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The new intellectuals of the American right: In political and media circles, an array of thinkers - national conservatives, integralists, traditionalists, and post-liberals - are crossing ideological boundaries. (NICK BURNS, 4/16/20, New Statesman)

What is happening on the American intellectual scene? In Washington and New York, it is increasingly common to hear people say they are enemies of neoliberalism. They think liberal democracy is insufficient. They are in favour of government intervention in the economy, sceptical of free-trade deals and long to demolish what they call "zombie Reaganism".

These people are not Bernie Sanders supporters. In fact, they are not on the left at all. They are Catholic professors, or writers for US conservative magazines. They run tech companies in California or work for Republican senators on Capitol Hill. Meet the new American right.

If you would like to find yourself a place in the vanguard of American conservatism these days, you can choose from a widening panoply of neologisms to describe yourself: national conservative, integralist, traditionalist, post-liberal, you might even be welcome if you are a Marxist. Anything just so long as you're not a libertarian.

The once dominant intellectual lodestars of the US right - Friedrich Hayek, John Locke, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Adam Smith - are out. The ideas of Carl Schmitt, James Burnham, Michel Houellebecq and Christopher Lasch are in. Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville are barely clinging on. What happened?

One explanation for the American right's leftward turn lies with Catholic opinion. Resentment was already building among US Catholic conservatives by the time of Donald Trump's election in 2016. From around 2013, as Pope Francis appeared to be compromising on certain social issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality, Catholics began to suspect the grand bargain of the American conservative movement since the 1950s - free markets combined with social conservatism - was heavily tilted in favour of the former. They saw a Republican Party guided less by religion than by money: money which seemed little disposed to advocate on behalf of their beliefs. They saw themselves as foot-soldiers in a culture war their party seemed content to lose. Even worse: for the privilege of fighting, they had been obliged not to think too hard about what Catholic social teaching might have to say on issues such healthcare, for fear of offending the jealous god of the free market.

A demonstration of this anger came in 2018, when University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen published a provocatively titled book, Why Liberalism Failed. By "liberalism", Deneen did not mean the American progressivism embodied by Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but the entire liberal project, from the 17th-century philosopher John Locke to the postwar theorist John Rawls. By replacing old commitments to community, religion or tradition with pure self-interest, Deneen said, liberalism atomised citizens, rendering them helpless, nihilistic and alone.

The book quickly became a touchstone for conservative discussions in the US about liberalism. Instead of a threat to American liberal democracy, perhaps Trump was merely the latest symptom of a defect the liberal project had contracted at birth - the rage emanating from communities hollowed out by a corrosive liberalism.

As a balm for these social ills, Deneen advocated retreat from national politics into the enclaves of small, rural communities, echoing other writers on the American right, such as Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative. But more recently, Deneen has taken an interest in populism, hobnobbing with the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orba?n in November 2019 and proposing a politics of "aristopopulism" - the notion, borrowed from the 16th-century Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, that friction between the masses and the elite is the best way to ensure that neither class dominates the other, and that material inequality remains at a moderate level.

Deneenism, however, came up against a fiercer and more eccentric assortment of right-wing monks and bloggers who march under the banner of "integralism". The integralists demand that the constitutional separation between church and state be smashed, so that the state may defer to the church on spiritual matters. The state's reach, argue integralists, should be combined with Catholic teaching on social issues: "Medicare for all, abortion for none."

The high priest of the integralist movement is the 51-year-old Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule. Though Vermeule agrees with Deneen's diagnosis of liberal malady, his proposed remedy is not Benedictine retreat but Constantinian takeover. A leading expert on the American administrative state, he knows it is a staggeringly powerful tool, capable of swaying the actions of millions. He believes it would only take a few loyalists, well enough placed within the national bureaucracy, to steer the whole hulking contraption in the general direction of the summum bonum.

