True Non-Conformism in the Modern West

In a recent article at The Imaginative Conservative, Peter Strzelecki Rieth interviewed the Polish politician Marek Jurek – a Member of the European Parliament, founder of Poland’s Christian National Union and leader of an autonomous conservative political group that is allied to, as well as providing part of the intellectual grounding for, Law and Justice (Poland’s largest conservative party). The interview is primarily concerned with the legacy of Communism in contemporary Polish politics, and the extent to which liberal politicians after the fall of Communism effectively collaborated with ex-communists during regime change, rendering a proper return to Poland’s cultural roots and values (which values had been instrumental in delivering the grassroots change necessary to overthrow Communism) harder to implement.

Whilst this is an interesting discussion in and of itself – particularly given the important role a Poland fully returned to and re-engaged with its cultural heritage could play in the revitalisation of European culture as a whole in the future (and I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to study the interview in full) – there is one passage in particular that has an immediate relevance for all of those in the West who are concerned with the way in which our traditional, Christian-inspired, cultural and moral principles are steadily being eroded. In response to a question about the extent to which family is still highly valued in Poland and what other countries could learn from their example, Jurek concludes that:

…we must proudly defend our Christian civilization. What’s more—we must defend our Christian civilization even if we are in the minority. More so if we are in the minority. Pope Benedict XVI, towards the end of his pontificate, said that in the modern world, the Catholic Faith is the counter-culture. The Catholic faith functions as a counter-culture in our modern world. Great ideas can take entire generations to put into effect. The Left, over the years, has successfully built an aura of being the “non-conformists” in our society; of being the non-conformists who are out to change the world. Any sober observer of political reality can see that this is a complete lie—because the Establishment in our world is a Leftist Establishment. Yet despite this fact, the aura of Leftists as “non-conformists” persists. Yet what is true non-conformism in our world? True non-conformism is persistent adherence to authentic conservatism. This situation is also an opportunity for us to demonstrate the power of our beliefs.

True non-conformism, in contradistinction to ideological extravagance, must be political. True non-conformism cannot close itself up in an ivory tower, where it is enough to write essays in comfort, click the “send” button, and mail them off to friendly editors. True non-conformism must be political: it must go out to the people, it must awaken the sentiment of responsibility dormant within thousands of people who believe in the God of the Decalogue and the Evangelists, who believe in the value of our civilization, who believe in our national and state traditions. True non-conformism must be political because it aspires to give voice to these ideas in representative institutions and then force the Establishment to listen to our voices. We take up these causes not only for our own good, but in fact, we defend these causes for the good of our opponents as well.

Jurek’s response here is a salutary reminder to us all not only to be wary of the tactics employed by those on the Left (which, while often as disingenuous as they appear, also just as often emerge from an in-built utopian spirit – in a desire to always progress, socialism cannot see the status quo as anything but something to be overcome, and will thus in a certain sense always consider itself to be counter-cultural, no matter how much it already controls a culture), and of the true position conservatives find themselves in today, but also of the responsibility that is incumbent upon those who are committed to the ‘permanent things’ – the principles and traditions which have made our civilisations what they are.

The Church, as mentioned above with reference to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, because it was the progenitor of those principles and traditions upon which Western civilisations have been based, and remains the guardian of them now, is possibly the most counter-cultural institution on earth. It represents a sure and constant voice, reminding us of and recalling us to those things which formed the warp and woof of our culture, and which can again inspire us to a more humane vision of society. It already acts as a haven for many who are disillusioned with the turns the West has taken, but to really fulfill its calling (particularly the prophetic office) the Church must continue to raise its voice publicly, critiquing the false vision of humanity perpetuated by our leaders, and providing the lost sheep of our world with the good news that there is something more than the materialistic utilitarianism they have been fed for so long.

Furthermore, this responsibility is laid upon everyone within the Mystical Body of Christ – this is not just a job for the clergy, but for all of us. True non-conformism, as articulated by Marek Jurek, is an active responsibility laid upon all who recognise the great treasures that have been given to us and are so rapidly being lost or thrown away. If one truly recognises these treasures for what they are, there is nothing left to do except to pass that gift on – to ‘awaken the sentiment of responsibility dormant within thousands of people who believe in the God of the Decalogue and the Evangelists, who believe in the value of our civilization’. That ‘sentiment of responsibility’ is also intimately bound up with the deepest yearnings of the human heart for the reality of God and His Love – true conservatism must inevitably involve a return to the One in whom all we value ultimately finds its source and justification.

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