The early definition of "neocon" as a liberal who has been mugged is fair enough, especially if one recognizes the attacks of September 11, 2001 as the greatest such mugging to date. But there are features of the classic neocon worldview with which I do not feel comfortable. "Theocon" works better, but it, too, has certain connotations (especially in the glazed eyes of those who use it disparagingly), which are somewhat problematic.
In today's context, however, there's little doubt that I'm a conservative. For one thing, I believe that all real human progress is moral progress. Any advances in political science, economics, technology and the arts that are not accompanied by a greater moral acuity will breed perils proportionate to the apparent advances. Inasmuch as conservativism today strives to retain those moral instruments and the cultural institutions that foster true progress, it seems to me that one or another form of conservativism is synonymous with adulthood in our crisis-ridden world.
But if neither neocon nor theocon quite fit, what might be the appropriate label for the sort of conservativism with which I feel myself most comfortable? In the spirit of this journalistic age, let me propose an alternate label, offered only half in jest: Neither a neocon nor a theocon, I think I am rather a rubicon.
Now, for the time being, I'm the only rubicon there is, so I have a little window of opportunity in which I can define the thing without objections arising from other rubicons. Let me seize the moment, and describe what I think constitutes this strange form of conservatism. As I use it, the term has two quite distinct innuendos.
1. As the adage about Caesar's "crossing of the Rubicon" suggests, a rubicon is someone who realizes that a decisive turning point has occurred and that a return to the status quo ante is no longer possible. A rubicon, therefore, will not indulge in a nostalgic reverie about the restoration of the ancien régime; rather he knows that the responsibility he has to pass on a vibrant tradition will have to be met in new ways and in the context of a new historical and cultural situation.
A rubicon is someone who has little interest in politics and little appetite for the culture wars. He is, by distasteful necessity, a draftee in the struggle to preserve the foundations of civil order and to remain faithful to religious principle. Once in the lists, however, he does his best to hold his ground as faithfully as he can.
Moreover, the rubicon realizes, belatedly, that those who have opened this breach with the tradition he cherishes will not be satisfied with the concessions which seemed at first to be the goal of their assault. A rubicon is someone who wakes up one fine day only to realize that that state has decided that his children must be systematically disabused of the moral principles by which he lives and which he has taken pains to pass on to them. A rubicon is someone who realizes, again belatedly, that his culture is under a serious assault from enemies within and without, and that the historical success and momentary preeminence of the culture built on Judeo-Christian foundations does not in any way guarantee that it will emerge triumphant from the present challenge.
2. But there is another implication in the term rubicon, more etymologically fanciful but in some sense even more defining. A rubicon is someone who realizes, either intuitively or by bitter experience, that the burning heart of the tradition that nurtures everything he holds dear is ultimately liturgical. A rubicon is someone, therefore, who has come to a deep appreciation for rubrics, whether they are the liturgical rubrics of Christian sacramental life or the traditional constitutional rubrics of political liberalism which are currently being twisted in knots by domestic postmodern apparatchiks and mocked by the West's external enemies, whose fascist tendencies are daily more in evidence. Of these rubrics, of course, the true blue rubicon will always and everywhere give his primary attention to the liturgical rubrics, that red-letter essence of Christian worship which is the true font of the bounty enjoyed by those cultures fortunate enough to have been hosts to these liturgies.
Given the importance the rubicon gives to the liturgical and sacramental tradition from which he draws his own sustenance, and the preservation of which is his primary concern, I will conclude this overview of the rubicon (hastily, before converts to the rubicon position begin to refine and possibly distort this pristine definition), with a word on rubrics, or, more precisely, on how disastrously Christian liturgical life has declined, at least in my Roman Catholic neck of these dark woods, as it has neglected the rubrics. (My own privileges in this respect are almost embarrassing, inasmuch as I have available to me, as the vast majority of my brethren do not, a Trappist monastery just down the road.) Be that as it may, it is the larger cultural crisis that concerns us rubicons, our own liturgical privileges notwithstanding.
In the December issue of First Things, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus quoted Peter Berger, a Lutheran, as saying of the post-Vatican II Catholic liturgy:
If a thoroughly malicious sociologist, bent on injuring the Catholic community as much as possible, had been an adviser to the Church [during the Council], he could hardly have done a better jog.The mystery that has been forgotten, in both the liturgical life of the Church and the moral life of the culture, is -- to quote Benedict XVI, speaking conspicuously of the Christian tradition, but in words that have a bearing as well on our moral and cultural inheritance -- that:
Humble submission to what goes before us releases authentic freedom and leads us to the true summit of our vocation as human beings. [The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 156.]"The greatness of the liturgy depends," writes Benedict a few pages later, "on its unspontaneity" (my emphasis). And the key to this greatness, and to the "authentic freedom" which is the "true summit of our vocation as human beings," is, a rubicon is eager to aver, the rubrics. If I share many of the moral and political concerns of "red state" political conservatives, it is only because, deep down, these concerns are more in concert with the historical, moral and cultural revolution of which I am happy to be a part, a revolution at the heart of which is the Christian liturgical life which has as its heart, and as warrant of its fidelity, the rubrics.