Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Georgetown’s Pat Deneen Has a Blog!

It features a lot of writing by Pat Deneen. Well, that’s gotta be good. Pat’s latest posts give an excellent criticism of the Agrarians’ (or Crunchy Cons’) hostility to politics.

Discussions - 16 Comments

wrong link....

Here’s the link. Worth adding to your favorites.

Yeah thanks for the link to another crappy blog. I’m just glad that Agrarians out in Iowa have way more sway in the election than the politically lost bloggers here. Deneen’s criticism is shallow, and exactly what is to be expected from today’s recent crop of big government "conservatives," which seem to be quite dominant now in the academy.

Deneen tries to say that combining the idea that human nature is bad and the policy that limited (or no) government is best is contradicting. If humans are flawed, then we need government to fix us right? That is essentially Deneen’s great point. Conservatives that fight for small government are caught in this paradox.

Deneen misses the fact--conservative fact--that the patch for humans’ original sin is God not government. If we want a god-like government out perfecting man, Deneen’s the man. But if we want to admit our flaws and work through them as God fearing individuals, Deneen’s just another big government progressive pretending to be a conservative.

This is not to say that I and Agrarians (of which I am one) and Christians do not believe in the betterment of man. But we believe that it is an individual, not communal act. We need the Holy Spirit to become dead to sin and alive to goodness. Only the worst of secular liberals actually believe what Deneen is saying, that is the idea that government can and should replace God.

Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to "do their own thing" without the "interference" of politics and government. Deneen forgets that these are Christians who are wildly optimistic about Divinely Inspired Humans, not the original nature of man. So Agrarian conservatives are right--far more than Deneen will probably ever know.

Clint,

Would that almost any form of conservative be "dominant" (or even reasonably well-represented) in the academy!

As for the other claims you make, try reading a little more before you jump to conclusions about where Deneen thinks redemption lies. I’ll let him speak for himself, if he chooses, but I’m quite confident he doesn’t think it comes from government.

Finally, I wonder if you wrote with sufficient care when you said that "we [Agrarians] believe that [the betterment of man] is an individual, not communal act." No need for a church? Do you really mean that?

That will be good! BTW Pat, if you’re reading, I recently read your Perspectives piece from a few years ago on Avalon, It’s A Wonderful Life, American Beauty. What an awesome little essay...and on my own viewing I had missed that horrifying little clue about the graveyard in Wonderful Life...I’ll never look at that picture the same again.

Joe,

"we [Agrarians] believe that [the betterment of man] is an individual, not communal act." No need for a church? Do you really mean that?

Yes I do. Agrarians believe in extremely decentralized--or natural you might say--religion. They are overwelmingly Protestant and/or religious people who don’t even see the need to go to Church. The necessary orthodoxy that goes with any church is an unecessary violence to the Natural God...kind of like government is a violence to Natural man.

As for not reading deeply about what Deneen says, I have not read other works by him. I was only referencing the "excellent" blogs that were suggested to me by this blog. I thought if they were "excellent" they would generally stand up for themselves.

On that note, this is from his first blog critiquing Agrarians:

it was a community bereft of the idea that communities require more than just good feeling, but laws and institutions as well as the willingness on the part of citizens to work publically toward the formation and enactment of the public good and the recognition that such work will result in conflict. There was something of a gauzy sentimentality and even anarchic libertarianism that pervaded the sessions. As much as I admire Wendell Berry, his work does not sufficiently attend to the needs for, and demands of, politics. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between two camps that otherwise might be thought to be polar opposites - agrarian communitarians and libertarians. Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to "do their own thing" without the "interference" of politics and government.

Sounds to me like he is calling for government action/interference to fix our problems. Then there is this gem:

We face an enormous collective action problem - how to reorder our disordered society - and the people with the most discernment and understanding struck me as being the least likely to be able to make their case publically and especially politically. I believe that we can and must act locally, but that the problems and challenges we face are now global in scale. Ironically we must seek the help of larger scale and even more centralized governmental structures to help defend, preserve, and even restore locality. Do I think this is likely? No. But I think it’s necessary and at least worth attempting.

I’m sure Jefferson would agree that the only way to small government is through big government!

Clint, You and Jefferson really do disagree with Pat, and I’m inclined to think that the paradox expressed in your last paragraph is too questionable to be embraced. But I also think that anarcho-libertarianism characteristic of some Jefferson and lots of today’s Agrarians is just as questionable.

Clint,

I agree that churches are human institutions and hence flawed. But it seems to me to be botha kind of perfectionism and unreasonable confidence in one’s own capacity to avoid sin to stay away from them for that reason. Churches have resources for mutual rebuke, correction, and support that individuals don’t have.

And if you are serious about the individualism, then it seems to me that the logic of your argument would drive you in the direction of being a hermit and avoiding even the family.

