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I recommend the recent reissue of Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community, which includes an excellent introduction by Ross Douthat. The book is a critique of both leftism and the right-liberalism (more “freedom,” less “equality”), so prevalent in today’s conservative coalitions, which the author considers to be an invitation to statism. People need their community, and they are willing to look to the state for it. Humans are, intractably, social creatures built for communion. So prevalent is the belief that an equal satisfaction of preferences is a high social good, and that the purpose of politics and morality is the working toward that supposed good, that Nisbet can be a bit of a shock. As this blog argues, liberalism is very insufficient to maintain social order. Freedom and equality as high principles can harm other realities necessary for social harmony. Even as it is very important to recognize the many strands of individualistic liberalism in modern American conservatism, critics of liberalism from both the “left” and the “right” could state: personhood (not the “individual”) is reduced by liberalism to subjectivity and ripe for manipulation by impersonal institutions and processes following their own, frequently status-seeking, logic. As such, the aspirations that inspired the founders of modern thought – the conquest of nature through science, perhaps even the conquest of human nature, and the emancipation of power from moral restraint – could be “achieved” at a great and unpredictable cost. Nisbet’s response is that community, culture, and family, which are intimately bound together, are ultimately about membership: a grouping partaking in a network of memory and “belonging” to one another. Far too many lifestyle choices and social, political structures shatter what the authentically familial would hold together – consumption and production, sensuality and fertility, freedom and virtue. Abstract, unrooted “freedom” is an invitation to loneliness and despair. Down with the statist-individualist symbiosis! It is through the many associations where a more fulfilling sense of freedom can be found.

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