Alexandria, VA Since Caleb has posted his lecture from a legendary conference a few years ago that a number of future Front Porchers attended in Charlottesville, VA, I’ve brushed off the dusty pages of a lecture that I delivered there, and offer the first part here:


I want to begin my talk on “The Alternative Tradition in America” with an unlikely source – the granddaddy of neo-conservatism, the most vilified philosopher of modern times – the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss didn’t write much on America, and nothing, to my knowledge, on something called “The Alternative Tradition in America.” Nevertheless, one essay by Strauss in particular elucidates aspects of the American tradition against which the alternative tradition can and should be contrasted, an essay entitled “The Three Waves of Modernity.” That dominant tradition is, broadly defined, liberalism, and incorporates both dominant American political worldviews, those positions popularly known as liberalism and conservatism. Strauss helps us see that what are called American liberalism and conservatism are really one continuous development of what can broadly be called modernity, or more narrowly be defined as liberalism proper. In other words, Strauss reveals that what we consider to be the two great traditions of America – liberalism and conservatism – are really one and the same, and that we have to look elsewhere to discern an alternative tradition.

Strauss begins his essay by describing the first wave of modernity, a “wave” initiated by Machiavelli and further developed first by Thomas Hobbes and then by John Locke. This first wave of modernity represented a major break with antiquity, and, in particular, a fundamental change in how humanity viewed nature. Modern political thought is marked, perhaps above all, by a growing confidence in human powers of understanding and the admonition to exert those powers in the control of nature. Modernity was inaugurated by a transformation of scientific understanding – from the distinction of “science” as the observation of natural phenomena to the active effort to employ knowledge of natural operations in the active interference of those operations toward the goal of “the relief of the human estate.”

The move toward modernity was inaugurated initially in the effort to control chance, or “fortune.” Rejecting Classical or Christian conceptions that commended an understanding of nature of which humanity was a part, and thereby subject to its limits, modern thought began with the effort to exert control over nature’s governance and, in effect, to put humans on the course of controlling nature. One of modernity’s major figures – Francis Bacon – argued that nature was comparable to a prisoner who withheld its secrets, and that the scientist was like a jailer who sought to extract those secrets by torture if necessary. The image of a recalcitrant and niggardly nature was one continued by Bacon’s one-time secretary, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke in their arguments on behalf of the pursuit of the human conquest of nature in the pursuit of “commodious living” and ever-increasing economic growth.

Strauss argued that this “first wave” of modernity represented modern natural right – that is, a conception of right understood to be based upon a conception of human nature, now a nature understood to be driven above all by self-interest and the pursuit of material comfort and plenty. The first wave was thus a political philosophy that included an understanding of limits: namely, that human nature was fixed – we were by nature self-interested creatures who sought material plenty – and thus that political efforts to transform human nature were misguided and ultimately fruitless. Human nature was base and self-seeking, but it was unchangeable, and thus represented a permanent and ineradicable form of motivation that could be both utilized and controlled. It could be utilized by steering its productive and competitive energies toward economic concerns, and it could be controlled by creating institutions that channeled the potentially destructive energies toward productive enterprises, that created legal and institutional limits to their expression particularly in the form of a strong State that could both control the worst aspects of the human nature but also to provide the setting for an expansion of economic energies driven above all by unleashed self-interest. The philosophy of the first wave of modernity – early modern liberalism – underlies the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers of America. It is the philosophy of Locke, as well as the philosophy of Madison, who understood that “men were not angels” and that “religious and moral motives” could not be relied upon in politics. Politics was not the realm of redemption and human perfection, but the domain of productive channeling of the enormous energies of self-interest toward the project of the mastery of nature.

The “second wave” of modernity took the basic insight of the philosophers of the first wave – that nature was subject to human control – and extended this insight to human nature itself. If external nature were subject to human dominion, why not human nature itself? Thinkers like Rousseau, Condorcet, Comte, and later, John Stuart Mill, developed the idea of human perfectibility, of the human ability to master not only external nature, but to improve human nature as well. If philosophers of the “first wave” argued that human nature was unalterable, philosophers of the “second wave” argued that human nature could be improved concurrent with an improvement in the material domain. The concept of moral progress became a central feature in second wave philosophy, a progress in historical time that was believed to culminate in man’s perfection, even ascent to a godlike condition.

