The Corner

Have a Stoic New Year!

1. I like Charles Krauthammer’s observation reported on The Corner that the Russians showed in 2016 that you can win a civil war with merciless overwhelming force. Well, I actually hate what they did, and why they did it. Still, we need to learn quickly from that dose of realism. Well, not we so much as Trump. Too late for President Obama.

2. It turns out that Alabama coach Nick Saban is a Southern Stoic. He wants his players to be rational fortresses protected from the errors that come through “emotional decisions.” It turns out that if they have clear eyes and full hearts, they can’t lose. The exemplary Southern Stoic coach, of course, is Eric Taylor of TV’s Friday Night Lights.

3. There are still some Never Trumpers trying to fend off the evildoer’s inauguration on January 20. The newest scheme: Get some hacker or some patriotic IRS agent to release his tax forms before it’s too late. They need to stop whining and accept the fate that the gods or democracy or the electors have given them. And they need to stop blaming the Russians for the way their fellow citizens voted. The duty of us all is to help Trump be better than he’s ever been before.

4. I’ve read more than once that we need a kind of conservatism that’s neither libertarian nor “neo,” to counter both the Democrats’ progressivism and the conservative populism of Trump. Let me remind you that Trump is conservative in one key sense: He addresses the popular longing to conserve what we have against various forms of dissolution and disruptive innovation. That’s a natural longing, one that can’t be dismissed as self-indulgent whining.

5. Let me suggest this: Too many conservatives have been “conservative liberals,” deploying conservative means — patriotism, religion, the family, and so forth (“conservative sociology”) — for liberal ends, for the maximum possible liberation of the sovereign individual. We need to become more intentionally “liberal conservatives,” deploying liberal means (such as our political institutions and the free economy) for conservative ends, for those relational bonds in love and work through which each of us gains personal significance and discovers that life is well worth living. Let’s call liberal conservatism plain old conservatism. It’s the conservatism of Southern Stoicism properly understood, or divested of racist and patriarchal baggage. At it’s height, it becomes a genuine natural meritocracy of talent and virtue. (See Epictetus or the novels of Tom Wolfe or the films of Jeff Nichols.)

6. A Southern Stoic is no match for Putin or any tyrant sane or insane, you say. Well, maybe. But Trump is no match for Putin. Neither was Obama. But take comfort in the fact that the Stoic General Mattis — the man who will take charge of our defense — takes Marcus Aurelius into battle with him. Maybe he can even convince our new president to read a book or two or listen to those who are far more astute about what counts than he is.

7. We were reminded at Mass today that Christmas is far from over — and today is less about a New Year than the miracle of the mother of God. So why did I go all pagan here? It’s not that clear how much Jesus can guide us when it comes to foreign policy or winning football games.

8. Well, Christianity is always relevant in reminding us that there are some things we should never do to gain worldly success, even to win civil wars. On that point the Christian and the Stoic agree.

9. Was 2016 a really bad year? Hard to tell, containing as it did both some authentic progress and destructive regression. It was mostly a prelude kind of year. And 2017 will tell us, on balance, how bad 2016 was.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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