Paul Kelly on Patrick J. Deneen

Paul Kelly has an oped in The Australian today revisiting one of his recent themes – the centre cannot hold.

I want to focus on one aspect of his argument:

The ultimate statement reflecting this rage is the 2018 book, Why Liberalism Failed, by Catholic academic Patrick J. Deneen, a social conservative, economic primitive and misguided political analyst. The thesis is that liberalism is to blame for the decline of religious faith and the destruction wrought by progressive morality. Deneen says 70 per cent of Americans believe their country is moving in the wrong direction and half the country thinks its best days are behind it. He said liberalism, with its ideals of limited but effective government, independent judiciary, responsive public officials and free and fair elections, has betrayed virtually every promise made in its name.

“Liberalism has failed — not because it fell short but because it was true to itself,” he said. “In practice (it) generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation and undermines freedom.” Deneen argues the tragedy is that liberalism — the first of the modern world’s competitor political ideologues after fascism and communism — is now exposed for its vices.

A couple of things. Deneen is entirely correct when he argues that liberal democracy is failing. Government is not limited, and not effective, the judiciary is not independent, public servants are not responsive. Perhaps elections are free and fair, yet increasingly there are impediments to sources of finance and advertising and what can be said and done during elections that are inherently anti-democratic.

Deneen is wrong to suggest that liberalism has succeeded too well. These outcomes are not successes of liberalism – the Marxist notion that somehow liberalism carries the seeds of its own failure. Or the Schumpeterian notion that liberalism destroys itself by being too liberal. They are failures of liberalism.

Part of the problem is that Deneen has a far too inclusive definition of what constitutes liberalism. So in his story everyone from Sarah Hanson-Young to Pauline Hanson in the Australian Parliament would be ‘liberal’. Whereas I would argue that neither of those two individuals is a ‘liberal’.

The liberal project remains important – but right now it has few friends. I saw a wonderful phrase the other day that applies here:

disillusionment curdled into alienation

Yes, disillusionment with liberalism has curdled into alienation from the ideals and principles of liberty.

As an aside – if you read this oped from Paul Kelly a couple of days ago, you’ll realise that he simply does not understand the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

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36 Responses to Paul Kelly on Patrick J. Deneen

  1. NoFixedAddress

    Referendums to do away with Sections 51, 53, 55, 71, 90, 96 and 114 would go a long way toward creating a bit of ‘liberalism’.

  2. stackja

    MSM doesn’t understand Trump.
    PHON is quietly working.

  3. one old bruce

    The Deneen debate is going on here if anyone actually wants to get into it (rather than just taking pot shots at straw men):
    https://americanmind.org/category/religion-and-philosophy/

  4. pbw

    I haven’t read Deneen, and I don’t subscribe to the Oz, so I can only comment on your comments.

    Chesterton wrote, in What’s Wrong with the World

    The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

    David Stove (among many, no doubt) was scathing in response.

    Try pointing out the failures of socialism or communism to today’s young (and not so young) socialists, and you will get the Chesterton response. Is the same criticism and response to be applied to classical liberalism?

    Liberalism has failed — not because it fell short but because it was true to itself.

    That may be a conclusion too far, but it hard to avoid the conclusion that liberalism is in collapse, for whatever reason.

    Christianity has been around, warts and all, for over two millennia; Islam for 1400 or so years; Buddhism longer than either. Buddhism is quietist; Islam is totalising, hence totalitarian; Christianity has expressed itself in small persecuted communities and as the Holy Roman Empire. All of them express some aspects so persistent as to be called universals. None of them is going to disappear soon.

    Can we expect that liberalism will be a significant force in 1,000 years?

  5. Ian MacCulloch

    From PJ Media explains it all:

    Donald Trump signed an executive order that would waive requirements under several environmental laws for construction projects and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies.

    The Hill reports that Trump wrote, “From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays. The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”
    The order affects the enforcement of laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The paperwork associated with NEPA alone is staggering. That law makes it incredibly easy for anyone opposed to a project to register objections, causing delays of months or years on vital infrastructure projects.

