When I was growing up in America in the 1970s, there was never any open discussion or debate regarding politics and religion in my family. Although religion was not a particularly important part of my parents’ lives, they made a conscious decision to make it part of mine. Unlike many of my progressive friends who mock religion but only dare to publicly deride Christianity, I have nothing against religion, in fact, it occupies a larger space in my life today than it has at any other time in the past as I approach my 60th birthday and contemplate how I have lived my life.
As Leo Tolstoy asserted in A Confession, science provides knowledge, but it does not give comfort, and the kind of knowledge which gives comfort-knowledge about the meaning of life does not exist. Although Thomas Aquinas believed that faith and reason were consistent, I, like Tolstoy, concluded that the meaning of life was not found in any rational, intellectual knowledge, but rather an “irrational knowledge” that Tolstoy believed was faith. Thus, only by accepting irrational things-which for me are the central tenets of Christianity-could one find an answer to the meaning of life.
Concerning their political beliefs, my parents were committed Democrats. They were both products of the Great Depression and believed that the Republican Party catered to the needs of the affluent, and held the view that the Democratic Party was more attentive to the needs of the average working-class American. I thought the same until 2016 when as a card-carrying member of the proletariat, I changed my party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, I became captivated by the theories of C. Wright Mills, who was rarely mentioned by any of my sociology professors. In my opinion, his theories present a more accurate reflection of the problems we are seeing in the world than those of Karl Marx. What Mills said regarding the liberalism of the 1960s is applicable to the collectivist drift of the modern-day Democratic Party, which “make a fetish of indecision, which they call open-mindedness; of the absence of moral criteria, which they call tolerance; and of the formality-and hence political irrelevance-of the criteria, which they call speaking broadly.” The goals of modern-day progressives have been made so formal and abstract as to provide no clear moral standards, that in its terms, genuine conflicts of interest and ideal can no longer be stated clearly.
Although it might be true that my parents and I did not have philosophical conversations when I was growing up, much has changed since my father passed away in 2013. Mom and I have found solace in religion. The weekly church services that we attend have provided a respite from a world gone mad, and are often followed by discussions in which we both cover some serious topics. Mom just turned 86 on April 2nd, so I decided to take her out for brunch to celebrate the occasion. Two years of the pandemic in conjunction with the war between Russia and Ukraine has drained my mother’s soul and spirit. As a result, she has not only lost faith in our political leaders, who she believes use their offices to enrich themselves and their families, but also in God. Sounding a lot like my progressive friends, mom asserted, “How could God exist when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?” I promised that I would respond, but first, I wanted to address her disillusionment regarding our elected political leaders and the fact that she feels politically homeless. I feel the same way about my beloved Republican Party, which I feel has lost its way. The last Republican that Mom voted for was Richard Nixon. She told me that she is considering voting Republican in the 2022 midterm elections and that she is not happy with the extremism that is a part of both political parties.
I told mom that fringe elements have always been a part of the American political landscape. Whether we speak of the New Left, the John Birch Society, the “Squad” or QAnon, it is the extremists who often define the political party and not the mainstream politicians who lose control by underestimating the tenacity of radicals. In his effort to draw clear lines between respectable, intellectually serious conservatives and the bigots and antisemites who were a part of the 1960’s conservative coalition, William F. Buckley used the pages of National Review, a magazine which he founded, to distance himself from those that he deemed undesirable, most notably the John Birch Society. In doing so, he safeguarded the reputation and the future of the conservative movement, if not only for that moment in history. Reactionary extremists and radical Marxists have always been a part of the Republican and Democratic parties. Whether they would like to admit it or not, the politicians from both parties need the support of the radicals if they wish to maintain and solidify their political power. Thus, even the most subversive agendas seem to have the tacit support of the media, and our political leaders who try not to alienate prospective voters, no matter how unsavory they might be.
