A commenter on my most recent posting writes:

While there is much truth to what you write, in my experience as a pedestrian/bicycle/transit/sustainability advocate in the Madison, Wisconsin area, the people most inclined to have doubts about STEM are self-described liberals and progressives. When Wendell Berry spoke here last fall, the Overture Center was filled to overflowing with progressives – I doubt many Unitarians missed it.

It is the progressive types I know whose use of the word “community” most closely matches Berry’s definition of it. Meanwhile the notion that “community” requires respect for – and a return to – our better traditions seems to be sinking in among them (I would like to think I am assisting in this process.)

I’ve expressed my unhappiness with the term “Progressive” as a label used to describe a stance sympathetic with many of the positions embraced and advanced here on FPR. However, just as often I and many here write critically about so-called “conservatives” – particularly of the mainstream variety – whose embrace of corporatism, militarism, and cheerleading for unfettered economic growth is just as repugnant. These labels hinder often much more than they enlighten.

FPR, I think, seeks to appeal to dissidents in both camps – in no small part by pointing out the historic abuses of these labels. “Conservatives,” in many respects, are arguably as “progressive” as the Progressives of yesteryear. That is, there is little difference between those “conservatives” who cheerled “No Child Left Behind” and “progressive” advocates of centralized education; little distinction to be drawn between the embrace of “globalization” by denizens of the Left and “democratization” by the Bushies; little contrast between what is a widely shared encouragement to “equality of opportunity” and the promotion of the meritocracy by elites both Left and Right. Liberals and conservatives alike are often more similar in their fawning enthusiasm for STEM than liable to be in disagreement.

If I’m somewhat partial to the word “conservative” (and I say that never having voted Republican in my life), it’s because its etymological roots inescapably emphasize the concept of “conservation,” in contrast to the central emphasis of the word “progressive,” which is “progress” (i.e., the very opposite of “conserving”). It’s necessary to recall that it was 20th-century Progressives that actively sought the evisceration of local customs and folkways in the name of “rationalization” and scientific planning – among other things, through the advancement of the social sciences. Progressivism sought the replacement of “local knowledge” with “expertise”; its central emphasis was upon “growth” in every form (you can’t read a page of John Dewey without recognizing the emphasis upon “growth”); and, it was impatient with invocations of human falleness, sinfulness, and iniquity, instead preferring to re-describe human failings in therapeutic terms and recommending various therapies for their cure.

I am delighted that “progressives” in places like Madison, Wisconsin are flocking to hear Wendell Berry. I’d caution against embrace of that term, however (just as I mostly cringe when I hear the word “conservative” invoked). I’m open to another term – whether radical traditionalist or Jeffersonian republican or – hell – Porcher.

Before rushing to congratulate the enlightenment of “progressives,” I recommend this commenter (and everyone else, for that matter) read Eric Miller’s extraordinary, superb biography of Christopher Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time. The book recounts Lasch’s intellectual path from a Left, progressive rationalist to a radical, populist, religious seeker. In the course of his deepening understanding about the devastation wrought by capitalist, progressive managerialism during the 20th-century, Lasch came to wholly repudiate his one-time allegiance to Progressivism (and more wrenching still, the lifelong allegiance of his parents to rationalist Progressivism). As if writing the credo of FPR some thirty years ago, Lasch wrote

A radical movement capable of offering a democratic alternative to corporate capitalism will have to draw on traditions that have been dismissed or despised by twentieth-century progressives and only recently resurrected by scholars and by environmentalists, community organizers, and other activists. It will have to stand for the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of natural resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, localism over democratic centralism. Such a radicalism would deserve the allegiance of all true democrats.1

If the commenter cited above is right, then those he describes as “progressives” may, in fact, be conservatives; while most self-identified conservatives today (no less than many so-called “progressives,” such as leading STEM cheerleader Obama) are the worst sorts of “progressives.” Perhaps our terminology is less important than I suspect, but I think sloppy use of labels may permit too much sloppiness of thinking – a sloppiness that infects both the Left and Right equally. A certain clarity might be achieved starting with a refamiliarization with older terms, and with their underlying philosophies.

