Libertarian Solutions to Communal Difficulties

by James Matthew Wilson on August 9, 2011 · 27 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

Mad Tea Party

Devon, PA. R.R. Reno writes on the First Things website this morning,

I’m no libertarian. St. Paul was clear that government is ordained by God, and St. Thomas helps us see that a robust public sphere protects us from the consequences of our sinfulness, as well as helping us achieve the goods only possible in community. However, as Yuval Levin recently argued in National Affairs, at this juncture of history, if we care about persevering the goods of government, then we need to recognize the limits of government—and we need to gather the political will to impose those limits.

After he was invited to speak at Catholic University last spring, Catholic academics wrote a letter denouncing John Boehner’s efforts to reign in government spending. Perhaps Boehner’s ideas about tax policies are mistaken. Perhaps his spending priorities are misguided. Perhaps everything about the Republican Party’s economic analysis misses the mark. Prudent, reasonable people can disagree. But the Catholic academics who signed the letter failed to recognize that an insolvent government, however large and well meaning, can do very little good for it’s citizens. Today that’s not an insignificant danger.

Reno’s qualified endorsement of those Republicans who are calling for an aggressive solution to America’s ongoing deficit and debt debacle is well taken, and resonates with a reflection I have been meaning to share with FPR readers for some time.

Some readers will recall that FPR helped host Philip Blond’s visit to America more than a year ago; and some will recall, also, that a person in the audience of Blond’s Georgetown address wrote Patrick Deneen to suggest that a more libertarian-oriented version of Blond’s Red Tory, Big Society program would be suitable at the present moment.  I agreed with much of what the anonymous author proposed, as I did with his characterization of his program as sharing in the spirit of libertarians.

On this website, which has often given voice to both libertarian and Austrian economic ideas, to distributist, social democratic, and — much to the scandal of some — monarchist ideas, let me add the following claim after the fashion of Reno’s.  I believe that libertarianism grounds itself upon a naive, perverse, and frequently dangerous anthropology — one that lies to the human being about his political nature and may rob him of the vocabulary necessary to understand and find means of fulfilling that nature. (Among other things, modern psycho-analysis testifies to the failure of human beings to be able to talk productively about community; we have all but displaced politics by dividing it into psychological self-adjustment and therapeutic social work).

Monadic individualism is a modern heresy in which libertarians persist.  As such, libertarians may also claim — justly, in most respects – to be heirs of the classical liberalism of the Eighteenth Century, and so, their extreme minority status in our society testifies to just how far liberal society has strayed even from the errant dogmata of its origins.  As Russell Kirk was fond of observing in the nineteen-fifties, liberalism has long since ceased to promote freedom and has taken on the yoke of massive technocracy in the service of a centralized administrative state.  Kirk delighted in quoting Santayana, who once wrote that liberals have little interest in loosening men from any bond save that of marriage; and, in our own day, debates about homosexual unions further validate the old arguments (voiced most prophetically in Papal encyclicals on the family from the nineteenth century) that the dissolving of the marriage bond is consistently the front line in the liberal war to conquer all of private life for centralized administration.  It is easier to render every person a ward of the state, when one does not have cohesive and sovereign institutions like the family getting in the way, and rendering the family a nonspecific, merely affective, juridical fiction may quite effectively neutralize its social function and natural integrity altogether.

But I do not view the minority condition of libertarian thought merely as a bell-weather of centralization and the rationalizing bloat of liberal government.  However much I may disagree with libertarian anthropology, most libertarian proposals strike me as precisely the solutions to the broken condition of American government in our day.  A slashing of the role of federal bureaucracy (beginning with an end to the Department of Education); a return to sound money; an insistence that government operate within its means and that those means be restrained — these strike me as something other than the radical demands of ideologues.  They are the recommendations of prudence.  Those libertarians, such as Ron Paul, who recognize that decentralization through strong state government is a better means to securing their aims than the continued intrusion of the federal government through the undifferentiated application of the Bill of Rights win my even stronger support; as do those who acknowledge the obvious distinction between free trade and open borders and the off-shoring of American capital through state-managed corporate welfare.  Indeed, in the case of Paul, such libertarians win my endorsement.    As Bill Kauffman once wrote, so shall I, that libertarians will now, and probably always, find a welcome seat on my porch.