Our time – modernity, and particularly the modernity as experienced in America – has been largely defined as a battle between adherents of the “First Wave” and disciples of the “Second Wave.” Liberal Democracy stood firm against the successive waves of Fascism and Communism in the twentieth century, holding to its animating “first wave” belief that politics was not the realm of human transformation and salvation, and that freedom – particularly in the form of individual rights and free market economies – was the appropriate aspiration of human life. In our own day, and in our own politics, conservatives are most often adherents of the “first wave” philosophy – defenders of originalism, of the vision of the Founders, of free markets, limited government and individual liberties. By contrast, contemporary liberals (so-called) are more often acolytes of “second wave” philosophy, believers in moral progress and human transformation, one that stresses the positive role of Government in effecting this transformation. The two camps have been locked in a constant battle since the advent of the modern age, and the two camps could not seem to be further apart.

However, Strauss’s analysis reveals a deep similarity between these two camps, and indeed discloses that the two are the deepest of antagonists in the way that only the closest of kin tend to be. Both of these camps of modernism are species of liberalism – the one, “natural rights” liberalism, and the other, progressive liberalism – and as such, both are deeply suspicious and even hostile towards claims of tradition. Both are hostile to the deeper claims of religion as a source of governing authority. Both seek human mastery over the external world and especially economic growth, although “the second wave” is less cognizant of how extensively its belief in human transformation rests upon the base of economic expansion, growth, and mastery (“second wave” liberals, for instance, are often involved in anti-globalization protests, but are not actually against globalization. They simply seek to reject the economic basis of globalization, and rather seek the universal brotherhood of mankind. They are definitely the more delusional of the modernisms, and also politically far more dangerous). Both “waves” embrace a concept of progress and foreground the goal of “growth,” although for the first wave philosophy, progress is limited to the economic and material real, whereas for “second wave” liberals growth is also seen to be psychological and moral (“modern man,” Richard Rorty has argued, “has more being”). Above all, both philosophies share the most basic presupposition of modern thought – both are based upon a deep, profound, and pervasive antagonism toward nature. Both understand that the modern political project rests upon orienting humankind’s activities toward the active mastery of nature; the first wave is “conservative” because it does not extend that mastery to human nature; the second wave is “progressive” because it does.

The most striking feature of Strauss’s argument, in my view, is his belief that there is a necessary and inevitable progression from the first to the second wave of modernity. Once the modern break with antiquity and the Christian age is initiated by Machiavelli and his belief that humankind should seek to control “Fortune,” an inevitable and unavoidable philosophical chain of events leads to the development of historicism (that is, “progressivism”) and ultimately, the third wave, Nietzsche or nihilism. The belief in human dominion over nature inevitably is imperialistic – that is, inevitably extends its hubris to humanity itself. However, possibly even more striking are not Strauss’s conclusions – though I do think they are striking – but rather, it is the almost universal resistance on the part of the Strauss’s students to accepting this feature of Strauss’s argument, namely, that “progressivism” is a necessary development of natural rights liberalism. Nearly every “Straussian” I know is a defender of “first wave” modernity – a firm defender of Lockean natural rights liberalism. Uncountable Straussians are now making a good living arguing that “progressivism” was a foreign import – mainly of German origin – and thus an unnatural infestation and foreign invasion of the Natural Rights Republic. This was the core of Allan Bloom’s argument 20 years ago in The Closing of the American Mind, and remains at the heart of various defenses of Natural Right liberalism, and lies at the heart of neo-Conservativism. It must be concluded, therefore, that for students of Strauss, it is an “inconvenient truth” that their teacher Strauss held that progressivism was a necessary and unavoidable development embedded within the modern presuppositions of the Natural Rights republic.

