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Only the reactionary is really capable of being a moderate. Only we stand sufficiently aloof from modernity to judge it dispassionately. An healthy pessimism inoculates us against the two really fatal temptations in politics: reckless optimism and impotent despair. T.S. Eliot summed up our credo pretty well when he observed that “there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.”
The first true reactionary moderate in this country was Orestes Brownson. “God pity us!” he cried, For to carry this huge republic, with its Mammon worships, and its Christian churches reared on traders’ shops, and its party strifes, its rush for office, its forgetfulness of man’s brotherhood of man, its morality of Let us alone, Save who can, and the devil take the hindmost; workers no longer finding work to do; master-workers counting their obligation to their workmen discharged in full when the stipulated wages are paid; it is no easy matter. When causes are neither lost nor gained, one is never tempted to play the short game, or even the long game. The reactionary knows the game doesn’t end this side of paradise.
Usually it’s a long road to that liberating pessimism; in the meantime, these Christian conservatives are just as susceptible to utopian fantasies as any socialist or progressivist. Eliot could have easily gone the way of his friend Ezra Pound. He played modernity’s game, and so wound up locked in a cage by his own countrymen for […]