The philosopher Leo Strauss once wondered if a country can lose a war militarily and still win it spiritually, meaning that while its arms could not overcome the opponent, its way of thinking can.
In recent years, I think we are coming closer to an answer. The Germans were never libertarians or utilitarians, but always romantics who panicked that life could become comfortable without meaning. Max Weber lamented nothing more than the disenchantment of the modern world, while Nietzsche tells us that only will and struggle can give us a sense of existence in the modern age.
What once was a particular German anxiety about the future, has now gone global, especially so among those who consider themselves part of a “new conservatism”.
I felt these sentiments echoed during an event I had the chance to participate in. Last week a couple of well-known public figures and intellectuals met in London for the inaugural conference of ARC, the “Alliance for Responsible Citizenship,” a new organization under the leadership of Jordan Peterson and others, who want to preserve the West through offering “a better story” compared to what our current woke-infested institutions have to offer.
It was a well-organized event, with individuals like Konstantin Kisin, Niall Ferguson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Michael Shellenberger (among others) giving interesting lectures on how to save capitalism, Christianity, freedom, and property rights.
Jonathan Haidt spoke insightfully about the mental health crisis among young girls due to social media, and Warren Farrell about a similar crisis among boys and young men.
Not everything was doom and gloom. The participation of members of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty as well as the occasional appearance by a Christian Rapper brought some much-needed relief from the often very academic nature of the conference.
You also had your slew of politicians from the Commonwealth speaking, including former Australian Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Anderson, and current British politicians Kemi Badenoch, Miriam Cates and Michael Gove.
It was ironic that a conference dedicated to the revival of conservatism shied away from inviting prominent figures from countries where conservatism still has a pulse, like Poland or Hungary. It would have been very enlightening to see some of the success stories from the parts of the West that are often still either under- or misrepresented in the media.
British Conservative MPs and cabinet members speaking as if they are in opposition, when they are actually in power, tells you more about the crisis of conservatism than anything they said. It is hard to take them seriously, since it seems that while they know how to sound like conservatives, they are unable to govern as such. One has to wonder if they really mean it?
Even though there was a strong Anglo-Saxon bias to the whole conference, the spirit was more Schopenhauer than Locke.
With the exception of entrepreneur and billionaire Paul Marshall, who brought some libertarian spirit, the overarching theme was the crisis of meaning in the West. It has long become clear that wokeness has nothing to do with classical liberalism, but the new conservatism is moving away from it as well.
Throughout the event it did not become clear what the new and “better story” is supposed to be. That (post)modernity cannot fill the human longing for meaning has been known since the early days of German romanticism, and the idea to combine tradition with techno-optimism is also not particularly new.
Everything said was very agreeable, and most of the 1,500 participants will have left the conference with the comforting thought that there are still like-minded people to be met.
It remains to be seen whether a concrete vision will emerge from the conference but there was a surreal quality to it as well.
While a few middle-aged major thinkers got together to formulate a new vision of the future, an actual vision was already taking place in the streets of London and other major European cities.
Hundreds of thousands of people were marching in the streets, waving Palestinian flags and voicing their hatred of Israel and – all too often – Jews, as well as the countries that were supposed to be their new homes.
While making my way home from the conference through masses of young people aggressively stating their values, I was wondering if indeed this week has brought a glimpse of the future.
Although I am afraid this was not in the conference halls of ARC, but on the streets of London that were filled not with those willing to discuss the future, but in shaping it.