Home/Rod Dreher/PoMos Vs. Porchers In Alt-Con Shootout

PoMos Vs. Porchers In Alt-Con Shootout

Mitrailleuse says that with the migration of Peter Lawler’s Postmodern Conservative blog to NRO, the conflict between Pomocons and Porchers (i.e., the Front Porch Republic conservatives) is likely to intensify. The tension has been there for a while. Ur-Porcher Patrick Deneen identified it five years ago:

Most of the debates within the “conservative” wing today are yawners.  They pit one brand of worn-out “conservatism” against another (often with the assistance of screeds on talk radio), with nary an interlocutor capable of reflecting on the deeper set of commitments (and, more often than not, profound internal contradictions) assumed within a particular “conservative” worldview, so-called.

But Jason Joseph has noticed something – there are two iterations of contemporary conservatism, both almost entirely outside the mainstream of contemporary hackery – that have a set of interesting overlapping commitments, and an even more interesting set of  differences.  This debate pits the anti-consumerist, CSA-loving, small town-adoring, pro-hand working, suburb-loathing, bourbon-sipping denizens of the “Front Porch Republic” against the McDonald’s loving, Starbucks slurping, dentistry-adoring, Wal-Mart shopping adherents of Postmodern Conservatism.

In 2010, Peter Lawler outlined the differences between his brand of conservatism and all the rest:

It’s the “stuck with virtue” approach that distinguishes postmodern conservatism from porcherism, neoconservatism, neoorthodoxy, anti-progressivist founderism, tea-party techno-libertarianism, evangelical worldviewism, paleoconservative traditionalism, and so forth….

We don’t think we live “after virtue,” as Alasdair MacIntyre claims. We haven’t lost our ability to experience or to articulate our perception that the best way to feel good is to be good. People are still stuck with and ennobled by living morally demanding lives. Life is in some ways easier but in others harder than ever before. We live neither in some techo-utopia nor in some techno-wasteland. Virtue is alive in the tacky McMansions we find in sprawling exurbs. Even the sophisticated Europeans who talk sometimes as if they are living some postfamilial, postreligious, and postpolitical dream still can talk about what they know about the line between good and evil found in every human being’s heart.

In a time of unprecedented abundance and freedom that’s largely the product of the modern, technological approach to the world, we do find it harder than ever to know who we are. And so we find it harder than ever to know what to do. But we’re still stuck with answering those questions to live well—or nobly and happily—with what we’ve been given. There’s little that’s more hellish than my being stuck with the perception of “pure possibility,” the perception that every door is open to me with no guidance at all concerning which one to choose. That’s the lesson, for example, of the novels of our physician-philosopher WALKER PERCY, not to mention the philosophic film GROUNDHOG DAY. The pure democracy imagined by Socrates or communism as imagined by Marx or the realm of techno-freedom imagined by our libertarians (all of which amount to the same thing) are all descriptions of the hell we have mistaken for heaven when we misunderstand who we are.

Here’s a link to the new Pomocon blog at NRO.  And here’s a link to Front Porch Republic.  I look forward to spirited exchanges between the two, bearing in mind, though, what Lawler once said: that 97 percent of conservatives don’t give a rat’s ass what either the Pomocons or the Porchers have to say.

I haven’t thought about the differences between the two alt-conservative sensibilities in a long time. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that:

a) Both reject libertarianism and big-business-ism, which are the dominant sensibilities in modern US conservatism

b) Pomocons want to conserve liberalism, and have made their piece with the consumerist society, but aren’t liberals because they recognize that the goods that liberalism provides cannot stand on their own, but rather require prior commitments — commitments that people who call themselves liberals (that is, political and cultural liberals) don’t recognize.

c) Pomocons believe Porchers are romantic reactionaries who offer nothing but nostalgia, which cannot be an answer to life as it is actually lived in America today.

d) Porchers have a more radical critique of modernity, believing that liberalism (in the 19th century sense) contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. They don’t necessarily see a viable alternative to the present order, but neither do they believe the present order is sustainable or conducive to human flourishing. They tend to favor conserving the necessary virtues and the practices necessary to sustain them within local settings.

e) Porchers believe pomocons are fooling themselves about the true nature of liberalism, and whether or not a proper conservatism can be lived in postmodernity.

Have I got that more or less right? Please feel free to add or correct. Of course I’m far more on the Porcher side of things, but I also think the debate between the side is more interesting than anything else being talked about on the Right.

On the other hand, it is certainly arguable that the fact that most Americans who call themselves conservatives have little if any interest in discussing these questions shows that both pomocons and porchers are irrelevant to US politics. Maybe so. But I think in both cases, we are less interested in the mechanics of government and the exercise and distribution of power, and more interested in what it means to live a meaningful life, individually and in society. That interest is not, and cannot be, fully separate from politics more broadly conceived, but it does explain where and why we stand apart from the mainstream.

UPDATE: Caleb Stegall sends this pretty definitive blog post exploring the differences between the two sensibilities, and reminds me that both he, one of the founders of FPR, and Philip Augustine Lawler will be at Walker Percy Weekend. Good thing nobody’s going to be drinking bourbon or anything, or this could get hot. Oh, wait…

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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