One of the features of conservatism in Christendom (to be distinguished from right wing sentiments) is a deep suspicion of the objectivity that modernity pretends to have. Postmodern thinkers have recently emphasized “the particular,” but they have done so as rootless reactionary modernists, as opposed to the earlier critiques of modernity mounted by rooted Christians like Burke, Dabney, or Van Prinsterer.
There are numerous examples of this, but I will limit myself to two. The first is how the modern state structures the military. The modern military is a machine for fighting; in the older vision, villages, towns, provinces, went to war together. A regiment would be raised, for example, from Virginia, and men would go to war with men they had grown up with. The old method was far more organic. Of course, the down side would be that if a particular battle went badly, all the men from one town could be wiped out. But that is the cost of being together. If you live together, you might die together. The modern state has developed a system for mixing up the population as they go into the military, and the point they are after is to have men with no mixed loyalties. But of course, because of the mannishness of man, as Francis Schaeffer would put it, very personal loyalties develop within the machine (to a particular unit, or ship, or branch of the service). The point is not that modernity is capable of erasing the nature of man, but rather that the modern state does its level best to to keep a lid on it. The next time you hear a postmodernist vaporing about the epistemological importance of local communities, just suggest that the best way to implement his insights would be to go back to our old regimental system of raising troops. The reaction will resemble that of a scalded cat, and you will probably hear at least fifteen empassioned and modernist cliches within the space of three minutes. Scratch a postmodernist and you will find a confused modernist, which is to say, you will find a postmodernist. For the last several centuries, conservatives have cared about local tradition and community; for the last twenty years, postmodernists have postured as though they do.
For the second example, the same principles are (almost always) involved when charges of nepotism are raised. The reflex willingness to see an inherent problem with family connections reveals a love affair with detached and pretended objectivity, emotional distance, and other such descriptions of Enlightenment hooey. Scripture pronounces a blessing on the man who has sons standing with him against his enemies in the gate (the place where public and political business was transacted, or where enemies of the city would come to parlay (Ps. 127:5). Should we say, perhaps, that such a man clearly must have obtained such a position of honor for his sons by some back room dealing? That there is some kind of corrupt business afoot? Had that third son, for example, sent in an application like everyone else had to, would he have gotten to that position? Hmmm? Good questions all, at least for those who are striving for life in a pristine machine.
Now, a necessary qualification. We all grant that if the founder of the company has a son who is a certified Blockhead, then for him to hand that company over to his son would be a really bad idea. Scripture speaks about this as well, when it says that a faithful servant will inherit over a worthless son (Prov. 17:2). To whom much is given, much is required.
This last principle is one of the guiding principles that governs this whole subject. If a father is careful about seeing to the education and upbringing of his sons and daughters, he is bestowing on them numerous (organic and local) advantages. One of those advantages is the connection to the family name. In this sense, a son in such a situation is placed well. But this is a covenantal thing, and this means there is a dual set-up built into it. There are both advantages and disadvantages, there are lower expectations in one sense and much higher expectations in another. This is how God made the world, and is another example of how modernity thinks it can tinker with how God made the world.
But rather than going along with modernity’s tinkering, my wife and I have always sought to embrace the dual aspect of this. Receive the blessing with gratitude and accept the challenges without murmuring. Bring your kids up to do the same. We sought to establish the pattern early, as all our children attended Logos School. I was on the board as a founding member of the school, and our kids grew up with the understanding that when they had a “situation” of some kind with a teacher, the Wilson family was going to operate on the judicial axiom that the teacher was in the right. It was also acknowledged that we were going to operate this way even when we all knew the teacher was wrong. We all knew that this meant that (occasionally) our children would be wronged in some way. That was just the cost of doing business; if you take the advantages of your last name, you have to take the disadvantages of having that same last name, and you need to do it with equal cheerfulness. We did this because we knew of the dislocations that would be caused by some rogue board member running interference for his stinker-kid. That kind of thing is favoritism in the sinful sense, and it really has caused numerous problems in numerous places. If you receive the blessings, you must also be willing to receive the so-called “down side.”
As a rule of thumb, and after much observation, I think that in our case it has usually worked out this way. Relatives of mine have to work half as hard to get the interview, and four times as hard to prove themselves. In our local dead-cat-heaving dialogues, the point has been made (more than once) that New St. Andrews College employs my brother, son-in-law, and son in various capacities. This fact is stated with all the self-assurance that modernists can muster, as though it were self-evident that my kin are all boobs who got their positions because of “strings” and “maneuvering.” But of course, with his PhD from George Mason, my brother is more qualified to teach at the college level than I am. My son-in-law is looking at a graduate program that would snort over any application from me. And my son set the Shroud of Turin scholarship world on its ear this last year, made it onto Comedy Central (not to mention World News Tonight), got interviewed by Hungarian television, and if family reports are to be trusted (and they are), there is more significant trouble (at the international level) brewing in that brain of his. All over the world, people have been dealing with him who have never heard of me. But Nathan could carve a cure for cancer out of a bar of Ivory soap, and the response of our local critics would run along the lines of “Oh, yeah? Nepotism recipient!” His real fault in their eyes is that he doesn’t take them Seriously. But it’s all cool. When you bring up your sons and daughters in the Lord, that is one of the things you have to be sure to give them. You have to teach them to appreciate blessings that others will insist on calling a form of cheating.
But Scripture pronounces the man blessed who contends with his enemies surrounded by family. We are engaged in a real culture war here, and the Bible does not encourage me to feel bad about the taunts being thrown at us from the other side. “Your son is only standing there with you there because he’s on your side!” And other penetrating insights.