Postmodern Conservative

Politics & Policy

The Brand Conservative

To all you heretical Americans: Let me remind you that we are in the midsts of the Christmas Season, the Twelve Days of Christmas. The celebration begins on Christmas and ends on Epiphany. It has nothing to do with New Year’s, which is in no way a Christian celebration. Keep that tree up (for example) at least until January 6. Some traditional Christians, such as our friend Nick Frankovich, even think that the season extends to Candlemas in February.  I have, more than once, kept our tree up that long, although I’m not recommend an approach that might be confused with extreme laziness.

George Will gave Donald Trump a fine Christmas present with another eloquent conservative criticism of his thought and character. Like all the others, it helped Donald more than hurt him. Skimming around the web this morning, I see a very significant number of articles and such from various viewpoints beginning with “Trump is right about.” George and the other conservative public intellectuals should read those articles and learn from Trump. I’m not warning you guys again.

Peter S. and Ralph have elevated being postmodern yet conservative to new levels. When is a candidate finally going to hire our Pete to craft a conservative rhetoric appropriate to our time? He’s surely right that the evidence that the country is moving left is ambiguous. It has become more liberal (meaning libertarian) on the cultural issues, and even Cruz (mainly in private) admits that it’s a waste of time and treasure to campaign to reverse the Court decision on same-sex marriage. But that doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t be branded as intrusively meddlesome extremists when it comes to identity politics, and that a Republican administration wouldn’t do a lot more to protect religious freedom and intellectual freedom. And it doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t receptive to the idea that abortion and related issues — given the reasonable disagreement of the American people on the status of prenatal life — should be handled by legislative compromise and not judicial/administrative fiat. 

And (finally for now!) it doesn’t mean that Republicans should cave to the oligarchic big donors on regarding people as free individuals and nothing more. A country is a country, a citizen is a citizen, and families, churches, and local communities are indispensable foundations of limited government. Well, not only that, it’s personal love and worthwhile work that are the points of living for most of us; government is limited by goods we share in common. Republicans haven’t learned nearly enough from the disastrous campaign of Romney, which was too much about (big-time) entrepreneurship and “job creators” and not nearly enough about how ordinary Americans regard the relational dignity of work. Rubio, for the record, does better than the other Republicans here, but for now I’m praising him only by comparison.

On Ralph’s issue of who’s the greater conservative thinker, Scruton from England or Manent from France: Scruton’s writing embraces the whole range of human learning, including music, literature, and art; he’s even written music and a very fine novel. So he’s stronger on the artistic or “beauty” front. Manent is better on pre-modern thought, both classical and Christian, while Scruton is better in appreciating what’s true in Kant and Hegel, even for conservatives. Manent is a believing and rather Augustinian Catholic, and so he sees it’s really true that Pascal (and the Pascalian Tocqueville) knows man. Our alienation — our greatness and misery — are parts of who we are. Scuton, by contrast, tends to understand Christianity in an Anglican or “establishment” way, as part of a tradition that enhances our sense of belonging in the particular place in which we live. He mistakenly regards self-consciousness  properly understood as a tool given us by evolution to manage gradual reform. But Manent isn’t that Augustinian, insofar as he also talks up — following Tocqueville and being French — the irreducible greatness of the nation as the modern form of the polis, and there his thought intersects most obviously with that of Scruton. Still, the French understanding of the nation is more doctrinal (revolutionary) and the English more cultural or inherited. That means Scruton can speak more boldly about the personal benefits of monarchy. Let me conclude, for today, by saying that I haven’t concluded my reflections on which of the top two conservative thinkers is greater.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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