Tag Archives: Patrick Deneen

There’s A Blond Wondering Around Georgetown

Phillip Blond in Prospect Magazine:

We live in a time of crisis. In such times humans retreat to safety, and build bulwarks against the future. The financial emergency is having this effect on Britain’s governing class. Labour has withdrawn to the safety of the sheltering state, and the comforts of its first income tax rise since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the Conservatives appear to be proposing a repeat of Thatcherite austerity in the face of economic catastrophe. But this crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the “market state” and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years. A fresh analysis of the ruling ideological orthodoxy is required. Certainly, this new thinking isn’t going to come from the left. New Labour is intellectually dead, while Gordon Brown promises an indebted return to a now-defunct status quo. But, in truth, Brown’s reconversion from post-socialist free marketeer to state interventionist is only plausible because the Conservatives have failed to develop an alternative political economy that explains the crisis, and charts a different future free of the now bankrupt orthodoxies. Until this is achieved, Brown’s claim that the Conservatives are the “do nothing” party has real traction, and makes the result of the next election far from assured.

On a deeper level, the present moment is a challenge to conservatism itself. The Conservatives are still viewed as the party of the free market, an idea that has collapsed into monopoly finance, big business and deregulated global capitalism. Tory social thinking has genuinely evolved, but the party’s economic thinking is still poised between repetition and renewal. As late as August 2008 David Cameron said: “I’m going to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer,” and that “radical social reform is what this country needs right now.” He is right about society, but against the backdrop of collapsing markets and without a macro-economic alternative, Thatcherite economics has been wrongfooted by events.

Thankfully, conservatism is a rich and varied tradition, and re-examinating its history can provide the answers Cameron needs. These ideas are grounded in a conservatism with deeper roots than 1979, and whose branches extend into the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism—or red Toryism. This is more radical than anything emerging from today’s left and should be the way forward for the right. The opportunity to restore a radical, and progressive, Toryism must not be lost to the economic downturn.

To date, neither political party has offered a plausible analysis of the origins of the meltdown. Brown denies all responsibility while George Osborne and Cameron hold him wholly and uniquely culpable. Given that no reasonable person can think either position is tenable, both parties have surrendered the intellectual high ground. But the financial crash does provide an opportunity to think through a renewed “one nation” conservatism. Cameron says that Disraeli is his favourite Tory. Disraeli attempted to ameliorate a society destroyed by the rampant industrialisation of 19th-century capitalism, whereas Cameron’s chief target (until now, at least) has been a 20th-century creation: a disempowering, dysfunctional state. Nineteenth-century Tories criticised liberal capitalism, while 20th-century conservatives condemned the illiberal consequences of statism. But 21st-century Tories, especially against the backdrop of the current crisis, must inveigh against both in favour of the very thing that suffers most at the hands of the unrestrained market and the unlimited state: society itself. And conservatism, so imagined, could reject the politics of class—of “our people”—and the interests of the already wealthy in favour of a national politics that serves the needs of all.

It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” This is the true spirit of Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state. But to recognise this innovation for what it is we have to contrast the potential of Cameron’s civic communitarian conservatism with what it aims to transcend: the corrupt and rotten postwar settlement of British politics.

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative:

“Red Tory” Philip Blond is giving a talk this evening at Georgetown University, hosted by the invaluable Tocqueville Forum. Well worth attending if you’re in the D.C. area. And tomorrow Tocqueville is hosting two panel discussions on Blond’s ideas, the first featuring Rod Dreher, Ross Douthat, and yours truly, the second with John Millbank, Andrew Abela, and Charles Mathewes. Details are here.

Blond’s Red Toryism is not welfare statism — he’s for breaking up and devolving much of the British welfare system, and he prefers a morality-infused market to further government regulation. But how would that work? His talk will give some ideas. (As does his upcoming book, Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix it.)