1. Christopher Lasch, “Democracy and the Crisis of Confidence,” democracy 1:1 (January, 1981), 40.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. This is excellent — a keeper. There is a whole lot of clarificationing in it. It’s not only helpful in finding a way forward, but in looking at the past.

    I’ve been doing historical bike rides to a county in Indiana that on the one hand has been very Republican since early days, but on the other was an early national leader in demolishing local communities by way of school consolidation. Quaker influence was strong (and still is), which made it a leader in abolitionist activities before the Civil War. I’m not sure, but maybe the reason such conservative people and their descendants were so opposed to local control of schools was because the strongest advocates of localism, anti-corporatism and other FPR viewpoints were the southern hill-country Hoosiers who were also the most racist people in the state.

    We run into the same thing when we start speaking too fondly of Jeffersonian agrarianism. There is a lot to like in that outlook, but Jeffersonians were also pro-slavery racists. Jefferson understood what was wrong with Hamiltonian progressivism, but he was also the person who advocated the Obama-like technique of taking the Indians’ land from them and destroying their communities by getting them deeply in debt, which they then had to pay off by selling large chunks of their land (or in the current case, by selling our freedom and giving up our local community relationships).

    It’s good to see somebody trying to pick a way through the world of messy alliances and associations where one can’t very well pick one side or the other and say, “That’s my side. That one has the answers.”

    You know all those terrible things the Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians used to say against each other? They were both right, especially when they were thinking their darkest thoughts about where the other side was headed. The same is probably true of our current so-called conservatives and progressives.

  2. Hogwash. “Progressivsim” is just re-branded Marxism, and you are at best a proto-marxist, even if you do not realize it yourself. All this whining and whinging about “capitalism” and “corporatism” are the tip off. (BTW, this puerile and unfalsifiable notion of “corporatism” as some sort of unified political movement or self willed element is just literally sophomoric, it is the sort of thing one hears in college rathskellers coming from the mouths of undergrad poli-sci majors. I rather doubt that you understand what capitalism or corporatism really is, let alone real philosophic materialism. Hint: it is the left that are materialists not the capitalists.)

    Fear of “unfettered economic growth”? This is just fear of freedom, fear of the individual and a snotty and snobby denial to others of your status and freedoms, a status and a freedom that you most likely did not earn but rather inherited either directly or indirectly. Generations have worked hard to get you to the place where you can sit up on a high horse and denounce them. We would be ill advised to allow your tom-foolery to impoverish subsequent generation

    You just do not like the idea of people freely pursuing their self interest. They just really do not seem to take you all that seriously when they do, and that in your narcissism you cannot have. A loopy sense of entitlement, a false aristocratic consciousness, overweening self-importance and a lack of talent or experience hardly qualify you for this role of sage and overloard which you would take upon yourself. People who have done little real in their lives have no business telling the rest of us how to reorder our civilization.
    This is a central problem with all “progressives”, and, yes, that is just what you are.

    You also, like all collectivists, imagine a false past. The “traditions” of which you speak are mostly fictional, at least in the proper sense of the word “traditions”. If they have any real historical existence at all they are merely happenstances on the road to progress and economic and political freedom. The plantation owner and the corrupt urban (mostly Democrat) political boss allow harped about “traditions”.

    Carried to their logical ends, your program just boils down to power: You just want to tell others what to do because you feel superior to them. That is not a republic that you spy from your porch: It is a collectivist tyrant. It appeals to you very much. Few things could be more outside the American traditions that you would deceptively wrap your project in.

    You are just another leftist/progressive/statist/marxist. You are just dishonest about it.

    (oh, and adults drive cars not bicycles. Nothing more articulates the arrested development of the left more than that demands for “bicycle paths” and “community oriented transportation policies”.

    No such “policies” will help them recover their lost (and misspent) youth. They need to get a car, get a real job and get a family. Then they can worry about real things and be a real (as in productive) part of our civilization. Then we just might save it from dishonest and deluded lunatics like you.)

