In the wake of Phillip Blond’s visit to Georgetown and the imminent passage of the Healthcare bill, we need to state clearly the nature of the moment: our time is defined by a pincer movement mutually arising from, on the one hand, liberalism’s tendency to understand the human creature in individualistic and monadic terms, and on the other, the rise of a centralized Nanny State. Our current political alignments regard these two as opposites, the one the philosophy of heroic Randian individuals, the other, the specter of the Nanny State – or (as described from another perspective), on one side, greedy industrial plunderers, and on the other, the Government as protector of and provider for the people. The pincer movement is directed against all intermediary and binding associations: both the Market and the State seek to be monopolistic in their spheres, disempowering or dislocating intermediary identifications. Community, family, church, society – all are to be remade in the voluntarist image, and their functions are to be replaced by the State.

In the wake of Phillip Blond’s visit, there can and will be much debate about many aspects of his policies and positions, but I think his main point – identifying the unholy alliance between economic individualism and State collectivism – was powerful and undeniable. While he cited the work of Chesterton and Belloc, he might too have invoked the name of Robert Nisbet as well. And, perhaps above all, his analysis echoed the insights of Tocqueville in his masterpiece Democracy in America.

Many readers of Democracy in America – and doubtless more with only passing acquaintance – know that Tocqueville warns against the rise of a centralized, bureaucratic, “tutelary” government, the “soft despotism” of the centralized Nanny State. It is these passages of Tocqueville that have always been the most admired by conservatives. But most readers fail to see that Tocqueville understood the rise of the centralized tutelary State not to be result of a coup by centralizing despots, but rather, the consequence of our ever-greater tendency to embrace a Lockean form of individualism. Throughout Democracy in America he wrote of the ways in which associational life strengthen citizens, giving them the tools and capacities and talents for finding together the means of achieving the particular good within their communities, and providing for them a familiarity with, and love for, civic freedom. The tendency for democracies, over time, toward separation, solipsism, individualism – suspicious of groups and people that make claims upon individuals, more tempted by private than public concerns, increasingly understanding freedom to be doing as one wants – renders democratic people ripe for the rise of the tutelary State.

Tocqueville over and over describes such people as “weak,” shorn of the resources that provide an avenue toward a true form of freedom. And so, he writes toward the conclusion of Democracy in America that the individual freedom claiming to do what we want will lead to the most debased form of modern tyranny, willing subjects to a tutelary State. Tocqueville writes, with acute insight:

Since … no one is obliged to lend his force to those like him and no one has the right to expect great support from those like him, each is at once independent and weak. These two states – which must neither be viewed separately nor confused – give the citizen of democracies very contrary instincts. His independence fills him with confidence and pride among his equals, and his debility makes him feel, from time to time, the need of the outside help that he cannot expect from any of them, since they are all impotent and cold. In this extremity, he naturally turns his regard to the immense being [the tutelary, bureaucratic, centralized State] that rises alone in the midst of universal debasement. His needs and above all his desires constantly lead him back toward it, and in the end he views it as the unique and necessary support for his individual weakness.” (II.iv.3)

Tocqueville’s analysis provides us with a unique understanding of the sources of modern centralization and the rise of the administrative State. Often we tend to view its rise as the result of a collectivist spirit, and assert in its opposition a hale defense of individualism. Tocqueville’s analysis suggests that those concerned with the rise of the tutelary State should not defend individualism as such – but instead, defend associational life and the spirit of self-government that it engenders. The spirit of liberty that impels individuals toward the liberation born of freedom from obligations and responsibility finally makes us servile dependents upon the State.

In perfect confirmation of Tocqueville’s fears, take a minute to watch this video, courtesy of the U.S. Government in its efforts to promote the Census:

