Buergerlich

by Henry on September 21, 2007

Ross Douthat responds to a question I threw at him on Bloggingheads a few months ago about what kind of society he wanted to live in. His response to that question seems fine to me (I suspected that he and other Catholic conservatives wouldn’t much have enjoyed living in Ireland when the church had effective hegemony, and he has more or less confirmed this), but I’m pretty sure that he’s wrong when he says that:

I incline away from [left communitarians] on questions of economic policy not out of any delusion that unfettered capitalism hasn’t played a significant role in the cultural trends that I find worrying, but because I think that economic freedom was one of the freedoms that the 1950s order went too far in stifling – and more importantly, because the most likely alternative to Reaganism and Rubinomics wasn’t some low-growth crunchy-communitarian utopia, but rather a steady expansion in government power that would have crowded out the “little platoons” even more quickly than free-market capitalism undercuts them. Traditional forms of social organization are weaker in today’s America than they were fifty years ago, but they’re still much, much stronger than in Europe, where the economic left has held the whip for decades.

For countervailing evidence about what has actually happened in leftie-whipped Europe, see fellow conservative-ish Catholic (and Georgetown political theorist) Patrick Deneen.

For the past three weeks I’ve stayed and traveled in southern Germany (Swabia, between the Black Forest and Bavaria), Switzerland (the central region, around Lucern), and western Austria … In these parts of central Europe (all German speaking), I have been mightily impressed – as ever – by the strength of communal bonds, the presence of local cultures and distinctions, the persistence of tradition and memory, a culture that saves (in every sense), and a strong ethic of work aimed at preserving a high degree of independence. … This impression – admittedly somewhat biased by the particular areas where I’ve been staying – does not easily fit with the predominant American Left-Right views of Europe, both of which respectively praise or condemn “Europe” for its progressiveness. …According to the Right wing narrative, Europe is in the throes of cultural suicide, with its churches abandoned, its cradles empty, and incapable of dealing with the threat of internal Islamic domination given trajectories in the birth rate and the feebleness of the “multicultural” response. According to both narratives, Europe is largely … reducible to Amsterdam, Bruxelles and the Hague. … Indeed, the combination of local economies, nearby productive farmland outside every town, viable public transportation and widespread use of alternative energies points to a culture that has never abandoned sustainable communities in the way that America willfully and woefully has done over the past fifty years. You can also get some sense why there is even resentment here toward America’s wastefulness: the Europeans pay higher prices for everything in an effort to use less, and whatever “give” there is in the worldwide production of resources is a kind of unintended sacrificial gift that many Europeans are making so that America can continue its energy gluttony. That said, the last laugh will be theirs, I think, when our civilization corrodes with increasingly worthless suburban housing tracts, our incalculable debt, and our inability to finance the American way of life. … Here’s something funny: my German father-in-law – no friend of big government, and about as anti-60s one could find – describes this way of life (including the solar panels, etc.) as conservative. And what could be more conservative than the Swabian motto – “schafe, spare, Häusle baue” (work, save, build a house)?

This argument travels beyond the Schwäbisch lands. Dutch friends of mine assure me that if you travel 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam you find highly conservative small town communities. My own dissertation research focuses on the ways that strong communities work in north-eastern and central Italy (Putnam’s original stamping ground, although I disagree with many of his notions about social capital). Interestingly, the most important sociological research on this suggests that not only have these communities not been corroded by the left, but that many of them (those in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna in particular) are the result of Socialist/Communist organization and mobilization of peasants and workers in the late nineteenth century (see Arnaldo Bagnasco, passim ). The one European country where local communities got stomped was France. However, this isn’t the result of post-WWII leftist domination, but rather of earlier strategies by state elites of both right and left (on this, and its perverse consequences, see Jonah Levy’s Tocqueville’s Revenge )

I suspect (perhaps wrongly) that Ross is conflating “traditional forms of social organization” with church attendance. That aside, there’s a more important point here. Ross argues that even if the US model gives too much free rein to the market, it still is better for conservatives, because it allows them to construct their little beehive communities without outside interference. But Deneen offers strong arguments against this claim – he points out that German regulations protect small businesses and communities against large firms. If Deneen is right, the leftist dominated European model (which is more accurately described as a compromise between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) is far more conducive to supporting the kinds of dense communities that conservatives prize than the US deregulated free market model. For the same reason, it’s likely to be unattractive to libertarians, and problematic, at least in part, to leftists of many persuasions (leftists who are committed to gender equality should be very troubled by, for example, the regulations on shop closing hours that Deneen likes so much). But these are problems for libertarians and leftists – they aren’t problems, as best as I can tell, for the kind of social market conservatism that Ross wants to push.

{ 90 comments }

1

SamChevre 09.21.07 at 2:52 pm

I’ll have an actual comment later. The last sentence in the first blockquote is repeated.

2

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 3:10 pm

Local communities are very strong here in Minnesota, which was the leftmost state in the US from about 1930 to about 1970 or so. Never voted for Reagan or either Bush.

I think that something like this is true in New York and Massachusetts too. (These two immoral liberal states have the lowest divorce rates in the country).

I understand that weenie liberals have this incredible hunger for honest, intelligent conservatives to dialogue with, but honest, intelligent conservatives are extinct in the U.S. (Or maybe Democrats). Our supposed conservative party has been taken over by crime families and hysterics, and Douthat in any case is a very weak vessel. His first piece in the national media was an incredible travesty — he whined about how mean old Harvard had allowed him to slack through without learning anything. What a tool.

3

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 3:10 pm

“(Or maybe are all Democrats now).”

4

David Weman 09.21.07 at 3:11 pm

“leftists who are committed to gender equality should be very troubled by, for example, the regulations on shop closing hours that Deneen likes so much”

I don’t understand.

5

Henry 09.21.07 at 3:23 pm

samchevre – thanks – fixed. David – the problem is that shortened shop opening hours presuppose and reinforce a family structure in which one family member is able to shop during working hours. It’s not hard to guess who this family member is supposed to be (and what implications that has for their employment prospects).

6

David Weman 09.21.07 at 4:03 pm

Oh.