If Strauss is correct, and one would resist this path to nihilism (if not initially progressivism), then one cannot simply build a wall around Lockeanism and blame progressivism on some foreign infestation. To defend Lockean philosophy in the name of conservatism is invite in the progressive hordes through the back door. To do so is to make a fatal compromise with modernity, and above all the modern presupposition of the human antagonism against, and differentiation from, nature. One is thrust in the potential position of being un-American, of feeling homeless in America. It is an experience I have quite personally encountered: I once spent a few hours waiting for a flight with a colleague at an airport, and began explaining to him this argument, thereby raising the question whether either version of modernity was defensible – and he looked at me with growing horror and called me “Anti-American.” And, he was nothing if not a good liberal and a good modernist, although he called himself a conservative. Indeed, nothing brings the Left and Right together quicker than a good critique of modernity.

The American tradition, then, would seem to be one or another iteration of these various waves of modernity, all of which are premised upon a fundamental antagonism of humanity toward nature. In the view of my airport interlocutor, one can’t draw upon the American tradition itself to critique the modern presuppositions of either American liberalism or conservatism. Strauss seemed only to confirm this hypothesis, for he argued that the fundamental alternative to the various waves of modernity could only be discovered in a pre-modern, and specifically, ancient philosophical context.

It seems to me that Strauss was correct – that the alternative to the waves of modernity is pre-modern – but that its only source is not classical political philosophy. Rather, and particularly within the American context, many of the classical teachings that Strauss commended were refashioned but largely retained within the Biblical and especially Christian tradition renewed by of successive waves of American settlers, and in spite of America’s official Lockean (and then growing progressive) philosophy, nevertheless has persisted deep within the DNA of the American soul.

* * *

End, Part I

Part II is Here.

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  1. Patrick, this takes my breath away, just brilliant!
    I read the above in a ever expanding state of ‘shock and awe.’ Bells, whistles, lights, and fireworks exploded, rang, chimed, and burst in a cacophany of sound and light that ricocheted deep within the recesses of whatever brain matter remains.
    This is the stuff that alters thinking, changes minds, and converts the sinner. Surely the beloved Lawler and the PoMoCons are sharpening their quills, exchanging emails, and busily referring to the Straussian canon! The beauty of it, the symmetry….all in the quest for truth.
    I’m off to my Voegelin, vol. 11, I think!
    If the ensuing Parts are anything like Part 1, we may be looking at a re-ordering of the political symbols within modernity. A challenge to the philosophical status quo as potentially important as Parmenides identification of Nous and Logos within the “nonpropositional exclamation IS!” An new response to the queston of being in nature!

  2. Deneen: the only true Straussian in America!

    Thanks for making this very cogent piece available, PD. It stands out from what little I can remember about Charlottesville, where Jeremy tried to poison me and Bill ate all my Tylenol.

  3. This article mirrors very closely my “Teleology and the Death of Liberalism” (http://apoxonbothyourhouses.blogspot.com/2009/07/teleology-and-death-of-liberalism.html). The first wave liberals were the result of the rejection of teleology in the natural world, the second wave the rejection of teleology in the psychological, and the third wave the realization that value rests on a basis of teleology. But teleology has made a comeback in recent decades and I think the liberalism that rested on its rejection is on the way out.

  4. Patrick,

    I agree with your entire analysis, as I think it provides a great summary of Strauss’ idea of the 3 waves of modernity. I do take issue with a small point in that you generally lump Strauss’ students into a single camp that defends first wave modernity. I think that we both could agree that all of Strauss’ students do not necessarily fit this into this category, however, I specifically take issue with your putting Alan Bloom into this camp. In Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, he takes issue with what he deems America has lost which he declares is its common reference to a Christian tradition that provided a check on its liberal tendencies. Bloom’s final conclusion is similar to Strauss’ in that he argues for a return to a pre-modern classical tradition. He laments the loss of the common Christian reference in America because that Christian tradition kept much of what was good from the classical tradition.

    Other than that, it was a great intro to Strauss for those who have often read these pages, and moreso the pages at FT, wondering about all of the Straussian references.