The commercial – entitled “A March to the Mailbox” – portrays an ordinary Joe getting off his couch (in a bathrobe) and marching out of his house – picket-fenced – where suddenly the streets fill with neighbors and friends, the names of whom he knows entirely. He states that by filling out the Census form, he’s helping Pete’s school and roads for his neighbors car pool and Risa’s health-care and so that – I quote – “we can get our fair share of Federal Funding.” As I watched it (in growing horror), I saw it as the perverse fulfillment of Tocqueville’s analysis – that the very community spirit being portrayed in that commercial would itself obviate the need for that sort of ad. The ad portrayed a vibrant community of people who know each other and genuinely wish each other’s good, but in fact the need for the commercial at all was born of the widespread absence of any such reality. Rather, the reality is that each person is to fill out this form in the privacy of his own home in order to be relieved of the obligation to do anything further to help fellow citizens who are increasingly unknown to him. Having won the Cold War, our government is now producing and airing commercials that portray what can’t be described in any other way other than our very own Potemkin village – community for show in a nation of strangers, bound only by our common subjection to the State.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Yes, Patrick, yes on every point. You mention that Nisbet belongs in this line of insight; I think his “Quest for Community” is as important a book as was written in the middle of the last century. We should also remember that since about 1905 progressives have been waging war (portrayed as a kind of natural movement) against the only institutions that are natural to us as created beings. The scary thing about the commercial you describe is that they are getting more subtle, and trying to appropriate real community for their agenda. I give them some credit–they are smart as well as evil.

  2. Unfortunately none of the subsidiary institutions/associations are willing to defend their own prerogatives… or perhaps more accurately, cannot.

    Is this really a pincer movement, or the completion of a successful envelopment?

    What associations remain around which one could rally?

    As a Catholic, I would suggest the Church; but the Sex Scandal(s) has been the perfect holding movement; the church is pinned and has no room to manoeuvre. Plus, one suspects the bishops have neither the training nor acumen to see they have been trapped – and therefore no plan.

    In short, it seems Blond’s assessment of the situation is spot on… but what to do? Is he rallying the Bishops? The Trade Unions? Rebuilding the Guilds? Exhorting the Municipalities, Counties, Provinces, States to assert their subsidiary potestas? Perhaps all of the above is done in spirit or on paper..but I fear we need a Beckett not a Blond.

    But, I quibble over tactics, not strategy.

  3. Normally, I’m long-winded and careful. Today, I’ll be predictable (I’ve said all this before) and slogan-istic:

    Elections Have Consequences.

    Sitting out of Elections and Poxing Both Houses Has Consequences.

    Speaking of Poxing, the Democratic “House” Is Plainly and Obviously Worse, Both in General AND FOR THE LONG-TERM PLAUSIBLE ENACTMENT OF PORCHER VALUES, Than Is the Republican One.

    There Is No Inherent Reason Why a Future Republican Coalition That Included Porchers Would Necessarily Be Ruled by Dogmatic Free-Marketers and Corporations. Such a Coalition Presumes Both Porcher Prickliness (willingness to withdraw), and Porcher Political Prudence (willingness to choose).

    Yes, Virginia, There Is a Lesser of Two Evils.

    There Is One Even If Amid the Last-Ditch Stand against Historic Tocqueville-turning-in-his-grave Legislation Patrick Deneen Encourages You to Ignore (for the sake of attending to the momentuous Mr. Blond) The “ORCHESTRATED” Division in “Washington” about Said Legislation.

    Yes, Porchers, Elections Do Have Consequences. Do Orchestrate Yourselves Accordingly.

  4. Carl, the funny thing is that from a localist/Subsidiary point of view, the Republicans _are_ the greater of two evils; They are just a different set of evils.

    But your fundamental supposition is wrong; there are no scenario’s in which the prevailing power will dismantle (or even, say, “starve” – to borrow a phrase) the centralized state.

    Only by building up other associations/powers can we hope to wrestle with the state. In one sense, this is precisely what the Oligarchs have done… and they have successfully wrestled concessions from the state – such that they are now in collusion against the other “powers.”

    Voting Republican (or democrat) is simply enlisting in “Pincer A” or “Pincer B”

    Either way you are fighting the only really vital element of community life: real subsidiary associations with real (not granted) power to defend what they collectively guard.

  5. If the TPers are able to inhibit the RINO’s and Neocons in the GOP by placing “real” conservatives (Paleos) in the primary’s and if they are able to thwart the evil commie-dems in the Nov elections, it’s possible that a coalition of Porchers and whoever may move into a position of power within the GOP thus giving rise to a politically legitimate discussion of distributism and whatever.
    Failing that, you’ll continue to have a nice academic discussion among yourselves and your faithful commentators.

