For those of you who enjoyed my selections (in five parts) from the the preface to Patrick Deneen's book, Why Liberalism Failed, I link below to a podcast interview with Deneen that was presented at Lifesite. While we await results from various investigations into the most far reaching crisis of the American political order, it seems worthwhile to reflect on deeper questions of political philosophy as we ponder our future.
For background, I introduced Deneen's work in this way back in August:
For background, I introduced Deneen's work in this way back in August:
Deneen's overall thesis is that all liberalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction--progressive liberalism may get to the bottom of the slippery slope faster, but classical liberalism or libertarianism will get to the bottom just as surely because their fundamental principles are the same. Indeed, in a notable quote (see below) Deneen states with regard to the historical ignorance of his students:
The pervasive ignorance of our students ... is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide.
The civilization he speaks of, of course, is that of Western liberalism.
Deneen approaches the question of liberalism's death-wish from a philosophical and historical perspective but, before dismissing this as arcane theorizing, be advised that Deneen--writing in 2018--is keenly aware of current political realities. He writes with Trump--and "populism" generally--very much at the front of his mind.
The writer at Lifesite introduces Deneen's thinking in these words:
The thesis of “Why Liberalism Failed” can be shoved into a nutshell of, “liberalism is failing because liberalism is succeeding.” Deneen provides clarity in the definitions of conservatism and liberalism. He explains that there’s been confusion in what we typically call conservatism in the United States. Deneen suggests that we might more appropriately call conservatives, “classical liberals.” He goes on to say that, “we need to understand there are two variants or versions of liberalism itself.”
Deneen, unfortunately, isn't exactly a charismatic speaker, but he is clear. The podcast is 40 minutes long (after a ~4 minute intro) and is quite worthwhile. Highlights, for most listeners, will be his critique of Ronald Reagan. At the end, he states that he is ‘surprisingly hopeful’ for the future.
Here are the main previous posts on Deneen:
Why Liberalism Failed (1)
Why Liberalism Failed (2)
I just finished the book last night. Thanks for your recommendation--and series of posts on it. I wouldn't have read it otherwise.ReplyDelete
Every self-confessed conservative should read it. Highly recommended.
Thanks a lot. It means a lot to me to know that my recommendations are appreciated. I've spent a lifetime recommending books and articles, with mixed results. :-) :-( LOL!Delete
Mr. Wauck, I find so much of your work utterly gripping, esp. when about Russia/ Spygate.ReplyDelete
And, in a way, I’m glad you posted this stuff about Deneen, but for esoteric reasons.
It’s clear enough to me, that he’s pushing a spurious dichotomy, of Righty defense of “customary norms”, vs. Lefty attacks on them.
This is most likely a straw man vs. (at least much of) the Left, and exposes Deneen’s work as, at best, rather suspect for its honesty.
We Righties can do better.
You quote him, in ‘Why Liberalism Failed (1)’:
“Liberalism reconceives liberty as the opposite of this older conception. It is understood to be the greatest possible freedom from external constraints, including customary norms. The only limitation on liberty, in this view, should be duly enacted laws….”
While no doubt most of the Left is NOWadays indeed for “the greatest possible freedom from… customary norms”, the notion, that this was always so of Liberals/ Libertarians, is all but laughable.
Certainly Henry Hazlitt, and probably Shaftesbury, Hume, Bentham, all (?) of the Framers (esp. Adams), and countless others, would’ve despised a push for such “greatest possible freedom”.
A more honest approach, to this issue about customary norms, would be to charge today’s Left with pushing heresy vs. prior Liberal/ Libertarian thought, as is being charged by, say, the Intellectual Dark Web crowd.
Until you show Deneen actually addressing these IDWers’ arguments, I must fear him to be some sort of shill, for whoever.
And, even had there been no Hazlitt, etc., Libertarians could still push for such a Hazlitt etc. position, for quite good reason.
But, please, keep us up to speed, on e.g. Barr (and his Unitary Executive) vs. the Deep State and its SSCI cohorts.
Deneen's views are actually unexceptional among those who have a thorough understanding of the philosophical ideas behind libertarianism. The fact that some libertarians and their favored thinkers of the past may not follow out those ideas consistently doesn't change the FACT thatDelete
"liberalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction--progressive liberalism may get to the bottom of the slippery slope faster, but classical liberalism or libertarianism will get to the bottom just as surely because their fundamental principles are the same."
-->It’s clear enough to me, that he’s pushing a spurious dichotomy, of Righty defense of “customary norms”, vs. Lefty attacks on them. This is most likely a straw man vs. (at least much of) the Left, and exposes Deneen’s work as, at best, rather suspect for its honesty.<--Delete
I can recommend that you should read the book. I don't think anyone who's actually read the book would make those observations. I could be wrong. YMMV.
The overriding distinction Deneen makes is that (present day) conservatives--classic liberals or conservative liberals--are merely the obverse side of the liberal coin from progressive liberals. The difference being the rank ordering of preferences.
Both sides believe in individual autonomy (freedom, liberty) and the state as the guarantor of rights--while hollowing out the culture, the mediating institutions of social life, e.g. Burke's little platoons.
I'd go on, but reading Deneen it soon becomes clear why conservatives haven't conserved anything of value in the culture, having been steam-rolled by progressives for 100 years, with a few intermissions along the way.
Remember, in the 1950s Wm F. Buckley said, "Stop!" He didn't say, "Not yet," and negotiate a compromise.
I just hope that the Right doesn’t dismiss the best libertarians (e.g. Hazlitt) on the balance between customs and laws (just because many Libertarians have blown off the wisdom of guys like Hume, and instead continue to seek, at all costs, the “greatest possible freedom” from customs).
If the Framers could build such an impressive structure of freedom from arbitrary gov’t, which still respected tried-and-true grass-roots customs, we should be able to try to emulate those great men.
Forbes: "reading Deneen it soon becomes clear why conservatives haven't conserved anything of value in the culture, having been steam-rolled by progressives for 100 years, with a few intermissions along the way."ReplyDelete
Libertarians are in the grip of an ideology--meaning, a set of simplistic ideas that have little relation to the reality of human nature. No doubt many mean well and react to the excesses of the Left, but Forbes somes up the result well.
Who was it that made that comment about continuing to bang your head against a wall? After 100 years of failing to conserve anything libertarians want to continue beating their heads against that same wall.
In fact, the more honest ones will say outright that they have no desire to conserve the culture.
To your point, honest libertarians have no interest in culture, being strictly utilitarian--believers of the rational man theory of homo economicus.Delete
And while man is capable of rational inquiry, most of his waking hours are driven by social-emotional considerations, e.g. hopes, fears, dreams, laughter, anger, preferences, experiences, that form innate and instinctual reactions, choices, and decision-making often at odds with rationality. This is due to trade-offs made in decision-making, when people attach differing (subjective) values to the choices under consideration.
Reliance on the rational man theory, to the exclusion of social-emotional characteristics, is to forego the humanity in mankind.
Which is a reason not to take them seriously, except that the simple explanation of everything is attractive to people with that type of mind. The type of mind that thinks running fringe candidates to defeat GOPers will somehow benefit the country, when the result will be the socialism they claim to deplore. Hard to reason with that mentality.Delete