What’s Modernity Marx Got to Do With It? (FPR vs. PoMoCon, Part Drei)


[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Wichita, KS

Blogger though I am, I can’t deny that there is a major advantage to arguments conducted through the slower media of paper (to say nothing of peer-reviewed publishing): because the length of time between claims and counter-claims is longer, it is somewhat more possible to step back and get clear on just what it is that everyone is claiming. I’m not Luddite (or, as Susan McWilliams would perhaps put it, hypocritical) enough to wish the internet away and resolve to restrict myself to the discipline of the palimpsest, but I confess to somewhat wishing for those kind of belabored traces and delays to help me make it through the mutlifaceted argument which has erupted between my colleagues here at Front Porch Republic and the writers at the Postmodern Conservative blog over the past few days. Still, let me try to explain the argument as I understand it.

[Obligatory pop reference] No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

It started with a couple of brief comments made by Pomocons Peter Lawler and Ivan Kenneally, expressing serious disagreement with what they see as the “polis envy” expressed by Patrick Deneen and other “true deep communitarians” who worry too much about the “material conditions” necessary for community and tradition to flourish. Those comments were noticed by Jason Joseph, who saw in them a harbinger of a major conflict over the direction of American conservatism: should conservatives “embrace democratic capitalism while rejecting its Enlightenment presuppositions,” or should they “reject modernity outright”? (Jason here is perhaps unintentionally echoing Damon Linker, who labels those who congregate around FPR and similar sites as “reactionaries,” which is mildly disconcerting for leftists like myself who write over there.) A few weeks later, Patrick threw down the gauntlet and, well, the debate rolled onward (and continues) from there.

The possibility that this argument really comes down how one responds to modernity in general (and modern liberal democracy and democratic capitalism in particular) is clearly true in some important way or another. It’s a possibility which appears to me to be essentially reflected in Patrick’s framing of the dispute around “nature’s laws and limits.” Under this reading, Pomocons affirm that the modern individual, understood as a being in possession of natural rights, obviously still longs for virtue and a context within which to realize and practice such, but is also confident that there are opportunities for virtue concomitant with all the social transformations which modernity has brought with it, as nature still abides. Hence, the “restlessness and alienation” which thinking conservatives of all stripes note about the modern world is best supplemented with an “easy-going quiescence.” In contrast to this, the FPR position is presumably a more radical one, whereby modern life’s obsession with technology and growth (of economic possibility and personal individuation and choice) is seen as possibly resulting in “a potentially catastrophic confrontation with natural limits and attendant human suffering.” Hence, the need for a “reactionary” response, one which Lawler humorously characterized as an “it takes a medieval village” attitude, and which Kenneally, most seriously, indicts as an attitude which “embrace[s] certain conditions that make free moral life optimally possible but then reduce[s] the possibility of that freedom to the historical circumstances within which it emerges.” Lawler’s and Kennally’s view may not be entirely fair to the distinction which Patrick introduces–and which he moderates in several comments–but it is not, I think, fundamentally untrue to it, as Patrick ultimately sets up the FPR position as one which posits nature and the virtues associated with such in opposition to modernity, claiming that, as admirable the benefits of modern life may be to the development of the human person, “modern goods are only worthy of being embraced because we are not living wholly in modernity.” This all perhaps coincides with James Poulos’s assessment of the debate, which suggests again that the real issue is what we think of modernity: “Front Porchers seem inclined to treat liberalism as the false consciousness inculcated to justify modernity, or some such, while Pomocons, I think, are inclined to recognize that liberalism is not simply a symptom of modernity.”

