True Politics in the Wake of Obama

by James Matthew Wilson on November 7, 2012 · 16 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Berwyn, PA.  I woke this morning, prepared to write a point-by-point assessment of yesterday’s election, though I was not looking forward to the job, since one must say this morning the same things that were said here at FPR more than three years ago: a Republican or a Democratic victory, one no less than the other, is epiphenomenal in comparison with the real work of rebuilding the tattered net of small, placed communities that is the proper terrain of politics.  A Romney victory might have made the U.S. administrative state somewhat less antagonistic toward Christians and might have set back the agenda of sexual libertine clientalism that has become the “new normal” of American liberalism.  But it is hard to despair now, when the best hope one had only the day before was the continuation of benign neglect in a few key areas of social life.

Rather than despair, or not despair, I shall simply make readers aware of two essays.  First, the estimable Bruce Frohnen’s piece headlining Crisis Magazine today.  Frohnen’s critical assessment of Romney is well said, though, I suspect, a touch hyperbolic, but his central insights ring true and, like a bell, are a summons to all of us to pick up the work of true politics where we left it yesterday evening:

And here is my point: none of this is a reason for despair. Indeed, knowledge of the dead-end that politics so obviously has become should be liberating for conservatives. It is far beyond time for conservative Americans—and Christians in particular—to put aside the distractions of mass politics for the tactile realities involved in building a decent life. We still need to vote and otherwise get involved, of course, but we need to remember what we are doing: hoping to prevent or mitigate the damage being done to us, not “taking back” a state apparatus that has long been used to reshape our society in unwholesome ways. We must come to recognize that the federal government, to its very core, has become hostile to our very way of life, not a violent oppressor, but nonetheless our adversary as we seek to raise our children, educating them in our faith, our morals, and our traditions. We must build neighborhoods, parishes and other religious and secular communities in which spiritual, intellectual and fundamentally moral lives are possible.

I was more hopeful than Frohnen that some good might come of a Romney-Ryan administration, and so, second, it is perhaps worth my sharing this essay of my own, which ran in Crisis last week.  It provides a Catholic localist account of Church teaching and its consonance with Paul Ryan’s proposals.  You may read “Liberal Catholic Critics of Paul Ryan Misread Catholic Social Thought” here: an essay that I hope has more than passing relevance for those who wish to reimagine political life in terms of subsidiarity.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar robert m. peters November 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Despite the fact that the various social orders once extending from Maryland to Texas and beyond, collectively known as “the South,” have been weakened and even atomized by war, by Reconstruction, by the Depression and Modernity itself, what is left of the South, with that which is left no longer corresponding to the antebellum South or even the so-called “Solid South” of the early twentieth century, remains committed in its enclaves, redoubts and strongholds to Aristotelian notions of the republic and to Christian subsidiarity. With the exceptions of Maryland, long lost, beginning with Lincoln’s violent takeover and with the ensuing demographic shifts, with the exception of Virginia in which Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be unwelcome in northern Virginia, again because of demographic shifts, and with the exception of Yankee/Hispanic/Latino southern Florida, the South, although following the wrong star, namely that of its old enemy, the Republican Party, voted constant with fundamental principles which are so internalized that they are likely not realized.

What the South and the Republican Party should realize and take with that realization as political consequences is that the South can no longer through its traditional European stock with its traditions, customs and habits deliver an election to any political party. Thus, the Republicans should abandon us and go after, reflective of whom they actually are, the new Americans – liberal to Jacobin, post-antebellum, and multicultural. We, on the other hand, should return to our spiritual, intellectual roots and contemplate what, if anything, we can do to maintain the worthy remnant with which we have been entrusted. I could make suggestions, but have no ready and plausible alternatives. That will have to come later if at all.