  6. Bob’s right that Carl’s worries seem severely misplaced, given the tiny presence of anything “Porcher-esque” in today’s politics.

    But, I also think that at some level Carl is right to be worried – we are tapping into a growing anxiety, of which the TP is one significant manifestation. With the right cultivation and work, this could become formidable. I think we are trying to work in that direction – in the course of one year we have now become a noun, adjective and adverb (“Porcher,” “porchy” – well, maybe not adverb) and, significantly, were instrumental in Phillip Blond’s visit, who is now known to hundreds of thousands of Americans who as of Friday had never heard of him before. Traffic with affiliated websites has significantly increased; many would like us to sponsor such an event again; and we are receiving many requests for access to the recordings.

    Carl’s anxieties are further justified that there is little willingness among most of us to give the Republicans a pass, as he seems to be suggesting. He may be a bit amnesiac, which is a pity for his tender years, but I recall within the past decade an unnecessary war, policies that have further centralized healthcare and education, and a massive bailout of firms too big to fail – all under the banner of a party that he claims is categorically better than the alternative. He seems to think by squinting really hard, we can see something that we can like more than the Democrats – who, on the respective points I’ve just mentioned, are nearly identical.

    So, I hope we get to the point at which Carl Scott is justifiably afraid, because then we will have an influence on elections, and that tends to focus the mind of even people stuck in the rut of the beltway.

  7. My dear, Mr. Cheeks… as for naivete, thinking that one can consolidate the power of the centralized leviathan into the “right-thinking” sort of people and then “good things” will follow… well I know no greater.

    While I wonder whether Mr. Blond is stimulating the right tactics and activities to create alternate bases of subsidiary power (hitching one’s wagon to David Cameron should give pause to anyone thinking yes), I am certain that investing blood, sweat and treasure in the Republican or Democratic parties is an investment wasted.

    Real subsidiarity is built on real power and the defense of such against encroachment or usurpation… there is nothing more real than that.

    What you folks fail to admit is that the Republican party was a willing participant in the dismantling of American subsidiary institutions; institutions the absence of which cause you to lament to increasing centralization of the state – though you admit it not.

    So, while a “pox on both your houses” may suggest to you some sort of quietude; you are mistaken. The real question with which we struggle is where do we invest?

  8. One additional note – it’s time to get beyond our first impulse of looking to Washington for the answer to our problems. Foster an ethic that what matters is closer to home, and perhaps, perhaps, we will eventually get a Federal government that will work hard to get out of the way in many areas where it today has no business being.

    Of course, the paradox is that increasingly the Fed actively interferes in that effort, and so I’m not blind to Carl’s concerns. But it doesn’t follow that winning national elections is the first or most obvious answer, but rather will ultimately be the consequence of other efforts.

  9. It took a civil war (heaven forbid!) to eradicate the Whigs, the last time a major party disappeared from the American political scene. So which is easier to achieve: a significant third-party electoral presence, or the takeover of one of the two existing parties?

    The Democratic party today is very different than it was just 10 years ago under Clinton. No one can reasonably assert the Republican party is incapable of doing the same.

    Which of the two parties is more susceptible to a Porcher takeover, right now, in America, in 2010?

    I agree with Carl that when politics is the problem politics must be part of the solution. Regardless of which party one believes represents the lesser of two evils, don’t we get the least-bad outcome (from a Porcher perspective) out of divided government? Is not the root of the current debacle the fact that one party possesses monopoly control over the federal levers of power?

  10. Marchmaine, I was trying to counter our nearly documented president in terms of hopey-changey…a best case scenerio, if you will. The Porchers don’t mind a little happy talk.

    Frankly, I see the commie-Dems as being in the process of destroying the economy for their own purposes and objectives (think the Marx-Hegel-Boehme line-of-meaning).And, that the GOP, a bit shaken and beaten down, may finally be in a position where a TPer, Porcher, Paleo alliance can capture at least a bit of power away from the RINO/Neocon cabal and place any number of people in the Congress.
    If that’s naivete, it’s no more naive than the idea that distributism is going to take root anytime soon (without a violent revolution).