I told Mom that despite Buckley’s effort to rid the conservative movement of miscreants, current events such as the assault on the Capitol Building lay bare the fact that his efforts were temporary. I asserted that it is not a question of whether the Republican Party requires restructuring, but rather when the GOP leadership will have the courage to distance themselves from the extremists who seem to have taken hold of the party as William F. Buckley did over 60 years ago. The Biden Administration has been unwilling to do this with the Democratic Party, and I believe that the 2022 Midterm Elections will give the democrats the comeuppance that they rightly deserve. I proceeded to elaborate on my ideas regarding the future of the Republican Party in both the near term- the 2022 and 2024 elections- and in the longer term if they hope to remain relevant. First, as Democrats seek to expand abortion rights, and Republicans endeavor to do away with them altogether, Roe v Wade, however imperfect, should be upheld.
I agree with sociologist Daniel Bell in his view expressed in Crime as an American Way of Life that in America, the enforcement of public morals has been a continuing feature of our history, and that in no other country have there been such spectacular attempts to curb human appetites and brand them as illicit, and nowhere else such glaring failures. Bell illustrated that in the United States, a middle-class Protestant ethos tried to suppress what they deemed immoral with a ferocity unmatched in any other civilized country. Mom asked me what I thought about Planned Parenthood’s role in making abortion more accessible. I told her that I oppose taxpayer funding for abortion clinics, and agreed with Murray Rothbard that “it is particularly monstrous to force those who abhor abortion as murder to pay for such murders.”
Second, the GOP needs to stand with Democrats in the condemnation of the individuals that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. On the other hand, the disestablishmentarians that took part in the debacle are not a threat to our democracy. That distinction belongs to the politicians on both sides of the aisle who exploit government for personal gain while ignoring the desires of the people that elected them. Mom asked if I was familiar with Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. I told her that I was, but times have changed, and so have machine politics. Modern-day politicians who traffic in soft corruption and what they view as honest graft no longer need to risk criminal prosecution for dishonest acts like bribery and extortion when they can get the same results-sweetheart public contracts, profitable zoning changes, favored treatment in legislation- by deploying strategic campaign cash or manipulating systemic weaknesses and loopholes.
Third, the Republican Party must seek to foster a better relationship with young independent voters. It has become commonplace in conservative circles to view millennials as a bunch of coddled and clueless ingrates. It must be remembered that young people today are dealing with problems that the boomer generation could never imagine. The first problem is bullying. Bullying in school settings has always been a problem in America. I recall several instances in my youth when no amount of reasoning or diplomacy had any effect on a classmate that wanted to cause me physical harm, and as much as I did not want to fight, passivism was not always an option. These types of scenarios still exist, but unlike the events from my childhood which often ended the very day that they took place, modern-day schoolyard beatings are now captured on video and disseminated for worldwide consumption.
For those that are not willing to fight, cyberbullying is an option that enables cowardly individuals to torment undeserving targets from the anonymity of their home computers. The second problem young people face today is the era of lone gunmen committing mass murder in schools throughout America. I attended public school in New Jersey from 1968 to 1980. During this period, neither I nor my mother ever once thought about the possibility that my life was in danger during my long days in class at the hands of a mentally ill individual with a gun. School shooting incidents like Columbine and Sandy Hook are modern-day, hitherto unknown tragedies that were not a part of my youth, and we need more than thoughts and prayers to stop them. The third problem is climate change, which is perhaps the issue that most young people in America are concerned with. Most Republicans believe that addressing it is not a high priority even though there is a lot of science that proves otherwise. As a result, it must not be dismissed out of hand, and green technologies should be integrated promptly and used in conjunction with fossil fuels, but we can not transition to renewable energy until the technology is perfected. Germany’s hasty transition to green technologies is a prime example of a situation that America must avoid. Conversely, Democrats and those wishing to reduce carbon emissions must acknowledge that nuclear energy must be revisited if they are sincere in their goals. Moreover, embedding equity and social justice goals within the framework of the Green New Deal creates an untenable situation for most Republicans.
After laying out my plan for the future of the Republican Party, it was time to answer my mother’s question on why God has permitted our world to fall into such disarray. I told her that these types of questions would be better answered by Father Ken, who presided over the Catholic Church that we both attend. In the past, Father Ken has impressed many of my secular humanist friends with the sermons that he delivered, and the only thing that they disagreed with was his view that man is unable to be moral without the existence of God. Since Father Ken has retired from our parish, I did my best to explain things to my mom. I told her that she should not think of our troubled world as the product of an inept or vengeful God, but the result of a world that has turned its back on Him. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn asserted, we are witnessing a contrived and pretentious quest where the artist, instead of attempting to reveal the divine plan, tries to put himself in the place of God. If my progressive friends are correct, and God and religion are nothing but a fairy tale, then who, other than man and his imperfect and imperfectible human nature is responsible for the human depravity and genocide of the 20th Century?
