Postliberalism Does Not Bode Well for Groups Like Ours

January 22, 2023

It is easy to be distracted by the continual ruckus coming from the evangelical Protestant Christian crowd which, with their demagogue-of-the-day, almost weekly seems to draw a new battle line by trying to block the rising tide of secular modernism and the liberal administrative state that they believe is complicit in all sorts of anti-Christian conspiracies. 

But on another level, practitioners of another Christian sect are building a similar case against a liberal democratic way of life that has been the guiding principle of human organization and progress for almost 400 years. Perhaps more worrisome is that it is happening at the  academic level, where refined legal justifications and philosophical arguments are being developed to be used to promote the end of the current era of social organization.

These conservative scholars recently joined forces and created a Substack blog, The Postliberal Order

  • Gladden Pappin— University of Dallas, American Affairs
  • Chad Pecknold—Associate Professor of Theology at The Catholic University of America; Director, Institute for Faith & Public Culture.
  • Adrian Vermeule—Ralph S. Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School; Administrative Conference of the United States, Council Member.
  • Patrick J. Deneen—Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Why Liberalism Failed (Yale, 2018), which has been translated into over a dozen languages.      

All but one—Vermeule, Harvard—teach at respected Catholic institutions. Their respective institutions may, or (likely) not express or publicly condone similar views, but their foundational ideology is, however, shared. The gist of which goes like this: although humankind has managed to reap the benefits of generations of accumulated expertise enabling the expropriating  Earth’s physical resources and creating a cornucopia of knowledge and unprecedented and widely shared wealth, human antagonisms and hostilities again appear to be on the brink of boiling over. Their  solution would require a restructuring of our thinking about the virtues and shortcomings of democracy and liberalism. But the overarching idea behind this restructuring  is really a return to the past to the model St. Augustine proposed in The City of God (413 CE) where “the church is divinely established and leads humankind to eternal goodness, which is God. The state adheres to the virtues of politics and of the mind, formulating a political community.” The patriarchal, traditional family paradigm was the standard, even for government. 

Vermeule and Deneen are the predominant public faces in The Postliberal Order blog. Vermuele’s theory and 2022 book Common Good Constitutionalism makes a case that  moral principles in the Constitution that are conducive to the common good, as determined by officials, be strictly enforced, and that “the aim is not to maximize individual autonomy or to minimize the abuse of power.” Deneen is now advocating that conservatives push back  (break out of its “defensive crouch”) against “‘liberal totalitarianism’ and its values like free speech, religious freedom, and pluralism” after earlier suggestions to just getting away from it all with a withdrawal from society. (I vote for this.)

Eventually theories and abstractions from the academy work they way down to the average person in the street, where growing populist resentments are starting to lead to more incidents of violence. But in the true liberal spirit, we can’t advocate silencing these calls for a reactionary, theocratic fascism; but we need to be aware of them, we need to reaffirm our commitment to an open society, and remain the adults in the room of reason. 


 Marty Bankson, Ed.




Some of the insights and quotes from Deneen and Vermeule are from Liberalism and Its Discontents by Francis Fukuyama (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2022) and The Ezra Klein Show podcast episode “What Does the “Post-Liberal Right” Actually Want?”