There’s a joke that circulates among evangelical circles about Presbyterians. The joke asks why Presbyterians don’t raise their hands during worship. The answer: because they’re afraid God will call on them. There appears to be a similar rule when it comes to blogs which is that if you enjoy spending your time among the discussion threads throwing ripe fruit at the talent, eventually the management is going to get annoyed and ask you to get up on stage and prove you can do better. In this particular case Professor Lawler with the aid of some nudging by Robert Cheeks constitutes the management. So my sincere thanks goes to both Peter and Mr. Cheeks for their generosity, and if there are any here who find anything I write in anyway questionable, please feel free to forward all complaints to those two gentleman.
It seems serendipitous to be, at this of all times, entering the ranks of contributors to First Thoughts (Postmodern Conservative Division). One of the greatest projects of liberal statist religion has been in the process of a slow motion mugging by reality and, as the president might say, it offers us all an opportunity for “a teaching moment”. This is a good thing, but certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. Discerning critics need to be precise, even surgical, in how they speak to the failures on display right now in the world, not just with respect to policy, but more importantly to culture. To this end, a lot of great stuff is being written here speaking precisely to that need. For my part, I look at the last few decades and find the sustaining appeal of statism to be the most interesting feature. Fascinatingly, despite the evidence, the western world came out of the 20th century with the lesson that bigger and more intrusive government is better. Granted this is never how it is advertised, and disingenuous messaging mixed with a dose of intellectual conceit appears to be a big part of its political success. But regardless, the attraction seems to stick despite the practical historical circumstances.
As we are learning now, despite events like the Obamacare rollout, there remains to be made to the public a compelling positive case for thoughtful conservative alternatives, and I submit that an important part of making that argument is to better understand the nature of the appeal of these grandiose public programs that seem to punctuate our political history every generation or so (or every eight years depending on your interpretation of the previous Bush administration). My suspicion is that this appeal has little to do with the typical American’s notion of what is good policy.
There are some who see the liberal statist project as a kind of culmination of the Christian ideals of compassion and social justice. For those of us on the other side of the policy aisle it’s difficult not to instead think of the spectacle once on display before Moses, of Hebrews dancing around a golden calf thought to be Yahweh. To be sure there are idols on both sides of the aisle and we Postmodern Conservatives have, I think, been distinguished as among those whose contributions have helped navigate through the various clichés and talking points that typify the political idols of our time, both left and right. If this country is ever going to achieve a view of policy and culture in light of their actual, rather than deified, purposes it will be because of contributors like those on this blog.
I’ll add here that a helpful touchstone for my thinking has been the conviction that Augustine was ultimately right that human beings live with a God-sized lack in their souls. One consequence of this is that much of the absurdity that characterizes human behavior suddenly becomes explicable when understood as the characteristic symptoms of a creature attempting to find a remedy by means other than acknowledging the true nature of that absence. Much of what passes today for ideological visions of a better future, as well as the vindictiveness directed at believers of different political stripes, I view as like those passionate disputes between spouses about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Ultimately, the argument has nothing to do with the dishes. There are passions at work that go far deeper than the subjects the various parties believe themselves to be arguing about.
To this end it seems to me what may be helpful is a kind of anthropology of ideology - an investigation into why the public appears to gravitate so readily to theories of government as a meta-placebo for the problems of existence. And here I hope to add to the very important discussions occurring on this blog and look forward with great enthusiasm to engaging with my fellow threaders in the discussion threads.
Hopefully I’ll also learn to duck when appropriate as well.
* In a Solomonic gesture, the author has chosen to forgo his first name, Michael, and replace it with his middle name, Forfare, in an effort to preempt any further confusion with the prestigious professor from Sarah Lawrence College, Michael Davis, or for that matter the socialist writer from Southern California by the same name, or any other members of the large Michael Davis demographic that may be out there. We are legion