Against Post-liberalism

Below is a letter I wrote to a Christian friend of mine who sometimes exhibits signs of Christian nihilism — an attitude toward the world that would prefer Christian dominion, were that real possibility, but it isn’t because the world is Fallen; so nothing will turn out okay in this world, but that is okay, because the God’s Kingdom will come, so consider the lilies and birds, etc.

This whole interview is great, but this part jumped out at me as something I’ve said to you:

The strange thing about contemporary post-liberals is that they come from very small minorities within our society and they are arguing for the elimination of the protection of minorities in our society. They’re saying, the fact that we don’t all have one integrated view of the common good is why we can’t succeed. But the fact is, if we decided to live by a single integrated view of the common good, I guarantee you that it would not be traditionalist Catholicism. There’s no way that that’s what it would be. 


…and the alternative to that is force. The alternative to that is coercion. And I think that’s a lot of what is left unsaid in the post-liberal argument. That ultimately, there are certainly downsides to a society that doesn’t say with one voice what it takes the good to be. But the alternative to that society is oppression. And we have to see that sometimes in life, it is really a matter of balancing out alternatives. And if we want our family and our community to live a better life, we have to work within this society because we really don’t have the alternative of overthrowing this society. 

And one other thing I’d say is a lot of the arguments that you find among post-liberals on the right are framed as we used to be able to live in this way. Here’s the community that I grew up in, and now that’s impossible. And they never stop to think, where did that community come from? How did that happen in the 1960s or ‘70s? How could you have grown up in that world? That community was the product of the liberal society, the product of a lot of dynamism, a lot of choices made by a lot of people in a lot of ways, and to channel our nostalgia for our own childhood through an argument that says the West took a wrong turn in the 17th century is a very strange way to think about what we’re trying to protect for our own children. And so I think the liberal society just has much greater moral potential than they tend to give it credit for. And we have to begin by seeing that and working to realize it.

In case you don’t recognize his name, Yuval Levin wrote the book on Burke vs Paine that dramatically deepened my respect for conservatism, and made me feel some real affinity for some of conservatism’s core principles .

It is important to note that this is a conversation between two Jews. This bit stands out as a key insight into why Jews tend to be among the most committed liberals: “If we want our family and our community to live a better life, we have to work within this society because we really don’t have the alternative of overthrowing this society.”

If we are a permanent minority who wants to live what we believe to be the good life, and we do not believe there is an eternal afterlife — only this life in the here and now — we will work to create and preserve a liberal order that supports our existence — an existence we love and want to pass down, as it was passed down to us. It isn’t a sneaky, manipulative scheme to pull the strings of the world stage, etc. for eventual domination. It is simply wanting the conditions to continue flourishing as a minority — a few among the many. That it is so hard to believe any people could want this, and no more than this, says more about the suspectors than the suspects. 

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