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Restoring the reality principle

Commentary | The last column of a twelve part series on "the next conservatism"

Herbert Marcuse, who did more than anyone else to inflict the ideology of cultural Marxism on America, set up an interesting dichotomy in his vastly influential book, Eros and Civilization (in the 1960s, it was virtually the Bible of the New Left). The basic challenge facing the cultural Marxists, as he saw it, was nothing less than replacing the Reality Principle with the Pleasure Principle. The result would be endless pleasure, endless love (in reality, endless sex) in a society where work would be unknown and "liberated eros" would unleash the delights of "polymorphous perversity." Dionysius would triumph over Apollo and decree a New Eden.

That indeed became America's road, and we've come a long way down it, baby. The result, of course, was not a Dionysian paradise but endless decline, decay and degradation. America of the 1950s, the last decade when our country had its rightful mind, is now more of a foreign country than Tibet or Upper Volta.

Where that road is rapidly leading us is all too clear. It is leading us to Brave New World. When I was in high school, some years ago, every pupil had to read two books which offered two alternative totalitarian futures. One was George Orwell's 1984, which represented totalitarianism of the Nazi or Communist variety. The other was a slim novel, written in the 1930s by the British author Aldous Huxley: Brave New World. If the fall of the Soviet Union removed most of the threat of 1984, America is today steering straight for Brave New World. Indeed, it is leading the rest of the planet in that direction, or, when necessary, forcing it, sometimes with bayonets.

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The first law in Brave New World was that you must be happy. Happiness was guaranteed by a combination of sensual pleasure (as with Marcuse, anything goes, except marriage), endless consumerism and materialism, virtual realities (the "feelies" did television and computer games one better), psychological conditioning and, Hell's final triumph, genetic conditioning, which was virtually inescapable. Summed up, Brave New World represents what C.S. Lewis called the abolition of man.

The next conservatism needs to recognize that Brave New World describes America's probable future, unless conservatives and perhaps some others can bring about a massive change of direction. All the key elements are already present and working as a leaven throughout American society, excepting only genetic conditioning, and genetic engineering will soon give us that. It is not irrelevant that Marcuse and the other cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School realized they could not destroy traditional Western culture with philosophical arguments; the task required that people be psychologically conditioned so that they could not believe anything else. Between the public schools and television, many of our young people are already at that point.

The question facing the next conservatism is what can be done about it. Obviously, concrete steps include home or other private schooling and throwing the television off the roof, as Russell Kirk once actually did. More broadly, we need to "deconstruct" Brave New world along the following lines:

  • Once again, make sure every school child, and every adult who has not done so, reads Brave New World. It offers a powerful warning.
  • Replace the cultural Marxists' rule of "if it feels good, do it" with traditional Western, Judeo-Christian morals. Once again, we see that cultural issues are primary.
  • Be wary of technologies that offer virtual realities. I use a computer and love it, but I am careful what I use it for. Too many people are not. In my view, the next conservatism needs some way of evaluating new technologies rather than just accepting whatever the market brings us.
  • Remember that conservatism is not about stuff. Consumerism and materialism are not traditional conservative virtues. Yes, conservatives want to live comfortably, and that is fine. But as one minister put it, we are commanded to use things and love people, not the other way around.
  • Beware of psychological conditioning in any form, and reject genetic conditioning utterly. Genetic engineering is one of those technologies conservatives should be looking at skeptically. Do we really want men to play God?
  • Recognize that cultural Marxism, while not the same thing as Brave New World, has made a Devil's pact with it, where each uses and benefits the other. We should be fighting both.

At root, the next conservatism's task is to reverse Marcuse and restore the reality principle in place of the pleasure principle. If we do not, I fear events will, and those events may not be pleasant.

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