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Saturday, June 10, 2023

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'Nowadays there is talk of a 'post-liberal' conservatism. We shall have to take a close look at that.'

Here's a 'postliberal' reading list:
https://unherd.com/2019/11/a-post-liberal-reading-list/

We might add:
Maurice Glasman - Blue Labour
Adrian Pabst - Postliberal Politics
Adrian Pabst and John Milbank - The Politics of Virtue
Adrian Vermeule - Common Good Constitutionalism

Preliminary thoughts: I am sceptical of much of the postliberal programme, if indeed there is a coherent programme, despite being sympathetic to some of its critiques. The problem is that I'm not sure there's much more to it than the critique. Do any of its ideologists agree on anything in detail? Do they suggest a workable platform or party political programme? This scepticism on my part might be due to not having yet read enough of the pertinent literature but its journalistic propagandists (and the public pronouncements of some of its key thinkers) have hardly persuaded me that there's much more to this movement - beyond some valid critiques of social liberalism - than a combination of nostalgia, poor understanding of economics, historical ignorance or romanticisation, bewailing of loss of religious faith and its institutional influence, and a general dislike of the modern world. If there's anything that all its proponents believe, as far as I can gather, it's that the state ought to be used to legally enforce some kinds of socially conservative behaviour and that a social democratic economy is preferrable to a free market one, and that it'd be nice if everyone would help each other and be charitable and behave themselves. Thus it has a good deal more in common with Continental or French conservatism, which tends to be more 'dirigiste' than the Anglophone variety.

So, from the article above:
'With free-market capitalism, the human subject has broken free of the restrictive chains of tradition and religion, those of place and community, those of the family, even of one’s own biology.'

Is this true? I'm not the type of conservative who thinks free markets are the answer to everything (far from it), but if this is true, let's consider the following:

a) capitalism has been considerably less regulated in the past - as in Victorian England or America. But Victorian England and America were for the most part highly socially conservative.

b) The US is more free market than Western Europe but is more religious and in many parts of the country is far more socially conservative than most of Western Europe.

c) the period in which social democracy was dominant in Britain (1945-1979) saw huge increases in divorce, crime, decline of church attendance and religious belief, illegtimacy etc (and many of these things were accelerated by liberal social policies in the '60s - though to be fair, these are policies which I assume many of the postliberals do not admire). Though these problems were hardly halted or even lessened by the turn to Thatcherite policies from 1979 to roughly 1997, can these problems really be said to be fundamentally (or solely) to do with free markets?

Thank you, Hector! Excellent and very helpful comments. I hope to respond later.

Here in the States a man by the name of Patrick Deneen has made quite a splash. See here: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/06/08/the-new-right-patrick-deneen-00100279

Having slogged through this article I don't see much of substance. I want to see concrete proposals. So far, I see only more yap-and-scribble. I may be being unfair, but that's my initial impression.

Deneen is on that reading list and I have listened to a lecture or two by him in the past. I think that tedious and overlong article substantiates my comments and your initial impression is similar to mine.

As far as any explicit policies are detailed, much of it is standard social conservative stuff, though strengthening union power as if most unions don’t have their own very far from conservative ideologies is particularly foolish (especially in the UK context where many of the unions are part of the Labour Party). The idea of replacing the corrupt elites with a new set of uncorrupt and incorruptible elites sounds great but how’s that going to happen? As for economics is there much to say other than that statistically it is unquestionable that capitalism, however imperfect, has pulled far more people out of poverty globally than any other system (and with far less blood shed) and that a relative inequality is preferable to high levels of actual poverty. And socialists who waffle on about welfare bureaucracy seldom have any but the vaguest proposals to fix that bureaucracy (which will in reality nearly always lead to more bureaucracy).

‘But as is often the case with Deneen, he is frustratingly coy about what “regime change” actually entails or how it will unfold.’

So not much cop for those of us who think politics is about getting things done! Two questions must be paramount - what is possible and which of our desires can be realised? Serious conservatives know that not everything we’d like to see is necessarily possible to achieve, at least not by means that would be worse than the problem. E. g. How are we going to fix low church attendance? Fine people for not going?

