Monday, April 03, 2017

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

Dr. Deneen asks whether a conservative tradition actually exists in America. The reason he asks such a question is because classical liberalism, he claims, is not fundamentally conservative, in that it aims to conserve an older way of living and relating based in virtue and obligation, obligation that extends into the future, and from the past.

Indeed, part of the supposed virtue of classical liberalism is in its casting off of the past, in favor of new possibilities. Deneen in a sense leaves a question lingering for us to ponder: What are the costs of a society built upon individualism and creative destruction?

Deneen points out that the philosophical fathers of the people we call "conservatives" today are Locke and Rousseau, as opposed to someone like Burke. So even as Americans have sorted themselves into camps of progressive liberals and classical liberals, they share the fundamental assumption that the individualist project inherent to democracy is a good one. Deneen's purpose in this collection as a whole is to question this assumption.

It had been progressives in earlier decades that began positing the national government as a point of unity for people detached from family and place. Isn't it interesting that nationalism has found a home with both "Left" and "Right"?

Tocqueville has surely been proven correct that professional associations and community organizations that would "enlarge the heart" are on the decline, as the national government grows, but also as a sense of intergenerational obligation is less keenly felt. America is "bowling alone," as Putnam observed, and a change won't be quick in coming.

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