Let me close by adding that I could say much the same for the members of the Tea Party.  I’ve been a little surpised and, not infrequently, disheartened by references to the Tea Party by other writers for this site.  Usually this has appeared as an indulgence of a sort of anti-populist chirping perfectionism that condemns Americans for participating in politics just because their political philosophy is not wholly thought out or wholly satisfactory (conservatives, because so often on the losing side of battles for the modern leviathan of the state, trim their numbers through purges on the level of philosophy as the counterpart to liberals’ purging on the level of ideological correctness or docility before the technocratic order).  So far as I have witnessed, the Tea Party has a rough-and-ready constitutionalism that may not survive historical scrutiny, but which certainly suffices for the purposes of advancing their sound and strict economic proposals and their American Christian social conservatism.  Since the Tea Party is hardly a unified movement, but just a congeries of concerned citizens groups, intellectual purity should not even be a concern here — though that does not mean bad thinking should be ignored or that all of us do not need, as our first duty and our only happiness, to seek the Truth about the whole unity of reality, including the truths of politics.

But, one of our foremost concerns at present should be forwarding and furthering prudential proposals that wither the size and scale of the state and its role in the economy.  The Tea Party is probably the only way in which those proposals will get taken seriously in Washington.  Rather than rendering the Tea Party more vulnerable to attacks by global elites and party hacks like David Frum and Fareed Zakaria, FPR and all Americans who would like their country to endure for a few more decades ought to join up with it.  Just as I view many libertarian ideas as the source of smart and necessary policy at present, I find the Tea Party to be one of the most hopeful phenomena in American politics in — dare I say it — decades.  Some mornings, I wake up with the vague intimation that Americans actually care about self-government and see it as requisite to their happiness.  We may be clients and consumers fed by the intravenus tubing of the welfare/warfare state and anesthetized by a revolting and pornographic mass culture, but we are not just that — at least, not yet.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Robert August 9, 2011 at 1:49 am

To me, the so called “Tea Party” is the latest in a long line of what I choose to call “American false prophets.” By this I mean it’s an entity to which people ascribe ideas and positions they personally find desirable, even though the entity itself may not share, or may in some cases even be diametrically opposed to, these very ideas and positions.

For instance, there is this idea among many on the Paleoconservative right that the Tea Party somehow represents a rejection of the neoconservative approach to foreign policy. Unfortunately, reality seems to suggest this is not the case. As someone who has a number of family members and acquaintances who consider themselves members of the Tea Party, I don’t understand how this idea ever gained traction. Most, if not all, of these people I speak of want the US to take not a reduced, but rather a more aggressive role in foreign affairs. Some commentators such as Daniel Larison, seemed to have noticed this as well, but as far as I can tell Larison and those expressing similar views are in the minority.

Furthermore, I think many people, and perhaps this is understandable given the current situation, seem to ignore the actual record of the Tea Party folks. Karl Denninger, and yes, I realize he is perhaps the worst sort of Libertarian, has pointed this out when it comes to matters concerning the economy. Denninger formed one of the early Tea Party groups, but cut his ties with the movement when he realized it was not about holding the individuals and institutions responsible for the economic crisis liable for their actions, but rather about sticking it to Democrats and starting the next battle in the culture war. As he points out, not a single member of Congress who identifies with the Tea Party has called for criminal investigations into the economic crisis. Worse yet, they’ve actually tried to hamper the enactment of laws that might serve to prevent such events from occurring in the future.

avatar John Médaille August 9, 2011 at 7:46 am

One needs to make a distinction, I think, between libertarianism and Austrian Libertarianism. I have benefited from the ideas of the former, but the later is a corruption of those ideas. The irony is that libertarianism was originally known by another name: socialism. Socialism was originally an anti-statist doctrine because they believed that the state, and the state alone, was responsible for the obscene accumulation of property. This is the socialism of Proudhon, which Marx labelled “naive.” For Proudhon, ownership was limited to use and no one was entitled to more property than they could use, nor for a longer time then they could actually use it.