Another excellent set of comments. I don't have time right now to say much but your concluding two sentences raise an importnt question.

>>How are we going to fix low church attendance? Fine people for not going?<<

Deneen appearsw to want to impose a substantive conception of the (common) good. But that is hopelessly utopian. For example, I believe that we have a higher origin and a supernatural destiny. Does Dawkins believe that? No, and he'smarter than I am, not as wise, but smarter. How could I get through to him? To use the awesome power of the state against him would be outrageous!

So I say we return to classical liberalism. As an American that is the slassical liberalism of the Founders. Limited gov't! The imposition of a substantive conception of the good in Deneen's rich sense is incompatible wiuth limited gov't.

I propose a minimal conception of the common good, and I agree it must be enforced by state power. But not a maximal conception such as Deneen appears to want. No theocracy! No Bibliocracy! Toleration of atheists. But toleration has limits and so we will still have plenty to fight over. For example, we cannot tolerate the immigration of Sharia-supporing Muslims. Their principles are antithetical to Anglo-American principles.

Hector @ 6:38 rightly questions the following quotation "'With free-market capitalism, the human subject has broken free of the restrictive chains of tradition and religion, those of place and community, those of the family, even of one’s own biology.'"

Hector refutes this claim. I would add that the claim is true if we substitute 'woke-globalist capitalism' for 'free-market capitalism.'

Capitalism gone 'woke' is indeed at odds with tradition and religion, family and biology, etc. Budweiser, Disney, North Face, Kohl's, Walmart, Target, and so on. Part of what makes this so bizarre is that a company that goes 'woke' is also likely to go broke. When Budweiser unwisely chose for its poster boy the effete and epicene Dylan Mulvaney, they went into the tank financially. Who are they taking advice from? Blackrock or some other ESG outfit?

'Woke' capitalism is some sort of self-contradictory monster: communist capitalism.

Wokeassery is fueled by groupthink.

We are going to need such a coalition, since contemporary events manifestly reveal that the terminal point of this entire totalitarian process is not soft totalitarianism, so heralded by Rod Dreher and others, but as I have been saying here and elsewhere for several years, its hard variant. Historic coalitions of this type, such as those that arose among resistance groups in Europe in the fight during the Second World War are possible only by a strategy that places the preservation of constitutional liberties and natural rights at the forefront of the struggle. In other words, the coalition will necessarily contain groups with antagonist viewpoints on a variety of issues, but who, in light of the threat to fundamental liberties, will, without betraying their principles, agree that any dispute over these will take place only after the Woke Left is vanquished. I would think that the restoration of the basic freedoms—religion, speech, assembly—all under systematic assault; the cessation of the indoctrination of children in racist and neo-Marxist thought, as well as in deviant sexualities; and curtailment of the powers of by the FBI and other organs of the Deep State that spy on and repress American citizens might be issues that would garner support among a large group of citizens, conservative, liberal (in the classical sense), and even some on the Old Left. Other issues, such as those of economic policy, the border, social welfare would obviously be far more problematic. The problem now is that the Left has so poisoned public discourse through its vilification of all those who oppose its determination to undermine the Republic, principally conservatives, that many with whom we could find common cause are hesitant to associate with us or, indeed, even the Republican Party, with all its imperfections. This division may be overcome only with the coming acceleration of totalitarian controls and more brutal forms of repression. On this, Kurt Schlichter, in his short article “They will Turn on You,” succinctly captures how far we have come in this planned process of political and civic devolution that may well terminate in our own form of the Terror (https://townhall.com/columnists/kurtschlichter/2023/06/12/they-will-turn-on-you-n2624342).

I agree that the claim is true if we substitute that term, but of course it’s not the same thing. I suppose at the root of this is the issue of whether capitalism is value-neutral or inherently supports certain values. Postliberals appear to believe the latter - but because capitalism can’t be inherently pro-family etc in the clichéd 1950s style AND woke we need some kind of explanation of this mutation. The idea that there’s a slippery slope from one to the other strikes me as highly unlikely.

