These kinds of questions always make me think of a scene in "The Bishop's Wife" (1947) with Loretta Young. Her husband is an Anglican bishop too busy raising money for his new church to attend to his family at Christmas time. Heaven sends an angel, played by Cary Grant, to basically save the bishop's soul. He and Loretta have a beautiful day together, ice skating, shopping, whatever. The key scene is when they visit Loretta's friend, an older gentleman who is an avowed atheist.

The rules of this movie's world are Christian. The charming atheist is an outlier, an oddity, a unicorn. Angel Grant fixes the brandy bottle so that it always replenishes. (Such were the opinion of miracles mid-century. Free drinks!) In all their time with him, the Christians never scorn the atheist. He's wrong, obviously, but he's still a beloved friend. If he doesn't see the ever-filling bottle as proof of God, well then he has a nifty gift and that's fine. He's never threatened with cancellation (in the term of our era) or imprisonment (in the fever dreams of how people imagine Christian history). Was this version of human interaction ever actually true? I don't know, but I wish it were.

Of your categories, I'm not sure which one this would belong to. I want the Catholic world of the Post-Liberals, accompanied by the gentle acceptance that liberalism, personified in this movie, presents. As Greg Cook comments, it's a world of love. You're allowed to be wrong without being hated. I do think that the religious structure is a requirement, and I'm very sympathetic to the atheists' concerns about that. We all live in a religious structure now, the Wokeism, that is restrictive. We don't want another version of that. As a Catholic, I'm not even sure I would trust the Church at this point. All of our institutions have proven unreliable. Ultimately, I believe we will hang our hat back on Liberalism. It is the devil we know. Distributism, Monarchism, Benedict Options -- these are all too fringe for a Republic founded on the Enlightenment. We must rebuild within the framework we've been given.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2021Liked by N.S. Lyons

Excellent essay, and I share your sense of tentative hope. Unfortunately, those with the power and the money have already chosen sides, at least in the US, and it is the side of the woke jihadists.

We do need a religious revival, but such revivals only come through the experience of great suffering. Because I do believe in God, I believe the West will be moving into such a period, if it is not stepping into it already.

On the larger questions you raise, if we see this world as the space and time we are allotted by God to find Him, then we need a society that works for believers and unbelievers. The US worked well for so long because we had liberalism along with a large majority of believers. Individual citizens supported limits, and legislators pulled from a believing citizenry legislated limits. Now that the citizenry is moving into unbelief, all sense of appropriate limits is fading, and liberalism will produce totalitarianism of left or right.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2021Liked by N.S. Lyons

This a brilliant synthesis of the current state of play. I found it very helpful. Thank you. The big underlying difficulty with the Counterrevolution is, how do you argue against people who don't accept the validity of rational argument? This is a problem not only for the Paleoliberals but also for the Postliberals to the extent that their position is not based on an appeal to religious faith.

Expand full comment

The new religion of Wokeism seems devoid of love. (And love is a word I could not find in translations of the Qu’ran.) If individuals cannot participate in relationships or webs of love, they wither. I am currently working my way through “Red, White, and Black,” a book of essays edited by Robert L. Woodson, Jr. and intended to counter “The 1619 Project.” Repeatedly, the writers in the volume point out the destruction of the Black American family as decisive in black culture over the past sixty years. The family is the best school of love. The opposite of love is selfishness, and no one has portrayed the effects of selfishness and love better than Dante: Hell (Inferno) reveals the end result of refusing love; Purgatory the burning out (like purifying a precious metal) of selfishness adulterating love; and Paradise the fruits of love freed of selfishness. Joseph Pieper offers a vision of love as leisure, and Leo XIII offered a view of working-class love. The criterion of love will be a rubric for determining of counter-revolutionaries committed to Christ should or should not affiliate with others. It’s one thing to share something in order to survive the Gulag, but another when rebuilding Christendom.

Expand full comment

Perhaps if we get the ideas right, things will change Mr. Lyons?

Or perhaps organization, power, money, troops/street soldiers ...also matter?

At least as much and considering present reality more than ideas?

4 questions for you, they all are prefaced with 'Where is your ___"

1. Organization?

2. Money?

3. Troops/Street Soldiers/Organizers?

4. Path to power?

That is the synthesis you should seek.

I can answer your questions and mine the same: NOTHING.

None of any of it , no answers exist and nothing exists.