All well and good, I suppose….except that it can’t quite explain why on earth I’m here. Why would a paleoconservative blog have invited an Obama-voter and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a person who is ambivalent about and even occasionally willing to defend public schooling and Obama’s economic plans, to contribute here? For that matter, why would they do the same for FPR’s whole “left wing” camp, as Bob Cheeks put it, what with our attacks on capitalism, our defenses of government-funded family-leave policies, our praise of steady-state green and social democratic economies, our affirmations of positive freedom and land distribution and a government capable of carrying such out? I suppose that any one of such points of view, depending on how they are expressed, might well be acceptable to some conservatives of the old school, but for all their variety and for all their distinct philosophical grounds and justifications, overall such positions are, I believe, simply too close to the egalitarian ideas advocated by modern progressives and liberals to sit well with those who reject modernity root and branch. As I see it, the reactionary/paleoconservative stream of American conservatism has always been generally unwilling to take seriously “equality,” however defined, as a virtue relevant to the good life. This means that, whatever suspicions FPR localists and communitarians share about modern life alongside traditional conservatives, traditional conservatism doesn’t like populism, and has an ambiguous relationship with democracy at best, and while you may be able to find some echoes of that here and there on FPR, I think you’re much more likely to find the opposite (even when we debate Lincoln, the issue is basically over how he wielded power, not the ends for which he wielded it).

It seems to me that the truth is that, as FPR has developed, its primary theme has thus not been a resistance to the trends of democracy and equality in modern history, with attendant conceptualizations of the nature of the individual and their rights and how all of may relate to the foregoing. Not to say that such isn’t an important intellectual debate, nor to deny that there are writers at FPR who very clearly adopt such an approach, but it is not, I think, what primarily motivates those who worry about the fate of the front porch. You can accommodate on said porch a variety of understandings of, and recommendations for, individual persons seeking virtue in the midst of modernity’s engagement with (conquest of?) the natural world. What brings us to the porch, first and foremost, I think, is the first of the three words in our subhead–not “liberty” (whether individual or otherwise), not “limits” (of nature or of something else), but “place.” Which is why, as I said in my first contribution to this argument, and which I still believe a few days of comment-tracking later, the backandforth snarking about Marx–with attendant commentary from many others–is actually pretty important to what we’re actually all about.

Lawler’s insight into the Rousseauian and romantic commonalities between agrarian/localist diagnoses of the modern condition and Marxist/socialist ones is actually pretty trenchant and accurate, I think most especially because–and, given the way the liberationist left so often misunderstood and abused social democratic understandings of solidarity in the past, perhaps it is not surprising that this should come as a surprise to many people–it unintentionally underscores the relevance of authority (the authority of tradition, of community, of a people joined together in a common project of respect and participation) to what agrarians, localists, and, yes, Front Porchers, insist is crucial to a proper understanding of the meaning of “place.” I’ll draw here upon something I’ve written before about Normal Mailer’s on-first-glance-weird-but-in-fact-quite-profound claim that he wished to “think in the style of Marx in order to attain certain values suggested by Edmund Burke”:

[Mailer] wants to be an egalitarian, but he doesn’t want to be a liberal, because liberalism simply isn’t compatible, in his thinking, with “family, home, faith, hard work, duty, allegiance” and other “dependable human virtues”….[His belief was] that the modern world has been fundamentally conditioned by…abstractions and transformations[;]…traditions and communities cannot exercise the same authority they once did in a world in which individual subjectivity has conditioned our very understanding of the self (at least in the West–but increasingly, most everywhere else as well)….Marx…recognized the truth of the Burkean (though for him it was really more Hegelian, and therefore Rousseauian) insight into the connection between consciousness and communal, historical, material reality. Repairing the human consciousness did not mean a continuing project of subjective liberation, with the aim of making the burdens of modernity privately manageable, but rather addressing issues of power and and place and production that make the transformations of modernity–and most particularly the spaital ones, with solid traditions and properties and roles and locales evaporating into the thin air of free trade and the cash economy–into alienating burdens in the first place….[T]he Rousseauian perspective says, okay, our original, grounded nature has been lost, we’re in chains….Rousseau’s response [to this problem, and thus Marx’s too] preserves true conservative seriousness…it respects the need for embeddedness and connection by suggesting that we remake our chains–that we remake modernity, and resist those who would portray our restless condition as a fait accompli, the emergence of which was inherent to our natures. Why can we do that? Because within and through modernity the deep structure abides; we’re just having difficulties actualizing it, because we’ve been so intent in fighting internecine battles within liberalism that we’ve ignored all the other ways in which we could be responding to the world.