  6. Tom

    if you read this oped from Paul Kelly a couple of days ago, you’ll realise that he simply does not understand the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

    Correct.

    Chief among Kelly’s problems is that he is an ageing progressive who supports most of the destruction of American society in the past half-century because it doesn’t meet his shopping list of liberal ideals.

    For example, he thinks black disadvantage is the result of the racism of whites instead its real causes: the creation of the black ghetto by the Democratic Party to exploit blacks for political power; and the destruction of the black family through abortion, a primary racist, historic imperative of the Democratic Party executed by its its “health care” arm, Planned Parenthood.

    Kelly also doesn’t acknowlege that the Trump presidency is a reaction to the leftist extremism of the Obama presidency. If Obama had been an effective president and the national healer he pretended to be, Trrump would never have run in 2016.

    And the Obama presidency was utterly corrupt. Because he was a political illiterate who didn’t understand the separation of powers, he thought it was OK to sikk the IRS, the FBI and the entire Washington public service bureaucracy onto his political enemies.

    Obama (and his first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) created the need to “drain the swamp”, which got Trump elected.

    It’s time for Kelly to retire. He has become the arch-deacon of Australian political wrongology.

  7. miltonf

    Great analysis Tom. Sanger who started PP was full on anti black yet she’s held up as some kind of saint. More an anti-saint.

  8. 2dogs

    Polyarchism is the only libertarian philosophy that has a chance.

    Instead of the futile attempt to convert others to libertarianism, seek for everyone to have autonomy.

  9. Bruce of Newcastle

    disillusionment curdled into alienation

    That is like saying the car struck the man. It’s a fallacy. Alienation has been engineered by the Fabian Left in order to overturn liberalism. The knife is wielded by the murderer, and the murderer of liberal democracy is entirely to blame: the Left.

  10. Tim Neilson

    Tom
    #3476604, posted on June 6, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    I don’t think Obama “created” the swamp (though he undoubtedly turbocharged it) – e.g. the Clinton crime machine was in operation well before Obama.
    But otherwise a great analysis.

  11. Tel

    That may be a conclusion too far, but it hard to avoid the conclusion that liberalism is in collapse, for whatever reason.

    What collapsed was the concept of limited government, because people thought they would be “safe” if someone else ran their lives for them.

  12. Rafe Champion

    Thanks for that post Sinc, I am too busy today to reply to Paul Kelly and to another piece in the Review section by Richard King. The root of the problem is that several cohorts of students have never been exposed to the best ideas of classical liberalism and so preposterous misrepresentations proliferate (See Rudd and Bob Carr on Hayek). I did a survey in 1989, collecting the courses and reading lists for all the schools of philosophy, sociology and politics in the (then) 21 universities, keeping it simple, just lo0king exposure to Popper and Hayek.

    I didn’t check Economics for some strange reas0n, anyway there was next to no coverage of either of them, apart from philosophy of science where Popper was being taught as an out of date transition figure between the logical empiricists and Kuhn.

    Round the same time the late John Logan and I persuaded Greg Lindsay to commission reviews of the most popular HSC texts. Has anything changed? http://www.the-rathouse.com/1989_Economics_Textbook_Review.pdf

    We wanted to review the history and social studies texts but the CIS was not ready to get into the culture wars at that stage.

  13. Iampeter

    Paul Kelly has an oped in The Australian today revisiting one of his recent themes – the centre cannot hold.

    The centre not holding is kinda it’s defining characteristic because you are always going to be in between whatever the alternative extreme positions are of those who actually take ideas seriously.
    This is why being a centrist is worse than being wrong.

    The thesis is that liberalism is to blame for the decline of religious faith and the destruction wrought by progressive morality.

    Arguments like this assume that decline of religious faith is a bad thing for some reason. They also get everything wrong, since all the issues in our society are a result of religious faith, in one form or another, not liberalism. As with commies and greenies, so with their Christian forerunners, they are constantly projecting their own failed nonsense onto liberal Western civilization.

    Yes, disillusionment with liberalism has curdled into alienation from the ideals and principles of liberty.

