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Ten Principles of Conservative Activism by Sebastian Morello

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Ten Principles of Conservative Activism

Muhammad XII (Boabdil) surrenders to Ferdinand and Isabella: "The Capitulation of Granada" (1882), a 330 x 550 cm oil on canvas by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz (1848–1921).

Let’s face it, conservatives are lousy when it comes to activism. We don’t see ourselves as activists, and we’re not very good at adopting such an approach, even as all that is most dear to us is swept away by ideological mischief-makers who know little more than the thrill of repudiating what they do not understand. The reason, of course, that conservatives are poor activists is to be found in the fact that the ‘political struggle’ is not of great interest to conservatives. This is an observation that was well captured in the Viscount Hailsham’s The Conservative Case:

Conservatives do not believe that political struggle is the most important thing in life. In this they differ from Communists, Socialists, Nazis, Fascists, Social Creditors, and most members of the British Labour Party. The simplest among them prefer fox-hunting—the wisest [among them], religion. To the greatest majority of Conservatives, religion, art, study, family, country, friends, music, fun, duty, all the joy and riches of existence of which the poor no less than the rich are the indefeasible freeholders, all these are higher in the scale than their handmaiden, the political struggle.

Conservatives want to carve out a small part of this valley of tears, turn it into a home, and enjoy their lives in a world that so often thwarts such humble aspirations. For the conservative, the way to do this, as Roger Scruton used often to say, is to cultivate a love for all that is loveable, and forgiveness towards all that is not.

Whilst these observations about conservatives and their attitude towards the political struggle are no doubt true, one cannot raise them to justify complacency in the face of civilizational collapse. We may not be naturally good at political activism, but that only means that we must cultivate by art what more degenerate people possess by nature. Basically, we need to learn to be activists, and we need to learn quickly.

I hear self-identifying conservatives moan endlessly about the ‘woke’ crowd, when they ought to be sitting attentively at their feet. Wokery has re-centred the political and cultural discourse on moral issues, and away from the pragmatism of the 1980s and ’90s. Wokery has successfully shifted the public debate away from merely economic issues and questions of individualism, and towards what are popularly called ‘values.’ Wokery has not only re-framed the debate so as to privilege moral principles, but has demonstrated that it is prepared to be socially disruptive and simultaneously colonise long-standing institutions of state and civil society in order to advance its cause. In short, the ‘woke’ crowd have done exactly what conservatives should have been doing over the past decades when they were too busy apologising and conceding evermore ideological territory to their enemies.

Frankly, I’m deeply grateful to the woke movement for re-centring our political and social discourse on moral questions, which is where it ought always to have been. We can lament the gains of woke ideological activists all we like, but they have outwitted us and beaten us at every step. It would have been so easy for it to have been otherwise, given that most people are in fact broadly conservative by nature, but in the face of the woke onslaught we did nothing except cower. 

The success of the woke movement is that it has offered a moral and, in fact, spiritual vision of the human drama, and has offered solutions to the unpleasant picture that it has painted of historical oppression and ongoing ‘systemic injustices,’ by which it has convinced a vast number of society’s members that they are imprisoned and in need of saving. This moral and spiritual vision of the human drama may be all wrong, and deeply noxious to boot, but at least they have a vision. It’s time for conservatives to wake up. It’s time to show that they too have a vision—a different, far more fulfilling, and most importantly, truer vision. It’s time to be socially disruptive, and to retrieve the enduring institutions whilst founding new ones.

Increasingly, I see myself as a ‘conservative activist,’ not because I have been deceived into thinking that the political struggle is an end in itself, but because I have realised that if we want to enjoy the ‘all the joys and riches of existence’ to which Hailsham refers, then we need to be proactive about protecting such wholesome aspects of a life worthy of our love. This means, I’m sorry to say, courting the ‘handmaiden’ of such things, namely the political struggle

If I’m honest, and no doubt this remark will be weaponised against me in the future, I like to live like a hobbit. The things that really matter to me are family, friends, beautiful buildings and rolling hills, poetry, music, good books, good wine, good beer, and good food. Nonetheless, for the hobbits, such simple homemaking was only possible because the Rangers of the North, the Dúnedain, decade after decade protected the Shire from all the orcs and goblins that would have captured it, wrecked it, and enslaved its inhabitants. If conservatives want the joys of Hobbiton, they must engage in the struggle of the Dúnedain.