Marx and Mises took the basic theory and changed it into a idea of absolute property protected by the state. For Mises, this was the state’s only legitimate function, and for Marx, the state could protect it more perfectly by owning it.

The mutualist libertarians are not really individualistic, but communitarian, believing that local communities can organize to solve all their problems without the aid of the state. I still don’t agree with all of their underlying assumptions, but they do good work. I have learned a lot from the libertarians, and almost nothing at all from the Austrians.

avatar Marchmaine August 9, 2011 at 8:40 am

The libertarian blind-spot you are hinting at is this: we cannot decentralize the state until there are subsidiary institutions of sufficient strength to guard and keep whole fundamental principles of a commonwealth.

The systematic destruction of subsidiary institutions on behalf of the centralized state and centralized corporation has been wildly successful.

Libertarian “monadism” makes noises that they would not object to said subsidiary institutions, but it lacks any positive philosophy around which such (broken) institutions could arise. In other words, Libertarianism allows for existing subsidiarity, but in our current predicament is powerless to build subsidiarity; it says, “grow my little subsidiary wildflowers” amid a dry wasteland of withered institutions.

While the centralized state (and its corporate allies) is a fitting target, the real work must be done to (re-)build an actual set of subsidiary institutions capable of providing a refuge and challenge to the wrath of the state (or corporate wealth).

The liberal camp is not incorrect when it asserts that the reduction of the state without the curbing of corporations would not necessarily make matters better. Where people get confused is that the way to curb corporations is not to tax them or regulate them, but to decentralize them – just as we would the state.

In many ways, the good critiques of the Libertarian is the best argument for solidarity, subsidiarity, and Proprietorship Distributism – when followed to there logical conclusions.

I don’t suspect this is something with which you would disagree, but I see no point in building-up libertarian messages without appropriate caveats. The libertarians may be allies in the “strange bedfellows” manner of speaking… but they will lead us nowhere.

So, the Tea Party strikes you as hopeful? I’ve no issue with their origins or their focus, but they give me no hope as they only tear down and do not build. I count it only a matter of time when their destructive forces will be co-opted by the state and its corporate allies to target more subsidiary institutions to destroy… all in the name of efficiency and fiscal responsibility, of course.

avatar CK August 9, 2011 at 8:59 am

“One needs to make a distinction, I think, between libertarianism and Austrian Libertarianism.”

Actually, the mutualist libertarians are those who have developed from the Austrians. They share a number of thoughts similar to the Austrians. These are the Dorothy Day types and a number of Catholic libertarians who see merit in a number of Austrian ideas. A good example of this is Joshua Snyder who writes the excellent Western Confucian blog (orientem.blogspot.com). Snyder makes a good case that Austrians, distributists, decentralists, antiwarriors, etc make a good coalition to defend civilization and the common good.

The big distinction comes from those in and around the Austrian camp versus establishment libertarianism which is largely funded by certain corporate interests. These are the Cato Institute types and others. Their outlook is managerial and utilitarian. Also, these are the types that more often than the Austrians, embrace the misguided thought of Ayn Rand. They despise Austrians, Ron Paul, decentralists, Christian ethics, and pretty much the rest of fly-over country.

So if I were to give a new label to these American libertarian factions, they would be the Dorothy Day libertarians versus the Randian libertarians. The Day libertarians tend to have a Christian worldview (or at least can appreciate such a view however incomplete, including Rothbard). Whereas the Randian libertarians are shills looking to go along to get along in DC, and these folks despise Christian ethics.

avatar John Médaille August 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

Marchmaine, excellent comments; you have to get from here to there, and that can never be accomplished at a single stroke. It takes some time and some room to turn a ship as big as our economy. Those who oppose any state action on the grounds that it is state action merely guarantee that there will be no change of course. Of course, it may not be possible to steer this ship anymore–it’s headed straight for the rocks.

CK, if what you say is correct, and it seems to me that it is, then the term “libertarianism” is too broad to mean much in particular.

As for the Tea Party, it’s more about anger than ideas; hence they are easily manipulated. The dilemma of the Tea Party is given by the famous placard: “No Socialized Medicine–Hands off Medicare.”

avatar Derby August 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

Marchmaine, you correctly say we must replace the state before we dismantle it. In fact, without such a move, it will likely be replaced by something far less appealing to liberals and conservatives.