    I don’t think there’s disillusionment with liberalism, just a complete lack of understanding, let alone any support. All ideas in the mainstream are collectivist. Thanks to Trump, the fact that conservatives and progressives are basically identical political movements, arguing over irrelevant technicalities, can no longer be avoided.

  14. DaveR

    Spot on Tom,
    while a great contributor to the political debate over the years, its the too many years that has landed Paul Kelly in a position where he is not able to understand the debates on major issues anymore. He really doesnt get the Trump phenomenom and why it is successful, and he still doesnt understand the position and arguments of each side in the climate change debate, and its destructive ally, renewable energy. With these failings, he is not able to effectively contribute to two of the major global debates of the current times: Liberalism/Conservatism and Climate change. The Editor at Large must now move on.

  15. thefrollickingmole

    Theres a good little saying Ive seen on American blogs which fits this nicely.

    You dont get Hitler because of Hitler.
    You get Hitler because of Wiemar.

  16. C.L.

    I’d have to read the book to know for sure but if Deneen is suggesting religious faith has declined because of political liberalism, that’s nonsense. As a Notre Dame prof, he should know that liberalising insanity was something his own church managed to bring about all by itself.

  17. Squirrel

    ” In practice (it) generates titanic inequality, ….”

    So we’re judging philosophies and beliefs by what happens in their name – interesting line of argument from a socially conservative Catholic.

  18. EllenG

    It’s a surprise to read a public servant talking like this. If it’s a serious argument Sinclair you need to get out and try life in the market. Some of us get really tired of big talk from cosy taxpayer funded blowhards.

  19. Just Passing By

    I sometimes wonder if the academic debates around libertarianism mirror the ‘that wasn’t real socialism’ debates in Leftist circles.

  20. dover_beach

    Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed:

  21. Roger

    if you read this oped from Paul Kelly a couple of days ago, you’ll realise that he simply does not understand the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

    Nobody in Australian politics understands what led to Trump.

  22. Infidel Tiger King

    The ultimate statement reflecting this rage is the 2018 book, Why Liberalism Failed, by Catholic academic Patrick J. Deneen, a social conservative, economic primitive and misguided political analyst.

    Thats rich coming from Kelly.

  23. Catcalling Inebriate

    The Trump Phenomenon is not much different to any ideological separation in society. Today’s politics is Left and Right, one or the other, taking care of its “base” – and leaving everyone else in the cold. It’s all “elite” since it is only chasing one interest agenda. In eery case that is failing and the rising tide of anger will only fuel more division. Clearly we have to have some sort of watershed and I’m betting on debt – ultimately a giant crash in asset prices.

  24. Iampeter

    Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed:

    Wow. What a babbling collectivist.
    At no point has he described why anything failed. All he demonstrated is that conservatives are just as anti-West and anti-American as any Marxist, only much more confused about it.
    A perfect example of why I think conservatives are best described as religious and politically illiterate leftists.

    The Trump Phenomenon is not much different to any ideological separation in society. Today’s politics is Left and Right, one or the other, taking care of its “base” – and leaving everyone else in the cold.

    Nah, today’s politics is just leftist vs clueless religious leftists. There is no Right.
    Trump won the Presidency by capturing where the various leftist factions overlap.
    He won by being the most left wing candidate and that’s what the electorate wants, even the conservative one, only conservatives don’t understand that their own positions are left wing.

  25. DrBeauGan

    Thanks, Dover, for the Deneen talk. There were two obvious lacunae in it, he is convinced that ideas have consequences, but he pays no attention whatever to the lust for power which drives a certain fraction of humanity, and is opposed by classical liberalism. He also completely ignores the rise of science, which has profoundly shaped our ideas of how the universe works and what is in it. He failed to answer the questions he was asked, and just reiterated earlier points.

    My preference for classical liberalism is based almost entirely on a temperamental resistance to being bossed around by people with far less knowledge and far less brain power than I have. I find this being bossed around is happening more and more and by two groups: first the government which has grown too big for its boots, and second the religion of leftism. They get together to bully me, for example by trying to force me to pretend that two men can be married or that a man can be a woman if he wants to be. There is absolutely nothing liberal in this. It is liberal to let two blokes shack up if they want, and to let them call their relationship a marriage if they want, but requiring me to call it one is not. Likewise, it is liberal to let a man dress up as a woman if he wants, wear lipstick and a blonde wig, and even chop his balls and dick off. But it’s illiberal in the extreme to demand that we all pretend he is in fact a woman.