The position I articulate here is heavily influenced by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who argues for an alternative understanding of modernity, one in which the ecology of modern life itself reveals a consciousness of, and need for, traditionally and communally realized moral instincts and epiphanies. Modern liberal and egalitarian goods are real, this position says, but they must not be allowed to interfere with or supplant–as opposed to being articulated so as to complement–the authority of more necessary, traditional, local, communal goods. Moreover, this position follows Hegel and the romantic tradition (which itself drew upon older, mystical ones) in acknowledging that there is a subjective, constructed, generally willed aspect to our deep structure, and those traditional and communal goods which reflect it; it sees that structure as something which emerges and thus must be regularly re-articulated and contextually realized. In Rousseau’s philosophy, this willed engagement with and the movement to preserve communal grounds in the midst of history had a tragic character to it. Marx, to his eternal discredit, dismissed with that sense of tragedy, embracing instead a historical materialism and a determinism which ultimately justified thousands in seeing themselves (and the states they would take control of) as vanguards to bring Marxist solidarity or death to the millions of people. Nothing remotely admirable about any of that, to be sure. But Marx’s diagnosis of modern liberal life, and in particular of the weight and the alienating cost of our the loss of structures and traditions and thoroughly material connection with the work of our hands and with our fellow man, rings absolutely true.

Clearly, what I’m laying out here doesn’t represent the common self-understanding of the FPR community (some of whom would reject even labeling it a community); I don’t know if there are any other Taylor fans there besides myself, though there is at least one Norman Mailer fan. As for Marx, more than a few FPRers are willing to acknowledge the significance of his approach to the question of modern liberalism, but is that acknowledgment any different from that which is offered by Pomocons, such as in the post from Lawler I cited above, or that which they confessed to on their site way back at the beginning? Perhaps not on the level of theory, but on the level of practice, I think so. Of the great many “practical” posts that have appeared on FPR, the percentage that have any sort of connection with Marx’s analysis of alienation, commodification, and forms of production is very nearly zero…except, of course, for their deep communitarian willingness to talk about different forms of association, organization, distribution, and expression which would allow–and, different political and cultural and socio-economic reforms, both high and low, which would enable and extent–the doing of things differently with one’s occupations and talents and property and education and land and position in life.

It perhaps reveals something important that Ralph Hancock, on the Pomocon website, acknowledges that Pomocons are more “politically realistic,” being “regime-thinkers” who see the need to “making friends with real political forces,” so as to influence the public, political realm and thereby protect and preserve virtues which flourish privately. Which, again, might well seem to be exactly the sort of thing mentioned up above (supporting–and paying for–certain activies for the sake of empowering people on their porches), save for the fact that Marxist/Rousseauian/socialist/localist/republican/populist/agrarian/what-have-you critiques put the division of public and private into question, asking whether or not it isn’t the emergence of a “regime”–particularly a liberal one–in the first place that necessarily marks off that which the people, as defenders of their places, ought to be able to exercise some real sovereignty over. I can certainly be criticized for being an Obama-voter (hey, I can criticize myself for it), but at least I don’t think I’ve ever made the mistake of thinking that the partisan and electoral system which produced him and his agenda ever were or could be tools for setting the inherently discursive, dialogic, and thus political nature of our moral and communal lives right, which the theoconservative and First Things crowds in general have been occasionally tempted to believe the Republican party could and should do. To be sure, the platform of the Democratic party–particularly in its more progressive bureaucratic or judicial incarnations–does the same. Which only goes to show, I think, the need to constantly search for alternatives, to happily (if perhaps only partially) embrace the stupid accusation which Jonah Goldberg threw at Rod Dreher long ago (that the Crunchy Con movement, and all those sympathetic to it, are implicated in “Christian Marxism” and Fabian socialism, posing like “Jean-Jacques Rousseau in a Russell Kirk mask”), and, most importantly, to–as Mailer put it–think like Marx (and Chrisopher Lasch, and Wendell Berry, and Ivan Illich, and Dorothy Day, and Juliet Schor, and…). Doing so, I think at least, gives us our best chance to get out from under the regimented regime supports–the parties and profitability margins–which, as Sheldon Wolin put it while speaking of John Locke, turn around the traditional question of “what type of political order is required if society is to be maintain?” (a properly conservative question if there every was one), replacing it instead with the question “what social arrangements will insure the continuity of government?” I know, from my own association with them, that the Pomocons certainly don’t believe that just so long as society and culture and the manufacture of profits follow the meritocracy, we have no truly fundamental problem. It is interesting, though, to see them raise eyebrows and doubts and sniggers at those who figure, as radicals of all sorts always have, that since that isn’t true, something ought to be done about it.

