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Against Adrian Vermeule-ism
A lot of anti-liberalism is born of confusion or misdirection about what liberalism is. Liberalism is good, actually!
This seems like a really bad time to get up and defend liberty. Its enemies are myriad.
On the Right, we find the smug, hand-wavy "post-liberalism" of Adrian Vermeule and Sohrab Ahmari—who would, without any doubt, be lined up against the wall and shot by their own revolution.1 This might be fine, except we won't be around to see it, because the Catholic Integralist Revolution will have shot the rest of us long before getting around to eating its own.
On the Left, the face of post-liberalism can be found on every college campus, screaming invective at Ilya Shapiro or Nick Christiakis or Charles Murray, their faces contorted in a rictus of hate. They would lynch those men to death if they thought they could get away with it. I know this, and, if you've seen these mobs in action, you know it, too. The question that keeps me up sometimes: do they?
Even the corporate-centrist Cathedral has increasingly embraced post-liberal sentiments and frighteningly illiberal actions. Corpos and their centre-left allies are normally quieter than the two extremes, but that has been changing as post-liberalism gains steam.
The post-liberty movement is where all the intellectual ferment is. Have you read David French lately? It makes you cringe. It's not that his ideas are wrong. They're worse: they're unfashionable. Promoting or defending him is just so 2005. The fight has gone out of liberals. We lack all conviction, while our opponents are filled with passionate intensity.2 Many of the best despair, because liberalism seems fatally ill, and it may not matter that its replacements are worse. One hard push and liberalism could just fall over, like one of those statues the rioters pulled down last year. It's not even hard to imagine what that push might look like.3
I can't help thinking of something F. Murray Abraham's character said in the greatest movie of all time, Star Trek Insurrection:
Look in the mirror, Admiral! The Federation is old! In the past twenty-four months, they have been challenged by every major power in the quadrant: the Borg, the Cardassians, the Dominion. They all smell the scent of death on the Federation.
In 1998, Star Trek was already worried that the "End of History" might turn into the end of liberalism. On that day, it was saved by the nobility and courage of one of the great liberal characters in the history of literature: Jean-Luc Picard. Today, ominously, that character no longer exists, and the people responsible don't even seem to have destroyed him on purpose, as some kind of critique. The liberal humanist heart of Captain Picard is simply too alien for the writers to understand anymore. The death and un-life of Jean-Luc Picard is a symptom of the death and un-life of American liberalism.
But what actually is liberalism? Do we even understand the thing we're giving up on?
Left-wing post-liberals seem to treat "liberalism" as a mere synonym of "centrist." On the Right, Adrian Vermeule & Co. talk a big game about defeating liberty, but, when pressed, Vermeule offers a list of insipid, inchoate demands that—incidentally—are compatible with liberalism!
I suppose that isn't surprising. Like "fascism," "socialism," "conservatism," and even "integralism," the label "liberalism" has been slapped on to so many concepts, by so many people, for so many years, that the label itself is now nearly devoid of definite content. By itself, the word expresses an affiliation, but not a program. The purpose of this post, then, is to describe the purpose and method of liberalism.
I admit that there are many self-identified liberals who would disagree with the understanding of "liberalism" I am about to sketch. Some of them write for The Atlantic today. Some of them were Founding Fathers! These people see liberalism as a kind of moralized libertarianism, where the goal of liberalism is the maximization of personal autonomy for all.4 "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy (the very worst of this breed), in a Supreme Court decision where Justice Kennedy exercised unilateral, profoundly illiberal power in order to forbid any state from criminalizing the vivisection of human babies.
This concept of "liberalism" is easily refuted. Locke is largely bunk, maximum personal autonomy is not an end in itself, exaltation of the will is of the Antichrist, and the libertarian political philosophy is not taken seriously by basically anyone. (Just look at their presidential election results!) Been there, done that, reviewed the book. Vermeule, Ahmari, and the rest do well to attack this form of "liberalism" (which should properly be called "libertarianism"), but they lunge into straw-man territory when they conflate this with the entire liberal project.
I don't think I'm coming up with some bespoke, No-True-Scotsman version of "liberalism" when I say that. I think that my understanding of liberalism is shared by many people, including most of the writers at The Dispatch, several Founding Fathers, and the Catholic Church.5 We are the “right-liberals,” and the Vermeule Krew are not fans.
Scott Alexander identified the heart of the liberal project some years ago:
People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell—the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable—until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, lets people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.
That's all liberalism is. It is not a policy program. You can't ask what "a liberal" thinks about tax rates or porn bans or environmental stewardship, because liberals share no single vision of the common good. Liberalism is a framework for resolving important disagreements without mass bloodshed. That framework is what liberals share.
