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A couple hours ago, I stumbled upon a little gem entitled "The Top 10 Conservative Movies of the Last Decade," by Nile Gardiner, which you can read here. I have seldom passed a more diverting five minutes. Nothing that I have read to date (so far as I can remember) has so perfectly illustrated the simultaneous shallowness, novelty, and godlessness of modern conservatism. My first impulse was to make excuses for conservatism along the lines that the columnist must be some kooky extremist blogger from the US heartland of the Michael Savage variety. But, as you can see, he is a respectable columnist for the respectable British newspaper The Telegraph. Of course, one might still plead that he is not remotely representative of modern conservatism, but if he is, this little essay should be enough to send Bible-believing Christians running the other way as fast as their flabby little legs will carry them.

To demonstrate my point, I need scarcely go further than the first sentence, which defines a conservative message as one that ranges "from strong support for the military and love for country to the defence of capitalism and the free market." Now, aside from the fact that these are values so bland, shallow, and vague as to make a former generation's conservative intellectuals blush, these are values that have almost nothing in common with the legacy of stalwart Russell Kirk-ian conservatism. If I am remembering Kirk's The Conservative Mind properly, there was no particular promotion of "strong support for the military and love for country"; on the contrary, a healthy suspicion of both was often cultivated. And certainly, most of the figures of Old School conservatism would be resolutely opposed to "capitalism and the free market." This fourfold declaration of principles immediately marks Gardiner's style of "conservatism" as a radically novel departure from what formerly went by that name. Of course, an accusation of novelty need not be a fatal criticism, but it certainly is a rather embarrassing one for a movement whose creed is conserving ancient traditions, rather than innovating.

It is also easy enough to see that Biblical Christianity does not lend support for a single one of these principles; in fact, in my mind, it stands squarely in opposition to each. One does not have to be anything like a pacifist to see that "support for the military" is not high on Jesus and the Apostles', or even the Old Testament's, agenda. Indeed, it would be a worthwhile meditating upon this principle solely in light of the ostensibly more militaristic Old Testament. Here we find such policies as a prohibition on standing armies and repeated declarations to the effect of "Our trust is not in chariots or in horses, but in the Lord our God." "Love of country" as a general principle is likewise never endorsed in either Testament, and is often undermined. Particularly vivid counterexamples are Jeremiah's imprisonment for repeatedly prophesying against the nation, rather than endorsing the nationalist agenda which put its faith in Israel's status as "God's chosen nation," and Jesus's adamant opposition to every form of Jewish nationalism in first-century Palestine. And of course, while the Bible certainly endorses a kind of qualified private-property rights and desires genuine godly freedom in the marketplace, it is easy to show that it unanimously opposes the kind of free-market capitalism that prevails in the modern West. So much for novelty and godlessness.

Stating conservative principles this way also suggests that conservatism is a stunningly undiscriminating, intellectually vacuous creed. "Support for the military"? Under what circumstances? In what conflict? In spite of what kinds of conduct? For what purpose? An unqualified, undiscriminating "support for the military" is exactly the sort of mindless behaviour that led to the rise of the Third Reich. The same goes, obviously enough, for "love of country." Love of what country, under what circumstances, in spite of what behaviour? Love of country as a general principle is simply another form of moral relativism. The same concerns apply to the principles of "the defence of capitalism and the free market"; clearly, any such defence must be qualified, depending on what practices capitalism is currently engaged in and how the free market happens to be using its freedom. As no less a conservative than Burke said, "freedom" can be no more an unqualified ideal than "government" can be.

Much more to come, as I deal with the (rather laughable) selection of movies that Gardiner has to recommend to us.


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