Discover more from Postliberal Order
Towards a Postliberal Political Economy
Philip Pilkington rejects both the Liberal and the Marxist approach to economics and culture — and proposes a better, postliberal analytic framework for understanding political economy.
The macroeconomist and Postliberal Order contributor Philip Pilkington has a superb essay over at The American Postliberal, an outstanding new magazine of Catholic political realism. In the essay, Pilkington argues that the postliberal rejection of both Liberal and Marxist approaches to economics and cultural structures requires us to develop a genuinely postliberal framework for understanding the actual relationship between state, culture and economics.
Pilkington responds very helpfully to our own Edward Feser’s essay “In Defense of Culture War” by both agreeing with Feser, but then pressing forward into a postliberal analytic framework for understanding both the culture war and the economy.
Recently, the philosopher Edward Feser wrote a fascinating essay entitled In Defense of the Culture War.⁴ In the piece Feser highlights that some postliberals have become convinced that the culture war is a distraction from what they call ‘real economic issues’. Feser takes issue with this and tries to argue that the culture war remains important because an ordered culture and society is necessary for a functioning economy. Feser is correct, of course, but his analysis would be much more powerful if he considered utilising the tools of postliberal political economy. It should not be hard for creative and thoughtful people to highlight many of the connections between culture and the economy in our society today.
In fact, there are reasons to believe that wokeness itself can partly be explained with reference to economic dynamics. Consider the two examples that we have discussed above: family breakdown and dating apps. We know from studies, for example, that family breakdown is strongly associated with mental illness and that mental illness is strongly associated with woke views. Is it really a stretch, therefore, to link wokeness to family breakdown? And does this not fit perfectly with the archetypal woke subject racked with teen angst over, say, his or her parents’ divorce? Or take dating apps. Do these apps not point users in the direction of experimental sexual lifestyles, such as so-called ‘polyamory’? And do these lifestyle experiments not likely feed back into the proliferation of woke ideology?
Beyond this wokeness is so obviously a consumerist phenomenon. It is premised on the promise that people can choose their identities as they would choose a consumer good. Adopting a woke identity is effectively the same process as making a purchase from Amazon. A person clicks through a few webpages, finds something that is superficially appealing and says: “this is me”. What is more, books are already being written on the economic forces behind wokeism. Vivek Ramaswamy’s book Woke Inc: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam makes a compelling case that wokeism is effectively an ideology deployed by corporations to justify their activities. Ramaswamy is an unwitting Marxist, effectively applying the Marxist critique of religion to wokeism. But where the Marxist critiques are vague and unconvincing, Ramaswamy marshals impressive amounts of evidence that wokeism is, in large part, an attempt to subordinate the radical political forces that broke out at the time of Occupy Wall Street to corporate power. Wokesters are not leftist mischief-makers; rather they are the capitalist consumer subjects par excellence, subordinating not just their desires to the consumer market but their very being.
What Feser’s work and similar work could potentially provide is the telos for an integrated postliberal mode of governance. One of the enormous failings of the postwar left has been, after the collapse of enthusiasm for communism, to articulate a coherent vision for society. The reason for this is that the left has effectively no theory of morality or even taste and therefore no theory of what constitutes the good life and what constitutes the bad. In short, the failure of the postwar left has been its inability to articulate a positive view for society. Initially the postwar left coasted on the residues of Jewish and Christian morality, but in the past few decades it has collapsed into nihilism and nonsense.⁵ Postliberals, on the other hand, have ready access to the natural law tradition which allows them to discuss what goods should be promoted in a truly postliberal society and how these goods should be balanced relative to one another. For example, to what extent should the economy have to suffer to benefit the family.
The potential for a postliberal political economy is enormous. Studies are already being generated, week after week, on many of these dynamics as people become concerned with what increasingly looks like the breakdown of our societies. But we lack the language to fit the pieces together and are still stuck debating whether the “economy” or the “culture war” is more important. In reality, they are two sides of the same coin.
Read the whole essay here.
It’s precisely in conversations like these, between Pilkington and Feser, that we think a postliberal order can emerge, one which is better for souls and nations alike.