Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Joy Of Traditionalism

G.K. Chesterton and the best argument for the old way of doing things
marcodonkey copy

Boy oh boy, is Felix Miller ever right:

Contemporary young people on the right may be described in many ways: Transgressive. Ostracized. Principled. Unpopular. Free-thinking. Reactionary. Traditional. However accurate—and perhaps damning — one thinks these are, there is one label that greatly worries me: Joyless.

He’s not talking about being funny, in a smart-alecky way. He’s talking about something rooted in love. More:

Many on the right, especially those who identify as “Alt-Right,” spend massive amounts of time rejoicing in the pain of those with whom they disagree. The fact that videos about “libtard meltdowns” and “Butt-Hurt Crying Hillary Voters Compilation” have far more views than videos about Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dante’s Commedia, should tell us something. Young conservatives and reactionaries, much as they flail their hands at the death of Western civilization and the loss of wisdom, do very little in the way of actually preserving the beauty and truth underlying this great tradition. If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affections in his breast. Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cultivating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Miller says that G.K. Chesterton ought to be our model. We can’t simply say what we’re against. We have to say what we’re for, and not only that, but we have to live it out. If we really believe what we say, then “we must show our countrymen that there is a better way.” Miller suggests eating, drinking, and making all kinds of traddish merry. More:

This may seem abstruse, but in fact it is one of the most practical realizations a young traditionalist can make. Simply change your habits to help bring friends and family into rituals and ways of life that affirm reality. Host a formal dinner! Go to an art museum! Have a picnic in which you read classic poetry aloud! This is how we can create a sustainable traditionalism in the West.

What I am advocating here is not aestheticism, but communally gathering around all that is true, good, and beautiful. Politics is ordered toward promotion of the common good, thus in order to engage in politics we all must first have a love for the good. We cannot base the rejuvenation of our dying civilization upon a shared animosity, for as Chesterton reminds us, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

Read the whole thing and, if conservative, send it to your friends.

If I could write The Benedict Option over again, I would have a lot more of this in it. As longtime readers know, I struggle to articulate this kind of thing, even though I am much more successful living it out. I think it’s because I’m a lazy writer. It’s so much easier to bang out 2,500 words on how this or that thing means Decline & Fall than it is to reflect meaningfully on why a poem I read at bedtime the night before filled me with wonder and gratitude. If I ever do a sequel to The Benedict Option, I want to challenge myself to write about the kind of thing Felix Miller discusses in this wonderful post of his.

You know who is the king of ordinary Christian joy, don’t you? My friend Marco Sermarini, who is, and I mean this seriously, probably the greatest man I know. If you read The Benedict Option, you know that he’s a leader of the Tipi Loschi, an orthodox Catholic community in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. He is also head of Italy’s G.K. Chesterton Society. It is impossible to be in his presence without feeling better about life, the universe, and everything. You think: I want what that guy has. He’ll tell you that it all comes from his faith, and that’s true, in one sense, but I know lots of people who are just as faith-filled as Marco is, but who don’t have his sense of joy.

Being around Marco and his family and friends is serious fun. They are all Italo-Chestertonians. I don’t know any other way to put it. If you are a fan of Chesterton’s work, and wondered what it would be like to live among people who saw the world as Chesterton did … well, you can experience that for yourself. Honestly, Marco and his community ought to host a workshop in the summers, called “How To Be A Chestertonian Christian”. You can’t learn this from reading, not really. You have to see it, feel it, and, well, be it, in person. I took my son Lucas to meet the gang this summer, and he’s still talking about it. Sometimes he gets a little teary talking about being there. He told me that it’s one of the only times and places he’s been somewhere where he felt truly loved and accepted — and had a lot of fun in the process. This, with a bunch of Tipi Loschi kids who speak at best broken English. Love and friendship and joy is a universal language.

I’ll leave you with this glimpse of Marco, from The Benedict Option.

“Nothing we make in this life will be eternal, but we have to build them as if they will be eternal,” Marco continued. “That’s what God wants. If you promise yourself to a woman for a lifetime, that is a way of making the eternal present here in time.”

We have to go forward in confidence that the little things we do might, in time, grow into mighty works, he explained. It’s all up to God. All we can do is our very best to serve him.

Sometimes Marco lies in bed at night, worrying that his efforts, and the efforts of his little Christian community, won’t amount to much in the face of so much opposition. He is anxious that the current will be too strong to resist and will tear them apart.

“I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”

It was getting late in the afternoon. I was afraid I would miss my bus to the Rome airport. Shouldn’t we be going? I asked.

Grande Rod, don’t worry, my friend!” he said. “You worry too much. You will make it!” And off we sped, down the winding road toward the sea.

As the sun went down in the western sky, we spoke once more about the challenge facing orthodox Christians in the West and how daunting it seems. Marco left me with these unforgettable lines.

“In Italy, we have a saying: ‘When there is no horse, a donkey can do good work.’ I consider myself a little donkey,” he said. “There are so many purebred horses that run nowhere, but this old donkey is getting the job done. You and me, let’s go on doing this job like little donkeys. Don’t forget, it was a donkey that brought Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.”

Here, in Italian (with English subtitles), is Marco (and others) talking about the classical Christian school he and his community founded in 2008: the Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton. They did it because these Catholic Christian parents wanted better for their children. Such goodness. Such beauty. Such truth. Such joy.  If I ever have the money to do so, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to San Benedetto del Tronto at least once a year, just to get back in touch with reality.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv2Bu4oYBg0]



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now