An idea beginning to take hold in some libertarian circles is agorism. Agorism is a strategy to create market-based, decentralized relationships and government, often on an informal, personal or local level, and where practical, to avoid participation with the central government. It is a minority strategy, but promises much more success than the past decades of Libertarian electoral politics in reversing 200+ years of centralization of power, particularly since it allows incremental progress.

Though agorism is the brainchild of Austrian anarcho-capitalists, it is a strategy more than a philosophy. It fits well with mutualism and localism, and in my sympathetic opinion, may prove an acceptable bedfellow for FPR readers.

avatar sdf August 9, 2011 at 11:57 am

Libertarian anthropology is so poisonous–and conservative American Christians are so susceptible to being drawn into heresy by it–that we cannot grant even the highly asterisked approval that this essay gives. We may well agree with policy proposals made by Libertarians and join them in fighting for them, but we can never agree with Libertarian proposals. Common interests do not make commonality.

avatar CK August 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm

“Libertarians and join them in fighting for them, but we can never agree with Libertarian proposals. Common interests do not make commonality.”

Remember, politics is the exercise of practical, not speculative reasoning. If certain Libertarian proposals advance the common good, instead of particular interests (as is often the case with most US laws and regulations), then why cannot a Christian agree with such libertarian proposals?

avatar JA August 10, 2011 at 4:10 am

Marchmaine is nearly spot on. I only think that he is too kind to libertarians, at least the utilitarian mainstream bunch represented by the likes of Cato. Their privileging of the monadic individual over civil society and insistence that participation in such be only voluntary, as individuals aggregating for some common interest, rather than obligatory, as social and political animals, actively discourages subsidiary institutions and arrangements. Of course, this point of contention does not mitigate Marchmaine’s claims, but rather only heightens his concern that decentralizing the state while leaving the centralized corporation untouched will only shift the power center from one evil thing to another.

avatar JA August 10, 2011 at 4:32 am

Forgive me for posting twice, but there is one more contention to add to the chorus of disagreement with Professor Wilson’s article: his willingness to work with libertarians, whose anthropology leads them to support revising marriage to include homosexual relationships, and his claim that “the dissolving of the marriage bond is consistently the front line in the liberal war to conquer all of private life for centralized administration,” doe not jibe. Of course, not all libertarians advocate such — Prof Wilson cites the Ron Paul types, for example — but these are a minority of libertarians. The Cato and Reason Magazine types are the libertarian establishment. Are they really welcome on his porch?

avatar Clown George August 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Marchmaine and JA -

Great posts. As someone who for a while ran with the Cato/Reason crowd, I’ve been reconsidering many of my assumptions lately, and you guys expressed my newfound reservations quite eloquently. I still think the “libertarian establishment” types do have a lot of good points to add to the conversation — I certainly still prefer them to mainstream “liberals” and “conservatives.” But you’re right — they rail against the centralized state but don’t really have any ideas about what to replace it with, except for abstract concepts of “individualism.”

“decentralizing the state while leaving the centralized corporation untouched will only shift the power center from one evil thing to another.”

I guess one response to this would be that decentralizing the state would end up also decentralizing the corporation, because the two rely on one another. But it’s still a very important point that many libertarians never seem to consider …

avatar D.W. Sabin August 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

The only thing funnier than some of the entrenched Tea Party incongruities is watching a liberal prognosticator blame the Tea Party for everything from the Stock Market Pogoing to the S&P credit downgrade.

A group coalesced around the idea that this current government must begin to reign in debt-spending. It seems a simple concept really but we needed an “outsider” group of “malcontents” to impart this rather pragmatic concept. We also seem to need this same group to validate certain arcane Constitutional ethos as the Separation of Powers. It is the Tea Party’s stubborn reluctance to connect Crusading American War Power with an erosion of the concept of Separation of Powers that gives pause, despite some major Tea Party figures longtime opposition to the bi-partisan War Party.

Still, it gives me satisfaction to watch the liberal nymphodebtomaniac Statists blame the current fruits of their labor on the Tea Party. Too bad so many seem to believe this gruel.