  5. Here we go again poking holes in my grand conceited concepts…nice job Deneen. “Commodious Living” has created a kind of Potemkin facade that ably puts an “Irish Clean” on the wages of unbridled exploitation and the collectivization of the costs of large scale impact. My paternal Grandma , one of several Irish sisters referred to the “Irish Clean” as placing a blanket over a mess in order to make it go away. Locke’s “Life , Liberty and Property”…..softened by Madison’s and Jefferson’s substitution of “happiness” for property would seem to promote a sense of stewardship as the abiding strength of property-based democracy. It is something I have long agreed with and considered the touchstone of a proper social order.

    However, one finds a little irony in the story of our early relations with the Native Americans . Transactions were made , payments received and yet the seller could not understand the notion of exclusive use and so continued to “trespass” upon that which was sold until they were removed by force and decline. They had a different concept of place and property although they were no mere inhabiters of nature….they modified and maintained the landscape intensively in places but understood, in their own way, the hazards of over-use. This was not of course a universal approach to stewardship in the pre-European contact Americas and one need only look at the larger native societies of the North American Mound cultures and Mayans for demonstrations of the costs of exploitation…both human and environment. We have likewise procured the property in an open transaction but failed to treat it sustainably in the sum.

    Property stewardship…aka ownership has been run down a road of diminishing returns that has taken the definition from one of stewardship to one simply of rightful exploitation. This, of course, is most ably illustrated by the apotheosis of the modern concept of property: The American Sprawl subdivision where every man has his castle in a landscape of banal squalor and planned obsolescence. This residential sprawl is further fed by a commercial sprawl that is , in turn fed by an industrial sprawl and throughout the spectrum…the sacred cow of “external costs” prevails. Accordingly, private property is the call to arms of conservatives against a backdrop of an impoverishment of the notion of stewardship while the liberal seeks collectivization and here too, the seeming good intentions go wanting when the agent of collectivization treats any notion of “stewardship” as some kind of foolish restraint on the prevailing system of kiting checks.

    We continue to treat “nature” as the “other” …..an altogether prudent mindset when nature could easily kill you at your doorstep…..and our life will continue to become ever more unnatural. It is not perhaps property that is the problem here but the definition of rights and responsibilities of property and whether the definition is to countenance stewardship or exploitation. Right now, we have a contradictory and consumptive institution of privacy maintained by a tragedy of the commons.

  6. “The Church professes to be infallible in her teaching of morals no less than of faith. If, then, Catholicism be true, and if Catholics have the fullest ground for knowing it to be true, the one healthy, desirable, and legitimate state of civil society is that the Church’s doctrines, principles, and laws should be recognized without question as its one basis of legislation and administration; to the Church’s authority.”

    –William Ward

    Regarding the question of the essential liberalism of the American Founding, put simply, this statement by Ward, which is merely a summary of the immutable Catholic political theology of the social reign of Christ the King, is the standard by which American “liberalism” and “conservatism” can clearly be measured. Once one recognizes this essential truth of the Church’s political theology, then the sophistry of the “conservative” demonizing of one brand of liberalism, the “radical liberalism” of the French Revolution, and lionizing, or at least making one’s peace with, the “moderate liberalism” of the English tradition (Locke, Montesquieu, etc.) becomes clear. Liberalism with a capital “L” rejects Catholic political theology, period. Any clear thinking Catholic political philosopher and theologian must accept the Church’s political ideal, at least in theory, and philosophize and theologize accordingly, even if that means tolerating the non-application of this doctrine and thus the absence of anything even approaching a Catholic confessional state (which may very well have to be our attitude until the Second Coming).

    I think we should seek actively to embody this Catholic political theology in whatever social and political milieus over which we have some influence–starting with family and neighborhood. To make peace with pluralism (First Things, obviously, but also, I think, Maritain) leads to spiritual death. Alasdair MacIntyre is a must read on why this local embodiment is necessary and why the modern-nation-state must take a back seat to our local and small-scale initiatives.

