Add Front Porch Republic to your Feed

Seriously, this is going to be great. Amongst the contributors are Bill Kauffman, Patrick Deneen, Daniel Larison, and Mark Shiffman, the man who first turned me on to the Great Books. Front Porch Republic


Why I’m Not a Libertarian (or a “Conservative”)


[M]ost people who call themselves conservatives are, when you press them, essentially classical liberals, and classical liberals did not have a “dogmatic aversion to statism,” either. By comparison with their traditional conservative and monarchist foes in the 19th century, they were advocates for centralism and the expansion of the role of the state in the name of reason and liberty. Standardization, rationalization and uniformity in law and regulation were what most classical liberals prized, which is one reason why they tended to be strong nationalists hostile to the customs and privileges of regions and local parlements. The separation of modern strands of classical liberalism from nationalism (i.e., some forms of libertarianism) is a curious by-product of 20th century American politics, and I am guessing that this owes a great deal to influence of exiled liberals from central Europe on the evolution of these strands of American classical liberalism.

[My emphases. – NPO]

In the comments, Daniel McCarthy (to whom I’m personally indebted for giving me the opportunity to review Prof. Bacevich’s The Limits of Power for Young American Revolution) offers a nuanced reply, in which he asserts

Classical liberalism had different strains, some of which were highly centralist and some of which were decentralist. The centralizers generally prevailed in government — just as centralizing non-liberals (like Bismarck) generally prevailed over decentralist non-liberals.

Doubtless, McCarthy is on to something here, but I generally side with Larison (and I’m not entirely comfortable calling Tocqueville a liberal, as McCarthy does; I prefer “liberal conservative”).

And herein lies my fundamental qualm with libertarianism. The ideology (or collection of ideologies) is one of the more true-to-roots modern progenies of classical liberalism, (lacking the pseudo-conservatism of mainstream “conservatives”) — perhaps, according to some libertarians, the successor of Enlightenment liberalism. However, it disavows the State. To me, this is, as I called it before, internally contradictory alchemy. The liberal needs the State.

(McCarthy, in his response, offers a cogent argument in suggesting that the roots of the pairing of liberalism and decentralism in American political philosophy lie with Jefferson and Madison, but I think, at least respecting Jefferson, this assertion oversimplifies matters. Yes, he was very much, in many ways, a liberal, even radically so, but no mere liberal decentralist, he was, as Larison, rather compellingly, long ago asserted, in ways quite conservative, a man not only opposed to consolidation, but to the “power of the ‘moneyed interest'” as well, and a man of the country. That is, rather than merely a “liberal decentralist”, he adhered to and upheld certain liberal and certain conservative tenets.)

Liberals need the state because, ultimately, the foundation of the liberal polity is the individual. Gone is Aristotle’s zoon politikon, and the Philosopher’s fundamental precept, “every community is established for the sake of some GOOD”, specifically the common good, replaced by the Every-man-a-king doctrine of liberalism. Without the State, its origins in necessary contractarianism, mankind, by the liberal creed, exists in a perpetual state of war. Contra liberalism (and, thus, libertarianism), conservatism, rightly conceived, follows Aristotle, appreciating the importance of the individual but recognizing that outside of community, man enters into what Berry calls “vast meaninglessness, […] the freedom of our vices.”

Contemporary libertarianism seeks to dull both edges of the sword; to have its cake and to eat it, too. The libertarian, like the classical liberal, exalts the individual, subordinating any group — the world “community”, the nation-state, the region, or the community — to him; however, he credulously asserts that a society of kings can function without the intervention of the State. He often allows for decentralized government (though is wary even of federalism/subsidiarity, for the local government may expand too much for his tastes, just the same as the national), and offers paeans to communal self-government (that is, anarchy, conservatively understood). This is all well and good, save that the tension remains between the necessarily communal nature of the community government and the “king”‘s desire for self-rule. Without subjugation of the self to the polis — something anathema to the underlying doctrine of individualism —, the libertarian engages in futility, ultimately requiring the development, and consequent overdevelopment, of the selfsame state he sought to avert initially.

Thus, I am not a libertarian; thus I believe that, ultimately, “Fusionism” cannot sustain — as seems to be obvious today —, and that American “conservatism”, really conservative liberalism, is as problematic, if not more so for its untenable attempt to blend conservative values into a framework antipathetic toward community, as libertarianism.

“McCain is exactly the wrong kind of Republican to have as President during a Democratic ascendancy. “

I still stand by my argument that, even if Obama is, maybe, the lesser of two evils in a vacuum, we’re not in a vacuum, and the context of Democratic dominance of both chambers makes McCain the distressingly lesser evil. Mr Larison suggests otherwise. He makes a good point, no doubt about it.