    Pat, I’m well aware and agree with your analysis of recent “foreign entanglements” and their cultural, political, and economic results. However, given that it’s my opinion that the Democrats have collapsed into a gnostically grounded second reality and consequently politically incoherent points me back to Mr. Scott’s implication that a porcher presence in the GOP may render new fruit quicker than anyone thinks.

  11. Democrat or Republican, whoever is not currently holding federal power is the lesser of two evils.

  12. As a Catholic, I would suggest the Church;

    As a Protestant, I think it can only be the Church, beginning locally in Virginia and regionally. Stegall’s Kansan land tradition is another stream which I can make way for as an observer, since I’m not Kansan. But as for me, while there’s some welcome hope of building a coalition amidst the current political landscape, I’m also getting ready by identifying allies and preparing for a long march through our cultural institutions, starting with education.

    Catholics are already doing good work to this end; I only hope more attention is paid to primary and secondary schooling.

  13. I’m a high church Anglican but I too agree the Roman Catholic church is one of the last great bastions of traditionalism out there, even after Vatican II, and is one of the best placed to be an important intermediate association.

    Personally I’m surprised Phillip Blond did not mention Robert Nisbet, these ideas have a long pedigree in Conservatism, Traditionalism and Conservative liberalism but I can think of no one who has more succinctly expressed them than Nisbet. Blond almost seems to channeling him.

  14. An excellent article and an awful ad. (Indeed, while this surely wasn’t Dr. Deneen’s intention, the ad makes me want to go out and become a libertarian.)

  15. You know yesterday was a hard day and I needed to vent a bit. Glad to see Pat’s a little more used to my concerns.

    And now, I have to give him props for finding the one ad that is the absolute anti-matter to the Porch. Unbelievable!

    Although I confess that my squinting eyes find it fairly obvious that such an ad was conceived of and produced by liberals, or at best by Gergen-esque “moderates.” No regular National Review reader had a say when they decisions were being made. Get some good R-voters in the census bureaucracy, and you’ll tend to also get more low-key census ads, and fewer ads in general. And, no, you can’t get those folks into the census bureaucracy without fair, non-ideological hiring and promotion. And for a variety of reasons, liberals these days do that much less well than conservatives. Witness our universities. Our failing (let ’em!) city newspapers and network news outfits.

    We squinting conservatives have a saying, you know, that says most private organizations tend in our times to become gradually liberal dominated. And for government bureaucracies the tendency is even stronger.

    Now my theory on the ad regards something at the edges–I’m talking about whether one fairly innocuous feature of the big govt. monster could simply be less offensive. I assume in advance the fact that even good R-voting census bureaucrats must develop a vested interest to lobby for expanding their particular agency.

    But big government is, for the time being, our way of life. You can studiously ignore that fact, or you can think in a way (a fiercely partisan one) that a) allows the bureaucratic monster to be as decent as it may be, and b) makes its gradual diminishment and destruction a possibility.

    George W. Bush very mistakenly tried to appoint Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, because she had basically solid conservative principles and was a good Christian woman. We now are going to have the government increasingly running your health care–so just ask yourself, in terms of both a) and b), do want that behemoth staffed with an ample parcel of “Harriets,” or do want those real-life here-and-now institutions filled to the brink with the sort of folks that a Barack Obama or a David Gergen is likely to appoint?

    You see, when you’re old and (God forbid) relying on the mercies of some govt. hired nurse and all her bureaucratic superiors, it just may well make a “dime’s worth of difference” to you. I seemed to notice a bit more than a dime’s worth of difference Sunday evening, but must be those squintin’ eyes of mine.

  16. FPorchers, esp. Albert and Mr. Cheeks, perhaps others (being I’m an infrequent lurker hereabouts, I’m not familiar with many of the other patron’s bent), may find affinity with the Rubicons.

  17. Thanks Ms. MizzE! Indeed, I may be moving in the direction of the Rubicons, though I am loath to surrender my antipathy of the epigonic Marxits and what they are doing to my country.

