FPR v. PoMoCon, Part Deux

by Patrick J. Deneen on June 26, 2009 · 81 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Politics & Power

the_boxing_match

Some heat and even some light have been generated in the numerous comments that followed upon my original posting in which I threw some gauntlets around.  However, some inevitable reductionism has taken place (on all sides), and so I tried to actually put some substance on the bones of an interesting debate on a comment posted late last night.  Because it’s now down around #39 on the comment list, I thought I’d post it here:

The reason it’s an interesting debate (putting aside all the unhelpful name-bandying) is that there is actual agreement about something important – that nature is true and that it exists and its dominion is inescapable. However, how this “reassertion” will unfold is the source of some rather profound differences on the ground.

For PoMoCons of Lawlerian variety, this is a source of optimism – our human condition of alienation and misery will not be “cured” by any amount of technological manipulation, and so the misery and glory of being human will endure, and because of the inescapability of this condition we will all be stuck with virtue more than ever. That said, while the human condition will not be overcome by technological mastery, much of the natural world will be, and that’s ok, so long as we understand that we won’t cease being restless and alienated. So, no amount of McDonalds or living in suburbs will make us truly happy, but it’s ok to be stuffed and comfortable even amid our glory and our misery. Some fast food and poorly-built McMansions won’t make us any more or less miserable. For Lawler, everything is always getting better and worse, so a certain easy-going quiescence should be our default position most of the time. A basic Lawlerian dictum: don’t worry, be unhappy.

The PomoCons are revised versions of first wave liberals (according to Strauss, inaugurated by the thought of Hobbes and Locke), strenuously urging the expansion of human control of the natural world while believing that human nature remains untouched and untouchable by such efforts. Lawler is himself much more ambivalent about Locke, but accepts the Natural rights regime under the pretense that the Founders built better than they knew. He views the pre-modern inheritance as sufficiently vital to withstand the corrosiveness of Lockeanism, although there are times he’s not as confident about its staying power (see my lengthier assessment, here).

For (at least some) FPR’ers (if I may), there is a similar belief that nature will reassert itself, but that reassertion will take a very different form. If we don’t strive to conform ourselves to nature’s laws and limits, that reassertion will be quite unpleasant, even downright ugly. The effort to manipulate the natural world to the ends of human desire have been catastrophic, in the view of FPR’ers, and have resulted in a condition in which modern humans have lost the capacity to exercise prudence, wisdom, and above all, the capacity for self-governance (especially the ability to say NO). The reassertion of nature will be most fundamentally experienced not as a comfortable and well-fed condition of post-modern Augustinian angst, but in the form of a potentially catastrophic confrontation with natural limits and attendant human suffering. There is far less sanguinity among most FPR’ers about our future, though we agree with Lawler that we’ll be “stuck with virtue,” although it will be virtue that we will be forced to relearn by dint of circumstance, not necessarily by “choice.”

PoMoCons are uneasily but pretty firmly aligned with the Republican party as it has been forged in modern times by the likes of Reagan and Bush. FPR’ers are generally pretty discontent with the whole crew, Dem and Rep alike, seeing in the Democrats and Republicans an indiscriminate embrace of ill-used liberty, whether in the “personal” or economic realms. Many of us would like to see some sort of realignment, combining aspects of Marxian critique of the market (though many of us would point not to Marx, but to Chesterbelloc, Roepke, Schumacher, etc.) along with an attendant moral reassertion in the “private” realm. The touchstone for many FPR’ers is, of course, Wendell Berry and his unique capacity to combine a moral assessment of the economic and personal realms and his call for the restoration of living, vibrant and lasting communities of memory and gratitude.

There’s a legitimate debate here, and an interesting one. It’s not between neo- and paleo-cons or any other easily reducible set of labels, but two different visions of the reassertion of nature – an eventuality we all believe to be inescapable – albeit with profoundly different implications and potential outcomes.

That, in a nutshell, I think to be the crux of an actually interesting debate to be had.

Lawler has responded in a subsequent comment, but also posted his response over at PoMoCon today.   Re:  his tweak at my “Marxism,” what I wrote (and maintain) was that Marx was a masterful diagnostician of the effects of capitalism (one need only read his opening paragraphs of The Communist Manifestofor confirmation of this fact), but that I think he was a loon when it came to offering a response.  Indeed, Marx believed that capitalism was a necessary and desirable step on the path to a proletariat utopia, particularly because it would decimate the particular loyalties that people hitherto had evinced, rather than a unity with the other workers of the world.   What FPR’ers lament as the destruction of capitalism, Marx rather celebrates (even as he aspires to foment the next stage in human development).  So, it’s really inaccurate to try to use the label “Marxist” to scare people off the Porch.

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dan June 26, 2009 at 10:17 am

Question:

What is the argument that traditionalists use to support the notion that modernity and/or capitalism could have been avoided?

avatar Patrick Deneen June 26, 2009 at 10:28 am

Dan,
Certain other decisions would have had to be made. I sense in the backdrop of your question the intimation of inevitability. If so, then we’re a lot less free than underlying theories of capitalism suggest. Indeed, to suggest historical inevitability is to evince shades of Marxism. To argue against its inevitability is to demonstrate a belief in human freedom.

avatar Caleb Stegall June 26, 2009 at 10:43 am

Let’s cut to the chase. What I am curious about is the particular state of mind, derailed or healthy, that leads from Peter’s “common sense” (ha!) declaration …

“PCs affirms the Declaration of Independence in the spirit of Chesterton in WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA (which I hear Pat likes) or the unjustly neglected Bruckberger, who saw that the legislative compromise between Calvinists and atheists produced a kind of Thomism that was better than intention than either of the factions. So we agree with Brownson (or my bizarre interpretation based on what he actually wrote) that our “providential constitution” shaped the statesmen who wrote our written Constitution–which is why what they accomplished practically was better than (and even qualitatively different from) their predominately Lockean theory.”

… to a valorization of whoppers and ESPN and a gauche-snobbery towards the folk cultures of handiwork and bumpkins such as ukelele playing?

avatar Russell Arben Fox June 26, 2009 at 10:49 am

Crap–I just wrote up a long response over at the first thread, when I really should have put it here. So I’m moving it over. Here it is:

This “debate” may have started out with just an aside and a snark, but it’s turning into something genuinely interesting, as Patrick promised. I’m going to have to dissent, if only slightly, from his estimation of the Front Porch Republic position, though. I don’t believe that FPR primarily represents a somewhat more apocalyptic attitude towards “nature’s laws and limits,” as Patrick puts it, than that embraced by many PoMoCons; rather, I think FPR, with its abiding commitment to “place”, invites a focus on, and an inquiry into, the context and the means by which one approaches (and appropriates) the laws and limits of nature. Peter accuses Deneen and MacIntyre of being overly Marxist, and Patrick can respond to that as he sees fit; to my mind, though, that’s a fine way to approach the dispute. Way back when Culture 11 was still in working order, I wondered if the problem with “postmodern conservatism” was that it simply wasn’t Marxist enough–that is, not quite able (or willing) to address the full extent of and connections within the cultural and socio-economic order of things (and thus really think thoroughly about what was to be conserved), choosing instead to affirm that the best way to “get beyond” modernity was to insist that properly understood, the modern world of individual liberty and property rights really is virtuous and/or Christian and/or natural or whatever…which suggests that the actual, pratical goal was to find intellectual justifications for politically supporting various partisan tools for tunneling back into and retrieving from modernity that which they believe was there all along. Maybe that’s an unfair estimation of what the learned folks at the original PoMoCon blog were doing, but the parallels they had with the First Things/theoconservative crowd (you know, the real America is actually Christian in some deep sense, the real John Paul II is actually liberal in some deep sense, etc.), especially once they resurrected their blog there, are I think too obvious to ignore. FPR, by constrast, is I think in different ways (obviously we have our own faultlines as well!) trying to say that whatever may be natural and/or virtuous about modern rights and property, modernity itself nonetheless takes us away from our places and traditions and thus the grounds for such things, as so that has to change the whole inconnected way one approaches the question.

Peter touches on another important way of formulating the differnces here, when he speaks of “the dominant views of postmodern[ism] are either Heideggerian or hipster,” presumably suggesting that PoMoCons are neither, having instead (again!) a “proper understanding” of how one should really relate to modernity. Now, anyone who has read Polous knows that he’s very much on the hipster side of things anyway, so who is going to stand up for the Heideggerian? Fault the Sage of Freiburg all you’d like (heaven knows he had many!), but he–among others–helped bring into contemporary parlance Hegel’s Sittlichkeit, the importance of situatedness, of place and Volk, to one’s ability to interrogate what is going on with, and what had gone wrong with, modernity. Heidegger with his skis and his writing hut up on a hillside in the Black Forest probably isn’t much of an intellectual hero to many FPRers (I say while raising hand, probably in isolation), but like Marx, he was capable of tying where one stands and sees the world and makes one’s work into his critique of modern life. If we’re going to conserve what’s worth conserving, we’re going to have to, I think, get radical, meaning getting down to the roots: not the roots of the Declaration of Indepednence or whatever–as important a document as it may be–but rather of where we place our feet.

avatar Josh Cooney June 26, 2009 at 10:54 am

Mr. Stegall is right on the money. I might add, all this natural right flimflam usually leads to bombing innocent people in order to bestow them their blessed rights–as well as the perpetual apologetics, by natural rights advocates, of past acts of state sponsored violence in the name of natural or human rights. How much you wanna bet Mr. Lawler is a defender of the Iraq War? I don’t think there needs to be a great philosophical debate here. One side is humane, the other is crazy.

avatar Dan June 26, 2009 at 10:57 am

Patrick,

“Certain other decisions would have had to be made.”

The question is I think better put this way perhaps, when was the well poisoned? I realize a sort of Clue answer is imposable in a sense (Professor Plum, in the ballroom, with the candlestick), but might be helpful in framing the debate.

Inevitability is not strictly a Marxist phenomena but also an esteemed quality of fatalists, and first century Messiahs in the more backwater parts of Palestine.

avatar Dan June 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

Josh,

Yes, everyone who believes in natural rights is just using it as a smoke screen to shed the blood of innocents on their satanic basement altars. Afterwords while unwinding by dinning on their entrails we pray to Moloch by reciting J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’.

avatar Josh Cooney June 26, 2009 at 11:10 am

Dan,

I’ll quote the great Casey Stengel: “You can look it up.”

avatar Dan June 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

Josh,

Shall I look under “The Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism” or just browse the Necronomicon I keep on my nightstand?

avatar Peter Lawler June 26, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Here’s Marx: Who a human being is is determined by HISTORY (you paleos should love him–he really, really takes history seriously)–that is, by the prevailing mode of the division of labor. Capitalism is good because it abolishes rural idiocy and maximizes human power; there’s progress toward the truth and the overcoming of scarcity. Capitalism is even good because it rips the “halo” off all human views of virtue etc. that don’t have “cash value,” because all that stuff was nothing but illusions that hid exploitation. But capitalism is bad because it reduces the great mass of people to nothing–to a propertyless mass working long hours in boring jobs and receiving subsistence wages (what some people think is going on at WalMart). But capitalism is good because that creation of the mass–the universal proletariat–will turn mass fear (the Hobbesian foundation of modern stability) into mass hatred and produce a universal revolution. After the revolution we’ll all have plenty of everything (because scarcity was overcome) with very little work (presumably because scarcity–due to really, really high technology–stays overcome) and we’ll be able–quite unobsessively–to do whatever we want whenever we want. Life will be a vacation full of amateurs doing a variety of activities–like hunting, shepherding, criticizing–badly (I might say that the life of the bohemian or the Crunchy would become real for everyone).

