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Dec 29, 2021Liked by Titus Techera

It IS our word, and I find anti-liberal conservatives who are ready to surrender it almost as insufferable as progressive nationalists like Obama who claim it as their own. Good for you to defend it,Carl

For me, I have always found W. Wilson's view that democracy and socialism are identical in theory, (i.e., "men as communities are supreme over men as individuals") a helpful way to distinguish the false view of democracy from our own. (W. Wilson, "Socialism and Democracy")

Like Deneen and McWilliams, Wilson wants democracy uninfected by individual rights. But Wilson seems to get it: so long as democracy is understood as grounded in the rights of individuals, rights the Founders understood as protecting needs/activities that transcend "the city", the limitless communitarian nationalism progressives like Wilson associate with democracy will be resisted as long as there are human beings. ("The road to serfdom never leads to serfdom," Lawler's familiar refrain)

BTW, I think the proper way to read Lawler's last book, indeed all of his books, is as an attempt to provide evidence, in America's founding docs and subsequent behavior, pointing to these transpolitical needs, which he says are located in our limited and created existences as equal persons. Even if Jefferson's private, atheistic materialism prevented him from taking this foundation or these needs seriously -- and in grad school I watched Lawler argue precisely this point on an APSA panel with Tom West -- so what; he put it there, at least the acknowledgement, in the Declaration for all to see. Natural rights (or limited democracy) should still be taken seriously. So long as we preserve its truthful foundation, it need not be confused with Barnett's limitless libertarianism or as somehow leading to Rorty or Obama's progressive nationalism.

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If you find any of that gibberish worth replying to Carl, please address it to Ric Flair. The Nature Boy took over my body when I posted that! Whoa! . .

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Well the line suggesting that McWilliams and Deneen want to kick individual rights out of the best conception of democracy is incorrect, and I bristle at any associating of them with Wilson, whom I heartily hate. (Cc. Croly--his ideas I oppose, but I don't find myself hating the man!) But other than that--oh maybe you're a tad hard on Barnett, but conservatives need to be wary of him--this is a great comment! And I'm glad you get my basic idea on embracing the term "democracy."

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Jan 4, 2022Liked by Titus Techera

Set me straight on McWilliams, always a good read. It seems pretty clear to me he preferred the "socialist" democracies of Puritan America over the Constitution's "technological republic." Lawler says somewhere McWilliams never succumbed to the "Thomist temptation" of looking for a synthesis between the two. He might come close in the essay on Nathaniel Niles' Protestant Prudence to accommodate rights, but I don't see it. Like most Straussians (and Wilson) McWilliams blames natural rights for leaving behind a "negative" apolitical view of liberty, no?

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There's a lot to address here, Brad. You take us into some of the deepest waters. First of all, I'm not sure where your quotes are coming from, but "socialism" or "socialist," are never, as far as I am aware (ditto for his books' indexers), pulled out as positive terms in McWilliams's writings, and he would surely have objected, as I do, in describing the Puritan townships as socialist. Second, McWilliams never really subjects his use of the Anti-Federalists and of the New England townships to serious contrafactual analysis, say, along the lines of wondering whether a Constitution more friendly to his Alternative American Tradition could have been devised and adopted, but he does admit the basic necessity of America being a nation (albeit with some federalism) and not a confederation here and there. Third, McWilliams does defend a number of the basic individual liberties of America, but not in a systematic way. He also has a passage or two where he insists that the AFs would oppose xenophobia, which points to his appreciation--which we notice everywhere in his writings--of some degree of organic "pluralism," despite his hostility to ideological touting of pluralism. Fourth, while I have not read his Niles essay in a while, a lot rides on what we're understanding what Lawler meant by "succumbing to a 'Thomist temptation' of synthesis between natural rights and natural law" if I may formulate your suggestion in that way. Consider in this light Founding-defending Thomism-friendly thinkers, such as the con-law scholar Christopher Wolfe (not our CJ), who wrote a book touting Natural Law Liberalism, which rides on discerning a broad family of liberalisms. If you know of Wolfe's work there, would that be an example of the kind of succumbing you have in mind? Or what do you think Lawler had in mind?

