A collection of useful wisdom for those navigating the new weird America:
While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,
heavily thickening to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops
and sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make
fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life
is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than
mountains: shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance
from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the
monster’s feet there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man,
a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught
they say — God, when he walked on earth.
— Robinson Jeffers , “Shine, Perishing Republic”
Despair is an abyss without bottom. Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented.
This then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find him.
— Thomas Merton
The real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent.
I am very concerned, as I go around the country and speak and talk to young people, when I find how much of the decadent culture they have absorbed without even understanding that they are a part of it. And while I’m not suggesting that we all become Amish or move to Idaho, I do think that we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture. What steps can we take to make sure that we and our children are not infected? We need some sort of quarantine.
It has become impossible to see history as constant progress. I reserve the possibility to compare yesterday and today and ask the question: What do we retain, what do we abandon? … Like Albert Camus, I am of the opinion that our generation’s task is not to recreate the world, but to prevent its decline. We not only have to conserve nature, but also culture. There you have the reactionary.
[Conservatives] unwittingly side with the social forces that have contributed to their destruction.
I consider the Constitution a dead letter. I consider it to consist, at this time, of the power of the General Government, and the power of the States — that is the Constitution. You may entrench yourself in parchment to the teeth, says Lord Chatham, the sword will find its way to the vitals of the Constitution. I have no faith in parchment, Sir; I have no faith in the Abracadabra of the Constitution; I have no faith in it. I have faith in the power of that Commonwealth, of which I am an unworthy son; in the power of those Carolinas, and of that Georgia, in her ancient and utmost extent to the Mississippi, which went with us through the valley of the shadow of death, in the war of our independence. I have said, that I shall not stop to discuss the constitutionality of this question, for that reason, and for a better; that there never was a Constitution under the sun, in which, by an unwise exercise of the powers of the Government, the people may not be driven to the extremity of resistance by force. For it is not, perhaps, so much by the assumption of unlawful powers, as by the unwise or unwarrantable use of those which are most legal, that Governments oppose their true end and object; for there is such a thing as tyranny as well as usurpation. If, under a power to regulate trade, you prevent exportation: if, with the most approved spring lancets, you draw the last drop of blood from our veins; if, secundem artem, you draw the last shilling from our pockets, what are the checks of the Constitution, to us? A fig for the Constitution? When the scorpion’s sting is probing us to the quick, shall we stop to chop logic? Shall we get some learned and cunning clerk to say, whether the power to do this, is to be found in the Constitution, and then, if he, from whatever motive, shall maintain the affirmative, like the animal whose fleece forms so material a portion of this bill, quietly lie down and be shorn!
— John Randolph, 1824
Happy, thrice happy, would it have been for my country, if the whole of the time had been devoted to sleep, or been a blank in our lives, rather than employed in forging its chains.
To The States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.
The New Class rules because it is necessary to the New America it has created, and, so long as the New America survives, the New Class has nothing finally to fear from the Tea Party and its sympathizers. This raises the great question whether the New America is actually sustainable, socially, economically, and politically speaking; or whether, as Edward Abbey put it 30 years ago, our only hope might not be catastrophe.
It is certainly conceivable that a new spirit of resistance could rise in America, spread itself around the country, and achieve in time a more populist, or popular, alternative to the increasingly despised and despaired of system with which Americans are saddled and bridled today. But while it may be possible to recover, or recreate, something of the Old American political system, the Old American civilization is gone for good. We cannot look for a restoration of that, and to look, or hope, for such a thing is to court unreality, cynicism, and despair, as the Tea Party so often does by its demand that Old Americans should be given their country back. No political movement, not even the resurrection of the Founding Fathers, could possibly accomplish such a miracle. Christ raised Lazarus and Himself from the dead. He never raised ancient Israel, the Israel of judges and kings, or the Israel of His own time, Israel under the Roman Empire, and He never will—at least not before the end of time itself.
One is tempted to define the civilization (or what we are pleased to term such) that has been emerging with the decline of the traditional controls as a mixture of altruism and high explosives. If anything is amiss with the altruism, the results may prove to be rather serious.
