Note: Behind the green door is a post about the 70’s classic Taxi Driver, a post about the legendary film and book, A Clockwork Orange and the Sunday podcast. You can sign up for a green door account at SubscribeStar or Substack.
Over the last several years, a group of academics and intellectuals have formed what is now called post-liberalism. The members of this group do not agree on many things, but they agree on one important thing and that is what they call liberalism has run its course and it is time for something new. Patrick Deneen, one of the key members of the post-liberals, has a new book out called Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future, in which he sets out to describe what should replace liberalism.
This is the third book from Deneen on the subject. In 2016, Deneen published Conserving America?, which was a collection of essays on the current social and moral troubles of this age. After that he published Why Liberalism Failed, which was a book length analysis of what he calls liberalism. This latest book is supposed to build on that second book and lay out a vision for how to put an end to the liberal order and provide a sketch for what should replace it.
Regime Change has been met with mostly negative reviews. A good example is from Charles Haywood at Worthy House, who was enthusiastically positive about Deneen’s prior book on the subject. It is also fair to say that Haywood is positively disposed to the broad concept of post-liberalism. He makes the point that despite the title, Deneen is not actually suggesting we change the regime. Instead, he offers up the usual list of reforms that have no chance of being considered.
The main problem with the book, as Haywood notes, is that it is organized in such a way as to avoid the main topic of the book. The first three quarters are a summary of the arguments Deneen made in his liberalism book. Instead of leading to a demand for a bloody revolution to overthrow the regime, replacing it with a dictatorship of recent Catholic converts, Deneen delivers a poorly conceived list of reforms and some bromides about racism and colonialism.
This gets to one of the main problems with the post-liberal project. It is not really post-liberal and the members are not opposed to liberalism. Instead, they oppose some of the consequences of the current ruling order. They appropriate words and concepts from dissidents, without fully understanding the meaning of them. The phrase “regime change” is a good example. One gets the sense that Deneen liked the sound of it and wrote a book so he could use it for a title.
More troubling, the post-liberals have not thought about why the arc of the liberal project has led to the present. If they wished to limit the scope, they could start with the American constitution and examine what happened along the way. It should be quite clear that the current ruling order is nothing like what the Framers created and nothing they imagined was possible. Chronicling how we got to this point, skipping past the speculation as to why it happened, would be a good start.
There is none of that in this book or in Deneen’s prior work. In fact, it is not particularly clear that he understands where to place the starting point of liberalism. He gives us far too many references to Aristotle, which is always a sign that the author is struggling with his choice of topics. He also likes to quote Aquinas. That is getting warmer, but when he talks about Locke, you wonder if he is talking about the same John Locke that the rest of us had to read in college.
Probably the most puzzling thing about the Deneen project is that he never mentions Alasdair MacIntyre, who was a long serving scholar at Notre Dame. He wrote the book, After Virtue, which was a highly successful critique of liberalism. If you search the name in Deneen’s last two books you get zero mentions. This is strange, since MacIntyre tackles the causes of liberalism’s failure and also takes on John Rawls, the most important liberal political thinker of the last century.
This gets to the main problem of the post-liberal project. They do a respectable job describing the present and the dangers it presents. Where they struggle is in understanding that maybe the current order is not actually a liberal order, but a post-liberal order. Further, they do not understand that the American project evolved outside of European liberalism. The Enlightenment is a good starting point, but the Reformation is a much better place to start.
All that said, none of this should be taken as a dismissal of the post-liberal project or the academics and intellectuals attracted to it. What Deneen and others are doing is drawing attention to the inherent flaws of the current order and in the process legitimizing the questioning of it. Slowly, questioning the assumptions of liberalism is becoming acceptable. When a bigfoot college academic calls for regime change, it is now acceptable to discuss the topic in polite company.
As far as the Deneen book, while it fails to deliver on the promise of the title, it is a useful look inside the mind of the post-liberal. The dissident will see the same struggle they experienced as they crossed the great divide. What comes through in this book is a man struggling to wake up from the myth of the 20th century. If members of the modern monastery are experiencing this, then it suggests the regime is far closer to a moral crisis than many would like to admit.
If you like my work and wish to kick in a few bucks, you can buy me a beer. You can sign up for a SubscribeStar subscription and get some extra content. You can donate via PayPal. My crypto addresses are here for those who prefer that option. You can send gold bars to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. Thank you for your support!
Promotions: We have a new addition to the list. The Pepper Cave produces exotic peppers, pepper seeds and plants, hot sauce and seasonings. Their spice infused salts are a great add to the chili head spice armory.
Above Time Coffee Roasters are a small, dissident friendly company that roasts its own coffee and ships all over the country. They actually roast the beans themselves based on their own secret coffee magic. If you like coffee, buy it from these folks as they are great people who deserve your support.
Havamal Soap Works is the maker of natural, handmade soap and bath products. If you are looking to reduce the volume of man-made chemicals in your life, all-natural personal products are a good start.
Minter & Richter Designs makes high-quality, hand-made by one guy in Boston, titanium wedding rings for men and women and they are now offering readers a fifteen percent discount on purchases if you use this link. If you are headed to Boston, they are also offering my readers 20% off their 5-star rated Airbnb. Just email them directly to book at email@example.com.