Patrick Deneen in WaPo:

Contemporary party arrangements have tended to understand one or the other outcome of this settlement as the root of contemporary problems. For conservatives in the Thatcher/Reagan mold, the State threatens the liberty and independence of the individual (particularly the economic freedom of autonomous individual actors in free markets, itself premised upon the atomized and individualistic liberal anthropology of Hobbes, Locke and Adam Smith). Liberals have seen the market as the threat, and have argued on behalf of the need for a centralized State to trim its excesses. What Blond perceives – echoing the discerning analysis of Distributist thinkers such as Chesterton or Hillaire Belloc in his penetrating work The Servile State or Robert Nisbet in his classic work The Quest for Community, or even the more recent work of the agrarian writer Wendell Berry – is that the centralized modern State and the concentrations of wealth and power deriving from modern “free” markets are mutually reinforcing entities.

What both of these entities mutually seek to eviscerate are the “mediating” institutions of society, those allegiances to more “partial” associations that stand in the path of the simultaneous realization of the atomized individual and the centralized State. Partial associations – whether in the form of more local forms of governance, civic associations, strong bonds of community, religious devotions, and family – are simultaneous obstructions to both radical individualism and encompassing State power. They are the traditional bulwarks against both aspects of the liberal settlement, and as such, have been mutually the object of attack by both the State and the Market. “Conservatives” and “Liberals” alike have (with different emphases) contributed mutually to the destruction of the “Associational State.”

The recent economic crisis – fueled simultaneously by the depredations of radical free agents in the market (buying and selling abstractions of financial instruments that at some point had some actual relationship to homes, that most basic building block of human associational life) and the State system that ended up supporting this economic and social arrangement – lifted the veil on this deeper symbiosis. The crisis exposed the fact that what had been sold to the American and British public for some 50 years – that one had to choose between the State and the Market – was in fact a grand illusion, and that the Left hand was as intent in making the citizenry the subjects of the Servile State as surely as the Right hand was. While inchoate in its anger and inadequately schooled in the causes of the modern crisis, the tea party movement – in its anger toward both parties – reflects this growing understanding that the purported political alternatives of our time represent no real choice at all.

Blond arrives in the U.S. to lecture at Georgetown University on Thursday evening, March 18, and to participate in panel discussions with various journalists and academics on the afternoon of Friday, March 19 (among the participants are the “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank). From D.C., Blond will travel to Philadelphia, where he will lecture on Monday, March 22 at Villanova University. For more information on all of these events, see this announcement.

Rod Dreher:

Greetings from Georgetown, where we heard tonight the English public intellectual Philip Blond introduce Red Toryism to an American audience. Blond is an engaging speaker and and real optimist about the possibility of positive political change (at dinner tonight after the speech, it was encouraging for a pessimist like me to hear him speak so vigorously about how world-changing ideas can start small). He’s just received a huge launch in this country, courtesy of David Brooks’ Friday column.

That David Brooks column (obviously, in NYT):

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, “Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry.” In a separate essay, he added, “The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures.”

David Blackburn at The Spectator:

Blond’s premise is unanswerable – the twin revolutions of left (prescriptive rights) and right (free market liberalism) have, perversely, centralised power. Everything is highly contestable.

First, Blond has an advanced case of David Miliband Syndrome: he expresses himself exclusively with meaningless abstractions:

In order to reclaim a civilised society, market and state should not be regarded as the ultimate goal or expression of humanity…We can create a civic economy based on trust, sustainability and reciprocity.’

Markets are Blond’s schtick. From what I can gather he’s agin ‘em. He fixates on what he perceives as the ‘unprecedented reduction of market diversity and plurality’. The Luddites would object to the idea this is ‘unprecedented’, and the prosperity of all that followed them undermines the assertion that a ‘reduction of diversity’ entrenches poverty. But Blond is unperturbed. He argues that local shops should be protected from larger competitors through co-ops, mutualism and state intervention when necessary.

It’s deeply conflicted thinking. Consumers are at their most powerful in a genuinely competitive and well policed market. Blond’s ideas don’t address competition; they simply replace corporatism with mutualism. Rooted in an Enid Blyton historical fantasy of cottage industries, Blond would manipulate and skew markets. He’s attracted reams of criticism. Iain Martin’s and Alex Massie’s critiques are essential reading. Perhaps Blond’s sojourn in the States reflects his growing isolation in conservative circles.