  3. Good to see the hysterical screeds of Randians haven’t lost any of their color of late.

    Speaking of sophomoric, most people get over Atlas Shrugged in high school.

  4. Mongoose is right. For example, there was a field in my town where my children liked to play, so I confronted my fear of freedom and voted to turn it into a strip mall because that was a far more economically productive use for it. I didn’t want to hinder the developer’s freedom since I for one realize that freedom just means economic growth. My children’s freedom, on the other hand, doesn’t count as much since it is not economically productive.

    Also, Mongoose doesn’t use the freedoms other bequeathed to him to denounce others, so I like him for that.

    I was at our town meeting the other day. We were going to vote on an issue, but then we noticed that there were lots of people in attendance who have done little real in their lives and thus have no business telling the rest of us how to reorder our civilization, so we all decided to cancel all future votes and hand the town over to whomever had the greatest will to power. We’re pretty sure they won’t tell us how to reorder our civilization.

    Then the other day, I was tempted to call the plumber to fix a leak in my pipes. But that damn plumber always acts superior to me when it comes to plumbing and I didn’t want to be around anyone who tells others what to do because they felt superior to them. I’m hip deep in water but that damn plumber won’t get to act all superior to me at least.

    On the other hand, it gets a little confusing because Mongoose seems to be telling at least one other person what to do, presumably because he considers himself superior in that he possesses greater wisdom. Best not to think about it…

  5. Have we been visited by he ghost of Ayn Rand? All the childish name calling, the “born yesterday” consciousness, lack of manners, and pseudo-intellectual preening is there.

  6. A couple of decades ago, I was in a discussion at work with someone who was deriding “conservatism” as backwards looking and reactionary. I spoke about the root of conservatism being “to conserve,” and then I said “Sometimes the best way to conserve a field is to plant, to grow.

    You wrote above: “Progressivism sought the replacement of ‘local knowledge’ with ‘expertise’; its central emphasis was upon ‘growth’ in every form (you can’t read a page of John Dewey without recognizing the emphasis upon ‘growth’); and, it was impatient with invocations of human falleness, sinfulness, and iniquity, instead preferring to re-describe human failings in therapeutic terms and recommending various therapies for their cure.”

    I agree with that assessment, but the problem is not growth, per se; it’s what you choose to grow. Economic growth has decreased economic poverty for millions, and that’s good, but, because of thinking like that of liberal progressives, rejecting traditional values, local institutions, and community preservation, it has impoverished millions by a de-valuation of those things that make for a rich, virtuous life.

    The Right seems to have one value (economic growth) and the Left doesn’t seem to even know what “values” mean, so everything gets redefined in terms of economic relationships. One example: Most parents today will talk about children following rules or respecting boundaries. Why? “As long as you live under my roof, as long as you drive my car, as long as I pay the bills…

    We define our most intimate and precious relationships in terms of economics. I tell my kids “Honor your mother and father.” Reactionary? Backward looking? Well, if you ask me, that’s progress.

    Economic growth is good if we grow character and values to use it wisely, justly, and responsibly, but those values have to be sown and grown too.

  7. “Progressivism sought the replacement of “local knowledge” with “expertise”; its central emphasis was upon “growth” in every form (you can’t read a page of John Dewey without recognizing the emphasis upon “growth”); and, it was impatient with invocations of human falleness, sinfulness, and iniquity, instead preferring to re-describe human failings in therapeutic terms and recommending various therapies for their cure.”

    You appear to set up some pretty clear poles. On the one hand, conservatism, to conserve, “local knowledge,” (“growth” here becomes complicated because of conserving versus growing versus conditions based growth), and sinfulness. In the other corner, unabashed devotion to “growth,” “expertise,” and humans as good/therapeutically-fixable.

    At which point, it seems that your critique of “Progressivism” is its mindless worship of those above values without critical reflection. In which case the term “Conservatism” appears to have equal failings in the opposite direction (unless you would propose that they are not two things directly opposed and in actuality bear little relationship to one another).