Factions are having their way with us because we’d rather have quick easy answers than deliberative assessment. After all, time is money as they say and deliberation takes too much time

avatar JonF August 11, 2011 at 9:08 am

Libertarianism the other side of the coin that also displays the Communist hammer and Sickle. Both preach false things about human nature, and derive a malefic politics therefrom. To be sure, specific ideas and insights from either philosophy may be useful, but in pure form neither is consonant with a Christian worldview– or reality.

avatar Stephen August 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

So many people here seem to be missing the point of this article. At this moment in time, most libertarians have come to the same conclusion about the growth of the federal government as porchers. Localizing government is something that libertarians and porchers alike want to do, and so they should work together. Dogmatic libertarians are about as rare as porchers, so there’s hardly a threat that, if we do effect a great decentralization, suddenly we’ll see the state disappear and be replaced by anarcho-capitalism.

Refusing to ally with any persons who don’t share one’s deep philosophical convictions (e.g. a “flawed anthropoology”) is foolish.

And about the tea party—by and large, it’s a non-intellectual bunch of folks. They haven’t read Aristotle, or Tocqueville, or many, many other thinkers—but very few people in America have these days, and that’s probably always been the case! Tea party folks had their thought formed by traditional American modes of thought. They like Locke, the Founders, etc. That’s what our country is like—and if FPR claims to be about place, we ought to take our founders seriously, and have patience for those who regard them with too much reverence.

avatar CK August 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm

“So many people here seem to be missing the point of this article. At this moment in time, most libertarians have come to the same conclusion about the growth of the federal government as porchers. Localizing government is something that libertarians and porchers alike want to do, and so they should work together.”

Amen

avatar JA August 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Stephen,

We are not misunderstanding the point of the article; some of us are just claiming that libertarianism, as JonF articulates, is as problematical as other modern political ideologies. You seem to downplay these differences, but they do matter. For one, you claim that most libertarians are not dogmatic, but I think that you are conflating the generic American conservative — those holding to an unfortunate and incoherent belief in the harmony of unrestrained “free markets” alongside Christian morality — with libertarianism in general, which includes both the Ron Paul paleo-libertarians and the utilitarian who absolutize monadic individual authority. The latter group represents the libertarian establishment, and to publicly endorse libertarianism or libertarian ideas without further qualification is usually understood in reference to these types.

For another, a porcher, so to speak, could find commonality with those of alternative stripes based on your argument. For instance, to use your formulation, I could argue, “At this moment in time, most leftists have come to the same conclusion about the growth of the corporation as porchers. Localizing economic activity and some form of worker participation in decision making and ownership is something that leftists and porchers alike want to do, and so they should work together.” Now, of course, you could argue that federal debt and centralization is a more pressing concern than corporatization, but for this communitarian, they both look to be symptoms of the same pathology and any alliance between those of a premodern bent and persons of a modern persuasion can only be temporary, selective, and partial. In this instance, I am reminded of Professor Deneen’s mentor, Williams Cary McWilliams, who, following his disenchantement with modernity, found commonality and limited agreement with those of all political stripes, but never found hospitality on either side of the political spectrum, despite his identification with the democratic party.

Incidentally, McWilliams found market libertarianism to be one of the principle driving forces of liberalism and, at least in this respect, found the ideas of the right, of libertarians, more threatening than much of what finds on the left. The state, in fact, is an extension of market libertarianism in that it “frees” the individual of these natural arrangments by providing material security in times of privation. If this is the case, these matters cannot be tackled in isolation from one another. This is the point that Marchmaine and Professor John Medaille certainly make when they argue that the reinvigoration of subsidiary institutions and arrangements must precede or be comcomitant with the decentralization of the state, if only to avoid privation en masse and the trade of the soft totalitarianism of the state for the rapacity of predatory corporations. As this point, Professot Medaille rightly cautions that lasting change is slow and incremental and “can never be accomplished at a single stroke. It takes some time and some room to turn a ship as big as our economy.”