7

JP Stormcrow 09.21.07 at 4:26 pm

I must say that one of the most fascinating/apalling aspects of the current “conservative”* chattering class in the States is their construction and use of various “fantasy Europes” to make their points. This one is clearly some kind of ignorant projection, but the one I really liked was “the old Europe” talking point (which is then often followed up with the scary, soon-to-be-here-any-day-now islamofascist Europe). If they displayed any more ignorance they would be wrap around the scale to profundity**.

*And I’m with John Emerson here – there are essentially no intellectually honest conservatives in America these days – just an organized crime syndicate known as the National Republican party and apologists for same.

** And this is part of the intellectual dishonesty – most of them are sophisticated folks who have been to Europe, know people from Europe, and know that they are talking absolute rubbish.

8

Doug 09.21.07 at 4:49 pm

“The one European country where local communities got stomped was France.”

Should be “The one Western European country where local communities got stomped was France.”

War on the Eastern Front and however many decades of Communism trashed communities pretty thoroughly in Central and Eastern Europe.

9

Tim Worstall 09.21.07 at 4:50 pm

“But Deneen offers strong arguments against this claim – he points out that German regulations protect small businesses and communities against large firms. If Deneen is right, the leftist dominated European model (which is more accurately described as a compromise between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats)”

I can see what you’re saying here, it’s just that I don’t particularly associate “protecting small businesses and communities against large firms” as particularly leftist. Wasn’t that the basis, for exsample, of Poujade’s politics? I’m not sure I’ve heard him as being described as of the left.
Similarly, some strains of UK leftish thinking led to very much the opposite (nationalisations, forced mergers in cars and mines and steel and so on, the creation of national champions).

Being rather hesitant to disagree with one who studies these things for a living, might I suggest that there’s a slight confusion here between correlation and causality? Conservative small town communities (and we have them here too, where I now am in Portugal, and in Spain, two places with where major parts of the 20th century were spent under Fascist government) might have very little to do with whether national governments are of the left or the right: they might just be small conservative communities?

10

Mary Catherine 09.21.07 at 4:51 pm

American conservative Catholicism is a strange animal. Apart from opposition to abortion, there seems little that is specifically Catholic about it, and much of it is quite actively at odds with official Catholic doctrine and teaching (see, e.g., Scalia on why the Pope is wrong about the death penalty).

On economic issues, the left communitarians are much closer to the Vatican than is Douthat.

11

richard 09.21.07 at 4:52 pm

Since you say that France is the shining example of the stamping out of local communities, I assume that Britain is ‘outside Europe’ for the purposes of this conversation – which is fine by me.

Europe is an outstandingly unwieldy term (or arena) of reference here; its use in Douthat’s argument about American life looks like a cheap grab for spurious intellectual authority and nothing more. Is it really necessary to point out that the Randstad =/= Europe? Apparently, yes, but this distinction obviously doesn’t begin to cover the issues. It is a central tenet of American identity that the US is diverse, but so is Europe – possibly moreso. The US also has a kind of easily-acquired, entry-level homogenous cultural layer, which much of Europe lacks. Also, left/right distinctions are hard to carry from the US (where I have no idea what they mean, frankly) to Europe (where they still have something to do with economics).

I say Douthat has more on his plate than he can deal with anyway, trying to reconcile his sentimental, crypto-fascist image of a productive hive of happy drones with his desire to be heard as an individual. It would be nice if he left us Euros out of it.

12

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 4:59 pm

No, Richard, we want you to have him. Douthat will be your punishment for the Holocaust, imperialism, Leo Strauss, and the other toxic products of Europe.

13

Hogan 09.21.07 at 5:10 pm

Let’s come back to the “church attendance” proxy for a moment. I’d like to hear the argument that suburban megachurches are a “traditional form of social organization.”

14

Bobcat 09.21.07 at 5:40 pm

Whom do you guys have in mind by “conservative”? Does Alasdair MacIntyre count? Charles Taylor? The late Christopher Lasch? I think that all three of those guys are honest and reasonable.

15

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 5:44 pm

A Canadian, a dead man, and Brit? Note my qualifier, “in the US”. I can’t imagine any of them voting for Bush.

16

Henry 09.21.07 at 5:55 pm

Tim – you are right that there isn’t any necessary reason why protecting small businesses and communities is leftist – that was what I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to argue. The bit about the leftist whip over Europe is from Douthat, who as I say, gets this wrong.

john emerson – this is an old argument where we don’t agree any more than we used to. I’m an academic, not an activist – and argument with people who I disagree with is part of my vocation. But anyways you seem to be conflating ‘conservative’ and ‘Bush supporter’ in 15 and I suspect in your earlier comment too. There may be overlap, but they ain’t the same thing. One obvious counter-example is Jim McDonald at _Making Light_, whom I understand is conservative as they come. I also think that Steve Bainbridge and Greg Djerejian are honest conservatives. I would happily accept that honest, non-crazy Bush-supporting conservatives is pretty well a null set at this point.

Doug – fair point. Although Gryzmala-Busse’s research suggests that civil society may have survived in some parts of C-E Europe better than you might have accepted.

17

Jeff Rubard 09.21.07 at 5:55 pm

Bobcat: Charles Taylor ran as a New Democratic Party candidate in Quebec in the 1960s (several times — once he was defeated by Pierre Trudeau). Maybe you follow his recent writings more closely than me, but I don’t think that’s a very promising start on what most people consider conservatism (though perhaps not a bar to his being honest and reasonable).

18

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 5:58 pm

The second part of my argument is that Douthat is a pretty weak partner, and I’d add that the fact that you have chosen him to dialogue with is an indicator of how few choices you actually have. You’re scraping the bottom of a nearly-empty barrel.

19

SamChevre 09.21.07 at 6:08 pm

Today is being crazy, so this will be a much shorter comment than I’d prefer.

First, I think comparing one of the most notoriously traditional areas of Europe (Swaebish areas) to America on average doesn’t make much sense. Both Europe and America are heterogenous.

Second, I think that if you think of “conservative” as Doug Muder’s Red Family structure, America is on average much more conservative than Europe.