Perhaps the key question regarding ‘woke’ capitalism and postliberalism is this: since the state can clearly be used to regulate businesses (through fines and so on) it can also regulate what they choose to promote (and does - there are plenty of advertising laws), so why does Deneen appear to suggest a far more radical and authoritarian solution to this problem? Obviously everyone (except perhaps some libertarians but I find them hard to take seriously) agrees that there are limits to what a corporation ought to be allowed to promote. If Budweiser came out supporting a genocide of the Jews it would of course be right that the government stepped in to stop it. So let’s say the federal government decrees that promotion of transgenderism is obscene and uses obscenity laws (which a reader of Beat literature such as yourself is well aware were enforced not so long ago and were not seen to be in contradiction with the First Amendment) to punish corporations who promote it. Look at some of DeSantis’s legislation in Florida. Or look at Clause 28 in Britain ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28 ) - clearly this isn’t all that difficult.

None of that requires radical overhauling of the economy or vast expansion of state power so it seems strange to suggest that because certain corporations have got too much power over people’s lives we should therefore increase government control over people’s lives. A government is far more capable and far more likely to impose its views on a population and nothing guarantees those values are good ones - not even the integralist idea of state obeisance to church teaching. As what I’ve outlined above seems a rather obvious answer to these problems it rather suggests that it is an attraction to authoritarianism itself that is primarily driving postliberal thought rather than simply a desire to fix these specific problems - I could be wrong but I’ve seen no evidence thus far to suggest otherwise.

And I’m not at all sure Dawkins is smarter than you - I’ve read a few of his books and I don’t have a very high opinion of his intellect even as a scientist!

Vito,

I quite agree with you and thanks for the link to the inimitable Schlichter: https://townhall.com/columnists/kurtschlichter/2023/06/12/they-will-turn-on-you-n2624342

Hector,

>>the issue of whether capitalism is value-neutral or inherently supports certain values.<< If a human activity presupposes a value then I would not say that it is value-neutral. (Perhaps we ought to distinguish between tacitly presupposing a value and explicitly promoting it.) Now capitalism does presuppose that free economic exchange between consenting adults without government interference is a value. It also presupposes that one man's ending up with more than another is not a disvalue if the wealth of the richer man was attained without force or fraud. I tend to think that no human activity is value-free. Education cannot be value-free since it presupposes that knowledge is better than ignorance.

Whatever effective coalition there might be to preserve liberty needs to include black christian conservatives; I am friends with a number of them on facebook (don't sneeze at facebook) and boy do they ever see clearly what the errors are, and what the remedies are. And they have to stand very strong in the black community, such as it tragically is now. And as for voting and democracy, other avenues are better worth one's work, because we have moral problems, and as unredeemed human nature is corrupt and wicked, democracy is currently the attempt to give this corruption and wickedness all the power that it craves. It is succeeding. Sorry to be such a downer.

Bill,

I agree. The claim that capitalism is ‘value neutral’, that is, simply some kind of tool which we may simply use for realising certain value-laden ends completely unrelated to the operations of capitalism is not one I support myself (I don’t think tools are value-neutral either. I think the evidence of anthropology overwhelmingly shows that no human activity is value-free - whatever these values might be in reality - even if we could make a reasoned case for the theoretical existence of such an activity, which I also doubt). My charge was aimed at the postliberals to prove capitalism promotes the specific values they say it does and in the manner they say it does. The evidence is lacking to say the least, and the inherent values of capitalism and its interactions with other elements in the wider society and culture are far more complex than they realise.

Bro Joe,

Well said. Blacks need to get off the lefty plantation. Don't apologize for speaking the truth. We are in deep shit. It may well be curtains for the good ol USA. But as I like to say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and didn't fall in a day. So you and I may have a little free living left. It is possible, though, that we will both end up in a concentration camp. It has happened to better men than us.

Please do read the Schlichter column. Link above.

