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Old 01-14-2018, 05:35 PM
Bassman Bassman is offline
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Is Liberalism Failing on the Left and Right?

Political scientist Patrick Deneen has written a new book called Why Liberalism Failed. Iíve yet to read it, but I think this review from the Federalist gives a good overview of the thesis of the book. If you have a good bit of time, hereís a lecture by the author where he expounds on these themes.

Iím not endorsing everything he says and he engages in some degree of ďkids these daysĒ whining, but he provides a framework to address some things Iíve been thinking about a lot. So, I hope to start a discussion on these themes.

Deneen claims American politics pretty much falls within the broad conception of liberalism. Broadly speaking I agree, but it glosses over a few areas where American politics diverges from it. The clearest example is President Trump, whose attacks on the press and the legitimacy of the electoral process (even though he won) betray illiberal tendencies. Far too many in his party are willing to be complicit. On the left, certain elements are far too willing to shut down free speech in the name of social justice.

He suggests that classical liberalism and free-market capitalism are not compatible with small-c conservatism. Deneen is not the first to state this. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels charge capitalism with destroying the way of life that existed prior to the Industrial Revolution and as being a profoundly un-conservative force (cf. creative destruction). As a counter to this, social conservative is interested in maintaining pre-existing social norms.

Centrally, Deneen argues that modern society conflates liberty with libertinism. Tod Lindberg, writing in the Wall Street Journal, summarizes it like this: ďThe Ďlibertyí that makes up our modern liberalism, in Mr. Deneenís telling, is a bastardization of a far superior conception of liberty with roots in the ancient world: In classical philosophy, liberty was the overcoming of passions that, unchecked, render humans slaves to the worst in their nature. True freedom wasnít license to do as one wishes but the cultivation of the best possibilities of the human condition.Ē

At a personal level, I can say thereís a great deal of truth to this. Iím far more free and, in the long-run, much more happy when Iím not driven by short-term desires and passions, but rather when I tame those things and act in accordance with values and a long-term view. At the same time, however, any view of liberty must permit a broad range of freedom to act.

Deneen also attacks what he considers excessive individualism in American society. I could write a couple more paragraphs here, but in the interests of brevity let me simply pose a question. Has American culture become so individualistic we have a hard time articulating a vision of the common good in our politics? if not individualistic, have we become too tribal?
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Old 01-14-2018, 05:54 PM
HoneyBadgerDC HoneyBadgerDC is offline
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I see it as an overall failure on both sides to maintain an attitude of principals over personalities. Which is basically what I think he is saying. I get so frustrated and tired of hearing nearly everyone be against everything or for everything depending on what side it is coming from.
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Old 01-15-2018, 06:45 AM
septimus septimus is offline
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I've not read Deneen's book either, but the summary in the linked review is brilliant and eloquent. It makes criticism similar to other recent essays trying to bridge the left-right gap and could help provide a basis for a new political philosophy uniting the best intellects from both the left and the right.

But, judging by previous threads, the viewpoint will get zero support from either liberals or conservatives here at SDMB.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:10 AM
QuickSilver QuickSilver is offline
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Originally Posted by Bassman View Post
At a personal level, I can say thereís a great deal of truth to this. Iím far more free and, in the long-run, much more happy when Iím not driven by short-term desires and passions, but rather when I tame those things and act in accordance with values and a long-term view. At the same time, however, any view of liberty must permit a broad range of freedom to act.

Deneen also attacks what he considers excessive individualism in American society. I could write a couple more paragraphs here, but in the interests of brevity let me simply pose a question. Has American culture become so individualistic we have a hard time articulating a vision of the common good in our politics? if not individualistic, have we become too tribal?
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, which American political party appeals to short term interests of individuals vs long term interests of the entire society?

When I, as an individual, insist that the latter (when factually based and thoughtfully implemented) is of greater benefit than the former, am I making an "individualistic" argument?
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Old 01-15-2018, 10:05 AM
JRDelirious JRDelirious is offline
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Originally Posted by QuickSilver View Post
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, which American political party appeals to short term interests of individuals vs long term interests of the entire society?