Would Adam have sinned if he’d been left to his own devices? Can Adam and his successors actually be as alone and self-sufficient as you’d have them be?

Joe,

And if you are serious about the individualism, then it seems to me that the logic of your argument would drive you in the direction of being a hermit and avoiding even the family.

Would Adam have sinned if he’d been left to his own devices? Can Adam and his successors actually be as alone and self-sufficient as you’d have them be?

The family is a natural insitution for procreation, unless we want to get really Rousseauian (which I might be game for), so I don’t think that individualism demands an abondonment of all society. Society and government are not the same; Individuals can work together as family, friends, and just for mutual benefit without government being instituted. I think that is Locke’s state of nature. Now marriage is in someways leaving the pure state of nature, but I don’t think we should consider it as unnatural as government. Doesn’t your question imply that the marriage relationship or contract is the same as the social compact between man and government?

As to whether Adam sinned, it seems that he (and Eve) did sin (or at least disobey God) when left to their own devices. If there were no God to issue commands to Adam, sin might have been impossible, but since there is good there is also bad. Once Adam sinned, Christians believe that the fatal flaw of sin entered the world. How is this repaired? Jesus died and rose again to pay for sins, making it possible for man to be forgiven of sin. Also, by faith man receives the Holy Spirit, which replaces man’s original sin nature (dead to sin, alive to God/good) with a God-like nature. Christians still recognize bodily flaws, but I believe that the spirit of a Christian is fundamentally good. To rephrase Reagan, I would say that I believe in my heart that man combined with the Divine Spirit of God is fundamentally good.

In a way this makes me an opptimist and a progressive. I share with you and Deneen much pessimism on sinful man separated from God, but for Christian Human Nature I am much more opptimistic. Societies can progress in that the more Christian they are the better they will be.

How does this relate to Agrarians? Agrarian society is fairly small, and the community is traditionally homogenous in belief. Therefore, all believing in the same basic goodness of Christian man, they opptimistically believe in the ability of man as an individual and small group to do good. Agrarians view cities, and the "world" as less Christian, and therefore, becoming a part of the centralized society will harm their local virtue. Yes it is a type of isolationism.

But it seems to me to be botha kind of perfectionism and unreasonable confidence in one’s own capacity to avoid sin to stay away from them for that reason. Churches have resources for mutual rebuke, correction, and support that individuals don’t have.

Certainly we agree that human institutions are subject to flaws. I think that our disagreement lies in what the institution is. Churches can mutually rebuke and correct, but the church is not an institution but only the combined--dare I say general will--beliefs of each individual in the community. Does the individual make the church (and by extension society, and finally government), or does the Church (and society and government) make the individual. The ancients believed the latter, but Locke begins society with the compact of individuals. So Agrarians/decentralists/small government types think that it is not the Church/government rebuking, but rather the society of individuals rebuking another individual.

Lastly, if the whole is made by the individual, one thinks that the whole can never be greater than the individual. This is why to examine heroism we go back to the state of nature (westerns, cowboys, Cooper, etc.). I’ll leave go this too long defense of individualism until the next question. But I would appreciate an explanation on the difference between marriage and government.

Clint,

Too much to untangle here. I’d be disinclined to view my religion through the lenses of Locke and Rousseau, who aren’t exactly reliable or orthodox guides. And your ecclesiology is much too Lockian for my taste. I feel called to church, and don’t regard it as essentially a voluntary association of individuals.

Both Rousseau and Locke were philosophers, and so they made mistakes. Empirically, government is an emergent property, and it grows in size and complexity as the population group grows in size and complexity. In small groups, we have chiefs, shaman and family heads, in bigger groups we have kings, and finally in the largest groups we have whole bureaucracies. Government is as organic as any other social institution, and we shouldn’t burden ourselves with false dichotomies about the "state of nature." We are IN it as we speak.

I agree that the individualistic premises of the state of nature doctrine are unempirical. And Rousseau’s radicalization of Locke’s individualism is even less empirical. But there is support in Rousseau for the organic emergence of human order, but not enough--beause he doesn’t ground it in our natural gregariousness or sociability. To some extent, sociobiology does better...

If the state of nature doesn’t exist, what is Wyoming in 1860? The state of nature is real, although the state of nature is not pure individualism because men do exist in societies--but the key is there is no government. Government is not as organic as the family, see Locke, Rousseau, the Bible or even the settling of America.

Clint our only serious disagreement is about Wyoming, which I believe was American territory even in 1860.

An American territory does not mean it is not a state of nature. There is a state of nature wherever there lacks an executive, legislature and impartial adjudicator. I don’t think D.C in 1860 was sufficiently provinding these tools of government to WY circa 1860-1875.

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