June 20, 2023


Patrick Deneen's Otherworldly Regime (JONAH GOLDBERG, JUNE 19, 2023, Religion & Liberty)

Deneen never adequately defines progress in Regime Change, but he is constantly throwing shade on the term. The left's belief in moral progress gave us wokeness and other horribles. The right's belief in material progress gave us everything from closed factories and climate change to anomie. As with his previous book, Deneen writes like a prosecutor, downplaying inconvenient facts and evidence in his brief--or leaving them out entirely--while pounding the table about damning circumstantial evidence and anecdotes.

Thus, looking back at some five centuries of rising life expectancy, exploding living standards, population growth, literacy, etc., Deneen could declare in Why Liberalism Failed: "Among the greatest challenges facing humanity is the ability to survive progress."

In this sequel of sorts, many of the familiar characters are once again in the dock, starting of course with John Locke. His Second Treatise on Government (1690) inflicted upon the world a new metaphysic of self-interest that in turn led to the corrosion of custom, tradition, and the classical political tradition Deneen prefers. Locke's "radical new definition of property that extended not only to material objects, but to ownership of self [italics his]," inexorably unleashed the execrable notion that rewarding merit should be considered a social good. "The liberal regime came into being not mainly to protect property rights--though that was an important political imperative--but to legitimate the ruling principle that would encourage the formation and ascendancy of the 'industrious and rational.'" This "progressive" innovation led to the invidious concept of merit and the "despotic" and "tyrannical" rule of today's "meritocracy."

John Stuart Mill made everything worse by declaring war on the authority of "custom," which let loose a kind of virus of the mind. Mill's call for "experiments in living" added an acidic libertinism, eroding the institutions necessary to a healthy order, and informs, at a metaphysical level, the morally bankrupt ideology of both the progressive-left and the classically liberal right.

Even poor Adam Smith is charged as a co-conspirator. His crime lay not so much in pointing out that the division of labor was essential for economic progress, but for saying that prosperity was worth pursuing at all. Smith acknowledged that the division of labor could "stunt the reflective capacities" of some workers who would increasingly specialize on specific stages of the means of production. But, Smith argued, the concomitant prosperity generated from such efficiency made it an acceptable trade-off. (Life expectancy in the U.K. when Smith was writing was about 39 years, and about a third to half of children didn't survive childhood.) But for Deneen, growing material prosperity for all wasn't worth it. Men, you see, lived much richer lives when they made more expensive pins from scratch by themselves in the isolation of their dimly lit workshops. (I do wonder why Deneen simultaneously laments the opening of factories in the 18th century and the closing of them in the 21st.)

The Right hates Progress because society diversified.

Posted by at June 20, 2023 12:00 AM