Many conservatives say that those darn progressives are making our country more collectivist. And one result is the growing culture of dependency. We’re getting further and further down that “road to serfdom.”
My own postmodern and conservative view is that the era of big government is more over than not. Not only that, collectivism is dead and progressivism is on life support, unless it’s the kind of half-libertarian techno-progressivism promoted by Silicon Valley. It’s not that the various new births of liberty have been chosen by Americans. They would, if they could, chose against the cutting back of Medicare and Social Security. They are, we might say, conservative in the precise sense, wanting to keep what they have, just as most of them would rather keep their excellent employer-based health insurance. But for a variety of reasonsbeginning with our demographic crisis, what we have now is unsustainable.
I tell young people that I have a two-point program for them to follow rigorously to save our entitlements. First, start smoking and really stay with it. Second, start having lots of babies, beginning today. If we continue our individualistic trend of living longer while generating fewer replacements, then there just won’t be enough young and productive people around to pay for the benefits of the old and unproductive ones. Social Security and Medicare depended on the demographics of the late Fifties and early Sixties. If men would keep dropping dead in their fifties while having three or more kids, Social Security could have been a Ponzi scheme with a kind of indefinite longevity.
We can also see that the imperatives of the 21st century global competitive marketplace overwhelm every effort to resist. Employer and employee loyalty have little future. Tenure is toast. So are unions and pensions. Every educational expert seems to agree that we have to reconfigure education to give students flexible skills that they can sell their labor piecemeal as independent contractors to whomever needs it at the moment. Those same experts say that the endlessly disruptive imperative of productivity will transform all of our institutions.
Are these changes good? Libertarians say yes, because liberty and prosperity are the bottom line, even if the prosperity isn’t shared by those who don’t earn it. Traditionalists and integralistsfollowers of Patrick Deneen and Alasdair MacIntrye and the Canadian George Grantsay no. America is a techno-productive wrecking ball that endlessly undermines the relational and communal lifethe orientation around family and friends, God and the goodthat make life worth living. We postmodern conservatives say yes and no. We’re happy to live in a free and prosperous country and not in an Aristotelian polis or a medieval village or even in a Benedictine monastery. But we’re getting more and more troubled about the way recent social and economic developmentssuch as jobless recoveries, the shrinking of the dignified and responsible middle class, the increasingly pathological family life of the bottom half of the middle class, the soaring number of single moms, the growing number of detached and irresponsible men of almost all ages, the coldness of our “cognitive elite” toward those not of their kind, and the atrophying of our mediating institutionsare emptying out the relational contents of our free, personal lives. Still, there’s plenty of good about living in America, as I see every day in the patriotic, familial, Christian, charitable, entrepreneurial, techno-savvy, honorable, violent, and leisurely South.
All this is a prelude to calling your attention to something I just wrote in response to a piece of libertarian complacency. It’s part of the great tradition of postmodern conservatism to shamelessly promote our work elsewhere.