  18. I found this article very interesting and thought provoking. I certainly agree that the welfare state and big business are often times two sides of the same coin. Given this reality, however, I have two questions. First, is it the scale of the healthcare reform that is the problem here or is it ideologically flawed? In other words, would we be more receptive to this type of a healthcare system if it were an initiative of local government or is the very idea of any social healthcare program inherently problematic? The other question is how do we deal with these flaws? Following the argument of this article it would appear that the author agrees the healthcare mess is as much the fault of the insurance companies as the government. What solution do we offer as an alternative? In advance, I would like to say that it would be nice to see an answer that gets specific and deals with the particulars, rather than a sweeping statement of how the role of government and business should be scaled down in favor of localism and agrarianism.

  19. MizzE, thanks for the link. It sounds reasonable, though I’m a bit suspicious of the ease with which they place the rubrics of liturgy right next to the that of “traditional” political liberalism. I think there’s enough tension there to merit some additional reflection.

  20. Excellent article, thanks. It encapsulated in admirable brevity the current problem. It gives me some hope, though not much, to know that there are people who think like this.

    A quick question: When you write “Community, family, church, society – all are to be remade in the voluntarist image” I’m not sure I understand what you mean? Theological voluntarism? If you get a moment could you develop this idea some more? I sense something powerful in it I’m not sure I grasp.

    I am protestant. Though I Have flirted with the idea of converting to Catholicism for years for just the reason that only such an institution is capable of true resistance, I find I can not for theological reasons. I still have hopes for the Catholic and Evangelicals Together statements, and think this is a useful avenue to pursue. (The last I saw was in a 2009 “First Things” regarding Mary, but there may be a new one).

    One of the tragic unforeseen and unintended consequences of the Reformation was that it fractured and fragmented the Church to the point where we are unable to be united against…well, anything: The State, culture, consumption, name it.

    I tell my children all the time that all control is, at root, self-control. When we don’t exercise it others will, and by not exercising it we give justification to that control by the State. In this, corporate capitalism driven by consumption and spending as opposed to saving and investment has been as bad as Statism.

    Corporate capitalism has fractured the extended family (reloville), diminished the nuclear family (workaholism, two careers), undermined community (bowling alone) and drained the church (too busy to pray). And, by not controlling itself; that is, setting short-term shareholder value as the only factor in decision making, it has contributed to the growth of state control. The only force powerful enough to control a multi-national is a State.

    Republicans have brought this on every bit as much as Democrats. I agree the only possible solution is to develop institutions and associations that not only understand their prerogatives and are willing to defend them but somehow develop the real strength and power to do so.


  21. Yes Carl, from the standpoint of the pragmatist , you are likely correct to advise Virginia that there are a “Lesser of two evils”. However, such are the limitations of the word “lesser”. Microns are involved and whether or not the Healthcare Behemoth is staffed by a thousand sweet lil ole Harriets or a legion of Tom, Dick and Shekwandas, it doesn’t much matter, the institutional mean shall be reached and you can count on a kind of shiftless evil banality to take ahold of the place and raise melancholy to a state of resigned pleasure.

    The Republicans sucker to the Democrat pandering all the time, worrying that they shall somehow lose out on the K Street Gravy Train or maybe look like a bunch of Snidely Whiplashes. When the Media and their Treasured Progressive Saints accuse the Republicans of being “the party of No” and the Republicans wince and mumble about the things they brought to the table only to be ignored (how pathetic) by the big strapping Democrats, they should have replied :

    “Damned Straight Skippy, We ARE the Party of No, its a lovely word really, speaks to restraint and moderation and distillation and conservation and knowing ones limits…something the Americans once appreciated when they had a grip on reality instead of gripping their privates in stunned , inchoate fear.”

    Then they should laugh for once (instead of having, as one wag put it about Mitch McConnell , “all the personality of a dead clam”), and paint their opponent as the legislative equivalent of a Pimping Junkie and distance themselves from the Washington Machine of Buncombe. The GOP has been chasing WMD’s like they are on a Snipe Hunt when they really should be sappers, blowing up the WMB’s that Washington produces with a War Effort Fury. There are some great things said by some Republicans. But the problem is with the leadership that is as firmly attached to the teat of the debt spending sow as their earnestly improving Democrat compadres. We don’t need any more party machine soldiers, we need a couple bruising COMICS. People who know how to stake out the ground of truth with the best weapon for it: HUMOR. Penetrating, merciless and incisive HUMOR. Going with the flow is a chartered Mexican Bus over Niagara Falls. That is, unless your goal is simply a kinder gentler Technocratic Utopia.