avatar Chris Schumerth November 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Thank you for posting these. While I wasn’t overwhelmingly hopeful about a Romney/Ryan presidency, it was definitely something like horror to watch last night unfold. I am still trying to figure out why, but I think it has something to with your first paragraph, that this “new normal” seems to tragic, so far from the way it ought to be, and yet we’re probably never going back. It is a good reminder not to despair, to put the work into building a local life worth living.

avatar Troy Gibson November 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm
avatar Mark Gordon November 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Something I posted at Res Publica USA’s Facebook page, and also at Vox Nova may be pertinent here:

Mitt Romney has three “home” states: Michigan, Massachusets, and Utah. He lost Michigan and Massachusetts. Paul Ryan only has one home state, Wisconsin, and he couldn’t carry it for Romney. The GOP is caught in a real bind. Election after election their geographic base retreats further and further into the deep South and the barren Plains. At the same time, their demographic base grows whiter, old
er and wealthier, even as the nation is growing browner, that brown population is getting younger, and the Middle Class is disappearing. Sometime in the 1980′s or 1990′s, the GOP became largely a regional party. It is now poised to become a marginal party, fighting a rearguard action to defend privilege, whiteness, and the prerogatives of a global military, economic and cultural empire that is, frankly, collapsing.

If it is to survive, the GOP must come to represent a conservatism that hews closer to the vision of Burke, Kirk, Fleming, Oakeshott, Burnham, Weaver, Scruton, Berry and Blond; a conservatism that stands opposed to the corrosive cultural influence of laissez-faire capitalism and the mass consumer society; opposed to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of private interests or the state; opposed to empire and the militarization of foreign policy; a conservatism focused on the care of creation, including the land and sea, as well as the small human ecologies of family, congregation, town, and small business; a conservatism that privileges the farmer, the industrial worker, the teacher and the Main Street merchant over the financial baron, the defense contractor, the big box retailer and the Washington lobbyist; a conservatism of the town hall meeting, not of slick ad campaigns; a conservatism of communities, not corporations. And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends the unborn, but also one that supports and honors their mothers, both before they give birth and long after. And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends marriage, but not by demonizing or marginalizing families that don’t fit a certain mold. Yes, it must be a conservatism of limited government, but within limits defined by justice, equality before the law, peaceableness, and the care of the aged, the infirm, the poor, and the unemployed.

A friend of mine tweeted that the big loser tonight was Ayn Rand. Thanks be to God. In the years ahead, may Republicans come to see this as the night when they began to fashion a different kind of conservatism. If they don’t they have no future.

avatar Angsgar November 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Robert Peters,

Would John Hagee’s San Antonio “church” be one of those Southern redoubts you are talking about? Or the South Carolina of Lindsey Graham?

I am the only one who finds it hilarious that Rep. Ru Paul (the last greatest hope for our noble and divinely inspired constitution) did horribly in most of the South during the primaries and managed to do relativly well in NH – yankee state of yankee states. All the more amusing since the geninus reisdent scholars at the Ludwig Von Miserable Institute are neo-confederate worshipers. I guess at least Paul’s district is in Texas though.

@ Mark Gordon

Well said though we both know the GOP will do the exact opposite of what we both think they should do.

avatar Ron November 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Ru Paul? Did Anonymous hit this website or was that just a typo??

avatar Chris Travers November 8, 2012 at 12:14 am

Here are a few random thoughts in response.

The first is that I have a great deal of trouble weeping for a Romney loss. The fact is however that the Obama administration has picked cultural fights really poorly just, I think, for cynical political reasons. The fact is that the laws require a broad exception to the contraception mandate and while Congress could have, had they had the support to to so, passed a bill that didn’t require this, they didn’t pass that bill and I think they will lose in court as a purely statutory matter.

I don’t think it is a good idea to go from presidential election to presidential election being afraid of who is going to make it harder or easier to be a Christian or the like. The real action is in Congress on this matter at least until we get stronger protections from the courts. The much bigger issue is that of secret kill lists and forced exiles for individuals on the President’s say-so.