When I, as an individual, insist that the latter (when factually based and thoughtfully implemented) is of greater benefit than the former, am I making an "individualistic" argument?
ISTM in the context of the article/book/lecture the platforms of the American political parties as they have become have mostly left it all behind, to both their detriment.

But I could ask: all right, so which faction is the one that argues and defends the individual freedom to not have to conform to the established sociocultural norm or identity? There is such a thing as positive individualism.


One of the author's arguments is about how narrowing down the meaning of liberalism to either an "economistic" or "cultural" axis alone is part of what is self-defeating about it.

Last edited by JRDelirious; 01-15-2018 at 10:07 AM.
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Old 01-15-2018, 11:11 AM
BigT BigT is offline
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Originally Posted by septimus View Post
I've not read Deneen's book either, but the summary in the linked review is brilliant and eloquent. It makes criticism similar to other recent essays trying to bridge the left-right gap and could help provide a basis for a new political philosophy uniting the best intellects from both the left and the right.

But, judging by previous threads, the viewpoint will get zero support from either liberals or conservatives here at SDMB.
Poison the well much, septimus? I also read the same summary, and I do not share you conclusions.

I'd argue that it is not only not eloquent or brilliant, but mere sophistry. It completely redefines what liberalism means in order to knock it down. I don't know Plato that well, but it definitely misses the intentionally paradoxical nature of Biblical liberty, and misstates Christianity as being about liberty from wants and passions, when it is actually about turning passion towards better things. One is supposed to be fully passionate about God and good works.

The thing is, the better nature he does describe is really close to liberalism as it exists today. It is the one that fights the individualism of conservative, libertarian thought. It actually embraces the definition of liberty meaning something closer to working for higher ideals. That's kinda what the social justice concept is.

Political ideas often contain balancing acts. The individual vs. the collective, the short term happiness vs. the long term reward, freedom vs. duty. All are needed at different points.

Now, maybe the book is better. Maybe the reviewer's explanation is bad, and the author makes more sense. But, as it is, it just seems so at odds with reality that I can't really treat it as anything worthwhile.

Also, quick reminder that social justice means justice on the social level, i.e. equality of the individual. So the opposite of that is bigotry. The epithet "social justice warrior," even if seen as a negative, is not supposed to describe social justice as an ill, but to argue a certain hypocrisy of fighting to hurt other people in order to achieve social justice.

The concept itself is a good thing. Even among those I've heard decry it, they seem to tend to want it to happen. The only exceptions I've ever met are avowed racists, sexists, etc.
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Old 01-16-2018, 01:33 PM
adaher adaher is offline
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Humans aren't really individualistic, but they also aren't communitarian either. What humans are is tribal. They care for their families and friends a great deal, and they care for people they identify with quite a bit. And everyone else is just sorta there. And that's enlightened societies. So this idea that we can have a government that can make 300 milion people care about 300 million other people is not consistent with human nature. At BEST, you can get 300 million people to want to help those who look like them or speak their language in their preferred accent, or have the same religious practices as they do. The downside of polyglot societies is that they tend to be more individualistic and tribal. Much easier to get a homogenous people to support collectivism.

So yes, if liberalism is going to try to get us to be one world community, or even one national community, it's going to fail every time.
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Old 01-16-2018, 02:17 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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I don't see a recommendation in any of that.

Less populism is still my vote.
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Old 01-16-2018, 02:20 PM
adaher adaher is offline
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I think a healthy political system has a balance between elite rule and rule by the people. Our system of governance attempts to balance those interests and probably does it better than any other system.
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Old 01-17-2018, 08:44 AM
astorian astorian is offline
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First, bear in mind that Deneen's definition of "liberalism" has nothing whatever to do with Rush Limbaugh's. Don't let his critique of "liberalism" scare you off automatically. Most standard conservative Republicans won't like what Deneen has to say, if they bother to read it.

