Francis Fukuyama, Yoram Hazony, and Liberalism in Crisis
Another excellent essay!
Yet lurking in the mist behind all these interesting ideas is that great orange beast who may be slouching out of Mar-a-Lago on his way towards Washington again...
I've mostly enjoyed Fukuyama over the years, especially his attention to 'thymos' and its role in human psychology and society, and I guess 30 years ago it made sense that maybe every group could have its thymos appeased by getting its own parade, its own TV series (ideally by Ken Burns), and some patronage here and there...well, that was a more optimistic time!
It seems that since Trump everyone who is not explicitly conservative (or some flavor of crank or contrarian) have all suddenly hit upon the same idea for 21st-century governance: We have no choice but to hand over our societies to an unelected globalist elite who will make all our decisions based on enlightened benevolent technocracy (which is pretty much whatever the Ivy League-NGO complex says it is at any given moment) aka We need to destroy the village in order to save it.
So while the American Left is basically undergoing a public nervous breakdown and will be reduced to the intellectual level of a crackhead for the foreseeable future, their opponents, who claim to want to revive virtue, restraint, tradition, etc, are led by the literal incarnation of all that is opposite of that, the most American of all Americans, History's most hilarious infant, Nero in diapers.
I don't know where Mike Judge stands on the list of most influential political philosophers, but I think of all possible visions of the American future, his "Idiocracy" seems the most likely.
I just put the book on reserve at my library, but I do think it's fair to ask why anyone is still listening to Fukuyama after his reports of history's demise were so greatly exaggerated.
What you describe here sounds a lot like what I hear from Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, and many other non-woke liberals. It boils down to: "we need to get back to the nice friendly liberalism that existed in the 1990's" [or insert your favorite decade.] It's a myth.
Your analysis of the problem is right on: liberalism's claim of value neutrality is an illusion. Claiming that "individual autonomy" is the highest moral good is itself a values-laden statement, which cannot be logically justified by liberalism itself. That's why Patrick Deenen believes the ideology is self-destructive. I would add that liberalism's claim (via Mill) that "my rights only stop at your nose" requires a large state to adjudicate the inevitably increasing number of conflicts between rights and noses, power which will inevitably be turned into a values enforcement mechanism by one side or the other (enter today's woke commissars or apparently DHS's now defunct Mis-information Bureau.)
I look forward to reading the book, but I strongly suspect I will remain in Deenen's camp. Whether it was the Enlightenment or the Reformation or nominalism or the Great Schism that got us here, we need a way out of this morass before we all kill each other or bring in a dictator who will use force to make sure we don't. A rediscovery of federalism could buy us a few decades, but fundamentally, it is not possible to build a society on nothing but "everyone gets to to whatever he wants". We survived for 250 years on the shared cultural (mostly Christian) inertia of 17 centuries, but we've run that down now. A society that doesn't agree on the meaning of man, woman, baby, family, marriage, or even the definition of human itself... has poor long term prospects.
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but liberalism is dead. Let's stop kicking its corpse around the room and look for viable alternatives. (And Sohrab Amari and his half dozen integralists don't count.)
"A true conservative is therefore not 'someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’,' or a progressive who’s just twenty years behind the curve, but an agent of restoration and rejuvenation through retraditioning."
This is what I try to do at home as a father. And to avoid this: the "reactionary 'dissident' right who feel there is nothing at all left to conserve and are therefore open to radical alternatives."
After the 2020 election, I made a feeble attempt to organize some local conservatives in my area and was taken aback at how much of that there was among them.
" But how can a philosophy that is taken to its own furthest extent no longer be itself?"
Conservatism taken to it's furthest extent isn't itself either. No change in status quo, no challenge to conventional orthodoxy and we are all still living in a flat earth, Galileo still in jail. Push change for change sake and destroy long standing traditions as extremes of liberalism does and you end up in a bad place as well, but both of these examples are extremes. The push and pull between reasonable conservatism and reasonable liberalism is what pushes us forward in a messy yet postive arc. Replacing either with the extremes isn't a good option.
As is typical for your essays, I will need to reread it to grasp everything you write. There's so many good thoughts and observations that it's easy to miss some of them.
I will say in light of the quote from Fukuyama: "from tolerance of difference and diversity to the celebration of difference and diversity.."