One tricky thing here--and this has to be addressed before we even get to the question of trying to place McWilliams--is laying out the key differences between a position like Wolfe's, and one like Lawler's, which is sort of a "one cheer for Lockeanism" position, that leaves us nondogmatic about Lockeanism, but appreciative in part, and not suggesting that American can move beyond it (as the bad title of Deneen's good book suggests). Or how would you describe Lawler's position on Locke/natural rights? We can say that it is not a basic East Coaster view of the kind that permits the slamming of mainstream Americanism a la McWilliams, that's for certain, but here it looks as if you're curious about the side of McWilliams that is less than fully anti-Lockean and anti-Publius, or at least, to put it in Sam Adams terms, less than fully in favor of "Puritan Spartas."

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Titus Techera, Carl Eric Scott

Well, one difference I see, and this is based on my rather limited reading of McWilliams, is his view that the Constitution is based on a purely technological view of reason and freedom. The gist of his argument in "America as Technological Republic," from which one of my quotes comes, is that the trust the framers (mis)placed in devices like the sep of powers and a large commerical republic, and not in the traditional "moral or religious motives," stems directly from their liberal view of equality and liberty (i.e., the "negative" liberty of detached "masters" or "sovereigns.") This "strategy of detachment," as McWilliams calls it, to turn family men and engaged citizens into "tepid patriots" and away from the "antecedent propensities" of traditional political life, was again based on the Founders' "modern" or Enlightment view that individual liberty has no natural or spiritual object or end. As you point out, McWilliams pretty much accepts the Eastern Straussian "low" but not-so-solid view of the founding, in his case for the sake of drawing out the contrast with Calvinist Christianity rather than classical political philosophy.

I could pause here and point out the striking similiarities with Wilson's earlier attack on the Constitution's "Newtonian" technology and Whig theory of "political dynamics" which, again, like McWilliams, Wilson traces back to the founders' radically individualistic view of liberty. I'll just leave it at saying that I think the real secularization in America occurs in Wilson's "socialist" view of democracy, not in the premises responsible for the founders' liberal democracy as McWilliams and Straussians like Pangle and Zuckert contend.

So what's different about Lawler? Well, as you say, deep waters. On the surface, given Lawlers repeated objections to any sort of civil theology we can't quite call his endorsement of Murray's "better than they knew" or Brownson's "providential" Constitution as aiming at some sort of Thomist synthesis either, despite the chapter bearing the name in that last book with Reinsch. Lawler doesn't go as far, say, as Tom West, in claiming that Puritan theology approaches the truth the closer one gets to the Declaration (i.e., the more American Protestants wrestled with the experiences of arbitrary rule). But Lawler breaks with Zuckert, the Eastern Straussians, and McWilliams too; the Declaration and Constitution do NOT represent a secularization. Read properly, or "in full" neither document encourages the kind of technological reasoning that is responsible for the detached individual's indifference to politics or acceptance of the scientific management of every freakin' detail of life. Americans have never really had "flat souls", and their behavior, more than their Lockean theory, shows what's irrevocably true about human equality and liberty, the meaning of which is where the real debate between say Lawler and West is at!

There's much much more to say . . . For instance, Lawler's admission that Christianity does in a way help pave the way for Locke's proto-historicism (i.e., the idea that man is partly free from nature), which is why the moderns might have "built better" too, and prevent us from going back (with Strauss) to Aristotle (in-full) . . . Would enjoy to continue this . . .

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I think I agree with all this, and find it quite helpful.

Apropos of nothing other than needing to get it off my chest, McWilliams is awful on Hamilton. Like a caricature of East Coast. I'm less defensive about his nearly-parallel offenses against Madison's honor.

I also think we should continue this, but I'm thinking it might be enjoyable enough, a serve a more public and-Lawler-honoring purpose, if we were to make it a series of Pomocon posts on Lawler and the Founding. Let me know if you'd be interested, carl DOT eric DOT scott at gmail. But if you want to keep riffing here, go right ahead.

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Thanks, Carl. Sounds like a great idea. I’ll reach out by email tomorrow.

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