Alex Massie’s critique, from November 2009:

I think Blond is bemoaning a certain homogenisation of urban life and, sure, there’s something to that. But the fact remains that, for instance, it can never have been cheaper (in terms of a percentage of average wages) to feed your family and you’ve never had as great a choice of provisions with which to do so. I bet Blond disapproves of supermarkets (fair enough) but poor people like supermarkets. And they’re not stupid to like Tesco or Aldi or whatever.

Similarly, the horrors of the modern economy have brought us to a situation in which the average person spends much less time at work each year than did their grand-parents or great-grandparents. I think it’s about 800 fewer hours per annum in Britain. This too does not seem a negligable gain.

For that matter, one financial crisis, no matter how serious, does not prove the “failure” of markets. Apart from anything else, they’ve not been tried* for decades in areas as trivial as secondary education (except for the rich) and health (ditto).

Sometimes, if I understand him correctly (not as simple a task as it ought to be), it seems as if Blond wants to take us back to the 1930s – at home and at work. I think he’d like everyone to live in small towns or, preferably, villages too. Now there was much that was good about the 1930s but time, and society, moves on and it’s futile to suppose that the clock can be wound back. Equally, for all that progress or, if your prefer, time, causes some valuable things to be lost, it also brings valuable improvements. In the end, Blond comes across, perhaps unwittingly, as a nostalgist. And, I’d hazard, it’s but one hop from nostalgia to full-blown reactionary status.

Because, of course, even when the state was smaller, that hardly meant an absence of coercion (especially, one might note, for women). Social mores can be just as stifling as the state even if they also have overwhelming local support and play a significant, even important, role in fostering social cohesion. Look at the Western Isles for instance, or pockets of Bradford today. Which is also why it’s important that there be a means of escape and that the individual, no matter how much Blond dislikes such folk, be, to use a think tank word, “empowered”.

That doesn’t mean that more mutalisation, an emphasis on local and voluntary associations and trying to expand and widen opportunity are bad things. They’re not. But whether Red Toryism is more than a few good (and less than earth-shattering) ideas buried benath a mass of bewildering and sometimes contradictory assumptions is something that, for now, remains a matter of some confusion.  Certainly, it’s apparent belief that you can have everything and it’s apparent belief that trade-offs are extinct suggests that more work needs to be done. Time will, I guess, tell.

*Yes, yes, yes. Just like “true” Communism, “proper” or “authentic” libertarianism can never fail because it will never be tried…

Zach Dundas:

I’m way too much of a Big Government nerd to go all the way with Red Toryism, or any kind of Toryism at all—I’m in the middle of two books, one about Teddy Roosevelt’s brilliant national-forests land grab, one about the Great Society, and between them, I’m geeking out so hard on the benevolent state that I might end up with pin-ups of Gifford Pinchot and Lyndon Johnson in my locker. And, anyway, until my theoretical Middle Earth Liberation Front arises, there’s no electoral outlet for the radical decentralism that Blond articulates.

On the other hand, I like a nice cup of tea or a pint of real ale, and can’t help but feel some sympathy for a tradition which, in a broader manifestation, produced “If Pooh Were President.” I think it would be awesome if the American right would drop the crazy act and go after Wal-Mart or something Red Tory-ish. Get down with your bad selves, boys. (Q: Have there been any Tory females since Thatcher? Reply confidentially.)

Will at The League:

Despite my nasty libertarian streak, I found a lot to like in Blond’s talk, particularly in his enthusiasm for decentralization and local competition. My only quibble is that while Blond’s diagnoses are often compelling, his proposed solutions are sometimes less so. When talking about the importance of political subsidiarity, for example, Blond spoke of “giving democracy back to the streets,” which sounds more like a Students for a Democratic Society slogan than a concrete political program. “Driving capital to the periphery” and decentralizing our financial system sound great in theory, but I’m still left to wonder how economic subsidiarity works in practice. One important caveat: I’m new to Blond and was late to the lecture, so my first impressions may not do justice to the Red Tories’ program.