And all of the above categories I name are the path to power and indeed probably survival Sir.

Ideas DON'T matter next to Power, Soldiers [who swore in our new President], Money, Organizations, Bodies in the Street and the ah "Revolutionaries" clear path to power they hold.

And as the Marxists are pointing out over on Bellows this is the Elite Top Upper Class Capitalists cementing their hold on power by buying everyone who will take their coin and the path to power, namely the charming spawn of the Upper Middle Class embracing Maoism with a fat paycheck to crush the middle class non-conformers and the working class uppity MAGA peasants.

We also may have a different view of history: with rare exceptions like Mohammed I see every movement and idea that gains success and power - especially the Enlightenment - getting into fashion because it served cold worldly interests of Princes, Kings and in America's case men of property and land who did not wish to be the overseas white burgher coolies of the Crown. While the founders would have blushed to mention the Irish for instance certainly their fate was in view.

What's actually happening Sir is the End of the Enlightenment and the return of normal human history: Elites and Tyrants crush their peoples under their heel with force, fraud, bribery - all quite present in the current government - and squeeze them for all their worth. No 'idea' changes this fate and no idea ever did.

No idea gets us out of this, the only synthesis you should seek is organization, soldiers, money and a path back into power. The Victors decide what ideas are in fashion.

Good Luck.

Expand full comment

I think this argument (specifically the central theme of liberalism creating a world without limits) would be improved by recognizing the people driving liberalism and enabling woekism, i.e. the elites, the players and winners of contemporary "meritocracy", themselves live their lives with freely chosen limits. Yes, they can leave school early, but tend not to. They can have sex early and without birth control, but tend not to. They can divorce, but tend not to. They can be neglectful parents, but tend not to (being instead intensely affectionate and involved). They can binge watch trash for hours every day, but tend not to - too busy with work and harder hobbies.

This is the culmination of the liberal rejection of limits coupled with the equally liberal lionization of the individual pursuing his self interest - in a world of unrestrained choices, the clear-headed individual rationally chooses to serve his self interest by cultivating his own self-restraint and civility.

And this points to a key distinction we need to make when talking about limits - external vs. internal, or imposed vs. chosen. Liberalism of course accepts the latter, but not the former. And this leads to one of the central contradictions and challenges of contemporary society - in order to succeed (live a safe, self-actualized life), you must choose your own limits, and indeed your own sources of meaning. This is hard (and the existentialists had something to say about it too). But maybe not as hard as being a serf born into a job and onto an estate, neither of which you could ever really leave. This is the Wizards' enlightenment argument, but in different terms, and without some of the Wizards' love of the "traditional".

We should also reflect on where limits come from. Liberalism generally rejects externally imposed limits (much to be said here on positive vs. negative rights and the expanding role of the state in liberal societies - granted), especially from traditional sources of authority, and this leads naturally to the deprecation of those institutions and the attendant atomization widely noted and criticized in liberal societies. But that atomization is not complete - one of the great transformations of liberal societies over the past 100 years is the elevation of the nuclear family. And this is where we see limits imposed, and indeed culture created, in the form of intense family expectations for behavior and comportment (including self restraint), which are then propagated, refined, and find general expression through networks of similarly situated families (i.e. communities).

And thence Wokeism. When successful families choose their own values, get together with each other and mutually congratulate each other on and reinforce those values (gay kid great, gay kid with Ds NOT great, unless he's passionate about art and shows real dedication to his craft, in which case great!, unless his art is racist...), and then because of their success begin expressing those values in louder and more public forums, it beings to look like a new ideology. And is. And people who are slightly or completely outside those circles experience it as a new set of externally imposed limits, which, being products of liberalism themselves, they instinctively and aggressively reject, as all good enlightened liberals should.

So the question then becomes whether wokeism will become so dominant as to destroy the foundational liberalism (no limits, choose your own adventure) on which it is built, or whether it is just another thread in the chaotic weave of liberal society, soon to be overtaken by, and incorporated into, something else. I think it will be the latter. Dogma and liberalism are intrinsically incompatible, and wokesim is so very small when contrasted with the total cultural dominance of liberalism, and moreover is not even dogma, despite its occasional flashes of vindictive power. The tenets and definitions within wokeism are constantly debated from within and without, and there is by definition (both under liberalism and under wokeism) no central authority, certainly not the current administration or the UN, capable of guiding its development. It is a cultural flowering, wild and fecund and overwhelming for now, but when god is dead and the individual supreme, everyone chooses their own garden, and this garden is already being sanitized, corporatized, hybridized, and tamed.

