View from
The Left

A Preview of “The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism”

(Zac Calvert/Union University)

“Perhaps it would be a great Christmas present for the depressed Leftist in one’s life?”

Introduction

This year marks the publication of a number of books authored by me, the last of which will The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism for the publisher Palgrave MacMillan (up on Amazon here). It will treat all the issues examined in the earlier collection of essays What is Post-Modern Conservatism: Essays on Our Hugely Tremendous Time for Zero Books in more systematic detail. The book analyzes the emergence of what I call post-modern conservatism as a global political force. Emerging from the dynamics of neoliberal society and post-modern culture, one can trace the roots of these reactionary movements to the intellectual work of Joseph de Maistre, Michael Oakeshott, and others. However in practice these post-modern conservative movements tend to be far less reflective and far more a product of the culture they disdain than these earlier luminaries. After a lengthy theoretical reflection on these topics, The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism concludes with an analysis of these movements in practice, focusing specifically on the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, and Italy. My conclusion is that the practice of post-modern conservatism is oriented around positing Schmittian style “enemies” who frame an agonistic form a politics. The book concludes with some speculative comments on why post-modern conservatism will be unable to overcome the challenges of the epoch, before sketching out some ways a leftist democratic alternative can be developed. It will be released on December 14th of this year, anticipating what is sure to be a crazy election year in American politics.

For most of my life a certain form of neoliberalism seemed the only political alternative available to us, characterized by a great deal of inequality and limited opportunities for democratic participation. Post-modern conservatism is an impotent reaction to many of these problems, but it does demonstrate that there is a real hunger for political change today.

Outline of the Book

Unlike the collection of essays, The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism is intended as a systematic treatment of its subject matter from beginning to end. It is also quite a bit denser, being aimed at an academic audience. Perhaps it would be a great Christmas present for the depressed Leftist in one’s life? The book is introduced by my friend and a recent PhD Dylan De Jong (whose great Youtube channel you can check out here). In the introduction, De Jong focuses on the way the analysis developed in the book can help us understand the novelty of our current cultural condition. In particular, it examines what is novel about contemporary media and the politics it generates. The Preface provides an autobiographical and topical interpretation to the book, highlighting the main theme of the book that post-modern conservatism constitutes a shift from the neoliberal consensus which seemed triumphant in 1989. It also highlights some key tropes in an exploratory manner

Chapter One analyzes the concept of post-modernism, framing an analytical distinction between skeptical post-modern theory and authors who analyze post-modernism as a cultural condition. It also looks at the reaction to post-modernism from some conservative authors. It concludes by situating this book in the tradition of authors who treat post-modernism as a culture. Chapter Two is the most challenging in the book, trying to frame what is meant by neoliberal society and post-modern culture. It characterizes neoliberal society as defined by three kinds of transformations: socio-political, economic, and technological. These brought about immense changes, which were explicated by the products of post-modern culture such as literature and film. It then analyzes how post-modern culture is defined by changing experiences of space and time, and most importantly, by the destabilization of identity. It also analyzes the roots of this destabilization in secularism, liberalism, and capitalization.  All these myriad changes provided fertile soil for the rise of reactionary movements. Chapter Three traces the genealogy of post-modern conservatism in the work of major right-wing thinkers. In particular, it looks at the work of Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Michael Oakeshott, Lord Devlin, Robert Bork, and of course Peter Lawler, who originated the term post-modern conservatism. It also distinguishes this approach from other variants of conservative thought, from neoliberalism to Straussianism. It then analyzes the characteristics of contemporary post-modern conservatism, framing it as a reactionary outlook driven by resentment and fears of decline. It concludes with an examination of the agonistic politics of post-modern conservatism, particularly how the enemies of the movement are determined.

Chapter Four analyzes post-modern conservatism in practice. It opens and concludes with some highly general considerations. In between are concrete examinations of post-modern conservatism in the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, and Italy. There are also some ruminations on where else post-modern conservatism might be emerging, such as Brazil. I conclude that it would be a mistake to conclude that post-modern conservatism is simply a contingent development which will quickly vanish, as it has won major political victories in the past several years. Chapter Five concludes the book by examining the challenges facing post-modern conservatism as a movement. It highlights four such challenges and suggests post-modern conservatism will be unable to overcome them. The book then concludes with some brief reflections on what a progressive politics might do to challenge the reactionary impulse and to genuinely confront the challenges facing us. It also thematically rounds off the text by returning to the topic of the “end of history” framed in the Preface.

Conclusion

The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism was written to be highly critical of contemporary politics, particularly the reactionary movements that are burgeoning across the globe. However, I tend to ultimately think of it as an optimistic text despite the occasionally gloomy subject matter. For most of my life a certain form of neoliberalism seemed the only political alternative available to us, characterized by a great deal of inequality and limited opportunities for democratic participation. Post-modern conservatism is an impotent reaction to many of these problems, but it does demonstrate that there is a real hunger for political change today.  The book is ultimately not about post-modern conservatism—but, rather, what should replace it. In my mind, that can only be a robust social democracy, where wealth is distributed more fairly and citizens are granted greater opportunities to frame the laws that govern them. We should also be agitating for greater international cooperation and integration to meet the challenges of the 21st century like climate change, regional inequality, and persistent xenophobia. These steps must be taken if neoliberalism is to be transcended and the vulgarities of post-modern culture erased.

Matt McManus is currently Professor of Politics and International Relations at TEC De Monterrey. His book Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law is forthcoming with the University of Wales Press. His books, The Rise of Post-modern Conservatism and What is Post-Modern Conservatism, will be published with Palgrave MacMillan and Zero Books, respectively. Matt can be reached at mattmcmanus300@gmail.com or added on Twitter via Matt McManus@MattPolProf

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