Five Practical Steps for Saving Western Civilization
For those of us who enjoy talking politics, conversations with likeminded friends often involve a certain degree of whimsical solving the world’s problems. I say whimsical because we know good and well whatever solutions we offer up aren’t actually going to be put into practice in full force because—for starters—we’re not in charge. These conversations have an air of ill-fated hope, much like friends who divulge what they’d do if they just happened to win the lottery. It’s never going to happen, but it can be fun to dream.
On the other hand, the dream can turn into a nightmare. For we might be genuinely concerned about the state of things—the health of our local community, the financial stability of our state, the threat of a hostile foreign nation, global health or environmental crisis—and yet frustrated by our inability to do anything about it.
I was in a conversation of this sort the other day with a friend who had compiled a sensible list of things people could actually do. His chief concern was the state of the Republican party as it was expunging those who held conservative views and morphing into a party of nationalists and populists. He believed the best thing conservatives could do was stay in the party and work for reform from within. Here were his practical solutions:
Gather friends and neighbors to host discussions and challenge existing narratives about the GOP
Launch letter-writing campaigns and signature drives
Door-knock for specific policies and/or causes
Host speakers and support local principled candidates
Organize a national conference with other conservatives from across the country
In this same spirit, I’d like to offer up a practical list of things you can do to combat what I deem to be an even bigger problem: the slow demise of Western civilization.
I’ve written extensively on the increasing decline of our culture throughout this blog and discussed it in many podcasts, so I shan’t get back on my soapbox here. There are many reasons for the decline of Western civilization, but chief among them is the fracturing of our institutions as homes, families, churches, neighborhoods, civic groups, and everything in-between drift further apart.
A growing loneliness epidemic and the beginnings of societal upheaval have been well documented in recent years in books such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, Timothy Carney’s Alienated America, Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West, Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, and Senator Ben Sasse’s Them. In their own way, each work tells the sad tale of a world of growing social tension and animosity caused by societal, cultural, technological, and spiritual alienation.
We Millennials have a strong desire to change the world for the better and to make a difference. Sometimes this positive energy isn’t channeled properly, such as the growing support for socialism among young Americans. I think Patrick J. Deneen hit the nail on the head in his book Why Liberalism Failed when he said, “Political revolution to overturn a revolutionary order would produce only disorder and misery. A better course will consist in smaller, local forms of resistance: practices more than theories, the building of resilient new cultures against the anticulture of liberalism.”
Small and local are key. Ever since Edmund Burke coined the phrase little platoons, conservatives have long recognized that the health of a nation or entire civilization can never be greater than the health of all the tiny communities it’s made of. You may not be able to save the planet or Western civilization, but you can work to restore the communities that you inhabit.
There are many steps you can take today to begin restoring your “little platoons”. Here are some practical suggestions that are not only doable but potentially enjoyable, rewarding, and nourishing:
1) Build a front porch on your house
Modern American neighborhoods are in dire need of front porches. Admittedly, this is a personal pet peeve. Our society has largely done away with the front porch—a place that once connected the seclusion of the home to the connectivity of the neighborhood—and instead built backyard patios where we carefully control who we interact with.
While this may not be on many people’s radars, I am not entirely alone in this observation. To quote Patrick J. Deneen once more, “The front porch, often sited within easy chatting distance of the sidewalk, was an architectural reflection of an era with a high expectation of sociability among neighbors.” If the thought of getting to know your neighbors is discomforting, perhaps that’s because we largely live in a world where those who live next door might as well live in another country. Building genuine community is difficult and time-consuming. Often it involves spending time around people we wouldn’t ordinarily invite to our backyard patio. But without this potential for awkward encounters, genuine communities never take root.
2) Invite friends and neighbors over for dinner
A couple I know view inviting people over for dinner as a special calling. They’ve even been known to invite people on the spot for dinner later the same day, having just met. On one such occasion, the guest they had invited for dinner took the opportunity to steal the wife’s wedding ring. Though devastated, the couple continue to invite people over most evenings. They’ve taken precautions to keep their valuables out of sight but believe it’s much too important to stop showing hospitality to strangers.
This is probably further than you’d be comfortable going, but we all have relationships within our circle of family, friends, neighborhood, community groups, workplace, or a multitude of other assemblies that could be strengthened by sharing a meal together. Oftentimes, it’s the only practical way to grow a relationship in our otherwise busied lives of sanitized conversations.
3) Form a group focusing on a common interest
Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone gets its name from the phenomenon that bowling leagues are becoming a thing of the past. But so too are just about any other institution, community, civic group, or organization that’s not political in nature or at least government-sponsored. From Boy Scout troops to 4-H Clubs to Toastmasters to neighborhood gathers, we are becoming an increasingly alienated people.
While these groups may not serve an obvious necessity in our daily lives, they are vital to the strength and nourishment of genuine communities. It is not uncommon for we Millennials to only associate in groups out of necessity—such as family (which we didn’t choose but were born into) or work. But generations past found great comfort in belonging to groups for no better reason than the sheer enjoyment of the company of others pursuing similar interests.
For years my grandfather had a morning ritual of visiting the same diner for breakfast every day. Some mornings he wouldn’t eat a thing, but he always enjoyed chatting with the familiar faces and—even when no one else showed up—seemed content to just partake in his favorite pastime of people watching. None of this was necessary but it certainly seemed to enrich his life.
4) Join a church and attend regularly
To the nonreligious this may seem a bit biased, but I believe the evidence is indisputable that regular church attendance is among the greatest means of building a thriving community. Throughout his book Alienated America, Timothy Carney shows how the professed religiosity of a person doesn’t much matter if they are not plugged into an active community of fellow believers.
Millennials are particularly fond of separating their spiritual faith from religious tradition, but those traditions are what make a difference. After citing a study that found churchgoers lived longer, Carney cautioned it shouldn’t be taken for granted that a faith community was vital: “The study that found baby boomers 40 percent less likely to die young if they went to church? It actually found mortality was higher (by 4 percent) among those who said religion was ‘very important’ to them.” Religious faith without a shared community can actually be more soul-crushing than no faith at all.
While I have argued here that going to church for the soul purpose of reaping the benefits of church attendance will most likely not produce any benefits, it must be acknowledged that attending church regularly requires actual effort. And putting forth effort to attend and build a community within your local church is something you can do.
5) Reduce the time you spend on social media
I don’t want to come across as hypocritical as this is an area I struggle with more than I’d like—but reducing your time on social media can work wonders in reconnecting with the world around you.
While maintaining a certain impulse control over our social media habits can be challenging, this has also become an area where most of us are willing to acknowledge it’s become a problem. Do a Google search for “benefits of leaving” and see what auto-populates first. More and more, the question isn’t should I quite social media? but how does one do that? I’m afraid I have no secret method to share. I suspect—like any habit—breaking it requires a great deal of work, determination, trial-and-error, and time.
Will all of this truly save Western civilization? That’s clearly a long shot. But we just may be surprised with out enriched our lives can become when we set about doing something.