Haven't read the Deneen book yet, but have heard him on a few podcasts and it made me wonder if I'd misunderstood what liberalism is and even more curious about why these guys all hate John Locke so much (besides his protestantism). Here's the conclusion of C. B. Macpherson's introduction to the Second Treatise of Government:

As a liberal ideology it has almost everything that could be desired. It starts with free and equal individuals none of whom have any claim of jurisdiction over others: this is a characteristic and essential assumption of the proponents of a liberal as opposed to a feudal or patriarchal or absolutist state. It acknowledges that these individuals are self-interested and contentious enough to need a powerful state to keep them in order, but it avoids the Hobbesian conclusion that the state must have absolute and irrevocable power: it does this by attributing to men a moral capacity to discover and generally stay within a natural law which forbids harming others: this too is essential to the liberal case, and of course is flattering and agreeable. Moreover, Locke makes a unique and ingenious case for a natural right of unlimited private property, with which society and government are not entitled to interfere: no-one, before or since, has come near his skill in moving from a limited and equal to an unlimited and unequal property right by invoking rationality and consent.

The confluence of his main lines of argument about government and about property right provides an eminently usable ideological underpinning for the modern liberal capitalist state.

And, from the text, here is Locke explaining republican liberty:

THE natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it...

Men being, as has been said, by Nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this Estate, and subjected to the Political Power of another, without his own Consent. The only way whereby any one devests himself of his Natural Liberty, and puts on the bonds of Civil Society is by agreeing with other Men to joyn and unite into a Community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure Enjoyment of their Properties, and a greater Security against any that are not of it. This any number of Men may do, because it injures not the Freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the Liberty of the State of Nature. When any number of Men have so consented to make one Community or Government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one Body Politick, wherein the Majority have a Right to act and conclude the rest.
In short, liberalism is expressly organized around the idea that, due to unchecked self-interest, man was previously atomised, helpless, nihilistic and alone, and that the remedy is to organize into an anti-individualistic republican society where all are empowered by their participation in law-making and the equal protection/application of said laws.

So the criticism is exactly backwards; what the Right is actually objecting to is that, given our republican liberty, liberal societies have not privileged some groups over others not chosen to adopt the ideas of certain minority cliques. And, since these groups have failed to convince the electorate that they should do so (nor the legal system that such privileging is consistent with republican liberty), they have no alternative but to turn to ant-democratic/authoritarian means of achieving their ideologies. Well, that's not quite right. Alternatively the could move to nations that adhere more closely to the sort of totalitarianism they desire or, like the rest of us, they could live their own lives in the fashion they prefer, to the extent that they transgress our uniform laws and do not interfere with the liberties of others, even though it means that not every member of society will adhere to that same life-style.

There must be some reason that neither of those alternatives is satisfactory, and for that reason we turn again to Eric Hoffer:

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
Contra the contention of the anti-liberals, their absolutism makes them the nihilists, at least as regards the Anglosphere.


Grade: (B+)


John Locke Links:

