Postmodern Conservative

Uniting with Rod Dreher

I took a trip this morning over to the tasteful and erudite site of The American Conservative.  Being a uniter, not a divider, by nature, I was hoping to find much to affirm.  Sadly, I was a  bit disappointed or uncharacteristically disagreeable, although I want to say that, overall, my favorite cultural critic is now the AC’s Micah Mattix.

I was impressed by the sheer abundance of thoughtfulness in the recent posts by Rod Dreher.  He’s obsessed a lot more than is good for his or our mental health over Cruz’s misbegotten speech.  The question: “What the hell was that guy thinking?”  The answer: “Well, nobody knows, but he wasn’t thinking as much as he should have been.”  Still, Rod’s bottom line is correct: American Christians should form a coalition in defense of the “parallel goods” of the safety and security of Israel and saving Christians and Christianity in the Middle East.  I’ve tried to be all poetic and show those two goods might be considered one.  But I don’t require that either the Israelis or the Arab Christians see things my way.  Rod, sign me up for the coalition.

Not only that!  Rod has provided a fine summary of a position I’ve put forward for your consideration from time to time: libertarian means for non-libertarian ends:

We’ve got a First Amendment, the penumbra of which grants us lots of latitude for running our own religious lives as we see fit. The ground of liberty in this way is going to be shrinking, that’s clear, in the coming laïcité.  But we still have a lot more freedom than do religious folks in other countries, and that’s worth preserving.  I am a conservative, not a libertarian, but we live in a fundamentally libertarian social order.  It might make sense, then, to vote for principled libertarians over conventional conservatives, if the principled libertarians truly respect the liberty of unpopular religious minorities to live within their sphere and flourish.  I believe that over the course of my children’s lifetime, defending the First Amendment is going to become the most important cause for religious conservatives, because on it everything else for us will depend.

Because, unlike Rod, I can’t say I make my living blogging, I can only make a few comments at the moment: It’s true that the ground of liberty is sinking as we seem to gradually surrender the true understanding of the Free Exercise Clause as the freedom for the church (religious communities) as an organized body of thought and action. Sadly, as libertarians are getting more principled, they’re often thinking less in terms of freedom from government as for being immersed in the intermediary associations, beginning with the family and the church, where people find personal significance. “Being principled” too often means pushing too hard for autonomy across the board through government policy, beginning with an activist judiciary. And libertarians are often rather indifferent to what Joel Kotkin calls “the proletarianization of the middle class,” as well as to the rise of the new “clerisy” rooted in Silicon Valley that intrusively enforces  its cosmopolitan (or basically techno-manipulative) moral vision throughout out institutions, as well as through our screens.

Still, it does seem that, for example, preserving the genuine moral and intellectual diversity that is the saving grace of our system of higher education really does depend on freeing our private, mostly religious schools from domination by foundations, corporations, experts, bureaucrats, the government, accrediting associations, and all that. There are some libertarians who really do share “our” desire to enhance that particular deregulatory outcome.  And Rod reminds us to continue to be grateful for America’s rather singular—pre-French revolutionary—understanding of religious liberty, which is still more intact than some traditionalists say.

So sign me up for this coalition too—although we have to be very selective about the kinds of libertarians we endorse. They have to be, in fact, selectively libertarian, having some room for the devotion of citizens and the civic vision required for a responsible foreign policy. Civic devotion, of course, need not and should not be as intensive and expansive as what Pat Deneen recommends as the cure for our democratic restlessness at the AC. Those Puritans, after all, weren’t so good for the Catholics or for the truth of religious liberty. Democratic restlessness doesn’t need to be eradicated, only moderated. The restless heart only finds its home in the true God, and our political home is “relativized”—although not obliterated—by comparison. A similar thing could be said about the free market. America, truth to tell, means to be “a home for the homeless.”

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter 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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