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Patrick Deneen: Abandoning Defensive Crouch Conservatism

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The Right is constantly accused of “authoritarianism” by the Left.

This recent provocative essay by Patrick Deneen was on my mind when the Sines v. Kessler verdict came down. The entire American Right from David French through the Alt-Right in Charlottesville where Jason Kessler styled himself as a White civil rights advocate has been championing classical liberalism and has spent years lamenting the demise of liberal norms. We have spent years wailing about the “intolerant Left” and wallowing in our own victimhood while the other side wields power against us.

Patrick Deneen:

“Shortly before the 2016 general election, constitutional scholar Mark Tushnet wrote an astonishingly bold essay that called for an end to what he titled “Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism.” Anticipating an easy Hillary Clinton victory and an imminent change of the Court’s composition, he called for a revolutionary jurisprudence that would aggressively overturn loathed conservative (or even classically liberal) precedents; declared that the “culture war” had been unconditionally won by the left; and insisted that the left should therefore govern accordingly – treating their defeated conservative enemies with “a hard line” similar to that of the Allies “in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

This essay exploded like a bomb on the right, and perhaps unwittingly played a role in motivating conservatives who were on the fence about whether to vote at all to turn out for Trump. But more remarkably, the essay showed that among the progressives who occupy the commanding heights of elite institutions such as Harvard Law School, there remained frustration about the overly slow pace of social and political progressive advance. This stated impatience was the most breathtaking revelation of the essay – not only that progressives wanted to treat their fellow citizens like the defeated fascists, but that in 2016 they believed America was still too conservative. …

It was a wake-up call for conservatives – but most have chosen to hit the snooze button.

Instead, Conservatism Inc. retreated into a genuine “defensive crouch,” calling for a return to a “better” liberalism. Rather than responding with an alternative vision of a good society, mainstream conservatism instead begged – Rodney King style – “can’t we all get along?” To the threat of a domineering vision of Progressivism, conservatism adopted the pose of John Rawls, asking the other side just to “bracket” any idea of the good …

Consider the positions that the mainstream of American conservatism spends a great deal of its time and treasure defending today:

Religious liberty

“Limited” government

The inviolability of private institutions (e.g., corporations)

Academic Freedom

Constitutional “Originalism”

Free Markets

Free speech and “expression”

Each of these positions was a creation of early modern liberalism, designed to overthrow a predominantly Aristotelian/Thomistic worldview. Each of these liberal features represent an aspect of what Alasdair MacIntyre has called “the privatization of the good.” Each was designed as a battering ram to demolish any prospect for a social, political, and economic order that – while never perfect – nevertheless understood that society must be ordered toward the end of advancing the telos of human beings. …”

Liberalism is dead.

Maybe we shouldn’t be crying over its corpse?

It was liberal institutions like the New York Times and the ACLU which abandoned liberalism and caved to leftwing authoritarianism. The Left has moved on from liberalism and the Right should as well. We currently have a mismatch between rightwing liberalism and leftwing authoritarianism.


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