This is important, because there are many competing visions of the Common Good. Personally, I have a Catholic vision of the common good. I attempt to bring this vision into effect through the liberal process... because the liberal process, if followed, means I won't ever have to get drawn and quartered because I got caught harboring a Jesuit in my home's priest-hole.6 My fellow liberals have competing visions of the Common Good: Islamic, scientistic, hedonistic, libertarian, Black Nationalist, the works. They are all wrong, of course, and I am right. But they all think they're right! We are liberals because we agree to use the Liberalism Machine for resolving our disagreement, instead of just sending police and spies and (finally) armies out to destroy one another.
The Liberalism Machine doesn't always work the way we want. It's a fallen world, and sometimes we enact bad or even unjust policies through the Liberalism Machine. The Liberalism Machine itself has no opinions. It's a process for dealing with ideology, not an ideology of its own. The largest point in its favor is its unparalleled ability to quickly and bloodlessly self-correct when it goes wrong, which is often. This isn’t perfect, but it's streets ahead of the alternative, where the side that wins is the one with the biggest army.
The anti-liberal Catholics, Muslims, hedonists, libertarians, Black Nationalists, and so on don't differ from us liberals in how they understand the common good. They constantly claim that they have a purer vision than us liberal Catholics, libertarians, and so forth, but I want to ban porn as much as the next Catholic integralist. The liberal communist wants to abolish private property as much as the anti-liberal Leninist tankie. We want the same policies. The difference is that liberals want to enact their policies by convincing others in the agora so we win at the ballot box. The anti-liberals, in the final analysis, want to enact their policies at the point of their guns. Their idea of an agora is vestigial and tightly circumscribed. (And yes, illiberal libertarians are very much a part of that, no matter how loudly they bleat "liberalism.")
The liberal framework, as I see it, consists of four pillars. The anti-liberals would abolish all four of these pillars wholesale.7 Think very carefully about what it would mean for you and your family if any one of these pillars no longer existed.
Millions of Americans hate you and hate your beliefs. Many of them live in your town. If these pillars went away, think about how they would exploit the opportunity.
The first pillar of liberalism is freedom of conscience. To the extent possible and practical within the common life of the community, citizens are never coerced to violate their own consciences. If you sincerely believe in the Aztec god Tlaloc, the State will prevent you from kidnapping children and sacrificing them to Tlaloc, but the State will not forcibly convert you to the current state religion.
In the United States, the present state religion is Secularism, a curious cult which teaches that claims about the supernatural, positive or negative, are categorically impossible. We are allowed to practice non-Secular faiths, including the One True Faith,8 solely because the United States is a liberal state. In a non-liberal state, we would be second-class citizens with limited rights at best, forcibly converted at worst.
Freedom of conscience is a pillar of liberalism because forcing a person to actively do or affirm what he or she sincerely believes to be evil will generally start with martyrdoms and end with mass violence. People will put up with quite a lot from their government, but they explode when you force them to profess an alien religion or directly participate in what they believe is evil. If you read the previous paragraph and didn't feel your chest constrict at the idea of being reduced to a dhimmi (or worse), either you didn't read it, or you're incapable of imagining a future where your side doesn't hold all the power. That chest-constricting terror is the stuff of which civil wars are made.
Many people (including the Catholic Church) teach that religious freedom is irrevocable and founded in each person's individual creation by God Himself. It's an "inalienable right" or whatever. Liberalism, which has no substantive beliefs of its own, has no opinion about that. Liberalism adopts freedom of conscience simply as a prudent measure for preventing mass violence.
Vermeule and Ahmari, put simply, want the Inquisition back. They will not rest until holding a Drag Queen Story Hour for kids, even on private property, results in prison time for all concerned. Not to be outdone, leftists have already, in some places, established their own Inquisitions, although they have typically rebranded them as "Human Rights Commissions." Corporations are even farther ahead: no entity in America is more feared than the (increasingly aggressive) doctrinal enforcement arm of the local
Star Chamber Human Resources department.
The second pillar of liberalism is diffusion of power. Liberalism recognizes that people are, without exception, pretty bad, and cannot be trusted to wield power justly or fairly. If we're not actively evil, we're stupid, arrogant, and error-prone. We're overwhelmingly corruptible—and power inevitably makes us worse.
Of course, someone has to make decisions on behalf of the common good, even though that someone is very likely to be quite bad at making decisions on behalf of the common good. This presents a problem.
