Regime Change…in America?
In "Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future," Patrick Deneen extensively addresses the question that evaded him in his first groundbreaking work: What comes after liberalism?
“The end of liberalism [is] its replacement by another regime. Most people envisioning such scenarios rightly warn of the likely viciousness of any successor regime, and close to hand are the examples of the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of fascism, and Russia’s brief ﬂirtation with liberalism before the imposition of communism,” writes Patrick Deneen.1
As Deneen exemplifies, when one thinks of regime change, they typically imagine violence in some despot nation in south Asia or the Middle East. To consider regime change in the United States—the bastion of liberal democracy—is something else entirely. That is exactly what Patrick Deneen prescribes, however, in his newest work of political theory, Regime Change: Towards a Postliberal Future. In it, he addresses the question that evaded him in his groundbreaking work, Why Liberalism Failed: What is after liberalism, and more importantly, what change is necessary to accomplish it?
Deneen begins by reminding us that the postliberal way forward lay in the classical tradition among the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and Aquinas. In a world of liberal confusion and debate in exclusively Lockean and Millian terms, Deneen refreshingly grounds his study of politics in Aristotelian philosophy, starting with the mixed constitution. The mixed constitution theory holds that a mixing of the two distinct classes of citizens, the aristocracy and the populous, must take place to ensure social cohesion and solidarity. The mixed constitution is the union of these two distinct classes of citizens, seeking to blend the best characteristics of both classes: the people’s common sense and social and familial ties and the aristocracy’s virtue and learned leadership ability. Through this, the worst vices of each class would also be minimized. This regime is what Aristotle called “polity” and Deneen reminds us that if “mixed well enough, its citizens should seek to perpetuate the mixed form not because each side is merely biding its time until it can dominate the other side, but because none of the parts of the city generally would wish to have another regime.”2
This idea of unity is what reinforces Deneen's entire work. In America, we view our republic exclusively in terms of competing political, economic, and social interests. On the contrary, the regime that Deneen describes is what is most likely to have the common good to its core by focusing on the unity of the two classes rather than their division. This is a healthy and necessary measure for the politics of today. With liberalism and its emphasis on separation, politics is in a constant state of disorder, whereby Americans are constantly debating what branch of government is best representative of the people, often switching at a moment's notice with the latest Supreme Court decision.
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This discord, for Deneen, can only remedied by the mixed constitution and a movement of “aristopopulism” which has the the common good as its end. This latter half of this term is most evidenced today under the post-2016 populism that has emerged after the election of Donald Trump. What this populism lacks, however, is its own respect for aristocracy. American populism is now defined by political vanity rather than an actual common good with a clear direction. The only way for this movement to truly arrive in power is if it is under the direction of an elite distinct from today's liberal leadership class and the people. In other words, this is an elite worthy of the title aristocrat, directing the populist sentiments of the people. Hence, we arrive at aristopopulism.
This elite will be defined in its ability to “supply, encourage, and fortify the cultural needs of the ordinary people from the top down.”3 Aristopopulism is the mixed constitution in practice. With all this being said, how do we replace today’s liberal elite with a virtuous one? This is where Deneen makes his most radical prescription: the use of the state power, or what he calls: “Machiavellian means to Aristotelian ends.”4 The use of state power is now the only way for the populace to make the elites aware of its needs, and if ignored, replaced. Populist movements should thus come into power not with the unnatural desire to destroy aristocracy, but to foster its natural and virtuous development. Per Aquinas, the law should be oriented towards the common good, and it should be promulgated through a ruling class that has the care of the community at heart. According to Aristotle, this is why the state exists: to achieve the good life for all. Many will inevitably ask, what is the good life? It is ultimately one that is reflective and philosophical, but with the action required to allow all to share in what is good.
For Catholics in particular, much has been left to the dust for how to achieve a philosophical life. The best way to revive this need is through a life of prayer and its integration into the common wheel. For many conservatives, a virtuous life is only achieved through private acts and only attending church on Sundays. This is not enough for Deneen. A full integration of philosophical Catholicism is needed in society, beginning with prayer, and eventually leading us to realize a more virtuous and humble society, aware of our interdependent needs and our ultimate end that is God.
This culture of prayer, reflection, and Catholic charity is how Deneen also addresses the nature of a multiracial working class that is being constantly pitted against one another for the benefit of an elite subservient to only themselves. This is his most distinct and clear call to action and the liberal ruling class should quake in its boots at the thought of this mobilization. Our current regime is on its deathbed. Liberalism has failed. This book will reignite an interest in classical works of political philosophy and influence a new generation of political theorists, philosophers, and lawmakers willing to take on the challenges our country and world faces. This next generation of thinkers will have to foster a regime that can deal with the fallout from the old one.
A few of us at The American Postliberal had the pleasure to attend an event and early book-launch for Regime Change, in which we were able to hear Dr. Deneen speak on many of these topics. Deneen spoke about the profound amount of gratitude and hope he had by the presence of young people and his former students in the audience. Evidently, men like Deneen and his colleagues have borne this movement, but it will be this new and present generation that completes their vision and what they started. The main takeaway from the event was just how radical this read was going to be, and if it is radical to ask for a reimposition of order and virtue in a republic that desperately needs it, I gleefully endorse the measures Deneen proposes in Regime Change.
Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future can be purchased here.
Patrick J. Deneen, Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future (New York: Sentinel, 2023).
Regime Change, 127.
Regime Change, 230.
Regime Change, 167.