Postmodern Conservative

The conflict of individual against community

Andrew Sullivan, acting a bit more of a spin doctor than usual after reading Mark Lilla’s sobering piece on the modern political context we live in, declared an empathic victory in the name of individual freedom earlier this week, calling modern America a nation of libertarians in an acid-laced bit of wankery the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Windsor decision – or his recent compensatory tirades on manliness, depending on your view of wankery. Money shot (because he’s too much a coward to say it himself):

The core idea of this post-ideological new age was simply expanding the freedom of the individual – and it was embraced economically by the right, socially by the left, and completely by the next generation of pragmatic liberaltarians.

The blather on display here is incredibly detached, and fails to seriously take into consideration that individual freedom has not been triumphant, but in fact contracting more than it has been expanding thanks to government and corporate interests.  But to discuss that at length would be a hindrance, and any response would likely be apathetic.

Instead, let us focus on the core problem Sullivan attempts to address in the post: The matter of foreign policy in response to this development, as well as the loss of hegemony following the quixotic crusades that were Iraq and Afghanistan. In fairness, Brooks’ calls for a return to worshiping the American Dream and the glory that is the nation’s “exceptionalism” (a word which people tend to forget was coined by Stalin as an insult) comes off as dense and paranoiac. It shows him clinging to the old parameters of which the world existed, a time that barely has meaning now. But to call Sullivan’s own response nonsense would be a bit of an understatement:

But there is another, saner response to this, and Lilla points the way. It is to re-exercize the intellectual muscles that created and then defended the idea of democratic capitalism – and to use them, first of all, to address the democratic deficits in our own too-often bought-and-paid-for republic, to build and defend intermediate institutions that check individualism’s acidic power – families, churches, neighborhoods, school-boards, sports leagues, AA meetings. And so we match gay freedom with gay marriage and military service, embracing libertarianism but hitching it to institutions that also connect it to the community as a whole.

To start with, where does Lilla even mention this, other than in a vague hint about the potential of reactionary right with the parable of the golem? Even then, he was more making a point than suggesting a solution. Also, what that has to do with foreign policy is beyond anyone’s imagination.

Sullivan’s extrapolation seems more a desire to display his Thatcherite paternalism than anything functional, for many of his suggestions are institutions designed to strangulate individuality. The military are specialists in this line of business: Nothing strips away individual freedom more than being trained against nature into becoming an efficient killing machine. Yet families, churches, any community-style organization are also capable of undermining the independence of the individual.

But then, that’s the point of a community, and therein lies the modern conflict that Sullivan fails to appreciate.
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The alt-con divide

Jason Joseph notices a split between Peter Lawler’s postmodern conservatives and the crowd of lovable modernity-rejecting hobbits at Front Porch Republic. Patrick Deneen, porcher capo, on the divide:

This debate pits the anti-consumerist, CSA-loving, small town-adoring, pro-hand working, suburb-loathing, bourbon-sipping denizens of the “Front Porch Republic” against the McDonald’s loving, Starbucks slurping, dentistry-adoring, Wal-Mart shopping adherents of Postmodern Conservatism.

I think I’m going to have to invite one of our goons to take on one of theirs. Let’s have a knock-down, drag-out, fight-to-the-finish, winner-take-all, one-man-standing, n0-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners debate. You, know – Jets vs. Sharks, and all that. As long as we can have drinks afterwards. Let’s find out once and for all whether there’s a place on the porch for the PoMo Cons, or whether there’s a place for the Front Porchers in post-modernity.

And with a word from Lawler, the battle is joined:

Dr. Patrick Deneen has gotten all uppity and wants some kind of showdown at one of his people’s corrals between the Postmodern Conservatives and the “Front Porch Republicans” (none of whom would be caught dead doing something REALLY conservative like voting REPUBLICAN).

Let me lay down a marker and predict the differences will get more dramatic now that the Postmodern Conservative blog has moved from First Things to NRO.

Lawler has sort of covered this territory before. I like PoMoCon, but they are prone to hipsterish hair-splitting on some of these issues that seems more about social positioning — like Carl Scott’s pre-view of “Copperhead” he wrote without seeing it.

The Mitrailleuse maintains no official position on the porcher-pomo schism, but I’ll tell you who I’d rather read.

Update: The whole 2009 discussion, rounded up.

Update II: Also Russell Arben Fox, June 4:

So I come back, once again, to Norman Mailer’s “left conservative” formulation: to “think in the style of Karl Marx in order to attain certain values suggested by Edmund Burke.” Porcherism can’t be friendly to the present global liberal regime, as much as we may pragmatically work with it, because we see it premised upon the valuation of states and corporations and individuals who build their webs of connection in anything but Burkean, organic ways. The state, the corporation, even the sovereign individual all have their intellectual place in our accounting of the present world, and may be defended in better or worse ways. But absent a real communitarian context–a liveable, sustainable, historical one–they will follow paths that can never truly privilege place, and all too often will instead undermine it. That’s a fairly grand conclusion to come to about an online, ideological debate, I know. But for those few of us who have found an intellectual home in the combination of traditionalism with radicalism, it’s an important one to never forget either.