(Intellectually) Leggy Blond
Here is the portion of Fraser Dreher quotes:
At the heart of Dr Blond’s political philosophy is an attack on liberalism, which, he argues, eats away at the common good. In promoting freedom and the rights of the individual as a means of warding off tyranny, liberal freedom ushered in an era of relativism that undermined any sense of values held in common. Liberalism won its battles at the expense of the old-fashioned type of communal solidarity that people remember when they speak fondly of the war years. Liberalism replaced communal values with empty atomised individualism, Dr Blond insists.
Behind this Red Toryism is the unmistakable hand of the theological movement Radical Orthodoxy, associated with people such as John Milbank and Rowan Williams. Dr Blond was a founder member, a former theology lecturer and committed Anglican. Like other members of Radical Orthodoxy, he was influenced by its compelling combination of modern communitarianism and much older Catholic social theology.
Though Fraser continues (and I think this deserves a quotation as well):
This is important stuff, and needs to be taken seriously. But I shall not be signing up just yet. While I recognise many of the failings of the liberal project — the current financial mess being among them — the enemies of political liberalism have yet to reassure me that they have an alternative account of human freedom which takes the threat of tyranny seriously. I do not need a political philosophy that is all about personal licence, but I do want one that has a proper vigilance against (to put it bluntly) fascism, both the secular and the ecclesiastical.
Dr Blond and I had lunch in Borough Market last week. As he tried to persuade me of the evils of liberalism, I could see out of the window the energy and diversity created by market trade. Free markets remain one of the most successful ways of hedging against tyranny. Until these new communitarians take the fear of tyranny much more seriously, I shall continue to take my chances with the traders, the Protestants, and the liberals.
This seems like a relevant discussion given that Postmodern Conservative is re-launching and Red Toryism certainly has to be in the running for a very valid form of a postmodern conservatism.
So here we have it laid out quite nicely by Fraser.
In terms of Fraser’s critique–tyranny–I think the communitarian response to the tyranny critique would be simply to throw back in the face of the accuser and question whether it isn’t the dominant form of market-driven liberalism that isn ‘t in its ways tyrannical (see the anti-terror statues passed in Britain under the New Labour banner). Or the extension of drone attacks by the US Democratic President deeper and deeper into Pakistan clearly against the democratic will of that country, given the old wink-wink nudge nudge by a government the US basically installed in that country. Or say the Torture Memos. Liberalism, de-tyrannize thyself maybe is the proper retort.
While Fraser is focused on possible communitarian tyranny, another criticism I think that needs to be answered by this crew is rather the opposite. Namely how is that neo-communitarianism doesn’t simply become another in the endless array of lifestyle choices in our late capitalist liberal society? How is that communitarianism (or Red Toryism or whatever the term d’jour is) doesn’t just become another option that some people who for whatever reasons (temperamental, family history, etc.) are just drawn to it?
Or as Ivan Kenneally has it:
Another issue that came up during our discussions: is part of the problem with cultural transmission today that our incessant talk about culture has reduced it to another item on the ever expanding menu of choice for the free, autonomous individual?
If so, then the liberalism that Blond decries would in that sense be even further embedded by co-opting the alternative communal lifestyle mode within its larger embrace. [By liberalism here is meant to cover social democratic liberals, free market libertarians, pro-business conservatives, etc.]
While Fraser’s tyranny critique has some legs (or at least could I suppose) I don’t think it is nearly as likely as the latter scenario. I think the co-option scenario is also far more of a sticking point for a Red Tory–how actually to overcome it? I’m not really sure I have an answer for my own question. Maybe our intelligent commenters or brother members of the League have some thoughts.
The only way I think that form of hegemonic liberalism of the kind Blond decries ever could be dethroned would be a structural matter. i.e. the decline/fall of the nation-state as the primary means whereby liberalism has been historically enacted (e.g. negative climate scenario/energy shock, collapse of the financial order???).
The best version of a communitarianism I can find (one that so far, though its very very early doesn’t show tyrannical aspirations) is the movement of transition towns/resilient communities. This movement is not a top-down led process via a large government. [Blond may have put in his affiliations with the wrong crowd??]. It’s hallmark is its more spontaneous formation and rather chaotic (in the scientific sense) way of being. Trying to enforce communal spontaneity is like commanding someone to relax: they will try to relax and therefore create tension/stress causing them to tense up.
If Red Toryism ever comes to power it needs to think long and hard about that paradox and whether there is a way not around it but perhaps through it.