Many non-liberal models solve this problem by simply assuming a Virtuous Leader exists. They think that all we have to do is find the Virtuous Leader, give him absolute power, and help him protect his virtue from the temptations of power. We see this thinking in Catholic papal integralism, Curtis Yarvin's neocorporatism, and Karl Marx's communism. It never works for more than a generation, and rarely lasts even that long. Concentrating power in the papacy badly corrupted governance, but, worse, so thoroughly infected the Church that it provoked Protestantism, a spiritual calamity for the ages. (Johann Tetzel was the product of a broken system.) Meanwhile, communism tried giving power, via local soviets, to an idealized vision of "the People," believing them to be a virtuous and invincible collective. It, uh... it did not work.
Liberalism accepts that no Virtuous Leader is available. (Christian liberals recognize that the only Virtuous Leader is Jesus Christ, and His kingdom is not of this world.) Since there can be no Virtuous Leader, liberalism instead diffuses power. It does not—this is important—liberalism does not concentrate power in the demos, the masses. The demos is a mob as stupid and corrupt as the worst of them. Communism idealized the mob and look where that got communism. Instead, liberalism spreads power widely across a variety of power centers... and then sets them against one another, like dogs. Liberalism trusts that, over the long term, across the broad spectrum, self-interest and competition between power centers will do a better job policing vice, corruption, and stupidity than a vain hope that centralized power will avoid vice, corruption, and stupidity of its own accord.
Thus, the brilliant crazy-quilt of governance under the highest expression of liberalism: the American Constitution. We have a semi-monarchy (the President), which is set against a semi-aristocracy (the judiciary, the Senate, the press), which is set against a semi-democracy (the House, the voters). This national government is set against diverse state governments, most of which are similarly divided against themselves, and further divided into cities, counties, mosquito control districts, and far more. Even the smallest units of government are undergirded, in turn, by a fabric of non-government power centers, from churches to political parties to bowling leagues to businesses to unions to families.9
It is not easy for an ordinance of reason purporting to advance the common good to run this gamut. Every proposal is scrutinized by a whole lot of eyeballs, and objections come in from every direction. Both the aristocracy and the commoners must agree to it. This crucible burns away a lot of terrible ideas, leaving only the hardiest ones in a position to be promulgated as law. The most dangerous ideas, the ones most likely to provoke civil war, don't stand a chance when such broad consensus is required to make them law.10 Meanwhile, the wide diffusion of power provides a certain small measure of protection for the souls of those asked to wield it.
Is this diffusion of political power, this subsidiarity, a human right? Some say yes, some say no. Liberalism, which has no substantive views of its own, doesn't care. It diffuses power simply as a defense against the much more dangerous alternative of concentrated power.
Of course, People Are Terrible—that's the whole point here—so even this distributed, competitive form of decision-making often leads to bad decisions. Sometimes, the City Council is bad and the Mayor is bad and the voters are just bad, protected by bad judges and encouraged by a bad governor and a bad state legislature. (I'm from St. Paul, Minnesota!) But that's just human fallenness. Post-liberalism offers no solution to this (how could it? only Christ can). Instead, post-liberalism seems determined to make the consequences of the Fall much worse, by concentrating power in fewer, more easily corruptible hands.
Vermeule, in particular, seems to want to concentrate power in the federal bureaucracy, which anyone can plainly see is the most morally corrupt institution in the firmament of government. This is precisely because the bureaucracy wields power, but is neither fully accountable to nor fully checked by any other power center. Under his model, the government would be a wholly owned subsidiary of Angband inside of two decades... and the post-liberals, having stripped the competition of the power to challenge the government, would leave us no option but violent revolution.
The third pillar of liberalism is freedom of discussion.11 Everyone should be allowed to openly discuss, debate, and draw conclusions about scientific, academic, political, artistic, and religious views, without fear of oppressive censorship or individual punishment for espousing an unpopular view.
Largely, this follows from the first two principles. Freedom to believe whatever you think best isn't worth a whit if the only beliefs you're allowed to hear are those approved by the State. Meanwhile, the power to control thought through censorship is just about the most powerful power there is—so it's imperative that censorship powers be diffused as widely as conceivably possible.
But liberalism's love of discussion is a bit more than that. I think it's fair to say that liberals (me certainly included) believe in the power of the agora and its "marketplace of ideas." We believe that the truth has nothing to fear from its enemies, because truth vanquishes all its foes. I believe in a God Who Is Truth, and that gives me serene confidence in the vindication of the Truth as long as we're all playing on a fair, liberal battlefield.
If the truth loses to something like Sharia or scientism, then either (a) there is something deeply wrong with the champions of truth, and they need to take a long look in the mirror, or (b) there is something deeply wrong with the culture, in which case the truth is going to be targeted by censorship and needs to be protected from it. There is simply no circumstance where censorship actually helps the truth.
