It is by now almost a truism to say that a society’s celebration of diversity appears to be inversely related to its actual respect for it. America under the tyranny of political correctness has become a place of deadening uniformity, coerced at times, but more often than not chosen individually under the pressure of convention. People actually prefer to annihilate the variety that is in them. I work with a considerable number of bright young women, blessed with that wonderful accent of the American South, who outlay large amounts of time and money to obliterate it — through speech classes and the like. It is a deliberate dispossession in the service of stultifying sameness.
One thing that will immediately strike anyone who takes the time (and it will be time well spent) to engage the older literature of American conservatism, is the marvelous variety of these characters. Here you will find real diversity. Here, if you are a person of sensitive and critical intellect, you may be purged of the unthinking prejudice of our age, which tells you that diversity consists in the superficial â€” in matter and not in mind.
Russell Kirk wore a cloak, was a masterful teller of ghost stories, repudiated the automobile (a “mechanical Jacobin”) and the television, and quietly opened his home to young journalists, refugees and the homeless. Willmoore Kendall, son of a blind itinerant preacher, was so savage a debater that he stands still today (so they say) as the only Ivy League professor whose contract was bought out — in order to rid the place of his devastating polemics. He could drink most people under the table, upon conversion secured from the Vatican two simultaneous annulments (which may be another first), and finished his career with brilliant treatises which discovered in the American founding a restatement of classical Natural Law.
Frank Meyer, author of the doctrine of “fusionism” between conservatives and libertarians, was an incorrigible night owl and chain-smoker, commencing interminable arguments and discussions over the phone into the wee hours of the morning. A pugnacious atheist for his whole career, he converted to Rome on his deathbed.
Anyone who has seen William F. Buckley, Jr. on television will discern instantly what a character he must be. Whitaker Chambers was a haunted man, having gone “off the grid” for a decade as an agent of Communism â€” before discerning, in an flash of grace and insight, that God is real and therefore Communism madness and treason. He found Hope, but never what is called optimism. He became a farmer. The “auxiliaries of Conservatism,” Chesterton and Belloc, were men of extraordinary verve and personality. You can hardly read a line of verse or prose from them without realizing you are in the presence of a real character.
My point is that these men were examples of the real practical variety of human life that the ideologues of Diversity would annihilate. Kirk even made “variety” one of his Six Canons: Conservatives affirm an “affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” Sometimes this comes down to something so simple as being able to hold two complex thoughts in mind at the same time; for example, that a regime which countenances or even embraces a great evil like slavery or abortion, may yet produce good and admirable men. Or that even soldiers fighting for wicked men and wicked causes are capable of valor and gallantry.
This variety, which in my view is one of the glories of the Conservative tradition, is also partly explains the difficulty of holding such people together in a political movement. Why are Conservatives so bad at political machination? Why do they tend toward factionalism?
Because their interests and passions and personalities are so marvelously varied. Very few of them really care for the exercise of political power; even fewer care for the grasping and clawing that attends the approach toward political power; almost all of them chafe unbearably under the shackles of bureaucracies. They do not live and breathe politics. Official Washington repels them. Unless they are natives, they rarely have a high opinion of New York City.
They love their homes in distant cow-towns. They are Westerners, or Southerners, or lovers of the Great Plains. Kendall’s Conservatism, he often said, was an “Appalachia to the Rockies” sort of philosophy. The entry of these people into politics is usually reluctant, spurred on by a perception of a threat to their homes.
America — or America for most of her history at any rate — was careful to shelter these people. Long after the war was over General Lee was still admired, even in the North, for his principled stand with his country, which was, of course, the Commonwealth of Virginia. And even down in the Deep South, after defeat and subjugation, schoolchildren were asked to memorize a short speech by an Illinois frontier lawyer, delivered almost as an afterthought at the little college town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. America was a magnanimous place; a place of variety and an expansive spirit.
What is left of this after the long march of centralization and regimentation is difficult to say. American variety is not yet lost, but it is dying. We might mark the stages of its death by observing the ascendance of the ideology of Diversity. King Diversity will suffer no rivals to his cold and lonely throne.
Capitalism is as much to blame for this as socialism. It is capitalism, after all, that inflicts upon us all a mass culture that is fundamentally pornographic and often simply vile. During playoff football games, there are usually at least a half dozen lurid commercials for these preposterous horror films — films, I’m told, that are among the most reliably profitable of any genre — that make me grateful when my girls are playing in the other room. In short it is not government, it is not leftism — it is capitalism that has made even a football broadcast untrustworthy. It is Capitalism as well that insists upon the dispossession of our culture for cheap labor. It is, in other words, capitalism that lubricates the skids toward a centralized uniformity.
Some months ago the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article about the preparations being made among the captains of industry for conformity to climate change orthodoxy. Now I don’t have a strong opinion about climate change, but from the article it seems pretty clear that what is coming is yet another demonstration of the difference between capitalism and free enterprise. The former is not inherently hostile to State intervention, much less to centralization; it is concerned foremost with insuring that the intervention can be made profitable.
Conservatism is a sense can be understood as a defense of normalcy against deviancy. But this formulation, whatever its merits, seems to shortchange the enormous variety contained in “normal.” The confusion and disorder in our age can be seen in our romance of the deviant and our derision of the normal. It can also be seen in the truth of Chesterton’s remark that asserting any of the cardinal virtues today “has all the exhilaration of vice”; or in his admonition: “Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal, and that you are a paralytic.”
We have forgotten the grand adventure of a normal life of virtue. We have forgotten that evil is banal and goodness vital and lively. That “Appalachia to the Rockies” conservatism, its great and lively figures who would indeed be shocked at what we are accustomed to, can teach us again what we once knew well. Down with King Diversity; he is a tyrant and a usurper. Let us have back our freedom and our variety.