Third, I don’t think that “are there conservative communities” quite captures what I (and, I think, Ross) are talking about. What I’m thinking of is “are there non-government groups that have real power”? Having that escapable level of authority be a real authority, but an escapable one, is key (in my thinking) to having a heterogenous country that is not oppressive.

20

Mary Catherine 09.21.07 at 6:08 pm

Compare and contrast Ross Douthat with Christopher Lasch:

Conservatives assume that deregulation and a return to the free market will solve everything, promoting a revival of the work ethic and a resurgence of ‘traditional values.’ Not only do they provide an inadequate explanation of the destruction of those values but they unwittingly side with the social forces that have contributed to their destruction, for example in their advocacy of unlimited growth. The poverty of contemporary conservatism reveals itself most fully in this championship of economic growth the underlying premise of the consumer culture the by products of which conservatives deplore.

Charles Taylor, who would agree with Lasch on the above, is a Catholic, but neither a conservative nor an American. Alasdair Macintyre, like Lasch, was an outspoken critic of corporate capitalism.

Like Emerson, I cannot imagine any of these three supporting the current Bush administration.

21

Knecht Ruprecht 09.21.07 at 6:13 pm

southern Germany (Swabia, between the Black Forest and Bavaria), Switzerland (the central region, around Lucern), and western Austria

Although I generally agree more with Henry than with Ross on this point, it really shouldn’t go unremarked that there the threee regions mentioned above have something in common that sets them apart from the majority of German-speaking Europe: they are all overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Ross might counter that the influence of the church mitigates the anomie caused by the whip-wielding economic left.

22

richard 09.21.07 at 6:15 pm

the other toxic products of Europe

heh. cf. America, Australia et al. What’s China’s punishment for imperialism, or Mongolia’s?

23

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 6:18 pm

We’ll send Douthat on a world tour, Richard. No one can be allowed to escape.

24

richard 09.21.07 at 6:19 pm

followup to 21: sorry, silly me: I’m not used to thinking in vague geographical expressions: What’s Asia’s punishment for imperialism?

25

richard 09.21.07 at 6:21 pm

already answered at 22: thanks, sorry for the weird order. Can his tour start with a long stint in Antarctica?

26

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 6:30 pm

There is no reason to punish the innocent penguins.

27

Henry 09.21.07 at 6:32 pm

quick replies as I have to do Other Stuff. samchevre – the point I (as opposed to Deneen) am making is that this kind of strong small town community is far from unique to Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. Holland is another good example, as is Italy, where I can testify that small communities can certainly escape from the power of the state. Also impt here is the role that both regional and local government plays in allowing local communities a fair amount of self-governance in many European countries. Agree completely on the heterogeneity – but isn’t that precisely what Ross seems to be denying?

knecht ruprecht – as I understand Ross’s argument, it’s that leftie-whipped Europe is by its nature quite inhospitable to religiously motivated small town communities, and that the latter have dramatically weakened b/c of the left. This would suggest that your point actually contradicts his, I think (not to mention the role of Protestantism and, heaven-forbid, small-scale socialism/Communism in supporting local communities elsewhere in Europe).

28

Cranky Observer 09.21.07 at 6:58 pm

> the point I (as opposed to Deneen) am making is
> that this kind of strong small town community is
> far from unique to Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria.

The United States has worked very hard to destroy the cultural basis of such communities, but every large (and medium) traditional urban city where I have lived in the US has had many of them out in the neighborhoods away from the glare of public attention. Not as strong as they were in the 1880-1940 period, but the family, neighborhood, and community bonds are often still there. Not something that either our (US’) cultural elite or conservative culture warriors[1] wants to acknowledge though.

Cranky

[1] Or big exurban real estate developers

29

Uncle Kvetch 09.21.07 at 7:39 pm

What I’m thinking of is “are there non-government groups that have real power”?

You mean like labor unions?

30

richard 09.21.07 at 7:52 pm

You know a place that has a really strong sense of community, non-governmental groups with real power, and a thriving church, where the national government isn’t strangling local business?

Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro.

31

SamChevre 09.21.07 at 7:53 pm

You mean like labor unions?

Yes, they would be one example.

32

Uncle Kvetch 09.21.07 at 7:58 pm

Yes, they would be one example.

I would think of that as one more area in which Europe “leads” the US, then. Not to mention that it’s a form of “non-governmental group” to which American conservatism is explicitly hostile.

33

HansG 09.21.07 at 8:16 pm

“southern Germany (Swabia, between the Black Forest and Bavaria), Switzerland (the central region, around Lucern), and western Austria”

Knecht Ruprecht claims that these areas are unusual in German speaking Europe in that they are overwhelmingly Catholic. Actually that’s not correct: large parts of Swabia, including the main cities (Ulm, Stuttgart, Tuebingen) are staunchly Protestant, pietist even, and closely fit Weber’s description of the Protestant Ethic. Culturally, however, fairly homogenous even while upper (southern) Swabia happens to be Catholic. And Switzerland is a checkerboard, too.

On the microscopic level it’s all pretty complex, but I think religion is not the main variable.

34

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 8:27 pm

I think that some of the weirdness of American life is a spinoff of the individualistic nature of much of American Christianity. The communitarian areas of America I mentioned above are Catholic (and sometimes also Lutheran). You’re born into these churches and have trouble leaving them even if you want to, whereas the “born-again” churches require you to find faith and exclude the faithless. (They also tend to be schismatic). I doubt that Douthat is aware of this particular problem. Much of America is anti-communitarian, even in its religious faith.

35

Ginger Yellow 09.21.07 at 8:37 pm

If Deneen is right, the leftist dominated European model (which is more accurately described as a compromise between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) is far more conducive to supporting the kinds of dense communities that conservatives prize than the US deregulated free market model.

Since when have (American) conservatives prized dense communities? They absolutely loathe big cities. They don’t want to spend money on the infrastructure needed to support them. They idealise small towns and rural/mountain individualism. They fetishise and prioritise the car, which makes living outside dense communities possible and which insulates you from the rest of humanity. They oppose organised labour, one the main loci of dense communities.