  7. This is excellent, and happens to fit nicely with a discussion going on at my blog; we were wondering if and how the Anglo-American constitutional tradition could be traced back to Aquinas, but substituting “medieval Christendom” for “Aquinas,” this sheds some light.

  8. Great article, Dr. Deneen. I’d like to throw some pertinent MacIntyre quotes into the mix:

    “Liberalism in the name of freedom imposes a certain kind of unacknowledged domination, and one which in the long run tends to dissolve traditional human ties and to impoverish social and cultural relationships. Liberalism, while imposing through state power regimes that declare everyone free to pursue whatever they take to be their own good, deprives most people of the possibility of understanding their lives as a quest for the discovery and achievement of the good, especially by the way in which it attempts to discredit those traditional forms of human community within which this project has to be embodied.”

    “Practices, as I understand them, are a universal feature of human cultures, although in some they may be radically marginalized and their significance deeply obscured. What this may prevent and does prevent in the cultures distinctive of modernity is the development of an Aristotelian understanding of the significance of practices in terms of the whole life of an individual and the life of communities. Because only in an Aristotelian perspective can that significance be rightly understood, the potentiality that all plain persons have for developing out of their experience of practices an Aristotelian understanding of themselves can be frustrated. And the dominant cultures of modernity are apt so to frustrate it, except among those who live on their margins”

    “When the sacred and the secular are divided, then religion becomes one more department of human life, one activity among others. This has in fact happened to bourgeois religion. From Monday to Friday one is occupied with earning one’s living. On Saturday and Sunday one relaxes and, if one is so minded, fulfils any religious obligations. Politics, industry, art—this is the kind of list to which religion can be added. But religion as an activity divorced from other activities is without point. If religion is only a part of life, then religion has become optional. Only a religion which is a way of living in every sphere either deserves to or can hope to survive. For the task of religion is to help us to see the secular as sacred, the world as under God. When the sacred and the secular are separated, then ritual becomes an end not to the hallowing of the world, but in itself. Likewise if our religion is fundamentally irrelevant to our politics, then we are recognising the political as a realm outside the reign of God. To divide the sacred from the secular is to recognise God’s action only within the narrowest limits.”

    And this is my favorite:

    “For, if this account of contemporary politics is in outline correct, then we now inhabit a social order whose institutional heterogeneity and diversity of interests is such that no place is left any longer for a politics of the common good. What we have instead is a politics from whose agendas enquiry concerning the nature of that politics has been excluded, a politics thereby protected from perceptions of its own exclusions and limitations. “

  9. Terrific post!

    Claremont’s Charles Kesler was on Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge (http://www.hoover.org/multimedia/uk/47825927.html)a few weeks ago and he certainly fit your description of contemporary Straussians.

    He even adapted Strauss’s three waves argument and applied it to contemporay liberalism: political (early Progressives), economic (New Deal), and cultural (Sexual Revolution).

    I look forward to hearing about the refashioning that occurred WITHIN America. An appeal to ideas within our tradition will have more sway in the public square than bringing a foreign import.

    But what about the including the Declaration as part of that tradition. Besides the Locke alone thesis, there is also the “legislative compromise” argument which says Congress moderated Jefferson’s Lockean/Deist tendecies by talking about “providence” and “Supreme Judge” at the end of the Declaration.

  10. I think this essay illuminates well the distinctions between first-wave/conservative and second-wave/progressive liberalism as well as their fundamental unity in an opposition to nature/human nature that manifests in attempts to dominate and control them.

    What this essay does not do–appropriately, since it is outside the essay’s scope of discussing Leo Strauss’s thought–is to root modern man’s stance toward nature in a rejection of his place as a limited creature that is a part of the creation of and under God, who by virtue of His wisdom and authority, established a natural order that should guide and limit man’s dominion, i.e. cultivation, of nature and human nature.

    It is, in my view, a perception that FPR generally rejects dominion over nature and human nature that alarms some of our friends on the web–a perception that is unmerited, but perhaps has not been adequately addressed by discussing what appropriate cultivation looks like (and why) when it comes to various technologies. That seems to be the easiest target of the skeptical mind of moderns.

