Conservatives, Reactionaries, Liberals and the Left

Andrew Sullivan‘s recent piece at New York Magazine is helpful and worth your time.  Here is a taste:

But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left.

In a new essay, Anton explains his view of the world: “What happens when transformative efforts bump up against permanent and natural limits? Nature tends to bump back. The Leftist response is always to blame nature; or, to be more specific, to blame men; or to be even more specific, to blame certain men.” To be even more specific, cis white straight men.

But what are “permanent and natural limits” to transformation? Here are a couple: humanity’s deep-seated tribalism and the natural differences between men and women. It seems to me that you can push against these basic features of human nature, you can do all you can to counter the human preference for an in-group over an out-group, you can create a structure where women can have fully equal opportunities — but you will never eradicate these deeper realities.

The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Liberalism Failed?

Liberalism FailedThis is the title of a Commonweal forum on Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen‘s book Why Liberalism Failed.  Here is an intro to the forum from the Commonweal editors:

Although there’s always more than one good way to write about any book worth reviewing, Commonweal does not usually review a book more than once. Sometimes, however, a book takes on an importance beyond itself—by provoking a new discussion or marking a cultural shift—and then we may make an exception. Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, $30, 248 pp.) has turned out to be just such a book. Alan Wolfe reviewed it for us (rather dismissively, it must be said) in the February 12 issue of the magazine, but the editors agreed that there was more to say about some of the questions Deneen raises. First, has liberalism failed, as he claims? And if so, why? Is the liberal tradition equipped to correct its own shortcomings, or must it be abandoned altogether? In that case, what are the alternatives? In the age of Trump, when liberal democracy appears to be on the ropes in much of the world, such questions suddenly seem less speculative. We asked three people—Samuel Moyn and Bryan Garsten of Yale University and Commonweal’s own Matthew Sitman—to respond to Deneen’s arguments. Deneen himself kindly agreed to answer their criticisms and, somewhat less kindly, offers Commonweal a few criticisms of his own. The magazine, he informs us, is about as moribund as liberalism. Hospitality requires that we give him the last word, at least for now.

Read Garsten’s response here.

Read Moym’s response here.

Jane Calvert on John Dickinson

The University of Kentucky is running a great piece on Jane Calvert, the planet’s foremost expert on John Dickinson.  As many of you know, Dickinson was the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-68), a response to the Townsend Acts.  Though he was the primary author of the Articles of Confederation, he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.  It’s a great story from revolutionary America and Calvert tells it well.

Read the piece here.

Or watch:


A Question for the Court Evangelicals: Are You Following Machiavelli or Christ?


Dave Denison, an associate editor at The Baffler, argues that the court evangelicals–he names Robert Jeffress, James Dobson, and Paula White–appear to be more Machiavellian than Christian.

His piece “You Gotta Serve Somebody” draws heavily from Isaiah Berlin’s essay: “The Originality of Machiavelli.”

Here is a taste:

What Machiavelli accomplished, Berlin says, struck deeper. He wasn’t proposing that morality was one choice and politics another, or that evil wins the day; he was recognizing two distinct moralities. One was found in Christ’s teaching in the New Testament. The one he preferred was a pagan morality that looked back to the halcyon moments of the Roman empire. “The choice is painful because it is a choice between two entire worlds,” Berlin writes. “In choosing the life of a statesman, or even the life of a citizen with enough civic sense to want his State to be as successful and as splendid as possible, you commit yourself to rejection of Christian behavior.”

In Machiavelli’s eyes, moral actors must choose between a Roman (pagan) idea of how to achieve a strong and virtuous republic and a Christian ethic of kindness, meekness, and suffering in order to join the Kingdom of God. In our own time, the available choices, for the citizen at least, seem not quite that binary. One could attempt an end run around Machiavelli by following Gandhi. One could attempt to subvert the brunt of Machiavelli’s counsel, as James Madison et al. did, and envision a multiply constrained executive leader, bound by constitutional law and separation of powers. One could move back to the land, get off the grid, and ignore the teachings of Machiavelli, Christ, Gandhi, and Madison. You could do that in the suburbs, too.

But for a certain kind of Christian warrior, the question really is as stark as this: Are you following Machiavelli or Christ?

Read the entire piece here.