    Also, in a very Platonic sense, wouldn’t the “true” expert by definition have access to “local knowledge?” And the “true” growth, that is, growth that is by definition good, whatever good is determined to be, whether towards spiritual improvement, in friendships, in safety, happiness, health, would always be good. And if human shortcomings are not addressable, through forms of “therapy,” can conservatism be used as a base to address any meaningful policy questions?

    It would seem your critique of “Progressivism” is like most critiques, an indictment of “Bad-Progressivism” (i.e. not reflective, lacking common sense, critical scrutiny).

  8. Mongoose, as someone known on the Porch for being very critical of certain lefty and “literary” proclivities of Deneen and Porcherism, and who is appalled that Patrick has not once voted for a G.O.P. candidate,(apparently even at the state or
    local level–say it ain’t so, Pat, because that would be a shameful thing for any thoughtful citizen to admit, let alone a Porcher), let me inform you that you are wrong. Period. Read the first 50 pages of Deneen’s book Democratic Faith, and you will see why.

    And Pat, I have no problem with your re-labelling project, so long as it really is done charitably. As some of your more recent posts indicate, you rightly don’t want conservatives imputing to today’s progressives all of the sins of the past progressives, (even though you’d agree, as your book shows, that not a few of the sins of today’s proggies do go back to their fathers, whether they know it or not) so that “Progressive” becomes a blanket scapegoat and explain-it-all word in the conservative vocabulary. There are peculiarly 90s and aughties reasons for why the term “progressive” came back into favor on the leftward side as a substitute for/or amplification of the term “liberal.” Those reasons have nothing to do with the recent Claremont-pioneered and pundit-popularized critical interest in the original progressives on the part of conservatives. I expect not a few of today’s progressives, after they hear a tirade tying them to Hegel and Wilson and the trampling of the Declaration, are going to be scratching their heads.

    And somewhat similarly, conservatives don’t want more tiresome debates about who’s the real conservative if they’re coming from a party (you) that simply isn’t a contemporary conservative. That is, a Porcher who fairly scrupulously distinguishes b/t what Berry/Deneen hold conservativism OUGHT TO BE, and what contemporary conservativism simply IS, might well be listened to. “This fellow has an interesting theory about the history of the term, connected to his criticism of conservative positions x, y, and z.” But one who doesn’t do this, will rightly be ignored and despised. “This fellow is damning my views, and saying I’m not a conservative, on the basis of some weird theory I’ve never heard of before. And apparently, he’s not even a conservative!” That is, a certain kind of respect and politeness does require bowing to common usage, something ole’ Burke could relate to, right? Whether or not you’ve got the best bead on what “conservativism” really is, WFB Jr. and his followers simply are the de facto authority in our day about what that term means.

    Perhaps, just as some conservative thinkers have taken to referring to “capital-L Liberal” whenever they want to refer to classic liberalism, or liberalism pre-FDR, you could begin referring to “capital-C Conservatism.” Such a manuever allows you to make your point while not frontally offending/confusing common usage.

  9. The term progressive implies a particular way of looking at human history. To put it in its simplest form, progressivism sees human history as moving from the bad (the past) to the good (the future).

    The specific economic and political policies recommended by progressives change. In the 19th and early 20th century they were the advocates of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and the spread of democracy. In the late 20th century they became the advocates of welfare-state socialism and various “liberation” movements that all demanded that central governments intrude into everyday life to give special privileges to one group or another than had been supposedly victimized by traditional society.

    To someone who thinks that a platform of policies and stances on issues is what defines an “ism” there would seem to be little or no continuity between the progressivism of one hundred years ago and that of today. If we look a bit deeper, however, the same basic concepts are the foundation for both. Progressivism may have lost much of its optimism, but it still recoils with horror from the suggestion that an acceptable response to a failed idea might be to go back to an idea that worked in the past and stood the test of time. Perhaps more fundamental to progressivism than its concept of time and history, however, is its concept of human nature and evil. Progressivism is essentially the belief that the source of evil in the world lies outside of the shared nature which makes each of us as individuals human. Therefore, to progressives, the solution to evil is either political or economic.

