New Manifest Destiny
The end of industrialism and liberalism in America presents this opportunity, an Aristo-Tocquevillian regime; a new manifest destiny.
America needs to be reconquered.
In his book Common Good Constitutionalism, Adrian Vermeule writes that the common good is the flourishing of the political community, and the state, being the protector of it, has the authority to ensure its flourishing.1 One of the derivatives of this is that the state has the duty to protect the ordinary customs and traditions of the people from extra-jurisdictional and maligned private interests. This is exemplified by the rich traditional history of homesteads, mini-polis’, and farms that defined the existence of the United States in its early history. The United States used to protect and encourage this nation of farmers and laborers. However, it is now a nation of high-rises and concrete jungles that protects the interests of isolated and self-ambitious individuals and centralizes opportunity at the expense of the community. In essence, we in America lack the definition that land and community gave to us. What we need is a new exodus to the Midwest, one that is small “d” democratic in spirit. This spirit recognizes the needs and the natural dignity of the person and the community, furthering the common good.
This small “d” democratic spirit was best exemplified by Alexis de Tocqueville, who noticed that America avoided the extreme economic disparity in Europe for the simple reason that there was no wealth to be had or transferred in the new nation. Tocqueville wrote that “the immigrants who settled on the New England shores all belonged to the comfortably off classes of the mother country. Their gathering on American soil exhibited from the outset the peculiar situation of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither poor nor wealthy.”2 This middle-ing and condition of equality the pilgrims found themselves in is the same as the one Aristotle had hoped for in his mixed constitution, a regime that was neither for the few nor for the many, a regime that was aimed at the common good.
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When Thomas Jefferson saw through the Louisiana purchase, he had hoped to emulate this middling condition along with an appreciation of the land the new settlers inhabited. This is something British Philosopher Roger Scruton took note of: “Although guided by classical liberal philosophy…Jefferson believed social membership to be a part of liberty. He wished for an America of homesteads and settled communities, in which agrarian values would be properly respected and towns and institutions [were] built according to civilized principles.”3 The agrarian values Scruton notes of are this respect for the land and the duty one has to his family owed to this line of work (farming, typically). The expansion of settlers into the west was later termed Manifest Destiny.4 The crux of Manifest Destiny is proper, as it seeks to establish, or reestablish, a system of rule that is reminiscent of Christian communal life that once existed in Europe and pre-revolution America. Although, the overarching context for ordering such a political community is liberal in that there is no objective sense of how these communities should function or limits be imposed on them. That being said, the ordering principles of any political community, agrarian or otherwise, should be found in the common good.
This vision that Jefferson saw for America paired with the recognition of the current predicament of overcrowding and isolation in our cities, along with an increasingly hostile regime is reason enough to venture out west and re-found the country. Before preceding, however, the idea of seeing this as a retreat is misplaced. Rather, it should be seen as a reclamation of a rich tradition that was focused on the flourishing of the political and social order. Many on the right have been inclined towards this so-called “Benedict Option.” The Benedict Option posits that in order for Christians to avoid further cultural hostilities, we must retreat into private life and form our own, small, and isolated communities. The problem with the Benedict Option is that those who opt for it are still working within the confines of liberalism. The inclination towards exclusively forming localized communities in no way creates mutual benefit and spreads the faith but rather keeps in place the political order that forced them to retreat in the first place. Economist and friend to The American Postliberal Philip Pilkington wrote in a recent piece for the Postliberal Order that the only way of tackling this problem is mastering the market-state.5 He wrote that instead of “small self-sufficient Christian communities at the end of the Roman Empire, we got the Holy Roman Empire. Why is this? Because Christians took the Roman law and made it theirs.”6 In order to achieve a new, Aristo-Tocquevillian republic, one that is built upon Catholic-Christian values, we must use the state to clear a path for the citizens of this ailing republic to make for her a new manifest destiny.
This can be achieved by varying degrees, the most obvious would be to use eminent domain, not to create military bases or build nuclear silos, but to buy the land and sell it to families for their flourishing. Here, families will learn to work, build, farm, and contribute to the common good. Not only would this drain cities of over crowdedness, but it would also make for a more enriching and virtuous lifestyle, one defined by location and hard work, where all the virtues and facts of life are held in common within the close-community. Additionally, this would also bring about mental clarity. Much of work in centralized cities is defined by desk and laptop jobs which lead to burnout and a slew of other disorders.7 If burnout is the telos of careerism and ambition, then it is the political community’s mission to overcome this.
The postliberal way forward lies in our willingness and ability to use the state to foster a more communal and localized way of living. The end of industrialism and liberalism in America presents this opportunity, an Aristo-Tocquevillian regime; a new manifest destiny.
Vermeule, Adrian. Common Good Constitutionalism, (Cambridge: Polity, 2022), 36.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America, (New York: Penguin Classics, 2003), 42.
Scruton, Roger. Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, (New York: All Points Books, 2018), 34.
See John L. O’Sullivan.
See Phillip Pilkington, “Mastering the Market State” Postliberal Order. The corporate sector that operates on monopolistic market-based principles; the state bureaucracy that pursues goals through law and diktat.
Pilkington, Philip. “Mastering the Market State,” Postliberal Order, June 30, 2023, https://postliberalorder.substack.com/p/mastering-the-market-state.
See Byung Chul Han, Burnout Society.