It should be pointed out that the celebration of difference and diversity ended up being restricted to a very narrow range of difference and diversity. In the name of tolerance, it became distinctly intolerant. Much is excluded, such as conservative thinkers and culturally conservative people, albeit generally in the West, which brings our attention to the hypocrisy of openly praising the concept of a smorgasbord of different cultures in the name of diversity while turning a blind eye to that many of those cultures are also distinctly conformist societies with no support or rights for the liberal values, and especially the now sacred LGBTA+ demographics, with Palestine being a chief example of this hypocrisy.
Fukuyama is a classic example of a man who is still trapped by the mindsets of a world that has long passed him. He is aware that things has changed, but as you alluded in your essay, he is still blinded by internal biases and really can't quite face the seriousness of the threats because, ultimately, he would have to acknowledge his role in allowing them to come about as part of the modern globalist liberals of the 1990-2010 era that did so much to destroy national institutions (academia in particular) lingering attachments to Western culture and loyalty to their home societies.
Phew! Thank You! Yet *another* masterpiece, Sir! Can't say enough about it.
I'll just say that it was us boomers who started this mess in a lotta ways. One was "don't trust anyone over thirty." And, in general, DIShonoring too many-a the values of The Greatest Generation.
But, according to "Death of the Grown-Up" by Diana West, part-a the blame goes to the oldsters for letting us get away with it. Only thing I can figure is they didn't want their kids to go through anything like what *they* went through, and let us get by with too, too much. IMO.
Also wanted to "say" the two LOLs from the Editor's Notes were supreme. Fukuyama? Dunno how anyone could take him seriously after this marvel. TYTY and TY again.
Excellent essay as always. As someone who was center left before being mugged by reality in 2020, I found it difficult at first to verbalise the necessity of moderation and convservation. Mind you, I was already an army officer in my country and had been in conservative milieus before, but only post-2020 did I start to (at first grudgingly) truly respect the little traditional rituals. I still call myself a classical liberal, but following this essay, it is becoming also clear to me that without a pre-existing moral framework, liberalism seems to end up repeatedly blackmailed into oblivion. The worst is that conservatism nowadays has to work almost from scratch as the arguments it espouses have only a limited audience which has worked through the logical puzzle, and invoking religion is likely to fall on deaf ears. In addition, the key error of liberalism is the false promise of equality. Legal equality and even equality of opportunity have serious merit as well as equal AND individual rights, but false deity of equity is something liberalism has to again innoculate itself against (ironically I find most 19th century liberals understood this much better and were able to resist on stronger grounds). So many of my friends and family talk about equality without any deeper thought about the implications.
The exploration of a pro-democracy alliance between liberals and conservatives seems like a worthwhile project if for no other reason than such an attempt might begin to sense the glimmer of a type of language or vocabulary/story necessary to capture mutual commonalities and concerns.
In Hazony's last chapter he mentions the word anomie and defines it as a condition of disorientation and dismay--what he calls an existence without law or constraint.
I would suggest that such a word (especially its emphasis on the overwhelming contemporary absence of constraint) captures the mutual longings of a surprising number of San Francisco liberals who just recalled their District Attorney as well as more traditional conservatives who yearn for a more prominent discussion of increasingly unrestrained human impulses (mass shootings/increasing crime etc) and the parallel necessity of a culture which promotes greater inhibitions and constraints.
My intuition is that there is a dramatically increasing constituency for a culture and politics of democratic restraint.
