Could Michigan provide a third way for young 'radicals?'

Earlier this year, Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen wrote a piece for the American Conservative entitled, "A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching." While the media obsess about Catholic divisions between liberals and conservatives, Deneen argues that the really interesting debate and fault line exist within what, for lack of a better term, is the conservative side of Catholicism.

He spoke of one group, what one might call neoconservative Catholics, who believe essentially that "there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism." On the other side are those “radicals” who "reject the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible." They are "deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, . . . of America's imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government."

Deneen's article, while seemingly academic, has quite a lot to say to us here in Michigan. While specifically about a Catholic debate, his article highlights a larger unease that many people have with American democracy and the narrow partisan boxes into which we feel increasingly pigeonholed. Indeed, one of my fellow Brunch columnists, Jeff Polet, is the editor of Front Porch Republic, a diverse group of voices offering many similar criticisms as the radical Catholics from a variety of perspectives. And while the problems might be largely insoluble politically, the implications of the larger discussion that is ongoing, necessarily have a political component. And that is where Michigan enters the picture.

Michigan may just have the building blocks for a third way politically — one that finds ways to regulate market capitalism and foster a communitarian approach to politics that puts the common good ahead of individualism.

This is, after all, the land of the Reagan Democrats, the blue collar union workers who pulled the lever for Reagan in droves. Michigan also has a strong tradition of pro-life political candidates from both parties. While it is becoming increasingly hard to be a pro-life Democrat, it is still possible here.

Unions have certainly lost sway. Michigan's union membership peaked in 1989 at 26 percent and has fallen to just over 16 percent, but that is still 5 percent higher than the national average. A strong union presence changes the dynamic between workers and employers in a way that can help foster a different sort of politics. Moreover, the impassioned and involved young people who are increasingly flocking to Detroit and Grand Rapids, in particular, also seem to be fed up with politics as usual.

Anecdotally, I can say that many of the young religious people I know, while deeply concerned about issues such as abortion and the breakdown of the family, see their faith as all-encompassing and speaking to every last thing in life from sex to how cities are laid out. In short, their faith has something to say about how their food is grown and cultivated, where they live and how they travel to work, how society should care and conserve the environment, and how society cares for the poor and most vulnerable. They find themselves politically homeless and critical of the choices put in front of them.

Given these various strands, interests and pressures, the time and place might be right here in Michigan for a third way politically that takes the valid criticisms discussed by Deneen and finds a way to implement them practically in our political system.

What this might look like is to be determined, but it would likely have a local focus – on town, city, and state – rather than national politics. It would find ways to support families through civil society but also governmental programs – especially working poor families. It would find ways to promote mass transit systems that help the poor and the suburban travel to our cities' downtown cores without the need of a car. It would find ways to promote small farmers who raise crops and animals in an environmentally sustainable and ethically conscious way.

These may all seem like general propositions, but those broad policy areas are very much areas where a consensus could be found among people who are dissatisfied with conventional political categories.

There are certainly potential roadblocks. Given the individualism at the heart of both the Republican and Democratic parties, it is not clear that we can buy into a politics that sees government's role as coordinating and fostering the common good. The stunning and speedy shift of consensus on what marriage means, which has led to a situation in which anyone who raises a voice in defense of traditional marriage being branded a bigot, also might make the needed political alliances untenable.

How does one combine a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-organic farming, rural Christian with a post-Christian, pro-gay marriage, urban young person into a workable political alliance? It may be that the politically homeless are so diverse that they cannot find a way to forge a common home to create a third way. Still, given the current options, making an attempt is at least worth the effort. The worst that could happen is that we remain mired in our current situation. The best that might happen is that we find a politics that is responsive to people who aren't the caricatures presented by MSNBC and Fox News.