    I do think FPR has strongly articulated the political and economic principles that conform to the natural, created order (including human nature, limits, place, etc.) But my guess is that most of the skepticism is fueled by suspicions regarding other technologies.

    Perhaps we need to call in some bioethicists, media ecologists, etc.? I wonder if Leon Kass is busy. I think his writings on human body performance enhancement technologies, for example, would be helpful in relieving some suspicions while confirming others (and thereby challenging the assumptions behind such suspicions).

  11. 1) Straussianism is much more complicated than this. Why, for instance, does Pat not mention the old East Coast v. West Coast distinction?

    2) The Strauss-influenced strain Deneen is most engaged in discussion with, the “post-modern conservatives,” likewise have a much more complicated relation to liberalism than this would suggest–many of them are in broad agreement with the rather Catholic and by-no-means-West-Coast thought of Peter Lawler and Pierre Manent.

    3) Since I heard the original talk in full(you’re in for a treat), I know that (spoilers ahead!) the Alternative American Political Tradition includes Puritans, AntiFederalists, agrarians, and others that Carey Wilson McWilliams liked, passing down to Berry and FPR. It’s a fine talk that has influenced my own thinking. I do think Pat pays too little attention to how this tradition at important points blends with the dominant American tradition, which I would label the (Prudential) Protection of Natural Rights. Especially with most Puritan defenders of liberty and Anti-Federalists, this blending is really undeniable. So many talk of township liberty, but also of natural rights. So why not try to honor and work with this blending? That is, to try to do so now, and in explicit opposition to the progressivist and libertarian traditions that have developed since the founding?
    For Pat to label the strain of American political thinking he identifies as ALTERNATIVE makes it sound like it really IS an alternative. But it cannot politically stand alone; it can only so stand as a supplement to and partial corrective of the dominant tradition, let’s say, as a broader understanding of what the Declaration’s reference to “Prudence” and “such principles” entails. (I detail why we cannot conceive of how it would stand alone on Postmodern Conservative today.)
    From a Pomocon perspective, for us to talk of an Alternative Tradition is like saying, “Oh, we tried liberalism and natural rights, we tried like bad Straussians to separate the first wave of modern liberalism from the second wave of progressivism, and all that failed and was shown to be incoherent by Deneen, and so now, we’re going to try the ‘alternative.’” But alas, or rather, thank God, this is America, a PLACE in which you cannot run directly against Jefferson and Locke, nor surgically remove them from the patient.

  12. Carl,

    1. It seemed a bit messy, and probably self-indulgent, to get into these academic intramural distinctions in a 35 minute talk. I’m happy to amend to say “many Straussians” or even “a number of Straussians.” I don’t mean the point to be a distraction – my main interest was in discussing some of the more interesting implications of Strauss’s essay, and I think that one would be hard pressed to find ANY Straussian, or more than a few exceptions, that see the radicalness of Strauss’s point about the succession of the three waves.

    2. Peter has had similarly to account for the problem of the Founding in relation to what America has become, as does any conservative who thinks we aren’t what we were supposed to be. His version is more creative than most – I’ll give him that. He argues that the Founding was verbally Lockean but actually Thomistic (hence why he is the Dean of the “Built Better Than They Knew” School). It’s an intriguing argument, but it doesn’t really account for why America has become more Lockean over time. Unless it’s for the reason that people begin to conform acts to their explanations, in which case it’s probably not quite accurate to say that the Founding wasn’t really Lockean after all. If it really were Thomistic, one might suspect that we wouldn’t be so prone to employing Lockean explanations for our actions. We might instead employ Thomistic explanations. If we weren’t actually Lockean at the Founding, then Peter’s just pushing the foreign contagion thesis back one step.