Blond’s philosophy also seems better suited to cultural renewal than, say, political or economic reform. His most compelling examples of Red Toryism in action – A Birmingham neighborhood taking back the streets from pimps and drug dealers; the persistence of Northern Italy’s artisan economy – struck me as the result of cultural factors that aren’t easily replicated or recreated through state action. When we do transmogrify a cultural agenda into a political one, the results are sometimes messier than anticipated, which may have been what Ross Douthat was getting at when he asked Blond about the parallels between his philosophy and Bush’s compassionate conservatism at the end of the presentation.

One last observation: Blond spoke movingly of the plight of poor and working class citizens stuck in low-wage service jobs with no prospects for social mobility. His economic vision stresses the importance of creating stakeholders – skilled artisans, small businesspeople, and so on –  who feel more invested in their communities. This reminded me of the American experience after World War II, when millions of returning GIs received free college educations and federally-backed homeownership loans helped create the American middle class. But while these programs were largeky  successful, they’re not exactly models of decentralized governance. Is Blond willing to compromise or moderate his small government sympathies to create new economic stakeholders? I ask because state efforts to create or impart social capital – from public schools to the Federal Housing Administration to Bush’s compassionate conservatism – are rarely characterized by decentralization or subsidiarity.

Exit question: Is liberal society, as Blond suggests, fundamentally dependent on older traditions, cultural practices, and civic institutions? Does radical individualism undermine these institutions? I know Blond isn’t the first to make this argument, but his prognosis was both unusually grim and surprisingly persuasive. I’d be curious to hear what the League’s commenters and contributors have to say on the subject.

UPDATE: Chris Dierkes at The League

E.D. Kain at The League

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #2: Jason Kuznicki at The League

Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

More Kain at The League

UPDATE #3: Shawn Summers at FrumForum

UPDATE #4: Daniel McCarthy at TAC

E.D. Kain at The League

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #5: Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic

Daniel Larison

More Kain

Ross Douthat

UPDATE #6: Deenen at Cato

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Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

Andy Serwer in Time:

Calling the 2000s “the worst” may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history. Between the West’s ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it’s no wonder we feel as if we’ve been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it’s in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.

Then came the defining moment of the decade, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which redefined global politics for at least a generation and caused us to question the continental security we had until then rarely worried about. We waged war in Afghanistan that drags on and today is deadlier than ever. Then came our fiasco in Iraq. Don’t forget the anthrax letters and later the Washington, D.C., snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom.

Sometimes it was as if the gods themselves were conspiring against this decade. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center point in the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

There is nothing natural about the economic meltdown we are still struggling with as the decade winds down. A housing bubble fueled by cheap money and excessive borrowing set ablaze by derivatives, so-called financial weapons of mass destruction, put the economy on the brink of collapse. We will be sorting through the damage for years. Meanwhile, the living, breathing symbol of this economic sordidness, prisoner No. 61727-054, a.k.a. Bernie Madoff, rots away in a Butner, N.C., jail cell, doing 150 years for orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of humanity.

Danny Groner at Mediaite:

Back on New Year’s 2000, Time ran the following blurb attributed to several of the magazine’s writers:

The new decade is upon us, and according to the readers of TIME, this decade will be called the Aughts…or the MMs, depending on your level of skepticism. Last year Notebook conducted an online poll to find out what name should be given the next decade. Of the Zips, Two Thousands, Zeros, Ohs, Double Ohs, 2Ks, MMs, Aughts or Singles, readers clearly put the Aughts ahead, until the last week of polling, when the MMs took the lead–so suddenly (and implausibly–the MMs?!) that it aroused suspicions of a Mars candy campaign. Despite hints of vote tampering, several advertising agencies agreed to create ads to sell the new names to the public. Enjoy yourself in the…whatevers!

That was written as the staff looked ahead at what they could only expect to be a decade full of promise and profits. How quickly that plan went awry. Compare the message of that comment from nearly ten years ago with a portion of the magazine’s cover story in the most recent issue. Reflecting on the decade gone by, writer Andy Serwer says:

Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. We’re still weeks away from the end of ‘09, but it’s not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.

And there it is, as clear as night and day. “The Whatevers” started with a looser and more upbeat tone to them and now end with a much different feel. Through terrorism, wars, a severe recession and more, we’ve somehow managed to persevere through “The Whatevers.” During that period, the term’s connotation has changed.