Dr. Pat Deneen doesn’t think the revolution is coming (although he does sort of have catastrophic Marxian optimism about capitalism having within itself the seeds of its own destruction)and thinks communism (a world without eros or purpose or God or virtue or politics) would be hell. My Marxist tweak had to do with tying virtue or its absence too closely to the prevailing division of labor. So don’t run off the porch and through the fields–trampling on cucumbers–because Pat has a certainty affinity to Marx in some ways. (My real view is that all the agrarians owe something to the selective nostalgia of Rousseauean romanticism, and Marx does too, despite his [half-true] comment about rural idiocy).

I myself think that Marx says a lot that is true and even brings to the surface a lots that latent in Locke (while exaggerating beyond belief the real Lockeanization or “capitalization” of the world). I once led a Liberty Fund on Marx and Mill, and Marx, under my leadership, came out better than (or at least smarter than) Mill. The libertarian guy from the home office paid me the high compliment of saying that he had never heard anyone before find anything true in Marx. But the libertarians and the Marxists really do agree about capitalism conquering scarcity, allowing for the withering away of religion, the state, (the family?), etc., and making possible a life characterized by an ever expanding “menu of choice.” Pat and I dissent from the idea that point of life is the pursuit of happiness through absolutely unregulated choice.

avatar Caleb Stegall June 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm

This may be another pointless attempt, as Lawler and Poulos have thus far avoided previous questions (I’m certain this is narrative fodder for Cheeks), but I have a few more questions, asked especially in light of Peter’s stirring call for common sense:

Who is more amenable to manipulation, control, and evaluation by the centralized techno-bureaucratic systems employed by the management classes–the porchers or the pomoochers?

That is to say, if we truly agree that man has a nature, as Patrick suggests, which man more completely expresses himself as fully human?

And further, is it not the case that such expressions are historically the foundation of any concept of Western individualism, as derailed as it may have become in the modern period?

avatar anxiousmodernman June 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm

As a socialist/actual-Marxist lurker on FPR, this intellectual conversation is of interest to me, as I’m reminded why I find myself so often in agreement with the views presented here. If some would take this as damning evidence against FPR, I’d remind them that ascribing falsehood-by-association is a logical fallacy (though I’ll admit there are more important things than logic).

Place. Limits. Liberty. It’s in the acknowledgement of ‘limits’ that I see you as my allies. Nature, ultimately, will show us her limits in a catastrophic fashion unless we mature enough as a society to abide by them ourselves. Modernity and capitalism ripped us from the old superstitions (the ‘rural idiocy’), and also from the Places that fostered them. In a sense, I still see this as progressive, or, in any case, as accomplished so thoroughly in America, that we are all adrift in the same boat, together. The desire to return to a Place, by recognizing Limits, is what I share with the views presented here.

How will we abide by those Limits? How will we ‘make sure’ everyone does, as it were? Part of making sure will be in the imposition of law, but again, if it’s to be in a world worth living in (and not a totalitarian hell), then we will have to cultivate an ethos that respects those Limits. We will need Virtue.

That’s letting a lot of meaning ride on a few terms, but I think you all get it. I like your website. Keep it up.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell June 26, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I think plenty of folks on the right can, if they read him, find some points of agreement with Marx. As Patrick points out, he does a fine job diagnosing many of the shortcomings of industrial capitalism. It should also be remembered, though, that his materialism leads to a sort of economic determinism that isn’t helpful. In the end, Marx looks for the abolition of property. We at FPR champion private property not simply as a worthy concept in the abstract but as a good that a healthy society should encourage.

Wilhelm Roepke is especially good on this point. His “Third Way” rejects socialism in all of its guises but he also recognizes that capitalism can develop in unhealthy directions. He argued that modern corporate capitalism was corrupt and corrupting. A state where property is broadly distributed and vast inequalities (not inequality per se) are rare is, he argued, more just and more conducive to human flourishing than states where property is concentrated. Private property and liberty are intimately connected, and broadly distributed property implies limits. Real property is located some place and not simply abstracted in the form of wealth or stock shares. Hence our tag: Place, Limits, Liberty.

I suppose if you wanted summarize FPR in a nutshell it might be in the term “human scale.” Like the PoMOCons, we affirm the notion of limits rooted in nature. Unlike the PoMoCons, we argue that natural limits imply more than personal virtue and natural rights. It implies a social, political, and economic account that is radically opposed to much of what passes for conservatism today. Hence, as Peter (I think rightly) points out, the antipathy most FPRers have for the Republican Party, which is many things but not conservative in any recognizable form.

avatar Carl Scott June 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Since Mr. Fox is reposting here…so am I, with a few changes up front..

Caleb, NO POMOCON I KNOW OF IS PER SE AGAINST UKELES AND ALL THAT GOES WITH THEM, even if they occassionally like to poke fun of those who go out of their way to acquire them. FPR-ers, if you can cultivate your place and give us good music in the bargain, I say, more power to you, and send me word when the good pickers are playin’ on the porch. But now onto my hipster suburban roots:

“The Modern World’s Not So Bad, Not Like the Students Say,
In Fact I’d Be In Heaven, If You’d Share the Modern World with Me.”

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, circa 1971 or so…

Not Like the Students Say = Not Like the Front-Porchers Say, right?

One can aristocratically lament the end of the age of Sibelius and co., and democratically lament the end of Dylan’s ‘weird old [regionalist, even town-by-town] America’ and co., while still being grateful on a long drive for a Wendy’s. I know what their sub-par burgers taste like…they’re good enough for me, and yes, sometimes I like to eat quickly. While I do, I might even like to read Phillipe Beneton explaining with French brio all the downsides about McDonald’s and such, and then pop back into my Toyota to listen to some more Sibelius as I get on my way. Or maybe some Modern Lovers or Dylan, if I’m feeling too tired for classical or if my musical mood shifts.

I mean, here we are folks. However bad many of the fundamentals are, we still have to live. And, we still have to think politically, because things can get worse, much worse. How many FPRers continue to make the grievous mistake of voting Demo 9 times out of 10?

Newsflash, you can’t have “Berryvilles,” you can’t have Gary Synder care for the local environment, you can’t have localist styles in music, food, etc., if you continue to whine about the creep of capitalism while ignoring and enabling the creep of do-good statism, massive deficits, federal law (or jurisprudence) messing with your toilets and thermometers and God knows what next. And you can’t have any of these things if the out-of-wedlock birth rate goes past 50% (we’re at 40% now, France is at the 50-mark). So you need federalism. You need social conservatism. You need Fred Thompson and yeah, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh. Those folks, as tiresome as they may be, are right 65-75% of the time about the big issues, which is far more than we can say about the Dems. The Berry-esque stance that FPR represents will politically amount to NOTHING if cannot a) show itself capable of moderating the Dems on spending, centralized administration, and on its hell-bent opposition to any form of morals-legislation, including time-honored ones like marriage, and b) win working class patriotic (and often property-rights-loving) Red State adherents.

But rather than talk about the political here-and-now, and what-can-be-done-politically, FPRers like Deneen await the impending “catastrophe” which will sort things out, or not, and in the meantime, want to trace all our troubles to Locke, seemingly oblivious that our politics operates primarily in a PLACE called the U.S.A., and just as Rome couldn’t reform itself by saying Romulus was nothing but a brigand, we can’t reform ourselves by going head-on against Locke. Moreover, the empirical evidence from history, see historian R. Pipes’ book Property and Freedom, is that Lincolnian/Cobdenian/Jeffersonian/Lockean commitment to a natural rights doctrine of property tends more often than not to favor political liberty. But, it seems that FPRers place all in implicit opposition with, like the more candid among their fellow Dems, “an [economic] system that does yet exist,” as as James Ceaser put it in his classic and Strauss-informed book Liberal Democracy and Political Science.

You know so much about natural ecology, about American PLACES. Why do you, Mr. and Mrs. FPR, know so little about the “ecology” of our politics, about the history of its “ecological degradation”? You think you can think about reinserting PLACE in our politics, but without thinking about things like the takings clause , or about the role of the judiciary? About local governance v. state governance and federal governance? You want an AMERICAN place in which all the Lockean, Hamiltonian, and corporate “genes” and “species” in our politics and culture and economic structure have been Pausterized away, I suppose, through repeated readings of the likes of Berry and Synder and maybe Calhoun on a good day?

And so, good earnest folk, you wind up thinking yourself wise for voting to have the Dems-as-they-are control all three branches of government! Or for not voting at all! And now we’re seeing what that means.

avatar Caleb Stegall June 26, 2009 at 4:21 pm

“Caleb, NO POMOCON I KNOW OF IS PER SE AGAINST UKELES AND ALL THAT GOES WITH THEM”

The reference is to this post:

The late Fr. Jape disemboweled the PoMoCons at FT before they knew that’s what they were…

Excerpt:

“What can explain the cultural and intellectual insecurity on maudlin display at First Things? I think it is the manifestation of full blown snobbery brought by submission to the masters of Wall Street and 5th Avenue. A known and keenly felt inferiority brings on the curious combination of pretending to enjoy our plastic lives while fashioning ourselves as connoisseurs of fine leather, marble, and cherrywood. This brings the bizarre spectacle of people who plop their BK have-it-your-way Whopper drive-through on their ‘handcrafted Amish dinner-table’ and then turn around and pop in the latest London Philharmonic CD into their made-in-China Wal-Mart standard-issue under-the-cupboard CD player. After this kind of cultural diet, I doubt if the First Things crowd could recognize a genuine cultural artifact if it rose up and bit them in the collective bottom. But perhaps if Jake Shimabukuro really applied himself, he could put his wasted talent to some important cultural task such as making Whoppers. Now that is something everyone at First Things could appreciate.”

avatar Carl Scott June 26, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Well, Mark Mitchell raises the flag of FPR’s commitment to private property just before I imply less than full FPR endorsement of such. Well, and good, even if I suspect some FPR-ers do not think so.

But Mark is wrong to say that Pomocons simply think pomocons endorse “personal virtue + natural rights, let the chips fall where they may.” We’re willing to defend, in the spirit of Roepke (I guess, since I’m unfamiliar w/), limits upon certain unhealthy directions that corporate freedom may head in. We’re not decided in advance against compassionate conservatism, even if as done under Bush it didn’t turn out so well. We more often than not think a decision like Lochner sucked.

But we don’t let dissapointment w/ the Republican Party or w/ everyday pork-focused, contributor-favoring, and interest-group politics drive us precipitously into the arms of those who have a very poor track record with 1) liberty of local governance, 2) simplified [i.e., less lawyered] governance, 3) Berry-esque family values, 4)putting limits on personal choice for ‘brave new world’ options 5) keeping big corporations and big government out of bed with one another, 6) limiting the use of litigation in governance disputes (esp. on environmental issues), 7)keeping it easier to run a small business.

Look, if I were a town board member in a small community and saw the endless reams of mostly-Democrat-driven fine-print-regulations I have to read before I can honestly say I understand what my governing duties really are, I’d quit and take up ukelele lessons with Caleb.

avatar Caleb Stegall June 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Carl, you haven’t spent much time around here it seems.

I’m an elected republican office holder and spend a good deal of the rest of my work hours fighting (in the nitty-gritty real world) against the those whose arms you claim FPR is running towards.

avatar Kenneth McIntyre June 26, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Whatever else Marx does, he does not take history seriously, at least not in the modern sense of the term. In fact, there is almost nothing in Marx’s work that could possibly pass muster with any competent historian as historical explanation because the past that he fabricates is not historical but practical. It is a potted legendary past derived solely from a present claim about the real nature of all human existence (i.e. that it is determined by the organization of the factors of production). In terms of this ahistorical reductionism, Marx’s references to the past share a great deal with other such whiggish and anti-whiggish legends as those promulgated by Spengler, Strauss, Sabine, Macauley, et al.