36

Sebastian holsclaw 09.21.07 at 8:38 pm

I’ll preface this by saying that it is very possible that my understanding of European geography is poor, but aren’t the locations in question (southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria) among the most conservative in Europe? If you are going to use the most conservative data points in Europe, shouldn’t you compare them to the most conservative data points in the US? Compare Switzerland to say Utah? Southern Germany to Western Pennsylvania? Austria to California north of San Francisco or maybe much of Oregon?

Maybe people have this in mind and just aren’t being clear, but we probably can’t fruitfully compare this subsection of Europe to New York city or DC.

37

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 8:43 pm

The populated areas of Oregon are not conservative.

38

Doug 09.21.07 at 8:52 pm

16: I was following the blog-comment rule of first exaggerate, then explain. On the one hand, civil society was strong enough in parts of Central Europe to get rid of Communism eventually; on the other, the red-hot rake of war, forced collectivization, wholesale population exchanges, and other post-1945 lowlights did a great deal to stamp out localism. To say nothing of things like pre-WWI Russification in Poland and so forth. But you’ve said “fair point,” and “remember the East” was my main point.

39

Matt Weiner 09.21.07 at 9:22 pm

If you are going to use the most conservative data points in Europe, shouldn’t you compare them to the most conservative data points in the US? Compare Switzerland to say Utah? Southern Germany to Western Pennsylvania?

I’m not sure exactly what the point of the comparison is supposed to be, since I thought that Henry’s point was that conservative small towns can exist even under Western Europe’s leftish economic policy. So of course he’s going to look at conservative areas. Does Swabia get to set its own economic policy? (That’s a real question — my impression was that German regions have less to say about economic policy than American states do, but I could be wrong.)

Anyway, I’m from Western Pennsylvania, and it’s definitely not one of the most conservative areas of the country. Republicans don’t bother running candidates in Pittsburgh. You’re probably thinking of northern and central Pennsylvania.

But if the question is, are the conservative parts of Europe or the conservative parts of the US more friendly to the communitarian vision — well, I just lived for two years in one of the most conservative parts of the US (West Texas), and it didn’t seem very close to the communitarian ideal; huge tracts of the sort of uniform housing Deneen complains about, lots of fast-food restaurants in the main business area, and just about no public space — and the small towns in the area didn’t seem much better off. (I admit that these are pretty superficial impressions.) Now I’m in one of the leftmost and least urbanized states of the country (Vermont), and it seems a lot closer to the Village Green Preservation Society ideal.

40

JRoth 09.21.07 at 9:26 pm

But Sebastian, these areas of Europe (and I should reiterate Henry’s point that this observation is not limited to this crescent of southernmost German-speakers) may be conservative relative to their neighbors, but the point is that they are better at doing what Douthat claims to value within the context of left-leaning governance that he dislikes than comparable areas of the US under the governance that Douthat prefers.

Point being, both Johnstown and Bregenz are small cities of conservative values and communitarian tendencies; but only one of these is vibrant, and it’s the one “where the economic left has held the whip for decades.” Douthat – apparently working from the cartoon version of Europe that is issued to all American conservatives – has no idea what he’s talking about when he says “Traditional forms of social organization are weaker in today’s America than they were fifty years ago, but they’re still much, much stronger than in Europe.” That’s the bottom line.

41

Mrs Tilton 09.21.07 at 9:37 pm

Henry,

leftists who are committed to gender equality should be very troubled by, for example, the regulations on shop closing hours that Deneen likes so much

Very well taken indeed. Few people, especially outside Germany, perceive this clearly; and you need to throw the short school hours and relative scarcity of daycare into the mix to get the full picture.

That said:

(i) The campaign for draconian shop closing hours is an unholy alliance of social conservatives, the churches[1], and the trades unions. The unions aren’t trying to achieve the same thing as the cultural right and the reverends, but still are an important part of the coalition. And even there, I suspect there was at least in the past an element of gender protectionism — safeguard jobs for the boys, with the emphasis on the “y”.

(ii) Things have got much better over the past few years (Mo-Sa till 22.00, as opposed to Mo-Fr till 18.00, Sa till noon three weeks of the month and many shops closed for a teutonic mid-day siesta). The comet has struck and the dinosaurs are a-dying, even if we shall be hearing their groans for a few more years.

[1] Not a redundancy; unlike the RC church, the Lutherans aren’t generally social conservatives, but are as bad as the catholics about Sunday opening hours.

42

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 9:41 pm

Around here the churches close the bars and liquor stores on Sundays.

43

James Wimberley 09.21.07 at 9:50 pm

It’s either Luzern (German) or Lucerne (French and grand-tour English). I don’t follow the PC line that you should always use the local form and never say Florence or Lisbon, but there doesn’t seem much point in avoiding Luzern, which is very much germanophone.

44

Slocum 09.21.07 at 9:51 pm

For the same reason, it’s likely to be unattractive to libertarians.

Yep. I’d argue the best place for libertarians (and it’s a compromise, but not a bad one) is a lefty city in an otherwise fairly conservative state in the U.S. (Austin, Madison, Ann Arbor). You get the easy-going social and cultural atmosphere, but the local government still has only a strictly limited ability to impose a leftish legal and economic agenda. Maybe just outside the city limits would be better, but even inside is pretty good.

…the Europeans pay higher prices for everything in an effort to use less, and whatever “give” there is in the worldwide production of resources is a kind of unintended sacrificial gift that many Europeans are making so that America can continue its energy gluttony.

Do Europeans generally believe that?!? (I kind of suspect they do). So they pay more for houses, cars, iPods, computers, digital cameras, etc. so we can pay less over here? Awww, that’s so sweet of them.

45

John Emerson 09.21.07 at 9:55 pm

Wisconsin and Michigan aren’t conservative.

The conservative US consists of the South, the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states, Alaska, some of the border states, and probably Indiana. Hellholes, in other words, and not necessarily very communitarian ones.

46

mq 09.21.07 at 10:02 pm

Great post. One thing that contributes to this is agricultural subsidies, which are very economically inefficient but support rural towns with Jeffersonian small farmers as opposed to agribusiness. It’s kind of amazing how small the scale of European agriculture still is.

47

Slocum 09.21.07 at 10:44 pm

Wisconsin and Michigan aren’t conservative.