    3. I think this is the real crux of whatever debate we may have been having, though I think it’s really simply a case that we just agree to disagree. What is described here by Carl as a “blending” I would argue is a relationship of profound tension and even antagonism. The official Lockeanism/liberalism of the Founding is imperialistic, and its logic has worked itself out through the regime that was founded according to its basic premises. The “alternative” inheritance has existed uneasily alongside the dominant liberal tradition – indeed, as I argue in Part II (though Carl has basically given it all away!), that pre-modern inheritance has even given liberalism sustenance that it has gladly “used” but hardly replenished (e.g., families, virtues like charity and frugality, self-government, etc.).

    The regime has become “more itself” over time. What Carl regards as a “blending” I understand to be a routing. I think the people writing here differ quite a bit in how this situation is to be redressed, but in general there’s a degree of agreement that the the “status quo” cannot be maintained, above all because the status quo is leading us toward ruination and catastrophe. I disagree that what we are witnessing is ongoing happy “blending” of our several traditions. I see a ruinous embrace of a dominant ethic that portends a bad future for future generations, not to mention the current one.

    I also disagree that the “alternative” I’m seeking to tease out is somehow insufficient to the task or wildly foreign to our native soil. While attenuated, there is a tradition of more local self-governance built into the American DNA (the earlier discussions of “boomers” and “stickers” applies. The two are distinct and mutually exclusive, and while the “Boomers” have been dominant, I do not think that must necessarily be the case. At least I’ll go down fighting for the “Sticker” cause). I agree that it does not seem politically feasible that we will see its realization tonight or tomorrow or next week or next year. But, as I said elsewhere, small changes, accumulated over a period, can have a significant effect on the course of a regime with the passage of time. You seem impatient for a political platform (maybe you want to vote for it?), but before there can be anything that concrete, there has to be the working through of ideas and arguments and tempers flaring (yes, mine did recently), and late nights on or off or near or far from a porch where ideas and schemes and wild crackpot ambitions are hatched. And, most importantly, there needs to be persuasion. You seem to be demanding either a revolution or that we all stand down and join the PoMoCon team in acknowledging that there’s nothing really to be done – everything is getting better and worse, after all. I disagree.

    Given the thrust of your argument, I’m actually puzzled as to why you care enough to make several lengthy contributions to the discussion. If you’re right, there really is no chance that any of the arguments here can have any significant political effect. After all, “thank God, this is America, a PLACE in which you cannot run directly against Jefferson and Locke.” So, either you’re being charitable and warning us not to waste our time (though it’s puzzling that you would waste your own time in warning us thusly), or you’re worried that we’ll cause mischief. I suspect that it’s the latter (and if so, perhaps things aren’t as wholly unchangeable as you suggest), but if it’s the former, thanks for your concern, but I don’t mind wasting my time here. The company’s good.

  13. Bro Patrick, the response to Carl was darn near as good as the originating essay.
    Good grief, I’m starting to sense the possibility of success…at least a beginning and in some degree. For one thing look at the new and decidedly sharp people ‘commenting’ herein!
    Carl, I might add, does good service in providing delightful questions that aggravate/stimulate the author, who in turn, so eloquently responds!
    Part II, please!

  14. Bob,
    There was a bit of discussion before the site was launched whether we would provide opportunity for comments. Knowing the kind of vicious and irresponsible comments that tend to be lobbed from behind the veil of anonymity on other sites, we were tempted to go forward without comments. I’m very happy that we decided otherwise, for the comments have proven to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the site. If nothing else, it was through his comments that the great D.W. Sabin was discovered and invited “officially” to spend time on the Porch.

    And, you’re right to thank Carl (and others) for their valuable contributions; let me add my note of thanks. I’ll be posting Pt. II on Friday.

  15. Thank you, Pat and Bob, for the compliments. Pat:

    1.) You’re right about keeping the essay clean, but I’d be a bit warier than you are about arguments that too easily lump the Straussians together, given certain widespread idiocitic ideas about them.

