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Conservative Storytelling

This summer I wrote a piece for TAC about the dearth of storytelling among conservatives, whose preferred mode of political discourse is polemical. Jonah Goldberg writes his column today about that. Excerpt:

For roughly 99.9% of human history, nearly all of human wisdom was passed on in stories. We are a species that understands things — i.e. morality, politics, even religion — in terms of stories. And yet so much of what passes for conservative rhetoric these days isn’t storytelling but exhortation. Whatever the optimal policy might be, if you can’t talk to people in human terms they can relate to, you can’t sell any policy. The war on poverty, for instance, has been an enormous failure in many policy terms, but it stays alive because of the stories liberals tell.

Consider immigration. There are reasonable arguments on every side of the issue. But what is unquestionably and lamentably disastrous for Republicans is the way they’ve allowed themselves to get on the wrong side of this story. That is a tale most Americans love, even the ones who want to stop any further immigration.

I’d like to poll the conservatives in this room to ask for contemporary stories, fiction or non-fiction, that tell a conservative truth — by which I mean a truth that illustrates a principle associated with conservative thought, politics, or philosophy. Here’s what I don’t mean: the film High Noon is a fantastic fable about moral courage in the face of the crowd, but I don’t associate that particularly with conservatism or liberalism. Think of a story that, in a positive or negative way, contains a truth that is particularly associated with a conservative way of thinking about the world.

Liberals, don’t use this thread as an occasion to complain about conservatives. I don’t want this to be a contentious thread. I’m just interested in this as an exercise in the conservative imagination — and perhaps even a source of ideas for a future story I might tell in this magazine. We did something like this earlier this summer, and I found it helpful, especially RP in Texas’s haunting story about the death of his West Texas town — a story that was deeply conservative, but ought to have been as discomfiting to Republicans as well as Democrats.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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