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Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian

March 27, 2001

The whole thing is wrong. How did we get into this mess? How can we ever get out?

That’s my political outlook in a nutshell. Not so long ago, I was comfortably nestled into the Republican Party, confident that Ronald Reagan would set the world right. Oh, how naive! I shouldn’t even be confessing this in public.

Well, here I am, much sadder but somewhat wiser, living under a government that kept expanding without limit during and after Reagan, while running up a national debt that would have made Jefferson — or for that matter, Franklin Roosevelt — ask whether he heard you right; and of course the moral and cultural garbage we live amidst seems to be getting irreversibly worse.

I can’t even call myself a conservative anymore. I don’t see much left to conserve. Most of today’s conservatives are to the left of yesterday’s liberals. They quote John Kennedy and Martin Luther King and they have plans to save Social Security and Medicare. They think a minor tax cut would cure the country’s ills.

It’s hard for me to get very interested in today’s political squabbles. I don’t have a dog in these fights; my dog died a long time ago. You know you’re politically homeless when you go to a John Birch Society dinner and you feel you’re surrounded by well-meaning liberals.

Am I a libertarian? Sort of. An anarchist? Anarchy might be great, if only it could be enforced.

I guess the label that suits me best is reactionary utopian. I want to go back to a better world that never quite existed.

Most people are conservative in the wrong way. They accept whatever they’re used to as the natural order of things. They have no sense that the world really went radically wrong somewhere, and is still going further wrong. In this sense, people who think Bill Clinton left this country in fine shape are supremely conservative.

Right now we enjoy the highest level of comfort and prosperity in history. But to make that the criterion of the good life is swinish. Besides, we’re still at the mercy of the modern state, and we never know when it will all come crashing down. There is plenty of precedent, especially in the twentieth century, for huge and rich societies meeting sudden and unforeseen disasters.

After two world wars, countless smaller wars, mass murders, religious and racial persecution, several species of tyranny, punishing taxation, erosions of ancient liberties, debasement of money, and state-sponsored moral decadence, you’d think modern man would have drawn certain lessons about the modern state. All of us ought to talk about the state the way the Jews talk about Hitler.

On the contrary, we have also lost our old standards for judging political well-being. As the poet says, men’s judgments are a parcel of their fortunes. When things get truly bad, you can lose your sense of how bad they are. We are inured to the kind of government our ancestors would have recognized as tyrannical; they crossed oceans to get away from it, and it has grown up here.

George Orwell saw modern man becoming inured to servitude. His most famous novel ends with the chilling sentence: “He loved Big Brother.” Many people still honor the memories of two of the biggest brothers, Roosevelt and Stalin.

[Breaker quote: The one 
thing the modern state can't take from you]The task of a reactionary utopian is simply to pull his head out of his immediate environment and look to religion, philosophy, history, and art for intimations of how social life ought to be. A decent man should always be somewhat alienated from the herd, from the age he lives in, from the dominant political gangs. When you feel at home in a world that has gone wrong, you’ve gone wrong too.

Not that you should be an anti-social hermit (though you shouldn’t rule that out too quickly). But at least you should keep a free mind, a mental and spiritual space that is all your own, unpenetrated by official lies and propaganda.

The tyrant really wants your soul — he speaks solicitously of “raising your consciousness” — but you don’t have to yield it to him. That’s the one private property he can’t take away from you.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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