On social issues, Deneen is a traditional Catholic, meaning the average SDMB reader will regard him as a homophobic theocrat. On all other issues (economics, foreign policy) he stands far to the Left. What he condemns as "liberalism" most definitely includes laissez faire economics and hawkish foreign policy. Which means typical conservatives will regard him as a commie surrender monkey.

I myself dislike most of what Deneen writes- but he's still worth reading.
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Old 01-17-2018, 03:56 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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To clarify a bit: if you are a standard leftist, there probably isn't much of value or interest for you in Patrick Deneen's writings. His audience is a self-styled Christian conservative who may or may not grasp that America has changed permanently, and that standard political action can't restore it.

To oversimplify, for the past few centuries, it's been fairly easy (and very comfortable) for many/most people to assume that being a good Christian and being a patriotic American were more or less the same thing. It was taken for granted that the US government was founded on Christian principles that it would surely uphold.

Plainly that is NOT true today. Christian conservatives have to get used to the fact that our traditional beliefs are actually EXTREMELY unpopular in many circles, and that governments at every level will increasingly view us as the enemy. No, no, I'm not talking about persecution or anything resembling that. But for the foreseeable future, traditional Christian notions of morality are going to be treated as mere bigotry by mainstream society and by the government. And any Christian conservative who thinks we can prevent that by just electing the "right" candidates is delusional.

It is INEVITABLE, for instance, that the government will withdraw tax breaks, aid of all kinds, and accreditation from schools affiliated with churches that do not endorse gay marriage. It's GOING to happen. A refusal to endorse gay marriage will soon be treated as the equivalent of racism at Bob Jones University. WHEN that happens (not if), are Baptist colleges like Baylor prepared? Catholic colleges like Notre Dame? Almost certainly not. And many churches/schools will be sorely tempted to abandon principle for federal dollars.

I think it's ALSO inevitable that before long, governments will take transgender children away from parents who refuse to accept or accommodate those children's wishes. Are Christian parents ready for that? Not if they still hold out hope that a bozo like Trump can or will protect them.

What many American Christians THOUGHT was a solidly Christian country was nothing of the kind. Deneen is trying to force those people to face reality and ponder, "What next? Are you prepared to be a Christian traditionalist in a land that will increasingly try to make that harder? Where, more and more, you will be seen as a freak and an oddity? Where many lucrative jobs will soon be closed to you?"


Now, some people (like the AMish and the Hassidim) have known what that's like and dealt with it for centuries. But what about people who've gotten too used to a comfortable status quo?

Last edited by astorian; 01-17-2018 at 04:01 PM.
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Old 01-18-2018, 01:06 AM
marshmallow marshmallow is offline
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The OP's linked Federalist review was a tease. They laid out many obvious problems with liberalism, then they sounded, as is often the case with Trad Caths and right-libertarians, like someone who was about to say, "and this is why I embrace socialism/anarchism," but then they veer away into venerating the Greeks and the founding fathers (who weren't liberals, apparently). Some of the complaints were generic and commonly used by both sides, like the idea that liberalism unleashes appetites and ignores virtue, or that it's decadent. On the left this is in reference to consumerism, exploitation, greed, and environmental destruction. On the right this is sex, drugs, divorce, birth control, and abortions.

This bit stuck out:

Quote:
One will destroy communities on behalf of global economic efficiency, the other on behalf of social justice.
What does that even mean? The white race must be preserved? Civilization will fall because of feminists? Hate speech laws? Bwuh?

My cold take is that people are fleeing the liberal center because it's incoherent and contradictory when it's not outright harmful. The left and right have, from a marketing standpoint if nothing else, more attractive worldviews and better messaging to explain recent historical events relevant to people's lives. America is a racist and hyper-capitalist culture where labor has been absolutely pummeled, so most of the energy is going into reactionary forces. An old observation is that fascism is more easily spread when liberal institutions lose their credibility. About the only institutions Americans still trust are the military, police, and church.