It emerged as a last-resort option to appease everyone who’d rejected all other names. It rejected no offerings as being too stupid or lame because it recognized that all of the proposals were stupid and lame; this strategy made everything – and everyone – acceptable. Over time, though, “whatever” morphed into something else. “Whatever you want, you got” turned into  a less involved, less enthusiastic and less caring “whatever” attitude. Some Americans have adopted a doomsday outlook to cope with a world where bad news never fails to stop piling on. The ‘Whatever” generation rolls its eyes, shakes its head, and talks about how things can’t get any worse. What hurts most is remembering times when things weren’t nearly as bad.

So was this the decade from hell? It very well may have been. But Time’s first prediction says a lot more about how this decade  impacted Americans emotionally. And as we look ahead at the next decade, one can only hope that fortune will shift to a new era of “Whatever” defined by a more hopeful approach of “Que sera, sera.”

Tyler Cowen:

Some people are saying they’re the worst decade ever, but that’s more true for the global relations of the United States than for the level of human well-being in the world as a whole.  Even in the U.S., a lot of social indicators improved.  Elsewhere Chinese growth continued, Indian growth moved into the big time (in the gross reckoning we’re already at well over two billion people), a lot of Eastern Europe was successfully absorbed into the EU,  Indonesia made slow but steady progress.  Brazil may have turned a corner, and Africa had a better-than-lately decade in terms of economic growth.  Communism didn’t really come back.  Admittedly the Middle East is a tougher call.  Canada did strikingly well, as did Australia.  There was lots of progress on public health, including in the war against AIDS.  The internet truly blossomed and human creativity continued.

For a lot of you it feels bad, but it’s not obvious that the naughties have been such a terrible decade overall.  By the way, that home prices fell was overall a good thing; the roofs on those homes still keep out the rain.

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Recently, Time magazine had a cover story that claimed the past 10 years have been “the worst decade ever.” Seriously. I guess the headline writers at Time must have missed the Black Death, the 1930s, etc.

Granted, there’s some hedging involved. “Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end,” writes Andy Serwer, “the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era.” Worse than the seventies, in other words. Don’t fret, though. “The next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one,” mainly because a Democrat lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The whole exercise is exhausting. I chose to read the essay as if it were an article in The Onion, which made the experience more enjoyable.

Will Bunch at Huffington Post:

The biggest problem is that the “Decade from Hell” suggests that life can be boiled down to, in $10,000 Pyramid terminology, “Things That You See on CNN.” What about all the billions of people, literally, who brought a new son or daughter into the world during the 2000s, who found a soulmate or got married (or even both!) or created an amazing work of art during the last 10 years? True, these same folks may have also been pained by 9/11 or suffered a job loss as well, but they probably won’t look back on these years as all hellish.

It’s also, appropriately in a weird way, a very America-centric view — I doubt people in India or China, which grew their economies and gained clout on the global stage, will see the 2000s through a ring of hellfire. But yes, if you look at the United States and from the perspective of all the big stuff in politics, the economy and the ways that we relate as a society, it was not the best of times. But here’s the other thing that troubled me about “The Decade from Hell” concept, this underlying assumption that maybe our Decades are somehow fated or handed down to us; that the same fickle Decade Gods who gave us sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s and then whomped us upside the head with Pet Rocks, the AMC Gremlin and “Muskrat Love” in the 1970s are up there deciding our fate in 10-year increments

Steve Tobak:

Whoever said, “May you live in interesting times,” must have seen the first decade of the new millennium coming. And if you ever wondered whether that enigmatic proverb was meant as a blessing or a curse, as far as this decade is concerned, well, it sort of depends on whom you ask.

I’m sure Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers would say the first year was great, then everything went to crap. Bernie Madoff and Tiger Woods, on the other hand, at least had 9 good years. I have no idea what George W. Bush would say, but I’m relatively sure Al Gore had a blast.

