Salvo 10.20.2023 5 minutes

Lame Conservatism

Nerdy Man Flexing His Bicep

Embrace the youth or continue to lose.

Why is conservatism so lame? Conservatism has long been associated with prudes in bow ties who rail against rock and rap music while pledging to die to preserve single-family zoning and tax exemptions for golf courses. And to a certain extent the stereotype proves true. Conservatives have tended to present themselves as bourgeois moralists.

However, what’s required today is more than a mere defense of the status quo. With the decline of American power on the global stage and reduced standards of living at home, Americans are in need of a guiding light toward a brighter future, a positive vision of greatness.

Unfortunately, conservatives are bad at conjuring grand narratives that challenge the status quo. Even with the rise of the MAGA movement, where the American middle and working classes overwhelmingly threw their support behind the only candidate offering a compelling vision of the future, the GOP establishment repudiated it. Consequently, the Republican Party has proven itself to be run by cowardly conformists, unable to deliver satisfying solutions to the concerns of the American people, and to youth in particular.

One example of the conservative failure of imagination is its efforts to address the “crisis of masculinity.” It’s no secret that American men are more mentally and physically out of shape than ever before. How is America to continue leading the world militarily, scientifically, and culturally with a population of depressed and chubby bugmen? The way conservatives have chosen to address this issue is through moral injunction, as in Josh Hawley’s book Manhood, where he argues that young men need to stop watching porn and get to work. He uses a religious language of duty, derived primarily from the Bible, to exhort men to take on responsibility for the upkeep of the country and its institutions. Otherwise, he says, the American republic will collapse just like Ancient Rome.

What Hawley fails to note is that Roman citizens were largely, and for a long time, loyal to the maintenance of their state, because it provided them with opportunities for adventure on campaign and the formation of powerful friendships, alongside gaining land, status, and wealth, in return for civil service. Most of all, Roman citizens really felt like the Roman state was theirs—that they had a stake in the state and that it worked in their interests.

Most Americans, by contrast, perceive the American state as a largely incompetent and parasitic entity that wastes money maintaining an ineffective and bloated bureaucracy. Since contributing to American society, or to the state in particular, is widely perceived as pointless, American men will most likely continue drifting into vice and mediocrity rather than participate in a system that hates them.

This alienation has fed the rise of the Right-Wing Bodybuilder culture, which admonishes young men to get off the couch and onto the bench. The right-wing embrace of bodybuilding is a manifestation of the youthful yearning for something beyond the mundane. It is the will to see life ascend beyond what is merely common. This is why right-wing bodybuilders appeal so much to the youth—because it’s cool. As it turns out, being jacked and tan, and going on adventures with your friends is bad ass. That’s what young men want more than anything, and what young women want out of their male partners.

Instead of timid moralism, therefore, the American Right needs to embrace the spirit of the youth. The Right needs fewer bowties and more Gold’s Gym stringers. It needs fewer book clubs and more hiking and wrestling groups. The Right needs to become exciting. In the war against the darkness of the Left, the American right-wing needs to promise a bright future characterized by beauty and dynamism.

It is in that embrace of beauty through which the Right can expose its enemies for what they are: the ugly and the resentful. They are those who wince at the site of true beauty, unable to stand the light. This is the sort of vision that young people can really identify with and toward which they can devote their energies. It is the youth who hold the power to innovate in science and art, and the youth who can fight to build and preserve civilization. The Right should be directing all of its efforts in this direction. The rest will follow when they see life flourishing.

A good example of how to get started is YouTuber Elijah Long’s “High Thumos Brotherhood,” which isn’t even explicitly right-wing or political at all, but exists to bring men of like mind together. Through Elijah’s Discord server, the “brotherhood” organizes meet-ups to hang out, lift weights, hike, etc. All of the men in the group are also bound by a common commitment to a “high thumos” lifestyle characterized by risk-taking and self-improvement. This is the sort of group that the Right needs more of.

So conservatives can continue to lecture young people about duty and moderation until they’re blue in the face. These maxims are not so inspiring when the American people trust their government less and less and see life around them growing more bleak by the day. Young men want adventure, friendship, and competition. If the mainstream Right doesn’t offer that to them, they will seek it elsewhere. Whoever wins the youth, wins the war. It is the young who literally hold the future in their hands. If the Right doesn’t embrace this spirit, conservatives will forever remain losers.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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