Off the topic, American political theorists are notable for their almost complete ignorance of the logic of historical explanation, and this goes for the Straussians every bit as much as for the non-conservative postmodernists. It’s really too late for remediation for most of them.

avatar Kenneth McIntyre June 26, 2009 at 5:38 pm

To echo Caleb’s post above, I can’t speak for the rest of FPR but there is nothing that I have written that could rationally be taken as supporting the Democratic Party. I’m not nearly as suspicious of modernity as some others writing here, and I’m much less trusting of big government than most of them. The difference between my position and the pomo-cons, at least as described by Carl, is that I’m willing to distinguish between my ideas and those of a party that practically committed institutional suicide during the past eight years by engaging in a neo-Jacobin war, spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors, and bailing out their failed Wall Street cronies. Obama’s version of national socialism was born in the Bush White House, not merely because Bush’s incompetence made it impossible for the Republicans to win the election, but because Obama has done little that was not already prefigured by the Bushies’ panicked reaction to the economic problems of 2008.

avatar James Matthew Wilson June 26, 2009 at 7:43 pm

These comments are too much for a fellow as pestered as I am, but let me send forth a few words that might be treated as a “sounding”; i.e., I’m curious, and have been for a long while, to what degree my feet fit snuggling in the FPR prints.

As may be obvious enough, I’m not primarily a political writer, but a pious Joe (or a “Pius X” Joe) who writes on theology and literature and, worse, mostly on poetry; I never set out to call myself a conservative until I realized that term expressed something that extended beyond what I meant when I said I was a Catholic and, to boot, a Thomist. And if anyone thinks “conservative” either doesn’t describe me or that it doesn’t clarify anything about my positions, then the hell with the term; I don’t need it.

I’m unconvinced of much of the apocalyptic language of Mother Nature correcting us and restoring virtue if we don’t do it first. My horror, and it is a real horror, at the growth and development of the market, the size and scale of corporations, and the twisted artery systems we call urban planning, does not derive primarily from a fear that it is all materially going to come crashing down upon us. It might well, but I doubt it will happen in such a way that we’ll have a chance to treat it as a “correction”, and I’m actually skeptical of the really grand scenarios that can be described as “environmental disasters” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124597505076157449.html).

I like small things, human scale things (to follow Mark and Sale, et al.), and believe that my “like” is no mere preference but a necessity, because I believe human beings are recognizably happier and become better sorts of persons when they live in an environment scaled to their happiness. Following Peter Lawler, I don’t doubt that persons always remain ill at ease in the world because their souls, their nature, calls them beyond the finitude of its horizon to the light of God. But my presumption is that good politics is the sort of politics that doesn’t merely allow us to remain unhappy souls, but rather is the sort of science that helps us to live in the kind of communities where our earthly unhappiness (to stick with this kind of Augustinian phrasing) can be best cultivated, best understood, and can therefore bear good fruit.

The urban isolated insect of a retail banker in New York surely feels in his nature the same desire to see the face of God as the Kentucky farmer; but the place said farmer lives, and the kind of life he lives, provides him a better chance of glancing at least a hint of that face here on earth, and of living in devotion to it, which is the chief condition of happiness here or elsewhere. Moreover, despite some verbal miscues by the Greeks, it’s pretty clear that a rich life of pure speculation on Truth is made richer — indeed is made possible — by that sometime speculator living also a practical life of work and action put to good use.

The Agrarian sympathies FPR generally upholds were formulated long before most of its “formulators” saw evidence that the flattening, urbanizing, and globalizing tendencies of modern capitalism were not sustainable and might, actually might, lead to myriad varieties of catastrophe. Regardless of any threat to the “environment,” being a rural idiot is a path to a properly human form of prosperity.

We’re all Aristotleians in some respect, on either blog. If we therefore all agree that man is not simply a rational animal who can see the True Itself, but is also a political animal, then surely FPR- style concepts of human scale appear even more necessary to human happiness. If I’m a political animal, in the sense of a social one, then a civilization or culture that encourages and sustains a society in which I can meaningfully participate is better than one which alienates me, not in a theological-angst sense, but in the sense of making me feel alone amid my fellow men.

If I am, moreover, a political animal not only from the point of natural origins but teleologically, then part of my end, my fulfillment, my happiness must be in the meaningful life of being political alongside and in confrontation with other political animals. There’s only one kind of polity that can make that possible: a small-scale, localized community. And, possibly, that kind of polity will have to be a democracy as well, or at least organized in such a way that power–the power to appear, to speak, to act in public–is decentralized, polyvalent, and thus mediated by many rather than few persons. Again, a local democracy can do this, but so can an aristocratic order (thus I vacillate more wildly than Tocqueville when I read “Democracy in America”). What cannot allow a person to fulfill his end as a political animal is the kind of stifling, impersonal bureaucratic state we have seen emerge in the terrorist forms of communism and fascism and also in the soft, indeed limp wristed, despotism of western liberal societies. States are good; they are a means to and outgrowth of living a political, and therefore human, life. But the modern state is a mutant and he doesn’t like his parents.

I agree with Patrick that Mother Nature may well rebuke us, but I’m not sure she must even threaten to do so in order for us to find good reasons to consume less, live and work in small communities, and to schools ourselves in the virtues necessary for self-government. Just looking around and seeing how ugly our buildings are, how inhospitable is a physical environment modeled on accomodating cars rather than folks on foot, and how petty, materialistic, superficial, and in every sense “useless” most people become when their characters have been formed in the modern suburb — all these things sing a sad song: human beings become better human beings when they live in communities small enough to nurture character and cultivate virtues, and they become worse human beings when they are left with no resource other than the faint call of God in the lonely dark. It is one thing to be saved from the brink, and another to walk the narrow path all the days of one’s life.

I agree with Peter that it is possible to attain many virtues and to live a life of dignity, seriousness, and great worth in a techo-saturated urban/suburban french fried latte. I just don’t think that is the kind of place most conducive to developing a great character, capable of acting greatly and contemplating the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Our age shows, and others before us show also, that large, urban societies are not so conducive. Finally, despite what I have said in refusing the catastrophe-grounded claim of the human-scale principle, I DO think the way we live in America is often poisonous both intellectually, morally, and materially. Whether it will cause the seas or rise or not, there’s something vile in the trash we create, the trash we eat, and the helplessness to feed, clothe, and take care of ourselves imported garments and foam-packed sandwiches represent.

avatar T. Chan June 27, 2009 at 2:33 am

Well said, Mr. Wilson!

avatar Patrick Deneen June 27, 2009 at 7:20 am

Carl,
What an unfortunate set of comments. I’m not sure to whom you intended them to be directed, but they don’t seem a terribly accurate depiction of what’s been written on this site to date. You seem to think that this is some Left wing bastion of big gummint redistribution. That we seek the elimination of federalism and an increase in Gummint “takings.” And, you have fallen into the unfortunate view that to criticize the Republican party or our current form of “free market” economics is to necessarily embrace the Democrats. It’s a diverse group here (as comments above will testify, e.g., Ken’s and James’s), but I think none of us have checked our critical skills at the partisan door. I think we can all sympathize with a certain degree of anger at our current predicament, but it won’t do if you start flinging pretty wild and basically inaccurate accusations at the wrong set of people.

Two things seem to make you angry: first, that in our criticism of the current political and economic arrangements, we are not sufficiently supportive of the Republican party. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I do think that it’s accurate that many of us seek a reform of the current arrangements (some more radical than others), not seeing in the mainstream of either Party at the moment sufficient support for more local arrangements (which makes your accusation of our hostility to federalism passing strange), and instead seeing far too cozy a relationship between the national parties, the national government, and large-scale industry. Further, the shared commitment to America’s imperial project is a source of abiding concern for many folks here, and one that crosses party lines in the mainstream parties. To effect the ends of this project – one that tends to conform with the globalizing ambitions of globalized corporatism – both Democrat and Republican alike have consistently increased the size of the central government. That seems not to be a concern in your narrative that would strive to focus our attention on the exclusive evils that infects the Democratic party (Don’t look behind that curtain!). Indeed, the willingness of the Party of Smaller Gummint to support large-scale and globalizing corporate entities has only undermined their purported commitments to “devolving” power to States and localities. To say this doesn’t mean that all of us here are running out to volunteer for Nancy Pelosi’s campaign (though anyone here is free to do so); but it does mean that we are not prone to self-delusion by which we understand Republican failings to be just tactical mistakes, rather than systemic errors.

I guess, given the pretty overwhelming evidence of a bi-partisan commitment to these basic ends – global corporate expansion and the imperial project, both at the expense of more local forms of self-governance and both leading to ever-greater centralization of power in Washington (as true for Reps. as Dems.) – I’m wondering why you’re quite so enthusiastic a cheerleader for the Republicans, or so excoriating a critic of the Democrats. If some of the arguments we are making here were to have purchase, wouldn’t it result in a re-alignment of some sort that would make your support of a party of less powerful and overarching central government more sensible, and less self-delusive?

Secondly, you seem angry that we are betraying the true nature, the fundamental DNA of the American regime by repeated criticisms of the Lockean/Hamiltonian/corporate genetic code that made this nation great. Now, one point of interest might be to point out how even some of the PoMoCons (like Lawler) quite often take Locke to task (less so Ceaser, of course) for the voluntarist logic that leads to the very sorts of things you’re criticizing (nothing like extending voluntaristic ethic into the family to bump up that out-of-wedlock birth-rate). But, I think it’s more important to point out that your narrative about the genetic code of America is rather … narrow. Even to cite “Jeffersonianism” along with the Lincoln/Cobden/Locke tradition is to acknowledge this inconvenient truth, since Jefferson at some moments urged that America be composed of a citizenry of yeoman farmers, and was known to have opposed some of the Hamiltonian directions that the Federalist/Whigs were inclined to take the country. As thinkers like McWilliams and Lasch have pointed out, America is composed of multiple traditions and voices, in spite of efforts like the one you seem engaged in to blanch them out of the conversation. To invoke the pure-bred Lockean blood-line of America against our efforts to mongrelize or sully that purity (or, worse still, insert the pathogen of Calhounism into the blood stream), is to engage in an unfortunate bit of storytelling and even bad faith. I’m not sure if Calhoun has been mentioned on these pages here at all (certainly not by me), but Aristotle sure has been. Maybe he has no business being invoked in America, but many here seem to think he’s relevant. Maybe you should have him deported for being an illegal alien.