Don’t expect any breadth or grandeur from the Empire’s Christian divines. Across the board, the imperial chaplains exhibit the most obsequious deference to the Plutocracy, providing imprimaturs and singing hallelujahs for the civil religion of Chrapitalism: the lucrative merger of Christianity and capitalism, America’s most enduring covenant theology. It’s the core of “American exceptionalism,” the sanctimonious and blood-spattered myth of providential anointment for global dominion. In the Chrapitalist gospel, the rich young man goes away richer, for God and Mammon have pooled their capital, formed a bi-theistic investment group, and laundered the money in baptismal fonts before parking it in offshore accounts. Chrapitalism has been America’s distinctive and gilded contribution to religion and theology, a delusion that beloved community can be built on the foundations of capitalist property. As the American Empire wanes, so will its established religion; the erosion of Chrapitalism will generate a moral and spiritual maelstrom.
What will American Christians do as their fraudulent Mandate from Heaven expires? They might break with the imperial cult so completely that it would feel like atheism and treason. With a little help from anarchists, they might be monotheists, even Christians again.
For conservatives especially, a successful election is at best a holding operation, temporarily preventing some silly things from being accomplished rather than securing the adoption of wise permanent measures.
I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put away childish things.
The one common denominator in all these varied assaults on the principle of federalism is Bigness. Everything must be national,” although the word is not used once in the Constitution and was regarded as dubiously as was by the Founding Fathers. The current Washington telephone directory takes ten full columns merely to list the national associations with headquarters there, running from the National Academy of Broadcasting to the National Wrecking Company.
Since our institutions are demonstrably based on home rule and local sovereignty, some formula must be found to justify the general trend towards nationalization. And that is where this weasel word “democracy” comes in. Its general use is the more invidious because it does not mean defense of majority rule at the grass roots, where the will of the people on local problems is based on accurate knowledge. It means the creation of a vague and semi-mystical volunti generale for the nation as a whole, in fields where emotions may be strong but where understanding cannot possibly be thorough.
God in his providence has placed us in a remote part of the world, and if our brethren in other countries “fall out by the way,” we will endeavour to reconcile them, but we will not become partners in their quarrels. They have a right to choose their own governments, and manage their own affairs, without our interference. God does not call us to war. We are not attacked nor endangered; until we are, we have no right to spill our own blood, or that of our children. Let us then “study the things that make for peace.” Let us unite in repressing those restless spirits who cannot see a quarrel going on without inserting themselves in it. Let us be ready constantly to exert our good offices in bringing about peace; and let us devoutly pray that God would hasten the time when “wars shall cease from the earth,” and the peaceful kingdom of Jesus Christ, which breathes nothing but good will to men, shall universally prevail.
Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.
But whatever the reason or forces behind the suppression of THE BLAST, we are tired of the whole pestiferous gang and of the postal tyranny. We hereby declare our independence from the Autocrat of the Post Office and of his governmental and plutocratic chiefs. We are heartily sick of the whole canaille. We know that THE BLAST is a thorn in their side. We defy them to do their worst.
Come all ye conservatives and liberals
Who want to conserve the good things and be free,
Come away from the merchants of big answers,
Whose hands are metalled with power;
From the union of anywhere and everywhere
By the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
And the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
From the union of work and debt, work and despair;
From the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
Secede into the care for one another
And for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.
The American empire is dead. That gathering murmur you hear is not sobbing: Good riddance to the damn monster. Rather, the noise is the sweet hum of revolution, of subjects learning how to be citizens, of people shaking off (or flipping off) their Wall Street and Pentagon overlords and taking charge of their lives once more, whether as members of the verdant countryside or the sodality of the city neighborhood.
Oh, the empire’s corpse may yet wander the desert sands, rattling chains in Marley-like clangor, but the thing itself, as a breathing and vascular entity with its own tomorrows, is dead. An expiry long past due, I might say. Senator J. William Fulbright, the only good Bill ever to exit Arkansas for the national political stage, said in the 1960s that “the price of empire is America’s soul and that price is too high.” He was right. … The empire—what Edmund Wilson called “a huge blundering power unit controlled more and more by bureaucracies whose rule is making it more and more difficult to carry on the tradition of American individualism”—always was the enemy of the true America, the America of Mark Twain and Levon Helm, Henry Thoreau and Zora Neale Hurston. The empire demanded that we pledge allegiance to the distant over the near, to the abstract over the real, to perpetual war over peace and harmony.