But beware the fantasy of resurgent religion. That ship has sailed, sent on its permanent way not by wokeism but by liberalism and enlightenment, and the resulting destruction through trade wealth and social revolution of the ignorance (illiteracy) and hierarchies that reinforced state religion (it was all state religion before the Reformation, which of course was an early paroxysm of liberalism) and the flourishing of science that kicked out from under religion one of its last legs - the need to explain the terror and magnificence of the natural world. Wokeism does nothing to limit the power of those factors, and is not nearly terrible enough to inspire dyed in the wool liberals (nearly everyone) to clamor for new external limits.

Expand full comment

A couple of nitpicks:

1. I understand that Bari Weiss was all in favor of cancel culture, as long as it was people she didn't approve of that were getting cancelled.

2. Norman Borlaug never claimed that here were no limits to population growth or resource consumption. He merely claimed that his innovations bought humanity some time.

Expand full comment

Well worth a look at John Gray's Enlightenment's Wake for much of the elements of Deneen's argument.

Expand full comment

There are some responses to the liberalism question that don't fall into your dichotomy. For instance, Scott Alexander's Archipelago idea (described at https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/07/archipelago-and-atomic-communitarianism/ ) proposes that instead of a single society with a homogenous culture or a coordinated power structure enforcing liberalism or some form of postliberalism on everyone, we have a variety of smaller subcultures or sub-societies with their own norms of whichever sort, with people being free to live in those whose norms they find most congenial. (He presents this as just another instantiation of the basic philosophical justification for liberalism, but it is quite different from classical liberalism.) However, while the Internet is well suited to such a model, elsewhere it would (as even Alexander admits) be very difficult to make work & even more difficult to implement.

In any case, I agree with previous commenters that all these ideological questions, unless they fracture the 'counter-revolution' thoroughly enough to prevent cooperative actions, are much less important in the short term than "How can we regain power/influence?"

Expand full comment

Great primer on post-liberalism and where it has come from in a US context.

For the UK story, suggest you look at the work of Phillip Blond, whose 2010 book Red Tory and work since has been an inspiration to many of the writers you mention. Some other post liberal UK writers you might enjoy: Mary Harrington, Maurice Glassman, Adrian Pabst, John Milbank.

Expand full comment

The essence of liberalism is corrupted, it has moved away form individuality, and has moved to group identities, inevitably when it gains ground for one particular aberrant group, gives impetus to move for acceptance of additional aberrant groups. Societal dysfunction is served by a liberal Oliver Twist pathological excess, the hunger is never satiated. Requesting more and when rejected adopts a pathological radical reactionary behaviour. Society is then coerced by a screaming domination of a vulnerable injured party to oblige by irrational moral arguments, that although have one foot tentatively in reality, the other is floating in the abyss of nonsense, making the later stage liberalism irrational. The argument, then in opposition to contemporary liberalism is where does it end. Rousseau, in fact when challenged on his peoples assemblies and the undemocratic nature of them, replied we will make them into numerable groups where no one group has dominance. Although Rousseau is quoted consistently in social and political thought, he was forever equivocal and hard to pin down. https://emancipator1.substack.com/p/a-broad-strokes-assessment-of-the

Expand full comment

A fool, I’m going to answer the 4 questions before I read your argumentation:

1 save liberalism, it is the embrace of rational inquiry and egalitarian participation

2/ rationality is our only salvation

3/technological capitalism must be sustained because it properly addresses human duplicity with the creative destruction of animal spirit, it needs be rebalanced to offset greed but it’s inherent violence is elixir to our mendacity.

4/ new balance, fuck ya, what kinda question is that - nihilistic bullshit - a new balance is always achievable, it’s just a matter of how many people have to die.

I’m gonna read your argument later today or tomorrow because I’m busy now but, also, I owe it to myself to formulate my own ideas.

Expand full comment

What if spiritualists are called neo-believers? You suggested getting suggestions ... :)

Expand full comment

The Washington Senators really screwed up by not signing Fidel as a pitcher (he was pretty good. True story).

Expand full comment

Food for thought

is it a Liberal, or Conservative question:

that is to ask WHY is it that the 4th amendment routinely violated at every airport in the U.S.A.


Expand full comment