Conservatism, as the cultural force we usually think of it, began with a legitimate insight. It was a reaction to the turn modern culture had taken, the growing knowledge that something had been lost. Humanity was being stripped of its traditional and moral center. Liberals claimed that this was a natural growth in humanity’s evolution, that it was for the benefit and the good of all. It was becoming increasingly clear, however, that inherent in their view of the world was an insidious moral relativism. By questioning the absolute foundation of human morality, it was now obvious that humanity was not flourishing. Humanity was becoming dehumanized. When Buckley said people should find meaning in their religion and not drug culture, there was a legitimate insight there. In the absence of the religious and moral influence, culture was and always must search for an alternate source of meaning. Drugs, like any other substitute for a basic metaphysical understanding concerning the order of the world, are basically inadequate. If these conservatives were guilty of an error it was assuming that modernism and capitalism, the very forces that had given rise to it, were the answer to postmodernism. I’ll admit I cannot help but feel a certain affinity to this breed of conservatism. Although I am generally more sympathetic to the project undertaken by the likes of Lewis and Chesterton, who saw the remedy to social breakdown not in the enlightenment, but in the reintroduction of Renaissance humanism or even certain aspects of high medieval culture, I do think this brand of conservatism is perhaps a natural ally. If there are differences of opinion about whether or not progressive taxation is good for the poor, I take it that on more basic philosophical assumptions we are in agreement.
This counter cultural vision of the “conservative gentleman,” as it were, has all but vanished. The political right has morphed into something else entirely, with only the veneer of the previous genteel culturally sophisticated conservative remaining. In an odd turn of events, the right in some sense continues to project the general idea that their aversion to liberals is a moral or religious disposition. A claim exploded by the indulgent populist acceptance of men like Yiannopoulos, an individual of notorious sexual perversion whose “activism” is the equivalent of being a real life internet troll. The difference between conservatism and the alternative right elements who have taken over the Republican Party can be seen embodied in Yiannopoulos and Buckley. The one was a man known to be of such a moral character and refined sensibility that it was once asked him “Have you ever read Mira Breckenridge, and why not?” While Yiannopoulos considers his view that lesbians need “a good dicking” to be a fit subject of humor for a free speech “activist.” In this light there is a certain poetic symmetry in the fact that Antonin Scalia should die on the cusp of Trump’s ascendancy to the White House. With Trump’s GOP, the loss of the moral and traditional center of the Republican Party is also lost. When we look now at the party, we see in its place only the sickening stench of the Trumpian vulgarity. A stench which pours into and informs an increasingly twisted moral vision of the world that ought to leave anyone with even a hint of a Christian moral disposition pale and nauseated. This is what I mean when I talk about the death of conservatism. I do not doubt that the Republican Party will continue, or that they will continue advocating for less regulation, more military and all the other “Republicany” things. However, it must be realized that in their present form they have been wholly taken over by the postmodern amoral influences the were once opposed to. Gentlemen conservatives have given way to vulgar buffoons. Republicans like Shapiro and “The National Review” that observed the damage of a Trump presidency would be greater for conservatives than that of a Clinton were right, at least in regards to the only conservatism that actually matters. The moral conservatism. It, however, lies dead by the wayside of this election along with its brothers “Civil Discourse” and “Basic Human Decency.” Moral conservatism may never rise again, and at least for the moment, the anger, vulgarity, sexual confusion, and nationalism of the alternative right has won. Welcome to Trumpland.