16 April 2013

A Paean for Common Law Conservatism. Or: More Why I'm Not a Libertarian

I've posted here on the limitations of libertarianism as a political philosophy. In short, its truncated (or sublimated) human anthropology is insufficient to support its conclusions about the good of limited government. Or, more precisely, it cannot account for natrual rights and why we should care even if there are.

Earlier I noted here that much contemporary conservatism's emphasis on increasing freedom to the end of material prosperity fails to address the reality of the fraying American social structure. Market capitalism's utopia kills the human spirit as surely as progressive liberalism's.

There is nice piece in The Front Porch Republic that makes the point well. Read it for yourself but my gloss (or riff) is that the city is the center of secularization (see my posts here, here, here, and here for my comments about Charles Taylor's This Secular Age), that the explosion of growth of Washington, DC (which I see every week on my treks to work at the American Bankruptcy Institute) exemplifies this process, but that this concentration of cultural (de)formation only correlates with the growth of state power. As I observed in my Puritanism and Contract Law (download here), the religiously-motivated disciplinary forces unleashed in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation ultimately served to increase the power of the early modern states of Europe.

As money (more precisely credit) replaces property, as contract replaces status, as social networks replace socialitas, the concentration of cultural power inevitably reduces persons to the status of "individuals" and individuals (that's us in a democracy) relocate culture from society to the city. Augustine's City of Man was not merely the Roman Empire, it was all human efforts to live on their own, apart from the structuring order of the Triune covenantal God. Babal's Tower can be imposed from the top down but usually it is built from the bottom up.

A political or economic philosophy that glories in the unencumbered self, whether from the Left or the Right, will build a tower that in the end will fall like Babylon the Great.


  1. Common law conservatism as opposed to natural rights conservatism, correct? Folks need to realize the difference. The latter is conservatism's Achilles heel.

  2. Indeed, Ruben. Common law conservatism grounded in natural law, which, in turn, is founded in a covenantal relationship with the Triune God.