It’s a mix — the non-urban parts definitely are conservative. And the west coast of MI (Grand Rapids area) is also conservative. Right now, in MI, the governor is a Dem, but the Attorney General and Secretary of State are Reps, and the each has a majority in one of two houses. And keep in mind, you’re talking about a state where the ballot proposals to ban gay marriage and affirmative action passed with solid majorities.

Same deal in WI — majority conservative outside Madison and Milwaukee, with a divide legislature and a Dem governor. And WI also passed a gay marriage ban by a huge margin:

http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=294074&ShowPD=Y
http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=/wsj/2006/11/08/0611080125.php

Key sentence in the latter:

“The ban passed despite strong opposition in Dane County, where voters rejected it by a 2-to-1 margin.”

So WI voters approved the ban by a 60-40 margin while Dane County (Madison) rejected it by a 66-33 margin. On cultural issues I think it’s pretty accurate to describe Madison as a liberal island in a conservative state. And the results were just about the same in MI and Ann Arbor on the gay marriage ban here.

48

Matt Weiner 09.21.07 at 11:02 pm

In Michigan and Wisconsin liberal urban areas and conservative rural areas — which is the rule through most of the US — adds up to a politically moderate state. Which may be better for libertarians, because Texas’s dildo bans and abortion restrictions don’t seem very libertarian-friendly.

Also, the cities you’re listing are lefty college towns in less lefty states; I’m not sure that Gary or Detroit or even Cleveland would be particularly libertarian-friendly.

i>the west coast of MI (Grand Rapids area) is also conservative

From what I’ve heard, this doesn’t exactly refute Emerson’s contention that conservative areas are hellholes.

49

Shelby 09.21.07 at 11:26 pm

It seems to me that the discussion regarding conservative areas in Europe focuses on regions that have a long-established tradition of local living — as opposed to the large cities, which are more outward-focused and consequently work less to develop and maintain local social institutions and traditions.

By contrast, where people are talking about conservative areas in the US they’re focusing on regions that poltiically support conservative politicians.

Plainly these are apples and oranges — two different kinds of conservatism. Cultural vs political, if you will. You wouldn’t expect them to compare intelligibly. By contrast, look at the places in the US with the longest traditions of continuity, and you find yourself in (e.g.) uplands New England, the rural Carolinas, etc. I don’t expect these places to be as politically conservative as Orange County or Houston, but they’re closer in culture to the “conservative” corners of Europe.

50

Slocum 09.21.07 at 11:30 pm

Also, the cities you’re listing are lefty college towns in less lefty states; I’m not sure that Gary or Detroit or even Cleveland would be particularly libertarian-friendly.

Well, yes, that was the point — and the cities you listed have many other problems (which have little to do with cultural liberalism or conservatism).

“the west coast of MI (Grand Rapids area) is also conservative.”

From what I’ve heard, this doesn’t exactly refute Emerson’s contention that conservative areas are hellholes.

Well, take Holland, MI for example. Less than half an hour from Grand Rapids and has even more Dutch Reformed influence, but it also has a lovely intact downtown and some of the most beautiful dunes and beaches you’d find anywhere. And the people — yeah, they’re religious and conservative, but they are just so damn nice. And if you want to get a bit of the Provincetown vibe, well it’s 15 minutes down to Saugatuck. Nope–nowhere close to a hell hole.

51

Matt Weiner 09.21.07 at 11:57 pm

the cities you’re listing are lefty college towns in less lefty states… Well, yes, that was the point

I don’t think I made myself clear; the emphasis was on “college towns.” The cities I named are lefty cities (from that survey of how cities voted in 2004, they were all in the top 12 pro-Kerry) in moderate-to-conservative states. They’re also all majority black and pretty poor, which is why they’re so pro-Kerry. It sounds like what you’re looking for depends on something specifically found in college towns, not just in any lefty city, possibly because those are socially lefty while being well-off enough to provide services. (I’m not sure why I’m making a fuss about this, it’s really no big deal to me where libertarians want to live.)

My info on western Michigan comes from a friend who lived in Grand Rapids and worked in Big Rapids; I’ve got nothing against the rest of the area.

Shelby — the point about Uplands New England seems to reinforce Henry’s point about how economic leftism isn’t incompatible with this cultural conservatism; where’s the only socialist senator from?

52

aaron 09.22.07 at 12:32 am

we are the village green preservation society

53

Bobcat 09.22.07 at 12:51 am

I’ve only read a couple of responses to my comment 14, but note that I prefaced my remark by asking, “what do you mean by “conservative”?” I’ll cede that Charles Taylor possibly isn’t a conservative in any sense–he tends not to be so down on modernity as a lot of conservatives are–but MacIntyre and Lasch seem to me to be conservatives in important senses–i.e., interested in preserving traditional values, etc. Sure, they don’t (or in Lasch’s case, wouldn’t) like Bush (read the third edition of After Virtue for confirmation that MacIntyre doesn’t), and they are “outspoken critics of corporate capitalism”; but to me, none of those things is incompatible with being conservative. Indeed, I imagine that they’re both necessary elements of it. But I use the word rather differently from how other Americans use it, which I see as referring to “right-wing liberals”.

54

John Emerson 09.22.07 at 1:00 am

Slocum, Michigan and Wisconsin are states. You said that they’re conservative states, but they aren’t. You cherry-picked some conservative rural areas while throwing out the majority of the population of these states. Characteristic winger bigotry.

My rural Congressional district is the second most conservative district in Minnesota, but it’s represented by a (Blue Dog) Democrat. He’s not a conservative; he’s a socially conservative New Dealer type. This relatively-conservative (for Minnesota) district is at least five percentage points more liberal than the state of Texas taken as a whole, and probably twenty points more liberal than the non-urban areas of Texas.

The Upper Midwest tends to be somewhat socially conservative, but it’s not conservative.

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 1:06 am

Bobcat, in the America of today, conservatives have no choice except to be Democrats. The Republicans are nuts. One reason why I despise Douthat and Jane Galt is that they want to be conservatives while still not opposing the hoodlum Bush regime.