This turned into another one of my long navel-gazing posts, which is likely to be of interest to about eight people tops. So let me finish it off my pointing at this fine contribution by James Poulos, in which he asks questions that are more humble, and as such admit to no easy theoretical demarcations: how does one balance loves for embedded communities versus perhaps “superficial” but nonetheless just as authentically affections for contemporary life? Can individuals through their own ethical choices really ever resolve such dilemmas, or must people operate in solidarity and community with one another to do so? And if the latter, which community, on what level of abstraction, if any? I have my answers to some of those, and no doubt he has his, as does probably everyone who has gotten tangled up in this argument one way or another. All our answers are, to be sure, tentative. Which I guess makes me glad that I’m just writing a blog post here after all.


  1. RA,
    An excellent and erudite examination/analysis of the problem. Why is it I grow fonder of you? Must be the charge you led on the second day to “seize the heights!” Memorable indeed!

  2. As a first post, I want to say thank you for the rich thought provoking firmament that pervades the posts here on FRP. Thank you all for your wonderful contributions.

    Second, as non-academic proletariat, I puzzled by the continued reference to Marx and why anyone wastes their time with him. I like to judge one by the life they lived and well ol’ Karl comes up short on all fronts. As a loafer, mooch, and bully he may have thought much, but had no expereince working or being a worker. Add to this that his theory of value holds no water, why do we continue to spend any time with and individual who has deluded too many to count and whose ideas sent millions more to their untimely deaths.

    My third point stems from my second, why spend time with the deviant Rousseau? His ideas were the product of a seriously disordered mind. Ideas that also led to the untimely death and oppression of thousands.

    Finally, as a lower case “l” libertarian, I feel impelled to come to the defense of the free market and attempt to separate it from term Capitalism. There is nothing inherently wrong with the unhindered commerce between individuals, with the caveat that virtue (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance) imbues the market participants, and that the collective will (in the form of law) provides a punitive response to cheats, thieves, and those who willfully harm other market participants. Capitalism, on the other hand is a term coined by Marx referring to the darker side of the free market, one in which the participants are unleashed from the restraints of virtue. The free market is not an “ism” but is a natural by-product of human interactions. The free market is also not consumerism or materialism, both of which are products of virtue-less free market.

    Those are my two cents and I am heady back to the front porch to enjoy and ice cold Ski (diet of course).

  3. Too long, and so I semi-apologetically confess I went into skimming mode upon the quoting of Mailer and his ref. to “thinking in the style of Marx.” Bah. Give me the Marxist W. Chambers–BTW, GREAT quote(Fox quotes it in the DSA link)–any day over that shit-maker Mailer. Are we not sick to death of those whose Marx-styled thinking basically makes thinking and politics into STYLE? A perpetually offensive-giving and “rebellion”-addicted style?(See Thomas Frank) So 1959, 69, 79, 89, and 99[w/ tenure!]…about as fresh as gangsta rap in 2009.