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Originally Posted by septimus View Post
It makes criticism similar to other recent essays trying to bridge the left-right gap and could help provide a basis for a new political philosophy uniting the best intellects from both the left and the right.
This is what neoliberals are. Rainbow capitalists. They don't care if you're a black atheist lesbian on her 10th gay marriage, as long as you're for imperialism, privatization, and bailing out the banks you're in the club.
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Old 01-18-2018, 12:43 PM
Whack-a-Mole Whack-a-Mole is offline
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This is what neoliberals are. Rainbow capitalists. They don't care if you're a black atheist lesbian on her 10th gay marriage, as long as you're for imperialism, privatization, and bailing out the banks you're in the club.
That is basically the Third Way that the Clintons popularized. They moved the the center of the divide between liberals and conservatives to the right.

Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 01-18-2018 at 12:44 PM.
  #14  
Old 01-19-2018, 06:14 AM
astorian astorian is offline
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The OP's linked Federalist review was a tease. They laid out many obvious problems with liberalism, then they sounded, as is often the case with Trad Caths and right-libertarians, like someone who was about to say, "and this is why I embrace socialism/anarchism," but then they veer away into venerating the Greeks and the founding fathers (who weren't liberals, apparently). Some of the complaints were generic and commonly used by both sides, like the idea that liberalism unleashes appetites and ignores virtue, or that it's decadent. On the left this is in reference to consumerism, exploitation, greed, and environmental destruction. On the right this is sex, drugs, divorce, birth control, and abortions.

This bit stuck out:



What does that even mean? The white race must be preserved? Civilization will fall because of feminists? Hate speech laws? Bwuh?

My cold take is that people are fleeing the liberal center because it's incoherent and contradictory when it's not outright harmful. The left and right have, from a marketing standpoint if nothing else, more attractive worldviews and better messaging to explain recent historical events relevant to people's lives. America is a racist and hyper-capitalist culture where labor has been absolutely pummeled, so most of the energy is going into reactionary forces. An old observation is that fascism is more easily spread when liberal institutions lose their credibility. About the only institutions Americans still trust are the military, police, and church.



This is what neoliberals are. Rainbow capitalists. They don't care if you're a black atheist lesbian on her 10th gay marriage, as long as you're for imperialism, privatization, and bailing out the banks you're in the club.

Actually, you're wrong. Patrick Deneen DOES regard the Founding Fathers as the quintessential liberals. Obviously, their beliefs don't coincide with those of a 21st century American liberal Democrat, but that's irrelevant. Deneen's problem isn't just with The modern Democratic party- it's with the Enlightenment ideals America was based on.

The American experiment assumed that the vast majority of the people would adhere to traditional Christian morality, even if they rejected Jesus (as many founders did). And that was true for a long time. But Deneen holds that any liberal state built largely on the concept of freedom was BOUND to devolve into moral anarchy, and that it was INEVITABLE that eventually the government itself would become inimical to people who reject the anything-goes philosophy.
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Old 01-19-2018, 06:42 AM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Originally Posted by marshmallow View Post
What does that even mean? The white race must be preserved? Civilization will fall because of feminists? Hate speech laws? Bwuh?
[snip]
My cold take is that people are fleeing the liberal center because it's incoherent and contradictory when it's not outright harmful. This is what neoliberals are. Rainbow capitalists. They don't care if you're a black atheist lesbian on her 10th gay marriage, as long as you're for imperialism, privatization, and bailing out the banks you're in the club.
So... over time I have slowly warmed up to your unconventional political critiques, as I agree with your portrayal of some of the forces and factions at work in the world. But I'm still repeatedly confused at some of your categories. Specifically I can make little sense of what you mean by "people are fleeing the 'liberal center', and your definition of neoliberalism seems off-base to me as well (to me it's just a resurrection of 18th-century liberalism that ignores the systemic and technological threats to society posed by naive classical liberalism in the modern era).

