Ross points us to this interesting Benjamin Nugent article, which asks the question, Why Don’t Republicans Write Fiction? Of course, as phrased, the question already misses something important, and this is that party men qua party men almost never create anything worth remembering (not even parties). If I were to write the Great Paleo Novel, for example, it would not be credited to the lists of Republican fiction-writing, since the Great Paleo Novel might very well throw down the idols of Red Republicanism from the high places and, like Phineas, drive a javelin through the bodies of adulterous ideologues. The real question ought to be why conservatives generally don’t write fiction.
The answer is actually much more straightforward: the sorts of grand conservative thinkers who were scholars of literature (Weaver, Bradford) and writers of ghost stories (Kirk) are sadly no longer with us, they have not found worthy replacements and the importance of imagination is much, much less in the thinking of most self-styled conservatives than it was in theirs.
Part of the problem is indeed an excess of optimism, and optimism on the American right is one part Yankee, one part capitalist and one part Reagan. Whatever else you want to say about these three, they are not generally regarded as the fathers of great writing. Optimistic people typically are not the best artists, and I don’t just say this because I prefer the pessimists among us. Their frame of mind does not allow for real tragedy or real failure. For the optimist failure is not only unlikely, it does not ultimately, truly exist. The best days are always yet to come! But without a sense of nostalgia for a lost age or a lament for your people or even a full appreciation for the petty indignities of life combined with reverence for sacred mysteries (and sometimes, if a writer is really wise, he knows how to find the mystery in the petty indignity–see Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn), I think it is very difficult to write really captivating, good fiction. Just consider how little of the best poetry is an expression of contentment and joy in love compared to dissatisfaction, betrayal, loss and yearning. Optimistic people can’t even tell the story of that most depressing sci-fi novel, Solaris, properly. For optimistic people there is always a silver lining, when sometimes there are no silver linings, life is filled with suffering and all that man can do is endure. This sounds grim, and Americans generally do not like to sound grim and they do not like grim-sounding things. This is why Americans usually ignore the more serious thinkers who tell them hard truths and embrace the charlatans who fill them with vain hopes.
Understanding the role of suffering in life and taking it seriously, perhaps almost too seriously, are vital to great literature. Good literature can probably get by with fine phrases and a nicely-structured story, but the great works capture something more elemental. This is why the Russians have produced the finest literature on earth, because they have not simply endured suffering (every people in the world has, at some level, endured it), but the best of them have actively embraced it as essential to their cultural worldview. I do not write off the great accomplishments of other literary cultures, but, in my admittedly limited experience, I am convinced that the Russian achievement is far superior. Americans either recoil at the sight of this Russian view, or they simply find it depressing, which may again explain why even the figures Nugent cites among Old Right writers come from England and not from here. The English, Scots and Irish are also all capable of perceiving something about life and the old ways of life that have vanished, as can most any people with a collective memory that extends more than a few centuries, but this was something that we, as Americans, have either not fully inherited or have pretty thoroughly purged from our system–and we tend to be proud of this. The nation that produces phrases such as “We can do it!” and “We shall overcome” is not a nation that will understand the overwhelming bulk of human history and all of the examples through the ages in which there was failure, defeat and no overcoming anywhere to be seen. Even American railings against various injustices assume that injustice can be to some large extent ”fixed” and is not built in to the structures of our existence and unavoidable here below. “We will never forget” and “history is bunk” are mutually exclusive views, and most Americans functionally embrace the latter most of the time (while watching the travesty that is the History Channel and considering themselves amateur historians). This is also why, I suspect, the greatest efflourescence of worthwhile American literature comes from the South, the only region that has fully known and incorporated the sense of the tragic into its sensibility (a sensibility that the New South has attempted to throw to one side, not entirely successfully, with its internal improvements and progressivism), and why most of the last, greatest right-leaning writers in the English-speaking world come from the pre-WWII period. The therapeutic has driven out most of whatever remained of the tragic. The spirit of Atlee has spread like a poisonous cloud over the green fields of Logres, and the purpose-driven life has driven us into Babylon rather than leaving us to remember Jerusalem at the edge of her waters.