Rod Dreher has written a bit on this essay by Paul Weyrich and William Lind concerning the future of Conservatism in the United States. The essay is interesting, and the authors clearly see where Conservatism has gone wrong in recent years, but their ideas also show what I believe to be the limitations of traditionalism, specifically what they term “retroculture.”

Now, Conservatism makes as one of its goals a deliberate recovery of the past, of those traditions that formed family and community. In one sense, this is appropriate goal, as those things to bind us to a place and other people are positive things (despite what you might hear). At the same time, of course, we must be wary of what Ivan Illich called the institutionalization of tradition–where the trappings of tradition become more important than the human relationships that tradition fosters. Wyrich and Lind then specifically pine for the 1950s, what they term “the last normal decade.” This strikes me as a bit of foggy nostalgia, as our culture tends to look back to the 50s as the decade of the nuclear family, where everything was wholesome. History, of course, tells us this is not the case. Jack Kerouac and the rest of Beats barreled to and fro across the country in search of, among other things, sex and drugs. Movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, while considered tame by today’s standards, caused a furor among the religious community for their depictions of violence and sexuality. Additionally, public schools included both sex and drug education in their curriculum.

This is not say that Weyrich’s and Lind’s (and other traditionalists’) critique of our current culture is not correct, but I think it is a bit of a mistake to look back in time to recover something that was no more present than it is today. The point of tradition is to be reclaim something but to bind ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. Broken families are nothing new, and for many people, there is nothing to recover from their past. Culture will only be changed when we hunker down and take seriously the task of family. Without that anchor, little will change. And it is here, despite their pining for the past, that Weyrich and Lind are correct–cultural change is not at all political.

Now, there are some very valuable aspects to retroculture, specifically the recovery of convivial technologies. Weyrich and Lind very clearly align themselves to thinking of the reactionary James Kunstler:

Another old conservative issue the next conservatism should revive is aesthetics. America may be the richest nation in history, but that has not made it the most beautiful. Strip malls, suburban sprawl, and hollowed-out cities have created an environment few people can love. The New Urbanism offers an alternative that looks to the past to recover traditional designs for towns and cities. The next conservatism should incorporate New Urbanism but not on the Portland, Oregon model of urban growth boundaries and the like (inside of which you find, surprise, more sprawl!). Rather, the next conservatism should promote dual building codes. Developers could choose to build to existing sprawl codes or Traditional Neighborhood Design codes, depending on what they think the market wants.

Relatedly, the next conservatism should promote the return of trains and streetcars as alternatives to dependence on automobiles. The private automobile is a great way to travel as long as not many people have one. At present, the proliferation of cars creates such congestion that everyone, liberals and conservatives alike, wastes vast amounts of time sitting in traffic. Not even a Mercedes sports car is much fun when it can’t move. Bringing back trains and trolleys can save us time and help revitalize our cities. The future energy situation also makes it likely that coming generations will thank us for re-creating the network of trains and streetcar lines America once enjoyed. Here as elsewhere, the next conservatism should take the long view.

I cannot agree more. And this is as much of a recovery of the past as it is a fight of the future. And it at this point that contemporary Conservatism has fallen off the rails, so to speak. By insisting on the final authority of the Market and the pursuit of low prices, we have given ourselves over to dehumanizing technologies. Really, what Weyrich, Lind, and Kunstler advocate is a practical application of the discipline of place. This is, I think, less of a grounding in tradition, but in the people and place that fosters tradition.