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Old Conservatives … the New Rebels

John AdamsEvery week or two, Teresa sets up a new display of library books by our front window. Recently I picked up a picture book titled “Those Rebels: John and Tom”, which tells the story of how John Adams and Thomas Jefferson teamed up for the glorious cause of snubbing the British. These guys were the flaming liberals of their time. They were also family men, church-goers, scholars, lawyers, and of course, congressmen. Best of all, they sported radically long hair and pony tails.

If “clothes makes the man”, I can’t help but wonder if the fashion of the time was an influential factor on the creation of such extraordinary beings. I mean, how can one don elegant tights, lacy jabots, fancy doublets, embroidered lapels, puffy sleeves, bold cuffs, and flamboyant hair and not just feel … awesome (albeit perhaps a little prissy)? On the other hand, even when impeccably dressed to the standards of our time, how could one in a nearly monochromatic suit and tie with a rank and file military haircut feel like a driving force in the universe and not like another brick in the wall? Perhaps even more stifling to the pursuit of excellence is modern casual dress in all of its lackadaisical stand-for-nothing mundanity, or worst of all, as Neal A. Maxwell eloquently put it, “the uniform of the noncomformists” in the form of piercings, tattoos, and other impediments that, far from proclaiming one’s nobility, pay homage to the gods of cool, a visual expression of contempt for traditional virtue, a declaration of allegiance to the mysterious “new world order” in all of its paradox, and a striking warning to any who see one’s “fearless” array that if circumstances warrant, one might just kill.

In the middle ages and for many centuries to follow, clothes really did make the man. The length and color of one’s robe would not only declare social status but one’s calling, whether a king, page, or priest. Colorful coats of arms and insignias declared allegiances, clans, or families. And who doesn’t love to relive an age of such clear-cut purpose through plays, movies, and renaissance fairs? Who doesn’t want to look and feel noble, powerful, brave, heroic?

My theory is that young people get mixed up in less-than-edifying counter-cultural fashion, society, and trends because of their innate desire to belong to a clan, or to be noble. The problem is, the teenage and twenty-something “clans” of our time are more often than not less than noble (though not to imply that the warring clans of the ancient Celts were necessarily better). They do not exalt, refine, or inspire. The next problem is that when these branded young people are inevitably forced to assimilate into the workforce and give up their wayward demeanor, thus ends, forever, the pursuit of outward nobility, supplanted by the ultimate outward conformity … until death. Of course, there’s still inner nobility, but who cares about that?

Therefore I have a proposal. Let young men be the conservatives and old men be the liberals. Being a “rebel without a cause” is nothing short of a philosophical illness. As I’ve had explained to me by many an art and music teacher, before one can break the rules, one must learn them. So why is it the young people who rebel when they’re not even mature enough to know what they’re rebelling against? Only when one properly understands the laws of man and the principles of the universe can one put forth a proper and meaningful rebellion, a la John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

And now you know why I’m growing out my hair … not to identify myself with the radicals of the 1970’s but the radicals of the 1770’s, not to express my disdain for the conservatives of our time but my adulation for my warmongering Saxon ancestors.

What’s that you say?

Oh, but Stephen, you simple, straying soul, you overlook that such men were properly dressed by the standards of their times. If Jesus lived in our time, he would no doubt be clean shaven.

My problem with this logic is that if following societal trends is, in fact, a virtue (not to mention the many paradoxes this stance brings up on the subject of religion), doesn’t that make those who set the trends some sort of pseudo prophets? I mean, if Jean Francois over in Paris, whom we’ll imagine is a card-carrying temple goer, makes the powdered wig popular again, a movement which eventually finds itself on the heads of the general authorities of the church,  was it improper for Jean Francois to wear a powdered wig before his own movement caught on?

Thus I intend to bring back colonial hair styles (but only for men over thirty), if for no other reason than it’s fun, and I don’t think God is going to smite me for it. Who’s with me?

2 thoughts on “Old Conservatives … the New Rebels

  1. I have never read that book, but I share your respect for those men. Emulating their style seems, to me, to be a good way to express admiration and appreciation for the profound moral character they embodied. However, I must take issue with your suggestion that their clothes may have been a significant component in cultivating the development their personal awesomeness. In my mind, that suggestion rather belittles the difficulty and significance of what they did. If clothing had an impact, it was negligible in contrast with the cultivation of rebel-attitude that began with the intense struggles of the protestant reformation, followed by the frontier attitudes that melted together at the furthest corner of the Earth. Perhaps, these rebels knew the King was a wanker, but to many among whom they lived, “loyalty to the King” was still part of the definition of being a righteous person. (I might compare it to the way Mormons feel about “follow the Prophet”.) To stand against something like that would take more personal conviction and outright chutzpah than a powdered wig and stylish garb could supply–a lot more–so much more that even mentioning the clothes is starting to seem a bit negligent. (Note that the English kingsmen were wearing tights and foppish regalia too.) So, while rejecting your resoning, I embrace your desire to honor these men through style. Who knows, perhaps seeing a New England rebel every time you look in the mirror will cause you to adopt some of their more noble characteristics. Perhaps, a lot of their awesomeness really came from the respect they had for heros that went before them.

    1. Well said. Honestly, I don’t really believe clothes had much or anything to do with it. This was just a tongue-in-cheek rambling, a whimsical and certainly not entirely sensical justification for my bad haircut at present 🙂

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