    In contrast, genuine conservatism sees the source of evil as the inherent flaws of human nature which cannot be altered by political or economic schemes of one sort or another. Human beings, however, have developed ways of living with each other despite these flaws, and most of these can be found in the traditions which tie past generations to future generations through the present generation. The custodians of these traditions, are not the government or the engines of industry, but the family, the church, and the local community. Therefore, what happens in the home, at the hearth, in the neighborhood, and before God in the assembly of faith is and always will be more important than what goes on in the halls of power or in the marketplace.

    For this reason genuine conservatives – not yesterday’s progressives re-labeled but the conservatives of Burke’s “little platoons” – will always be the true advocates and guardians of the community.

  10. I think Mr. Neal has done a good job of delineating some of the basic differences between conservatives and progressives in a way that is close to Prof. Deneen’s way of thinking (please correct me if I’m wrong). He hints at, but does not quite formulate, one more important point that nobody here has made yet: A modern American “mainstream conservative” is essentially a progressive, even though he would never say so.

    To see why this is so, we need to ask a simple question: What does a modern “mainstream conservative” wish to conserve? Liberal capitalism as it was before the Progressives started to regulate the economy. (And since we’re trying to be precise with our terminology, let me be clear too: By “liberal,” I mean “classical liberal.”) However, implicit in much of classical liberalism is a progressive viewpoint. The Whig historians, for instance, thought–to simplify a bit, but not much–that history is the story of the onward march of liberty, by which they meant individual liberty. Classical liberalism (or “mainstream conservatism”), with this belief in the perfectibility of the human race through individual liberty, is quite as utopian in its own way as modern liberalism (or progressivism), with its belief in the perfectibility of the human race through technocratic centralism.

    What should unite dissenting conservatives and dissenting progressives today is a willingness to question this utopian historical narrative and to rediscover and acknowledge our limits as human beings.

    If that qualifies one as a “progressive, “conservative,” or even–horribile dictu–a “reactionary,” so be it.

  11. This just in! Patrick Deneen a proto-Marxist! Always amused by those whose minds do not operate on any level that is not economic. Unfettered economic growth = freedom = . . . China?

    The irony here, if irony is the correct word, is that these kinds of capitalists and worshippers of free markets are actually closer to Marx in their ideology than Deneen, etc. Both essentially believe in Economic Man and are utterly blind to forces that cannot be construed economically. I’m afraid, Herr Mongoose, I didn’t bother to read carefully past your second paragraph, but I think I got the basics: “. . . self interest . . . entitlement . . . collectivists . . . ‘traditions’ . . . economic freedom . . . collectivist . . .”

    Dr. Deneen,

    Excellent article. If the most important divide is between those who believe in Progress and technology and those who are at least skeptical, then we will find (and have found) some very unexpected allies and opponents.

  12. Steve- The essay from The Nation is interesting, if overly congratulatory of the left and without much understanding of the role of religion on the right (she seems to get libertarian views and conservative views mixed up). For me, though, the bellweather of Rand take-downs is Whittaker Chambers’s National Review piece, “Big Sister Is Watching You.” Who can forget the line, “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”?


  13. Corey,

    Thanks for the National Review link. I agree that the Nation article has its shortcomings. (The author seems to know only barely more about Aristotle’s ethics than does Rand). But you have to love the hook:

    “St. Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both.”

    On a more relevant note, I think this is one of the better FPR essays in a while.

  14. Steve wrote: “…I think this is one of the better FPR essays in a while.”

    Yep, Deneen can be a pin head, but he is right more often than not, and when he nails it…its…its is a line drive down the right field line with two men on in the 8th.

    Quibbling over left/right or progressive/conservative/liberal is arguing about the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin. (According to Fox News and MSBC: >10,000 and you are socialist, <10,000 and you are a fascist – whatever!)