The dynamic engine that held the American version of liberalism together and provided the tension and energy that gave us a purpose and power, but also problems has broken apart. That process of breakdown means that the other varieties of liberalism (home-grown and imported - like neo-liberalism, like neo-Marxism) are carrying the day. It seems to me that our engine was built out of Protestant Christianity, classical Republicanism, Natural Law, and Natural Rights (here lies the liberal or most liberal piece - as developed by Locke, et al.) and that all existed and pulled and tugged and drove each other pushing and containing all at once. In that world, Liberalism cannot just be a procedural or constitutional order. Because I see the heart of American liberalism as the issue of rights, namely the individual's ability to be equal to another, to have liberty, to pursue happiness even against the observations of nature, the demands of the Divine, and the lessons of the past/tradition. The issue is truly the issue of rights against obligation. Jefferson understood this and that is why he tried to square the circle with Nature - nature both gives us the source of both - and his sense of proto-rights and political negotiated rights, together allowing for a polity. His is only one thread of course in our liberal order, but perhaps the most important and the one carry the greatest seeds of self-destruction. It seems that the collapse of Protestant Christianity as a restraining power in the dynamics means we are at the point of no return unless the other pieces can be shored up sufficiently to give a new dynamic, but I fear that isn't possible. I don't think it is an accident that deformed and heretical mutations of Protestantism are the central pillar of the emerging Woke-religion, a process that isn't finished. It feels more like the abundance of cults in the 2nd Century, which one will take the place of the old State Religion is yet unknown...but perhaps what is happening is the rise of progressive/liberal Protestantism in the early to mid-20the century was the real story of what caused the morphing and destruction of our American liberal order. The force that once restrained became too closely allied with the liberalism and they ceased to be separate but merged together unleashing forces that could no longer be contained and like a cancer began to eat itself and or perhaps to think of it differently it caused a sort of political genetic mutation.
Classical liberals are modern-day Pharisees in the truest sense: more concerned with the forms and appearances of moderation, liberalism, democracy, etc. than the underlying purpose.
Classical liberalism doesn't abjure all moral standards, on the contrary it presupposes a certain decency and restraint on the part of its citizens. Even law-abidingness requires a certain degree of restraint. This was well-recognized by founders such as Washington and Adams. What classical liberalism does get rid of is any attempt by the state to prescribe theological beliefs to its citizens. The laws should only govern the "actions of the body" but not "the operations of the mind" to use Jefferson's formulation. What is puzzling is that Fukuyama, who surely must know this, seems to be confused about it.
Not a criticism of you - although it absolutely is one of Fukuyama, who you are reviewing - but the liberal tradition has far more ability to resolve these contradictions than is evidenced here. Shklar's liberalism of fear avoids these absurd knots over 'neutrality' with a clear commitment to the avoidance of cruelty coupled to one simple empirical observation: power makes people cruel.
Long time democrat voter. I am not forming an alliance with Trumpers and other no nothing cult of personality types. If someone like Liz Cheney could ascend and somewhat moderate that might be possible. Guard rails are needed on either side of the spectrum to stay out of the political ditch(s) of populism, illiberalism, nihilism.
Tremendous, this Lyons fella is very clear minded, his argumentation is so helpful to me, too my understanding, really, the best I have found.
As for Wesley Yang‘s successor ideology, I suspect he would agree, liberalism is a means to an end, not the destination, he has another coinage which captures this: “ Authoritarian utopianism”.
As for Lyons , his explanation of conservatism is spectacular in its clarity, wow, I’m coming back to read it again and again until I own it.
An aside, I read a Vanity Fair piece on the internecine warfare amongst the woke reporters at the Washington Post: June 8, the title begins with the word “clusterfuck”, so it kinda stands out. It is an object lesson in managing a group of over educated people who believe any power or authority or hierarchy is bad, evil, indeed a trespass against their holy right to self determination and self expression and worse that the imposition, enforcement of rules is violence. Ah, my old friend schadenfreude, I sincerely hope they ripe of themselves to pieces.
Do you think Jeff Bezos’ real business, Amazon, allows people freedom or do you think the warehouse environment is a little more authoritarian than the Wopo vanity project, hum? Liberalism can’t help but contradict itself, Lyons says it is gnosticism all the way down, I say it is douch-baggery, all the way down.
Schadenfreude, get the popcorn.
I'm very unconvinced by the proposed connection between liberal individualism and identity politics. The rapid rise of identity politics I think is the result of Christian reverence for victims; the human desire to be part of a community and scarcity of current alternatives; and the useful distraction it is from actual threats to power.
P.s. A couple of style comments, fwiw. I think use of extremely online words like "copium" and the use of parenthetical commentary like "LOL" limit the audience for a piece, without adding much value. I know I've thought twice about sharing it with a) older people and b) people not on the right as a result. Also I found the tone/style somewhat jarringly different between the long section on Fukuyama and the short section on Hazony.
Amazing piece. Dense. Thank you very much. Though I do not have much “hope”, at least now I have an idea of the only possible direction to possibly get out of the disaster that is our current culture.