    Fox is a member of the DSA! Well, now, that is cool. I attended their meetings back in my late 80s undergrad days, and still have a deep respect for Michael Harrington. (Harrington’s Socialism: Past and Future is a great primer on what American Democratic Socialism was at its best and what it ought to be about; recommended for those of my fellow conservatives who find themselves dumbed-down on the subject of what democratic socialism is by years of their peers’ “liberals are socialists!” rhetoric; of course, careful readers of the book will see that Harrington wishes for economic institutions that no-one has been yet able to pull-off; and yes, Harrington does not, and really cannot, face the full truth of Marx’s responsiblity for Lenin.) I essentially was a DSA member, but never did formally join.

    So, Russel, while I now think DSA is very wrong, I salute your seriousness. It is that which is cool about your beloning to DSA, coupled with that excellent Chambers quote. I also like your (in-the-link) meditations about not surrendering to a kind of cynicism about what can or cannot be changed–and on that score, really the thinker that you need to read is Chantal Delsol. Her books Icarus Fallen and The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century are all about the stance the late-modern spirit ought to take given the collapse or drastic curtailment of various Progressvist dreams, given repeated failures, defeats, and ignominious crimes. And given her defense of “caregiving” and attack on “economics as religion” no bookish Porcher should neglect her. She is a non-Strauss-influenced way, and thus a less heavily intellectual-history-referencing way, into the core Pomocon concerns, and she introduces you to the cream of current French thinking.

  4. Carl,

    Too long…

    Yeah, my stuff always is. Sorry.

    Give me the Marxist W. Chambers–BTW, GREAT quote(Fox quotes it in the DSA link)–any day over that shit-maker Mailer. Are we not sick to death of those whose Marx-styled thinking basically makes thinking and politics into STYLE?

    Folks like Bill Kauffman have convinced me to take Mailer somewhat seriously, but don’t think that I’m looking at him as a good guide to living–much less theorizing about!–Marxism or modern life or anything. As I encouraged a fellow over at my home blog, you definitely don’t want to read him if you want some help with this intellectual thicket. But in his own way, he touched on something important, something worth taking to heart.

    I salute your seriousness. It is that which is cool about your beloning to DSA, coupled with that excellent Chambers quote. I also like your (in-the-link) meditations about not surrendering to a kind of cynicism about what can or cannot be changed–and on that score, really the thinker that you need to read is Chantal Delsol. Her books Icarus Fallen and The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century are all about the stance the late-modern spirit ought to take given the collapse or drastic curtailment of various Progressvist dreams, given repeated failures, defeats, and ignominious crimes. And given her defense of “caregiving” and attack on “economics as religion” no bookish Porcher should neglect her.

    Thanks for the compliment–and I think your praise and your assessment of the limitations of Harrington are pretty much dead-on; my favorite book of his, though, is The Politics at God’s Funeral–and thanks also for the recommendation. Chantal Delsol, huh? Never heard of her, but she sounds fascinating. On the to-read list she goes!

  5. Alan,

    I puzzled by the continued reference to Marx and why anyone wastes their time with him. I like to judge one by the life they lived and well ol’ Karl comes up short on all fronts.

    Tragically–but, depending on whom you read on the subject, perhaps importantly–just about every significant thinker and artist are defective in important ways, and some are complete failures as the most important task in life–making a good home, being a faithful and loving human being to their children and neighbors, planting gardens. Marx was a loafer and adulterer, and Rousseau, as you later note, was a manic-depressive paranoid kook. (I will question your assertion that his ideas led to the deaths of thousands, however.) One of the very few really well adjusted and happy philosophers from the canon that I know of was Hume, and he was an atheist; maybe that tells us something, but maybe not.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the unhindered commerce between individuals, with the caveat that virtue (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance) imbues the market participants, and that the collective will (in the form of law) provides a punitive response to cheats, thieves, and those who willfully harm other market participants.

    Well, obviously this is a sprawling and ongoing discussion, so let me just check your claim here–with which I substantively agree; I’m a social democrat, not a communist–with two assertions: 1) that given our corrupt and self-interested natures, it seems unlikely that “virtue,” as possessed and practiced by individuals, will ever be able to effectively “imbue” market participants so as to be able direct the market away from socially harmful ends, at least not on its one; and 2) that “the collective will” ought not be thought of merely in the form of law, but also as customs, traditions, and norms of equality and decency, the perpetuation of which often require, I think, the formal protection and extenuation of arenas of action (like the home and family life), separate from self-interested marketplace decisions, wherein such qualities are developed in the first place.

