Monday, August 29, 2011

The Liberal Establishment of Secular Religion

When we search for the central injustice pressed down upon the brow of the American people, we always end up at the central conceit of the liberal ruling class. The big liberal idea is the separation of church and state, that no one religion or sect gets into a special relationship, an establishment, with the state.

Liberals are very pleased with themselves about this. That is why it is their central conceit. Liberals are not as other men are, theocrats and moralizers trying to legislate morality. They insist that morality should be a private thing, not forced into the bedrooms of America by would-be theocrats.

But the idea that liberals are not in the moralizing business and not trying to legislate morality is a delusion. For if we expand the notion of religion from a particular religious sect or church to a more general definition, where we define "religion" as a belief system that organizes the meaning of life and establishes a definition of the good from which a system of ethics can be developed, then it is easy to conclude that our liberal masters, in violation of the spirit of the First Amendment, do in fact operate an establishment of religion, whereby liberals advance the belief system of the upper-middle class educated elite to a privileged status vis-a-vis the state. And what liberals do from the moment they get up in the morning is try to legislate liberal morality.

Have they ever succeeded! Liberal ideas are taught in government schools, in government universities; they are broadcast by government radio (NPR) and government TV (PBS). And of course the organs of the welfare state constantly broadcast and teach the essential humanity and compassion of the authoritarian welfare state. And liberals have the cultural power to run a kind of Holy Office of the Inquisition where dissidents and heretics to generally established liberal shibboleths may be shown the instruments of torture.

Oh, we are not talking about the instruments of physical torture, nothing so crude, darling. But liberals have their way of making you see the light.

There is the accusation of racism. Most Americans will do anything to escape an indictment of racism. And now liberals, with the help of the gay activist community, is making like very difficult for anyone that questions the moral status of gay marriage.

Indeed, if you disagree with any liberal notion you are risking some sort of social shaming. Create a political movement like the Tea Party, and pretty soon you will be fending off accusations of incivility, racism, extremism, and crypto-violence.

Some day, Americans will birth and grow a moral movement to end the reign of the liberal establishment of secular religion. Perhaps it is already born. It cannot come too soon. For if America is to rebuild itself out the social and economic wreckage of Hurricane Obama it must find a new moral ground, as Americans once created the moral foundation to build a movement to end plantation slavery.

It cannot come too soon. Life is good for the liberal upper-middle class in America. Liberalism has successfully built a nation and a culture well adapted to its needs and values. There is preferment and there are sinecures for those who serve the established church of liberalism. But other Americans must struggle in moral subjection and daily deal with the cultural humiliation dealt out to those that dare to question the Articles of liberal faith.

America needs a reformation, a cry of protest against liberal orthodoxy and hegemony. Only then can it become what it was prophesied to be, the shining city on a hill, still a beacon for all who must have freedom.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stitching Novak and Cahoone

Michael Novak, in his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, divides modern society into three sectors: political, economics, and moral/cultural. That is the spirit of democratic capitalism, a polity in which the powers and the activities of politics, economics, and culture are separated, so that no single sector dominates the others. I have called Novak's idea the Greater Separation of Powers, extending the notion of the separation of powers from governmental separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to society as a whole. Separation of church and state, for sure, and also separation of economy and state.

But I've recently read Lawrence E. Cahoone's Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics. Cahoone critiques the political culture of "neutralist liberalism", the idea that "government is to remain effectively neutral in questions of substantive morality and the meaning of human existence," and develops a sophisticated outline of civil society: what it is, institutionally and culturally. I am wondering how to stitch the two notions together.

Come on, you say, surely it is obvious!

OK, I give in. Of course it is obvious. Cahoone's civil society is simply Novak's moral/cultural sector.

Cahoone writes that the conditions of civil society include: the autonomy of the social, social equality, spontaneous order, institutional pluralism, and market economy. That is, civil society needs all these conditions in order to flourish and thrive. Novak writes that democratic capitalism is a society of “three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is pluralistic and, in the largest sense, liberal." "A democratic capitalist society is, in principle, uncommitted to any one vision of a social order."(p67) Therefore moral-cultural institutions belong to the system, but they must not command the system. History is understood as "emergent probability." Community is relaxed to the notion of "free persons in voluntary association." Loose as its community is, it still extols the communitarian individual, the bourgeols that practices "fellow feeling, common sympathy, and benevolence" while pursuing self interest.

What I find in Cahoone is a sharper definition of civil society, differentiated from political and economic culture, that strengthens and extends Novak's three-sector model. He identifies principles that can be used by civil-society proponents in the great moral movement ahead. Autonomy of the social means that culture and values come from civil society and not from politics, which is about power, not living together. Spontaneous order means that we cannot have economic or moral direction from the political sector because economic and moral order arise spontaneously from people living and working together. They cannot be rationally developed in a government committee room. Institutional pluralism means that different moral and cultural traditions will be competing for the right to be taken seriously and enrolled in the cultural consensus. And this civil society must be located next to a market economy. Civil society is not itself the market economy. It needs the market ecoomy, but only abuts the market economy. "The rules of civility are not the rules of the market."

