Friday, April 07, 2017

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

This penultimate essay is called, "The Future Of Democracy In America". Deneen reminds us that according to Aristotle, liberty entailed the art of ruling, and being ruled in turn. We recall from earlier essays that Aristotle thought politics could and should be a sphere for the practice of virtues. A functional polis never denies individual needs, but neither does it elevate them above the common good.

Deneen says that this definition of liberty, and the temperance it requires and engenders, might easily be set aside, in favor of a radical autonomy, "liberty" as the freedom to do as one likes. The liberal State, he says, exists to maximize this second type of liberty, and functionally to limit the damage that  this permission implies. Problems arise because both definitions coexist as acceptable in our American discourse. A philosopher might say that an entire nation teeters on the edge of a cliff, formed by an equivocation. [A philosopher wouldn't be so poetic, getting to the point.--ed.]

Deneen says that each major American political party allows Locke to triumph over Aristotle, in terms of the definition of "liberty." The Democrats admit no binding moral limitations in the area of personal morality and sexual conduct, while the Republicans admit no moral dimension to economic matters, broadly speaking. Each one is right about the other, but inconsistent in applying its moral principles to itself.

Deneen believes that exercising virtue at lower levels can be the prelude to re-building the polis.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

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

The essential point of this essay is that classical liberalism and statism are mutually reinforcing, not contradictory. Liberalism conceives of the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Contrast that view with the Catholic view that the family is the fundamental unit of society. In addition, liberalism's goal is maximum personal autonomy. If family, church, or other organization would limit this autonomy, the State regards them with hostility, and brings its power against them.

Deneen believes that classical liberalism tends toward statism because the State fills the roles vacated by intermediate organizations. Man needs belonging and community, but the individualism inherent in democratic liberalism means that he has no right to expect any of his fellows to address his needs.

It does appear to be quite compelling, the notion that the toxicity of the present political environment is due to the quasi-religious need the political process (and the State) is attempting to meet. Virtue, reflected personally and in families, says Deneen, is the way to re-build the political culture. [Rumor has it Dreher said the same thing.--ed.] I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Men And Women Can Certainly Be Friends

Someone at The Federalist actually paid Hans Fiene money to write this. I'm seriously doing something wrong. I don't want to waste time Fisking this point-by-point. I do want to acknowledge that we do generally have a demographics problem in the West. I also acknowledge and appreciate the argument that people marrying later is bad for a whole plethora of reasons, both material and spiritual.

I also will personally admit that being single is not my preference, and that this season of life in some respects has been extremely difficult.

I will never say that my friendships are a waste.

If Fiene wants me to admit that I am attracted to most of my female friends, fine. If we talk about it, though, and there's some reason why I'm not--as far as she knows--her husband, what are we supposed to do? Just pretend that whatever we've shared in life didn't happen? I'm afraid that's silly.

I might be too nice in some ways about romantic pursuits. But sheer math and propriety would suggest I will not be having sex with the women I meet. Tragic, I know. So I'd better leave her better than I found her, because there is more to life than sex, and there is more to her than me.

I saw a friend at a party the other night. She's married. Actually, the night we met was another party. For the record, I found her attractive. Most men would. I told her the story of seeking full communion with the Catholic Church that first night, and she cried a tear. We bonded over numerous things, and we continue to share those things. We're friends. The way life worked, she never heard me say, "Hey, you're cute, and maybe..." or whatever people say. I'm not giving back the things that make us friends. Who does that? If she or her husband needed my help, I'd be there.

C'mon, Hans. You're a Christian. You should understand these things. I haven't been selfless at all times, that is certain. But if I have ever known love of any kind, then I have given love without expecting anything. If we are Christians, the dreaded Friend Zone is actually a pretty happenin' place. It's like Dave and Buster's, but cheaper.

The stories of my romantic disappointment are actually my favorite stories. Almost all of them have some moment or take-away where we knew we had been made better by knowing one another. Do we really want to become like the world, making everything transactional and utilitarian?

By the way, I dare The Federalist or Hans Fiene to ponder the idea that perhaps people are marrying later because this economic system is intrinsically disordered. Call me cynical, but I expect his next piece to be about the alleged sanctity of repealing environmental regulations.

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.