… Bigness is next to godliness, which is in turn a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs; smallness is mingy and negligible; and modesty is for losers. Ten thousand corner delis must die so that AIG can live. The political corollary is that Xenia, Ohio, and Fairbanks, Alaska, are nothings, fit only to send tribute in the form of taxes to Washington and future corpses to the war of the hour. The fifty stars of Old Glory are no more than smudge marks on a wet rag; what counts is the octopus in the District of Columbia whose tentacles curl out to smother and strangle and steal from the nether provinces.
As the empire accelerates through its welcome decline, real patriots of all shades and shapes will hold with renewed and redoubled fastness to the cherishable pieces of our lorn and lovely land: its little places, its accented regions, its history-echoing, blood-seeded grounds.
I am for thwarting the government—all governments, especially the more powerful and effective ones; and for not reforming backwards nations; and for pushing economics out of the limelight for a century or so; and limiting free compulsory education to reading, writing and ’rithmatic.
— Basil Bunting, to Dorothy Pound
Traditional conservatives are convinced that global interventions, aside from the attendant loss of life and enormous expense, hold little hope for success since the ingredients for a stable democratic order are seriously lacking in the nations we seek to reform.
History for the reactionary is a tatter, torn from man’s freedom, fluttering in the breath of destiny.
Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people in arms–these things are not revolution, but the results of revolution.
You cannot see a wind; you can only see that there is a wind. So, also, you cannot see a revolution; you can only see that there is a revolution. And there never has been in the history of the world a real revolution, brutally active and decisive, which was not preceded by unrest and new dogma in the reign of invisible things. All revolutions began by being abstract. Most revolutions began by being quite pedantically abstract.
The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray “Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
For never till in quite recent generations was such a scandalous blasphemy quietly set forth among the sons of Adam; never before did the creature called man believe generally in his heart that lies were the rule in this Earth; that in deliberate long-established lying could there be help or salvation for him, could there be at length other than hindrance and destruction for him. O Heavyside, my solid friend, this is the sorrow of sorrows: what on earth can become of us till this accursed enchantment, the general summary and consecration of delusions, be cast forth from the heart and life of one and all!
What’s to be done? Generally speaking, nothing. The dead will have to bury their dead, while the earth stinks of corpses. The individual can but depart from the mass, and try to cleanse himself. Try to hold fast to the living thing, which destroys as it goes, but remains sweet. And in his soul fight, fight, fight to preserve that which is life in him from the ghastly kisses and poison-bites of the myriad evil ones. Retreat to the desert, and fight. But in his soul adhere to that which is life itself, creatively destroying as it goes: destroying the stiff old thing to let the new bud come through. The one passionate principle of creative being, which recognises the natural good, and has a sword for the swarms of evil. Fights, fights, fights to protect itself. But with itself, is strong and at peace.
[T]his community existed in a moral universe that successfully ignored a number of state and federal laws while still maintaining its moral center by focusing on the authority of the Church instead of the encroaching power of the state, which was hell-bent on trying to control things it couldn’t control.
— James Higdon on the cornbread mafia
We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority.
[T]he conservative intellectual movement has gone off the rails…
Drugs will get you through times of no government better than government will get you through times of no drugs.
I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking.
I was always against Nixon—until Watergate.
— M. Stanton Evans
I’m a conservative, and you might not like that, but I am.
I said, “Joe, you can’t say that. You can’t say there’s 64 Communists.” I said, ‘There are more than that. But don’t use a number. Just say there are and mention the State Department.
Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal’d,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright!
I used sometimes to think of Mrs. Freedom as Thurber’s heroine, with the shotgun across her knees, saying: “There isn’t going to be any revolution!” Certainly not, if Virginia Freedom could stop it.
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
This, sir, is my resignation.
Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.
– St. Augustine