Retroculture: Taking America Back, by William S. Lind (Arktos Media; 212 pp., $18.95). One of the editors of this publication practically laughed in my face when I recently proclaimed myself a “city girl.”
“You’re not a city girl,” he snorted, “you are Little House on the Prairie all the way!” Had he read Bill Lind’s latest, he would have found a more apt descriptor for yours truly.
Lind pins the source of America’s problems on its heightened emphasis on the self. This emphasis began in the 1960s, when that decade’s tumultuous generation overthrew the standards of good taste, style, and manners. The years since have been filled with crudity, busyness, and moral breakdown.
Americans exhausted with a self-focused lifestyle are beginning to look to the past for a way out of their current miserable state, Lind writes. He offers practical ways the average American might embrace old architecture, fashion, entertainment, and travel to adopt his “retroculture” lifestyle. I found his insights refreshing, unique, and full of wholesome simplicity. They provide hope to souls longing for Bedford Falls while living in Pottersville.
Yet this lifestyle isn’t based on externals alone, with adults playing dress up and living in a dreamworld of nostalgia. Rather, retroculture is what one might call a matter of the heart, a contentment which embraces the morals of the past—family, God, church, community—as the all-important glue that holds society together.
While my love for the past—both in values and material goods—makes me a perfect candidate for retroculture, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow in disbelief as I read. Lind implies that whole communities are joining the retroculture movement, raising their families in the old ways, refurbishing old houses, and seeking religion in traditional churches. Yet, knowing alarming statistics about current out-of-wedlock births and the rise of “none” answers on religious surveys, I am skeptical.
Retrocultural trends may, however, be more widespread than they first appear. The desire to create new communities, to conserve the environment, and to develop forms of public transportation are retrocultural ideas already embraced by the liberal side of the political spectrum. If such a thirst already exists on the left, and desires for taste, civility, and old values exist on the right, then perhaps it’s not so farfetched to believe in retroculture’s potential to become a mass movement.
America’s culture is restless, its youth long for substance and meaning but don’t know where to find it. “Ask for the old paths, where is the good way,” the prophet Jeremiah once exhorted the Israelites. “Walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Perhaps one day Americans will find that same rest by returning to the retrocultural concepts in this book.
Coming Home: Reclaiming America’s Conservative Soul, by Ted V. McAllister and Bruce P. Frohnen (Encounter Books; 168 pp., $23.99). The English, drawing from the springs of Christianity and the accumulated wisdom of the classical world, developed a tradition of government and common law which resulted in a community of ordered liberty, McAllister and Frohnen write. At the heart of this tradition is respect for the dignity of the human person; his right to worship God; to form a family; to bind himself with others in associations; and to hold private property. The authors write:
The underlying common law doctrine of ‘free English soil’ holds that as a matter of natural justice no man who stands on English soil…can be the property of another.
Yet, in a fallen world where caprice and error in thought are abundant, the recognition of these principles did not always come to fruition in practice. We need only think of chattel slavery as a painful exception.
Building a political philosophy purely from the realm of ideas, rather than experience and tradition, has caused the American nation to depart from its authentic tradition, the authors assert. They see conservatism since the mid-20th century as departing from the customs and traditions of law and political thought to become subsumed into a sort of progressivism. This progressivism, developed especially during the presidential administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fantasizes about making the world anew.
The second half of McAllister and Frohnen’s book tackles ways that Americans can once again embrace and practice traditional conservatism. They suggest renewed energy directed toward building families and localities, a more fervent religiosity, critiquing and challenging the value of both higher education and globalism, and defining the citizenry of our country by an intelligent immigration policy.
Coming Home is a valuable contribution on American conservative thought that rightly grounds its discussion of the American polity in first and permanent things. There is neither rancor nor political gamesmanship in this volume but rather a conversational, coherent, and calm discussion of what creates and sustains the American tradition of ordered liberty.
Far from being a paean to a distant, longed-for past, the book is a superb introduction to American conservatism and its animating principles of ordered liberty. It is a clarion call to think rightly about our country. In other words, maintaining our tradition of “free American soil” requires us to get dirt under our fingernails or, more likely, ink on our hands from rereading the great books of Western civilization.
(John M. DeJak)
(Retroculture: Taking America Back, by William S. Lind and Coming Home: Reclaiming America’s Conservative Soul, by Ted V. McAllister and Bruce P. Frohnen)