What of McCain?  Leave aside for the moment that the outcome of the election is all but certain, and that McCain is probably going to suffer the worst defeat for a Republican nominee since 1964.  The divided government argument for McCain sounds appealing at first, and I can see some merit in it, but McCain is exactly the wrong kind of Republican to have as President during a Democratic ascendancy.  Eager to get back in the good graces of his first and true love, the media, and anxious to demonstrate his willingness to collaborate with Democratic leaders to re-establish the public persona he spent so many years cultivating, he will roll over for almost anything the Congress sends to him, unless it involves bringing an end to unnecessary foreign wars.  An amnesty bill is far more important to him and it is a much higher priority for him than it is for Obama, whose position on the question is admittedly no better, so I think it is correct to assume that an immigration bill is much less likely to be passed under unified government than it would be under divided government.  There was significant opposition for different reasons on the Democratic side to the last “comprehensive” bill, and there is an even greater chance of a purely anti-Democratic backlash if an Obama administration attempted to force the legislation on their reluctant conservative and marginal district House members.  As with the deeply unpopular bailout, the Democrats will want the cover of broad bipartisan support for an amnesty bill, and that support will be much more likely if McCain is in the White House.  

Nonetheless, unless the conservative Democrats, holding about one-fifth of the party’s seats (if Daniel is right, anyway), manage to retain their principles, rather than falling in line under the Anointed One, I remain frightened of the potential. 

Excuses; forthcoming

I realize that I’ve been particularly remiss in my web-logging duties of late. For this, I apologize. The school year has started off far more busily than I could have prognosticated: Already, I’ve a project due, tomorrow, in my studio; I serve as a teaching assistant; I have two other courses, both of which require some of my time; and I’m the editor-in-chief of The Terrapin Times, a paper in disarray: This job has taken quite a bit of my time. Fear not, though, loyal readers: The next few days, save tonight, as much of which as necessary I shall spend in the studio, I shall dedicate to at least some of the following, as well as whatever else strikes me fancy.

*Larison’s “Kosmopolitis Take Two”, in response to Helen’s “Does Veneration Really Wither on the Pavements?”, and my thoughts on urban conservatism, aristocratic populism, and the like.

*The subject matter of this Washington Post article. Really, a website called BedPost, which “was created to map users’ sex lives online — everything from partner to duration of the encounter to descriptive words, which could later be viewed as a tag cloud.” Is nothing sacred, beyond the totalitarianism of the computer? Have we no shame?

*More on the District’s battle to destroy the Second Amendment.

*Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment: Why we should.

*Conservative New Urbanism, I swear, and some urban planning news.

*Belgium, John McCain’s campaign slogan, and the need for precision in language

Interesting post on Sarah Palin

A tip of the hat goes to Larison for this.

What really distresses, but hardly surprises, me:

“A Greenie”: No. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR. [My emphasis. – NPO]

Mr Larison comments:

In this sense, she may very well be a “Sam’s Club Republican” in the narrowest sense of promoting the rise of box stores, but this is the same kind of “growth” agenda that the GOP has advanced for years and reflects the mentality of consumption and acquisition that Rod and Prof. Deneen have criticized so vocally.

I won’t lie: The “Sam’s Club” approach to the G.O.P., to some extent, appeals to me. This narrow sense, however, horrifies me.

Update: More from Larison, on Palin’s budget problems.

Cross-posted at The Terrapin Times

Brooks, Larison, gadget fads

Daniel Larison, spot-on, as always, commenting on David Brooks’ “Lord of the Memes”, from the 7 August edition of the New York Times

I know David Brooks can’t really be serious when he says things like this, but this is at least the second grand pronouncement this week* and it’s getting out of hand:

But on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed [bold mine-DL]. That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone.

No, human character did not change. One thing that has been consistent and recognizable throughout every stage of competing for status and gadget-collecting is the enduring human temptation to fall prey to the latest fad.

If that one line from Daniel suffices not to convince you of the sheer hyperbole of Brooks’ pronouncement, the argument he continues in the full piece should do the trick. I do, however, believe that Brooks makes a sadly accurate assessment, one revealing the tragic truth of Daniel’s remark, later in the piece:

Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.

I fear that, rather than suggesting, as Brooks avers, that human character has changed, this further evinces that, for too long, human character simply has glided, too comfortably, in a wretched state of intellectual and cultural degeneration; embracing the ultra-sleek medium, rather than the message, is just a recent, particularly distressing manifestation of ultra-philistinism. If luck smiles upon us, mayhap, someday, the electronic devices will even think and work for us.

Obama and Bush, right; McCain, dead wrong

Obama, Bush, and McCain all offer statements in response to the “three a.m.” emergency in the Caucasus. Daniel Larison, expert on all things Russian, offers extensive, erudite commentary.