    -BIO: John Locke (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -ENTRY: John Locke: English philosopher (Graham A.J. Rogers, Mar 5, 2020, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: John Locke
    -ENTRY: John Locke (1632—1704) (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -John Locke Foundation
    -WIKIPEDIA: Two Treatises of Government
    -ENTRY: John Locke 1632-1704 (The Library of Economics and Liberty)
    -ETEXT: John Locke, Two Treatises (1689): The Enhanced Edition of John Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government (1689, 1764) (Online Library of Liberty)
    -ETEXT: Second Treatise of Government by John Locke (Project Gutenberg)
-STUDY GUIDE: Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government (Spark Notes)
    -ENTRY: Locke’s Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -John Locke, 1632 - 1704 (Great Thinkers)
    -ENTRY: John Locke (Robb A. McDaniel, The First Amendment Encyclopedia)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: The John Locke Manuscripts is a guide to the manuscript papers of John Locke
    -ESSAY: The Reverend Elisha Williams, the “celebrated Mr. Lock,” and the Letter Concerning Toleration in America (Joshua T. Waechter, Fall 2023, Pietas) [PDF]
    -ESSAY: The relationship between religion and rights in the writings of John Locke (Brian Watkyns, 1989)
    -ESSAY: What’s Wrong with Social Contract Theory: Although social contract theory is a prominent feature of the American founding, it is both unsound and harmful to a proper understanding of politics. This fact presents a challenge to any form of conservatism that is based upon protecting and promoting the principles of the American founding. (NATHAN SCHLUETER, 10/20/22, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: ‘America’s Philosopher’ Review: The Key to John Locke: The political thinker who mattered most to a revolutionary generation spoke in a language they had no difficulty understanding (Barton Swaim, Aug. 5, 2022, WSJ)
    -The (Protestant) American Revolution : On Gary Steward’s Justifying Revolution (Thomas TacomaJuly 13, 2022, American Reformer)
    -ESSAY: Who Read John Locke? Words and Acts in the American Revolution: (OSCAR HANDLIN and LILIAN HANDLIN, Autumn 1989, The American Scholar)
    -PODCAST: Great Books: Two Treatises of Government, by John Locke (Hosted by John J. Miller, October 15, 2019, National Review)
    -PODCAST: Peter Berkowitz on Locke, Liberty, and Liberalism (Russ Roberts, Dec 10 2018, EconTalk)
    -VIDEO PODCAST: Mark Blitz on Ancient and Modern Political Philosophy: A discussion of political thinkers including Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, and Nietzsche (Conversations with Bill Kristol, Aug 17, 2014)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: John Locke's Political Philosophy (Professor Charles Anderson, Jul 21, 2018, Political, Economic and Social Thought, University of Wisconsin)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: 15. Constitutional Government: Locke's Second Treatise (1-5) (Introduction to Political Philosophy, Sep 21, 2008, Yale University)
    -ESSAY: John Locke: From Absolutism to Toleration (Robert P. Kraynak, March 1980, The American Political Science Review)
    -ESSAY: John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property: Locke's Writings Did Much to Inspire the American Revolution (JIM POWELL, AUGUST 01, 1996, the freeman)
    -ESSAY: John Locke and the Second Treatise on Government (Sawyer A. Theriault, 2009, Inquiries Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Uses of America in Locke's Second Treatise of Government (Herman Lebovics, Oct. - Dec., 1986, Journal of the History of Ideas)
    -ESSAY: The Law of Nature in Locke's Second Treatise: Is Locke a Hobbesian? (Patrick Coby, 05 August 2009, Review of Politics)
    -ESSAY: Locke’s American Legacy (David Lewis Schaefer, 2/04/21, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Taking Locke Seriously: Of Government, Property Rights and Climate Change (ED DOLAN, DECEMBER 10, 2020, Niskanen)
    -ESSAY: John Locke: The Justification of Private Property (George H. Smith, 10/19/15,
    -ARTICLE: Unknown text by John Locke reveals roots of 'foundational democratic ideas': Newly discovered ‘Reasons for tolerateing Papists equally with others’ shows the Enlightenment thinker expressing unexpected social liberalism (Alison Flood, 3 Sep 2019, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: John Locke – A Philosophical Founder of America (Wallbuilders)
    -ESSAY: Social Contracts, Human Flourishing, and the Economy: Our current economic debates underscore the case for an approach to political economy that rejects social contract theory and embraces a robust conception of human flourishing. (Samuel Gregg, June 22, 2011, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: John Locke and the Inadequacies of Social Contract Theory: John Locke is an illustration of how social contract theory distorts sound political reasoning. (Samuel Gregg, July 29, 2011, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Conservative Liberalism, Liberal Despotism: Part 1: An oddity about our current debates over liberalism and America is that both sides view the American Founding, and thus America, as fundamentally influenced by classical liberal ideology. They only disagree over whether classical liberalism is good or bad. But the historical record shows that liberal ideology was one influence among many, not that it was the definitive one. (Nathanael Blake, March 8, 2020, Public Discourse)