    2.) Your characterization of Peter’s stance is useful enough, no need to go into my quibbles with it here…he can and does defend himself…

    3.) Related debates here about “blending” and such; for now, I’ll stand by what I wrote and address your curiosity about my motivations for writing these insanely long comments on and about FPR. They are:

    a.) loud “AMENS!” that came forth from my soul, followed by a couple of muffled quizzicle “buts,” both when I read Berry’s “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community” essay when younger, and when I in my later Strauss-influenced days I read McWilliams’ seminal “Democracy and the Citizen” essay. ..the buts concern the 2009 question of, “and how do we extricate communities from their subjection to the market economy?” (see my current “Porcher Localism” post on Pomocon) and the 1789 question of, “but wasn’t the proper vote nonetheless for ratification?”

    b.) A desire for FPR to better “win friends and influence people” over the long term. Again I say it, Pat: I sincerely think the FPR emphasis might well help, as Toc. would say, “prop us up on the side where we lean.”

    c.) My worries about FPR, then?

    First, that its capital L-Liberalism bashing, might not allow the Americans who need to hear FPR to do so. That’s why I say you “can’t run directly against TJ,” or more to the point, directly against the Declaration and the Constitution. I don’t want people to dismiss y’all as a bunch of cranks! Simple as that!

    Second, and much more secondarily, I fear that FPR’s capital L-Liberalism bashing could become a largely literary politics that for various reasons helps the Democrats more than the Republicans. The easiest way to explain why I think this would help the Dem side more is to share that I was a long-suffering Pro-life Dem who around 2001(pre-9/11) concluded, partly under the weight of my Tocquevillian and Strauss-influenced education, that that position couldn’t be maintained anymore. And once I learned more about what the basic conservative positions really were, I was not pleased with myself for having tarried so long in my “cool” semi-Demi moderation. So I egotistically worry that FPR might be a place that keeps folks with my basic make-up content with relatedly unrealistic political positions, if its more theory-centric and apolitical tendencies become dominant. But again, all this is very secondary, and even marginal, given the HUGE legions of FPR partisans out there waiting to swing elections.

    All in all, I think because I’m probably more susceptible to the FPR frequency than most other Pomocon folks, my criticism gets more spirited, and long-winded! But Pat, my thanks for keeping up the good and necessary work that is FPR.

  16. Carl:
    “First, that its capital L-Liberalism bashing, might not allow the Americans who need to hear FPR to do so.”

    What blogger at FPR is engaging in “liberal bashing?”

  17. Lockean Liberalism bashing, Bob. Aka Classic Liberalism. State of Nature. Natural Rights, including that nastily problematic (esp. for small-l liberals) one to property.

    That’s the capital L.

  18. All right-thinking men should be big L liberalism “bashers,” if that means giving no quarter to the practical atheism of Locke, and not ignoring his pernicious influence on the thinking of the American Founders. Even someone as areligious and seemingly postmodernly nihilistic as Stanley Fish sees through the ruse that is Lockeanism. Lock’s “social contract” is a “contract with nothingness.” If you care, here are my thoughts about Locke, Fish, and Church and state:


  19. Aristotle and Aquinas both defended the legitimacy of private property, albeit not the idea (or ideal) of its unlimited acquisition. To suggest that the idea of private property receives sole justification through a Lockean notion of natural rights is incorrect. What Locke justifies is its unlimited acquisition, and a society based upon that materialist premise.

  20. Liberalism in the 19th century sense of the word is an part of the American tradition, but Marxism is not.

    The Left, in their dishonorable corruption of language, have misappropriated the term. It now is a cover for them to hide behind. This is true as well of the term “progressive”. In the doublespeak of the left white is black and black is white. But the last thing that the Left could ever is liberal, the very thing that they will destroy is progress and they mpst passionately hate liberty. They are berserkers and destroyers: A menagerie of collectivist errors–Stalinists, Leninists, Maoists, Fascists and everything in between. They have willfully embraced a complete inversion of all values, which is to say they are wholly immoral.

    It is time that decent Americans come to terms with this and call them by their true names.

    The crisis of today is not between Liberalism and Conservatism; it is between Communism and Neo-National Socialism on the one hand and Classical Liberalism as articulated by modern conservatives on the other. Any other take on the is a bucket of pseudo-intellectual hogwash and the wort sort of sophistry.

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