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Who is Josh Hawley and what does he believe in?

July 26, 2019 - 9:45am

Is Missouri Senator Josh Hawley for real? So asks the New Republic in a somewhat critical analysis of the 39-year-old Republican senator and his political hinterland.

Hawley is famously an opponent of big tech and, partly for this reason, is touted as the figurehead for post-liberalism, a political philosophy-cum-movement that’s been around for several years on both sides of the Atlantic. As Missouri’s attorney general, he launched an antitrust probe against tech leviathan Google in 2017 and in just six months in the Senate has been responsible for five bills aimed at Big Tech. He previously told The Washington Post, “My great worry … is an economy that works for a small group of billionaires and then everybody else gets their information taken from them and monetized.” That sounds pretty post-liberal to me.

There is some interesting stuff in the piece:

This closer-in look reveals Hawley, a devout evangelical Presbyterian, to be something other than just another fresh-faced family values Republican or opportunistic trust-buster. In his very first speech on the Senate floor in May, Hawley invoked an “epidemic of loneliness and despair … a society increasingly defined not by the genuine and personal love of family and church, but by the cold and judgmental world of social media.” These lines illuminated the edges of a worldview bigger than the sum of its policy expressions. Behind this weltanschauung is an emergent conservative tendency dubbed “post-liberalism”—a stewing amalgam of long-marginalized ideas on the right that have found new life, like ancient spores released by an earthquake, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. While the lead thinkers of this movement might more accurately be dubbed “pre-liberals,” they claim Hawley as one of their own, and it is through the prism of their crabbed, reactionary political thought that Hawley’s tech crusade is best understood.
- Josh Hawley

I’m not sure many post-liberal sympathisers would appreciate being compared with “ancient spores”, but the article gives a decent enough definition of the political philosophy:

They mourn the institutions, values, and hierarchies that secular rationalism has laid to waste in the name of progress. They see the global rise of right-wing populism as evidence of a profound and widespread if inchoate dissatisfaction with the Enlightenment legacy of pluralism, the primacy of individual rights, and the hard separation of church and state. Lockean ideas about “liberty” have led to an “Epicurean liberalism” that consecrates “the right to choose your own meaning, define your own values, emancipate yourself from God by creating your own self,”
- Josh Hawley

Much of the piece, however, shows post-liberal pictured through a rather hostile lens. Hawley’s recent “lamentations over a faithless ‘cosmopolitan’ consensus paralyzing the once-noble American republic”, as they referred to a Washington speech this year, is a none-too-subtle hint at anti-Semitism, even though the term is widely used to mean just that: cosmopolitans. This was a point made by Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony in Hawley’s defence, but then I would also question the New Republic’s assertion that Hazony is the foremost representation of post-liberalism. Hazony is an articulate defender of nationalism as a philosophy, and while post-liberals tend to have a Burkean view of the national and local, the overlap is far from total. Many post-liberals would certainly not identify as nationalist, and many indeed wouldn’t at all identify as being on the Right. Likewise the idea that the “post-liberal project seeks to cage the furies loosed by Donald Trump and put them at the service of an intellectually coherent movement without the baggage of a leader accused by multiple women of rape” confuses it with national conservatism.

But then, of course, plenty of groups don’t see themselves as being part of the Right, but by dint of not being within the Orthodox Left are cast as such, from neoconservatives to Christian socialists to classical liberals.

Likewise, I’m not sure the following is a fair characterization: “The post-liberals propose an alt-liberty grounded in place and tradition, bound by social relations and obligations, rooted in the Bible.” Alt-liberty sounds like something from a television dystopia with Fascistic visuals, and other aspects of the article suggest that post-liberals long for a theocracy, or are essentially just reactionary. Post-liberalism is much more the belief that liberalism has taken too many steroids, and needs to be balanced with other things – social relations and obligations, certainly. Theocracy, not so much.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable


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