UPDATE: David Frum at CNN

UPDATE #2: Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman at NYT

UPDATE #4: Rod Dreher

UPDATE #5: Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

Peter Lawler at PomoCon on Deenen

Back on topic, E.J. Dionne in TNR

UPDATE #6: Tyler Cowen in the NYT, more Cowen

Arnold Kling

James Joyner

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PomoCon’s In The Basement, Mixing Up The Medicine, Front Porch’s On The Pavement, Thinking About The Government

logopomocon_header

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.”

Lawler again:

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.

Deneen again:

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.

James Poulos:

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.

Lawler again

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.

John Schwenkler:

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:

Ralph Hancock

Robert Cheeks

Lawler again

Ivan Kenneally

UPDATE #3: At the Front Porch (or is that “on” the Front Porch):

Caleb Stegall

Russell Arben Fox

And the Pomos:

Samuel Goldman

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!

PomoCons:

Peter Lawler

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

R.R. Reno

Jody Bottum on Reno’s localism

Reno responds to Bottum

Bottum responds to Reno

David P. Goldman jumps in.

Reno again. Bottum again. Bottum again

Joe Carter

Front Porchers, going local:

Caleb Stegall

Patrick Deneen

Stegall again

And, to cap it off, Daniel McCarthy has responses to Bottum and Reno, here and here.

UPDATE: John Schwenkler goes local.

UPDATE: Kenneally

UPDATE: Chris Dierkes at The League

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Speech And Consequences

Reacts from the right sphere on Preisdent Obama’s speech and the entire controversy.

Michelle Malkin, from before the speech.

Paul Mirengoff:

Today, President Obama spoiled graduation ceremonies for a more than de minimis number of University of Notre Dame students and/or their close family members by delivering the commencement speech and accepting an honorary degree. He did so to advance his political and ideological interests.

In fairness to Obama, these interests are considerable. Obama hopes to drive a wedge between the leaders of the Catholic Church and rank-and-file Catholics in order to substantially reduce Church leaders and their teachings as a moral force in the United States. Such a reduction, in turn, will remove a barrier to Obama’s left-wing agenda, especially his left-wing social agenda, just as the steep decline in the authority of Catholic Church paved the way the leftist agenda in certain European countries.

Allah Pundit

Greg Hengler at Townhall with video of the speech.

Mark Impomeni at Redstate:

But President Obama’s decision to accept the invitation, and to keep it in the face of the growing controversy, is worthy of examination as well.    President Obama may not have thought that his acceptance of the invitation to speak at Notre Dame would be controversial when he confirmed it.  However, as the controversy surrounding the speech grew from an online petition drive to angry comments from the Vatican, President Obama should have realized that his presence at the school on graduation day had become a distraction for the graduates and their families, and placed his host in an awkward situation.  As a guest has an obligation to avoid placing his host in embarrassing circumstances, President Obama should have found a way to gracefully extricate himself from the speech.  That he did not is evidence of a fundamental lack of decency in the President of the United States.

Several reactions from National Review. Ramesh Ponnuru has an article up.

David Freddoso

Jay Nordlinger

Rod Dreher has the whole speech and some thoughts

EARLIER: Notre Dame and Catholics in America

Fight Over The Fighting Irish

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin

More from Rod Dreher

UPDATE #2: Patrick Deenen:

The President’s speech – as could be expected – was quite masterful. He is a wordsmith of first order, but more, has a remarkable rhetorical ability to call for forms of higher reconciliation and transcendence of division that has otherwise been fomented by so many other politicians and opinion leaders of our age. While most on the Right either suspect him of bad faith, or impute such bad faith to him for political advantage, I believe he honestly desires to heal some of the worst divisions of the nation. His call yesterday both to include a “conscience clause” to protect professionals who object to the practice of abortion (and gay marriage?), and his call to reduce the number of abortions – including the commendation of adoption as an option – appeared to have been enthusiastically greeted by nearly everyone at the ceremony.

UPDATE #3: Alan Jacobs at The Scene

UPDATE: #4: Daniel Larison

More Paul Mirengoff

K-Lo

Ramesh Ponnuru in WaPo

And from the left, Kevin Drum on Ponnuru’s WaPo take.