I guess my question to start is, when you talk of "people fleeing the liberal center", how are you defining the liberal center and who is fleeing it? What are they running from, and what are they running toward? Do you regard Democrats and Republicans both being completely indistinct members of this liberal center?
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Old 01-19-2018, 11:57 AM
Bassman Bassman is offline
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Plainly that is NOT true today. Christian conservatives have to get used to the fact that our traditional beliefs are actually EXTREMELY unpopular in many circles, and that governments at every level will increasingly view us as the enemy. No, no, I'm not talking about persecution or anything resembling that. But for the foreseeable future, traditional Christian notions of morality are going to be treated as mere bigotry by mainstream society and by the government.
There's some truth to what you're saying in that many secular liberals are hostile to conservative Christians, but that didn't arise in a vacuum. Although I'm no longer religious, I'm grew up in a conservative evangelical environment with fundamentalist overtones. And I can attest that group has a very strong us-vs.-them tribal mentality. And you combine that with them getting hitched to the Republican Party and 80% of white evangelicals supporting Trump, and it becomes a mutually reinforcing loop of distrust. And I realize this will be controversial on here, but I think large segments of the left feed into this with contraception mandates on closely held companies, and trying to force bakers to make custom cakes for gay weddings which are against their sincerely held religious views. In short, far too often these two groups act as if the other doesn't have the right to exist.

And I'll point the secular left is not above allying its self with the black church- many of whom are theologically conservative. Further, Deneen is writing from a Catholic perspective which has some differences than the dynamic I'm writing about (and some similarities as well).

Let me leave you with one quick story: My cousin is an evangelical, a Republican, and a Trump supporter and embodies many of the (IMO) negative traits that go along with that. We got into a rather heated political discussion where he was talking about "their" schools and "their" institutions. Here's what I tried to drive home to him- they are also "your" schools and institutions, part of "your" society. They are ours and do not rightfully belong to any one part of society, but to society as a whole.
  #17  
Old 01-19-2018, 02:28 PM
Whack-a-Mole Whack-a-Mole is offline
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And I realize this will be controversial on here, but I think large segments of the left feed into this with contraception mandates on closely held companies, and trying to force bakers to make custom cakes for gay weddings which are against their sincerely held religious views.
The problem the left has with conservative Christians is their "sincerely held religious views" seems a cover for racism and bigotry.

The bible has very little to say on the topic of homosexuality and abortion. If someone wants to throw quotes from Leviticus out they need to start reading the rest of Leviticus and tell us why only that one passage matters. The hypocrisy runs strong.

Indeed modern evangelical Christianity is almost completely at odds with what Jesus was actually on about. Jesus wanted to help the poor and needy. To be frank Jesus was a raging liberal. Jesus would be rolling over in his grave (if he was still in it) at the prosperity gospel being pushed in these churches. They should read about the "cleansing of the temple" in the bible.

In short I find it hard to believe someone has "sincerely held religious beliefs" when they are cherry picking the few bits they want to sincerely hold and use that to harm others.
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Old 01-19-2018, 09:29 PM
marshmallow marshmallow is offline
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Here's Douthat's complaint:

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Originally Posted by Douthat
But my own response to ďWhy Liberalism FailedĒ was disappointment that its author did not go further. At the end, having delivered his indictment, Deneen declines to envision any alternate political order; instead, he rejects ideology and urges a rededication to localism and community, from which some alternative political and economic order might gradually develop.

Yet if the liberal order is increasingly oppressive and destined to get worse, why would one expect such communities and experiments to flourish, rather than simply being plowed under by the same forces he decries?
So Deneen wants Trad Cath mutualist communes? Or maybe distributism?

Quote:
Originally Posted by silly horseshoe meme
Distributism: We hate socialism and capitalism, but holy shit do we love Jesus.

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Originally Posted by HMS Irruncible View Post
So... over time I have slowly warmed up to your unconventional political critiques, as I agree with your portrayal of some of the forces and factions at work in the world.
That position is standard in most lefty spaces, which is why I called it a cold take. Some of my opinions are unusual on this board, which is perhaps why I've been a bit more outspoken lately. Many internet communities radicalized in the last 2-3 years, especially after the MENA refugee crisis, the rise of the alt-right, and Trump's election, but not this place, maybe because of the older, richer demographic. I feel like there were more prominent leftists here back during the Bush and early Obama years.