56

novakant 09.22.07 at 2:04 am

This is all terribly complex, even if one refrained from generalizing about Europe and talked “only” about Germany. But for a start it might be useful to ask what “conservative” means in the European context and to distinguish between the cultural, free-market and authoritarian aspects of conservatism. Take the political parties in Germany:

The CSU in Bavaria has always been the most culturally conservative party, the CDU less so. Yet the CSU has its own brand of conservative communitarianism, while the CDU has generally been favouring big business. On the other hand the CDU is also partially driven by a peculiar form of truly compassionate capitalist catholicism which has its origins in both the socially liberal Rhineland and catholic social doctrine. Bavaria, being primarily agriculturally based, used to be economically backwards but has been transformed into a powerhouse, albeit not by the free market alone but with a lot of state intervention and support. The FDP has always been the most economically liberal and libertarian party, yet their clientele consists mostly of urban professional freelancers, so that they are not necessarily in favour of big business interests. The Green party is on the whole more libertarian minded and neo-liberal than both the SPD and the CDU/CSU. The SPD is purportedly socialist, but Schroeder in coalition with the Green party has pushed through more neo-liberal “reforms” in three years than Kohl even dared to think about in his 16 years in office. The SPD, while generally socially rather liberal, has also frequently shown its authoritarian streak in favour of a strong state.

Now try to match all this to the different regional party strongholds, as well as the socio-cultural and religious profile of the respective voter bases and you end up with a rather confusing political muddle that cannot be captured with a few buzzwords and probably only comprehended after reading several decades worth of Der Spiegel.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 09.22.07 at 2:21 am

“You cherry-picked some conservative rural areas while throwing out the majority of the population of these states. Characteristic winger bigotry.”

Ummm, the whole post is based on cherry picking some of the most conservative sections of Europe. So……?

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 2:27 am

I was talking specifically about your mistaken claim in 44 that Michigan and Wisconsin are “relatively conservative” states. They aren’t. End of story. You were blathering.

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 2:28 am

Not yours, but Slocum’s. Can’t tell you boogers apart.

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Matt Weiner 09.22.07 at 2:48 am

the cities you’re listing are lefty college towns in less lefty states… Well, yes, that was the point

I don’t think I made myself clear; the emphasis was on “college towns.” The cities I named are lefty cities (from that survey of how cities voted in 2004, they were all in the top 12 pro-Kerry) in moderate-to-conservative states. They’re also all majority black and pretty poor, which is why they’re so pro-Kerry. It sounds like what you’re looking for depends on something specifically found in college towns, not just in any lefty city, possibly because those are socially lefty while being well-off enough to provide services. (I’m not sure why I’m making a fuss about this, it’s really no big deal to me where libertarians want to live.)

My info on western Michigan comes from a friend who lived in Grand Rapids and worked in Big Rapids; I’ve got nothing against the rest of the area.

Shelby—the point about Uplands New England seems to reinforce Henry’s point about how economic leftism isn’t incompatible with this cultural conservatism; where’s the only soc14list senator from?

[reposting with the magic word altered, to avoid moderation]

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Matt Weiner 09.22.07 at 2:54 am

Sebastian, the thesis of the post is that conservative small towns can remain cohesive under relatively leftish Western European economic regimes. How is Henry supposed to establish that without looking at conservative areas of Western Europe?

As for the comparison with conservative areas in the US, I think jroth took care of that in 40 — small towns in conservative areas of the US generally aren’t thriving, and in Johnstown’s case it’s definitely because of economic factors. (Utah may be an exception, but if it is it’s because of a hegemonic religion.)

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 2:55 am

I don’t think that Michigan and Wisconsin are moderate-to-conservative states. I’d say liberal-to-moderate. I suspect that by most standards Stabenow, Levin, Feingold, and Kohl collectively are at least as liberal as Clinton, Schumer, Feinstein, and Boxer, and probably more so.

The Democratic Midwest is less culturally liberal than the coastal states, but it also tends to be less neocon and less corporate.

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Bobcat 09.22.07 at 3:04 am

Speaking as someone quite sympathetic to conservatism (in my very peculiar sense of someone who is concerned about socially conservative values and thinks that the unfettered free market corrodes those values), I certainly agree that you can’t vote for most Republicans (there might be some out there — maybe Chuck Hagel? — but I don’t know any off hand), but I’m not sure about most Democrats either. Strangely, even though most Americans are socially conservative and economically liberal, practically no politicians are.

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engels 09.22.07 at 4:36 am

where’s the only soc14list senator from?

[reposting with the magic word altered, to avoid moderation]

Wow, that got past the filter? Maybe these will even go through:

cla55 stru55le
f41se c0nsc10sness
dem0crat1c c0ntr0l 0f the me4n5 0f pr0duct10n

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JP Stormcrow 09.22.07 at 5:11 am

cla55 stru55le

Pr0l3 5pe4k r00lz!! L33t 5pe4k dr00lz!!

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LarryM 09.22.07 at 5:21 am

Douthat intrigues me a bit – he is intellectually honest, I think, and I wouldn’t call him stupid – really, if he isn’t “smart” then we are reserving the word for very few people in the population at large, and most of the post in question is actually a pretty smart and reasonable sounding statement of his view of the type of society he wants to live in.

ut he does have a LOT of little blind spots, and that results in some really silly statements sometimes, and in tine deafness about certain issues (the biggest IMO is regarding gender issues). Or maybe the spots aren’t so blind, he really is intellectually dishonest, and he just hides it well behind an earnest seeming exterior.

But I’ve never met him, so it’s hard to say for sure. I hate to put you on the spot, Henry, but what’s your impression, having interacted with him on blogging heads, at least?

His Atlantic colleague Ms. McArdle, seems to have the same combination of seeming earnest sincerity, reasonable intelligence, combined with frequent complete tone deafness/blindness to what’s staring her in the face. I really can’t quite figure it out. Who else seems to have that particular combination of earnestness, reasonable intelligence, and large blind spots. Kevin Drum maybe?

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Slocum 09.22.07 at 10:57 am

Slocum, Michigan and Wisconsin are states. You said that they’re conservative states, but they aren’t.

