cannot but outlaw historic Christianity. Since secular conservatism grants the Marxist’s core humanist principles in the present, the a-theonomic conservative is impotent to oppose the rewriting of his own history which inexorably undermines every folkway and precept that he would prefer conserved. Having conceded the present and then the past, the a-theonomic conservative finds himself working ever toward the Marxist eschaton in spite of all residual or instinctual reservations to the contrary. This process is unavoidable and reveals the sentimentality of the a-theonomic conservative to offer no hedge whatever against liberal deconstruction. In spite of all protestation to the contrary, he shows himself a most reliable facilitator of all that he claims to oppose.
And, of course, his persistence in this moral limbo only further jades his conscience against even the bare sentiment that once inspired his instinctual protest of social innovation.
The overlapping narratives of the Jew, the black, the American Indian, and every other breed with historic grievance against Christendom demand the criminalization of the old ways, root and branch. Though their narratives are in conflict with one another at many points, all the heathen peoples seem more or less united in this: they regard the worldview of our white Christian fathers as the very definition of evil – especially so, once emboldened by the empty promises of legal and social equality inside our borders. And, contrary to leftist propaganda, the foremost thing which seems to quiet this inclination in all the peoples is the maintenance of firm borders and righteous discrimination on our part – that is, the faithful administration of the national insularity codes of Scripture.
In psychoanalytic terms, when we desist in our masochism and cease our enablement, it dampens the sadistic inclination on the part of others to trespass against us and our property. Stated another way, strangers feel more entitled to what is ours when we demur from acknowledging our ownership of or rights over what truly is ours by law. We see in all this proof of the maxim that a right undefended is quickly denied – and, as experience redundantly proves, criminalized.
It is in this sense that the Telemachian quest, by nature of its circumstance, compels us to destinations beyond: to the true source of our fathers’ strength – our Father in heaven. It is in this vein that Paul proclaimed the familistic-tribal life as the relational mechanism ordained of God to direct men back to Himself (Acts 17:26-27). Family is therefore immanently teleological, and, in the same measure, pedagogical: by its design, family life is imbued with the concepts essential to the intelligibility of Christianity. Aside from the concept of physical fatherhood, men would find themselves at a loss to comprehend the Fatherhood of God. Aside from the conceptions of tribal-familial inheritance and belonging, the covenant of Christ would be lost upon us. Christian (spiritual) brotherhood relies upon physical brotherhood as its epistemological emissary.
We see in the Christian conception of society and consortship a synergism at work between the physical and the spiritual, the circuitous interplay of which, being wholly supernatural, is ordained to bring men into right relation with their fellows under God, Him without whom all meaningful relation is impossible. It is natural, then, to see that community is exemplified in the communion elements (body and blood, by Spiritual presence), because community, both physical and spiritual, is dependent upon epistemic apparatuses which, but for the incarnation of the Christian God, cannot be accounted for.
But as if in direct reply to Dabney’s indictment of a rudderless conservatism, Chesterton poignantly reminds us that any conservative activity requires revolutionary (or more accurately, counter-revolutionary) measures in order to retain and promote its own ideals:
All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.6
Which is to say that conservatism, if it aim to conserve anything, must stay fixed upon objective Truth, and its administration must ever be one of restoration.
As an aside, we know Chesterton would have been thoroughly scandalized to be seen advocating the Protestant doctrine of Semper Reformanda as essential to his own politic, but there it is in black and white.
Needless to say, the past is in us ever present. It is by this mediation of time and its recombinant play on our substance, flesh and spirit, that our folk sentiments – folkways of etiquette and aesthetics, our philosophical bent, and a unique social naivete – are all gendered within the covenant to show forth the telltale marks of Providence upon our race as a peculiar people in the earth. It is a hallmark of the covenant’s image mandate that kind gather to like kind. In that confluence comes the distillation, or as Scripture terms it, the “setting apart” or “hallowing” of type and kind; the distilled character which results is in fact a purification and refinement of those qualities superintendently seeded and harvested in a given people.
Theonomic conservatism, by the culmination of generations standing upon the shoulders of those gone before them, and building upon the foundations laid by their ancestors upon that “cornerstone cut without hands,” will not only keep the post white by repainting, but make it an ever more brilliant white by its consecutive coats. The legacy of godly bloodlines is sanctified the more they remain faithful to the covenant, generation upon generation, coat upon coat.
And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.
The root word of “tradition” is tradere, meaning the handing down of “a sacred deposit.” This is the intersection where one camp diverts solely into tradition, itself the zenith of authority; the other camp pursues the opposite and narrower path which holds tradition to be sacred only insofar as it is faithful to its charge – to discover and preserve the True and the Good in the administration of divine ordinance: God’s Law-Word. The former camp has raised its standard. There those clans, in their intransigence, busy themselves with aught else than the digging of their own graves.