What is interesting to me in this exchange is that some of the arguments taking place on this site seem more apt to get certain people’s blood boiling than even the arguments being made on the Left (indeed, Carl’s is an effort to make sure than any right-thinking person know that there’s nothing to see here folks – just a bunch of Left-wingers seeking to destroy the American Dream. Beware all those loony Democrats running around on the Front Porch!). It reminds me of Lawler’s dyspeptic and uncharacteristically uncharitable take-down of Dreher’s “Crunchy Con” book a few years ago. It’s encouraging to me that the arguments on the Porch are discomfiting folks like Peter and Carl, getting their palms a bit sweaty and furrowing their brow a bit – even if that means that they end up winding up the old “with-us-or-against-us” rhetoric machine, or accusing us of being a bunch of Calhoun-loving, Democrat-voting, big gummint accomodating Left wingers. Uh huh. Yea, that’s us. Right.

avatar Peter Lawler June 27, 2009 at 8:33 am

This is way too much to read. So only five comments: 1. Where can I get some of that french fried latte? 2. Even Dreher didn’t think what I said about him was “dyspetic” and Caleb was quite willing to publishing it. It’s just that a guy who hangs out in wine bars with his laptop and has an easy job has no business presenting himself as a sacred exemplar of human excellence in our time (especially in comparison to hardworking men in women with large families and real jobs who shop at WalMart and don’t need to find deeper meaning in diaper changing and aren’t nearly as oligarchic as he thins from his elevated perespective). 3. Obviously I like Rod and agree with him on lots of issues like caregiving and all that. We share an admiration of the virtue of charity, which can’t be accounted for by rationalism ancient or modern. 4. I rarely comment on Crunchies and only in fun; I wish you were a significant movement, actually. My fun has to do with how tough it is to be countercultural these days or more than another “lifestyle option.” So I feel your pain. 5. You may have noticed there is no real postmodern conservative movement and that if it’s with us or against us about everyone is against us.

avatar Patrick Deneen June 27, 2009 at 10:28 am

Peter,
I withdraw, and apologize for “dyspeptic.” I was a bit dyspeptic after I read Carl’s response. You’re right that Rod is an easy target in a way (we all are), but he was saying something important – which people often ignored in favor of ad hominems – and in particular the harsh response by many on the Right (like Jonah G., or Gil in the pages of FT) had all the earmarks of circling the wagons. It’s true that the “crunchies” or “FPR’ers” or any designation isn’t much of a “movement” (not sure it could be, in quite the way we understand it), but it seemed to me all along that there was a concerted effort by a number in the mainstream Right (especially) to try to nip it in the bud.

In the end, we’re both back to the counter-culture. For me, today that means painting my shed and weeding. See you later.

avatar Josh Cooney June 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

“I suggest that you get together with Carl and hope he’s as gentle as Grant on the terms of surrender on the who’s more realistic about the possibilities todays front.”

What is so unrealistic about our vision? I really don’t think we are asking for that much.

Is it that hard to tend a garden or seek out some decent tasting food from a local farmer, rather than settle for the King Size Number 4 at the “local” Burger King?

Perhaps you find offensive the intimation that reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (as I’m doing today) is a more fruitful use of the human mind than passively watching the latest programmed, manipulative TV show, programmed and packaged by the manipulative managerial corporate elite in our “cultural centers” in Hollywood, New York and, now we can also include, Nashville.

Do you think I’m living in a fantasy when I think our government could find a better use of its stolen resources than to go around mass murdering women and children across the globe?

Maybe it’s the suggestion that cultures and constitutions develop over time from a particular people on a particular piece of land with particular customs and institutions, and not by some mystical body of transcendent natural rights that we can only understand by reading Socrates through Leo Strauss or by “close reading” of the “Great Books.” Talk about being unrealistic…

avatar Peter Lawler June 27, 2009 at 11:13 am

Patrick, No pro wrestler ever apologizes (certainly not my relative Jerry), and I really wasn’t offended. Weeds are much more natural than grass. When the south was really the south the front yard was dirt and swept. Lawns and maybe even flower gardens are aristocratic decadence. There’s a big difference between Jonah and Gil, in my opinion, but that’s for another time. The mainstream right is either old and white or old and dead. In either case… And I’m temperamentally a sixties-style bohemian, so my criticism of both the bourgeois bohemians and the Crunchies is often little more than you guys are taking all the fun out of it. Rod says a lot of true things on his website, and I do agree there was something strange about the FTs overreaction to his legitimate concern (even if it was maybe overconcern) about those priests who were way too much like Michael Jackson.

avatar Clare Krishan June 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Peter – not quite sure what regal lineage you found the “aristocratic decadence” in, but the leisure of Christian nunneries gave us chamomile lawns and flowerbeds as herbal apothecaries for that which ailed “those who labor and are heavy burdened” – I think shepherd maidens and their meadows were the inspiration, long summer hours spent in quite contemplation, fattening the livestock and making hay?

I think the “aristocratic decadence” of the clerics may indeed be more the issue… Bohemia was lost for lack of good pastors to tend the flocks in the rural dominions, some folks and their kith and kin never hearing the Word or experiencing a Sacrament from one end of the year to the next, their lives expendable in fending off pesky invaders zealous for a foreign faith (nature abhors a vacuum).

Perhaps here can be found a fulcrum in the conservative pivot: whither beatitude? Is it “true leisure” as FPR’lers deem a necessity to becoming fully human, knowing and known of God, vs Pomocons “hectic amusements” a liberal pursuit of “happiness” (Peiper’s terms)

There would perhaps be more balance in the common beam if not for an unsettling zeal for dislocating resources toward military adventure that has reduced our free market economy to a shell of its former glory,

http://antiwar.com/radio/2009/06/26/thomas-e-woods/

reaping fruits of wanton death and destruction on a vast scale in lands as yet un-convinced by the “clerical aristocracy” of the neo-con prosperity gospel “evangelism at the end of a gun.” BXVI’s “Their shall be no compulsion in religion” could be read either way, no? Enemies domestic may be the real problem, not the enemies foreign…

Apropos getting the dehellenizing wobblies: who has a handle on the nonsense coming out of TV’s “talking heads” on the right?

http://salvomag.typepad.com/blog/2009/06/tales-from-the-kingdom-of-smug-id-linked-to-government-financial-regulation.html

Who needs enemies when you have friends like these?

avatar D.W. Sabin June 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Another unsettling tidbit of Marxian analysis was his assertion that late stage capitalism treats labor as a pejorative….another wee bit of prescience for a man who was a better observer than prescriber.

It comes as no surprise that the so called “Post Modern” Neo-Cons would take Deneen’s reference to Marx as some kind of endorsement or flush-out that he is a closet fellow traveler. The Neo-Cons have been masters at crafting all manner of diversion, intimidation, reinvention, outright fabrication and , in short, a dubious hold on reality…..let alone history in their abiding faith that Utopia is a well-catered Board Meeting of the United States Democracy At Gunpoint Corporation. Neo Cons are about as Conservative as Woodrow Wilson on vicodin and vodka.

If some sentient regard for the ability of history to inform one’s actions is regarded as a prosaic relic for irrelevant paleo conservatives, I’ll shoulder that attempted bit of truly asinine insult with pleasure.

If a productive debate is desired, I would suggest that it might be more fruitful to simply assemble a half dozen Bowery Drunks and debate : What is a better stimulant on cold autumn nights: Mad Dog 20/20 or some Sterno choked down with a NyQuil chaser. Drunks generally harm themselves first and then a small circle near them. Neo-Cons have set about to harm the world in their own image, utterly wrecking the GOP in the process and turning the Democrats into some kind of parody of Boss Tweed meets a Bay Area Yoga Seminar.

avatar Peter Lawler June 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Clare, very eloquent and all that and my apologies. But I was sort of joking in response to Patrick’s suburban chores. I always enjoy and am edified by nice gardens. And DW, my tweak about Patrick’s Marxism in no way implied that I thought he had anything important in common with Communists and such, as I explained with many more words than usual for a blog post. Communism and all the illusions associated with being “Red” are dead, thank God–even Red Tory.

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus June 28, 2009 at 3:01 am

This entire debate has reminded me of a comment made by G.K. Chesterton that the suburbs “must either be glorified by romance and religion or else destroyed by fire from heaven, or even by firebrands from the earth.”

I am simplifying shamefully, but it seems to me that the PoMoCons are friendlier to the first approach -glorification- because they feel that they must play the hand they’re dealt and not worry themselves too much about how poor a hand it is.

The Front Porchers, on the other hand, while not calling for insurrection, are much more skeptical of the whole industrial-meritocratic project (best exemplified in the suburbs) and look for an answer either in some sort of energy apocalypse (fire from heaven) or a widespread “return to place” (firebrands from earth).

Strictly speaking, the PoMoCons are more practical and, in the traditional sense, conservative, but Front Porchers may be more intellectually honest -they may be more willing to follow their analysis to its logical bottom.

avatar Peter Lawler June 28, 2009 at 9:17 am

And, as promised, I did the first part of why I’m not a Straussian thing on POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE, if you want to read it.

avatar Carl Scott June 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Caleb, good for you, and my thanks.

Patrick and FPR in general: I’m very, very glad Front Porch Republic exists. Thank you. Keep up the good work, live long and prosper, and please, win many more friends and influence many more people. The U.S.A. needs you. I mean all of this heart and soul. My criticisms are in the spirit of sharpening thinking, along the lines of Herbert Croly’s celebration of a society that fosters “eager, good-humored, and tireless criticism”…

Croly was bit pretentious of course,(read Deneen’s Democratic Faith, for one) and he never saw that tireless criticism sometimes produces men like the Pheidippides of Aristophanes’ Clouds, men who trample over traditions and commitments willy nilly. And he never saw that criticism sometimes unnecessarily irks people, especially if it’s not entirely clear. I plead guilty to that last.

My way of thinking is always a bit spirited. I get to thinking, and I am drawn to frame things vividly. I have two modes: a) hot, and b) philosophically and even pacifistically moderate, and while I try, I don’t always combine the two modes successfully. In the above comments, I seem to have conveyed too much anger which I really didn’t mean to convey. Also, since I do not follow the site more than semi-weekly some of my characterizations are bound to be somewhat off.

If you’ve read this far, do you have the charity to read a couple clarifications that I regard as important, given Pat’s comments?

First, unfortunately, Pat just doesn’t know what I think when he attempts to school me by saying: “As thinkers like McWilliams and Lasch have pointed out, America is composed of multiple traditions and voices, in spite of efforts like the one you seem engaged in to blanch them out of the conversation. To invoke the pure-bred Lockean blood-line of America against our efforts to mongrelize or sully that purity…” etc.

I taught a class this semester at Hampden-Syndney College, in which I tried to teach my (mostly conservative-leaning) students that there were at least FIVE American traditions/understandings of liberty, one of which was that entitled “Liberty as the Self-Governance of the Local Community,” a conception I connected w/ Aristotle, the Anti-Federalists, Jefferson’s promotion of ward republics, and primarily taught by means of readings from Wendell Berry and Carey McWilliams. In fact, my parting message to my students was that it is this American tradition/understanding of liberty that we most need to foster in our day, even if I agreed that the (prudence-moderated) natural rights tradition remains more fundamental to America.

Now, who was the ONE academic besides my HSC colleagues that I sent a copy of this course’s syllabus to in advance? It was you, Patrick! And you said you liked the course!

Well, it’s no big deal, I forget things, too. And I guess you’ve never read my favorable reviews of french thinkers like Beneton and or the 19th-century Doctinaires, who were hardly doctrinaire about natural rights. Nor is that surprising, I’m early-on in my academic career. In sum, I’m down with Deneen on the multiple American traditions idea, and with not bending knee at the altar of Locke. I assign Thomas West(whom Mark Levin leans upon), but I think he makes America too simple, and natural rights too unproblematic. And I say so in class.

Second, what frustrates me about the last couple years of our politics is that for so many otherwise smart conservative/moderate persons, disgust with various Bush policies led them to largely ignore what putting the Democratic Party as-it-is-circa 2005-2009 in power (in all three branches!) would amount to. Discourse got very skewed, and too little perspective from pox-on-both-houses intellectuals was forthcoming. And much discourse remains stuck in 2007, unable to think clearly about the unfolding calamity that the Obama/Pelosi full-steam-ahead on all government-growing-policy-fronts strategy amounts to. How relevant really is the point that Bush II featured deficits and government-growth rates when under Obama we are recalculating these through a grim multiplication table, 4x, 5x, 6x, who really knows?

