Notes on a Dangerous Mistake

Several groups of rightwing intellectuals hover around the Republican Party, defending a stark conservatism. But there is a very different group, definitely rightwing, that is equally disdainful of Republican conservatives and Democratic progressives — who are all at bottom, its members insist, liberals: classical free-market liberals or egalitarian liberals, it’s all the same. These ideological outliers call themselves “post-liberal,” and they aim at a radical transformation of American society. Their overweening ambition is based on a fully developed theology, Catholic integralism, but the political meaning of this theology has not yet been fully worked out or, better, not yet revealed. A small group of writers, mostly academics, constitute what they hope, and I hope not, is the vanguard of a new regime and a Christian society. They have mounted a steady assault on liberal individualism and the liberal state, but so far they haven’t had anything like enough to say about life in the post-liberal world — not enough to warrant a comprehensive critique.  So here, instead, is a series of critical vignettes dealing first with the style of post-liberal writing as displayed in the work of Sohrab Ahmari and then with the strange version of world history that Patrick Deneen asserts but never defends. My own defense of liberalism comes later, along with a critique of recent post-liberal writing on the Ukraine war and some worries about the cautiously reticent, but sometimes ominous, description of the post-liberal future that can be found in the books of Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule. For now, I ignore all the other post-liberals. Sohrab Ahmari, the leading non-academic among the post-liberals, makes his argument for “the wisdom of tradition” through stories of great men; only one woman and one married couple are included in the twelve chapters of his book The Unbroken

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