  6. Does not grappling with one’s relative stance towards temporal terms such as “modernism” tempt one to historicism, to see the present moment as an apogee of all that came before (the racehorse-eyed view of blinkered “exceptionalism” that PoMoCons use to defend the fort from the multitude of pre-occupied-cyclopses)? I fear we invert Dante’s apt metaphor of love’s labor lost, the “blind leading the blind”? Are we not the “blind stumbling up against the blind,” romantic sentimentalists who imagine love’s object as always virtuous per se? Onwards and upwards! The best is yet to come!

    Ardour for the good chosen poorly leads to gluttony, avarice and lasciviousness. And more ominously ardour exercised out of pride, ambition or revenge in jingoistic foreign affairs corrupts the true valor needed to recognize tyranny before it can be subdued. Most aggregiously, IMHO, we accede to acedia in dulling our senses, imagination and will to the spiritual sloth all around us, a social malady not conducive to government dictat. Collectivism fills the void in our poverty-stricken urban ghettoes: raw communitarian solidarity of the municipal grace-n-favors-gravy-train, ugly gang violence, and bigoted sodalities of ex-correctional-institute-inmates. The vocabulary of the common good has been abandoned to the “rule of the ‘hood”. PoMoCons condescend with a bland pabulum of “Compassionate Conservatism” but in their zeal to root out moral chaos they overlook the vacuity in their own ranks. Nuclear weapons are immoral, no amount of harping on Iran absolves us of our duty to relinquish our own:

  7. What enamors me to FPR’s approach is an argument from subsidiarity(*) as this scripture verse (2 Cor 8:15) heard during liturgical worship on a recent Sunday speaks to:

    καθως γεγραπται ο το πολυ ουκ επλεονασεν και ο το ολιγον ουκ ηλαττονησεν

    (kathos graphos ho to poly ouk pleonazo kai ho to oligos ouk elattoneo)

    sicut scriptum est qui multum non abundavit et qui modicum non minoravit

    Como está escrito: El que recogió mucho, no tuvo más; y el que poco, no tuvo

    “For it is written: “Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.”

    Conserving the abundance of Creation in place is dynamic, it happens in relation to time, by persons with a 3-eyed(**) faculty (a formed memory of past, an active intellect to anticipate future, and a will conscious of the import of “in the present moment”):
    there are those able to gather plenty, the Xs
    and from their plenitude act plenteously,
    and there are those able to glean less, the Os
    yet from their scarcity are not diminished.

    We may not gather such that we diminish the gleaning.
    We may not become XXX-sized at the expense of aborted mouths of the 000’s.

    Yet this is exactly the immorality inherent in the inflationary monetary policy as we practice it in the USA: those with much get more, while those with less are robbed of what little they have. Those who would reduce the human three-eyed faculty to a 2-eyed calculus (sinners on both left and right: Marx, Adam Smith et al, diminish the social sphere to a “labor theory of value/just price” determined as cost-plus utility) render the human heart blind to the inner illumination of grace, and open the floodgates to a brutality in globalization a la Keynes’ “animal spirits” and an obliteration of civilization a la Huxley’s Brave New World. The communitarian third eye is our duty of care. I sense that folks here at FPR recognise it and seek to articulate it (e.g. Catholic legal scholar Elizabeth Schlitz development of justice for caregivers: “Why Care About Caregivers: Using Communitarian Theory to Justify Protection of “Real Workers,” http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2009/06/inthis-article-why-care-about-caregivers-using-communitarian-theory-to-justify-protection-of-real-workers-nicoleporterpres.html) I’m not so sure what terms in the PoMoCon cost-benefit analysis are reserved for tomorrow’s feeble and frail… “collateral damage” was the most unfortunate euphemism bandied about by Condoleeza Rice for millions of civilians killed rather than liberated by our magnanimous unilaterelism, right? Euthanasia beckons as the new family value of futilitarianism: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/2009/06/24/the-poisoned-well-of-utilitarianism-or-why-so-many-bioethicists-drive-me-nuts/#respond
    * assuming solidarity, which is NOT a given in America, resting as it does on a fiduciary structure based on very faulty assumptions (rampant moral hazard permissive of privatized gain to non-citizen holders of our currency/debts and indentured-servitude of socialized losses to generations yet unborn of citizen holders of our currency/debts).

