Tags: Peter Lawler

What is Progressivism in 2014?


Peter Lawler looks at Elizabeth Warren’s eleven points and concludes, “So the effectual truth of progressivism is contained to the realm of ‘autonomy’ (a basically sophisticated issue) with some Green stuff.  It’s Silicon Valley or left-corporate capitalism.” Carl Scott argues that it is premature to think the left has abandoned the progressive understanding of liberty: the social justice of the national community (number 4 in his fivefold typology). I would say the rhetorical truth of progressivism now leans toward Carl’s fifth category: personal autonomy liberty (see, for example, the reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision). In addition, the current environment is not (to say the least) hospitable to big government. It’s tough to sell liberty as social justice for the national community in light of the Veterans Affairs debacle, a rogue IRS, the NSA and big data, the immigration crisis on the border, and the wonders of Obamacare. But the effectual truth of progressivism (its heart and soul) is still social justice. Jonah Goldberg’s description below thus still fits the current crop of progressives:

Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be.

Jeffrey Anderson in The Weekly Standard gives us a bird’s eye view of this process under Obamacare. Lots of meetings with CEOs of the largest insurance companies at the White House to ensure public relations coordination (among other things). And then there’s this:

After Obama lawlessly empowered himself to un-ban the plans that Obamacare had banned by law, insurers weren’t happy, so the administration responded by paying them off. It did so by changing the rules regarding two programs buried in the bowels of Obamacare — its risk-corridor and reinsurance programs.  As Jay Cost and I wrote this spring, the administration changed the rules “to funnel more money to insurers.  Put simply, the administration lowered the threshold at which insurers become eligible for reinsurance money, and it made more generous the formula by which insurers get paid under the risk corridors.”  In the process, Obama effectively turned the risk-corridor program into his own personal slush fund.

If contemporary progressivism is some combination of progressive liberty and personal-autonomy liberty, must one of those conceptions eventually win out? Or is there some stable hybrid developing? James Poulos thinks he’s identified the hybrid: what he terms the “pink police state” or what Carl might call “statist-autonomy liberty.” Poulos explains the strange combination of hyper-autonomy/permissiveness and hyper-statism/interventionism:

In a culture where social or interpersonal freedom is valued much more than political freedom, government becomes assertive in restricting “unhealthy” and “risky” activity, but assertive in broadening the ability of individuals to pursue pleasure in “healthy” and “secure” ways. That means both more permissiveness and more intervention in sexual life: a bigger portion of society is “sexualized,” and a bigger portion of society falls within the official sphere of life.

But Poulos emphasizes the instability of this system. Why? Because

there is no logical limit to how intrusive the new regime will get. Because political freedom is disvalued, once “public” and once “private” sector surveillance and monitoring may become completely comprehensive and permanent. This result is encouraged by a culture which feels increasingly fated to do what it is apt to do anyway by choice: put interpersonal, hedonic freedom far above political freedom in our relations with the state.

He also argues that these official freedoms will never be enough and people will continue to find new boundaries to cross. It seems to me that Poulos’s argument absolutely depends upon the devaluation of political freedom by the American people. This affirms what Carl argues in his essay about the importance of what he terms “classical-communitarian liberty.”

Tags: Carl Scott , James Polous , Peter Lawler , Progressivism , American Liberty

Postmodern Conservatism and the Question of “Foundations”


I am happy to march under Peter Lawler’s “Postmodern Conservative” moniker — or perhaps rather to gather and meander, to meet as in a marketplace or public square. I don’t think anyone can contest Peter Lawler’s authorship of this genial label. I could, I suppose, cite certain of my early, unpublished onto-political manuscripts that as I recall already propose this formula — though no doubt in French, which probably should not count anyway.

So yes, Peter Lawler is the inventor or discoverer of Postmodern Conservatism. To be sure, some of the bloom has come off the rose of “postmodernism” as an edgy and sophisticated intellectual movement, but that gives a bit of an ironically “retro” flavor to the name — which is itself at once sort of “conservative” in a sort of “postmodern” way. In any case I find the name just substantive enough to define some philosophical territory, at least vaguely, while leaving plenty of room for different interpretations and inflections. Herewith a stab at my inflection — or the beginning of a stab.

“Conservativism” implies something to conserve – in fact something good to conserve. It conveys opposition to revolutionary “rationalism,” which equates “reason” with a transformative or revolutionary political project that is fundamentally unreasonable because it eschews responsibility for the actual human content of the new world it proposes to create. For the same reason “conservatism” implies resistance to the charms of progressivism, which is just revolutionary radicalism in its more patient and deceptively mainstream mode. Progressivism can name what it wants to leave behind, but it cannot really give an account of the better world toward which it promises to lead us, if only we would abandon the ways and principles that have seemed necessary and good to us and our forebears. But just what is the good, or what are the goods, that Postmodern Conservatism proposes to conserve?

One paradoxical but plausible answer (as given by Harvey Mansfield and others) is this: American conservatism must conserve liberalism. Freedom, equal freedom, has been the core of America, and this is what is to be conserved. To be sure. But just what is freedom: What is its content, what are its limits? And what makes it good? These are questions, especially this latter, that lead the conserver of liberalism beyond the sources of liberalism itself — such questions lead us (in the words of a title friendly, at least, to postmodern conservatism) to “The Conservative Foundations of Liberal Order” (Daniel Mahoney). Postmodern conservatives wish to conserve liberalism, or certain features of liberalism (constitutionalism, a certain religious diversity, economic freedom to maximize the availability of a decent standard of living), but we believe that liberalism is not self-sufficient, that its integrity and therefore its maintenance depend on non-liberal elements, on virtues and beliefs for which liberalism cannot provide a foundation. But what kind of foundation, if any, can “conservatism” provide? Now here is a question that leads us straight into deep waters: Can reason discover or articulate moral and political foundations?

This is where I see Pomocon-ism steering a path between absolutism and relativism, between dogmatism and skepticism. And it is from the standpoint of this question of “foundations” that I see the “postmodern” bearing of our conservatism come to light, as well as our debt to Tocqueville, whom I regard (perhaps even more than Peter Lawler) as the seminal master-thinker of Pomocon-ism. Coming next: Postmodern Conservatism — Between Absolutism and Skepticism

Tags: Liberalism , Conservatism , Reason , Tocqueville , Peter Lawler , Harvey Mansfield

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