There is a cultivated perversity about the entire common-good, postliberal project. The liberal order, as it’s perhaps misleadingly called, was never the philosophically cohesive “regime” Mr. Deneen pretends it to be. It was, and for now remains, an imperfect and uneasy settlement between disparate, sometimes antipathetic factions that nonetheless find it expedient to live peaceably with each other on the basis of shared, or at least stated, ideals. But Mr. Deneen and his common-good allies prefer to define “liberalism” as a deliberately formulated “project” because only then can they pretend to draw up plans for its overthrow and redefinition according to their own ideas of righteousness.
He castigates “right-liberal” faux-conservatives, as he thinks of them, for making conservatism an “empty, relativistic label” that changes shape according to progressive whims. In the world he prefers, conservatives use state power for their own ends and don’t have to worry about what progressives will do with that power when they get it.
Mr. Deneen and his fellow common-gooders are, in one sense, model progressives. If progressivism, both in its early-20th-century and present-day varieties, can be distilled into a single belief, it is that the way to solve any social or political problem, however tangled, is to put us in charge. For my own part, I would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 people in the phone book than by Patrick Deneen and his pals.
Watching the post-liberal, common-good conservatives gear up for battle against the woke left, I find myself thinking, as I do when Manchester United plays Manchester City, “What a shame they can’t both lose.” For a neo-Taoist like myself, Charles Murray had the most convincing analysis in his book By the People: the modern state is hopelessly sclerotic. No one is going to reform it from the inside. The best course of action is to preserve what you can on a small, local scale while waiting for the managerial state to succumb to its administrative strangler figs. People who seek power ought not be trusted with it.