  15. I don’t want to be overly personal, but I don’t think Mongoose knows what he’s talking about. Patrick Deneen is not a Marxist. The traditions to which he refers are not fictional. Progressivism is not re-branded Marxism. Capitalists are not exempt from materialism. Reality is not the same as making money. The entire tirade is one ignorant statement after another, seasoned with ad hominem. It’s hard to take seriously. The only thing missing is the “commie rat” epithet. Deneen understands reality better than Mongoose. The former has an understanding of history and a nuanced view of today’s political scene. The latter sounds like a caricature. Progressivism vs. Conservatism? is short but wise. The opposite of hogwash.

  16. Mongoose had one thing right – [You] just do not like the idea of people freely pursuing their self interest. All of us to the left of contemporary “libertarians” like Mongoose, which includes all stripes of liberals and conservatives, want to impose some kind of limits on pursuing self interest.

  17. Agreed, most Liberal constraints tend to be economic, most Conservative constraints, at least from the “Right”, tend to be social.

  18. The major question for conservatism is “What are we trying to conserve?” The major question for Liberals is “What is it that liberates?” The major question for progressives is “To what or where are we progressing?”

    Today, many (if not most) conservatives are trying to conserve the Enlightment, and perhaps even the French Revolution; these things are now old enough to be “traditional.” (But sed contra, Mao-Tse Dung on the effects of the French Revolution, “It’s too early to tell.”) Liberals thought that the Revolution would liberate, but progressives are beginning to have doubts, and seem to want to progress to the past.

    Thrasymachus, you almost got me there; I was prepared to write a stinging reply before I noticed that I’d been had.

  19. Artie wrote: “[You] just do not like the idea of people freely pursuing their self interest. All of us to the left of contemporary ‘libertarians’… want to impose some kind of limits on pursuing self interest.”

    Is the ‘you’ Deneen, a commenter? Are limits bad?

    One can dislike the idea of unfettered pursuit of self-defined self-interest without disliking “the idea of people freely pursuing their self interest.”

    If one believes that people are not fundamentally good but are merely hindered and enslaved by bad structures, then the idea of limits is a natural one, and one even libertarians accept. Libertarians would not accept that if a river runs through my property and I decide it’s in my self-interest to damn it up and sell access, that’s perfectly right and proper.

    The idea that there are better choices is lost, except to the self-anointed who want to impose their vision by government regulation. The idea of the Virtuous Life, wanting what we ought to want, desiring that which is Good for us in and of itself, and something we can choose, is almost all but lost.

    Such things shouldn’t be imposed by politics. They used to be instilled by mediating structures, groups, institutions and practices, like culture, family, church, community celebrations, literature, civic organizations and the like.

    In the current “The American Conservative,” Deneen has an excellent essay on self-interest: “When Red States Get Blue: What’s the Matter With Connecticut.” He argues that what the Left sees as wrong with Kansas is actually a result of what is wrong with Connecticut.

    Members of the meritocracy are well aware of whom they have left behind, and rather than assuming the personal obligation of old to those less fortunate, they elect instead to pay an impersonal middleman—government—to deal with the after effects of what Wendell Berry has called the “strip-mining” of talent from every town and hamlet in the world. At the same time, they demand that everyone else pay up as well—what would have been personal forms of responsibility have instead been spread to the entire population, including those they purport to succor. As Christopher Lasch wrote, “obligation, like everything else, has been depersonalized; exercised through the agency of the state, the
    burden of supporting it falls not on the professional and managerial class but, disproportionately, on the lower-middle and working class.

    If the denizens of Connecticut are acting reasonably in supporting liberal politicians, so are Kansans in opposing them. They inchoately recognize that expanding government is a desideratum
    of the Creative Class, not of those left behind.

    The problem with the radical individualism of “no limits” is that the individual has been trained, educated and indoctrinated to believe that he is the sole arbitrator of “interest”, and that her self-fulfillment is the highest end in life, even as the very concept of fulfillment has become understood to be rooted solely in the personal ego.

