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The venue for the inaugural conference of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, held Oct. 30–Nov. 1 in London, was emphatically not what I was expecting. ARC was established earlier this year as an international community of leaders and thinkers—most of them on the right—with the intention of calling Western civilization to its senses. It wants to return for inspiration to the West's deepest, most venerable sources; rejects the inevitability of decline; and seeks solutions that draw on humanity’s highest virtues and bottomless ingenuity. ARC’s founders include Jordan Peterson and Sir Paul Marshall, a hedge fund manager who backed Brexit and bankrolled the creation of the website UnHerd.  

Yet here we were, not in some great hall redolent of the best of the West, but in a low-slung, metallic warehouse of deep, near unrelieved grayness, approached across long stretches of asphalt in post-industrial east London. The conference opened with a live performance of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and a promotional video crammed with golden-toned images of civilizational glories, both of them as opposed, aesthetically speaking, to the surroundings we found ourselves in as it was possible to be. If we had such things as factories for the ailments that afflict the modern psyche—rootlessness, atomization, anomie—they would surely look a lot like this place. 

The speeches came in torrents. Paul Marshall laid waste, in short order, to monopoly capitalism, crony capitalism, and woke capitalism. Jonathan Haidt, Erica Komisar, and Warren Farrell, author of The Boy Crisis, itemized the ways in which childrearing in the West had gone wrong and the possible corrections. French financier Charles Gave branded central bankers as a bunch of useless and terrifying criminals. Magatte Wade argued that fully liberated African entrepreneurship would change the continent’s future. Ayaan Hirsi Ali provided instructions for the “seed packets” of Western civilization: “grow them, nurture them, water them, and, when they are attacked, fight for them.”

This was a conference of endless surprises; its sheer capaciousness made it hard to know what was coming next. Joshua Luke Smith recited rap-inflected poetry. Rabbi Moshe Friedman blew a cycle of notes from a shofar before explaining Judaism’s role in formulating the idea of progress. There was a four-part performance of “It’s Quiet Uptown” from Hamilton. Makoto Fujimura introduced rapt attendees to his beautiful, abstract paintings. Jordan Peterson closed the conference by conjuring a great cosmic chain of being and responsibilities that, link by link, connected a child learning to set the table for the first time all the way up to the city of God. Though the program suffered at times from over-wroughtness and pomposity, no one could plausibly claim to be bored. 

The 1500 delegates from over seventy countries were all invited because they had been judged, in one way or another, to have been fighting the good fight. In amongst them were the “cancelled,” the “nearly cancelled,” and the “uncancellable,” alongside a slew of politicians from the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and his (eventual) successor, Mike Johnson, both addressed the conference. The crossover with the National Conservatism event that took place in London in May was substantial: Mary Harrington, Louise Perry, and the Tory Member of Parliament Miriam Cates, among others, spoke at both. There was talk of ARC evolving into some kind of counterweight to Davos and the World Economic Forum.  

ARC’s relationship with Christianity, meanwhile, feels like a work in progress, but a potentially meaningful one. (I spotted over a dozen men in clerical garb milling around the conference floor.) The lavish promo video called up ancient beauties of Catholic art to make its case, and many speakers leaned on the great transcendentals of goodness, truth, and beauty to structure their arguments. In her opening remarks, ARC CEO Philippa Stroud lost little time in invoking the imago dei as a cornerstone of the Alliance’s worldview. “We need a better story” was the conference catch-cry; and, of course, in large part, Western civilization grew out of the telling and retelling (in word, in paint, in stone, in music, in drama) of the Christian story and its countless offshoots; the story of creation, fall, incarnation, justice, mercy, death, resurrection, redemption—a story imbued with the kind of teleology of which the modern mind, ARC would contend, is bereft.  

Fittingly, Bishop Robert Barron arrived on day two to assume the role of envoy from Western civilization’s oldest institution, its once most venerated source of values and rules. The bishop’s amiable, unscripted style offered welcome relief from some of the more sculpted rhetoric we’d been listening to; he gently assumed control of the ARC, introducing anthropological and theological themes. What kind of creatures are we? What type of freedom is ours?   

The emerging message of ARC seems to be that people should gladly assume their right and expected responsibilities, in a proper order of subsidiarity and in a firm spirit of endeavor. In our current “civilizational moment” (Os Guinness), the alternative would be to remain stuck in a state of permacrisis in which we absolve ourselves of responsibility by blaming others. But those who have invested so heavily in ARC will surely see little point to their investment if it simply remains above the fray, completing circles of impeccable theorizing. They will want their message to cut through; to change hearts, minds, and behavior, at scale.

Sometimes, the medium is the message. In this reading, ARC itself, independently of content, is perhaps intended to be a signal directed at conservatives with power, including political power, and designed to embolden them with the knowledge that they now have an expectant, well-resourced, high-status movement at their backs, willing them to conserve or restore important things again, to take risks, and to push back hard—not just against the radical left, but against those on the right who are content to get by on the definition of human freedom required by homo economicus and not much more.

I’m guessing, of course. The ARC conference will reconvene in February 2025. Let’s see how things stand then.

John Duggan writes from Surrey, ­England.

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Image by Daniel Chapman licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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