An ‘antique liberal’ by any other name

David – I wonder if what Blond is trying to do is to bridge the divide between the modern liberal state and the sort of Aristotelian or anti-modern philosophy of MacIntyre or the radical orthodoxy of Blond’s mentor, John Milbank? Rather than presenting a sort of philosophical paradox, perhaps Blond is in fact attempting to reconcile the necessary contradictions which any critique of modernity, democracy, or liberalism will inevitably run into. Similarly, I wonder if what Blond is driving at in his critique of markets is that they are corporatist in nature rather than mutualist? Certainly mutualism makes sense within the larger ‘associative state’ which Blond is (perhaps somewhat vaguely) calling for. Or perhaps mutualism is too specific and Blond’s concept of a moral market too vague?

My own struggles with this subject (and the weird philosophical journey it has taken me on) has made me sympathetic to these sorts of inconsistencies – and since I was not at Blond’s Georgetown talk, and since no video of said event has since presented itself, I suppose I will have much less to work with than I would like.

For what it’s worth, my own take on Blond has oscillated a great deal. In the past I have harbored two critiques of Blond.

The first is that his economic theories were too vague, and potentially too protectionist. If indeed he is merely looking to untangle the vast web of state sponsored corporatism rather than turning to heavy-handed protectionism then I’m much more on board with his vision. I think local communities need to be revived, and that will require a return to a focus on local institutions – both public and private – rather than bigger multi-national corporations and their cronies in the whichever seat of power.

The second critique is that Blond has been too hard on modernity and too Utopian in his prescriptions. I think it is very easy for those of us who do have a bit of a tendency to blame many of the world’s ills on modern society (or liberalism, or democracy, or individualism, etc.) to take this critique too far or to leave out many of the other factors which could be contributing to social decline, atomization, and so forth. Blond seems to have scaled this back to some degree – and this may indeed be part of why his talk was full of as many contradictions. That is the difficulty of melding a critique such as Blond’s to the reality of politics and policy.

But more than merely blending this critique with the the political, Blond and other critics of modernity and/or liberalism must also realize that to some degree no matter what change they achieve in society, it will not be a clean break with modernity, but rather a sort of fusion of these ideas with our now ingrained sense of liberalism and individualism and the like. In other words, the critique must go far beyond the political and infuse itself somehow into the culture itself. How on earth to do this in Britain where so few share Blond’s faith? How to do it in America where the most faithful have adopted the language of individualism so ferociously, where even the nuclear family has taken on a sort of individualism of its own?

In this sense, perhaps ‘antique liberal’ is actually a very good term, and one which dodges the libertarian association with ‘classical liberal’. Whatever the case may be, as much as I think Chris’s analysis is fascinating and likely quite correct, Blond should avoid the label ‘republican’ at all costs, small ‘r’ or no.

Now, will somebody please post videos or transcripts of the talk and the round-tables?

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5 thoughts on “An ‘antique liberal’ by any other name

  1. I think it is very easy for those of us who do have a bit of a tendency to blame many of the world’s ills on modern society (or liberalism, or democracy, or individualism, etc.) to take this critique too far or to leave out many of the other factors which could be contributing to social decline, atomization, and so forth.

    I remember reading a conservative account of the sad state of lower-class culture in Britain that first argued against looking at class, because “monocausal explanations” won’t work, and then proceeded to blame everything on philosophical liberalism.

    As a pessimistic sort, I’m increasingly convinced the answer is to keep talk of decline to ourselves while quietly carving out a space for a different trajectory into the future- really I’m thinking disappearance as a strategy.

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