Finally I am truly dismayed how in the 2012 election the media has shifted our focus from electing a head of state to electing a commander in chief. We should remember what the Roman title of commander in chief was (Imperiator), and what words in English derives from that. This is perhaps the largest piece of evidence to date that the American Republic is dead and that we are living in an age of empire. While before at least we all pretended that we were still in the good old days of the Republic, today there can be less doubt.

We had a republic and we couldn’t keep it because in times of war, the law falls silent.

avatar Jordan Smith November 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm

@ Mark Gordon

Bingo.

avatar T. Chan November 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Mr. Peters, I just heard you on the radio? It is wonderful to match a voice to the name!

avatar robert m. peters November 9, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Mr. Chan,

You listen to “Chronicles Unbound” on Friday afternoons. That is good. Yes, you did hear my voice. It is a good thing that the medium was not television; the face would have likely scared the children. The Chronicles website led me through its links to the Front Porch. I am glad that they allow me to rock with them from time to time.

avatar robert m. peters November 10, 2012 at 12:12 am

Mr. Angsgar,

I was posting about the election from a Southern perspective, the one I am most familiar with since I am a Southerner in the north Louisiana idiom.

Mr. Graham and Rev. Hagee are manifestations of Modernity, secular (neo-con) and religious (dispensationalist). I suppose that one could say that they are an expression of the “New South,” for which so many people worshiping the false goddess of respectability are questing. They are certainly not in my redoubt and would not be welcome.

I do not find it hilarious that Dr. Paul did not do well in the South. It was, on the contrary, regrettable. If you read my post carefully, you noted that I wrote that the South has ” been weakened and even atomized by war, by Reconstruction, by the Depression and Modernity itself,..,” very effectively weakened. As a whole, we were well reconstructed, becoming the Janissary of the very empire which “drove ol’ Dixie down.” I hope that the results of this election will begin to break the thrall of the nationalist myth to which most of my fellow Southerners have succumbed, singing “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” and reciting in Pavlovian fashion the Jacobin pledge while believing that a Chamber-of-Commerce bribe to a big company whose advent with its money, infrastructure and outsiders will be “a good thing .”

I take it that you do not like the folks at the Von Mises Institute. I am not a libertarian, but I do find with them a nexus on many principles and issues. Dr. Paul is much closer to their libertarian positions than am I.

I am not sure what you mean or what you intend with what you mean using the term “neo-confederate.” It reads like a loaded gun, but perhaps it is merely your style. As you know, the South is four hundred years old. The political alliance of some Southern states, namely the Confederacy, lasted for a few months over four years, about one one-hundredth of Southern history.

The topic at hand is politics in the wake of Obama. My point remains that the Republicans no longer need the South since even with an almost solid South, they could not win the election and their overtures to the South on social issues have been disingenuous from the start. The Republicans will, I believe, abandon most of their “social conservative” pretenses: the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage between a man and a women, and stopping the flood of immigration. They might attempt to one more time garner some Southern votes with the nationalist card. That is precisely why those of us in the enclaves, the redoubts and the strongholds must counter and destroy the nationalist myth.

avatar robert m. peters November 10, 2012 at 12:19 am

Mr. Gordon,

The core of the the Republican Party has never been “conservative,” certainly not in any sense fostered by most folks who frequent the Front Porch. The Republican Party will do what it has done since its inception: go where it perceives money and power to be. It is not in the DNA of the Republican Party to do they things which you suggest that it ought to do.

I note your words as given infra:

“And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends the unborn, but also one that supports and honors their mothers, both before they give birth and long after. And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends marriage, but not by demonizing or marginalizing families that don’t fit a certain mold. Yes, it must be a conservatism of limited government, but within limits defined by justice, equality before the law, peaceableness, and the care of the aged, the infirm, the poor, and the unemployed.”