I said that it is good for libertarians to live in or near lefty cities in ‘otherwise conservative states’. Other than the lefty cities, Michigan and Wisconsin *are* majority Republican, so it is accurate to say ‘otherwise conservative’. It’s also reasonable to say that in the sense that outside the lefty cities, even Michigan and Wisconsin Democratic voters tend to be conservative culturally (witness the large majorities in favor of the gay marriage and affirmative action bans).

My rural Congressional district is the second most conservative district in Minnesota, but it’s represented by a (Blue Dog) Democrat.

Yes, well, that’s not exactly a surprise — Minnesota is historically much more liberal than Wisconsin and Michigan (and Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio for that matter). The Democratic Party in Minnesota is still called the “Democratic Farmer-Labor Party”. The old saying about Wisconsin politics is “To the right of Minnesota and above Illinois”. And so on.

But none of this really impacts the general point which is, if you’re a libertarian type — go live among social liberals and don’t sweat their lefty politics (since they’ll have almost no power to impose economic policies on you anyway).

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Matt Weiner 09.22.07 at 12:15 pm

cla55 stru55le
f41se c0nsc10sness
dem0crat1c c0ntr0l 0f the me4n5 0f pr0duct10n

tee-hee. The issue with “soc14list” is that “c14lis” is a frequent spam word, of course.

[Douthat] does have a LOT of little blind spots

The linked post shows off one of the blind spots that infuriates me the most — he says “I’m not sure… that contractualism … and utilitarianism… are quite so easily conflated,” which as one of the commenters points out is kind of like saying “I’m not sure that Martin Luther really was a Catholic.” If he’d been paying attention in college, there’s an expert on that very subject around. But then, in his debut piece about how mean old Harvard had allowed him to slack through without learning anything, he made the ridiculously false claim that Harvard didn’t have anyone who taught “metaphysics and morals”; which makes me wonder why boasting about how you managed to remain ignorant gets you a job as a political commentator.

But still, he does seem pretty smart, and not intellectually dishonest. (Unlike McArdle, who seems to make a whole lot of errors of fact favoring her side.)

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Don Quijote 09.22.07 at 1:16 pm

Other than the lefty cities, Michigan and Wisconsin are majority Republican, so it is accurate to say ‘otherwise conservative’.

Which cities in Michigan and Wisconsin are not lefty cities?

I live in NY State and other than NYC & suburbs, Albany & Suburbs, Buffalo & Suburbs, Rochester & suburbs NY State is a very conservative State. Problem is that I have eliminated all the major Metro areas of the state in which 85 to 90% of the state’s population live.

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Brett Bellmore 09.22.07 at 1:25 pm

“Conservatives assume that deregulation and a return to the free market will solve everything, promoting a revival of the work ethic and a resurgence of ‘traditional values.’”

I certainly wouldn’t assume that; It’s rather like assuming that, after decades of monoculture farming, if you stop planting corn a climax forest will spring up overnight. One of the key criticisms of government expansion into new areas of life, after all, is that it destroys social institutions which developed in an organic fashion over a very long time, and which once destroyed may be very difficult to revive.

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Slocum 09.22.07 at 2:06 pm

Which cities in Michigan and Wisconsin are not lefty cities?

Well, first of all, if you’re talking about social liberalism vs conservatism, there NO lefty Michigan metro areas except the two large college towns. Proposal 2 in 2004 (the gay marriage ban) passed in every Michigan county except Washtenaw (University of Michigan) and Ingham (Michigan State):

http://miboecfr.nicusa.com/election/results/04GEN/90000002.html

It passed even in Wayne County (Detroit) — which is not surprising, since African American voters are not socially liberal in general.

In terms of which cities vote Republican, it’s the smaller cities and many of the suburbs surrounding the larger cities. I am not certain, for example, whether or not Grand Rapids itself is still majority Republican, but the suburbs (and metro area overall) are. If you look at the 2004 election results:

http://miboecfr.nicusa.com/election/results/04GEN/01000000.html

You’ll see that Kerry beat Bush by almost 350,000 votes in Wayne County (Detroit), but Kerry won the state by only 160,000 votes — meaning outside Detroit, Michigan voted majority Republican.

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Cranky Observer 09.22.07 at 2:28 pm

One of the key criticisms of government expansion [Norquist bathtub drowning] into new areas of life, after all, is that it destroys [government functions and] social institutions which developed in an organic fashion over a very long time, and which once destroyed may be very difficult to revive.

Fixed that for you.Cranky

73

John Emerson 09.22.07 at 6:42 pm

I really can’t quite figure it out.

Opportunism. There are large practical advantages if you can keep yourself on the right side of the line. Both McArdle and Douthat have been promoted beyond their talent, though not quite as far beyond as Jonah Goldberg has.

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 7:07 pm

Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are run by late New Deal liberals who are more socially conservative than most liberals. They are still liberals and not conservatives. For me, one of the unpleasant things about the last 40 years is the way that social liberalism has obscured economic liberalism.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are also the main reasons why the Democratic party is a national party at all any more. A bicoastal party would always lose.

A libertarian living in Madison or Ann Arbor would be living in a socially liberal / economically liberal town in an economically liberal / socially moderate state.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are socially liberal in one key respect: no death penalty. Wisconsin has executed only one person in its hitory, and Minnesota and Michigan abolished the death penalty decades ago. (This, of course, is Catholic doctrine, but it’s a part of Catholic doctrine that social conservatives fling to the ground spit on. Scalia has tried to set the Pope straight on this question.)

The Midwestern Senators (led by Wellstone) were also the last resistance to the Patriot Act and to the related authoritarian innovations during the Clinton Administration.

There really are no libertarian little-government paradises. Little-government low-tax places (Texas, Mississippi) tend to be impoverished, authoritarian hellholes where no hip libertarian would want to live, and without the authoritarianism you’d still have the absence of public amenities.

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John Emerson 09.22.07 at 7:35 pm

Actually, the restaurant guide in Tyler Cowen’s recent book tells you what the libertarian paradise would be: an impoverished low-wage third world run for the benefit of the wealthy class. Third-world nations have the best restaurants in the world! And in many of them, the wealthy class is not hampered by the social conservativism they impose on the masses.

Liberty whiskey sexy!

