More Red Tory

By Patrick J. Deneen for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

I have the lead essay in a symposium considering Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism.” Interestingly, the symposium appears at “Cato Unbound,” a libertarian web journal. Subsequent postings – by Jacob Levy and Reihan Salam – doubtless will add necessary caveats and more basic disagreements, but it was good of them to allow a robust restatement of Blond’s position to open the symposium.

Here is an excerpt from my essay:

At base, Blond recognizes that the great error of the age lies in the embrace of liberal anthropology, the theory of human nature advanced at the advent of the early modern period that underlies many Left and Right versions of liberty. The normative claim that human nature is to be understood (through the conceit of “the State of Nature”) as consisting of radically individuated selves motivated fundamentally by appetite and fear is in fact based on a fundamental falsehood, essentially denying the social and political nature of humans and requiring active State intervention for its purported realization…. Ironically, modern forms of collectivism are the result of this radically individuated theory of the human self: “the extreme individualism that underpins the liberal account of human nature in the end demands collectivism as a means of preserving the sanctity of the singular when confronted with the reality of others.”

Blond recognizes that it is this liberal anthropology that underlies both the Left’s infatuation with the State as an agent of liberation, as well as the Right’s embrace of the Market as the primary engine of human liberty. While seemingly opposed, both agents are understood to derive from, and ultimately support, the maintenance of the autonomous, freely willing self. Both are curiously anti-social entities, relying on impersonal mechanisms for the supply of human goods. Both ask little of individuals by way of actual concern for, or deep involvement with, the lives and fates of others. Our relationships, either through the State and the Market, are rendered abstract and theoretical, with each serving respectively as the impersonal replacement for actual human relations and commitments. Each relieves selves of the burdens and obligations of care, and instead derives from an understanding of polity and society in which the self can be only truly liberated when relations are rendered fungible, voluntary and contingent. To resort to the taxonomy developed by Albert O. Hirschman, such anthropology requires a society structured around “exit” over “loyalty,” and thus, one in which “voice” is replaced by the sound of an exit door closing.

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