    What we are seeing is not the apotheosis of liberalism but a reaction to it by those who fear freedom. Shaw observed that freedom entails responsibility, which is why most men hate it. Spot on.

  26. dover_beach

    Thanks, Dover, for the Deneen talk. There were two obvious lacunae in it, he is convinced that ideas have consequences, but he pays no attention whatever to the lust for power which drives a certain fraction of humanity, and is opposed by classical liberalism. He also completely ignores the rise of science, which has profoundly shaped our ideas of how the universe works and what is in it. He failed to answer the questions he was asked, and just reiterated earlier points.

    Well, he isn’t giving an exhaustive historical account in this lecture, so I’m not sure its fair to say he ignores either. Setting that aside, he takes the first as a given, but he alludes in the lecture to a paradox within liberalism, that being that freeing individuals of the constraints of place, church, family, etc. depended upon granting the state sufficient power and authority to defeat existing practices and relationships. This is what he is talking about when he mentions the ‘architecture’ needed to shape people as individuals. I’m not sure how he explores the second point in his book, but he does have a chapter on technology and would be surprised if he doesn’t explore how the Baconian idea impressed itself on Locke, etc.

    They get together to bully me, for example by trying to force me to pretend that two men can be married or that a man can be a woman if he wants to be. There is absolutely nothing liberal in this. It is liberal to let two blokes shack up if they want, and to let them call their relationship a marriage if they want, but requiring me to call it one is not. Likewise, it is liberal to let a man dress up as a woman if he wants, wear lipstick and a blonde wig, and even chop his balls and dick off. But it’s illiberal in the extreme to demand that we all pretend he is in fact a woman.

    You’ve made your own bed here, DrBG , and now you must sleep in it. If you believe it is ‘liberal’ to allow these two men to call their circumstance a marriage, and for other people to be allowed to recognize such a circumstance as marriage, you should not be surprised that in time the government itself recognizes their circumstance as marriage and obliges you to recognize it as such as a matter of human dignity.

  27. Crossie

    Roger
    #3477286, posted on June 7, 2020 at 9:52 am
    if you read this oped from Paul Kelly a couple of days ago, you’ll realise that he simply does not understand the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

    Nobody in Australian politics understands what led to Trump.

    Mark Latham understands Trump very well, it’s how he (Mark) got elected.

  28. Rafe Champion

    The Trump Phenomenon is not much different to any ideological separation in society. Today’s politics is Left and Right, one or the other, taking care of its “base” – and leaving everyone else in the cold. It’s all “elite” since it is only chasing one interest agenda.

    I don’t think Trump fits into the Left Right spectrum any better than classical liberalism/cultural conservatism does, at least as I see it. He is is concerned with the American interest and by extension the Western interest. That used to have bipartisan support but the Democrats have drifted so far off course that they hate their own heritage and they can’t abide any effort to retrieve it.
    It you actually listen to Trump speeches, apart from reacting to the lies of the MSM he is completely inclusive and the opposite of divisive or ideologically driven. Just listen and compare with the empty windbaggery of and divisive rhetoric of Obama on the campaign trail.

  29. Iampeter

    Shaw observed that freedom entails responsibility, which is why most men hate it. Spot on.

    Freedom means a rights-protecting government and this includes an individuals right to be irresponsible. That’s why authoritarians, like those wanting to impose responsibilities on others, hate freedom.

    Well, he isn’t giving an exhaustive historical account in this lecture,

    He’s not even focusing on fundamentals because like most conservatives he doesn’t know what they are.
    Instead he talks about “family” and “church” and other irrelevant nonsense that shouldn’t even come up in the lecture of a self described “political theorist.”

    Setting that aside, he takes the first as a given, but he alludes in the lecture to a paradox within liberalism, that being that freeing individuals of the constraints of place, church, family, etc. depended upon granting the state sufficient power and authority to defeat existing practices and relationships.

