Monday, August 15, 2011


March 2, 1954

Dear Dunc:

Let's talk about the article on the Conservative Position. I do not see how you could be anything but distressed by my slowness in writing it. At the same time, I am putting everything I have into it. Everything I have is far short of the burst of stamina that used to carry me over the hump in past times. But I still have a good deal. Besides, there is on my shoulder an editorial touch much less patient than yours. It is a bony touch and its peremptory command is to finish while there is yet time . . . One has the sense of inditing an epitaph, an obit for the morgue, against the deadline of the patient's foreseeable demise. Or, it may be a kind of ms.[Ed:Message] found in a bottle to be washed up, chance serving, on some unimaginable shore after bobbing in what unimaginable sea of time. So much for climate.

The problems of writing are themselves very great. This is not a problem of waving some sparklers or touching off some rockets in memory of the Middle Ages or the Venetian Renaissance. They provided  their own arsenal of fireworks. The problem here is to make people want to read what most people  ordinarily never want to read about and what in general others have found so resistant and unrewarding that few have wanted to write about it; and have come off for the most part, even the best of them, rather poorly in their infrequent attempts. To make readers want to read it-that is operational problem  No. 1. But that scarcely take us across the doorsill.

The heart of the greater problem is, what makes the Conservative position so unappealing?[Ed] What makes this great central position of mankind so much a skeleton of dried bones? Why, to put it simply, has the Right scarcely a voice that speaks for it with authority or conviction-or without the curse of  faint apology? These are facts that must be thought through to the truth that makes them formidable. But these are merely the negative outworks that must be forced by the man who would explore and explain the central position. For there it towers, everlasting, I would say. But it is very difficult to  excite people about what is everlasting.

No one is of much help in the matter. Those who have sought to deal with the riddle in the past have, for the most part, it seems to me, largely encrusted it with all manner of distracting error. We must give Russell Kirk an A for effort in The Conservative Mind. But looked at coldly-what confusion is brewed by slamming into one pot John Adams, John Randolph, John Calhoun, James Russell Lowell, Henry Adams, and George Santayana. Informed the book is; worthy it is-a worthy master's thesis. And, faute de mieux[Ed:lack of a better], we do well to push it. But if you were a marine in a landing boat, would you wade up the seabeach at Tarawa for that conservative position? And neither would I.

That is why I am trying to write a conservative position that will make sense to, that will not enrage, a marine as he steps waist-deep into the gunfire at Tarawa. No other is any good or any use. If it can't be done, there is no defensible conservative position, for the conservative postion is not merely an acquisitive position. In my gropings and stugglings through the outworks, I think I have gone beyond the conservative position. I have found that behind it lies something much more steadfast-the  conservative spirit, or, if you will, the conservative principle. Ages change, politics shift and slither-the conservative spirit does not change. It adjusts because it is a summation of human wisdom, and in a  sense organic, it looks from the fastness of life, and bends or yields to what is passing, but maintains, as the light shines in darkness, what is everlasting because it partakes of it itself.

But all this, of course, is only the backdrop to what must be stated. I hope this will give you some idea of the degree to which I am involved in this task. It is difficult to set logic to music. But logic which does not sing is only more of the same old mouse cheese. I am trying to make it sing so that others will sing it. For if you could excite a boy of draft age with the conservative position as now generally  presented, it would be proper to suspect that the young man was a prig or a dud. And not the least of  my problems is your businessman, a nonreader.

As ever,


(Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday)