A war’s a’brewing, the times are a’changing, Deenen v. Poulos a’fighting, and we are a’compiling.
Let’s start with Jason Joseph:
“PoMo Con” appears to be an oxymoron at first. Postmoderns reject the intelligibility of the universe in favor of the social construction of reality, while conservatives believe it is the other way around. The paradoxical title is probably an attempt to startle readers and encourage them to take a second look at this group. Here is an excerpt from the introductory post of a blog being run by the group:
It is a phrase that is inspired by Peter Lawler’s efforts to recommend a
“postmodernism rightly understood” – a period that may or might arrive after the
passing of the modern order. Thus, it is not to be confused with the
trendy (or, really, tired) postmodernism of modern academia inspired by such
thinkers as Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard. It is instead a rejection of
modernity in the name of the insights of premodernity – Thomistic and
Aristotelian “realism” in particular. That said, it is a postmodernity
that also wishes to retain a good number of the boons of modernity – Starbucks,
McDonalds, suburbs and exurbs, the interstate highway system, orthodontic
dentistry, etc….) – while rejecting its excessive materialism, individualism,
liberalism, atheism, etc.
[…] I would call attention to another school of thought, also grounded in Tocqueville and connected to ISI, which has a blog titled Front-Porch Republic. The title is a reference to the absence of front porches in many neighborhoods today. Patrick Deneen, whose blog is posted on my daily news websites, is part of this group. They reject modernity outright and want a return to localism, agrarianism, and tradition. They would argue that Starbucks, McDonalds, and the interstate highway system is either bad or cannot be obtained without the corresponding modern values of materialism, individualism, and atheism.
Dr. Patrick Deneen at Front Porch:
“This debate pits the anti-consumerist, CSA-loving, small town-adoring, pro-hand working, suburb-loathing, bourbon-sipping denizens of the “Front Porch Republic” against the McDonald’s loving, Starbucks slurping, dentistry-adoring, Wal-Mart shopping adherents of Postmodern Conservatism.I think I’m going to have to invite one of our goons to take on one of theirs. Let’s have a knock-down, drag-out, fight-to-the-finish, winner-take-all, one-man-standing, n0-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners debate. You, know – Jets vs. Sharks, and all that. As long as we can have drinks afterwards. Let’s find out once and for all whether there’s a place on the porch for the PoMo Cons, or whether there’s a place for the Front Porchers in post-modernity. What do you think…? Any one out there want to foot the bill for a title match? We’ll let you keep the door receipts…”
Peter Lawler at PomoCon:
“In terms of weapons, I told him we, being more modern and all, choose the automatic weapons available at any decent full-service, southern, suburban pawn shop (usually locally owned!). They might pick the whittlin’ knives that keep them amused like rural idiots for hours on end on their front porches while we’re relaxing inside in air-conditioned comfort watching TV, drinking cheap domestic beer made in some foreign state, and munching on big bags of processed foods we picked up at Wal-Mart and Big Lots.And in terms of place, I told them that you guys keep whining that you’re all afraid to leave your little place for fear of getting all confused and not knowing what to do. Our virtue is much more mobile, and so we’ll come to you (which probably means, ironically, that I’ll have to leave small-town Georgia to go to the fanciest part of Washington, DC).”
I also cautioned Pat–so he wouldn’t be disappointed at the turnout for this big event–that studies show that 97% of all self-proclaimed conservatives wouldn’t have anything to do with either team.”
Postmodern conservatives aren’t first wave liberals and are anti-Cartesian in the spirit of Maritain/Percy/Deneen/MacIntyre, while thinking Maritain himself is too Kantian and Deneen/MacIntyre are too Marxist. So the latter think that the abstraction “capitalist” invented by Marx refers adequately to some real-world way of life and so are too hostile to the blessings of freedom, including even religious freedom. (M’s practical judgments are characteristically silly, while D is always too worked up about peak this or that.) PCs affirms the Declaration of Independence in the spirit of Chesterton in WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA (which I hear Pat likes) or the unjustly neglected Bruckberger, who saw that the legislative compromise between Calvinists and atheists produced a kind of Thomism that was better than intention than either of the factions. So we agree with Brownson (or my bizarre interpretation based on what he actually wrote) that our “providential constitution” shaped the statesmen who wrote our written Constitution–which is why what they accomplished practically was better than (and even qualitatively different from) their predominately Lockean theory. We also don’t use Voegelian words like “egophanic,” thinking them modern deformations characeristic of a highly abstract world divorced from the language of common sense. No Straussian thinks I’m a Straussian, although there’s A LOT to learn from him (as Pat can tell you) and it’s hardly a point of pride not to have read him. What’s wrong with most Straussians is that they think that the fundamenAdd New Post ‹ Around The Sphere — WordPresstally impersonal LOGOS of Aristotle is true, and the personal LOGOS of the early church fathers is false–a point made eloquently by our present philosopher-pope.
Re: his tweak at my “Marxism,” what I wrote (and maintain) was that Marx was a masterful diagnostician of the effects of capitalism (one need only read his opening paragraphs of The Communist Manifestofor confirmation of this fact), but that I think he was a loon when it came to offering a response. Indeed, Marx believed that capitalism was a necessary and desirable step on the path to a proletariat utopia, particularly because it would decimate the particular loyalties that people hitherto had evinced, rather than a unity with the other workers of the world. What FPR’ers lament as the destruction of capitalism, Marx rather celebrates (even as he aspires to foment the next stage in human development). So, it’s really inaccurate to try to use the label “Marxist” to scare people off the Porch.