    Now, I’d rather live in a society of selfish, greedy, decadence with each pursuing his own than I would in tyranny, but I’d rather not live in either.

    Some tastes, some choices, some goals, some pursuits are more proper, noble and good than others. Would I impose my views of what those are by force of law on others? Nope. But I will teach them to my kids, to myself as I strive to want what I ought to want, and to any with a teachable spirit who seeks, and I will work to form community and social bonds with others who are like minded, vote for representatives who understand that human beings are frail, flawed and broken and we can not fix ourselves with government programs.

    And I will put limits on myself, even if others do not. I do not need the government to tell me not to steal, or to love my neighbor as myself.

  20. Bo Grimes, “you” is anyone who acknowledges that the notion of limits is both a inescapable fact of the natural world and an inescapable requirement for the governance of groups of people. I think that “you” applies to Mr. Deneen and almost everyone who contributes here, with the exception of the libertarian ideologues like Mongoose.

    There seems to be a toxic strain of Randian thought that runs through the Austrians, Alan Greespan, meanders through some pages of Reason magazine, some estuaries of the GOP and down to the swamps of Tea Party that contains a reflexive dislike of limits to anything. Mongoose appears to have drunk heavily from that stream.

    Of course, I, like most here, believe I am sufficiently enlightened to pursue my own self-interest without the artificial limits of governmental regulation. And that is the problem – it’s always those others who need the limits – the Bernie Madoffs, the Ken Lays, the greedy bankers, the serial killers, the imperialists, the environmental spoilers, the pornographers and the pedophiles of the world who need the limits imposed to keep them within the bounds of a culture that works for all of us. Codifying those limits and enforcing them is the hard part.

  21. Thanks for the clarification, Artie. I couldn’t quite tell if you thought there are/should be limits of some sort, so I asked and then expressed my own views. I agree wholeheartedly about the “toxic strain.”

  22. The national sport of politics, our little philodoxic obsession, with its high production values and endless preening has successfully bred a nation of spectators, always whingeing, always needful and perpetually in search of the grail of “leadership”. A new cult is afoot and it is bipartisan : The Sunbeams For the Unitary Executive. Outwardly, it is a sweet pollyanna, claiming the best of intentions and a ready stewardship of that vaunted thing called the “American Way Of Life”. Meanwhile, the authoritarians of this packaged anarchy are busy like termites tunneling through American Life and leaving it little like what they espouse it to be.

    Imperial Projects like ours have come and gone with epic regularity, regardless of democratic presumptions. The general trend is such that the less democratic an empire becomes, the greater the partisan theatrics are and the more important mere opinion becomes. Opinion, in fact becomes more important than results.

    The beauty of the system is that the spectators bred by such regimes become habituated to endless crisis, reinforcing their addled devotion to some big force that can solve the problems generally created by the same big force. By all means though, have at one another, it has all the picturesque charms of the Bantu running down the Hutu. Space Age Primitivism has such a nice metallic ring to it.

  23. That was painful to read. If I understood what you were trying to so obnoxiously communicate, I’d probably agree, but as it stands you seem to have buried your points in amorphous pontifications.

  24. Mr. Gach, I’m sorry that my amorphous pontifications make excessive demands upon your pain threshold. In the future, I shall try to be pointed by grunting in the manner of the age while making pop references and hewing to the partisan pant hoots.

    But the “obnoxious” crack, it leads me to think you might be like much of our internet consumer profile: Awaiting an argument and dolling out quick insults as though the language was developed for little beyond fist fights, thus proving my obscurantist ravings.

    Ho ho Ho.

  25. Sabin, that is a beautiful retort. Sharp, cutting, and much deserved, I greatly appreciate it.

    “A new cult is afoot and it is bipartisan : The Sunbeams For the Unitary Executive. Outwardly, it is a sweet pollyanna, claiming the best of intentions and a ready stewardship of that vaunted thing called the “American Way Of Life”. Meanwhile, the authoritarians of this packaged anarchy are busy like termites tunneling through American Life and leaving it little like what they espouse it to be.”