    ** prudence, as depicted by Dante

  8. Many, though certainly not all of the Framers were what might be termed “liberal-minded” conservatives. They were men adept at literature…many reading Greek and Latin….., law, history, the agricultural arts, business and the art of oration and debate. Accordingly, they opted for a discursive Republic with a sturdy Separation of Powers in order that the government be for “We the People” but that the pernicious imposition of the mob could be kept at bay. States were accorded a level of importance long since abridged. The Fourth Estate, as partisan and propagandistic in their day as in our own, if not in fact more so..it was still seen as but another element in the nominally controlled chaos that would surround a democratic form of informed self-rule. Representatives within this bawling and brawling government were required to be “liberal-minded” because only if the government were engaged in the consideration of the human condition …in it’s richest expression, could it display both the wisdom and apprehension required to check any and all abuses of power as they might occur, while promoting the opportunities a rich continent and fertile polity might present.

    The Society of Cincinnati is an example of “liberal minded” conservatism of the Framers Generation.

    Fox, your presence here, in this light, is not at all surprising nor contradictory. Conservatism is not automatically a pursuit of the paranoid mugwump. To be truly conservative, the effort must be conversant in the full gamut of human condition and, equipped with this knowledge, approach the act of governance in a custodial and discriminating manner, knowing when to both open and close ones mind when the prosecution of a chaste and sustainable government is best served by it. It is, in its most basic form, an act of conservation , respectful of life and the future while cherishing the “received wisdom” of the past. It does not abide notions of “modernity” because the very term evokes a prideful stasis more the haunt of the triumphalist or perhaps the post-triumphalist who wallows in the domain we now call “popular culture”.

    Accordingly, all types of philosophy are to be greeted with, if not enthusiasm, at the very least, considered forbearance because above all else, man’s fallibility is as omnipresent as his seemingly resilient urge to virtue.

    Neo-Conservatives and Democrats, of course being more fallible than they might be prudent to be.
    PoMoCons, well, the name alone remains baffling.

  9. To alleviate tedium and aid conviviality as regards founding fathers/philosophers here’s food for chuckles:


    “…echoing an age of idealism and humanistic thought” who would you put on a federal reserve note?

    …Machiavelli… on the top denomination, $100

    Yup sounds about right! The Prince could only dream of fiat ex nihilo… we’re all about “progress” don’t you know…?

  10. Who or what on the currency?
    Maybe Chicken Little on a spit, turning….. while some bond holders rustle up a little General Tso’s Chicken Sauce in the background. “What, Me Worry?” the fitting declaration.

    Second choice would be Everett Dirksen saying “A Million here and a Million there and pretty soon we’re talking big money”

  11. D.W. your disquisition on the American governance paradigm was singularly erudite. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from you, though I prefer it when you are in high dudgeon.
    I am growing fond of Arben, if not philosophically, then in a certain appreciation for his love of man and in his infrequent mentionings of confiscation/redistribution.
    For PoMoCon def read Poulos’s interview in The University Bookman…it’s linked on the FirstThings/PoMoCon site, though my link has been BROKEN FOR NEARLY 24 HOURS!!!!!!
    Could you write/blog something on STate’s Rights, I would be ever so appreciative!

  12. Following this series of debates (and much else at FPR) with interest.

    Russell, could you please say a bit more about what you meant by the following?