That’s a bit of where I’m coming from. Apologies to all I unnecessarily offended by my manner (yeah, the ref to Calhoun was dumb), and olive-branches to all who too easily let themselves be so offended.

avatar Carl Scott June 28, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Here’s a bit of a comment I tried to post on Pomocon today, but my laptop or something couldn’t do it(FPR is apparently higher tech!)

I’ve tried to tell the FPRers that I criticize out of love…out of a deep desire for their ideas to catch on more. While I guess I’m more partisanly for the Republicans than I’ve ever been, my old pro-life-Democrat instincts remain, which at heart are communitarian instincts. At best, I think the FPR stance could a) make the Democrats more big-tent and moderate on a number of issues, especially social ones, and b) make the Republicans less reflexively pro-corporate. I want FPR to lend its aid in getting both parties to take localist governance more seriously, and getting more thinkers detailing the legal nitty-gritty of how to encourage such governance. My fear is that they become too apolitical–i.e., too focused on theory and on lifestyle a la the (fine) new Matt Crawford book, and forget about politics and the regime(see Ralph’s post). Whatever anger there really is in my comments, I guess comes from my dismay that so many folks (of various ideological mixes) who are fundamentally moderate (such as FPRers), were in 2008 either too apolitical, too pox-on-both-houses, or too Bush/Iraq-focused-in-defining-political-evil, and thus did a fundamentally very immoderate thing–they gave the Democrats-as-they-are the full run of the government. (Hearty two-cheers praise to any who voted Obama for prez, and for a Republican for Congress.) Endless concern about personal ethical issues like how much local food you should buy(of course you should try to buy some) seems to willfully ignore the bigger picture needed to foster limits, place, and liberty. And it makes little political provision for dealing with the many citizens who will never be won over by or adequately improved by such personal-ethics-for-a-saner-society sermons. Can anyone deny that that sort of focus is a real temptation for FPRers?

avatar D.W. Sabin June 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

RE; V. Marro Grammaticus

Concerning so called “PoMo Cons” being more pragmatic or practical and hence , by implication “realistic”…..Sure, sure….if you refer to the kind of drunken economics of Prosecuting War where it is neither needed nor productive and doing it on levels of debt that would make the Byzantines blanche as “practical”…well I suppose the Neo-Cons are champion pragmatists.

The PoMo Cons are only “practical” within the framework of their invented “reality”, a zone of cognitive dissonance and Corporate Freebooting that requires a complete suspension of what would normally be considered “pragmatism”.

Not to mention the patronizing tone of the “PoMo Cons”…constantly patting any dissenter on the head and telling them they might have a certain stance of note in their disagreement with the “adults” but that one should better serve the country by stepping aside and letting the mighty thinkers and worldly crusaders run the show.

Any use of the term “conservative” by such a compulsively bankrupting creed is preposterous.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm

D.W., dude a splenetic pounding of an innocent visitor! And, you carping at me re: the previous Medaille mosh pit collieshangie? However, the oratory had a certain symmetry and I’m sure Mr. VMG has or will develope sufficiently thick skin to swim in the deep end of the snark infested pool!

avatar Peter Lawler June 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Thanks to Carl for becoming kinder and gentler and actually trying to persuade the alleged enemy into submission or agreement. In general, D.W., it doesn’t become you guys to fire away with generic comments against Bush or “neoconservatives” (who are people too). We postmodern conservatives don’t claim to a have a clear position on the prudence of the invasion of Iraq and we’re against President Bush’s failure to control spending or even have much of a domestic policy.

avatar James Matthew Wilson June 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I’m unconvinced of the productivity of this exchange, interesting though it might be under more carefully constructed an artifice. Perhaps others have found it more illuminating than I have (for my part, the individual comments have appeared very good, but I would rather have encountered them elsewhere or in some other form, and they don’t strike me as leading us anywhere). It seems what truth has come forward, if any, has been mostly in correcting errant presuppositions: Carl’s error in thinking FPR some kind of fifth column, and now the more serious error of confusing the Post Modern Conservatism fellows with mere neo-conservatives. Whatever the overlap, it doesn’t strike me as an identity — but even trying to test that impression in this context seems like it will cloud rather than clarify.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Dr. Wilson, what a marvelous point you’ve made. I’d hoped that this exchange between FPR/PoMoCon would develope a certain rapproachment whereby FPR/PoMoCon might act as the foundation to recover the shattered “modern conservative movement.” Yeah, I know, kind of a phantasy!

It’s my opinion that between the very qualified academics (and I am including Fox, Medaille, and Daly), professionals, business owners, and those of us who are regular folks we might cobble together the beginnings of a political response to the epigonic Marxists that dominate American politics.
So if you think a different ‘format’ would better serve the dialetical endeavor, I’d like to see it!
You fellows are the professors, time to get to work, we may never have another opportunity like this again.

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus June 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Neoconservatism is the bogey-man of frantic minds.

D.W.:

1. I am unclear as to the relation between Postmodern Conservatives and Neoconservatives, unless that relation is inferred from the PoMoCons’ failure to regard Strauss as the Antichrist; if this is your argument, that failure to condemn neoconservatism is the same as neoconservatism, forgive me if I am not convinced.

2. I purposefully avoided the use of the term “realistic” because reality and pragmatism, paradoxically, are not at all linked. I am not arguing that PoMoCons are more realistic, if by realistic we mean able to discern reality; not that they are deluded, but that I can gather no especial trait of PoMoCons that makes them more in tune with “reality” than Front Porchers.

3. What I mean by “practical” is able to put their theories into practice. By not renouncing the entirety of the Republican establishment, the PoMoCons have a vehicle by which, conceivably, they might achieve their ends. When it comes to “power politics” and policies, they seem to have a clearer sense of what they want. I am not saying that their sense is superior; I am glad that Front Porchers are first concerned in a radical analysis (radical as in to-the-roots), a complete diagnosis of the problem before a prognosis.

4. You write that such a “morally bankrupting creed” as that of the PoMoCons is not, in any sense, conservative. Really? Corporatism and industrialism (though I believe they were mistakes) are nevertheless now embedded in this country’s customs and mores. Conservatism, in the sense I was using it, is a defense of the status quo, not an absolute defense, but a defense that argues that even if the status quo is abominable, it can only be changed gradually and carefully. The Front Porchers have yet to delve into policy proposals; but their radical discontent with industrial capitalism (while, I believe, well-founded) suggests that they are less open to compromise, concession, and gradual change, which is exactly the kind of evolutionary reform that Burke defined conservatism to be. That is why I believe PoMoCons, who seek to conserve much of the present order and correct it cautiously, are more purely conservative. But less us not confuse being more conservative with being right.

Yours, &c,
Maro

avatar Chuck June 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

What is forgotten in all of these monologues is the simple question–”Will it actually work?” And the simple truth is no.

Is there a chance of winning an election with any of these ideas? Does the phrase, “Snowball’s chance in hell” come to mind?

Will the public at large embrace them? “How long will the snowball last in hell?” is as good a question. So it is all pretty academic. Interesting, entertaining, but like Shakespeare’s oh, so accurate definition of life, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Let us be honest. The First Things crowd is a joke to everyone who actually reads their material. They cannot be taken seriously. In that they are the rightful heirs of Fr. Neuhaus, who went to his grave with the delusion that somehow he mattered. Dreher, for all the fact that he occasionally hits something right, cannot be seen as anything but a fraud and a hypocrite, excoriating the people who shop at Walmart from a restaurant in Paris and here, at FPR? There is the faint stomping of jackboots trying to force people to live a life of virtue, forgetting that there is a lesson in history and that lesson is Savanorola, who, after the citizens of Florence staged the Bonfire of the Vanities in his honor, had another bonfire in his honor when they burned him.

You are figthing a war that was lost centuries before you were born.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Chuck, dude, mercy! I do sense a little angst or is that agnst, whatever!
VMG, well said, and I am so looking forward to D.W.’s response! Unbelievably I’m the peace advocate here (Medaille, Daly, Arben are you reading this?)
Mark S. you’re writing some beautiful stuff over at PoMoCon, just absolutely brilliant!
This is better than the Sunday nite movie!

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus June 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

In deference to Chuck’s comment, I’d like to coin a new splinter movement:

SavanorolaCons.

avatar Samuel Goldman June 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Okay, so there’s blood on the floor. The bottles have been smashed, the tables flipped over. But now perhaps we should heed Professor Wilson’s suggestion and bring some order to this brawl. Not Marquess of Queensberry rules: we’ll keep it bare-knuckle. Yet it might worth selecting particular issues to discuss–and encouraging some champions to step up to debate them. For a start, I’d like to see one of the FPR respond to the questions James raised yesterday, particularly #3. Any volunteers?

avatar Patrick Deneen June 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Sam,
some aspects of this exchange I’ve found more instructive than James W. (though you have to wade through quite a few misfires, to pick up on Cheek’s military reportage). In asking someone here to respond to James P.’s #3, I assume you mean to respond to the question, what we think is to be done? That is something that many here struggle with and answer differently. Caleb has rightly pointed out that there are many different views, arranged around some common concerns, on this site, so I’ll answer only in my own name.

To the specific question – I’ve tried to address that conundrum, “what is to be done,” in a previous post, and will be happy to do, and probably driven to do so again, in a future one. For now, what I wrote recently about this question is here.

I intimate there, in answer to a charge leveled by the kinder and gentler Carl Scott, that, in my view, part of the agenda here ought and rightly should be political. However, that said, this is only the case insofar as our definition of what constitutes “political” needs significant expansion. Many tend not to see things like the built environment, or consumerism, or the tenuousness of family relations as “political.” Our liberal public/private divide tends to regard such things as matters of private preference. If my harping on Locke seeks to redress any number of problems arising from modern liberalism, one is certainly the delusive belief that holds to the notion of “regime neutrality” toward these sorts of purportedly “private” activities. Contemporary conservatives and liberals alike tout our “freedom” while ignoring the import of the deeper anthropological assumptions of modern liberalism that so fundamentally shape a whole range of modern preferences. Among those things being shaped is the very narrowness of what we regard as properly “political” – or, to put it less ominously, things that concern the common weal. Now, when modern conservative/libertarian types hear this kind of talk, they get all fearful that the gummint is out to get us – but that’s only true if we operate in the contemporary default belief that gummint is OUT THERE, not something that we ourselves do in the course of being self-governing citizens of a republic. Part of why there is an emphasis here on PLACE (amazingly, something that’s been criticized over there at PoMoCon central) is an emphasis upon the wisdom and prudence of subsidiarity and the primacy of local decisions, and the lessening of the distance between rulers and ruled (which, ideally, should be the same thing).

The suggestion that the writers here are nothing more than contemporary Savaranolas reveals a woefully impoverished view of self-governance. The suggestion is, we are either free by dint of being left completely alone by gummint, or on the verge of being burned at the stake by gummint. This is impoverished because it assumes the contemporary arrangement of a distant and essentially barely governable gummint (one that is largely in the service of powerful private entities and groupings of powerful and wealthy people) is the only possible way to conceive of forms of public authority – as impositions from external and centralized concentrations of power. I would contend against those who believe that one can do without some form of commonweal or authority – which seems to be a libertarian fantasy – rather that any such effort to achieve a genuine form of self-government must occur in relatively smaller scale settings, taking into account local conditions and in which the voices of people can have some reasonable chance of being heard and accounted for. Further, the effort here to draw in the central place of culture is to reorient modern liberals to the idea that authority is best vested in daily practice embedded in traditions – and not at the point of a policeman’s gun. It’s true that this may not be very realistic or practicable in our current predicament – and I dare say most people here recognize this fact. Yet, for many here, there is a strong impetus to act and argue in the belief that some change in this direction is possible, mainly by attempting to live and act more locally, to strive to minimize one’s reliance upon or complicity in the globalized tentacles of itinerant vandalism that defines so much of our contemporary economy, to cultivate some forms of culture where possible (if only in our own families, though of course, this is too private and fractured), and where possible to make a contribution in small ways to realizing an alternative to current practices and arrangements. Of course, it’s hoped that by articulating a number of these arguments here in print, others can be inspired to do the same. If enough were, the basic terms of the conversation might change.

