I’ve started using the term “Optimate” instead of political labels like “conservative,” “Libertarian,” “Republican,” etc. I’d like to explain a little about why, and just what “Optimate” means to me.
Optimates means “The good men” and the Optimate approach is being “for the good.” It is borrowed from late Roman Republic politics and was a political faction that favored doing the “right” things above doing “popular” things (which gave rise to the “Populares” who favored social, military, and political reform).
Why not “Conservative”?
We already have this term and have had it for some time to represent politics of the right – why not keep using it? In short, it is because the political movement and the philosophies that back it have been an abject failure.
Conservatives have conserved nothing. Our culture and the way of life we inherited from our forbears have been stripped away from us a piece at a time, always with the consent of “conservative” politicians more intent on being thought of as prudent compromisers by the left rather than bulwarks against cultural and political death.
They couldn’t even conserve the women’s restroom.
They also haven’t conserved economic freedom, and the vast majority of their arguments are economic, not social, which should really say something about their impotence. It’s now a cliche to say that the conservative position is merely the leftist position from a few years ago, but it really is true.
They weren’t really opposed to change, they just wanted it to happen in a piecemeal fashion rather than all at once. Revolutions have a tendency to make it hard to maintain ownership of mansions, after all.
Likewise, other philosophies, particularly Libertarianism, are insufficient to fix what has gone wrong. Libertarianism is concerned with one political value – freedom. The problem is that our political system, and to what degree freedom is even possible politically, is dependent on our culture.
Libertarians who believed in gay marriage twenty years ago are now faced with the challenge of eating their hat when every single “slippery slope” objection has come to pass – as most of us knew they would. Over time, the libertarian position of freedom being a political, not personal, value has been abandoned and Libertarians have turned into a party of people who want nothing more than for every atomized individual to act with pure personal license – which is exactly what the left wants, at least in the short-term.
The result is less freedom, not more – just ask Christians who don’t want to bake gay wedding cakes or officiate gay weddings (or those like me, who stopped performing at weddings to avoid being sued). While the true libertarian knows that using the state to enforce equality is immoral, his party is overwhelmed by people who look exclusively at the liberty of deviants, rather than the majority, as the test for the advancement of freedom.
The Optimate position is that change should happen for the good, not for abstract values.
We also need not concern ourselves with conserving a society that has been eroded to a non-semblance of itself. Instead, we should concern ourselves with what we want our culture to be. We can look to the past for guidance, but we are recovering things from the past, not preserving them.
To those ends, the proper position on culture and political systems is that which sustains.
Thus, what we should push for is strong families, including extended families, clans, and communities, that are unified in lifestyle and faith. This is what has sustained all long-lasting cultures throughout time. Families are the most essential unit of human continuance, faith (specifically Christian faith) the most essential guide for behavior that preserves families.
Society as a whole should operate bottom-up. It should not operate top-down (as the left prefers) with the people at the bottom having no authority or responsibility over their own lives and no sphere of influence to operate “for the good.”
That is the essence of being an Optimate – we are not individuals alone, but individuals who are part of something greater than ourselves. Our families need men to be strong and caring leaders, guiding those under their influence toward the “good” – that which will sustain the family. If the family is sustained, the culture will be robust and will sustain; if the culture is robust, you will be less able to use political force to enact change against it.
It’s no accident the recent surge in statism occurred only after the culture was dismantled from within by public education, mass media, and “higher” education – glorifying every deviant behavior and lifestyle to the point of satanic insanity. At the same time, the culture was destroyed from without by mass immigration.
Indeed, the story of the decline of the United States is the story of the slow usurpation of the rights and responsibilities of the family combined with the shredding of communities through the infinite free movement of labor.
It is the right and responsibility of the family to see to its own good; interfering with that is a violation of rights and has demonstrably bad outcomes.
Therein also lies the first step of the Optimate revolution – you master your own domain and order it for the good, for that which sustains, and in so doing, you begin ordering society for the good. You begin creating the culture we all need.
The further away you get from this essential locus of organization – the family, the clan, the locality, the tribe – the more monstrous and intolerable the interference of the leftist state becomes. The closer you get, the less relevant large-scale state solutions are, since better, more adaptable and socially conscious solutions are available locally.
Consider as an example the recent shut-downs of churches due to the novel coronavirus. Against the wishes of the churches, the attendees, the community – indeed, against every person for whom a local church is relevant – the state interfered and prohibited the exercise of a right that was supposedly guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
The people who should be making the decisions about how mass should be held were prohibited from doing so. If some action of government within the church and its community decided to suspend mass or alter how it is performed (for instance, wearing masks or altering communion procedure), that would be something else. Those decisions are made by people who are in front of those who are impacted. A bishop must explain why he has instituted his policies, and he must also listen to the concerns of his flock and the pastors who report to him.
Nobody at the local church can call up Gavin Newsom and tell him he’s wrong, and if they somehow managed it, he would not know the person nor would he care about his opinion.
Again, freedom as a personal or political value is not a part of this exercise – rather, it is who should decide how things will be ordered for the good. Who gets to decide what behaviors should be restricted and how they should be. The order starts at home and goes up from there.
This is not to say that the state should have no purpose; rather, each level of the state should be concerned with what things govern the entirety of that level of organization. Drivers licenses are something that should be done at a higher level, such as the state, since many people drive between localities. Regulation of telecommunications should be at an even higher level, since we communicate globally. War should be organized at the level of a nation, since it concerns all who are members of the nation.
More on that another day. For now, the first order of the good is at the level of the family, and without this functionality, you cannot hope to organize higher levels toward the good. The best you can do is implement half-broken state solutions that do as much harm as good.
David, you’ve done a good job of outlining the problems with current political thinking and its categorization. Optimate is an interesting choice of words. I’m not sure if it’s the best choice, but it’s a good start.
Since I discovered what libertarians were and how they described their views, I’ve considered them as little more than “leftist” positions in “conservative” clothing, rationalizing things like abortion, drugs, gambling, and prostitution with a government nonintervention argument. In other words, the real purpose of libertarianism to my eyes was to make a lot of evils more palatable to a certain segment of the population, essentially sidelining them and rendering them an impotent non-threat in the real battle.
As for the role of government in general, I’ve always thought of it as less a promoter of good and more a necessary check on evil. At the most basic level, to keep people from murdering each other left and right. At a higher level, to establish processes to resolve disputes or competing interests in orderly ways–that’s the best way I can think of to describe what a legal system actually is. It’s much easier to delineate what everyone shouldn’t do than what everyone should do. That said, I suppose even if men were not fallen, but instead were fully virtuous, we might still have some form of government, just a more mundane one focused on little more than organization.
In any case, thanks as always for sharing your well-organized thoughts. If we ever get an Optimate for President, I can’t wait to call him Optimate Prime.
I just wanted to thank you for exposing me to this concept. Most of the people who like to say they “don’t like labels” actually would be better represented by this idea. Ever since you mentioned this on your YouTube channel I’ve identified myself as an Optimate when politics inevitably came up in conversation, and have tried to spread the word about this. It’s a much better, more solid chunk of ground to stand upon than anything the neocons have to offer.
I love this concept. I think the political parties have become too encumbered with excess baggage to fulfill their job of being simple labels to ease conversation. Within each party are a multitude of smaller sub-parties (RINOs, corporate dems, etc.) that obfuscate any discussion when you side with one party on an issue and someone else ascribes to you all beliefs and previous bad decisions of whatever sub-party they hate the most within the party you happen to agree with this one time.
I think using a new term to create distance from all of that noise is a great idea. This would allow conversations to focus on values and principles instead of spiraling into maddening political barometer readings.