By Sam Burnham
This article was originally written a little over a year ago for a website called "Cornbread Conservatives". The article was never published there and I have decided to post it here.
“If it were socially acceptable I’d wear nothing but seersucker. And maybe linen.”
That was the quote that gave birth to this essay. Sean Busick probably didn’t mean to inspire it but without his quote I would be sitting waiting to see what interesting ideas would appear on Cornbread Conservatives. Instead, I’ve been dubbed to present my opinions by expounding on my follow-up quote, “I think one of the responsibilities of a Cornbread Conservative should be setting appropriate trends.”
Much of my early adulthood was spent trying to find new and innovative ways to do things, resisting traditions, and experimenting with such entities as the Emerging Church These are not exactly the characteristics that define a Cornbread Conservative. But that long and winding road taught me that traditions matter, that simplistic beauty is irreplaceable, and that we can often answer our questions about the future with an honest look at our past. I also learned that trends can be shallow and that the crowd is often chasing something disposable and tacky. Time, experience and some really good friends helped me to where I am today. A Southern, Conservative, liturgical-tradition-leaning, Agrarian sympathizer experimenting with the Oxford comma.
The stance of a Cornbread Conservative is, in a word, Conservative. When we look at that word we cannot ignore conserve. The role of a conservative is, or at least should be, to conserve. We are the protectors, the conservers of society and civilization. Our actions and omissions should lead to the day we can hand off a healthy world to our children. Accomplishing that task is dependent on our ability to conserve the foundations that were set by our forefathers that established the world we were handed. The traditions, those permanent things that we often take for granted, are not just repetitive actions, preserved for the sake of tradition. They are the very foundation of our society. If we lose that foundation, our civilization will crumble. That is where the responsibilities of a Cornbread Conservative come into play. By setting appropriate trends and showing others why these trends matter, we become the evangelists that spread the gospel that saves our own way of life.
So let’s look at some of those trends.
It can be as simple as seersucker and linen. We live in an excessively casual society. Being a complete slob is socially acceptable while my friend Sean worries about wearing seersucker and linen. It’s not that there is not an appropriate time for a t-shirt and blue jeans. And during the winter months, tweed might be a better choice than seersucker. I’ll also say there is an appropriate time and place for pajamas (hint: the place is never further than your mailbox, providing it’s at home and not a P.O. box).
This assessment may seem harsh and I know people are looking to be comfortable. I also know that there is a common idea that caring what others think is outdated. But let me say this, dressing like a slob in public communicates a lack of respect for yourself, for those you encounter and for society at large. My Uncle Sam, for whom I am named, survived the Depression, worked in textile mills and for the city street department, had only a 3rd grade education, and would not leave the house without wearing a collared shirt and fedora. It mattered to him that he looked presentable when he went into public. It was a matter of having respect for himself and for others. This is an excellent arena for a Cornbread Conservative gentleman to lead the way. Be seen in public dressed well. Demonstrate your respect by looking respectable.
In politics, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by a political party on this issue, we need to set the trends by having high standards for our viewpoints and our candidates. We need to be honest in our dealings. We need to be resistant to sensationalism from the left and the right. It would be wise to begin to remove ourselves from the modern pundits that get labeled as conservative but do not share our views on true conservative issues. Instead we should choose to reflect on the commentary of true conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr., Russell Kirk, The Twelve Southerners, and others. This will often require us to seek out older and less popular sources for information. But as we form coherent arguments to support conservatism and positively advance that viewpoint, we have the opportunity to start a trend in that direction.
As Cornbread Conservatives, we should set trends in entertainment. Be it visual art, music, cinema, theatre, books, we need to appreciate, support, and promote those art forms that are congruent with our beliefs. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth over the state of modern Country music. Entertainment is traded on an open market. There are sellers because there are buyers. Ignorance sells because stupid buys. Sex sells because horny buys. The trend to set is honest consideration the true talent behind our entertainment. Is our choice a true art form? Is there talent behind it? Or is it just blobs of paint and Auto-Tune?
The point of trend setting is not to adhere to some Puritanical regimen. It’s not about being stiff and starched at all times. It’s not about some new social legalism that we have to enforce. It’s about providing true, conservative leadership - an example to the masses that low expectations and apathy are not mandatory. Higher expectations and respectability are true options at our disposal. The traditions that we grew up with can be handed down to our children. Meaningful entertainment, beautiful architecture, and good food can be preserved, even celebrated. We are not setting trends because we have to. We are setting trends because we can.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire