Friday, August 2, 2013

The Third Way

A friend has on occasion stated wistfully that he wishes there were a tertium quid or third way between liberalism and conservatism. I understand his desire, I suppose, but I think the two poles he'd like to mediate between are not the two that a third way should mediate between.

In our contemporary situation we're faced with two stark alternatives. On one side beckons a radical individualism, a libertarianism that gives the individual complete moral autonomy and which eliminates, to the extent possible, government interference in one's life.

On the other are those, like our president and his epigones, who seduce us with the allure of cradle-to-grave security courtesy of an ever-expanding collectivist state which intrudes upon, or even controls, almost every aspect of our lives.

If these are the Scylla and Charybdis between which we must thread our way which of the political ideologies on offer is most likely to give us safe passage?

Philosopher Ed Feser, author of The Last Superstition, offers insight into this question in a chapter on ancient Greek philosophy. While discussing the errors of the pre-Socratics Feser delivers this aside:
Liberalism purports to offer a middle ground between radical individualism and collectivism, what it really gives is a diabolical synthesis of the two, a bureaucratically managed libertinism. Conservatism, which sees the family rather than the individual or society as a whole as the fundamental social unit, is the true "third way."
Precisely so. Liberalism is a false hope because so far from navigating between Scylla and Charybdis it actually blends the worst aspects of the two. Conservatism, by holding the family up as the focus of our political allegiance, dampens the allures of individualism while at the same time strengthening the individual to resist the coercions of the statists. As such it is the third way between radical individualism and totalitarian statism.

Readers not familiar with what I mean by the "coercions of the statists" might pick up Mark Levin's book Liberty and Tyranny (just after they finish In the Absence of God) and give it a read. It's a very helpful explanation of exactly what's at stake in the political and ideological struggles in which we are enmeshed, whether we wish to be or not.