Humans are, intractably, social creatures built for communion. So prevalent is the belief that an equal satisfaction of preferences is a high social good, and that the purpose of politics and morality is the working toward that supposed good, that Nisbet can be a bit of a shock. As this blog argues, liberalism is very insufficient to maintain social order. Freedom and equality as high principles can harm other realities necessary for social harmony.And it still bothers me. What, prey tell, is "equal satisfaction of preferences" supposed to mean? If human creatures are "built for communion", then wouldn't communion/community also be a preference? Is "social harmony" really supposed to trump everything else -- freedom, equality (of status), and even justice? In other words, this seems like vague, abstract, confused, and even somewhat menacing mush.
But, being wiser at least than I was, I can now pick out some threads that do make some sense, even if incomplete and poorly grounded. Here, for example, he brings up a theme I've called "hubristic Reason", originating in the Continental (as distinct from the British/Scottish) Enlightenment, and that is a serious flaw in contemporary collectivist/liberal statist schemes:
... the aspirations that inspired the founders of modern thought – the conquest of nature through science, perhaps even the conquest of human nature, and the emancipation of power from moral restraint – could be “achieved” at a great and unpredictable cost. [my emphasis]And the emphasis on family and association generally is a good theme, however simple, and a welcome contrast to the sort of politicized "solidarity" that characterizes the left. This I think, as another example, makes a good point about the need to bring together things that contemporary liberal orthodoxies tend always to oppose:
Far too many lifestyle choices and social, political structures shatter what the authentically familial would hold together – consumption and production, sensuality and fertility, freedom and virtue.So fine, but where does that leave us? If Jones' answer is that it leaves us stuck in a 50's style time warp, then he's no help, and this perverse mock rallying cry -- "Down with the statist-individualist symbiosis!" -- just underlines his confusion and haplessness. It also points to his crucial mistake -- to accept, uncritically, the left-wing denigration of the individual, leaving him with the only apparent alternatives of leftist collectivism or an antique conservatism. But the modern individual is a much more complex, and still evolving, phenomenon, that is at the heart of new and potentially richer sorts of community. Like any emergence, this process is not without its tribulations, but the true progressives are those who support the individual and the freedom that defines him -- and resist the reactionaries on both the left and the right that would try to re-submerge her in collectives either traditional or statist (or both).