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Friday, March 24, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (VII)

The essay "Progress and Memory" posits that liberalism and related philosophies introduce temporal discontinuities into the lived experience of people; that is, giving an absolute primacy to either the past, the present, or the future, as opposed to respecting each.

Liberalism, says Deneen, prioritizes the present. It seeks the satisfaction of the currently living signatories, as it were, of the social contract. As we have noted from previous essays, liberalism sees the individual as free and autonomous, unhindered by any obligations to ancestors or descendants. Its economics is market capitalism. Anything that posits such an obligation is discarded.

Progressivism shares many of the same assumptions as liberalism, but it idealizes the future. As a result, any contentment in the present is attributed to a false consciousness which must be corrected. Progressivism is the most amenable to despotism, because it harbors an equal hostility to the past as it does to the present. Morality and dignity are dependent on memory and obligation.

Deneen calls the idealization of the past "nostalgism." Nostalgists advocate what Deneen believes to be the mirror image of progressivism, because they have an intense antipathy for the present, and an unwillingness to learn from the past, in the sense of using some wisdom to correct problems in the present.

Deneen identifies "hope" as the answer to these dilemmas. It should not be confused with optimism about the future, since that is the hallmark of progressivism. Rather, it's best said as a steadfast expectation of justice. What is good will be preserved, and what is evil discarded. Memory is the willingness to learn from the past without idealizing it.

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