Our War Chest trek through Patrick J. Deneen’s Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontents (2016) ends with Chapter 12 – After Liberalism, where he brings it all together in an unpleasant conclusion that humanity has sorted itself into a handful of happy economic winners and a massive crowd of unhappy losers.
Frances Fukuyama announced in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall this it was the “end of history”. Capitalism and democracy defeated all of the alternative ideologies because: 1) It’s clearly the best way to advance science, technology and economic growth; and 2) Morally, it affords citizens equal dignity, no matter parentage, place of birth, wealth, occupation, race, gender, etc. But Deneen points out that those two goals are contradictory and grow increasingly antithetical to each other.
Classic liberalism sought to liberate individuals from arbitrary and unchosen relationships, promoting free choice to shape one’s own life. This freedom to make yourself is the reason for government, according to James Madison, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution. He wrote that “the first objective of government is the protection of the diversity in the faculties of men from which the rights of property originate”.
John Locke wrote that with the invention of money, people can begin to accumulate beyond mere subsistence and it becomes increasingly evident that there are only two kinds of people – the “industrious and rational”, on the one hand, and the “querulous and contentious” on the other. And guess what? The lucky, hard-working and smart winners are vastly outnumbered by the unlucky, ignorant or lazy losers. Political efforts to improve their situation make it worse because the successful have the power to disengage from public discourse. Robert Reich called it The Secession of the Successful (NY Times 1991). The mass poor are casualties of war; permanent discontents. To the extent public policy seeks to forcibly redistribute wealth to them, they (or their political representatives) are enemy combatants.
Deneen writes that Tyler Cowen’s book Average if Over (2013) should be required reading for anyone interested in where America is headed. I noted that book here in my 3/22/16 post. We are becoming two very different Nations – the top 10-15% high agency, smart wealth owners.….and everyone else. Wealthy humans are pulling away. You cannot be average anymore. We will soon reach the “end of liberalism”, having sorted the industrious and rational from the querulous and contentious with near perfect precision.
Deneen paints a stark portrait of the human equivalent of strip mining, identifying intelligent and industrious young people, and through standardized testing, extracting them for processing at Universities and then excreting them to hubs of economic activity, leaving behind a landscape stripped bare of talented, hardworking people. He ends on some hopeful notes. I am not as optimistic; my cynicism drives me to advise anyone who will listen – it is absolutely vital to create and stock a personal War Chest with assets and awareness so that you can avoid the carnage from this ongoing global economic war.