It was while thinking about Marion Montgomery’s work, when he died in 2011, that I posed for myself most clearly the question of why the conservative project of the 1940s and 1950s intellectuals and artists failed. /1
I once asked Ralph McInerny why the 1950s “Catholic Renaissance” of Flannery O’Connor faltered in the 1960s, and he answered that it was nothing intrinsic. He and his fellows in the next generation “just weren’t good enough. And that’s an answer, I suppose. /2
But, saving Ralph’s humility, it doesn’t feel sufficient.

Through the 1950s, a unified-field theory of conservative thought seemed almost there for the grasping. T.  S. Eliot’s traditionalist turn in Modernist poetry, … /3
the compelling simplicity of Richard Weaver’s ideas-have-consequences thesis, the God-haunted South of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, the adamant brilliance of Etienne Gilson’s neoscholastic Catholicism—even a homegrown libertarianism and self-reliant agrarianism: /4
It all looked as though, at that moment, it might come together in a grand conservative package, the West’s truest answer to the lure of communism.

It didn’t, of course. But the fumes of it still existed through 1980s Reaganism’s big-tent Republicanism. /5
Through 1990s neoconservatism, for that matter, with its interests in literature, legal theory, and public theology. Every young editor at a conservative magazine in those days was expected to know Eliot’s poetry, Catholic social thought, and the history of anti-communism. /6
But one could tell that it had failed as an intellectual project. Partly that was simply because, right or wrong, its purchase on the culture was washed away by sociological change. In the 1950s literary world, Robert Lowell’s early poetry and Flannery O’Connor’s stories…/7
couldn’t be set aside simply by attaching the word “Catholic” to them. Critics were required to admit, however reluctantly, that there was a deep intelligence and artistry in Catholic thought, even if they thought it mistaken at the root. By the 1990s, that was much less true. /8
These days, when Flannery O’Connor is cancelled simply for being a Southerner, the terrible simplifying has gotten much worse. Complexity, allowing recognition of value in things we disagree with, has faded. Easier to say “bad guy” and dismiss than to read. /9
Even in all that, however, I don’t see an answer to why the project had to fail. I think in the end a unified-field theory of conservative thought was a mirage, but the reason is not clear, since I still feel its attraction. /10
Probably the failure was the impossibility of a true American ideology. The pieces are too disparate. And that’s a good thing, for avoiding the newer would-be American ideologies set loose on us. Still, I can’t bring myself to look at the past, say “bad guys,” and walk away. /11/

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More from @JosephBottum

16 Jul 20
A Baptist university once asked me to teach a master-class in writing—but first I had to answer this: "Please summarize the development of your own personal Christian faith and commitment, including your understanding of salvation and your relationship with Jesus Christ." /1
Here's the answer—not very Baptist, but what's a Catholic boy to do?—I gave:

I affirm all elements of the Nicene Creed, as I have since I was young. I understand salvation as a grace offered to us through active acceptance of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection.… /2
My primary personal relationship to Jesus Christ is through his real presence in the Eucharist, together with confession and the other sacraments, in the divine institution and efficacy of which I believe. … /3
Read 8 tweets
16 Jun 20
Years ago, in a debate at a midwestern university, I suggested to an angry law professor that there was a profound asymmetry between our desired politics.

If I ruled the world, she would be what she was: a loud but ignorable minor law professor. If she ruled the world… /1
I would be at least banned from teaching and probably in jail for having illegal views. She took great offense, declaring that I had defamed not just her but all the left-leaning audience members.

The thing is, I hadn't. It was true then, and it's true now /2
Perhaps, probably, there are conservatives who want leftists banned. But I have never been one of them—and the strangeness of our puritanical moment is the sheer number of voices I hear proclaiming that difference of opinion or even silence is inherently evil. /3
Read 4 tweets

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