One last point before I turn in: while I do have a (rhetorical) tendency to rail against modernity, I would be the first to recognize (and acknowledge, with Peter) some goods of modern life. I just came from a wonderful trip to Seattle – where I had the pleasure of visiting with Peter L. and James W. and Jeremy B. – and enjoyed my time there immensely. I have to credit many modern conveniences that made that trip possible and so enjoyable. However, I would also argue that any such modern goods are only worthy of being embraced because we are not living wholly in modernity. The material goods and pleasures of life, the greater leisure we enjoy, the books I get to read that my forbears could not – all these, and more, are really only worthy of touting or embracing because of the persistence of so many pre-modern inheritances – family, friends, community, church, a non-utilitarian love of beauty and truth. Further, I would argue more fundamentally that modernity – particularly our liberal incarnation – has only been tenable because of that pre-modern inheritance. It is now living off of an inheritance that it is not only not able to replenish, but which it actively draws down. I don’t have any easy answers for what is to be done about the profound, and it seems to me, culminating draw-down of that inheritance and the terrifying challenges that now await us, albeit shorn of much of the pre-modern inheritance that might have made it possible for us to weather the travails we face. I speak of a nearly unending set of depletions, both material and moral, economic and interpersonal, that are at base deeply connected and mutually reinforcing. To the terrible question of what is to be done at this moment, the proper answer would be to turn to those resources of self-governance, community and charity that ought as equally to be our birthright equally much as television, automobiles and the tweeting. I find myself unable to view the future as blithely as seems to be the case as PMC’ers, because in the end, I don’t think our TVs and cars and twitters are going to be sufficient to save us – indeed, they will only accelerate our course down this path.

avatar peter lawler June 29, 2009 at 9:19 am

I doubt my TV can save me, although I have plenty of channels with loud guys claiming something like that. And my car (a 1992 Volvo with a trunk that won’t close) can’t save itself. My optimism, such as it is, is that these aren’t the worst of times, all that “last man” inexorable technologization Heideggerian BS isn’t true. But I’m not a fatalist, and of course there’s plenty to worry about. I don’t have the perverse optimism that comes with a premonition of some impending techno-catastrophe, like some of you guys. Something like that might happen, and an asteroid might pulverize the planet before lunch. But the big Walker Percy question is how to live if the bomb doesn’t drop. If the bomb does drop, Being and human being will not be radically affected.

avatar Dan June 29, 2009 at 9:40 am

Aside from all the intellectual arguments (Which I don’t mean to dismiss) it seems that one of the necessary ingredients to being a conservative is anxiety. A deep foreboding about the future of civilization. This seems to be what connects all of the desperate brands of conservatism, the fear that something, somewhere, is destroying our future.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 29, 2009 at 9:52 am

Peter, a 1992 Volvo! Oh, I knew it was so and if you only took the foul leaf in a cherry-bowled English briar, all would be well with my soul!
Dan, dude, please we are all God’s children, apocalyptic tensions or not!

avatar Dan June 29, 2009 at 10:02 am

Bob,

I’d be the first to admit that Jesus loves us all, regardless of our particular anxieties or lack thereof!

avatar Samuel Goldman June 29, 2009 at 10:28 am

PJD offers an answer to the second part of James’ question. And I agree with a lot of it–especially in the inclusion of the putatively personal within the sphere of the political. But I really meant the first element: “On what basis are we to judge whether our arrangements, compromises, and efforts are part of Larger Problems (the ubiquity of consumerism and a la carte-ism, the commodification of experience, the inauthenticity of performance, etc.)” Put differently, what are the criteria that distinguish reasonable coping–which is what James and I advocate–from unacceptable compromise?

I don’t think we’ve criticized place as such. Rather, we’ve suggested that place doesn’t provide the sort of guidance that I’m asking about in a society that has become, for good and ill, highly mobile. I say something more about this in my forthcoming response to Crawford.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 29, 2009 at 10:48 am

Dan, Amen bro!

avatar Patrick Deneen June 29, 2009 at 10:56 am

I had originally created this post in order to pull up to the “front page” a comment in a previous post that was down around #39. This comment is now around #52, so I’m tempted to do the same, but I’ll settle with leaving it here, and making this pretty surely my last comment on this particular thread for the time being. I fear that this “debate” is sucking some of the air out of the porch (if that make sense), and I don’t want to test the forbearance of my most noble comrades.

Let me just agree with Peter that predicting the future is pretty tough – we’d all be in a different business, I suspect, if we had pretty good accuracy in that domain. Still, as thinking humans we are justified, and indeed, responsible to try to make some reasonable conjectures about the future based on current behavior. Peter does this all the time in thinking through implications of current developments in biotechnology, and from where I sit, they seem pretty reasonable to me.

This is important, because a kind of conservative “precautionary principle” is one of the defining divides between conservatives and liberals. Liberals tend in general to be informed by a confident optimism about the future, and particularly the human capacity to master nature and circumstance. Those of a more conservative mindset are less inclined to this kind of blithe reliance on endless stores of human ingenuity or trust that everything will work itself out in the future. The very root of the word “conservative” is “conserve,” which expresses an orientation toward the past, caution about reckless behavior that downplays its effects on the future, and a cautiousness and awareness of the limits that recollected human experience (as well as familiarity with those things that “work”) would inform.

One example: there were a few more “pessimistic” voices that were warning even some years before our recent economic near-collapse (and the jury is still out – except Madoff’s) that current behavior could not be sustained. Respect for the evidence of economic history and human psychology, and a cautious regard toward claims that everything was just fine, turned out to be a wise disposition in the midst of near-universal celebration of the overturning of the business cycle (even Greenspan was shocked, SHOCKED, that greed proved to be non-self-regulating). These “bears” were subject to a lot of withering criticism and taunting for being nattering nabobs of negativism, but those who heeded their concerns – based on what seemed to me to be very clear and reality-based assessments of overloaded indebtedness and an inflated housing market, along with massive doses of collective self-delusion – were able to weather this particular storm with a fair degree of equanimity and even savings intact if not increased.

More importantly (though, not losing half your savings was pretty important), had their cautions been heeded more widely, we might have seen some changes in behavior that might have prevented or minimized this financial crisis. This is of great moment, because had this happened, our cognizance of limits, a higher degree of self-restraint, even an effort to act in accordance with demands of virtue, would have meant that we would not have seen the dramatic increase in GUMMINT that Carl Scott accuses us here of being insufficiently worried about. My riposte is that, had we less willing to overextend ourselves, and to be satisfied with tatoos that read “don’t worry, be unhappy,” we might actually have a slightly smaller and less intrusive GUMMINT than we have today. There is a fatal disconnect among many so-called “conservatives” – and I would include the more subtle and interesting PoMoCons in this group, though I recognize there is no such group – between lots of behaviors that are sanctioned in the name of individual liberty and the accompanying growth of GUMMINT both because of our demand that it help increase our opportunities to express our liberty, and in response to our inability to govern appetites and the trouble that leads us into. It’s as if they wish to shut a broken barn door after the horse has escaped, not having been willing to do any maintenance work on the door in the first instance.

In this regard, let me respond to Peter that WE can rightly lay claim to Tocqueville at least this far – that Tocqueville regarded the rise of centralized gummint NOT as a consequence of rampant leftism, but because of our atomization and inability to adequately respond to crises on a more local level once we had arranged lives of radical separation (a.k.a., freedom). The solution that Tocqueville suggests is not to run political campaigns that shriek about the need to shrink the GUMMINT, but to advance arguments and policies that would increase the possibility of more local forms of self-government. Maybe we can agree about this, but that means we might need arguments and policies that favor the kind of local diner that Peter actually prefers to frequent than the Home of the Whopper (along with lots of agricultural and transportation policies that contribute to the Whopper’s advantage), and to dismiss the way-too-unreflective indifference toward the question that I’ve seen on the friend/enemy’s site.

OK, nuff said for me. Let’s pick a fight with Mark Levin now. That should really bump up our hit count.

avatar D.W. Sabin June 29, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Preparing to turn my homemade flame thrower from “flambe” to “bloody-ell torching” and call the good Mr. V. M. Grammaticus a “barking toad of a techno-louche wanker”, I shall temper the urge on account of his fine “SavonarolaCon” and forthwith illustrate my deep reserves of bonhomie and restraint by restricting the slander to simply “barking techno-toad”. Frantic Minds are the progeny of neo-cons, rather than they being the bugaboo of any excitable bystander.

However, the book burning Savonarola pales in comparison to a more thoroughly wrathful TorquemadaCon although…..Cheney has already sublet that reference with his assumption of the name “Torquecheney”.

As to conflating Neo-Con and PomoCon, we conflate the things we hate , even though I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to this “PomoCon” thing. I thought I’d seen some vague connection somewhere with the Bag Men for the Military Industrial Complex known as neo-cons. Properly chastened , I will endeavor to read something of the PoMo Cons even though I have a knee jerk antipathy to the phrase “Post Modern” and I promise to do so as soon as I finish chewing this Vintage Glass Vicks Vaporub bottle for lunch.

Knowing my fragile disposition , does anyone have any suggestions short of the entire suspect Megillah?

avatar Josh Cooney June 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Since I am subject to abrupt changes in mood and opinion this reversal is not unusual. I thought about many of these issues over the weekend while spending time with a typical middle class, middle American family. Peter, I think, is correct that we paleos and front porchers are much too hard on the lifestyle and values of many Americans. There are many good folks in this country, which is still a land of plenty and freedom, for the most part. We should also be clear that shopping at Walmart and buying conventional produce are not sins against the Holy Ghost. My apologies to Peter for my arrogance.

avatar Dan June 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Josh,

Be careful, this is a slippery slope. Next you’ll be saying natural rights advocates aren’t really just a bunch of Caribs!

avatar Aaron Schroeder June 29, 2009 at 1:52 pm

For all of the intellectual debt that authors on this site are said to owe Wendell Berry, and for all of the near-indecipherable (and mostly obfuscating) name dropping that has gone on in this post and its antecedent one, I’ve found nary a reference in these comments sections to him or his works. So, in an effort to clarify some of what it seems to me the Paleoconservative/Agrarian/Localist ideology consists in (or at least, what drew me to it the first time that I read this), consider what Berry believes to be our unique human end:

“What I have preparing at such length to say is that there one value: the life and health of the world. If there is only one value, it follows that conflicts of value are illusory based upon perceptual error. Moral, practical, spiritual, esthetic, economic, and ecological values are all concerned ultimately with the same question of life and health. To the virtuous man, for example, practical and spiritual values are identical; it is only corruption that can see a difference. p. 157 of “Discipline and Hope” in A Continuous Harmony

As I’ve read these comments, James Wilson’s critique of the debate between “PoMoCons” and “FPRers” (or whatever) strikes an especially salient note, and one that comports almost exactly with Berry’s essay. The virtues praised on this site are not valuable only because our inability to practice them will (perhaps) result in catastrophe; they are valuable because they contribute most efficaciously to the best sorts of human lives, now and forever; that is, our practicing of those virtues in individual instances will manifest more virtuous lives, by both quantity and degree.

