‘A braintrust of Other Ways’

“In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves — the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Patrick Deneen has posted an excellent email from an anonymous source which gets to the heart of much of what I’ve found troubling about Blond’s prescriptions for a more localized economy. The writer cuts directly to the chase:

In a nutshell, we should use libertarian tools to achieve communitarian goals. I think this contrasts with Blond, who seems to want to use statist tools to achieve communitarian goals. I may be wrong, but I think it is much easeir [sic] to protect against out-of-control libertarianism than it is to protect against out-of-control central government power.

There is much more, and it is all worth reading. My own philosophical trajectory has led me from a very communitarian-leaning stance to a more libertarian position and now, to some degree at least, to a position somewhere between the two. As is my manner, I become overly enthusiastic in one direction or another and work as an advocate of that position until I begin to see the cracks in my own reasoning. What I have found in my exploration of libertarianism is that the sorts of libertarianism I find most appealing are also the sorts most geared toward the local. If I am a libertarian at all, I am a Bill Kauffman-esque libertarian. I am not particularly invested in ‘individualism’ and am at least as concerned with limits as I am with rights.

The writer’s email lines up to some degree with the thrust of what Jason is arguing when he distinguishes between the state and society, though the writer focuses less on ‘rights’ than Jason does. Jason is also right to point out that ‘rights’ as such are also limits in a sense that they limit the coercive state. The problem is, rights on their own may not lead to a society that is in any way good. Nor will a society managed by a coercive state. Even if we agree to that common good, I see few good options to properly implement it.

At this point, I tend to agree with the notion that our best course is to work to limit the scope of the federal government – especially in its attempt to take control of local schools, but also in its subsidies of fossil fuels as well as innumerable other subsidies, bad regulations, and so forth. And somewhere in all of this we must also work to create a state that does help those among us least capable of helping ourselves. I am not such an anti-statist that I see no room for the work of government, nor even that I see no room for the work of the federal government despite my belief that decentralization is the best course. We must work toward subsidiarity but also toward solidarity; toward building communities which bolster the individual and individuals who do not abandon their communities.

Obviously, we must do this at a local level. The best work we can do nationally is to limit what is achievable at a national level.

To return, for a moment, to G.K. Chesterton, I think this is an important point:

But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record.

I do believe one can be both anti-modern or have sympathies with the localist, decentralized vision which Blond is advocating and also be a great admirer of democracy and liberalism. Perhaps not the exact brand of liberalism we now have. Perhaps limits need to figure in much more centrally to our understanding of society, especially as we become more and more prosperous and less and less grounded in faith or tradition or community. I really don’t have the answers to any of this, and I doubt anyone else does either. I especially doubt the wisdom of the central planners who pretend they have the answers. And so I recommend we keep them as far from the important decisions as possible.

Whatever the case, Deneen is right. We do need other ways. We need to constantly be looking for other ways. In some sense I am not only tired of the left/right dichotomy, but of the modern/premodern one as well. Not that it doesn’t merit honest discussion, but because at the end of the day there is no escaping our participation in the mix of it all.

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8 thoughts on “‘A braintrust of Other Ways’

  1. I was reading Benjamin Constant today and he had a line, which I didn’t write down sadly, to the effect that we need to have significant parts of our life that are beyond the jurisdiction of politics. What keeps occurring to me, as I try to figure out if I’m least fond of Liberalism, Libertarianism, or Conservatism, is how many things in life it’s now assumed should be judged by those philosophies.

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  2. Also this: “In a nutshell, we should use libertarian tools to achieve communitarian goals”. Didn’t the anarchists figure this out 150 years ago? I absolutely love the porch, and the porchers, but I actually think that a lot when I read stuff there.

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    • Yeah – this was really the first critique that had me off my localist kick for a while. Now that I’m back on my localist kick, I am so with much more of a libertarianish angle, though I’m as lousy a libertarian as I am anything else.

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