-ESSAY: Human Nature and the Constitution (David A. Eisenberg, Winter 2023, National Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Locke, Metaphysics, and the Challenge of America: John Locke is a deep cultural well from which we still can draw good water. (Greg Forster, September 20, 2011, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: A New Lockean Manuscript and the Limits of Religious Toleration: The content of the new manuscript of Locke’s is not a view of toleration that we lost along the way and should hurry to recover for these troubled times. The text is actually a sobering reminder of the limits of a Lockean approach to religious toleration, which is based on a minimalistic understanding of religion. (Manfred Svensson, October 7, 2019, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Unlocking Locke (David T. Koyzis, 3 . 10 . 10, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Real John Locke—and Why He Matters (Donald Devine, May 21, 2014, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: A Tale of Two Democracies: Republicans and Democrats Between Aristotle and Locke (Joseph Knippenberg, November 5, 2018, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Metaphysics as Politics?: D.C. Schindler on Locke and Liberalism (Paul Seaton, 6/05/18, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: What John Locke Really Said (John P. East, May 30th, 2016, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: John Locke and Conservatism: Indispensable or Antithetical? (Gregory Collin, June 28th, 2013, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Understanding Voegelin’s Critique of Locke (Donald Devine, November 30th, 2018, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: John Locke: The Harmony of Liberty & Virtue (Donald Devine, February 15th, 2017, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: John Locke and the Dark Side of Toleration (Bruce Frohnen, October 9th, 2014, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: John Locke on “The Reasonableness of Christianity” (Nayeli Riano, March 14th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Locke, Darwin, and America’s Future (Peter Augustine Lawler, winter 2011, New Atlantis)
    -ESSAY: Was John Locke Really a Liberal?: He opposed wars of conquest, but not on dubious moral grounds. (Michael Lind, 4/23/16, National Interest)
    -ESSAY: The War over Liberal Democracy: The Catholic medieval project, for all its achievements, ultimately failed to uphold one of the most transformative ideas of the Jewish and Christian traditions: the freedom and dignity of every human soul. (Joseph Loconte, 2/11/19, National Interest)
    -ESSAY: The Need for a Revival of Lockean Liberalism (Joseph Loconte, September 11, 2019, National Review)
-ARCHIVES: "john locke" (National Review)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (National Interest)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (New Atlantis)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (Law & Liberty)
    -ARCHIVES: "republican liberty" (Law & Liberty)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (Public Discourse)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (First Things)
    -ARCHIVES: "john Locke (Claremont Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: "john locke" (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVE: "john locke" (You Tube)
    -REVIEW: of Two Treatises of Government, by John Locke — A Critical Edition, with an Introduction and Apparatus Criticus by Peter Laslett (K. J. Scott, Political Science)
    -REVIEW: of John Locke, Second Treatise of Government. Edited with an introduction by THOMAS P. PEARDON (Carl J. Schneider, Political Research Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: The 100 best nonfiction books: No 90 – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689) (Robert McCrum, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Stuart, Matthew, Locke's Metaphysics (Michael Jacovides, The Philosophical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Locke and Modern Life by Lee Ward (Glenn Moots, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law by S. Adam Seagrave (Christopher O. Tollefsen, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy by Michael P. Zuckert (Thomas G. West, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Yechiel J. M. Leiter, John Locke's Political Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible (Victor Nuovo, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of John Locke; Philosopher of the Revolution by Mary Elaine Swanson (Don Crow, The Counsel of Chalcedon)
    -REVIEW: of John Locke’s Political Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible by Yechiel J.M. Leiter (David Conway, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of Locke: A Biography By Roger Woolhouse (Aeon J. Skoble, Independent Review)