Though this grave-oriented conservatism is certainly a political heresy, it is more essentially a theological heresy. This heresy has been working its way through the West from the beginning of the Christian age. As with Romanism, and even Judaism before that, they came to elevate tradition over the very revelation from which those traditions sprang, all obligation to it and dependence thereon notwithstanding. They forfeited even the modest virtues of their quaint sentimentality. Like the Pharisees, the a-theonomic conservatives of Christendom grappled against the Sadducees of their day (liberals, liberationists, Jacobins, and Marxists), but when they granted the Sadducees’ central conviction, laying aside divine revelation, they strained at the gnat only to swallow the camel.
When Dabney leveled his invective against Northern conservatism, he was indirectly indicting that legacy of Pharisaism which had long skulked in the halls of Christendom, an enemy within. He was not, however, in any way dismissing “the old paths, where the good way is.” As the text defines it, ‘the old paths’ are worthy only because ‘the good way’ is found there.
True conservatism is Theonomy. As such, Edmund Burke could insist that law were a thing not made by men, but merely discovered.7 This was the nomological buoy adhered to by the guiding lights of common law: Sirs Henry de Bracton, Edward Coke, and William Blackstone, among many others.
American jurist Jesse Root stated the case thusly:
The book of divine revelations [is] . . . the Magna Charta of all our natural rights and liberties.8
Root stated it so to dispel from men’s minds the Pharisaic notion of taking any intermediate tradition, even one as significant as the Magna Charta, as our source of law and liberty, while simultaneously acknowledging the significance of such mediate applications wrought through and for our people under God.
Alfred the Great, King and compiler of the English law, in his eponymous Code of Alfred, assured us that it was always the case that God’s Law underlay the Anglo-Saxon common law.
And on those merits, Chesterton found himself compelled to immortalize Alfred’s conservatism in verse. Speaking to the heathen lords of the old heathen-built landmark, he says:
Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.9
Which is to say that Christian cultures and folkways are the result of the cult poured over a folk. Rather than abolishing all that we were, the covenant redeems many heirlooms of our pagan past by finally providing those things of relative good (be it beauty, utility, or other things) with the only context by which they may be both justified and sanctified. This redemption calls for their conservation even when the pagan worldview in which a thing arose could offer no conservancy to its own offspring.
If you think about it, Alfred, via Chesterton, is here making the classic presuppositional argument for God. He’s telling the heathen that, absent the epistemological capital provided in Christianity, the heathen had no hope of justifying, extending, or preserving anything they built. Absent the objective good of Christ, the Vikings had no means of retaining the subjective goods which providence had wrought in them uniquely as inward witnesses of the Unknown God.
The quest of Telemachus is thus vindicated, and with him many other sagas of the pagan poets of old. And this was ever the use to which St. Paul put them. Christendom was so sanctified for two millennia in Europe by these recontextualizations.
If you, dear reader, dare think yourself exempt from this redemptive process of dominion wherein the cult’s (Christianity’s) redemption of a folk results in a Christian folkway, just ruminate a bit on the moniker by which you habitually speak of your Creator: “God.” It isn’t Hebrew. In the Old English, both God and good were one word, ‘god.’ But the earlier source is in the German, of which Martin Luther said:
We Germans from times of old also call God by the very name ‘God,’ [Gott] derived from the word good [gut], because He is an eternal foundation which gushes forth nothing but the good and from which flows all that is good.
Recall that some of the Germanic tribes, having fallen to ancestor-worship, actually called themselves by the same word – Goths (gods), Visigoths (Western-gods), Ostrogoths (Eastern-gods), claiming origin in Gotland (god-land or, arguably, good-land). Either we must reckon with the sanctification and redemption of our English word for our Creator, originating as it did under conditions of paganism, or we must disavow use of the term. And there are many, many more words with like baggage in the English tongue alone. For Alienism this is a major dilemma, but for Kinism, a matter of course, and a joy.
Much more might be said of this ethno-perspectivalism, but suffice it to say that the Protestant practice of translating Scripture into the vernaculars of the various nations wholly depends upon it. If we reject this conservative/presuppositional concept of sanctified folkways, we have condemned Christendom either to the old Romish instinct of hoarding the Scriptures in reliquaries for priestly eyes alone, or to the very Babel-esque idea of a one-world tongue. But both of these alternatives intrinsically assume one-world empire. Meanwhile, the Protestant view of translation into the vulgar tongue conversely presupposes Kinism.
In conclusion, I leave you with this for now: true conservatism is Dominionism, which, rightly understood, is sanctification writ large upon a people. A sanctified people abides in the application of Theonomy. And there is no true Theonomy but Kinism.
- Robert L. Dabney. “Women’s Rights Women” in Discussions, vol. IV, “Secular,” The Writings of Robert L. Dabney, originally published in 1897; republished by Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1994. p. 496. ↩
- Henry Regnery, Introduction to the 7th edition of Kirk’s The Conservative Mind ↩
- Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, pp. 48-49 ↩
- http://www.sobran.com/hive/hive.shtml ↩
- Martin E. Marty, “Ethnicity, The Skeleton of Religion in America” ↩
- G. K. Chesterton ↩
- Blackstone, 1 Commentaries,*38). ↩
- Root, The Origin of Government, pp. 35-36 ↩
- Chesterton, “Ballad of the White Horse,” v. 370 ↩