The real divergence with the Neoconservatives, then, is that they cannot be interested in lives lived virtuously, because they are not interested in practicing the virtues particularly that manifest the virtues generally. The best example I can come up with: contemporary liberalism, articulated by Smith and Keynes and adopted in full by Neoconservatives and Democrats alike, posits that better lives will be lived as material consumption increases. Let’s call this (not ironically) the “Consumptive Axiom.” Now suppose, as Berry does, that the practice of the virtue of, say, restraint is necessary to the cultivation of more virtuous human lives. If this is the case, then Neoconservatism cannot be interested in the cultivation such lives, because its the Consumptive Axiom, one of its founding axioms—that is, one of its underlying principles that distinguishes it from Paleoconservatism—implicitly but necessarily forgoes the practice of restraint in ever-growing interest in an ever-growing consumption. If the Neoconservatives deny this articulation of the Consumptive Axiom, or would advocate for something like the utmost possible consumption to the limits of nature (“Consumptive Axiom Lite”), I think in the former case that Neoconservatives are not very well distinguishing themselves from Paleoconservatives, and in the case of the latter that Neoconservatives are trying to ad hoc their ways out.

But to the larger picture, James Wilson’s comment (far back in this discussion) about our common human interest in lives well- and virtuously-lived best distinguishes between the final ends of Paleo and PoMo projects. Insofar, then, as PoMo’s are unwilling to recognize Berry’s one human value (however articulated) and the concomitant virtues whose practice is necessary to manifest that value, then the work to find concord between the Post-Modern Conservatism and Paleoconservatism and is like trying to find concord between a Corvette and a Matchbox lookalike: the similarities are at best superficial.

avatar Dan June 29, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Aaron,

“The best example I can come up with: contemporary liberalism, articulated by Smith and Keynes and adopted in full by Neoconservatives and Democrats alike, posits that better lives will be lived as material consumption increases.”

Who has ever said this? Who has ever said that anyone’s life would be better next year if they consumed what they did this year plus one (x + 1). This is the sort of straw man we should be trying to avoid.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 29, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Josh, how gentlemanly, and apropos! Why gouge out the eyes of a fellow who agrees with you 75% of the time, not that a good fight in the mud, blood,and beer isn’t an honest-to-goodnes, front porch, past time! And, not that a true FPRican is going to support “taking democracy to the Middle East” any time soon!

Is it over?
I feel so empty. We came close….yes?
Maybe next time?

One more charge!
Once more the report of a brace of tweleve pound Napoleons!
The crash of musketry by brigade front!
Once more the sight of the colors comin’ over the ramparts!

So here’s to Patrick, Peter, Caleb, James, and Ivan the leadership superb;
to Mark, James, Katherine, Sam, Russell, Mark, Clare, Dan we salute you!
To the patriots: D.W., Carl, Josh, V.M.G, who took the slings and arrows and did not faulter;
to you who await the battle anew!

South on the Chesterton Road Lawler’s command, the Army of the PoMoCon, take up three miles of turnpike; his artillery and supply trains, his infantry by company front, his ambulances rumble and roll on the way to Washington City. Someone starts to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and soon the entire army gives voice…Lawler smiles.

Southwest on the Hannah Coulter Pike, the road leading to Port William, the trains and infantry of the tattered and torn rebels of the Army of the FPR step jauntily, carried forward on thin rations.
“Order the colors uncased,” Gen. Stegall calls from Little Sorrel,”strike up the band and let us hear Bonnie Blue Flag.” With that he takes the lemon from his pocket, and begins to worry it, he pulls his cap down over his eyes and gives Little Sorrel her head…
We’re goin’ home boys.

avatar Aaron Schroeder June 29, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Dan,

That kind of criticism emerges from someone who hasn’t read The Wealth of Nations in a while, or just didn’t understand it.

From The Wealth of Nations : “And thus the certainty of being able to exchange all that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce of other men’s labour as he may have occasion for, encourages every man to apply himself to a particular occupation, and to cultivate and bring to perfection whatever talent of genius he may possess for that particular species of business.”

And there are similar quotations in The General Theory of Employment as well, if you doubt that Keynes lent his should tho this wheel.

But not to lose the forest for the trees, I take it that you don’t understand the underlying reasons as to why politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are so interested in maintaining a growth economy, and why, as a culture, we’re so terrified of “two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth” (i.e. a recession). When we say that macroeconomic growth slows, what we mean is that, macroeconomically, our nation is generating a total product that corresponds with a lower level of demand than it once did. Why is this bad? If your product is in a lower demand than it once was, then it will not sell for the same price it once did; if it does not sell for the same price it once did, then the sale of the product cannot bring in the same profit that it once did; if a product does not bring in the same profit that it once did, then producers cannot be paid the same wage that they once were; if producers are not paid the same wage that they once were, then they cannot consume as much as they once consumed; if they cannot consume as much as they once consumed, then demand for other products will, in turn, fall.

Now, you can imagine this scenario in reverse, as well. And this is the key: that reversed scenario is the whole point of Smith, and Keynes, and Galbraith, and Friedman, and on down the line. We want to increase consumption, because the more we consume the more demand we generate, thus bringing about higher wages, qualitatively better consumption, etc.—writ large, a better “standard of living.” So, who says that consuming more one year is better for us than not consuming more? Pretty much everyone, actually.

Except, of course, for wild-eyed dissidents like Wendell Berry, many on the FPR, and a few others. However, such exceptions do not, I take it, include most contemporary forms of so-called Conservatism–including the PoMo and Neo varieties.

avatar Dan June 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Aaron,

Nowhere in the Smith quote does he claim that better lives will be lived as material consumption increases. In fact the Smith quote extols the virtues of excess production over and beyond consumption.

“Now, you can imagine this scenario in reverse, as well. And this is the key: that reversed scenario is the whole point of Smith, and Keynes, and Galbraith, and Friedman, and on down the line. We want to increase consumption, because the more we consume the more demand we generate, thus bringing about higher wages, qualitatively better consumption, etc.—writ large, a better “standard of living.” So, who says that consuming more one year is better for us than not consuming more? Pretty much everyone, actually.”

Your whole analysis relies on a confusion regarding the phrase “better lives”. In your original comment you used it as a way to dismiss the crass materialism of those who believe in market liberalization, with the goal of painting them as morally bankrupt.

To defend your accusation you limit better lives to standard of living, this is fundamentally unfair. No liberal would of course argue that an improved standard of living was bad but no liberal would argue that an improved standard of living necessarily means a better life. One can be a liberal and argue that St. Francis lead a better life than Pope Julius II.

avatar Carl Scott June 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm

V. Maro, good take on things. Your #s 3 and 4 to my mind clarify some of the most important differences.

Mr. Wilson, I’m not sure if I understand what you mean when you say I regard FPR as a potential fifth column. By my lights, the Dems are the greater of two evils. I understand that I part judgment with many here on that. I also must admit that even if the Dems to become a party that Bill Galston were 70% satisfied with, i.e. a genuinely big tent, I would might well still vote against them more often than not, depending of course on how the Republicans altered in response. Now FPR COULD decide to play a role in TRYING to bringing about the sort of moderation of the Dems I’ve spoken of. Since I see more clearly now that many FPRers are about radical diagnosis first, political programs later, restorative ethical practices–i.e. “lifestyle” so-called–at all times, it is hard to say. I assume a Republican FPRer like Caleb does his best to moderate his fellow partisans in FPR-directions. Is he a “fifth-columner?” I simply hope for (what I regard) as a better Democratic Party in the future. Why does my hope that FPR-inspired persons could play a part in that merit a tag like “fifth column?” Aren’t you suggesting I want the conservative movement to deceptively use FPR for its tactical purposes? I hope not, but in any case, it does not seem a very apropos metaphor. Fifth columns betray nations; party reformers are loyal citizens, and they know parties do change, perish, and realign, and that that process of change is an unavoidable and potentially rejuvenating feature of democratic political life.

Patrick, FYI, (and sorry, but you have shown you need more info about what I think, so indulge my sharing), I too lose patience with the complacency of the “lookout-big-gummint!” conservative rhetoric. With respect to my Tocqueville scholarship I have argued that it causes conservatives to not fully understand the idea of mild despotism that is developed in the last part of Democracy in America.

Here is a lecture-title (on Tocqueville’s idea of mild despotism) from my syllabus I referred to earlier– “Big Government and Individualism: Two Sides of the Same Coin.” Doesn’t sound like a lecture that Mark Levin would give, does it?

And here is a sentence from my dissertation:
“…it is not merely the rise of the big- government “nanny-state” that is to be feared, but also, and probably simultaneously, a moral and legal enthronement of the distinction-erasing relativist soul.”

Both the nanny-state and hyper-individualist character need to be feared. But is it any surprise, though, that this year, the former fear is more pronounced, so that Levin’s book is selling like mad, and so that an at least understandable critique of many an FPRer from a conservative perspective is that their ambiguity and distance regarding the parties (or for some, say, Sabin, their open demonization of the Republican one) did its little part to help, albeit unintentionally, to make things worse on this front? I have never said FPRers are pro-biggvmnt in SPEECH/INTENTION, but I have said that they aid it (among other Democrat-fostered maladies) in DEED. That’s my partisan edge talkin’, of course. And it’s also my worry that y’all are too pulled in the direction of theorizing about the radically sound political intention at the expense of thinking about the immediate political deeds that we all inevitably must do, which usually are choices between evils. However, I do sense some more program/platform recommending attempts (see Pat’s link) will be forthcoming eventually on FPR, and I do look forward to this.

avatar Aaron Schroeder June 29, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Dan,

I’m not sure if I’m reading the Smith quote as you’re reading it. What Smith is saying is that our motivation to produce more is the fact that our productivity will result in greater degrees of consumption. For instance, if I work hard at producing sheep’s wool and produce more than I, myself, can consume, my motivation for continuing to produce wool over and above my level of consumption is the fact that the additional wool can be traded for other consumables. Put broadly: the reason to produce more is because that will allow me to consume more.

Here’s a quotation from the same text that says the same thing in more obvious terms: “It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. Every workman has a great quantity of his own work to dispose of beyond what he himself has occasion for; and every other workman being exactly in the same situation, he is enabled to exchange a great quantity of his own goods for a great quantity or, what comes to the same thing, for the price of a great quantity of theirs. He supplies them abundantly with what they have occasion for, and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a general plenty diffuses itself through all the different ranks of the society.

Smith is saying that as we are able to consume more, we will generate demand for greater production, the cycles of which will lead to the diffusion of a general plenty from the last sentence.

But in any event, the confusion you point out between “better lives” and “higher standards of living” is the whole point of my comment: anyone who advocates for unbridled consumption or has much support for the notion of a growth economy—which contemporary Progressives, Liberals, Neo-Conservatives, Post-Modern Conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans of every stripe surely do—cannot be simultaneously advocating for Berry’s one human value, because the practice of restraint is necessary for manifesting that value, and the practice of restraint is antithetical to the notion of the growth economy. So, as long as you’re supporting the idea of a growth economy—that the economy shall grow, now and forever—that is, as long as you’re on board with nearly any version of the Democratic or Republican parties, what you’re supporting is not the same as what many on the FPR are supporting. And so, to my first point, seeking common ground with those who have not “seen the light” on the one value is a largely fruitless and obfuscating endeavor.

