Why Liberalism (Allegedly) Failed and How to Respond –

Unlike Patrick Deneen’s assertion in Why Liberalism Failed, we still have far more in common with one another than our mere shared relation to the state. This is a clear reduction of our experience to its social aspect. You might be inclined to observe that the work is an analysis and reflection on our society. So, isn’t such a criterion – not just appropriate – but, perhaps, unavoidable?

It is, of course, fair to make the observations Deneen does and even on the basis of socio-cultural reflection, as he does. However, it’s simply not adequate to accommodate the full scope of unity-in-diversity that is our normal day-to-day life experience. This doesn’t mean the insight lacks value. It does mean that, in order to avoid over stating that value, a healthy acknowledgement of the inherently distorting effect of theoretical thought itself (as well as the prioritization of the social) must remain in the fore.

This is, perhaps, ameliorated somewhat if other aspects are explicitly employed in such an analysis. However, they are all – of course – necessarily present, at least implicitly, not just in any theorizing and formal analysis but indeed in our naive experience itself – the stage, if you like, upon which the drama of our lives is performed or better: realized – rigorous theoretical reflection most assuredly not excluded!

So, returning to the original insight, cited as a case study for the purposes of this very casual reflection, it has deep resonance and value. Although, of course, not in any ultimate or absolute sense but nevertheless a genuinely significant sense that renders not just the observation – but it’s consideration as well – profoundly reflective of meaning that is – itself the mode of being of all (and reflected in our experience of) creation – of which we are a part. Profound relevance, indeed.

So while there is great value in Deneen’s observations and its consideration, if not qualified (in some manner like above – even if only implicitly) it will inevitably suggest the mistaken conclusion that our experience is not, in fact, ultimately and very satisfyingly the real thing we all necessarily still and cannot help but have in common. There is indeed – at least in principle – ‘public truth’ to which we all have access.

Of course, Deneen does not contradict this sort of reading and this kind of philosophical approach is, admittedly, beyond the scope of his inquiry. However, if we consider his findings exclusively through that limited scope (namely the sociopolitical), the distortions tend to amplify both the pessimistic and (later) optimistic insights he seeks to bring out of his analysis.

The result is a kind of uneasy dissonance in which the reader is not quite sure whether to give up or start forming new hyper-intentional communities to spontaneously evolve Liberalism into a more sustainable form – a process which is hopelessly opaque and, therefore, less than reassuring.

However, if brought into dialog with Cosmonomic Existentialism, not only does the problem seem manageable in principle but the proposed mitigation (and the optimism meant to accompany it) is suddenly expanded into a possible solution and deep motivation to pursue it.

That potential (yes socially considered) solution might proceed like this: we have no right to simply dismiss the observations of others but, quite the contrary, a powerful incentive to strive to understand their perspective. This applies most especially to those with whom we most vociferously disagree. It is precisely in relation to (and hopefully therefore in relationship with) these intellectual opponents that we stand to learn the most.

So, perhaps the felt divisions that Deneen – so poignantly observes – are not so insurmountable after all.

Perhaps we can still learn to overcome such absolutizations of the political in our lives and yes – in our relationships – and adopt a more robust vocabulary and framework for understanding – not just our experience as a whole – but, perhaps most importantly, our experience of each other in relationship to one another (something we can only do, of course, if we aggressively pursue those relationships!).

It is undeniable that the language and categories of religious philosophy have long borne the weight of such existentially important inquiries into the human condition. Just because secularism has permeated our collective consciousness (arguably as a reaction to the collapse of the decadent pseudo religious phenomenon that is institutional Christianity) neither Christianity per se is defeated (or even really necessarily addressed or perceived) nor religious belief itself rendered moot or impotent to address the current malaise of the meaning crisis.

Indeed, religious philosophy – most purely and existentially considered as religious belief – is uniquely poised to grant us this deeper understanding and indeed extended vocabulary and robust common language in addressing meaning, since it is the domain in which our deepest transcendental ground motives are forged.

Sound intriguing to you? I cannot commend enough Roy Clouser’s The Myth of Religious Neutrality – a powerful elucidation of Dooyeweerd’s notion of the religious ground motive. It is, in my opinion, among the most important works in religious philosophy for our present moment in time – a moment some have identified as almost exclusively characterized by this meaning crisis.

Beyond the pragmatic appeal and inherent relevance of these kinds of inquiries, the Cosmonomic Existentialist is particularly motivated to pursue them and, indeed, pursue relationships with others in them because of the central place Herman Dooyeweerd (and his observation and theory of religious ground motives) occupies as one of the primary antecedents and therefore indispensable lights of Cosmonomic Existentialism and its new way of understanding that very old and radical way of living in Love.

If you desire to truly explore reality, aggressively pursuing the hard-fought insights of (most particularly) those with whom you most disagree – in the context of deep loving relationships – is hardly an option. Rather, it is a joyful necessity and something of what it means to truly be human.


About this entry