Liberalism As Borderlessness
In the chapter entitled "Liberalism as Anticulture," I identify several key features of liberalism: the conquest of nature, timelessness, and placelessness. To these three, I perhaps should have added an implied fourth: borderlessness. A core feature of liberal philosophy and politics is recognition of the arbitrariness of almost every border. This runs as a golden thread in considerations not only of the political understanding of borders--primarily national borders--but of any existing differentiation, distinction, boundary, and delineation, all of which come under suspicion as arbitrarily limiting individual freedom of choice. All such "borders" are interrogated for their arbitrariness, and few can ultimately withstand the pressure of such interrogation--even those that are not arbitrary but are nevertheless limiting. Borders and boundaries based in geography, history, and nature must increasingly be erased under the logic of liberalism.
As Tocqueville noted, liberal democracy tends to scorn "forms." Forms in a literal sense have a distinct shape and content, separating what is inside from what is outside (the glass that holds the water I am drinking fortunately has a form that separates the water from my keyboard). Liberal philosophy is universal, applying in theory to all people in all times and all places. While it was launched with a view to justifying a nation's political purpose ("to secure these rights, Governments were instituted among Men," reads the United States Declaration of Independence), its basic logic ultimately would make even national boundaries suspect, regarded as unjustly limiting the universal dominion of liberalism.
Liberalism's first project was the nationalization of liberal philosophy, institutions, practice, and beliefs, but once this was secured, it would turn a suspicious eye to the bounded nations that originally contained it. In the United States, both classical and progressive liberals placed liberal nation-building at the core of its mission, particularly the transfer of political devotions from concrete localities to the abstraction of the nation. One of the key differences between "conservatives" and "progressives" today is over whether liberalism can and should see it primary locus as the nation or the world. Both sides share the view that liberalism is a universalist philosophy, but they differ over how best to advance that universalism. Mainstream conservatives have sought to advance liberal universalism through the vehicle of the nation, primarily through globalized economic policy and aggressively interventionist and even imperialist militarism. Liberals believe that the nation-state must eventually be superseded by global governance, best represented today by the European Union. Both sides of this project--the two faces of liberalism--have failed.
Liberalism's logic seeks to eliminate not only borders as we normally consider them--through political and economic globalization--but also the "boundaries" that exist in nature. Today's emphasis upon issues of identity--especially arising from the sexual revolution--arise equally from the liberal abhorrence of "forms." The human form above all that requires elimination is sexual difference, a goal advanced by increasingly aggressive efforts to secure state-funded birth control, abortion, and artificial forms of fertilization and gestation of children. The people most committed to protecting and preserving the environment [from] the technological manipulation of nature are often the most fervent in support of eliminating every evidence of natural differentiation between men and women, through chemical and technological manipulation. The latest frontier of this logic now finds its cause in advancing the medical alteration of one's gender to accord with one's felt identity, and with the still-developing movement of opening a market in "renting" a womb or outright purchase of a child. One of the fruits of liberalism's advance against the ultimate "form" of human nature itself, disassembling the most elemental boundaries found in nature, will be the global commodification of women and children, extending liberalism's strengthening of the powerful, whose liberty depends on those who are powerless yet theoretically free "choosing" what is effectively a new form of bondage. This project, too, is bound for failure as rates of childlessness increase and the resentments of the powerless grow. Yet its inescapable logic will play out to its predictable, politically destabilizing denouement.
1) In the book Deneen discusses at length the "commodification" of the non-elites, especially in the context of the globalized labor market. The non-elites are forced to compete to lower labor costs--their income--to enrich the managerial elite. Indeed, this concept was well illustrated in the wake of the Trump electoral victory when Bill Kristol expressed the view that it might be time to replace the lazy ass white working class--as opposed to the hard working chattering class--with "new Americans." Fellow citizens have thus become fungible--at the disposition of the managerial elite. This is the concept expressed in the view of America as a "proposition nation." Liberalism's transformation of socialized human beings into autonomous individuals leads to oppression under the guise of liberty.
2) Two currently active campaigns of the Power Elite play into Deneen's theory. One is the Power Elite's intensifying campaign of vilification against working class whites--White Supremacists. The other, and more recent one, is the attempt by the Power Elite to jawbone the US economy into a recession. This is a patent effort to break the upward trend of wages among working class Americans. Both campaigns together target a key Trump demographic. The aim is to prevent Trump--with his non-liberal economic ideas--from being re-elected.
UPDATE 2: Scott Rasmussen provides data to back up the idea that most normal people have a glimmering that the Power Elite of liberalism that expands government while talking up "liberty" is not their friend. The trouble is that most Americans can only frame issues in the language of liberalism or libertarianism, which is what they've grown up with:
Just 19% of voters today trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. Forty-two percent rarely or never trust it. The rest are sometimes willing to give the feds the benefit of the doubt.
... it's been 47 years since a majority of voters have trusted the government most of the time.
That distrust has opened a strong disconnect between what is happening in the political world and what is happening in the rest of the country.
... 53% of voters nationwide believe that our country is doing OK but the political system is in a crisis. Most voters aren't looking for the political system to save the country; they are hoping the government doesn't drag the country down.
The difference between a country and its government is one of the most important and ignored realities in politics today. The government certainly has a role to play in the country — a big role, in fact. But just 14% of voters believe it's the lead role.
Only 13% believe governing is the responsibility of government alone. The rest recognize that every relationship and organization — including families, businesses and civic groups — plays a role in making society work.
But voters prefer bottom-up change from the culture rather than top-down change from Washington. That's partly because 60% recognize that Americans have more power acting as consumers than they do as voters. Only 13% believe they have more control through the political process.
UPDATE 3: Another example. Today The Federalist ran an article advocating the decriminalization of prostitution. That's a very typical Libertarian concept. Who thinks that would improve their neighborhood? Who thinks that will "empower" women--and children? And who thinks that will lead to the further commodification of women and children--for the gratification of the Power Elite.