Now, despite these points, the fiscal situation may be so dire that prudence demands extreme action. If only, to use Professor Wilson’s words, for the country “to endure for a few more decades.” This may be the case; although, I fear that Professor Medaille is correct when he writes, “it may not be possible to steer this ship anymore–it’s headed straight for the rocks.” Nonetheless, a temporary alliance on a pressing matter does not necessitate one that is stable and lasting. It certainly does not lead to Prof Wilson’s claim that “most libertarian proposals [are] precisely the solutions to the broken condition of American government in our day” anymore than increased regulation and higher taxes is a solution to the centralization of economic power in financial institutions and multinational corpations. Both of these proposals reduce the presence of one evil and increases that of another.

avatar JonF August 13, 2011 at 7:20 am

Another great error the libertarians make: they assume that the State is the only institution which can grow large enough to tyannize the people. (Occasionally a few atheistic libertarians will slam the Church as well– and of course most of them have an irrational hatred for unions too, although unions are not state institutions). They are blind and deaf to the reality that large corporatations can also exercize tyrannical power over society. Most of them seem to be nothing more than apologists for the ruling plutocracy.

avatar RockLibertyWarrior August 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

As a whole hearted libertarian who believes we should embrace our communities, associations and families I agree with most of this article. I am not going to read the comments above because I know they’ll rip the author or people like me and I am in a good mood, it is my weekend and I don’t want to ruin it. I seriously don’t know why some front porchers deride or run down libertarianism, isn’t it the only solution to get rid of leviathan and centralized government? I read lots of articles to that effect, what would strengthen communities would be to get rid of bureaucracy. What keeps corporations entrenched? The power of big government. Libertarianism would let us decide how or what laws we wanted our communities to be structured on or around. The devolution of power would be complete, let the states and localities decide, not some faceless law makers 1000′s of miles away. Let us take care of our poor, let us take care of our families etc. I also find a unfair stereotype of libertarians as self centered, metropolitan, elitist etc. while there is a segment that believes that I also know this segment would also admit that people need other people. Even Ayn Rand admitted as much, there is certain goods and services one can’t provide for oneself. For instance a farmer might not necessarily know how to build a tractor, but his buddy a couple miles over knows how to, manufactures and sells them in his warehouse. I am not so deluded to believe that man can live on a stranded island and be whole that just isn’t possible. Not only do we need human relations for economic needs but also sometimes for spiritual and physical needs. Every libertarian I have talked to has admitted such and agreed with me. Voluntary associations where people freely gather are the way to go, not forced relationships. That is a real community, one that senses the neighbors need for help and rises to the occasion without leviathan getting in the way.

avatar JonF August 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Re: What keeps corporations entrenched? The power of big government.

No: the power of money. Remember the (cynical) Golden Rule: He was has the gold makes the rules.

avatar Bill G. August 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

I made my final mental break with libertarianism and the likes of Ron Paul a couple of years ago. The issue for me was abortion. I kept hearing folks go on about how Ron Paul was pro life and anti abortion and such. Even Ron Paul went on about it.

Then, while watching an interview with Ron Paul, he specifically stated that he was against abortion being a FEDERAL ISSUE, and that it should be up to the states to decide. It was another variation the old argument that so called “pro-life” Democrats and Republicans have used for years. “While I am personally opposed to abortion…” You know the rest. I guess abortion is murder in Kansas, but OK in California, Mr. Paul?

On a personal level, most of the libertarians that I know are almost 100 percent involved in the movement in order to legalize marijuana. Granted, they are most assuredly not the intellectual force behind libertarianism, I’m sure, just a representative of the libertarians on the street.

I am sure that it is because I just don’t understand how wonderful libertarianism is I don’t embrace it. Sorry. Maybe the libertarians can make a movie based on books by that wonderful philosopher, Ayn Rand, and tell me that I am an idiot for not thinking she is just the bee’s knees.

avatar JonF August 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

Abortion should be left to the states. Ditto any and all marriage issues. That what the states are for. And yes, if Roe vs Wade fell tomorrow and Maryland put a referendum on the ballot to ban all abortions except the medically indicated I would vote in favor of it. And while some states would retain liberal abortion laws in Roe fell, it would much easier to enact abortion restrictions in the more conservative states than to craft a one-size-fits-all law at the federal level, which would then be subject to overturn and and restoration every time Congress and the White House changed hands.

avatar D.W. Sabin August 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

By accident, with JA’s comment, we have coined a new word here;”Farticulate”…..or, the gaseous and frequently noxious aura accompanying political statements of any stripe. I think I shall now consider the Talking Heads on the various tiresome Sunday morning yak-fests to be “Farticulaters”. Once in a while, we get gotcha Youtubers recording one of the era’s grand pontificators as they fart out of both ends. Stereo Venting, how gauche, although most should be more embarrassed by the words coming out their mouths than whatever uncontrollable steam might emerge out their arse.