    “given the way the liberationist left so often misunderstood and abused social democratic understandings of solidarity in the past”

  13. GK,

    The “liberationist left” I’m referring to is the “New Left” of Europe and the United States during the 60s and 70s. There were some strong understandings of the local and cultural requirements of socialist equality and solidarity expressed by that varied group of individuals and movements, but by and large, as I read history, those voices were drowned out by those who embraced the self-indulgent and sexually and personally expressive elements of the “revolutionary” spirit. The “Old Left” wasn’t at all necessarily religious, of course (anyone who has read Marx understands what a confused claim that would be), but nonetheless much of early unionism and other movements towards granting equality and respect and sovereignty to ordinary people was carried forward along lines that granted an important role to families and neighborhoods and churches. The college-educated New Left, despite the things they got right, abandoned much of all that, reaping the individualism which their parents had sowed, and thus all they took from the language of “empowerment” mostly tended, in my view, to make “do your own thing” seem in their eyes to be an important philosophical claim…which, of course, it isn’t, or moreover it’s own that undermines the whole point of social democracy in the first place.

    Sorry, that’s probably more than you were interested in hearing, but this is one of my hobby-horses.

  14. No, it’s not more than I was interested in.

    Next two questions, if you don’t mind:

    1. What, then do you take “the whole point of social democracy” to be? (I ask because you seem to be attributing intrinsic and not just instrumental value to social democratic / union solidarities. Did I get that right?)

    2. You write about trade unionism granting “an important role to families and neighborhoods and churches.” True enough. How much room within Front Porch thinking is there, then, for granting trade unions “an important role”? (Perhaps that’s not fair, though — you may be an outlier among the FRPers on this question.)

  15. GK,

    1. I’m not sure I attribute “intrinsic and not just instrumental value” to social democracy, but that’s because I’m not certain how you’re using the terms. I suppose one could argue that I do tend towards the “intrinsic” reading of social democracy, because I think our natures our disposed toward communitarian forms of social organization, and social democracy–with its, as I understand and use the term, empowerment of individuals in and through their particular communities so as to exercise participatory and democratic control over their respective economic and political environments–is a way to align modern life (which I do not reject, as much as I often question it) with such communitarian realities. But maybe that aspires to too much philosophy, when in fact the instrumental benefits of populist/social-democratic/localist economics are significant all on their own.

    2. I know I’m not the only fan of unions and social democratic legislation in general who participates around here, but with the exception of Lew Daly, it’s possible I’m the only one feels this way who actually writes for the site. Though if by “Front Porch thinking” you’re meaning in general, and not simply the thinking which is taking place here on this site, then I think the answer is obvious: it was unions, more than almost any other single socio-economic development, which enabled the rise of and helped preserve as long as possible the kind of compact yet flourishing neighborhoods wherein front porches emerged as such an emplematic element of a particular kind of social life. So yeah, I think front porches and good union jobs, for many decades at least, went very much hand in hand for millions of people across the country. No doubt similar claims could be made for a lot of the rest of the industrialized world.

  16. By “Front Porch thinking” I did mean “the thinking which is taking place on this site,” and I suppose I meant the question in part as a provocation to some of your fellow FPR bloggers who (I think) don’t push their thinking far enough in the direction you take in your response to #2 above (and who may well not be reading this far down in the comments to this particular post, and thus may miss the provocation — ah well).

    But I asked these questions, fundamentally, because I find on this blog (and likewise in the writings of, say, Berry or Chesterton or Carey McWilliams) some usefully provocative counterpoints to my own social democratic mode of thinking about politics. And thus I was curious what you’d have to say.

    So: thanks for your responses.

  17. Thank you for this. As a former Catholic Worker, an ardent Distributist, and someone who very much appreciates Charles Taylor and who is undoubtably influenced by Marx, I salute you for this wonderful piece. In addition to being very informative, it gives me great frission to read the work of someone who agrees with so many of my intellectual influences, but who considers himself a creature of the left. Obviously, I think many who would not now consider touching Marx would benefit greatly from doing so. He’s a much more interesting thinker than is usually thought, and he was surprisingly conservative in many ways. I was nearly turned off by some of the near over-the-top *praise* of Capitalism I read in Das Kapital. He’s definitely more complicated and more interesting than most would think.

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