Plumb Lines

March 11, 2009

Radical Son

Filed under: Uncategorized — Keith Staples @ 10:55 am

The “leftmost. . . by far,” David? That seems to be overstating the matter. I think my dislike of the liberal order is quite as intense as yours. I do hesitate to call myself a leftist, though, because of the historical associations with socialism. I don’t mean so much that I don’t want to be associated with Stalin (though naturally I mind that, too) but rather that I don’t want to be associated with any political theory that gives a major role to the modern bureaucratic state. My hostility to the state is what allows me to pass for a “conservative” (even a libertarian), but there is so little I want to conserve. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are modern, continental terms born of a political culture that takes the modern state for granted. They represent different opinions on what this state should do. But I would rather not have such an opinion at all. I would rather dismantle the state.

It would be nice to claim the honorable title of “reactionary,” but real reactionaries (like the bracingly extreme de Maistre) must be fighting to defend some threatened order, but I think liberal modernity has been wholly triumphant and now is the status quo in the West that most “conservatives” (whether they know it or not) are defending. “Radical” seems more accurate. It’s a term with a long career in English political language that bears properly apocalyptic associations.

-Keith Staples



  1. I have no doubt that your opposition to the modern bureaucratic order runs as deep as mine, Keith, and our radicalism, such as it is, is shared. “Left” still makes some sense for me and not thee, though. I think as a prudential matter that since the United States isn’t going to become an anarcho-localist/urban-distributist paradise, we should move in a welfare-statist direction, with all the caveats about protecting subsidiarity, etc. Presumably you disagree with this judgment?

    Comment by David Schaengold — March 12, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  2. But I tend to think due concern for subsidiarity is simply incompatible with welfare statism. Add hoc government programs, perhaps, but a general enthusiasm for government intervention will, I fear, lead to paternalism, incompetence, and corruption in the long run. Though I suppose this is always an empirical question in the end.

    Comment by Keith Staples — March 12, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  3. I’m left, you’re right, she’s gone:

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — March 12, 2009 @ 9:07 am

  4. In the long run, I agree with you, Keith. However, I’d suggest that the welfare state represents an incremental improvement over our current position, even vis-a-vis subsidiarity, over and above the improvement it represents in giving a preferential option for the poor, etc. State bureaucracies, if well constructed, can flummox and counteract private bureaucracies, which exert a subtler and much more powerful influence over our daily lives. And I do think it’s possible to have a state with a strong national safety net and also a healthy enthusiasm for localism and non-state collective enterprises. Switzerland, for instance, has heavy-handed national regulations that distort retail markets in favor of small, locally owned shops.

    Comment by David Schaengold — March 12, 2009 @ 9:21 am

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