Just a quick post to note that this Michael Gerson column (making an argument that I’ve seen before from him) appears to be a preview of his new book. If he’s right about the two predominant strands of American conservatism, then it’s an amalgam of tho ways of thinking that aren’t, strictly speaking, "conservative." I suppose that I don’t have to argue for the essential unconservatism of libertarianism, which subjects every relationship to the acid bath of interest.
But Roman Catholic social thought isn’t quite conservative either, especially in its "catholicity." (Just ask the ancient Romans.) At the same time, I do think that its emphasis on natural law (implying a created and rationally apprehensible order) and on subsidiarity (which offers a great deal to "civil society") make it the best candidate for a conservatizing foil to the promethean individualism expressed by libertarians and the promethean collectivism (a little too strong, but I can’t think of a better expression at the spur of the moment) of contemporary liberals.
By contrast, "genuine" conservatism must be local and--I know this will provoke--polytheistic. (The Romans had that right.)
Update #2: Answering Jonah G. requires more time than I have right now (as I’m between classes--moving from Aristotle to Livy--and then have a meeting and another class--Plato’s Republic; this semster is brutal). I’ll say only this for the moment: it’s the tension between classical liberalism and Christian (especially Catholic) social thought that gives contemporary American "conservatism" its peculiar flavor. Yes, liberals can also borrow from Catholic social thought, especially regarding the social welfare-style ends, but their unlimited secular statism can’t be justified on Christian/Catholic grounds.
Update #3: There’s more piling on over at The Corner, but I think Gerson would agree with David Freddoso’s point about CST, which lines up well with the Gerson/Bush "ownership society." Our friend RC2 weighs in, using one word--"subsidiarity"--that Gerson knows but doesn’t mention and another--"federalism"--that also seems to get short shrift from MG.
One interesting effort to deal with the tensions between (classical) liberalism and "Christendom" can be found in this initiative undertaken by our friends at ISI; this book, in particular, ought to be of interest.
Stated another way, Catholic and Christian social thinking can learn a thing or two from classical liberalism, especially about the (limited) roles of choice and markets, but everyone has to remember that what we’re talking about is a political economy that is in the service of households that ought to have ends other than wealth maximization.