Chapter 4 (Awakening from the American Dream) and Chapter 5 (Manners and Morals) of Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontents (2016) are pretty intuitive. Chapter 6 (Progress and Memory) highlights the importance of thinking in what Professor Deneen calls the “full horizon of temporality”; living in the past, present and future without neglecting or overemphasizing any of the three of them. Chapter 7 (What is Conservatism?) and the remaining five chapters are where the really powerful ideas are revealed. They are fascinating, sometimes unpleasant, but undeniable truths that mainstream thinkers ignore or try to deny.
Deneen descends deeply into the philosophical and intellectual sources of conservative thought concluding that today’s Republican and “conservative” writers are missing the true nature of conservatism. He boils it down to four concepts: 1) human society and politics should be based on virtue (Aristotle’s “the Good”); 2) law derives from an affirmation of human culture; 3) Edmund Burke’s notion that the full spectrum of time (past, present and future) should guide human conduct [see my 7/29/15 post]; and 4) modern democracy must maintain “forms” or formalism because an emphasis on equality tends to obliterate forms. Lawyers, according to Tocqueville, are the great defenders of forms and formality.
Attorneys are noble intellectual sentries guarding against the evil egalitarian tendencies of democracy, well, at least those of us that have a deep respect for the rule of law. The numbskulls who think the Constitution is a “living” document that means whatever a politician says it means are not noble and would have us all succumb to the tyranny of the majority. A regime based purely on equality makes people resist and push against the barriers, limits and forms that are necessary in a virtuous culture. There is a powerful intellectual sword guarding Your Estate Planning War Chest and the virtues within it (aristocratic duty, self-control, personal discipline and decorum) from the malevolent forces of democracy (mob rule, legal recklessness, impatience, living only in the present and the pursuit of facile and immediate pleasures that ignore gratitude to prior generations and responsibility to future generations).