Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Dionne on Obama: Conservative Values for Progressive Ends

E.J. agrees with some of our fine threaders that the real message of Obama’s address is that he will overturn the infantile individualism of the Reagan era. But it’s hard not to agree that the old and true virtues have been a quiet force for progress in our country’s history, and even that our time has been marked by a lot of infinite indivualism or creeping and sometimes creepy libertarianism. The practice of virtue, according to Pat Deneen, has been undermined by capitalism, consumerism, and so forth. According to others, it’s been undermined by big government. Now according to Tocqueville, there’s some truth to both those views. This leaves open the question of whether Obama’s "communitarianism" is statist or based more on restoring the personal responsibility--exercised mostly in small communities (such as churches and families)--that’s indispensable for the proper working of markets. The latter form of communitarism, after all, had a prominent place in Reagan’s rhetoric, at least, and the Gipper was far from blnd to the dangers of infantile indvidualism. I tend to think that Dionne (and our Pete) are right that Obama is brilliantly manipulating the conservative rhetoric of traditional virtues and religion to set the stage for a bigger and more intrusive state. But there’s also room to hope that his idea of change is at least more nuanced that that of the Progressives, New Dealers, and Great Society guys of our past.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Given President Obama's rhetoric, isn't it the job of people who think that personal responsibility is best exercised in small communities, and, I would add, in allowing us to be responsible for such things as paying for our own food, shelter and health care (as much as possible), to make that point repeatedly? Let's argue about what responsibility is, what citizenship is, etc.

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