Some Remarks Concerning Right and Left

As I noted, I’m about to embark on an extended critique of modern political theory and partly that which founds the US. An extended quote might serve to motivate this a little more (from Bertrand De Jouvenel: Conserative Liberal & The Illusions Of Modernity (Library of Modern Thinkers) pp 53-54):

Contemporary academic political theory, expecially in the United States, is dominated by a largely sterile debate between liberals and communitarians. Academic liberals affirm the moral autonomy of the individual and the priority of rights over a commonly shared understanding of the good life. To a remarkable degree they take for granted the moral preconditions of a free society — those habits, mores, and shared beliefs that allow for the responsible exercise of individual liberty. Raymond Aron’s forecful retort to Hayek applies equally to other currents of academic liberal theory: they “presuppose as already acquired, results which past philosophers considered as the primary objects of political action.” Contemporary liberals fail to see that “a society must first be, before it can be free.”

Communitarians, in contrast, insist that human freedom must be nurtured in the context of a community marked by shared value and aspirations. On closer inspection, however, most communitarians turn out to be political liberals with a bad conscience: they are more or less conventional liberals who regret the individualism of a market society and yearn fo the communal warmth and participatory politics that supposedly characterized an earlier era of “republican” politics. With the discrediting of Marxism in the late 20th century, communitarianism allowed intellectuals to distance themselves from liberal capitalism while avoiding any open identification with socialist idealogy. Rarely however, do communitarians endorse those tough-minded political measures (e.g., support for traditional family, public encouragement of religion, unequvical oppostition to abortion on demand) that would be necessary to sustain traditional moral communities against the pressures deriving from rights-based jurisprudence and the ethos of personal liberation. The muched tumpeted liberal-communitarian debate turns out to be, for the most part, an in-house controversy among those who refuse to question either the core theoretical assumptions of modernity or the reigning prejudices of the academic class.

That is to say, both the libertarian (or other rights based) discussions of political theory as well as the socialist “communitarian” side are both equally flawed, in that they have both taken preconditions to their argument which are flawed. The essay “points” on which I plan to expand in the series mentioned earlier is in some measure sparked by the observations above, for Jouvenel it seems has a serious critique of modern conservative and liberal thinking and is well worth exploring in more depth.

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  1. […] suffer from the accusation of being non-serious and ivory tower theorists. A bit ago, I had quoted Mahoney: Contemporary academic political theory, especially in the United States, is dominated by a […]