Although I’m attracted to ideas and attitudes on the left and on the right (and, occasionally, in the centre), I tend to see myself as fitting ultimately more on the right than anywhere else on the ideological spectrum. But it can be hard to say exactly why. In this couple of posts I’m not so much trying to make a case for anything, as I am to examine myself, to try to articulate something of what I believe about the world of politics and ideology, and at least to gesture vaguely in the direction of why I am attracted to these views. (See my write up from last week about what things I find least compelling on the right.)
Again, I should say that this is not intended to be comprehensive, and I’m sure in a conversation I would probably want to nuance the things I’m about to say endlessly. But when I think of the big picture, what I find inspiring or intriguing on the right falls largely into the following topics.
The original one for me was probably the religious aspect. My faith has always been an important part of who I am, and so it has always impacted my views of politics. And I think that’s natural, almost inevitable, if you really are firmly rooted in your faith.
I have friends who are of an anabaptist persuasion, who think that faith and politics should be kept firmly apart, on religious grounds, and who bring that belief of theirs very strongly to bear on their political views. They don’t say, “well I think faith and politics shouldn’t mix, but if the Conservative leadership candidate wants a theocracy then who am I to judge? That’s just politics, and my religious views shouldn’t be concerned about that.” No, ironically, they believe that faith and politics should be kept apart because they think that’s what Jesus wanted and so they passionately assert and feel that the government is evil if it doesn’t agree with their religious conviction on this matter and consistently act in agreement with them.
And actually, that’s pretty much where I started out. Taking my faith seriously led me, as a teenager and young adult, to be attracted to more socialistic views of government and the economy. I now would say that the view of the Christian faith I held at the time was in some ways a little bit marcionite, a little bit gnostic, a bit too supersessionist. Taking seriously the challenge of the theology of the Old Testament in my young adulthood led me to reconsider my Christian understanding of politics, which in turn led me, not so much away from the left, perhaps, but at least toward reconsidering some theoretical portion of the right. For instance:
Hierarchy is also a concept that draws me. I don’t want to overstate this. I wouldn’t want all of society to be a command structure of some sort. But I’m not opposed to hierarchy, and I believe that some hierarchy is and always will be necessary to promote good and, even more, to prevent bad things from happening. And it goes beyond that for me, too. Hierarchy isn’t just a necessary evil. It can certainly be used badly, and so part of a well-designed hierarchy will involve ways for the lower rungs to defend against caprice.
But honestly, I feel a bit torn about hierarchy. I think that in some ways, hierarchy should be minimalistic. There should be as little of it as possible, and even what has to exist should generally be invoked as sparingly as possible. I think those are probably just hallmarks of a good and functional hierarchical organization. And yet, when it does rightly exist, and when it is rightly invoked by the person in authority and assented to by the person under authority for the good of the whole, to me that is not a necessary evil, not an evil at all, but rather something almost sacramental. It’s a means of grace, a way the goodness of God is suffused through the world.
This third point might be a bit of a funny one for anyone who knows me, but I appreciate the portion of the right that glorifies health and strength and vitality. Before going any further, I need to say that for me (though certainly not for all, I recognize), it seems to be both possible and desirable to celebrate strength without at the same time denigrating weakness or illness or difference. (I’ll circle back around in a moment to say how I think we can best do both simultaneously.)
I’ve thought long and hard about why this aspect of the right is appealing to me. I think ultimately, the appeal comes down to two things: this aspect of the right is an embrace of reality against falsehood, and an acceptance of teleology against a mechanistic instrumentalism, both of which are attractive to me. Striving for health and strength is striving to be the best form of oneself, and I can’t help respecting that. Perhaps by saying those things it will sound like I’m begging the question, but what I mean might become more clear when I talk about why I don’t think it’s necessary to degrade weakness in admiring strength.
It’s possible to speak of health and strength as a relative thing. I listened to an interview the other day with someone who’s a Type 1 diabetic. Health for him will never mean exactly what it means for me. And yet this guy, who could have let his health condition be a barrier or a reason to give up, is more fit, athletic, strong, and in many ways, more healthy than I am! A person without the use of a limb will similarly never have all the physical capacities of a person who can use all limbs, but within that one person’s existence there is a range of possibilities for how strong or healthy it is possible to be.
Thus, to speak of strength, for example, will always mean speaking relative to the situation of the person. It also can be temporally relative; the person who isn’t in peak condition but who has made great progress over the past couple years has a claim to be proud as well. And I actually think the things I’ve just been saying would generally not be all that controversial on the right.
I guess the question then becomes, what about those who are unhealthy or weak and are really responsible for it? I think the best response I see on the right takes two forms. For those who ruefully admit that a lack of knowledge or motivation has kept them from making progress toward better health etc, there is camaraderie, patient encouragement, a nonjudgmental offer of help. For those who insist that it’s not really better to make healthy choices, I think there’s a difference of opinion that could lead to a thoughtful discussion, from which both sides can learn and try to nuance how they articulate their own views … although these days, of course, such a best case scenario doesn’t seem to happen all that often.
Not unrelated, there is a militaristic tradition of thought on the right that I can’t deny being sympathetic to. I say that as someone with absolutely no connection with or experience of the military. Maybe that helps me be unbiased, or maybe it makes me naive; probably some of both, if we’re being honest. I have no desire to minimize or trivialize the horrors of warfare. War is serious business, and not to be undertaken lightly. That’s the ugly, unforgettable truth.
And yet readiness for war is incumbent on a political community, as well as, to some extent, on its citizens who are able. Fear of being unable to defend against an aggressor is not a phobia but a prudent and praiseworthy cautiousness. And willingness to seek to be prepared is something to take pride in, as is willingness to answer the call to serve in a just war, especially a war of self defence. Again, it is hard not to think of Ukraine these days.
Family is really important to me too. I believe that some assortment of the tools that we associate more with the left, with the centre-right, and also with the right, need to be used in combination for the goal of supporting the family. But I think the goal of supporting the family, the goal itself, is one that’s at home on the right, and I think there’s good reason for that. Family is the basic unit of society, and the rest of society as an outgrowth of it retains some resemblance to the family, though of course not a perfect resemblance.
There’s also a traditionalistic intellectualism on the right, when the right is not simply anti-intellectual, which appeals powerfully to me. It is done badly far more often than it’s done well, but it can be done well, and I think that the spirit behind it is at bottom a good thing.
The progressive reader will look at past authors and assume that they must have known much less than we do, and will assume really that they are our intellectual and moral inferiors; such an attitude will then pervade the progressive reader’s interpretation of older texts. The person with more of a traditionalist’s approach will hold open the possibility that past thinkers could be our equals, able to speak to us on a level playing field, or even our superiors, who remembered or discovered things that we in our day have grown forgetful of or have lost the ability to articulate to ourselves.
The traditionalist’s approach is the choice of humility over arrogance, of a teachable heart rather than a didactic one. In my view it shapes the reader into a better person from the outset, before any reading has even happened. As well, it gives access to wisdom and insights inaccessible to the progressive reader, and it trains us to be better thinkers and communicators even within the bounds of our own age.
To a friendly and careful reader who’s waded through this ponderous post, much of what I’ve said will probably sound quite modest. I agree. Read correctly, most or all of what I’ve said will be basically agreeable to an intelligent person residing elsewhere on the ideological plane. Perhaps, then, it’s more a matter of emphasis. And that’s not unreasonable. A change of emphasis might seem like a small thing, but on it, entire civilizations can turn.