Below, I offer ten principles of ‘conservative activism.’ This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it offers a concise overview of commitments that any conservative ought to keep before his mind’s eye as he battles the orcs that torment the modern world into which we have been so cursed as to be born:

1) Do not conflate ends and means, or you will fail. There is a terrible tendency among conservatives to treat liberty as an end, rather than a means. If there is any immediate take-home lesson not only from the rise of wokedom but from the pandemic experience, it is that the vast majority of people will readily sacrifice many freedoms and liberties for some good that they judge to be an end, and thus superior to their freedom. If all you can offer people are means, with no vision for what life ought to look like when such means are used, then you deserve to lose. Conservatives need to advance a coherent moral and spiritual vision for the human person if they are going to engage in the emerging ‘value-based’ public discourse. You must argue for an end, namely human flourishing in the existent and organic communities by which we have been formed, and to which we owe so much.

2) Redeem the old institutions and found new ones. Conservatives should approach the old institutions, especially legal bodies and universities, as the Gramscian activists have done over the past decades. You should infiltrate them, play the game carefully, consciously knowing that you are being subversive towards their prevailing revolutionary cultures. Also, found new institutions, just as the good people of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium have done, as well as those of the University of Austin. You need a pincer-strategy if you’re going to advance your cause, and therefore both approaches are paramount. What you must not do is that which is on the lips of far too many conservatives, namely establish ‘parallel communities’ where you can supposedly take refuge from the wicked trajectory of the modern world. Remember, fleeing to the hills is what a conquered people do.

3) Work with all people of good will. Many people are sympathetic to the conservative cause without necessarily knowing why, or without sharing all the presuppositions or conclusions of more thoughtful conservatives. Do not purposely narrow the number of people who might be your ‘allies.’ Those who want to fight against the mob that seeks to destroy our civilisation will rarely agree with you on everything, and there may be some things on which you cannot work together. So be it. The unholy alliance between different schools of revolutionaries is what has made the destruction of our civilisation so easy. Conservatives of different kinds and approaches must work together in a spirit of tolerance. This, in fact, is a part of not conflating ends and means. As long as you agree on certain ends, you can allow for a plurality of means among you.

4) Stop trying to look ‘reasonable’ or ‘nice’ to progressives. They will never like you or tolerate you. The woke, progressivist, revolutionary Left hate you and wish that you did not exist. They deem you an oppressive, colonising, elitist, vile creature because you love God, love your nation, and think children should be protected from relentless sexualisation and ideological manipulation. They think that your interest in history, attachment to your people, and proclivity for respecting what you’ve received from your ancestors—rather than denouncing and destroying it—is indicative of a bad spirit. They will never respect you. Remember, you are not trying to establish an environment of tolerance and mutual-understanding. They will never allow for such a situation in any case. Like Isabella and Ferdinand, you are trying to recover the territory. Treat the new Left like people who hate you, because they do.

5) Utterly condemn, in no uncertain terms, the entire LGBTQ+ movement. If conservatism cannot defend social institutions as basic as marriage and family, then to hell with conservatism. The LGBTQ+ movement comprises the sacred priesthood of the woke religion. From them, the woke crowd receive their doctrine, organise their sacred processions through the cities, adorn themselves with sacramentals, and are led in the great offensive of moral revolution. The LGBTQ+ movement is not what it purports to be, namely a movement about liberation from oppression. Once you have a movement that is extremely powerful, internationally celebrated, has months of public celebration dedicated to it, flies its flag on every important building, can shape ancient institutions as it wishes, controls the education system, and still uses the language of victimhood to express itself, you should know that you are dealing with the most perniciously manipulative revolutionary movement in all history. Forget not: it isn’t enough that this movement has corrupted society at its foundations—that is, at the very level of human nature itself—it now seeks to chemically castrate and directly mutilate children. You must concede absolutely no ideological or moral territory to this movement, and you must work to rebuild what it has already been permitted to dismantle.

6) Point out that your opponents are both ridiculous and revolting. Appearances are more, well, apparent, than ideas. Do not think it below you to point out not only what the Left thinks, but what its vanguard looks like. The screaming, swearing, contorted, tattooed, blue-haired, non-binary gorgons that comprise the hardcore adherents of the same ideology to which nearly all our civil servants, charity directors, university academics, and politicians subscribe, indicate how appalling is the progressive ideology under which we all toil. Never tire of pointing this out.

7) Treat common culture as an inheritance as important as high culture, and strive to conserve both. The technocratic system into which we are rapidly moving seeks to isolate us and turn us all into sexless, soy-eating, grey suited, nationless, middle class functionaries that can serve any purpose which the Fourth Industrial Revolution finds suitable for its purposes. You need to encourage local membership. Join local historical societies, pick up hobbies, drink in pubs, attend country shows and fairs, and encourage others to do these things too. Nobody wants the world that our overlords want to impose on us, but we have all been duped into thinking that it’s inevitable. It is not. We can choose what sort of a people we want to be. Doing normal, wholesome activities with friends is a key part of defeating our emerging overlords. For this reason, you must root yourself. In turn, alongside this immersion in common culture, read great books, especially the works of our civilisational founding: Holy Writ, Homer, and Virgil. Don’t be a snob. Common culture and high culture emerge symbiotically, as Eliot argued in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. The defence of culture must be at the heart of all conservative activism, and this entails a healthy hatred—which you should never stop expressing—of pop culture.