Quote:
But I'm still repeatedly confused at some of your categories. Specifically I can make little sense of what you mean by "people are fleeing the 'liberal center', and your definition of neoliberalism seems off-base to me as well (to me it's just a resurrection of 18th-century liberalism that ignores the systemic and technological threats to society posed by naive classical liberalism in the modern era).

I guess my question to start is, when you talk of "people fleeing the liberal center", how are you defining the liberal center and who is fleeing it? What are they running from, and what are they running toward? Do you regard Democrats and Republicans both being completely indistinct members of this liberal center?
The liberal center is basically the corporate establishment of both parties. Hillary and Obama for Democrats, Jeb and Romney for Republicans. Many regular everyday Democrats, especially among the 35 and younger crowd, are running to progressive/social democrat type positions, and some who used to be progressives are reading Marx, Kropotkin, or Bookchin now. Those on the right have been embracing increasingly xenophobic or outright fascist positions, from the Tea Party of a decade ago to the alt-right of today. This process seems more advanced on the right, since their establishment has been heavily discredited and humiliated, and the Overton window has shifted to such an extent that Fox News is now considered too liberal in some right spaces.

Many social forces are driving this exodus, but ultimately a great deal of the problems can be laid at the feet of capitalism, whether it's directly (stagnant wages, bad healthcare, debt, left behind communities both urban and rural, a precarious existence, and crushing alienation) or indirectly (right-wing media as a grift industry), as well as the liberal center's inability to form a coherent response, or even recognize there's a problem in the first place. In 2016, as far as the establishment was concerned America was already great, and if you needed a job then you should go to school and learn to code or something, and in the meanwhile we'll work on these incremental reforms.

I've also seen a fair amount of people claim they moved hard left once they realized capitalism is ill-equipped to solve global warming or other brewing environmental and resource disasters.

I'm not sure if we disagree regarding neoliberalism. It doesn't necessarily have to be socially liberal, but as a matter of political expediency it is, at least in America.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassman View Post
At a personal level, I can say thereís a great deal of truth to this. Iím far more free and, in the long-run, much more happy when Iím not driven by short-term desires and passions, but rather when I tame those things and act in accordance with values and a long-term view.
This sounds like the prelude to the nofap or volcel lifestyles.

More seriously, I read an interesting opinion that when it comes to sexual consent the "lack of a no means yes" method is an individualist liberal conceit, similar to their idea of voluntary relations between employer and labor in free markets, which ignores power relations. Meanwhile, the enthusiastic consent movement is more like an embrace of virtue ethics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian View Post
Patrick Deneen DOES regard the Founding Fathers as the quintessential liberals.
True. I was thinking of the author of the linked Federalist review, who disagreed with Deneen on that point.
  #19  
Old 01-20-2018, 08:22 AM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Originally Posted by marshmallow View Post
The liberal center is basically the corporate establishment of both parties. Hillary and Obama for Democrats, Jeb and Romney for Republicans. Many regular everyday Democrats, especially among the 35 and younger crowd, are running to progressive/social democrat type positions, and some who used to be progressives are reading Marx, Kropotkin, or Bookchin now. Those on the right have been embracing increasingly xenophobic or outright fascist positions, from the Tea Party of a decade ago to the alt-right of today. This process seems more advanced on the right, since their establishment has been heavily discredited and humiliated, and the Overton window has shifted to such an extent that Fox News is now considered too liberal in some right spaces.

Many social forces are driving this exodus, but ultimately a great deal of the problems can be laid at the feet of capitalism, whether it's directly (stagnant wages, bad healthcare, debt, left behind communities both urban and rural, a precarious existence, and crushing alienation) or indirectly (right-wing media as a grift industry), as well as the liberal center's inability to form a coherent response, or even recognize there's a problem in the first place. In 2016, as far as the establishment was concerned America was already great, and if you needed a job then you should go to school and learn to code or something, and in the meanwhile we'll work on these incremental reforms.
That's an interesting take, thank you for posting it. You have clearly thought this through more than I have.
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