    That said, I’d happily eat my hairshirt without Tobasco if the Republicans actually do wise up to the potentials afoot. I just don’t think they either see it, nor even want to see it…they reside in the Seat of Dysfunction and Fantasy called Washington, District of Cant.

  22. Grammer what I don’t understand is why federal reform of healthcare was needed. Most American states have millions of people surely each state can look after its own healthcare. Next the blasted Europhiles will be telling us we Brits need out healthcare coordinated a European level.

  23. As a frequent reader I know many Porchers are reluctant to wade into the grimy world of electoral politics and actual public policy. But, I suggest here a couple names that have gotten little coverage – one a pol, the other an economist.

    The first is Paul Ryan, the Rep from D1 in Wisconsin. Gaining much notoriety for his recent stands on healthcare reform, he’s also written a couple pieces that understand the difference between free market capitalism and crony capitalism, offering prescriptions which understand the American legislative context better than Blond does. This one in Forbes is on the subject:

    In the above piece, Ryan mentions Luigi Zingales work at U of Chicago. While the thought of reading work by someone at UC will be repulsive to some on this blog, his piece in National Affairs deserves a look by those who support folks like Blond, others. It’s an interesting melding of economic history with some policy suggestions. He’s also written a book (that I have not read, entitled, “Saving Capitalism from Itself”).

    Nat Affairs essay:

  24. D.W. Sabin, I have to admit that the leadership’s adoption of the slogan “Repeal and Replace” is…er…not exactly confidence-boosting, and it is uninspired to boot. “Repeal It,” would have been much better, or as Mookie says to the JWs in Do the Right Thing, “HELL No.”

    And no, I am not FOR an army of Harriets…(yikes!)…just saying that it’s a better plan D or F to fall back on if you fail to get what you really want than defacto letting the liberals have all three branches and go full hog. I want conservatives to be able to defend a crappy fourth trench if need be…whereas a tempting Porcher instinct is to let the statists sweep the field clear, so as to better let the revolution begin, right?

  25. Carl, Me thinks de bus for the revolution is already underway and is directly tied to the Debt as percentage of GDP figure. The political apparatus thinks it is whistling victory or perhaps a yelping out a rebel yell but in reality, it is collectively whistling past the graveyard. These boys are so immune from pragmatic notions of cause and effect that they could be hip-deep in the act of digging their own grave while the forces de jour stand around snickering with buzzards roosting on their bony shoulders and still…they would not know what is afoot.

  26. Pseudo-intellectual rubbish. Our problem is the “private” sector, meaning the corporations who dictate the terms of life and the terms of government. The reason people don’t know each other is not the state, “tutelary” or otherwise. It is addiction to commercial television, which is a vehicle of corporate marketing.

  27. Michael Dawson even pseudo-intellectual rubbish is better than unsupported, driveby rebuttals. You don’t give a proper critique of the article or Blond.

    Yes corporations are a massive negative force but they rely on the state, without massive state intervention corporate-capitalism would have never come about and could not go on existing, and also the state does simply have even more of a negative impact in our contemporary society. The state even more than corporate-capitalism usurps the functions and roles of intermediate associations like the family and so weakens them and weakens culture and society as a whole.

  28. I have a question: We live on a country road and there are two houses on our property. We live in one and the other is vacant. The mailman delivered us the census form addressed to the vacant house but we never got one for the house we live in. I don’t want to fill it out because technically we were not sent one. What do you think?

  29. Pseudo-intellectual rubbish. Our problem is the “private” sector, meaning the corporations who dictate the terms of life and the terms of government. The reason people don’t know each other is not the state, “tutelary” or otherwise. It is addiction to commercial television, which is a vehicle of corporate marketing.

  30. One of the tragic unforeseen and unintended consequences of the Reformation was that it fractured and fragmented the Church to the point where we are unable to be united against…well, anything: The State, culture, consumption, name it.

    I tell my children all the time that all control is, at root, self-control. When we don’t exercise it others will, and by not exercising it we give justification to that control by the State. In this, corporate capitalism driven by consumption and spending as opposed to saving and investment has been as bad as Statism.

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