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More Young Conservatives: Front Porch Republic

On the heels of the announcement of Ross Douthat becoming an op-ed columnist for the NYT, I thought this might be an opportune moment to point out another faint sign of life sprouting from the ash-heap of American conservatism.It's a new online magazine or blog or whatever these websites are called -- Front Porch Republic. It's motto is "Place. Limits. Liberty."I have a natural interest in FPR. As I mentioned in my inaugural post, I literally grew up within the conservative intellectual movement. Bill Buckley was my first boss.But even as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College -- academic Mecca for young conservatives -- I became deeply uncomfortable with the way mainstream conservatism was moving in the late 1970s -- with its unthinking support of corporate capitalism, its penchant for militarism and willingness to play world policeman, and its unbridled appetite for the self-righteous posturing of the culture wars.I was always more attracted by the "traditionalist" wing of conservatism, with its emphasis on the delicate nature of the social fabric, mediated by place and region and "intermediate institutions," its minimalist -- if not isolationist -- tendencies in foreign policy, and its stress on the more or less equal dangers of big business and big government.The folks over at Front Porch Republic represent the best of this strain of conservatism -- which owes a great deal to Catholic social thought, including the idea of subsidiarity. And of course to Southern Agrarianism and Chestertonian Distributism. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that many of the contributors are Catholic. (Of course the vaguely Protestant Wendell Berry is perhaps the single most important exemplar of FPR's vision.)They're also a pretty young group. I suspect there's some sort of generational thing going on with them -- I suspect that most of them would not be ardent disciples of the conservatives refined in the fires of the 1960s -- Michael Novak, say, or the late Fr. Neuhaus.Though it's a new website, there's already a great deal of energy, wit, and trenchant analysis to be found at Front Porch Republic. Sure, casting your eyes casually over their site you might a few things that are a bit off-putting or strange -- their blogroll includes "The Tory Anarchist" and "Conservative Heritage Times." And yes, it is highly unlikely that the FPR will be adopted by Republican Party operatives and become a viable political force any time soon -- so you might be tempted to write them off as descendents of Don Quixote -- but these guys are, well, smart, and maybe even a little prophetic.I may be wrong, but I happen to think that Catholics of whatever political stripe would find dialogue with the FPR crowd invigorating. I mean, if subsidiarity means anything, then Catholics ought to be wary of the path we're heading down -- wedding the Leviathan state to multinational capitalism. We should all care about the preservation of three endangered species: "Place. Limits. Liberty."

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I've never been able to embrace conservatism, but there are areas where conservatives make sense, and it's always good to hear that the movement has logical, thoughtful and articulate spokespeople who provide balance and challenge to liberals like me.Thanks for the heads up.

Thanks much for posting this notice on FPR. This looks like a very thoughtful site. I am fortunate to be at an institution that houses the Chesterton Review, and because of its editor, Dermot Quinn, I have been familiar with a conservatism that is far more critical of the military-industrial-corporate capitalist complex than anything that passes for mainstream politics, and also has something humanizing to offer. While I am not ready to go all Burkean, this view, which interestingly dovetails with much of what I suspect Dorothy Day was after, is a crucial leaven not to be missed

Jews, Christians and Muslims affirm that creation is a free gift from a free and single Creator. I read the piece in Front Porch by Mark Shiffman entitled The Rationality of the Doctrine of Creation. This is a little of what Mr. Shiffman tells us: "Thus, reason tells us that the only way to explain why there is order at all in the universe is to appeal to something that transcends that order. Something that transcends the confines that structure the universe transcends space and time. It transcends the confines of all finite limits and all oppositions. It transcends the opposition between changing and unchanging, between unity and multiplicity, between simple and complex. It transcends the requirement that everything that exists be caused by something other than itself."If we want to give an account of what may be responsible for the orderliness of the universe, the cause (if cause is the right word) will unavoidably have some of the features of the God that Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in as the Creator. It is reason that tells us so..."I think this is insightful. I am very glad I know about Front Porch. Chances are I will not embrace conservatism. Nevertheless I look forward to learning from the people who contribue to FPR. Perhaps what tanscends order in the universe is relationship but that is another story.

