Remembrance of Things Past

Conservatism is, in large part, about memory; you cannot conserve values if you do not remember them, if you do not remember the time when values where embedded into active and functioning social systems. There are powerful weapons turned against memory these days, including ideologies of “creative destruction” whose main function is to constantly destroy the past and the values associated with the past. But when we destroy the past, we also destroy the future, and that is a process that is becoming painfully apparent today. Politically, both the right and the left have become ideologies of destruction; the right for commercial reasons and the left for cultural (or “multi-cultural”) reasons.

But without remembering our past, we cannot rebuild our future. The memory of the past comes not so much from histories and essays; the main tools of memory were song and story. Today our stories are more likely to be about science fiction, about a future that never arrives, and our songs are not anything we actually sing. Indeed, we don't even share our songs, but listen to them plugged into a tiny box, where no one else can even here them.

R. R. Reno of First Things has brought to our attention some songs that do recover the past, that are worth singing and worth sharing. They are from the English group, Show of Hands. Writes Reno:

The background for the song is the post-Thatcher boom in England that has transformed social patterns. Whatever was left of nineteenth-century industrial society has been swept away. Global agricultural markets have changed farming. The explosive growth of wealth, almost entirely focused in London, has created a large class of the well-to-do. The end result for a great deal of southern England: failing village economies now sustained by money infused by London weekenders, many of whom have bought charming cottages as second homes.
Our free-market friends like to remind us that this is all part of the process of creative destruction. And anyway, aren’t those country folks making their own decisions to sell out and pocket the cash? All good and well, but Show of Hands sings of a different, existential truth: “Redbrick cottage where I was born / Is the empty shell of a holiday home. / Most of year there’s no one there. / The village is dead and they don’t care.” The kitchens have been redone tastefully, but the village empties during the week.
If “Country Life” gives you a Chestertonian tingle, then strap on your seat belt and click over to “Roots.” This song crashes onto the shore of contemporary multiculturalism like a Cornish storm surge.
The major premise of “Roots” is simple: “Without our stories or our songs / How will we know where we come from?” The minor premise is implied: England now encourages cultural forgetfulness rather than memory. The conclusion: an urgent imperative of cultural renewal that gives this song extraordinary emotional power.

Like last year's hit, Dégénération from the French Canadian group Mes Aïeux, these songs remind of us where we came from and what we have lost. And until we recover our past, we cannot rebuild our future.


Anonymous,  Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 9:34:00 PM CST  

While I don't want to be a wet blanket, it's important to remember that an excess of "back to the roots" sentiment led the original distributists to anti-Semitism.
James Haughton

Richard Aleman Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 6:46:00 AM CST  

I want to dispel something once and for all.

The early distributists were not anti-semites, any more than all Catholic were anti-semites because some Catholics were anti-semites.

Secondly, can you define anti-semitism?

Third. Distributism has always been about "looking back" as a way to move forward. That specific reflection, could be traced to the Middle Ages.

The Guild Master Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 8:08:00 AM CST  

Well said, Richard.

I hadn't been aware of the band "Show of Hands" until this posting, which is pretty shameful really, given that I'm an Englishman. What they say in those two songs is absolutely true, but it's a truth that has been shamed into silence here in England by the kind of comments such as the second one on this thread; namely that it's racist to have pride in one's own culture if that happens to be English culture. Culture of course is impossible without cult, or religion, and English culture, or, for that matter, every other historic Western culture, derives from Christianity, mainly Catholic Christianity. That's another unpalatable truth that has been buried. Even many of those who wish to restore traditional national cultures have not faced up to the implications of that. John is right - values have to be embedded in social systems. That's another modern heresy, of course, unless the values are "value-free" and subject to impersonal market forces.

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