We fret over improving things, that posterity may be happy; and posterity will say as usual: “In the past things were better, the present is worse than the past.”
Roger Scruton defined oikophobia as “the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’” A conservative disposition in general, according to Michael Oakeshott, meant “to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”
I would suggest that many people of a conservative disposition are perhaps paradoxically inclined toward an intellectual or aesthetic oikophobia. They affect derision toward the art, music, and popular culture that is identifiably “theirs.” While they are rightfully scornful of political posturing based upon contempt for one’s own benighted nation, they style themselves as globe-trotting cosmopolitans of the aesthetic imagination, easily capable of feeling at home in ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence, nineteenth-century Europe — anywhere but here and now in this decadent, vulgar time.
It should go without saying that none of this is meant to imply Shakespeare being on the same level of quality as reality television, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe being the equivalent of the stories of the Greek pantheon. But as John Gray likes to say about Richard Dawkins-style atheism, it’s a curious sort of “humanism” which disdains the most popular and enduring ways in which humans have imbued their world with meaning and value. Or, as Clive James suggested, what if much of what we now call “the classics” were thought of in their own time as meretricious and merely fashionable? How might our vulgar age appear through the rose-tinted glasses of a 23rd-century antiquarian?