The train wreck of Obama politics and Obamanomics is about to utterly discredit the current ruling class of the educated elite. It will create an opportunity for new ideas and a new culture to replace the failed authoritarian welfare state. Just as Eastern European dissidents discussed Novak's Spirit in samizdat chapter by chapter as they were planning for the end of socialism, so we must study Novak and Cahoone so we will be ready to lead the American people to a better future.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Riots and Civil Society

Peggy Noonan, as usual, asks the critical question in the aftermath of the London riots and the Philadelphia flash mobs.

When the riot begins or the flash mob arrives, the best the government can do is control the streets, enforce the law, maintain the peace.

After that, what? Britain is about to face that question. We'll likely have to face it, too.

The usual answer, she writes, is "The government has to do something. We must start a program, create an agency to address juvenile delinquency." Only that seems to be a joke these days. After all, the youths of London have been programmed, agencied, and delinquencied to death in the last half century. And still we get riots?

The conservative answer to the failure of the authoritarian welfare state with its programs, its agencies, and its flexible responses is "civil society." That goes back to Edmund Burke and his "little platoons." Berger and Neuhaus addressed it in To Empower People where they argued for "mediating structures," of family, church, association between the individual and the state.

But recently I have been reading the work of Lawrence Cahoone. His Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics is a profound critique of the failure of "neutralist liberalism" and an argument for civil society. Of course, his book is not a font of policy prescriptions, ammo for politicians eager to "do something" in the present crisis. It does little more than describe civil society: What it is, what it means, and what it does.

Even in the chaos of the London riots we can see civil society at work. From the Daily Mail.

In Dalston and Hackney, north-east London, Turkish shopkeepers and their families fought back against looting youths, before spending the night standing shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to deter further attacks.

One man said: 'This is Turkish Kurdish area. They come to our shops and we fight them with sticks.'

Well, that is getting close to tribalism, but you get my point. When the chips are down, civil society means that the men get together to defend their neighborhood. You can also see that where families have degraded into single mothers and children, the defense option has suddenly become problematic. The neighborhood women defending their homes, assisted by their feral children?

Cahoone describes civil society in two major chapters of his book. The first, "Civil Society," describes civil society institutionally; the second, "Civility, Neighborhood, and Culture," describes it from a cultural perspective.

The key point is that civil society is informal, a "quasi-independent association of households." It is not government, but it is an association that relates to government. In detail, Cahoone describes five characteristics of civil society:

  • The autonomy of the social "Society gets its norms from the inside rather than from institutions outside it."
  • Expansion of civitas to society There are no subjects, only citizens. Aristocrat and commoner are united in their "Frenchness" or "Englishness."
  • Spontaneous order Social order emerges out of "social interactions not coordinated by command" or political will.
  • Institutional pluralism No "single agency dominates social life." There are different types of institutions competing and many competing within each type.
  • Market economy Civil "societies must have market economies," but civil society is not the same as the market; it abuts the market economy and "the rules of civility are not the rules of the market."

You can see that anyone taking these notions seriously must be a foe of what Juergen Habermas called the "authoritarian" welfare state.

At the cultural level, writes Cahoone, it is important to keep front and center the idea that civil society is not politics. It is primarily "living-with, not talking-with." It has these qualities: "membership, freedom, civility, and dignity" that must not be violated. It is a loose form of association, with moral rules, obligation, and civility that falls short of a binding social contract. It requires above all a recognition of dignity, "recognizable worthiness," a rough equality so that banker and laborer take care to relate as equals, treating each other with civility and dignity.

The culture of the neighborhood and of localism is threatened in the modern era, partly by the growth of the modern economy and state, and partly by "liberal anti-localism." When liberals want to do something, they do it at the national level. Yet it is clear from the London riots that the marginalization of civil society at the neighborhood level leaves the local community naked to the power of the thugs.

The essential core of the civil society is its "dialectic of civility and culture." There cannot be a "pure civility." It "must be informed by some cultural tradition." But not just one tradition. Thus civil society implies a diversity, a competition of cultural narratives, with some inside the cultural consensus and some left outside. The point is to minimize coercion, so that competing narratives can try to change the consensus. "Civil society and culture engage in a kind of dance" in which "the point is to keep dancing."

The deeper you immerse yourself in this kind of thinking the more you understand just how it challenges and threatens the current hegemony of the liberal elite and their authoritarian welfare state. Liberals cannot bear the idea of a spontaneous order where they cannot direct the national conversation. They cannot bear the idea of giving up control of the local neighborhood; they cannot bear the idea of toleration and co-existence with conservative culture.

Modernity is a mix of "market, civil society, and nationalism," writes Cahoone, and when you think about it, our liberal friends are at war with all three. They want to control the market, marginalize civil society, and neuter nationalism. And for what?

Right now, we see the whole liberal project teetering, and some prophesy that it is about to collapse in ruins. Given the weakness of President Obama, there is no telling what may happen. But the cultural and political opening created by the liberal crack-up creates an opportunity. With the right ideas and a new appreciation for civil society modern conservatives can work with the American people to conceive and birth a new order, in which the war on modernity will be defeated, and the three sectors of modernity can grow and flourish in freedom, trust, and dignity.

But first we must dash aside the poisoned chalice of the authoritarian welfare state.