    Well, if you recognize you have a paradox it means your position is a self contradiction and therefore wrong. The next steps is to figure out where your contradiction is not state it as a “paradox” and then move on as if that isn’t a show stopping problem.
    In this case, the contradiction is in suggesting that liberalism is increasing the power of the state in any way.
    In reality, liberalism of course reduces the power of the state over the individual. To the extent it has any affect on politically irrelevant concepts like “family” and “church” is that it has made these arrangements voluntary when they may not have been before. Only a leftist/authoritarian, like today’s conservatives, would oppose such a thing.

  30. Iampeter

    If you believe it is ‘liberal’ to allow these two men to call their circumstance a marriage, and for other people to be allowed to recognize such a circumstance as marriage, you should not be surprised that in time the government itself recognizes their circumstance as marriage and obliges you to recognize it as such as a matter of human dignity.

    Right, so less government involvement in peoples affairs actually means more government involvement.
    It’s almost like you don’t realize you’re stating contradictions and that doing so is a show stopping problem.

    That’s why conservatives want more government, because that’s how you actually get less government. See if we have less central planning then you’re actually empowering the government to centrally plan more.
    Etc.

    Conservatism really is a farce.

  31. David

    So what you are saying is real liberalism hasn’t been true yet.

  32. Iampeter

    It’s certainly one step forward and two steps back.

  33. dover_beach

    the contradiction is in suggesting that liberalism is increasing the power of the state in any way.

    Liberalism moves hand in glove with an increasingly powerful state. You try to obscure this by pretending that as this occurs it is the fault of progressivism rather than liberalism, when both are really the Janus-face of the same creature.

  34. Iampeter

    Liberalism moves hand in glove with an increasingly powerful state.

    Liberalism means individual rights protecting government and capitalism.
    So you’re contradicting yourself again because you don’t understand the terms you’re using.

    You try to obscure this by pretending that as this occurs it is the fault of progressivism rather than liberalism, when both are really the Janus-face of the same creature.

    I’m clarifying basic terms you don’t understand.
    That’s the opposite of obscuring.
    Obscurity is how you have to operate because if you ever try saying anything straight you’ll be caught out not knowing what you’re talking about.
    Not that there’s any recovering for you at this point.

  35. dover_beach

    Liberalism means individual rights protecting government and capitalism.

    And a government able to afford such ‘individual rights protection’ needs to be very powerful which is why modern states involve ever increasing apparatuses of power. Have you missed how large and intrusive bureaucracies have become in the last 200 years? You sound like communists of old that bitterly complained that our depictions of life under communism departed from theory. The apple never falls far from the tree.

  36. Iampeter

    And a government able to afford such ‘individual rights protection’ needs to be very powerful which is why modern states involve ever increasing apparatuses of power.

    No, such a government just protects rights.
    It’s not “powerful” if by that you mean central planning, which is something you don’t oppose anyway, so there’s multiple levels of disingenuous to what you’re trying to say.
    But the fact this needs repeated explaining is another hilarious moment of beclownment on your end. You don’t know what a rights-protecting government is and literally have no idea what Western civilization is even about. SMH.
    Even Deneen gets this right, clarifying at the beginning of his lecture that he is opposing Lockean liberalism not “progressive” liberalism. Of course he doesn’t realize that such opposition makes him a leftist because just like you he has no real idea what he’s talking about.

    Have you missed how large and intrusive bureaucracies have become in the last 200 years?

    Yea that’s because they are not liberal anymore. They are progressive. This shouldn’t need explaining unless you have no clue what you’re talking about.
    You’re confusing liberal with progressive and there are several reasons you are doing this.
    Firstly, you simply don’t know anything about the topic.
    Secondly, you are actually a statist and authoritarian, but lie all conservatives you want to kid yourself about this and so engage in word games to pretend that when you centrally plan it’s somehow different from when progressives centrally plan, because they don’t go to church for their bbqs, or don’t have families, or something similarly irrelevant.

    Like I said of Deneen, so it is with you, you are “babbling collectivists.”

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