Somebody derided Libertarianism or any other political creed because in their “pure” form, they might not be so swell. This is precisely the point of the good Mr. Wilson’s commentary. Were we to base our political calculation ….as we now do with increasing vehemence,…… upon “purity”, we should be forced to either embrace the cockeyed notion of “purity” like good little fascists or worse yet, distance ourselves from the Agora as Hannah Arendt and others have cautioned, loathing the scene and adopting nihilism as a proper defense, thus abandoning the field to the preening fascists.

Purity is for water, in political intercourse, it is a noxious astringent that can produce only fanatics or an entrenched disenfranchised on a race to determine the victor in our current Nihilisiditarod.

avatar JA August 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

As Leo Strauss argued, compromise in theory is unwise and unacceptable, but compromise in practical politics is sagacious and necessary. My point was that because, as Wilson Carey McWilliams argues, modern politics leaves with choices that are all evil — he used the example of choosing between further centralizing the federal government and defeating Hitler or accommodating Hitler — then any such compromise needs to cautiously be aware of such. As Joseph Baldaccino argued in his recent piece, settling for a permanent alliance that disregards theoretical differences and ignores a consideration of possible evil, leaves us with the current manifestation of the Republican Party.

avatar Carl Scott August 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

JA, you make some basically correct points at the level of theory, and I’m glad to see you seeking to learn from and emulate McWilliams. I’m glad to see it (the two new books are SO wonderful!) even though I’m voting-wise pretty much a plain ol’ conservative, and thus necessarily a critic of McWilliams refusing to face the need to nationally vote Republican from (at least) the 70s forward.

But here’s my complaint. To Stephen’s “That’s what our country is like—and if FPR claims to be about place, we ought to take our founders seriously, and have patience for those who regard them with too much reverence,” you have nothing to say. And I say that question is a very awkward one for you, one that brings out the stark disconnect between the Porcher passion for theorizing and actual American life/politics.

avatar JA August 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Mr. Scott,

A communitarian has plenty of ground int he American tradition to both advocate for his position and critique liberalism. Both Strauss and McWilliams have plenty to say about a premodern, even Aristotelian, heritage in American political thought and practice. Some Straussians, particularly those of the West Coast variety, such as Harry Jaffa, go as far as arguing that America is hardly even modern. Strauss himself identified two residues of the premodern upon America: first, early American political thought, especially the Federalist Papers, embodied premodern concerns and agendas, and, second, the influence of religion, Christianity in particular, upon American political thought and society. McWilliams, if you recall, claimed an unofficial founding — the preliberal inheritance of classical and Christian thought — of America that made its success as a liberal nation possible. Finally, both of these writers would point to a number of writers, thinkers, politicians, and activists who embody these traditions, from the founding fathers to the present day.

Now you are correct to claim that there is an awkward question for me, but not the one you provided. You are incorrect to characterize America as a purely liberal country and claim that the communitarian, with his emphasis on place, time, and roots, has to contend with the paradox of uprooting American liberalism to make room for community and civil society. Instead, it is awkward because both traditions exist in America and they are in both theory and practice ultimately irreconcilable. Both Strauss and McWilliams would acknowledge this argument and understand our current predicament as the result of the liberal tradition slowing superseding the preliberal. And this is why the truly awkward question is reserved for you. If liberalism and libertarianism crowd out premodern virtue and civil society, then the greatest danger is to align with it in the long-term, as both Joseph Baldaccino and John Médaille demonstrate in their most recent articles on this site. How then can you continue with such “fushionism” of premodern conservatism and economic libertarianism despite this union undermining the legitimacy and position of the former? In rallying against “big government” on the justification of a “freedom” that is little more than corrosive license, how are you furthering civil society and strengthening family, which requires duty alongside freedom? In advocating for restraint of the state and minimizing restraint on corporations, how are you furthering the localization of commercial activity and ownership? How do you restrain the rapacity of financial institutions?

