Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Alt. conservatism for the front porch

The aftermath of the Bush Administration has exposed for embarrassment and grief the various problems of movement conservatism. Its substitution of fear and ideology for prudence, its facile sloganeering, and its herd-like antipathy towards self-criticism have left thousands of Americans and foreigners dead or in penurious exile.

In a different and so far lesser disaster, these failings helped bring President Obama to power.

On the national scene, both the political and pontificating efforts of conservatives have further empowered the people and forces inimical to much that they hold dear.

Those skeptical conservatives who remained aloof from Republican politics perhaps now have their chance to be heard. Anyone puzzled at the rout of Republicans should give them consideration.

These "alternative conservatives" now have a new group blog at Front Porch Republic.

Patrick Deneen, Daniel Larison, Jeremy Beer and Caleb Stegall join several other writers who are convinced that "scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend."

The economic crisis, they say,
...threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.

The bi-partisan destructiveness wreaked by America's political and financial leadership would be less damaging, perhaps even impossible, were our communities not corroded by senseless individualism, consumption beyond our means, a prideful despite for natural limits, collective amnesia about our past, and a fading but potent and improvident optimism about our mock-heroic future.

Patrick Deneen helpfully summarizes front-porch republicanism:
Our States, not to mention our localities, are ever-less a kind of “porch,” that transition from the world of the home to the public realm of community and eventually State and nation. Instead, as wholly “private citizens” - or, to invoke the preferred term, “consumers” - accustomed to houses that are places of private retreat, we see only one public entity of significance - the national State - but find it difficult to see ourselves a part of it. We regard the State as a distant and mysterious entity, occupied either by our team or their team but in either event an organization so vast, complex and dizzying that we regard it as anything but the locus of our practice of shared self-governance. We are daily less a republic because we daily perceive less of what are common or public things - res publica. Without the literal spaces where we come to know what we have in common through speech, habit and memory, we regard politics as a competitive spectator sport and government as a distant imposition - but in any event, anything but self-rule.

Self-rule, as Deneen emphasizes, is a practice and not a theory. An exclusively intellectual approach will be useless in flushing out or reworking our cultural debris.

But after we have persistently followed our intellectual delusions to the brink of a minor catastrophe, these keen thinkers might just lead us back -- to the front porch.


WLindsayWheeler said...

The True American conservative is a Monarchist. Unless, they are advocating monarchy, hierarchy and the natural law---I don't see anything good at all. Americanism is a heresy. It needs to be junked from A-Z.

ben said...

While I largely agree with these front porch conservatives on a number of issues. It seems to me that the internet is a strange medium to get the actual work of building the small platoons done.

More of this work is accomplished in the parish hall ofter mass, or after a dinner party on the (heaven forbid)back patio, than is accomplished by the front porch.

What is needed is something local.

Kevin Jones said...

Theory is useless without practice, I agree.

It's amusing how much of this localism is pushed by people who have been moving around the country to follow academic careers.

Despite its nostalgists, this internet intellectualism is a good counter to other elements in the punditry.