Intolerant liberals as well as intolerant conservatives are repugnant. The W administration was painful for many responsible convervatives. The problems is not so much the volume on either side. It is when either side starts to lie and fabricate that makes the process repelling. It is nigh impossible not to approach the edges once in a while granting the egoism of human nature. It is a decisive error to applaud either side indiscriminately. Liturgists who imposed wild choreagraphy without regard to the attending people are just as reprehensible as rigorous ones who won't depart from the Mass of Pius V. When there is transparency and honesty much good can happen.Writing this feels boring. It is common sense. Not quite common I guess.

Liturgists who imposed wild choreagraphy without regard to the attending people are just as reprehensible as rigorous ones who wont depart from the Mass of Pius V.In your eyes, perhaps. Not the Church's. The Gregorian mass - which is really what it is, since Pius V introduced no new innovations to the Roman missal as it already existed - nourished the faith of Catholics and their saints in most of the West for...a millenium and a half, longer if you go back to its antecedents under Damasus. It is really not appropriate to equate clown masses and leotards with celebration of this ancient rite, which was, after all, the missal celebrated at Vatican II and by Bl. John XXIII. Most celebrants of the extraordinary form simply love it for the reverence and connection to Catholic tradition, not as a political statement for the Bourbon monarchy or anti-Jewish fulminations. Most (nearly all) are not rejecting of the Paul VI missal per se, either. There's a kernel of your point that is sensible, however, which is why I also applaud the advent of Front Porch Republic.

But R.M., it's also true that people who are (or were) too aggressive with liturgical dance aren't necessarily rejecting older forms of the liturgy. I don't think Bill's comparison is quite as inappropriate as you suggest. I'm awfully tired of hearing about these "clown masses," by the way, but we're getting pretty far off the topic now...

Hello Mollie,I certainly don't want to chase this too far down the rabbit hole, either."Clown masses" was certainly my embroidery, but not, I think, an unreasonable one out of Bill's "wild choreography." While they exist more in legend than in fact (rare enough that I have never experienced one), some other excesses are more common, such as liturgical dancing, ad libbing fixed prayers, etc. Those who did so, especially "without regard to the people," I share Bill's rejection thereof, of course. Whatever one thinks of the old mass or even "reform of the reform" I think there's a growing consensus that many of the post 1969 changes were rammed through with too little thought or wide consultation among the laity, and I think this colors Pope Benedict's reluctance to push very far or very fast with any changes to the liturgy in the ordinary form. As to whether any rejection of the older liturgy is implicated...this has certainly been my experience, or at least of the liturgists who designed and implement such experimentations (for whom a mere suggestion of a Latin Agnus Dei or an occasional bit of chant is very frequently treated like request to perform live taxidermy during mass); empirical evidence, to put it mildly, is not hard to come by. It's harder to speak to individual participants. If you mean to speak of traditionalists who reject the Paul VI mass root and branch as invalid or illegitimate, I won't argue that point. And if that is what Bill meant, then he might be onto something. I just didn't take that away from the way he expressed himself ("who won't depart from the Mass of Pius V").But to get back to what I think is Bill's real point, which is about extremism, especially those which lead to unvirtuous deformities (Holocaust denial, radical theological dissent, torture apologetics, and yes, liturgical intolerance), and how it might be nice to turn a new page - no argument from me. Or not on that point. I think that a lot of what you'll see at Front Porch Republic, as Gregory notes, doesn't always fit easily into established categories or certainly not popular talking points. I think that can only be helpful, especially for a political movement now in the wilderness and fumbling about to find a way out of it, especially as an alternative to one very loud voice which commands 20 million radio listeners and the trepidation of Michael Steele.