What I’m trying to say, if ineloquently, here is that you can be a liberal who believes that St. Francis led a better life than Pope Julius II, but you can’t be one who believes this and and then goes around advocating for policies (e.g. an ever-growing economy) that make Pope Julius’ life a far more likely one than St. Francis’. And as soon as you’re advocating for policies that make St. Francis’ life the more likely, my sense is that you will have ended your stint as a liberal and began one on the Front Porch.

avatar Russell Arben Fox June 30, 2009 at 7:19 am

Aaron,

the practice of restraint is necessary for manifesting that value, and the practice of restraint is antithetical to the notion of the growth economy. So, as long as you’re supporting the idea of a growth economy—that the economy shall grow, now and forever—that is, as long as you’re on board with nearly any version of the Democratic or Republican parties, what you’re supporting is not the same as what many on the FPR are supporting. And so, to my first point, seeking common ground with those who have not “seen the light” on the one value is a largely fruitless and obfuscating endeavor.

I’m on board with your first point, but only partially with your second. Clearly, an economy based on self-interest and acquisitiveness and the expansion of the self–as opposed to the sustaining and flourishing of a community–is, as you say, antithetical to the authority and discipline of places, and hence antithetical to the kind of virtues and traditions made possible by places. I’ll allow that “self-interest” and “community flourishing” are not always or in every way contradictory; arguably, property and individual and family stewardships are an example of such an alignment. But generally, the market is allowed to tend one way, or it is restrained so as to tend another, and that makes most of the difference. As for your second point, the problem with finding common cause is that it is too often unasked just what terms or context upon which that common cause is made. I’m all for forming associations of like-minded people, but if the association formed takes place within the context of basically unchallenged Lockean presumptions about what the proper aims and realm of the political are (that is, a civil society that cannot make many truly substantive connections between the political power of the people and the invisible trends of the market), then the association does more harm than good. Find an alternative party, I say.

avatar Dan June 30, 2009 at 8:12 am

Aaron,

“the reason to produce more is because that will allow me to consume more.”

What Smith is digging into here is division of labor and efficiency of production. The reason to produce more of X is to trade the surplus for A, B, C, and D. One could try to produce all five but one wouldn’t ever really rise above subsistence level without the division of labor.

“But in any event, the confusion you point out between “better lives” and “higher standards of living” is the whole point of my comment: anyone who advocates for unbridled consumption or has much support for the notion of a growth economy—which contemporary Progressives, Liberals, Neo-Conservatives, Post-Modern Conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans of every stripe surely do—cannot be simultaneously advocating for Berry’s one human value, because the practice of restraint is necessary for manifesting that value, and the practice of restraint is antithetical to the notion of the growth economy.”

I guess what I am saying is that one can support a liberalized economy without supporting unbridled consumption. Isn’t this Weber’s thesis in a nutshell? Also, can one practice restraint if one lives in an economy where indulgence is not possible?

“What I’m trying to say, if ineloquently, here is that you can be a liberal who believes that St. Francis led a better life than Pope Julius II, but you can’t be one who believes this and and then goes around advocating for policies (e.g. an ever-growing economy) that make Pope Julius’ life a far more likely one than St. Francis’. And as soon as you’re advocating for policies that make St. Francis’ life the more likely, my sense is that you will have ended your stint as a liberal and began one on the Front Porch.”

The fundamental question here seems to be one of economic determinism. I simply believe, with St. John Chrysostom, that no one can harm the man who does not injure himself. Not advertisers, not Big Macs, and not Whoppers. There are grounds for resistance found in the human spirit that need not the aid of “human scale systems” but only human persons. In fact, one thing that liberal economies allow as a byproduct of their support for property rights, freedom of association, and economic choice is a means to refuse the consumption patterns of the larger society.

I’ll join the porch when I loose faith in myself and my brothers and sisters to do the right thing, against all odds, in a world many porchers rightly criticize.

avatar JD Salyer June 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

“I simply believe, with St. John Chrysostom, that no one can harm the man who does not injure himself. Not advertisers, not Big Macs, and not Whoppers.”

I simply believe, with St. Matthew (18:6), that Our Lord takes an exceedingly dim view of those who inflict harm upon children — whether directly, or via saturation-advertising, Big Macs, and Whoppers.

Thus crippling them before their race has even begun, and habituating them into shallowness and superficiality so that they are more likely to choose injuring themselves once they grow to be adults.

avatar JD Salyer June 30, 2009 at 10:26 am

BTW, the point has been made that some might be a little too hostile in rejection of neoconservatism. “Neoconservatism is the bogey-man of frantic minds,” etc.

I certainly do not draw a simplistic 1:1 equation between FT & neoconservatism, nor do I dismiss Strauss as a thinker — but I must point out that hostility to neoconservatism as a political / intellectual movement is hardly unfounded.

Michael Ledeen: “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law.

Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone.

They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.”

So… I mean… how, exactly, am I supposed to take that?

Who, exactly, sounds more like revolutionary Marxism?

Yes, yes — neocons are people too.

So is Nancy Pelosi, the current president, and Fidel Castro.

avatar D.W. Sabin June 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Re; Carl Scott,
Just so there is no confusion regarding my various confusions, the only thing worse than the current Republican Party is the Democrat Party…and maybe Gefiltefish.

The Republican party is not a conservative political organization. It ceased being one over 40 years ago and within the last 16, it has become a parody in search of a good laugh.

One could chose the default mode and abide a lesser of parodies but the essential de facto satire remains.
It is little consolation but at least the Democrat actually likes the obese government they are force feeding
like a fat Foie Gras goose.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 30, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Given the truth of the above, do we:
1. establish a viable third party cobbled out of sundry politcal elements.
2. vote some already established third party loser.
3. buy guns and ammunition.
4. fill in your own option……………….

avatar D.W. Sabin June 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Cheeks,
1. A viable third party would be a nice thing if it were able to storm the ramparts of our media but this would seem a dim hope at best. It remains an option however. Remembering the farrago of the outsider Carter Administration though, one is faced with the prospect of actually getting elected but then stonewalled by the scalawags and copperheads in the Congress with their various and sundry bagmen.

2. Supporting an established third party serial failure is no different than not voting….or voting for one of the established candidates, a distinction of little note.

3. Beyond guns and ammunition, an armada of 1976 Ford LTD Station Wagons supported by a phalanx of 1953 Buick Specials for their superior armor might just be in order…..if only for the picturesque quality of the comic action. Buxom Wimmen would be important in this effort.

4. The “none of the above” option becomes more logical all the time.

5. Dare I?….uhh, ahhh, uhhhh ok sssseeeecceshun..ok , I said it.

6. More to the point, any reform movement must come from the bottom up, via Town or County Meeting and spread from there. Nothing whatsoever will come from on high because the Establishment is barricaded in a bus chartered to Entropy Falls. A commitment to gaining control of this government by the people , with representatives responsive to the people and a concomitant respect for States Rights and the U.S. Constitution under a Republic possessing a vibrant Separation of Powers can now only come from below and within, as well it should. The gutting of both States Rights and local economies has made this nigh unto impossible now. Obviously, this would require a people with an attention span longer than a Cocker Spaniel and so this might be the longest of long shots. I generally prefer amiable mutts and what we have now is an inbred Poodle with a nervous disorder and Brain Hip Dysplasia from having its silly little head impacted up the wazoo for such an extended period that they smell methane and think it a sunny spring day.

7. Dragging a chrome plated revolver across the thick skull of the RNC might not be a bad idea either. As Harvey Keitel recommended in “Reservoir Dogs: ” if they give you any lip, break their nose with the butt of yer gun.”

8. Lastly, one can consign ones self to the ongoing show, grumble loudly and colorfully but enjoy the historic level of satire as the lapsed-Republic goes down with vigor.

avatar Bob Cheeks June 30, 2009 at 8:12 pm

D.W.,

You said the “S” word. I’m telling Caleb, Patrick, et al!!!!!

Well you got some good ideas. I had a 53′ Buick Special back in 75′, paid $250.00 for it, and repaired a front ball joint for $50.00 back then. I loved that car….one of the best we ever had.

Let me know which option you wanna do, or at least discuss….I grow weary of these two party sh*ts!

Maybe a monarch, I remember the classic line in Monty Python about how you tell which one is King!

I’ve got to go now, it’s time for my prayers! Shalom

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus July 1, 2009 at 1:52 am

At the risk of scaring everyone, may I suggest the neocons as a model of gaining power?

From a bunch of quasi-Jewish-quasi-Marxist geeks studying at the feet of an obscure and arcane University of Chicago professor to dictating policy within two or three generations isn’t so bad, is it? An organized localist intellectual movement can find its way in either party (I suggest the Republicans at the moment because a)the demographics of that party suggest a greater openness to traditionalism and b) that party is currently in chaos and a principled minority of scholars can conceivably shape its policy, whereas the Democratic party is in power and established, anda similar feat may be more difficult).

If that is not possible, then I suggest the “Napoleon of Notting Hill” approach -small-scale rebellions of small, local neighborhoods, using cabs, pikes, and waterworks as weapons.

Yours, &c,

avatar Bob Cheeks July 1, 2009 at 6:43 am

VMG,
Ok, you curled my toes on this one!
I thought when the battle of round top hillock started that this was the point of it e.g. to assemble a working political model to begin the process of resisting the central gov’t and (re)instituting those principles once honored in this country.
D.W., I should like you to weigh-in here, while setting aside the earlier contretemps you had with our Italian friend. I believe he’s hit the proverbial nail on the head….egah a political realist here!
Caleb, Patrick, et al….comments here! “From a bunch of quasi-Jewish-quasi-Marxist geeks studying at the feet of an obscure and arcane University of Chicago professor to dictating policy within two or three generations isn’t so bad, is it?” Peter, are you reading this?

avatar Carl Scott July 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

VMG, the Strauss-to-neo-con-influence-to-Iraq-war theory simply isn’t true. Breaks down at every point, and was first pushed big-time by the LaRouchites, which should tell you something. For a comprehensive refutation, see the introduction of The Truth about Leo Strauss by Catherine and Michael Zuckert.

While no-one associated with FPR is at Strauss’s level(w/i a century, it will be conventional wisdom that he was one of the foremost giants of 20th century philosophy), you’re right that from small and obscure beginnings of quality ideas, great things can grow. So, if the ignoble lie about Straussians and neo-cons inspires you to greater FPR deeds, then it becomes a noble lie that I have no problem with you being misled by! ;)

avatar D.W. Sabin July 1, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Having read a little Bloom and Strauss, I have had my doubts that either Strauss or Bloom would readily embrace the things done in their names by the Perles, Kristols , Podhoretz’s etc of the media neo-con sensation brigades. They took the Noble Lie and made it an ignoble lie and bought everyone box seats at a mortgaged catered affair and promised a big show and the latent jingoism of the bored public, spoiling for a fight after 9/11 was put to work beating on the Wogs …a recurrent pastime for all Empires and in particular, this one.

With the end of the Cold War, these charlatans were shivering in their retainered boots over the prospect of a Peace Dividend but just in the nick of time, one of their U.S. Military Trained and Financed nuts came to their service and gave them the fight they were in the process of trying to invent. The Terrorists and the Neo-cons are two sides of the same coin and you lose whether it lands on heads or tails.

One has to at least tip a hat to their effective insertion into positions of power and influence after a career as the crazy nephew kept around for brief spins as the conditions warranted but keep in mind, this is a group that is backed by big money and so any meager talent is magnified way beyond real ability.

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus July 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Carl

No, it’s not wholly true but:

a) a story with the same demonstrative effect is true and
b) most people on FPR seem to think it is true and though I am not a moral relativist (perish the thought) I am perfectly willing to use things that men (wrongly) believe to be true to illustrate a larger point, noble lie or what-not and
c) I was half-joking in my comments (you’ll notice my second example was armed revolt)

Yours, &c,

avatar Bob Cheeks July 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Well, I do want to congratulate everyone in this disucssion, it’s SNAFU!
Anyone wanna clarify…summarize…reload?

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