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A Paleoliberal’s Strange New Respect

Dallas Observer city columnist Jim Schutze, a paleoliberal if ever there was one, and I used to fight in print all the time when I was a Dallas writer. But a reader sends evidence from Schutze’s blog today that after reading David Brooks this morning, Schutze has had something of a change of heart. Excerpt:

What about the Obama re-election? Well, all of my fellow libtards want to read it as a red carpet for traditional liberalism in the next half century, which I very seriously doubt. After black people and Hispanics got done being angry over the racism of the Republican/Tea Party, after women got done being furious over the crude misogyny, after the rest of us got done being scared shitless by the march of the war-mongering, anti-civilization, Ayn-Rand-quoting, batshit-crazy billionaires, who even had time to think about philosophy? I think for most of us Obama voters, it was a case of dashing out of our psychological bomb shelters, inking the ballot and then hauling ass back to the shelter hoping Romney wouldn’t win and ship us all off on trains to Connecticut to do stoop labor on the estates of the gods.

But this morning, more or less secure in the sense that I can venture out of the house again and be semi-safe from capture and enslavement, I looked at Brooks’ piece, saw Dreher’s name, and thought, “You know, Dreher is a hell of a lot closer to the cultural revolution I see going on in this city than I am.”

All of the people in Dallas today that I associate with the city’s better future — the preservationists in the Angela Hunt constituency in East Dallas, the new-urban Scott Griggs people in Oak Cliff, the civic responsibility folks who vote for Sandy Greyson in North Dallas and the pull-up-your-damn-pants-and-get-a-job people who vote for Dwaine Caraway in Southern Dallas — they all operate out of what could and maybe should be viewed as a very conservative moral base.

They all have this in common: They don’t trust big government to give them good lives, nor do they trust Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers. What they share is a kind of retro faith in personal and mutual civic responsibility. I assume the Ayn Rand crazies scare them as much as they scare me.

All of that is still on the table to be sorted out. It’s a philosophical nexus no better resolved in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party.

Back in 1996, the Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft wrote in First Things about how their reactions to architecture exposed something philosophically interesting about his friends. He found to his surprise that his mainstream conservative and his mainstream liberal friend shared common ground, while he (a traditionalist) and a radical left-wing friend shared common ground. Excerpt:

It became obvious to all four of us that there was some sort of a serious spiritual division between “us” and “them”: with the radical and the traditionalist on the one side, and the liberal and the conservative on the other. It was more than a set of aesthetic preferences. It soon became clear that it unexpectedly flowed over into social and political issues. Dick and I discovered that we shared a preference for “small is beautiful” populism, a suspicion of bigness whether in government or business, a lack of interest in economics, a dislike of suburbs, a love of nature, and a concern for conserving the environment. (I’ve never understood why “conservatives” aren’t in the front rank of conservationism.) We didn’t get into moral and religious issues, but I suspect that even there we would have found a psychological kinship beneath our philosophical differences.

Perhaps the key was a willingness to be passionate about something, however different these things were. Or perhaps it was the preference for the concrete and specific over the abstract and general. (Was that why we both dislike computers and the other two love them?) But whatever it was, and whatever political significance it may have, I think it means at least this: that beneath the current political left-right alignments there are fault lines embedded in the crust of human nature that will inevitably open up some day and produce earthquakes that will change the current map of the political landscape.

Kreeft wrote this 16 years ago. I wrote “Crunchy Cons” in this same spirit six years ago (it’s still available on Kindle!). Maybe now we’re starting to see it happen. Hope so.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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