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Political theory

Liberalism, Catholicism, and the Good

I have another column, this one on liberal and Catholic conceptions of the good and the just, at Catholic World Report.


More on freedom and tyranny

That’s the original title of my latest column at Catholic World Report. It’s basically an argument that Catholics shouldn’t base their political arguments on freedom, they should base them on substantive goods. (I don’t know what it shows that they renamed it “Tyranny, Religion, and the Fight for Freedom.”)


After Liberalism: Notes toward Reconstruction

That’s the title of an essay I wrote that appears in the Spring 2012 issue of the Intercollegiate Review.


Caught in the Morass

[The following review, somewhat edited in ways I did not have a chance to look at (and in some respects would not have approved), appeared under the title Libertarian Limits in the January 2012 issue of First Things]

On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence, by Frank Furedi, Continuum, 224 pages, $22.95

The independently-minded British sociologist Frank Furedi has variously been a Hungarian refugee, a self-proclaimed revolutionary communist, and a libertarian public intellectual. The last tendency seems likely to stick, and it has led him to write this critical analysis of therapeutic and custodial liberalism and plea for the restoration of classical liberalism.


God and liberal modernity

That’s the name of my March column at Catholic World Report.



It seems accepted among educated Westerners that the rationality of an action is a matter of means and ends, of what we want and whether what we do is going to bring that about.

That’s true even among people who consider themselves right-wingers, reactionaries, traditionalists and so on, and who in many ways really are so. I’ve complained about that tendency in Roger Scruton, and to my mind a recent discussion over at Bruce Charlton’s blog put it on display as well. It seemed impossible for many of those in the discussion to see the issue (contraception) from any other perspective. The problem was not that they thought consequences were relevant, but that they thought only consequences were relevant, and that raising other issues was simply nonsensical.


Liberal Values and the Seduction of the American Right

The following is a talk delivered at the 2011 Conference of the H. L. Mencken Club.

Why has American conservatism been such a flop? It finds it impossible to define what it wants, stick with it, and defend it. The result is that it never wins and never even stands its ground.

To understand what’s happened you have to go to basics.


Liberal theosis

Modern thought can’t make sense of man. Science wants to treats him as part of single system of cause and effect, and liberalism also takes that approach when considering social policy. The problem though is that science and liberalism need scientists and liberals as they understand them—that is, they need thinkers, observers and agents who are autonomous and therefore outside the system of material causation.


Propositioning the nation

Princeton professor Robert George gives a remarkably pure presentation of the “America as proposition nation” thesis here. If you want to know what that thesis is, watch the clip—it’s only a couple of minutes, and it’s a collector’s item.

Here are a few obvious issues the thesis raises:


A fragment on democracy

The world is run by people who run things. Liberalism eliminates the principle of authority and puts the individual and his desires at the center of concern, so it makes it important for people who run things to be able to claim that the people at large have agreed to what they’re doing—they approved the particular measure, or the basic principle. or the decisionmakers, or anyway they could vote everybody out and change the constitution if they’ve really got a problem.


Reason and religion

Four religions:

  1. Liberalism: A single human world ordered only by reason, based on pure (content-free) concepts. Freedom says you ignore the content of human goals and promote all of them simply as such, and equality says you ignore the content of human qualities so you treat all men as equal in value. Put them together and you get liberalism.

Response to a reader's question about environmentalism

Environmentalism has several aspects. The most justifiable is the view that the natural world is a complex evolved system that we depend on but can’t understand and control completely, so we should respect it the way a traveler respects local customs or someone sailing a small boat respects the sea. The point can be extended a bit: we can view the natural world as an object of admiration that we should respect for its own sake, somewhat as we respect historical remnants or works of art.


How is Professor Epstein unlike the Pope?

Richard Epstein has an online piece entitled How Is Warren Buffett Like the Pope?

It seems that on the way to Spain for World Youth Day the Pope said that the economy “cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good,” and that it “cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man.” Epstein has major problems with that.


Liberalism and its meaning for Christians

[Originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of The New Pantagruel]

Liberalism has enormous power as a social reality. When liberals call themselves “progressive” they make it stick. Their views dominate all reputable intellectual and cultural institutions. Judges feel free to read liberalism into fundamental law, even without historical or textual support, because it seems so obviously right.


Breaking from the PC prison

I’ve been reading the manuscript of Bruce Charlton’s forthcoming book on PC, Thought Prison, which grew out of posts and discussions at his weblog.

It’s a good book, I’m writing a blurb for it, and I hope it catches on.


Democracy and its discontents

I’ve been reading The Problem of Democracy, a new translation of a short book by the French writer Alain de Benoist.


Squared circles squared

My review of Daniel Mahoney’s recent book has provoked a response from Professor Mahoney, which appears (along with my rejoinder) in the current (March 2011) issue of First Things.


Squaring the circle

That’s the title of my review of Daniel Mahoney’s The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order: Defending Democracy Against Its Modern Enemies and Immoderate Friends in the current issue of First Things.


Pitch to a Gen-Y rightist

Over at Alternative Right I had a discussion with a participant who—like a lot of people who comment there—tended toward a sort of action-oriented tribal relativism. His basic thought seemed to be that social order doesn’t go very deep but comes out of crude drives plus choice, with this and that expedient added in to handle whatever particular problems come up.

Here’s the (not very successful) pitch I made, edited for concision and coherence:


Reason Defended?

[The following review appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Modern Age.]

The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, by Lee Harris (New York: Basic Books, 2007)

What do we make of radical Islam? Of Islam in general? Of the present state of the West? It is easier not to deal with such large questions, but events force them on us. Lee Harris wants us to take them very seriously indeed, since he believes that weaknesses of the liberal West make radical Islam a threat to its very survival. To avoid disaster, he believes, we need to abandon a great deal of fuzziness, insist on the unique value and fragility of liberal society, attend to considerations drawn from sociobiology and social Darwinism, and moderate the liberalism we want to preserve.



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