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Fri, 10/10/2014 - 2:57pm
Distributism for the win?
Sat, 10/11/2014 - 3:47pm
I am curious about what Mr. Dugan is reality trying to achieve with this article. If he wanted change and issues resolved it seems he would of wanted to challenge or at least avoid the methods the partisans on each issue employ. Mr. Dugan seems to have written a whole article that is all stereotyping and one-liners similar to what the partisans use in their political battle for media time and public opinion. He never offers any examples or thoughts on how to break through this box the partisans and the media have created for each issue. They make each issue a confrontation preventing people with different perspective working together for effective solutions. Every time Mr. Dugan uses a stereotype label such as ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, “rural Christian”, “urban young”, he is forcing people to categorize themselves and thus become aligned with one or another of the partisan one-line positions. With that alignment people build boundaries around themselves before they even begin to think about an issue because of the labeling like Mr. Dugan uses. Those boundaries are one more brick in barriers between people on issues. I have no idea what the purpose Mr. Dugan had in mind for this article or what Bridge had in mind when they published it, but I am concerned it did nothing to encourage a dialogue between people with different perspectives and it added to the challenges of bring them together. I support the competition of ideas and the open conversations of people with differing perspectives; I am frustrated by how Mr. Dugan relied so much on stereotyping labels and one or two word issue descriptors. "The best that might happen is that we find a politics that is responsive to people who aren’t the caricatures presented by MSNBC and Fox News." Where Mr. Dugan sees those viewers as 'caricatures' I seem them as resources for developing innovative approaches if we could bring them together in conversations. However, everytime they are stereotyped another layer in the barriers between them is added.
Barry Visel
Sun, 10/12/2014 - 10:12am
The premise of this article seems to be that the political process and government has a role in sortIng out many of societies conflicting issues. I agree, but only in a VERY limited way. I believe governments role should be to protect individual freedom and maintain civility, period. Let me use an example from the article: "How does one combine ... pro-traditional marriage...and pro-gay marriage...into a workable political alliance?" Answer: You don't! Politics should have nothing to do with this issue. Government's role should be to protect our freedom to marry whomever we like, prevent any discrimination related to marriage choices, and not let special interest groups dictate their beliefs through the political process, government laws, or any other means. You may not like the choices I make, and I might not like yours...that's OK...that's living freely in a civil society. The political process should have no role in this. Governments role should be 'hands off' except in cases of direct individual harm.
Charles Richards
Sun, 10/12/2014 - 2:39pm
Deneen's article "highlights a larger unease that many people have with American democracy and the narrow partisan boxes into which we feel increasingly pigeonholed." Isn't it possible that these "narrow partisan boxes" are the result of "identity politics" and "group rights" rather than treating people as individual human beings? Isn't that the source of our acrimony and gridlock? Given that it is certainly the case that the interests of any individual inevitably conflict with the common good, I fail to see how a "third way politically — one that finds ways to regulate market capitalism and foster a communitarian approach to politics that puts the common good ahead of individualism." is of any help. But the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And why should it be necessary to consciously, intentionally put the "common good ahead of individualism"? Can Mr. Dugan demonstrate that such an approach would yield better results than allowing the complex, evolving, self-organizing system that is society to function on its own? What reason does he have to believe that " a politics that sees government’s role as coordinating and fostering the common good." will perform better? Yes, laws and regulations are required, but only to prevent people from externalizing their costs on to other people. Every interaction between two people should be voluntary on both sides. And yes, such a self-organizing, complex system can reach a "critical state" that can produce large, catastrophic events such as depressions. But in the long run such systems have vastly improved the welfare of the human race. Complexity scholars caution that trying to micromanage such a system is counter productive.. Unfortunately, that doesn't deter bright, well-educated individuals like Mr. Dugan from believing that they, in spite of the evidence of history, can do it. He says of his "third way" that "It would find ways to ..." do many good things. He neglects, however, to specify just how it would accomplish these wonderful things. Magic?
Mon, 10/13/2014 - 10:34am
I am one of the political caricatured folks mentioned in the last sentence of the fine article. But, maybe if I lean forward and listen to the reports, I can decide to change!