Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Do Crunchy Cons forget we're Aliens in America?

I mentioned in an earlier post that leading Front Porcher Patrick Deneen and Postmodern Conservative's Peter Lawler would be speaking here in Dallas. They both gave spirited talks, which I won't try to summarize here; instead, I'll focus on some questions I was able to ask them during Q&A.

To Professor Deneen, I asked, "You have written that Modern Liberalism is the logical fulfillment of Classical Liberalism, but the Progressives of the 20th century (Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey) explicitly rejected the Founders' vision. For instance, they cite Hegel and Darwin in opposition to the Founders.

Deneen answered that both schools of thought had in common the Cartesian/Baconian project of the "conquest of nature" for the "relief of man's estate." American Conservatives follow Classical Liberals and are hostile to the Green concern for the environment because they think it undermines our ability to harness or manipulate nature to make our lives more comfortable e.g. driving pollutant producing SUV's. But they draw the line when it comes to biotechnology e.g. stem cell research, because they see HUMAN nature as untouchable. Modern Liberals see this line as arbitrary and so complete the Baconian project by trying to re-design human nature as well.

Deneen believes the only solution is to return to a more holistic view of nature, one which respects the both the environment and mankind. While Deneen does not self-identify as a "Crunchy Con" one can see why Rod Dreher is a fan of the Front Porch.

I then asked Lawler if he thought the American Conservative's positions on the environment and biotechnolgy were compatible and he answered emphatically YES! Conservatives are right to see human nature as distinct from nature as a whole. The Na'vi might be one with nature, but human beings are not. We are not the missing piece to the Earth's puzzle. Indeed, Lawler believes our restlessness is a clue to who we are. And shopping at Whole Foods or participating in an agricultural coop will not resolve our restlessness. Our awareness that we are homeless, that we are "lost in the cosmos", is a sign of our distinctiveness.

Dreher and other Crunchy Cons blame the modern capitalist system for ruining the environment and thus our ability to enjoy it. They want to return to a pre-modern past in which we can frolic in an idyllic garden. Lawler thinks this is selective nostalgia because Crunchy Cons forget how back backbreakingly difficult agricultural life was back then. Nature is not as beneficent as the Na'vi claim. But more importantly, the real cause for our misery is not the product of a particular political/economic system; it is simply an aspect of the human condition itself. Echoing Augustine, the Postmodern Conservative believes human misery can only be managed, not solved.

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