That describes the mission of the Church, not of a political party.

avatar Chris Travers November 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Mr Peters;

One thing I think we need is an agrarian/distributist party to challenge and dare the other two parties. One of the fundamental problems though is that I think our system of government has so much inertia that it cannot be reformed or cut back to size. It will continue to grow until it collapses. And just as the Goths in Rome fought for acceptance in Rome and eventually found the opportunity to take over Iberia and Italy, so too someday we may get our chance to try to tackle the problems that are being created now.

The big caution there I think is that the Ostrogoths found they were really unable to supplant the political engines of Rome among the wealthy and so ended up having to try to co-opt them. I can’t remember whether it is Peter Heather or Herwig Wolfram who points out that Ostrogothic Italy fell because they could not tackle the disparty of wealth that had resulted in the Western Roman Empire.

avatar robert m. peters November 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Mr. Travers,

While I am skeptical, and very much so, that “factions” or “political parties” can actually solve problems; for they all tend to become the disease of which they claim to be the cure, I would agree that a group such as you suggest might be worth a try. In the Southern idiom of that attempt, acknowledging that there are others which might be more successful, I suggest that the old Dixiecrats with all of their liabilities might have been a start. That opportunity for lack of followup and a lack of perception of the real issues and principles was missed..

Dr. Herwig Wolfram was my guiding professor at the University of Vienna in the late 1960′s. One weakness of the Ostrogoths was that they were Arian Christians. In the fourth century, the Visigoths became Trinitarian Christians. Supplanting the political engines of Rome among the wealthy, whether in the old Roman heartland or out in the provinces of Gaul and Iberia was a task for all of Germanic invaders. Co-opting or coming to terms with them was not easy; however, we must remember that in the West, the cities had been dying long before our Germanic ancestors kicked in the door. Power had been moving landward for decades. I recall that Dr. Wolfram made this point. The Roman wealthy of the late fourth and early fifth centuries were essentially men of the land, predominately although not exclusively, in the latifundia. Parallel to classical slavery, the medieval institution of serfdom was already emerging, with taxed-out-of-existence city dwellers fleeing to the country to the latifundia which offered basic life means and a modicum of protection with their private armies. Our elites, with exceptions, are not those of a productive latifundia, but are a paper aristocracy who know that when the Hobbesian state with its national bank and its ability to print fiat currency go, their wealth and their power go with it. What land they might have is not, for the most party, productive in the agrarian sense and certainly not in the sense of successful latifundia.

I am always, although I enjoy them, quite skeptical of these historical comparisons.

avatar Joe LoRusso November 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Professor Wilson,

First off, I hope you’re doing well. I’ve been busy with graduate work at William and Mary (Public Policy), so it’s been difficult to make time to contact everyone in the Humanities department.
Anyways, I wanted to see how the department reacted to the election, so FDR seemed like a good place to start.

I nodded in agreement when I read, “a Republican or a Democratic victory, one no less than the other, is epiphenomenal in comparison with the real work of rebuilding the tattered net of small, placed communities that is the proper terrain of politics”. However, I find myself disagreeing with the notion that “We still need to vote and otherwise get involved”, as Frohnen said. First, I’m wondering if it’s necessarily a bad thing to not “mitigate damage”. Maybe we actually need to sustain some damage for things to get better. If the FDR lifestyle is fulfilling, then maybe it is best to be surrounded by discontent for contrast. In other words, and to use Brave New World to illustrate, perhaps “Fordism” and other non-fulfilling aspects of life actually helped the exiled life appear so grand to the savage, bernard’s friend, and the reader. Second, it seems logically inconsistent to hold that the real battles must be fought outside “politics”, but then to cast a vote. Isn’t that condoning the political system, and giving it validity?

Maybe we actually need a degree of antagonism toward Christians; simply because Christianity ultimately wins out. Good luck finding value and meaning in life, wise Richard Dawkins. Likewise, “sexual libertine clientalism” (I think I’m understanding this correctly; you mean the immoral and shallow inter-personal relations?) is doomed to lose against real human relationships, so why not let it go ahead and embarrass itself?

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