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Mr. Poulos has nicely framed the point of “Postmodern Conservatism” in a capacious and open-ended fashion, and Prof. Lawler has filled in some essential content in such a way as to compel my complete assent, as usual. Of course there is something a little ironic at the outset in the conjunction of the two terms, an irony enhanced by the now retro-avant-garde flavor of the term “postmodern.” These ironies invite a certain playfulness that might help to relieve the pressure we feel in assuming the daunting, world-historical task of figuring out what conservatism might be, and what might ground it, in an age in which the massive blindspot of technological reason is all too evident, but there is no authoritative alternative (revealed or otherwise) readily available. Which of course includes the task of figuring out just what it is we wish to “conserve,” and why.

In that playful world-historical spirit, I propose a new and improved version (always just a draft, of course) of my Postmodern Conservative Manifesto. In order to achieve absolute clarity or to attempt philosophical intimidation, I have found it useful to adopt the rigorous analytical style of indentation-by-numbering. This of course is a working draft, meaning that I am capable of something infinitely more brilliant and complete, if only I were granted infinite time (and brilliance) to work with.

In the likely event that you, dear reader, lose patience, just skip directly from 1. to 2. to 3., and you may grasp my overall point, such as it is.

1. Modern reason has become tyrannical.
1.1 Modern reason is essentially technological, and has been, (somewhat) deliberately, from the beginning (as in Descartes and Hobbes, for example).
1.1.1 “Technology” refers to the deliberate suppression of the question of the good, the liberation of means from ends.
1.1.2 “Somewhat”: Martin Heidegger underestimates the deliberate, political character of the technological turn, understanding this turn rather as a fated devolution of Plato’s idea of truth, via Christian “ontotheology,” of course.
1.1.3 Conversely, Leo Strauss overestimates, or pretends to overestimate, the deliberate, political character of modern reason, and thus its exemption from Christian hope. Strauss clearly does not find the modern understanding of reason adequate. Still, in order to sustain the possibility that a human being – a political philosopher, to be precise — can assume responsibility for “the question of the good society” without “deferring to History or any other power different from his own reason” (What is Political Philosophy, end of section I), Strauss must generally suppress a possibility he occasionally and very discreetly acknowledges, namely, that modern reason is not a fully deliberate or self-knowing project, but an attempt, derivative of Christian hopes, to enact meaning in history.
1.2 The tyranny of modern, technological reason in its “totalitarian” form (as in Marxism-Leninism) is now well understood and widely recognized: when power is justified in terms of an “end” – the remaking of humanity – that is ungrounded and fundamentally incoherent – then power becomes its own, end-less and limitless justification, and humanity is all but eclipsed. (cf. Koestler’s Darkness at Noon).
1.3 Less well understood or recognized is the tyrannical potential of a purely rationalized liberalism that quietly and by degrees crowds out our ability to articulate and defend our humanity. (Tocqueville and C.S. Lewis, for example, are very alert to this potential.)
1.3.1 An example of this creeping tyranny within liberalism of technological reason: President Obama’s casual dismissal of religious and moral concerns about biotechnology by deferring to the authority of amoral science itself.
2. Reason Rules, of necessity. Short of the direct divine rule or the revelation of a law so authoritative and comprehensive as to relieve us of the need for human rule, we humans must accept our political condition as essential to our humanity.
2.1 Of course in fact we are ruled more by accident and force (Federalist 1) in various forms than by reason. So by the “rule of reason” I mean the necessity that our responsible actions, directly political and otherwise, be guided by the best understanding of ends and means and limiting conditions (accident and force) we can achieve.
2.2 This is the truth of Strauss’s rejection of any power other than reason (above
2.3 But how can reason assume such responsibility? What “good” can ground the rule of reason?
2.3.1 To reject the question of the good in order to embrace technology (modern “reason”) is not rational and therefore not morally or politically responsible.
2.3.2 To reject the question of the good by arguing that this question leads to the reduction of Being to technology is to reject the human condition and its responsibility. [insert discussion of Heidegger] To abandon reason in favor of a “thinking” attuned to a hope for the advent of new gods is also irresponsible and inhuman. [insert: Strauss is right vs. Heidegger]
2.3.3 Leo Strauss’s proposal: reason as classical philosophy can ground itself in its own activity. [insert discussion of Strauss]
2.4 But the good of philosophy depends (intrinsically and not only instrumentally) upon practical (political-moral-religious) goods. [insert critique of Strauss’s project]
2.4.1 Practical goods are always a compound of vertical or “aristocratic” and horizontal or “democratic” elements of transcendence. [See Tocqueville] Vertical or aristocratic transcendence is rooted in given, concrete and authoritative practices and hierarchies; it is at home in such practices and hierarchies. Horizontal or democratic transcendence is inspired by dissatisfaction with given practices and hierarchies; it longs for another home.
3. Postmodern (and post-Straussian post-Heideggerian) Conservatism must be grounded in the intrinsic goodness and rightness of a fully self-aware ruling responsibility, solicitous of both vertical and horizontal transcendence, yet not simply subservient to either, thus both proud and humble. This is the awareness and the disposition that must be cultivated in order relieve modern technological rationalism of its incoherent ruling ambitions.

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