    -REVIEW: of Patriarcha: The Complete Political Works by Sir Robert Filmer (Jerry Salyer, IMaginative Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of John Locke’s Political Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible by Yechiel J.M. Leiter (David Conway, Law & Liberty)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ETEXT: The Founders Constitution (Web Edition is a joint venture of the University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund)
    -ESSAY: The Post-Liberal Right: The Good, the Bad, and the Perplexing: While the post-liberal right often asks good questions, many of its answers are flawed, grounded on mistaken premises, and deeply misleading. (Samuel Gregg, March 2, 2020, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Liberalism Is Failing Because It Rejected Orthodox Christianity: Helena Rosenblatt’s The Lost History of Liberalism correctly identifies liberalism’s need for moral virtue, but does not draw the further conclusion that her book suggests: liberalism is failing because it has rejected orthodox Christianity. (Kevin E. Stuart, May 28, 2019, Public Discourse)
    -PODCAST: Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism (Russ Roberts, Sep 3 2018, econTalk)
    -PODCAST: Patrick Deneen on Why Liberalism Failed (Russ Roberts, Jul 9 2018, EconTalk)
    -PODCAST: Wolfe on Liberalism: Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science at Boston College and author of The Future of Liberalism (Russ Roberts, May 11 2009, EconTalk)
    -ESSAY: The Real Failure of Liberal Theory: Conservative critics of “liberalism” are right to identify major flaws in liberal theory. But a deeper appreciation of those flaws should prevent us from blaming the American political tradition for them. Liberal theory is so erroneous that neither the Founders nor any other Americans could ever really put it into practice. (Daniel E. Burns, December 18, 2019, Public Discourse)
-REVIEW: of Locke, Science, and Politics by Steven Forde (David Azzerad, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of The Closing of the Liberal Mind by Kim R. Holmes (S. Adam seagrave, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of Hobbes and Republican Liberty by Quentin Skinner (Bernard Gert, Dartmouth College, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Wily Elites and Spirited Peoples in Machiavelli's Republicanism by David N. Levy (Robyn Marasco, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Hobbes and the Law of Nature by Perez Zagorin (Stewart Duncan, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation by Kevin Vallier (Christopher O. Tollefsen, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom by Thomas G. West (Vincent Phillip Munoz, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Political Theory of the American Founding (CJ Wolfe, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of The Political Theory of the American Founding (Justin Dyer, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of The Political Theory of the American Founding (Michael Anton, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of A House Divided: Peter Lawler's America Rightly Understood (Patrick J. Deneen, 07 Aug 2010, Perspectives on Political Science
    -VIDEOS: Did Liberalism Fail? (Jonah Goldberg, October 15, 2018, Tocqueville Program)
    -ESSAY: Unsustainable Liberalism: Liberalism’s contradictions are unsustainable and we must see man and nature anew (Patrick J. Deneen, August 2012, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Why Liberalism Failed (Dennis Hale, Claremont Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: Patrick Deneen (First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Why Liberalism Failed (Arnold Kling, library of Economics and Liberty)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Patrick Deneen and the Problem with Liberalism: Patrick Deneen poses good questions but begs others. The second installment in the Public Discourse symposium on Why Liberalism Failed (Samuel Gregg, May 14, 2018, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Not Hobbesian but Christian: Why Patrick Deneen’s Misinterpretation of the American Founding Matters (Robert R. Reilly, October 17, 2017, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Why Social Conservatives Should Be Patriotic Americans: A Critique of Patrick Deneen: Rather than reject liberalism for its excesses, we should take up the more modest task of recovering the principles of liberalism once embraced by our founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln. (Vincent Phillip Muñoz, November 28, 2012, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of
-PODCAST: with Yoram Hazony: Too Much Pluribus, Not Enough Unum (Jonah Goldberg, October 16, 2018, The Remnant)
    -PODCAST: Rich Lowry’s Case for Nationalism (Jonah Goldberg, 11/05/19, The Remnant)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW ESSAY: Deicide on the Right: Jonah Goldberg makes a fundamental mistake by tossing out God in the opening sentence of his latest book, Suicide of the West (James E. Hartley, September 25, 2018, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of Suicide of the West: Jonah Goldberg vs. Patrick Deneen: Is Liberalism a Blessing or a Curse? (Rachel Lu, June 7, 2018, Public Discourse)
    -REVIEW: of Suicide of the West (Nathanael Blake, The Federalist)
    -REVIEW: of Suicide of the West (James W. Ceaser, Claremont Review of Books)