Mr. Wolfe --Thanks for the recommendation. It looks quite interesting. I note that some of the participats are very attached to disttirbutivism and agrarianism. I can understand the appeal of distributivism, though I wonder whether it has answers to some of the extremely complex problems facing this over-populated world. It's the appeal of agrarianism I can't understand at all. I have great respect for the critic and poet John Crowe Ransom, one of the founders of the movemet, as well as for Alan Tate, poet-critic who excoriated the industrialized mega-cities which sprung up around the 3arly 20th century. . But Ransom eventually repudiated the movement, as did Robert Penn Warren, another of the founders. (I don't know whether Tate did.) What is there about agrarianism that still has appeal these days? Oh, I'd love to live in an ecologically sound world that retains the beauty God conferred on it, but farming for everyone? Or what is it all about these days?

I attended a priest's "first mass" at his home parish about 25 years ago outside St. Louis: women in leotards dancing up the aisle and later all over and around the altar. I'm a liberal --- generally speaking --- but even I found this element too offputting. I don't recall all else that transpired, but it was the most outrageous liturgy I had (and have to date) ever attended. Coming out of the church that day, I heard a group of middle-aged priests chatting amongst themselves about the event. One of them said, "I bet people won't ever forget this mass!" For sure.And, yet, that's the only time since Vatican II that I've ever witnessed what I think a reasonable guy would consider liturgical excess.My 40+ years support Mollie here.

I, for one, have never seen a clown mass, nor do I know of ANYONE who has! And this is in the bastion of Uberliberalism, Northern California!However, some of the clips that I have seen of those hankering for the Bad Old Days of clerical puffery border on clown-like appearance.Now polka masses .... that's something different.

Ann:Agrarianism is hardly frozen in the year 1930, when I'll Take My Stand was published. Some Southern Agrarians of that earlier generation were unable to transcend the racist assumptions of their time, just like many of their Progressive contemporaries. That said, I'm not sure a "farming for everyone" approach was the point then, and it certainly isn't now. If, like Wendell Berry, you're appalled at the accelerating degradation of ecosystems and human communities from unsustainable practices such as mountain top removal or corporate farm monoculture; if, like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, you're beginning to recognize the the complex connections between the foods we eat, the land it now grows on, and the immense costs hidden in food production; if, like Norman Wirzba, you have ever pondered the ways in which industrialization and technology provide less rather than more time to enjoy our lives in the created world, then you might find something of interest in these "new" agrarians. Any of the authors I just mentioned would be good starting places (there are many more), though -- for a quick survey -- you might read The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, published in 2003 by University of Kentucky Press. Norman Wirzba's introductory essay in that volume, "Why Agrarianism Matters -- Even to Urbanites," may be particularly helpful.

Thanks, Mr. Wolfe, I do have a great deal of sympathy with such thinking. And, yes, I'm stuck in 1930 as far as agrarianism goes. If it were called "the New Agragianism" I think it would have more appeal. As I see it, what is needed is to bring nature into our concrete cities. One reason Paris is so lovely is because it has all those little pocked parks. I'm hoping that New Orleans, where I live, will have the sense to turn a good many of the now-empty blocks here into little parks. Some good would come out of the storm. But I suspect agrarianism today is more a state of mind -- one which refuses t o accept the rat race of getting and spending as man's last end. Actually, I was about to read some Alan Tatee when your post appeared. I hope we'll hear moree from you :-) By the way, might you know of any organization whose purpose is to reform industrial farming so that farm animals in those industrial farms are not treated so cruelly? There is PETA, but it is for vegetarians, which I am not. I've been looking for such an organization for years. There is one in England, and I've read there's a small local one in California, but I'm looking for a broader group. The way we treat those animals is a total disgrace. Or does anyone else on the blog know of one? St. Francis is not going to bless us!

Thanks for all the comments -- even the jag on clown masses and liturgical dance, which took on a life of its own -- was fun to read. I'm especially grateful to Brian for demonstrating that agrarianism does simply involve mere nostalgia or fantasy. Actually, you're inspiring my next post....

Mr. Volck-I apologize for confusing you with Mr. Wolfe. I didn't realize there was another agrarianist on the blog. (Is "agrarianist" the right word? Or is ot "agrarian"? Or what?)