Does not capitalism, in the various phases of its maturation—primitive, competitive, national corporate, global corporate--engender certain forms of social existence while, simultaneously, subverting other forms? I commented on this reality in a guest post on this blog in October 2020 (https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2020/10/vito-caiati-on-david-brooks.html), in which I called attention to “the corrosive force that contemporary capitalism, which by its very nature is deleterious to the survival of traditional forms of the family, community, and polity in America. One has merely, for example, to reflect on the acceleration of … time (technological and social, including rapid social change and the dizzying pace of life), the contraction and distortion of social space (the former expressed in the gutting of small and medium commerce and the export of entire industrial sectors, with the accompanying hollowing out of established modes of life and the latter expressed in the hyper development in privileged geographical enclaves and underdevelopment elsewhere), and the hyper-commodification of sexuality (disastrous for traditional familial and conjugal relations and Judeo-Christian moral precepts) that are generated by the process of capitalist accumulation today.” These processes, crudely sketched here as mere illustrations of a more general tendency, operate as silent solvents on the existing fabric of traditional social life and culture, affecting our norms and values. These are deep structural tendencies bound up with the contemporary mode of accumulation itself and, although they do not express themselves uniformly among diverse social formations, as those of particular nations, it is hard to reject the notion that they are remaking the modes of life and thought of United States and the West. They present a seemingly intractable problem for those attached to tradition, and no one, including post-liberal “theorists,” has, as far as I can see, devised a means to counter them, other than that of enhancing the powers of the state, with all the negative consequences inherent in such a “solution.”

A couple more useful links:

Dreher on integralism:

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/integralism-think-tank-thomas-aquinas-public-policy/

Stanley G. Payne on Gottfried on ‘antifascism’:

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/01/antifascists-after-fascism

Hector,

The best part of the first link is the internal link to The Josias: https://thejosias.com/

Here is my succinct response to Integralism. Tell me how much you agree with.https://williamfvallicella.substack.com/p/integralism-in-three-sentences

Bill,

I have a good friend who is an integralist but so far I am not persuaded it is either viable or desirable. It is important to note that integralists like Thomas Crean claim the system is only justified or workable if the majority of the citizenry are believing Catholics (for that in itself to become reality is quasi-utopian in the British or American context, so one is tempted to ask the integralist what the point of discussing this hypothetical scenario is when we’ve got so many current problems). It seems to me that it would be extremely easy (perhaps necessary?) for such a system to curtail the civil rights of people who are not Catholics - for example, would a believing Jew be barred from public office? My guess is that though such people would ideally be tolerated they would necessarily be barred from certain roles in society and thus be in some sense second-class citizens.

I suppose the integralist might argue that even if his belief in the Catechism turns out to be misplaced, it is still preferable for humans to live as though they had transcendental purpose, that the RCC is the best institution to provide this purpose and that atheism is maladaptive etc so his conception of the common good would still be pragmatically preferable to the liberal state. All states impose some conception of the good and the classical liberal conception of this is radically flawed - also if the criterion of imposing values and beliefs via the state, even minimal ones, is that we know those values to be true, then by your very stringent criteria for saying what we know, no state is ever justified in imposing any kind of values or beliefs (or very few of significance) - but this is clearly unworkable as the state is a necessary institution.

But I think we’re in agreement on integralism - a certain degree of liberalism is necessary for the preservation of human dignity and is in keeping with Christian values of humility and charity. The history of the interactions and struggles between powerful religious institutions and the state does not fill me with hope for integralism, even if it were viable. And I don’t think certain kinds of social and cultural conservatism are in the kind of tension with classical liberalism that postliberals and integralists claim they are.

Bill,

I posted the wrong Dreher link, this one has plenty of rather alarming quotes from the key text ‘Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy’ by Thomas Crean and Alan Fimister, which I believe is the most comprehensive work on integralism:

https://web.archive.org/web/20220801195602/https://www.theamericanconservative.com/what-do-integralists-want-reactionary-catholicism/">https://www.theamericanconservative.com/what-do-integralists-want-reactionary-catholicism/">https://web.archive.org/web/20220801195602/https://www.theamericanconservative.com/what-do-integralists-want-reactionary-catholicism/

Hector,

Your link returned a 404 error. Here is an article from Commonweal: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/new-integralists

The insufferable self-appointed and satanically controlled elite of this country would put any of us in a death camp for being insufficiently reverent about any one of their favorite perverted lies, and that's the truth.

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