avatar Carl Scott August 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hey, JA, I’m with Stephen in saying that “too much reverence” of the founders is a problem. And since you know I love McWilliams, you know I’m in broad sympathy with your theory-level points–that is, insofar as we find a Nozick-like like libertarian conception of freedom taking over “founderism,” or the G.O.P, or what have you, those movements necessarily become enemies.

But they are not destined to take over. There is a fight to be fought. Read your Tocqueville, and don’t be a determinist. Or read my fellow postmodern conservative Peter Lawler on how John Courtney Murray’s idea of “building better than they knew” can help us understand that it will be really, really hard, to get key aspects of that “alternative American tradition,” Christianity especially, bleached out of the main one. The American tendency to venerate the founders and the Constitution remain huge positives–so who cares if neither are theoretically perfect by Porcher standards?

And even in these T-party fiscal-focused “trucey” times, social conservatives remain a huge factor in the GOP–so much so that it looks like we won’t even have a Giuliani-type in the race for the nomination.

So the answer to all your rhetorical questions is: THROUGH POLITICS, through working with the American people from where most of them, as Stephen understands, are. Through education, yes, as McWilliams knew, politics can often do that better than schools.

Americans cannot begin to even consider or hear the Porcher case for more corporate-regulating power being exercised by localities, until it becomes apparent that the Supreme Court and our politicians are going to recommit to Federalism, both states-wise, and locality-wise within each state. Initially, the fight for that recommitment must be waged against big government and non-originalist jurisprudence. How can we fight to give Anytown, USA, more authority against Walmart and such, when they have so little authority against DC agencies, lobbyists, and judges?

And if we go broke, all our theoretical or political sophistication, Porcher or Pomocon or Libertarian or what-have-you, will matter for naught.

avatar JA August 23, 2011 at 1:45 am

Mr. Scott,

First, I apologize for the tardiness of this response. I am in the process of moving.

On your point, I think that you are right to assert that there is a fight to be fought, but you are incorrect as to where the battle should be waged. As John Médaille argues in his recent article on the matter of libertarianism, the alliance you and others here have suggested has yielded little in results. Instead, the economic libertarianism of the GOP continues to beguile and undermine calls for decency and sanity. You claim that social conservativism is active in the Tea Party and among the right in general, but, as Medaille argues, this means little. Social conservativism, as it were, has been an active force on the right for decades and has achieved little more than its own undermining.

This leads me to protest your averance that I am acting as a determinist. Rather, I would see my position as one of realism and your own as wishful thinking, to put it as kindly as possible. The observation I made was that the two American traditions are in tension and that the liberal tradition has been undermining the premodern. At this point, I think we can agree. However, you seem to be under the impression that it is possible, THROUGH POLITICS, as you put it, to turn the tide. And how do you propose to do that? As Medaille observes, we are a remnant and in no position to do so. The grammar of our politics has long since been delegitimized and we have few options but to bide our time, lest we become as compromised as, say, the Christian Right.

Of course, this does not exclude participation in politics. Prudence and necessity demand it. This also does not prohibit political alliances, which are necessary, sometimes even with unsavory characters or movements. But this leads me to another protest: this point has been stressed by both myself and Medaille, but critics such as yourself seem beholden to the view that we are arguing for the ideological purity of potential partners as a necessary precondition for any such alliance. This is a straw man. Alliances are possible, but they should not be entered into wholesale. Instead they should established with respect to such differences of opinion. In our situation, that may mean, as I have argued, alliances that are temporary and partial and entered into cautiously and conditionally. As Medaille frames it, ” I would certainly like to work with such people . . . when the occasion arises. But we cannot work as junior partners, lending our efforts to the victory but sharing nothing of the spoils. That is to say, I don’t mind working with them; I just don’t want to work for them.” And that is the distinction that is being made. And here we come to the true battle for a remnant, which is to remain faithful without being absent from the fray.

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