I just read an essay in The American Conservative by Claes G. Ryn which I found rather insightful:
Modern American conservatism has been enthralled by politics. It should be obvious to all by now that this has been a debilitating preoccupation. Society’s long-term direction is not set mainly by politicians. It is set by those who capture a people’s mind and imagination. Conservative politicians and policy wonks have failed to reverse any of the main deleterious social trends of the last half-century not because they have lacked financial resources but because efforts like theirs have limited efficacy in the first place. . . To recover, American conservatism would have to reorder its priorities and most especially put politics in its place. America’s crisis is at bottom moral-spiritual and cultural. . . The problem, simply put, was lack of sophistication – an inability to understand what most deeply shapes the outlook and conduct of human beings. Persons move according to their innermost beliefs, hopes, and fears. These are affected much less by politicians than by philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters, and the like, though truly great works of this kind reach most minds and imaginations only in diminished, popular form.
Yet the conservative movement did not direct its main efforts toward a revitalization of the mind, imagination, and moral-spiritual life.
This brings to mind a recent discussion I saw which pointed out that the most politically conservative parts of the country have the greatest problems with divorce, out of wedlock birth, crime and other modern social ills. If conservative politics was reallpanaceancea for what ails our country, wouldn’t that be just the opposite? I think Mr. Ryn is correct in his assessment of the problem. We have been looking for shortcuts – elect the right person, enact the right laws, structure the social programs correctly and then we can recover from the mess liberals have created. In the meantime, traditional minded people have lost the culture wars. We’ve made some progress in recent years in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions, but overall we’re losing the war. I don’t think many of us even expect to have a shot at reversing the trend anymore. Our entertainment becomes crasser and more obscene all the time, yet it keeps making money. Who’s buying this stuff? I doubt that it’s only (or even mainly) liberals. I also doubt that liberals are the primary ones getting abortions, std’s or having babies before getting married. We’ve been looking to politics to solve our problems for too long. While those on the left spent their time crafting ideas and promoting them vigorously in media, education and the arts, we’ve given the world Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
I have thought for a long time that the only thing a traditional minded person can do in today’s world is withdraw, regroup and set about getting their own little world in order. Whatever change is going to happen is going to come from the bottom up. Then again, as Mr. Ryn says, it is the “philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters” who change hearts and minds. What can we do to become those who inspire people to change? How do we take on this task? Ideas?