Henry VIII, from A Man for All Seasons:
“There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth & I’m their tiger, there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves.”
People who are not insane tend to look around at the Crazy Years we’re in, and believe objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that we’re screwed. (1) I Here’s another take: Followers gonna follow. Leaders can and do get replaced.
A lifetime of reality hasn’t quite beaten the Pollyanna out of me. Yet. I remain pretty staunchly a small-d democrat, believing people should govern themselves. But people can only truly be said to govern themselves within the context of a strong Commonwealth/Republic. Such a Republic manifests a series of what from one perspective might be called safeguards, chief of which are strong families and traditions and a commitment to the law, such that it is generally obeyed even when it is not enforced. Family, tradition and the rule of law are both causes and results of a strong Republic. Other safeguards are adopted within this context of cultural stability as needed: tripartite government and the electoral college are the kinds of steps a good Republic takes to slow things down. (2) Sane people (perhaps largely theoretical entities, but humor me) recognize that, just as hasty decisions and rash actions are a bane to personal and family life, they need to be guarded against in public life.
Political toddlers and the power hungry always want to speed things up: they want their pony, and they want it now! Perhaps Conservatism could be best thought of as the attempt of the grownups in the room to slow things down so that they can be properly examined, and just say ‘no’ to the toddlers?
Back to the quotation above. History, cultural wisdom and just a look around confirm one truth: as much as we may like to think of ourselves as nobody-is-the-boss-of-me free agents choosing our own special paths unencumbered by pesky reality (gender theory, anyone?), we’re really a bunch of sheep. Some, like Norfolk, follow because of all that stuff just mentioned: family, tradition, the rule of law. Others – and, damn, is their name Legion – are jackals, creatures who live to rend and consume and lord it over others, yet are too weak in themselves, and so follow, and attempt to flatter and weedle, the tiger. Others follow anything that moves. Think of your typical college freshman, 18 years old, away from home for the first time, both flush with the success of getting to college – what smart, ambitious boys and girls! Not like those college-skipping losers! – yet hopelessly insecure. They will and do follow anything that moves. (3)
This is how you get the ubiquitous herds of independent thinkers thundering across our urban plains.
BUT: look at, e.g., Jordan Peterson. I’ve only seen/read a few minutes of the dude’s schtick, but it can’t be denied that his ‘leadership’ has attracted a huge number of followers (fine, independent-minded people, no doubt each making an independent decision). Lead, and people will follow. The power of this idea is testified to by the endless efforts of the Left to silence anything that moves to the right. A guy like Peterson doesn’t exactly come off as a Teddy Roosevelt or George Patton. It would seem that it doesn’t require charismatic superpowers (although those help) if you just present as someone with a clue to where you are going.
We moderns cannot understand historical stories about how, once the head of the household was convinced of Christianity, his entire household converted, or how a religion was ‘forced’ upon conquered people. We are appalled: but each individual person needs to make up his own mind! You can’t force people to believe!
Yet the reality is that those people, for the most part, have chosen, as much as they are capable of choosing. They chose to follow. That is why, historically & biblically, it’s the bad leaders who get the most heat. Kings who lead Israel astray; Scribes and Pharisees; false teachers; heretics. There is a reason the secular state burned heretics, and it wasn’t that they were puppets of the Church. Heresy upsets all that family, tradition and especially reverence for the rule of law upon which any state worthy of the name rests. Better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea than to lead any of these little ones astray.
We’re about 99% little ones. We all like to think we’re Thomas More, the one honest man in our particular England. Don’t kid yourself. Instead, focus on being that leader who, in however small a way, points to the truth. Which is another way of saying: know Who you follow.
- Yes, I just jackhammered Heinlein and Orwell into the same sentence. It’s my blog. I can do that. We here have, within the first inch and a half of text, Bolt putting words into the mouth of Henry VIII addressing Thomas More, Heinlein making an easy prophet’s call, and a Commie paraphrasing Scripture to illustrate propaganda techniques. Do I win? Achievement unlocked? Or what?
- Probably the first solid political insight I ever had, back when mastodons ruled the earth, is that the last thing a citizen wants is efficient government. Democracies more developed than mob rule are horribly inefficient; totalitarian dictatorships can be very efficient. Nope, sane people want their ‘leaders’ to find it difficult to get anything done, and should be scared of politicians who preach efficiency. Alas, “Elect me, and I’ll do my best to make sure the wheels don’t fall off” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Hope and Change.”
- Of course, add to their native insecurity, cultivated immaturity and hormone-soaked craziness 12 years of being actively taught to follow the teacher’s lead no matter how stupid and arbitrary, and here you are.
3 thoughts on “Following Anything That Moves”
So many deep quotes in that movie. Thanks for expounding on that one.
Conservatism has always been a bit of a misnomer. It’s not a real political ideology like liberalism or libertarianism. It’s more an attitude: Respect for Chesterton’s gate and the Gods of the Copybook Headings. “I don’t need an -ism, I’ve got the Church”. I think the U.S.A. for all it’s radical experimentation was founded by fundamentally conservative men
But once the Institution is lost, “conservatism” not good for much. If your institutions are feeding babies into the furnace at a rate that would make the Aztecs queasy, conserving them against radical change isn’t a virtue.
I need to think about this some more.