76

Anthony 09.22.07 at 11:26 pm

“Traditional forms of social organization are weaker in today’s America than they were fifty years ago, but they’re still much, much stronger than in Europe, where the economic left has held the whip for decades.”

What is the definition of “forms of social organization” here? Is this specifically talking about the church?

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John Emerson 09.23.07 at 12:07 am

Probably this thread is dead, but anyway.

First, Minnesota isn’t a lot more liberal than Michigan or Wisconsin. Second, rural areas everywhere are more Republican than urban areas, so the “throw out the cities” methodology is a very poor way to decide whether a state is liberal or conservative. (Perhaps all that was meant is that Michigan and Wisconsin are more rural than Connecticut and New Jersey; but Michigan and Wisconsin are not really more conservative than Connecticut and New Jersey, unless social issues are your sole index).

I went through the 2004 Bush Kerry votes for Minnesota and Texas, sorted by Congressional district. In Minnesota Bush got his highest percent in the Sixth district (suburban): 57%. My own rural Seventh district gave Bush 55%. Three other somewhat-rural districts were closer, and Minneapolis, Duluth, and St. Paul were strongly or overwhelmingly Democratic.

In Texas Kerry won seven urban districts (in Galveston, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas). Of the remaining 25 districts, 22 gave Bush a higher percentage than any Minnesota district did; the other three gave Bush 55%, 55%, and 53% of the vote. (Austin, which has apparently been gerrymandered, was Republican).

In short, 22 of Texas’s 32 districts are more conservative than Minnesota’s most conservative district, and ten of them are ten points more conservative.

A quick look shows that Wisconsin has one district more conservative than any in Minnesota, whereas the rest of the state is seemingly less conservative than Minnesota. Three of Michigan’s 15 districts are more conservative than Minnesota’s most conservative district, but the rest of the state is at least as liberal as Minnesota.

Wisconsin and Michigan, like Minnesota, are not “relatively conservative states”. They are moderately liberal states which are more liberal on economic issues than on (sex-related) social issues (i.e., social issues other than the death penalty).

Data: http://www.polidata.us/books/default.htm

78

David Weman 09.23.07 at 1:07 am

Henry, you seem to conflate strong local communities and conservatism.

79

minneapolitan 09.23.07 at 1:34 am

Hear, hear John Emerson!

I’ve traveled extensively in the upper Midwest, and these are not “conservative” states. The extent to which many locales vote slightly to the right seems to me like nothing more than the margin of despair. Back to the original post, what particular “traditional forms of social organization” [ISAs?] are we talking about here? The family farm? The local church? Main Street small businesses? The local school?

The demise of the first three has been solely assured by unfettered capitalism. As for the last, I think we’re getting at the root of the argument here: if “socially conservative” = anti-busing, suddenly it all starts to make sense. But for the fact, of course, that rampant suburban sprawl necessitates mega-schools and the kind of horrific disparities in school budgets that have destroyed urban school systems, leading to the voucher nonsense, charter school charlatanism and more busing as a panacea for those disparities.

This whole position would appear to be nothing more than an attempt to re-triangulate the Repugs back to their racist core and relive the glory days of Boston anti-busing riots.

80

brooksfoe 09.23.07 at 2:47 am

In short, 22 of Texas’s 32 districts are more conservative than Minnesota’s most conservative district

22 of Texas’s 32 districts are more conservative than King Ludwig the Mad of Bavaria.

81

Karin 09.23.07 at 10:44 am

King Ludwig II may have been mad, but he wasn’t conservative. He had pacifistic tendencies, was gay, and a big supporter of arts and culture.

82

Mrs Tilton 09.23.07 at 2:40 pm

Karin @81,

yes, but he despised the people he ruled, and wasted state monies like a drunken sailor on shore leave. So he wasn’t altogether unlike the Republicans.

83

John Emerson 09.23.07 at 3:33 pm

Well, if Ludwig wasn’t conservative, it’s certainly true that at least 22 Texas district are more conservative than he was, no? And probably no less crazy, though I don’t have a source for that.

84

Matt Weiner 09.23.07 at 4:15 pm

Here’s the source.

85

Barry 09.23.07 at 7:35 pm

Posted by Matt Weiner: “…which makes me wonder why boasting about how you managed to remain ignorant gets you a job as a political commentator.”

When hiring wh*res, shamelessness is a major job qualification.

“But still, he does seem pretty smart, and not intellectually dishonest. (Unlike McArdle, who seems to make a whole lot of errors of fact favoring her side.)”

See above about major job qualifications. Also, McArdle has a Chicago MBA. If a lie got the job done, then it is economically more efficient to use it.

86

jsabotta 09.24.07 at 2:16 am

It’s interesting to see the new-found friendship between communitarian liberals and communitarian paleoconservatives.

Particularily if for “communitarian” you read “anti-Semitic, anti-libertarian, fascist” Which is pretty much what communitarian and paleoconservatism add up to. (See “Distributionism”)

87

Harald Korneliussen 09.24.07 at 1:35 pm

John Emerson said: “Around here the churches close the bars and liquor stores on Sundays.”

At least that can’t be blamed on oppressing women…

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Henry 09.24.07 at 2:08 pm

back from a weekend w/o Internet – larry, my impression is that Douthat is honest. He did as best as I remember, describe us CTers once as dishonest intellectual hacks (Chris Bertram aside) (his old site didn’t do the permalink thing very well, so I can’t be bothered to look it up), but as best as I can remember, this was shortly after Belle had organized his public Lysistratation, so no doubt he was feeling upset. David – go back and read Ross’s original post – he is talking about “traditional means of social organization” – i.e. strong local communities etc.

89

Mrs Tilton 09.25.07 at 7:31 am

jsabotta @87:

Particularily if for “communitarian” you read “anti-Semitic, anti-libertarian, fascist”

Given Amitai Etzioni’s prominent position in the communitarian school, that’s an interesting reading of “communitarian”. Ah well, one out of three ain’t bad.

90

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 09.26.07 at 3:00 pm

“The issue with “soc14list” is that “c14lis” is a frequent spam word”

Once the workers seize control, we will rebrand c14lis and v14gra as “Stakhonovis”!

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