Ross Douthat of the New York Times is one of the most consistently interesting newspaper columnists. While remaining within the tradition of classical liberalism, he nonetheless understands the problems of liberalism more than most, and is more sympathetic to anti-liberal thinkers. In his latest column, he discusses various kinds of resistance to liberalism among “young writers” who “regard the liberal consensus as something to be transcended or rejected, rather than reformed or redeemed.” He points out the weaknesses of the liberal system, which,
…delivered peace and order and prosperity, but … attenuated pre-liberal forces – tribal, familial, religious — that speak more deeply than consumer capitalism to basic human needs: the craving for honor, the yearning for community, the desire for metaphysical hope.
He thens gives a sort of taxonomy of post-liberals. “New radicals” on the left “infused with an exasperation with procedural liberalism, an eagerness to purge and police and shame our way toward a more perfect justice.” And “neo reactionaries” on the right, “a group defined by skepticism of democracy and egalitarianism, admiration for more hierarchical orders, and a willingness to overthrow the Western status quo.” Finally he looks at “religious dissenters” from the liberal consensus, who consider that liberalism’s “professed tolerance stacks the deck in favor of materialism and unbelief.” In the online version of the column he links Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option here, along with (I was glad to see) one of my own recent posts here on Sancrucensis, The Josias, and Tradinista!
At the end of the column though, he raises a discouraging possibility: namely that the post-liberal movements that he mentions might paradoxically end up helping the liberal order to preserve itself by supplying it with “forces that a merely procedural order can’t generate… radical and religious correctives to a flattened view of human life.” I think that he is right to see that the resilience of the liberal order rests in part on its perennial ability to co-opt and assimilate its enemies. Douthat would see that as a good thing, I think, because he is not truly anti-liberal. But to me it is a discouraging thought.
Header Image: Michael Fuchs ©.