UPDATE #4: Robert Cheeks at PoMoCon

At The League, Chris Dierkes and, responding to Larison, E.D. Kain

UPDATE #5: Jacob Sullum in Reason

UPDATE #6: James Poulos

UPDATE #7: Damon Linker responds to Larison, as does HC Johns and John Schwenkler

UPDATE #8: More from JL Wall on Larison, faith and doubt.

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Notre Dame and Catholics in America

Joseph Bottum in the Weekly Standard on the Obama/Notre Dame controversy:

Politics has very little to do with the mess. This isn’t a fight about who won the last presidential election and how he’s going to deal with abortion. It’s a fight about culture–the culture of American Catholicism, and how Notre Dame, still living in a 1970s Catholic world, has suddenly awakened to find itself out of date.

The role of culture is what Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame and many other presidents of Catholic colleges don’t quite get, and their lack of culture is what makes them sometimes seem so un-Catholic–though the charge befuddles them whenever it is made. As perhaps it ought. They know very well that they are Catholics: They go to Mass, and they pray, and their faith is real, and their theology is sophisticated, and what right has a bunch of other Catholics to run around accusing them of failing to be Catholic?

But, in fact, they live in a different world from most American Catholics. Opposition to abortion doesn’t stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t even stand at the center of Catholic faith. It does stand, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who–by inclination or politics–fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that the antagonism must derive from politics. But it doesn’t. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of many ordinary Catholics that the Church ought to stand for something in public life–and that something is opposition to abortion.

More from Bottum in First Things.

Patrick Deenen:

I admire and agree with much of what Jody writes, but I fear I have to disagree with him over this analysis. In my view, the singular focus upon abortion as THE issue over which conservative Catholics will brook no divergence and around which we are called to rally reveals, to my mind, not evidence of robust Catholic culture as much as its absence. It seems to me that – along with the opposition to gay marriage – this issue represents the last stand, the inner-most wall barely keeping the hordes from overrunning the sanctum. The ferocity over this issue – and this issue almost to the exclusion of nearly every other issue that might be part of a rich fabric of Catholic culture – suggests to me that Catholic culture, where it existed, has been largely routed. And, in fact, it suggests further that it is precisely for this reason that this issue has become largely defined politically – and not culturally – with an emphasis on the way that the battle over abortion must be won or lost at the ballot box (and, by extension, Supreme Court appointments).

John Schwenkler, now at TAC, concurs with Deneen.

Rod Dreher

Damon Linker in TNR:

Despite what they would like to believe, it is Bottum and his theoconservative allies who stand on the margins of American Catholic life, rallying an embattled, belligerent faction of the Church–a faction so obsessed with abortion that it has become indifferent to other moral issues and incapable of making the elementary distinctions that most of their fellow Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, treat as the commonsense starting-point and touchstone of moral reasoning. Like, for example, the distinctions separating those who perform abortions, those who procure abortions for themselves or others, those who encourage women to have abortions, and those (like the president and many millions of American Catholics) who merely believe abortion should not be prosecuted as a crime.

More when I find it.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore

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Mellencamp Would Be Too Obvious

So Dreher gets ahead of us and puts up his own post on the small town conversation that’s been happening in the Sphere. That’s cool, man.

Jeremy Beer talks about the meritocracy and that “…fly-over country, by and large, has been hemorrhaging intellectual capital for decades. The most talented young men and women, the most able, the most intelligent and creative, have been leaving to go off to college — or have been lured off to college — only to return in ever-diminishing numbers.”

Two posts from Patrick Deneen, here and here.

Daniel Larison:

The paradox Prof. Deneen describes is the result of wanting to have things both ways, to enjoy only the benefits and experience no losses, but as the paradox makes clear neither the “locals” nor the “cosmopolites” can sustain the fiction that they can have it all. At some point, the local indulgence in the benefits of globalization destroys their local way of life and replaces it with the homogenized mass culture in which they have been increasingly participating for years and decades but which they somehow thought might be kept in check. At the same time, the cosmopolites sense the long-term unsustainability of their way of life, and so have become obsessed with biodiversity, ecological balance and conservation to address the material costs without significantly addressing the moral, cultural and human costs that are also imposed.

And Rod Dreher, who collects all these posts. But we will update when we have more. This conversation is bound to continue.

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