    Again, if I could understand this, I think I would very much agree. Though it could just be my limited brain capacity, as you so pointedly suggested.

    Are you saying simply that the American populace is too passive and puts too much faith in a single political figure/office (i.e. the President)? And “packaged anarchy,” what does this refer to? “Termites,” is that me and you, bureaucrats, someone else?

    You seem to have entered the comment box mid speech, and I for better or worse am very confused.

  26. Gach, The bi-partisan backers of the concept of the Unitary Executive…or stronger Executive…. are the authoritarians who have a very willing and habituated public to lead around by the short attention span. After this last election of putting a man with virtually no experience into the Office of the Executive on some comic notion of “change”, it is fairly well demonstrated that the citizenry puts far too much faith in the Executive. Not that they had much option mind you, the opponent was about as alluring as a New Jersey retiree who’d abandoned his wife and run off to Boca with a stripper.

    “Packaged Anarchy” is a little arcane I’ll admit but what else might one suggest we call a puking oil well at 5,000′ depth now over 70 days old , 2 wars of choice in 2 graveyards of empire, a bailed-out financial system built upon vastly unsecured debt as commodity, a continuing system of international gulag, a gutted manufacturing sector and…well, lets see, a kind of idiot savant popular media and a Congress that , well, this is a family site. The tut-tutters often like to reply to criticisms of the current sideshow with the retort “Oh…so what do you suggest …ANARCHY?” …as though what we have is not anarchic enough. Actually, its worse than anarchy, it is anarchy masquerading as organized government. At least anarchy is an honest pursuit…..if a little optimistic for our murderous and churlish species.

    I did not suggest that you have “limited brain capacity”, I hinted that you might like to use what you have before you pull out the “obnoxious” card.

  27. Artie,
    On the masthead of this website is a phrase that increasingly seems to be lost on the crusading world-improvers of the day:”Place Limits, Liberty”. One need recommend little beyond it. If some might stand back a little mystified and say “how do we do anything with that?” , they do not deserve liberty and have not a clue about place and so care little for limits. It is about bottoms up stewardship within a less-than-perfect-world that allows an occasional bit of genius to emerge un-corrupted by Institutional Entropy. It is about detesting government enough to respect it rather than loving it as some kind of divine mirage that can be captured through “subsequent legislative remedy”. It is about forbearance where warranted but a hard application of work and focus where demanded because after all, we humans are not consumers…we are hardwired to produce…to WORK and then, to Love.

    Ambrose Bierce might direct us to his definition of a Neighbor:

    “Neighbor, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.”

  28. As I considered the differences between “progressives” and “conservatives,” I was reminded of a different distinction that Berry made in The Unsettling of America:
    “The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s…The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order – a human order, that is, that accommodates itself both to order and to mystery. The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.”

  29. For some reason Prof. John Médaille always gets me thinking, but I beg to differ on one point. The major question for Liberals should not be “What is it that liberates?”, but rather “From what should we be liberated?”

    Prof. Médaille’s formulation suggests that liberation is a good in and of itself, as though the only relevant moral choice is whether or not something can be characterized as liberating.

    But what about from the obligation to preserve clean air and water for future generations, or from the obligation to love one’s neighbor?

    It may be that Liberals really do think in those terms, idolizing liberation, but I would not grant them the point. I would always emphasize that, just as conservatism implies conservation of something, liberalism implies liberation from something.

  30. If Freedom is about maximizing choice it can only ever be ambivalent. If you allow a few individuals to control great sums of capital you are always going to get a denial of choice for a majority. So, for example, in the name of rent-seeking jobs fly off to low wage countries and demand in America collapses because wages for many fail to keep pace with inflation and finally as a last gasp demand is temporarily and stupidly propped up by debt. Equally, however, if you deny control of capital up to a reasonable limit you choke off innovation and entrepreneurship. It would seem that we are yet to learn the lesson that to maximize freedom or choice it has to be balanced and when this is achieved jealously guarded against the development of the kind of corrupt sociopathic market state we have now.

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