Our Fathers’ Fields

Conservatives in the 21st century lead subterranean lives, taking refuge in their obscurity and finding comfort only in the virtual memories of better times, memories all too often implanted from misleading books and films.  Like aristocratic pagans in the afterglow of the Roman Empire, they are a despised minority who fight symbolic battles.  In 382, the emperor Gratian ordered the removal of the pagan statue of Victory from the senate.  Symmachus, an aristocratic pagan and urban prefect (in 384), petitioned for the return of the statue.  The new emperor, Valentinian II, refused to see him, and his measure was strongly opposed by Ambrose, the equally aristocratic bishop of Milan, whose hauteur was bolstered by the conviction that he was right.  Symmachus believed in Rome, but his gods were no better than morale-boosting fictions.

Like Symmachus, American conservatives can only demonstrate against the destruction of Confederate monuments or mount futile crusades for the restoration of the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls, whispering furtively that all the ills of modern life date from the removal of a pre-Christian moral code.  If they really are Christians, I wonder why conservatives do not demonstrate in favor of putting up Christ’s two Great Commandments, on which hang all the Law and the Prophets.  But, marginalized by an anti-Christian revolution, conservatives believe so little in...

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