Cosmos & Liberty
Before liberty, there must be order.
Politics is ultimately a question of power and order. Power is something conservatives, and perhaps all right-liberals, have trouble grasping. Power is not something that the left is unfamiliar with because the conglomeration of leftist ideology rests solely on critiques of established forms of power and political order; Marx and the superstructure; Foucault and biopower (biopolitics); Byung Chul-Han and psychopolitics.1 This does not mean to say postliberals are Marxist or Hegelian materialists, quite the opposite actually. While their critiques of liberalism come in handy, they fall short because they are still done in the name of an abstract and formless definition of liberty. Postliberals, on the other hand, critique the current order to combat the formlessness of liberalism, to re-establish classical forms of order. In short, order that is instructional.
Right-liberals cannot quite grasp questions of power or order because their ideology rests solely on critiques of established forms of power and they are the current established power.2 Above all, they idolize a gray, libertarian model of freedom. When postliberals rightly bring this to mind, right-liberals often refer to a quotation from the Founding Fathers or Ronald Reagan to justify “limited government” or an abstract “liberty.” What hurts the most is when they call us, “authoritarian despots who hate America!” on Twitter. I say that in jest, but by drawing on ancient, medieval, (some) modern political philosophers, theologians, and poets, we can begin to see that postliberals have a much clearer sense of the nature of government, statesmanship, and even that of the human and what it means to be free.
Thanks for reading The American Postliberal! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our mission.
When we draw on these classic and ancient texts, we only want what is best for America, that being, a more formal and instructional regime. Right-liberals admit this formlessness, tacitly, through their own language. Jefferson, in his Statute for Religious Freedom, says that there be no place for “civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time.”3
This vacuity and emotivist claim does not go altogether unnoticed either. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre writes that the “emotivist self naturally finds itself at home in a society that oscillates between arbitrary individualism and bureaucracy … one, where both are sovereign, antagonistic yet, in lockstep with each other.”4 MacIntyre also notes that this social condition is, “in the long term, intolerable.”5 MacIntyre writes that this condition will invariably lead to either a rebirth of the Aristotelian concept of ethics and ethical living or Nietzschean concepts of power and strength. The former being more appealing, especially since Aristotle held Politics to be the preeminent art (or science). Aristotle wrote that political philosophy is not to “take man for the sake of being a man but, rather, to be a good man” (Politics, 1258a 21-23). To be a good man is to have power over oneself in line with that of reason and the common good. This surface-level understanding would widen the right-liberal mind greatly.
Many of the right-liberal cries for freedom are the same that revolutionaries in France made in the late 18th century. In a recent article for the Postliberal Order, Political theorist Patrick Deneen pointed out that the centralizing messages and themes of liberty and freedom that right-liberals so often remind us of, are inadequate to meet the social problems that face us today and are similar to the calls that progressives make whether it be the expansion of rights, choice, or material gluttony.
This is all the more evident in the Freedom Conservative statement of “principles,” a statement that sees the perilous state Americans find themselves in exclusively economic and material terms. It is true to a certain degree, but as Aristotle understood, “wealth, like all other crafts, [must] have a limit.” Aristotle further noted that those disposed to this variation of thinking “[a]re preoccupied with living, and not living well.” (Politics, 1257b 33-42).
Like so many of us on the “right,” we are grasping to begin anew; a new conservatism, if you will. Right-liberals will often cite the philosophical godfather of conservatism, Edmund Burke, as a stalwart defender of the free market in its early days, especially as an admirer of Adam Smith. However, I should like to present an alternative; a realist way of looking at Burke. Burke was not so much concerned about economic rights or freedom of choice, but rather, how, or what is the best way of preserving order (an order) from what is genuinely a real threat to true and classical conceptions of liberty, which is not manifested in the market. Burke wrote, “the question of money was not with them so immediate … religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit.”6
Therefore, when we consider concepts like “ordered liberty,” we must do so in the order the words appear. Before liberty, there must be order. In other words, Christianity is the sole claimant of American liberty. American power, order, liberty, and our desire to live well ultimately lies in our and the political community’s propensity to establish limits and order.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a patron of our publication! Your enthusiasm and support means a lot to all of us at The American Postliberal — and we promise we’ll work hard for your investment in our project.
Although Byung Chul-Han critiques Neoliberalism extensively. To qualify him as leftist is unfair, and in this author’s opinion, degrades Han’s writing.
The French Revolution should come to mind.
Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, https://cas.umw.edu/cprd/files/2011/09/Jefferson-Statute-2-versions.pdf
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 35.
MacIntyre, After Virtue, 35.
Edmund Burke, Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, 1775, https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch1s2.html.