For some time, I have observed an unexpected alliance forming in the face of post-modernity’s final spasms: namely, an alliance between hippies and conservatives. By conservatives, I do not mean libertarian individualist free-marketeers, nor do I mean oil-grabbing neo-colonialists. Neither of those groups are really conservative. By ‘conservatives’ I mean real conservatives: people with a religious and moral attitude towards the world, and consequently a profound attachment to family, neighbourhood, nationhood, as well as the history and civilizational inheritance they deem theirs. Such an attitude and such attachments are reflected in another group of people who possess their own subculture: hippies.
My sister—technically, my cousin (it’s complicated)—died last year, and she was a hippie. In the final months of her life, she and I enjoyed a number of conversations that illustrated how close our respective worldviews really were. As she spoke to me of the need for modern people to rethink their relationship with nature (of which they are a part), to break out of the current tendency to understand truth only in measurable or quantifiable terms (and thereby neglecting the beautiful, the intuitive, the affective, and the holistic), and the imperative for ongoing interior growth through spiritual practices, I saw that she—a hippie—and I—a conservative—perceived things in much the same way. Essentially, we both understood the world through the organic metaphor and were distrustful of how the world we inhabited had been reframed by the mechanistic metaphor, though she would not have put it that way. My sister had been largely helped through the wonders of magic mushroom therapy; I, through regularly meditating over a bottle of Stellenbosch. In any case, we recognised that we had both been told in a million subtle ways that the world we loved was a machine and had both concluded that it was in fact a living and enchanted thing.
Photo: Image courtesy of pxfuel.com.
I first detected a relationship between conservatism and hippiedom when my wife and I had our first child. We had friends who were ‘anti-vaxxers’ and we had friends who were deeply pro-vaccination. What both sets of friends shared was a hysterically emotive reaction to any sincere questioning of their positions, a response we found unsatisfactory as we decided whether to vaccinate our child. We heard of a doctor who had dissented from mainstream medical practice on vaccinations, and this doctor was soon to give a talk in London. Interested to hear something different to that which the employees at any NHS clinic would tell us, and with the hope of hearing an informed and measured address, we went along to the talk.
I won’t tell you what was said by the doctor, nor the decision to which we came regarding vaccinations for our children. I will tell you, however, that what immediately caught my attention was the subcultures represented among the attendees at this talk. The audience could be divided almost perfectly into two equally sized groups of tweed-clad and hemp-wearing people. I recall that, during the tea-break in the afternoon, I got talking to a young mother who was struggling over the same decision as us. She stood before me, clearly braless, dressed as if she had just strolled in from an ashram, with copper ringlets in her dreadlocks, a Mahayanan symbol tattooed on her wrist, and great wooden beads the size of a bullock’s bollocks dangling around her neck. Yet, we took it in turns to nod enthusiastically as the other revealed personal concerns and opinions. I was astonished: the only real difference between us was our respective attire and her unfortunate omission of deodorant.
Later, as our child grew and was joined by more offspring, we turned our attention to the question of education. Deeply disturbed by the rampant wokery that ever forces itself on almost all ‘mainstream’—whatever that now means—education, my wife and I began to consider home-schooling as an option. Apprehensive as to how we would do at the task, we spoke to home-educating families and sought out home-schooling cooperatives: that is, groups of families who met to educate their children together. Again, two groups were ubiquitous wherever we looked: conservatives and hippies. It was not unusual to find two mums teaching their children together, one a devout Catholic with deeply traditional convictions and the other a ‘she-druid’ with a drawstring bag full of healing crystals. As the ex-member of the Findhorn Foundation and now devout traditionalist Catholic, Roger Buck, has shown in his books, one can easily pass from one camp to the other.
Photo: Image courtesy of David B. Young, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Someone who has surprisingly, but seemingly successfully, integrated the conservative-hippie approaches is Russell Brand. He has stressed the importance of the family, the need for settled communities, the requirement of moral analysis based on developing virtue (he has repeatedly been critical of porn use, for example), and has pointed out the dangers posed by multinational corporations. His YouTube channel, where he can be seen musing and at times preaching with the general air of an enlightened guru, is devotedly watched by bohemians, Burkeans, hippies, and Trumpites. But Brand is not, on the whole, appreciated by hard-Left progressives.
One attribute that seems to reconcile hippies and conservatives is that of openness to the religious or spiritual perspective on the world. Both groups wince at the subordination of all values to considerations of mere utility or efficiency and remain sensitive to the role of culture and the arts. Both groups tend to think that with the emergence of evermore sophisticated technology some things have been lost, perhaps making us less human, and they are worried by this. Furthermore, both groups think and act as if the local and the concrete are more real than the universal and the abstract, compared to progressives who live almost solely by their abstractions. Moderns are happy with their supermarkets and megastores, with veg from this country and fruit from that country; conservatives and hippies are routinely found at the local farm shop.
What is the underlying factor that unites these two groups of people? The conservative and the hippie are both disenchanted with the theory of Progress. They both think that we have lost a body of knowledge and a way of being in the world that was normal for our ancestors. They both think that looking forwards follows looking back; hippies typically sympathise with the traditional societies of the East, conservatives with those of the West. They both think—though few would put it like this—that the world presented to us today, downstream from Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton, is an untruth. They both think that whilst we may claim certain achievements in the modern era and may have new virtues where before we had certain vices, that this is not the whole story; we have lost a great deal, and we may have lost ourselves.
Perhaps soon, we will all have microchips in our arms, as many already do notably throughout Scandinavia. Perhaps we will only speak to co-workers, family members even, through computer screens. Perhaps the world will soon be populated by genderless cyborgs, always spied upon by a thousand bugs and cameras, so afraid of any illness that they shall only venture out covered in plastic, with their faces masked, for a lawful hour of fresh air before fearfully running home to eat their 3-D printed synthetic ‘meat’ while their nervous systems are further wrecked by more state-funded fearmongering. Already, few know how to care for their immunity performance, or which herbs can be used for what, how to grow food or forage for it, even how to raise chickens. We are already content with distant engineers caring for, as La Mettrie put it, “the human machine.” This is a world (I won’t say a future world) that both conservatives and hippies deem—albeit very technologized—very close to a dystopian nightmare.
Conservatives and hippies, in my view, would do well to recognise and foster the relationship that already exists between them. Strength in numbers and all that. As the machinery of the modern world grinds to a halt, as it necessarily will, the world will need people with an entirely different vision, and those who already possess such a vision should be preparing for their time together.
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.