Although I agree with most of the ideas expressed in your round table “What Is Paleoconservatism?” (Views, January), I believe it is a serious mistake to call this persuasion by such a name. The liberals must love you for so hobbling yourselves. To the average person, the name brings one of two things to mind: either an image of a troglodyte or a high-sounding name that means nothing to them, and probably turns them off. During the fight for the Georgia flag in 1992-1993, a flag supporter from one of those traditional communities we say we represent—a town about as far from Athens and Atlanta as it is possible for a Georgia town to be—met me in Athens. I expressed my views with terms eloquently used by my traditionally minded friends of Athens and by magazines such as Chronicles and the Southern Partisan. Folks in his town, he informed me, would not even understand what I was talking about.
My friend’s comment points out the most serious weakness in the paleo position: We are not heard or understood by the people who should be our strongest supporters. We have been reduced to irrelevance in the decision making of the American regime. Pat Buchanan’s showing in the recent presidential election—about 0.4 percent of the overall vote, or about one out of every 250 votes—is an approximate gauge of our strength. Sometimes, I think many in our camp rather like the isolation —from our enlightened perch we look down on the unlettered, unknowing masses in perfect confidence that, if they would just listen to us, they would be far better off. They do not listen to us, first, because our message has never even reached most of them—saturated, as they are, by the mainstream media and the American regime every minute of their waking lives. And second, they do not listen to us because we often do not speak their language, even when we do manage to break through the regime’s monopoly of thought and communication. They do not understand us. We do not connect with their daily concerns. We are “paleos”; they are real people.
We desire the return of our local communities, our states, our nation, our entire Western civilization, to the guiding principles that form the bedrock of our greatness. A small band of knowing, intelligent, determined people can keep the flame burning until it rekindles the old spirit and the old understanding among nations. That is how many of us see our role. At the same time, many of us hold out the hope that our society can return, at least partially, to the “permanent things” in our own day, or at least within the next half-century. We know our society desperately needs to do so— the sooner, the better, for it and for ourselves.
To do so, however, there must a be wide dispersion of our way of thinking. In short, we must break out of our cocoon and communicate with the masses. Donald Davidson knew that the intellectual, the artist, the leader, must be a part of his community; the works of intellectuals should be familiar to the everyday citizen. Such an articulation of a very commonsense principle was enunciated in the 1850’s by William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina, who, in his Social Moral Lectures, urged his fellow Southerners to emulate the virtues and the wisdom of Periclean Athens, where the fine arts and the words of statesmen were a part of the life of the community.
Our society can be raised to the standards of our historic civilization only if the old virtues are reinstilled in a sufficiently large number of our leading citizens —including educators, journalists, professionals, businessmen, and politicians. This will be accomplished not by esoteric intellectual cliques—such as the name “paleoconservative” implies—but by reaching out to the millions of “Middle Americans” who long for a return of their societies to the old virtues that they still admire. They do not want a paleoconservative; they want a living, breathing person to whom they can entrust their future. Somehow, a way must be found to connect the Chronicles clerisy with the genius of the average American.
—William L. Cawthon, Jr.