Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Lots of great and interesting stuff on traditional themes of interest around here.

Will Wilkinson on inequality and American exceptionalism... and race.

Many people on liberaltarianism; Ross Douthat, twice; Reihan Salam; Will, and again (I especially like that last post); Ilya Somin; Virginia Postrel.

A characteristically epic and rich post from Russell Arben Fox on some of his own favorite themes, some of which he and I have discussed from time to time (and I chip in in comments there). A sample:

The point is, I suspect, that trying to extricate liberal ideas in all their varieties from any political argument that doesn't address capitalism (and the mostly or at least increasingly democratic forms of modern life it presumes to be valuable) itself directly is probably always going to end up failing. Burke himself, who is usually held as the very font of modern conservatism, was a liberal, or at least was liberal; as Jacob Levy (among others) has persuasively argued, Burke was a Whig whose "pluralist liberalism" led him to greatly respect the "ancient liberties--of churches, guilds, parlements, provinces, cities, nobles, and all the rest--[that] provided a place to stand against absolutism." So from the beginning, any conservatism which speaks of liberty in the context of modern democratic capitalism--the arena within which different groups (the small platoons!) as we know them today can form and seek the freedom and power to live their lives as they see fit in the first place--is going to be, at most, a form of liberalism, one that is, as Alasdair MacIntyre once put it, a "conservative liberalism," a liberalism more pluralist in its devotions, more sensitive to history and less rational in its ambitions, but a liberalism nonetheless.

Now in some ways this is obviously a kind of silly point to make. Political theorists like Jacob and Patrick (and, sometimes, me) can argue all we like about the conceptual and/or historical connections between Burke and other early modern liberals, but in historical fact it is the conservatives--certainly at least since Russell Kirk--that have seen in Burke's appreciation of tradition and natural limits a conservative response to Rousseau and thus to all the revolutionary or egalitarian implications of liberalism. And, of course, the liberal reading of Burke can itself be contested: the man did rhapsodize about how moved he was by the glorious presence of Marie Antoinette, after all. So (perhaps to allude back to the aforementioned debate between Patrick and Damon) there are elements of a fundamentally illiberal appreciation of authority in his thought. Still, overall, I think the general point stands: every successful modern conservative political argument has been, to a degree, in the same position as that which Michael Walzer once famously said about the relevance of communitarianism to our modern liberal world (about which, more here); namely, that it is, however interesting and important an ideology, nonetheless parasitic on liberalism, a "recurrent critique," at best.

So does this mean that Patrick's search for a conservatism that can truly be tried and made fruitful is, in the end, in vain? Not necessarily--it just means that one needs to get clear on what it is you're searching for, and think again about where to find it and what one hopes to accomplish There are different sorts of recurrent critiques, after all.

Read the whole thing.

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