Well, at least this is the suggestion of the perceptive Jason V. Joseph at “Musings in the Public Square,” who offers a succinct and clarifying summary of the disagreement between the PoMoCons and the Porchers. To quote:

The PoMo Con argument, or hope, is that we can separate modern institutions (Democracy, Capitalism, Science) from modern values (individualism, moral relativism, atheism). If this separation can occur, then these values can be replaced with a more robust understanding of who we are and our place in the cosmos. Harvey Mansfield succinctly summarizes the argument, “John Stuart Mill in the public sphere and Aristotle in the private.”

Front Porcher Patrick Deneen’s counter to this argument is that modern values are wedded to modern institutions so one must either accept or reject the project in toto.

One way to test this question is to look at globalization and immigration issues. Easterners make a distinction similar to the one made by PoMo Cons above. They say yes to modernization (institutions) but no to Westernization (values). Have they been able to do so? Has India, which is a rising economic power, been able to maintain its traditional culture? Have Easterners who have moved to the U.S. been able to instill their values to their children? The early returns do not look good: Bollywood and ABCD’s.

This is one instance in which I take little pleasure in being correct. Well, a little pleasure – mostly at the expense of the PoMoCons.


  1. Actually, for this besotted culture, I think the Private: Public split of ” J.S. Mill in public, Aristotle in private” is more like a Corporate-Sponsored Drag Queen at a Rave in Public and Eddie Haskell in private.

    We need studies to determine such things? But, to be sure, Porchers would get lazy without the POMOCON ably pricking their tenderest conceits at times. If one wants to achieve a professional level of existence, one should hope for a strong and worthy antagonist and so hoist a wine glass to the POMOCON (but spike theirs with the cooking wine)

  2. “John Stuart Mill in the public sphere and Aristotle in the private.”

    You’ve got to be kidding. Please tell me that collective schizophrenia is not their argument.

    Also, could somebody explain to me how Science & Democracy are “modern institutions”?

  3. This particular debate is news to me, although I have participated in discussions along similar lines between trad/paleo-cons and (loosely speaking) neo-cons on other sites.

    It brings to mind a book that I’ve heard about but have never read, Barber’s “Jihad vs. McWorld.” Have you or anyone else here read it? Is it worth a perusal?

  4. I am sure you have done so, but for others if might be worth reading some Wendell Berry. Although I am not in complete agreement with the man he does make, perhaps somewhat indirectly, a strong case for the influence of institutions on values; it does become a chicken or the egg issue. Ultimately, I believe that institutions provide the rules that ‘incentivize’ human behavior and are clearly implicated in the molding of modern values that stress individuals over community.

    Yet, when looking at history, most institutional frameworks have done little to elevate the nature of man. A complete review would result in less of a commentary and more of an editorial. One thing that comes to mind is that throughout history individuals have felt the need to pursue some type of ‘Benedict’ option.

    This is perhaps something to pursue. Albeit not a great fan of Rousseau he does have one of my favorite sayings (loosely translated): I know well my laziness, if only I had the time I would sit down and write a treaty with her.

    Very Best,

  5. So democracy is bad? And capitalism is a term invented by Marx that doesn’t correspond to anything real. Are free markets and the resulting prosperity bad? Is science–which is often true as far as it goes–bad? What would an undemocratic, completely communally regulated, and anti-science place look like? It seems to me that there’s–as usual–a lot of exaggeration and caricature at work here. And HCM–a great American–is no pomocon. I’m for neither Mill nor Aristotle in either sphere. Mill is for the tyranny of experts, and Aristotle has it wrong–although he makes many great and astute points–on both virtue and science. My objection to modern science and Aristotelian science–from a roughly Thomistic view–is that neither is adequate as science. Even if the case of India–especially if you examine carefully the creepy side of their traditional values–things are getting better and worse.

  6. Dr. Lawler,

    Frankly — and I mean no offense to anybody in this instance — I dislike all of these terms. Pomocon, paleocon, crunchy-con, Front Porcher, neocon… most of these neologisms just rub me the wrong way — I’m not sure why.

    In any event, given your objection to modern science as not being adequate as science, would you agree that it is inaccurate to claim (as so many do) that science is essentially a “modern institution”?

    If so, I’m no longer exactly sure what the argument is actually about. I don’t think many (if any) at FPR are against science qua science — the objection is, rather, that in its modern expression science is disastrously fixated on the Baconian aspiration to dominate nature at any cost.

    As to the political side of things, I think many of the regular readers and posters at FPR would simply contend that modern democracy is not at all adequate as democracy.

  7. Well, I now see science as “political science,” and thank you Algore!
    “The Earth has a fever!”
    I mean, if you can fix data to fit a political perspective in the case of “climate change” what other sciences are “adjusted” to falsely bolster a perverse ideology? Evolution? Biology?
    And, the media, academia, and gummint are all but silent on this question, which may well be the most important question of our era. Well, you see my point.

  8. Suggestion: PoMoCons and Porchers are really two sides of the same coin. Both argue that you can have your modernization while keeping your traditional values. They just like different institutions. The PoMoCons may be Hamiltonian where the Porchers are more Jeffersonian, but both are roundly modernist.

  9. […] 25/02/2010 · Leave a Comment What made the West modern was the progression of its philosophy into political form.  With Locke’s liberalism, the privilege of pursuing the true and the good inaugurated by Plato was wrested back from the religious (and anyone else who claimed authority by divine right) and redistributed to the People to whom, apparently, it had always belonged, as a matter of ‘natural’ right. The practical effect of this was to render the pursuit a decidedly private affair and the principal mechanism for achieving it was the development of a structural division of labor for serving human interests.  Civil authority – essentially the ‘government’ and those social institutions for which government is needed to maintain – became charged with the responsibility of ensuring the ‘public welfare,‘ – securing the community, that is to say, against external threats and internal unrest, needs few, if any, individuals could adequately secure on their own. But the state’s role as guardian of the public good goes beyond its efficiency in securing the social-material means the people need to adequately exercise their natural right.  What is required is not merely the power of the state, but its reserve: only if the government renounces any role in deciding for individuals how they are to undertake that pursuit, let alone dictating to them what they must find, can it legitimately be protected.  The pursuit of the good and the true must be left to the liberty of each. The modern divide still defines much of the Western social-political landscape even as we debate about how best to leave modernity behind.  Indeed, that the divide itself now strikes many as perfectly natural is neatly illustrated by the following.  Richard Rorty’s characterized his hoped-for ‘postmodern liberalism has Mill (who provided perhaps the most eloquent restatement and refinement of the modern divide) informing  our stewardship of the public good while (a sufficiently neutered) Nietzsche inspires our private ‘poetic self-creation.‘  But if this vision of postmodernity is insufficiently ‘classical‘ for your taste, you might consider a contemporary set of mind dubbed ‘postmodern conservatism,‘ which urges “John Stuart Mill in the public sphere and Aristotle in the private.” […]

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