Dr. Patrick J. Deneen of the University of Notre Dame, has written an important book titled "Why Liberalism Failed." It should be read by activists, on both the left and the right, interested in understanding our nation’s political milieu.
Deneen’s thesis is “that the underpinnings of our inherited civilized order — norms learned in families, in communities, through religion and a supporting culture — would inevitably erode under the influence of the liberal, social and political state.”
The success of liberalism, which was based on the understanding that government must be limited and the individual must be free from “arbitrary political control,” Dineen argues, actually “failed because it has succeeded.”
While liberalism had claimed to be neutral, it morphed into an ideology dedicated to monitoring and controlling every facet of the public and private lives of the American people.
Government expansion has snowballed because disgruntled citizens, who believe they are losing control of their lives or feel abandoned and lonely, turn to the liberal leviathan for comfort. And the government “readily complies … expanding in response to civic grievances, ironically leading in turn to citizens’ further experience of distance and powerlessness.”
The root of the problem has been the redefining of “liberty.” For the Greek, Roman, and Christian philosophies, liberty was based on the cultivation of the virtues of moral discipline and the self-limitation of desires. Employing these virtues limited the power of leaders and prevented tyrannical rule.
Modern Liberalism, however, rejects this approach to governing as “paternalistic and ineffectual” and its proponents have striven to eliminate religious and civic traditions and appeals to the common good.
Political scientists, led by Machiavelli, have based their ideology “upon readily observable human behaviors of pride, selfishness, greed, and the quest for glory.”
Liberty for them has meant “the liberation of humans from established authority, emancipation from arbitrary culture and tradition and the expansion of human power and domain over nature through advancing scientific discovery and economic prosperity.”
Due to the liberated individual’s pursuit of immediate gratification, the culture has “become synonymous with hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distraction, all oriented toward promoting consumption, appetite, and detachment. As a result, socially destructive behaviors begin to dominate society.”
There is no longer “good” or “bad” behavior but the “right” to “different lifestyle opinions.”
Deneen points the finger, rightfully in my judgment, to those on both sides of the political aisle. For many liberals and conservatives, “the state becomes the main driver of individualism, while individualism becomes the main source of expanding power and authority of the state.”
Leftists, influenced by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, realized that controlling the culture matters. Hence, to expand their control over the “masses,” they have devoted their energies to creating an administrative state “driven by the imperative of replacing all non-liberal forms of support for human flourishing….”
To ensure their vision of social cooperation and to “undermine voluntary civic membership,” an ever-expanding state apparatus has been flooding the nation with administrative directives and legal mandates “rendering culture into wholly relativist belief and practice, untethered from anything universal or enduring.”
As for free marketeers on the right, a large subset has surrendered to the left. They have abandoned their past association with advocates of “traditional values” in return for the promise of the big government crowd to protect their tax benefits and corporate welfare.
CEO’s in many companies have been promoting inclusiveness and diversity while stifling opposition from employees who are pro-life, and pro-traditional marriage and threatening state and local government officials with economic retribution who do not promote their cultural vision.
Is there a humane alternative to “Liberalcratic despotism”? Yes.
After touring our fledgling nation in the 19th century, Tocqueville observed, that “the strength of free peoples resides in the local community.”
Deneen agrees with Tocqueville and so do I.
Neighborhoods have been the targets of modern liberals because it is these neighborhoods and the traditional values they protect that prevent them from dominating human behavior. “The neighborhood,” sociologist Andrew Greeley noted, “asserts the importance of the primordial, the local, the geographic, the familial against the demands of the bureaucratized, rationalized, scientific, corporate society…. The neighborhood is rejected by our intellectual and cultural elites because the neighborhood is not modern and what is not modern is conservative, reactionary, unprogressive, unenlightened, superstitious, and just plain wrong.”
If the tide is ever to be turned against the liberal leviathan, Deneen concludes, we need “practices fostered in a local setting, focused on the creation of new and viable cultures, economics grounded in virtuosity within households, and the creation of civic polis life.”
Sacrifice and patience — “not the hallmarks of the age of statist individualism,” Deneen concludes, “will be needed in abundance for us to usher in a better, doubtless very different, time after liberalism.”
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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