8) Defend the family. For the vast majority of people, there is nothing more important than their spouses and their children. If you defend the family, coherently and clearly, people will join you. One of the first moves of the French revolutionaries of the 18th century was that of explicitly denying the long-standing rights of parents over their children and declaring divorce legal. The attack on the family has been going on for centuries, and the results have been disastrous, which are now on full display throughout the West. The Left has cleverly framed their deconstruction of marriage and family as a mere evolution of an institution that is designed to make it ‘more inclusive.’ You must directly criticise this. Parents can now abandon their children with few consequences, homosexuals can rent wombs and buy babies from women in desperate poverty, online grooming networks can talk children and vulnerable adults into having their genitals mutilated with the protection of the state. What we are witnessing is heart-breaking, and it all begins with the undermining and then the ideological colonisation of the family. Any sound conservative activism must challenge this trajectory, and seek to reverse the corruption of the family, whose destruction is the most sacred cause of the Left.

9) Explicitly promote a coherent spiritual and moral vision of the human person. We are a people who are crying out for this vision at the moment. This is the Achilles’ heel of the Left. The entire progressivist movement relies on conservatives advancing no inspiring vision of the human person, and certainly not one that can compete with their vision of the ongoing realisation of Humanity, as it is emancipated from its history and can finally become the manifestation of the abstraction worshipped in the minds of all revolutionaries. Conservatives used to have an inspiring vision, based on a fallen human nature undergoing transformation via the acquisition of virtues, the development of education, and the formation of culture. Jordan Peterson, for all his unfortunate classical liberal tendencies, has shown that talk of virtue, self-sacrifice, education, and culture, really can be inspiring—and get you an enormous following. You should draw some confidence from this.

10) Do not be embarrassed about making religious claims. The whole of Western civilisation is downstream from the Christian deposit. In turn, you should be keen to make Christian claims a staple part of your activist’s repertoire. We have Greek philosophy, drama, history, and poetry, because these were patronised by the Church when they were repeatedly under threat. We have a sophisticated legal system that takes justice seriously, and naturally resists corruption (but, oh how they’ve tried), because of the Church’s patronage of Roman and Common Law (before these were tampered with by the terrible civil codes of Leviathan). We have rich European folk cultures because these were patronised by the Church, and not seen as threatening paganism but as wholesome local attachments that ought to be treasured. What is embarrassing, in truth, is the religious illiteracy of the average modern Westerner. Do not shy away from speaking of the fallenness of humankind and its need for redemption in the discipling of nations (Matt. 28:19).

“Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels,” says the Lord (Luke 9:26-27).

Not all conservatives are religious, but all good religious people are conservatives, or they are betrayers who subordinate their religion to ideology. This can be seen in the tendency of people to call themselves “conservative Christians” rather than “Christian conservatives”; they don’t make ‘Christian’ the adjective but the noun, unlike the “Christian socialist.” You, conservative activist, in the final analysis, are in the business of redeeming your civilisation, and hence you should never shy from proclaiming the Redeemer when called upon to do so.

These are ten principles. They are not rules. That means that they give form to conservative activism, but do not mark a list of imperatives all of which one must fulfil in order to be engaging in conservative activism. Some of these principles may seem in tension with others. It is difficult to see, for example, how one can explicitly criticise the LGBTQ+ movement (principle 5) whilst infiltrating and retrieving long-standing institutions (principle 2) that have been taken over by the Left. For this reason, I offer an eleventh principle to which all other principles must be subordinated: exercise prudence. Realising principle 5, in your own circumstances, may be as simple as not putting a rainbow in your email signature at work, and for others it might mean something more overt. So too, principle 4 (not trying too puppyishly to seem ‘nice’ or ‘reasonable’ to progressives) need not entail being belligerent with all people who have liberal leanings. In your own life, it may simply mean being unafraid to lose friends when you unapologetically voice your own opinions. In everything, prudence—that is the key. With that, I leave you with the words of Gandalf the wizard: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Go forth and be an activist.

Sebastian Morello is a lecturer, public speaker, and columnist. Trained by Sir Roger Scruton, he has published books on philosophy, history, and education. He lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his wife and children. He is essays editor of The European Conservative.