So it’s to be expected that individuality comes in for great scorn among Front Porchers and sympathetic parties. But this is just the beginning of the story I want to tell. The individual is a thing incarnate — a noun, an irreducible being, a person; individuality is a disembodied superstition — an adjective, an abstraction, a fantasy with all the pelagian proteanism of the pantheistic All. To make a long story short, we can find evidence of two types of liberals — one thinking individuality to be descriptive shorthand for individuals, and one thinking ‘individual’ to be honorific shorthand for people fully experiencing individuality. Pomocons, I wager, tend to be staunch defenders of the first kind of liberals — and quite sharp critics of the second. I am, anyway! For pomocons, the last sentence of Natural Right and History is very telling — Strauss shows all this talk of modernity to mask or dramatize a wholly different ‘cosmic struggle’ or ‘eternal politics’: that between Virtue and the Individual. Strauss’ critique, importantly, is not of ‘individuality’; the individual himself, who set liberalism in motion, is bad enough as he is! It’s almost as if Strauss is hinting that the advent of the individual turns out to be to blame for, say, Machiavelli’s cruelly instrumental vision of man’s relationship with nature! That’s quite an inversion.
Dr. Pat Deneen doesn’t think the revolution is coming (although he does sort of have catastrophic Marxian optimism about capitalism having within itself the seeds of its own destruction) and thinks communism (a world without eros or purpose or God or virtue or politics) would be hell. My Marxist tweak had to do with tying virtue or its absence too closely to the prevailing division of labor. So don’t run off the porch and through the fields–trampling on cucumbers–because Pat has a certainty affinity to Marx in a way or two. (My real view is that all the agrarians owe something to the selective nostalgia of Rousseauean romanticism, and Marx does too, despite his [half-true] comment about rural idiocy).
I myself think that Marx says a lot that is true and even brings to the surface a lot that’s latent in Locke (while exaggerating beyond belief the real Lockeanization or “capitalization” of the world). I once led a Liberty Fund on Marx and Mill, and Marx, under my leadership, came out better than (or at least smarter than) Mill. The libertarian guy from the home office paid me the high compliment of saying that he had never heard anyone before find anything true in Marx. But the libertarians and the Marxists really do agree about capitalism conquering scarcity, allowing for the withering away of religion, the state, (the family?), etc., and making possible a life characterized by an ever expanding “menu of choice.” Pat and I dissent from the idea that point of life is the pursuit of happiness through absolutely unregulated choice.
Inspired by James’s coinage of “premod” to describe the Front Porch Republicans who are currently at war with his own merry troop of “pomo” cons, I hereby decree that “prefab”* will be the new term of choice for conservatism of the talk radio variety, as in:
“I tried to listen to Mark Levin the other day, but this prefab GOP hackery has just gotten too predictable.”
“Conservatives used to be able to think for themselves, but now they’ve decided that regurgitating prefab slogans from the mouths of designated ideologues is a much easier way to go.”
“Limbaugh’s prefab musings on health policy are about as novel and exciting as that brick shithouse I saw being towed down the freeway the other day.”
And so on. Apologies for the lack of creativity; readers are encouraged to chime in with further suggestions in the comments, and of course to use the term in ordinary talk as often as is possible.
UPDATE: Lawler again
UPDATE #2: More from the PomoCons:
UPDATE #3: At the Front Porch (or is that “on” the Front Porch):
And the Pomos:
UPDATE: And some outsiders comment. Daniel McCarthy:
I’m closer to the Front Porchers, for their decentralism and because they make the more penetrating critique of state and society, though if I had to choose a neoteric faction to align with I’d go with the “left-conservatives,” since I would take Dwight Macdonald or Gore Vidal over Wendell Berry. The greatest doubt I harbor about the Front Porchers is whether local communities (as if they can all be described at once) are as really virtuous as the Front Porch Republicans wish them to be. Most of the evils of the world exist on the local level, too — they’re just proportionally smaller. That’s good, but it’s not a panacea.
Alan Jacobs at TAS:
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s line about the weather: Whenever people talk to me about modernity, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. The problem is that what we call “modernity” is a collection of propositions and practices, of varying degrees of interconnectedness, and within various spheres of life. Modernity is a matter of political economy, but also of epistemology, and then again of technology, and so on and so on. No two people seem to conceive of the relations among these in the same ways, and people who are proponents or opponents of modernity — and I include people like the estimable Herr Professor Poulos who are willing employ the “post” language, as well as those who ally themselves with the “pre” — are never really reacting to modernity tout court, but always to some particular aspect of it, one (or at most a few) of the cogs in the great machine.
UPDATE: More posts! Huzzah!
Lawler on localism.(This will become important later, see below)
Will Wilson takes the local, too.
Robert Cheeks on localism
Ivan Kenneally brings out the Descartes
First Thingers, going local:
Jody Bottum on Reno’s localism
Reno responds to Bottum
Bottum responds to Reno
David P. Goldman jumps in.
Front Porchers, going local:
UPDATE: John Schwenkler goes local.
UPDATE: Chris Dierkes at The League