My mother commented that I did not sound like a typical conservative, at least when considering some of the rhetoric coming out of Washington these days. I told her that I would likely face condemnation from my conservative friends for some of my views. My response was that I have grown weary of the type of conservatives who want to restrict women from abortion, but deny single mothers access to resources when they forego abortion and try to raise their children in a single-parent home. Additionally, I have had enough of the “pure people” versus the “corrupt elite” narrative, or the type of Republicans who consider anyone that has a college education or is not a tradesman an elite, not to mention their habit of referring to those with whom they disagree as “libtards” or “snowflakes.” Most importantly, I disagree with the view that the Capitol rioters were patriots. On the contrary, I would argue that they single-handedly negated all of the great things that I believe President Trump did for America and severely impacted his chances for re-election.
I reject the notion that my ideas were coming from a liberal perspective. I will never accept the pollyannaish view that human beings can be morally improved through political and social change. Despite varying political and social circumstances, human history has been filled with a great deal of evil. Thus, I subscribe to the Burkean notion that people need a “sufficient restraint on their passions,” which it is the government “to bridle and subdue.” Families, churches, and schools must teach the value of self-discipline, and those who fail to learn this lesson must be disciplined by government and law. Without the restraining power of these institutions, there can be no ethical behavior and no responsible use of liberty. When radicals deem the nuclear family “a mistake,” and educators would rather teach kindergarten students about gender identity rather than reading, writing, and arithmetic, it becomes apparent that there is common ground between moderate Democrats and Republicans. We must have a united front against the out-of-touch radicals and academics, and their Gramscian/ Marcusian plan to deconstruct Western Civilization brick by brick.
A few days ago, my best friend’s mother passed away, just a few days before my mother’s birthday. I feel fortunate that my mother is still here, and still has the cognitive ability to discuss the great moral and ethical dilemmas that America and the world are trying to navigate through. As I departed for work just after finishing this blog, I told her not to get stressed out over the barrage of bad news that we hear every day from conservative pundits, themselves elites, screaming about how we must despise elites. I told her that her generation navigated and experienced far more perilous times than what we are dealing with today and that we need to focus more on the people in our lives that we know and love, and less on what political party they are affiliated with. I told her that I derive courage from the words of philosopher Will Durant when thinking about not only America’s future but the future of the world. I printed them out and asked her to reflect on them, and as World War 3 becomes a distinct possibility, I hope the readers of my blog post will find consolation in his words:
“I will not subscribe to the depressing conclusion of Voltaire and Gibbon that history is the record of the crimes and follies of mankind. Of course, it is partly that and contains a hundred million tragedies. But it is also the saving sanity of the average family, the labor of love of men and women bearing the stream of life over a thousand obstacles; it is the wisdom and courage of statesmen like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt dying exhausted but fulfilled; it is the undiscourageable effort of scientists and philosophers to understand the universe that enveloped them; it is the patience and skill of artists and poets giving lasting form to transient beauty or an illuminating clarity to subtle significance; it is the vision of prophets and saints challenging us to nobility. On the turbulent and sullied river hidden amid absurdity and suffering, there is a veritable city of God in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition still live and work, carve and build and sing. Plato is there, playing philosophy with Socrates. Shakespeare is there bringing new treasures every day. Keats is still listening to his nightingale, and Shelley is borne on the west wind. Nietzsche is there, raving and revealing. Christ is there calling us to come and share his bread. These and a thousand more, and the gifts they gave, are the incredible legacy of the race; the golden strain in the web of history. We shall not close our eyes to the evils that challenge us, and we shall work to lessen them. We shall take strength from the achievements of the past, the splendor of our inheritance. Let us, varying Shakespeare’s unhappy king, sit down and tell brave stories of noble women and great men.”