95% of the time, the mechanisms of censorship will be controlled by enemies of the truth, and they will use their power to straightforwardly attack the truth. How many times did we see that during the covid pandemic? Big Tech censors see-sawed from censoring pro-mask posts (March 2020) to censoring anti-mask posts (2020-21) to censoring posts that supported masking policies that had been dogmatic mere months ago (2022). Some of us even considered the lab-leak theory credible back when considering it at all was a bannable offense—not that you'd know it from our self-censored Facebooks! Always, they tried to use censorship in place of liberal discussion. Not only did their hamfisted attempts to defend the truth alienate vast swaths of the public, driving millions into the arms of sirens like QAnon, but they couldn't even actually get the truth right! This is pretty much how censorship goes pretty much every time it's attempted.
But what about the other 5%? Sometimes the right people do get control of the censor’s office. What then? Even when rightly ordered, all censorship manages to produce is brilliant, honest, and fearless dissidents; slow, stupid censors who often are there for a paycheck and don't even themselves believe the official line; and a populace that naturally (obviously!) trusts the dissidents more. Censorship harms dissidents, but it never actually harms the censored ideas. Often, it encourages them!
Some people adopt freedom of discussion because the alternative is inhumane and oppressive. Something something "human rights," you know the drill. Liberalism, which has no substantive beliefs of its own, adopts freedom of discussion simply because the alternative is stupid and self-defeating.
It is worth noting, in passing, that freedom of discussion does not encompass libel, slander, or pornography. These acts are categorically (and quite obviously) incapable of contributing to the scientific, academic, political, artistic, or religious development of our culture. No theory of liberalism has ever protected them. Even under current American law, pornography is protected solely by a (ridiculously, unfairly) heavy burden of proof on prosecutors combined with insufficient voter zeal, and libel/slander are in a similar boat. All three are technically crimes, even today.
The fourth and final pillar of liberalism is written laws. Before enforcing laws, liberalism writes them down.
With so many competing beliefs, ideas, conceptions of the good, and understandings of the human person, it is very difficult (often impossible) to fall back on universally shared understandings as the basis of enforceable law. Those understandings, therefore, have to be hashed out through the messy process of legislation under a system of diffused power. They must be fixed in an actual, agreed-upon textual form, with a meaning that is at least broadly understood by the general public, and enforced on the basis of that meaning.
Power centers are not free to unilaterally pluck other principles out of the miasma of competing visions of the good and start enforcing those principles without writing them down in the code of laws. That's how we got the Dred Scott decision, Roe vs. Wade, and the Lochner Era. (It's almost always judges who do this, because judges & lawyers generally combine arrogance and unaccountability under one roof.)
Liberalism repudiates that approach to law. You believe a "higher law" than the Constitution exists? Great. So did William Seward, and he was absolutely right! Now write that law down, get it ratified by the relevant power centers, and we'll enforce it. Seward did just that. His interpretation of the "higher law" is now known as the Thirteenth Amendment.
Nothing in liberalism precludes a state governed by the principles of the classical natural law. Classical natural law’s pretty great, actually! Liberalism only precludes your sneaking your particular personal interpretation of the natural law in through the back door without telling anyone and then suddenly whipping it out in a judicial order that makes your personal interpretation universally enforced. Write it down, ratify it, and it’s binding. Judges are oath-bound to enforce your words as law after that—but not one instant before.
Post-liberals often deride this insistence on a written code of laws as "legal positivism." It's not legal positivism, but that doesn't stop 'em. Legal positivism considers human law to be merely the will of the Sovereign, unconstrained by any wider cosmic moral framework. That is obviously stupid and nobody has ever really believed it.
However, liberalism, which has no substantive opinions of its own, has no opinion on cosmic moral frameworks, pro or con. Liberalism makes you write down the laws simply because the subjects expected to obey the laws must know the contents of the laws, which must be stable and predictable. In a liberal society with many competing ideas and many diffused power centers, the only way to do this is to write them down. Incidentally, St. Thomas Aquinas states that a law must be "promulgated" in order to have binding force, and he says this for precisely the same reasons liberalism says it.12
That's it. That's liberalism. That's the alien technology that crashed into our politics in the 18th Century. It shaped our world so profoundly that it's hard to imagine what the world looked like before it... or what it would look like today if we'd never discovered it. It seems likely to me that it would be darker, bloodier, and scarier. A full assessment of liberalism's immense success (and, yes, significant failures) would be another 5,000 words at least, but I think I can sum it up like this: I'm a Catholic, in a Secularist nation, some of my best friends are Protestants, and none of us live in fear of execution or arrest or pogrom or forced family separation.
It's a human system, so it isn't perfect. Indeed, with so many anti-liberals on the march, from so many different camps, I have not been able to enjoy the full blessings of liberalism for some time. I must constantly check over my shoulder lest I be "cancelled." I won’t be jailed, but I can easily lose my job. That’s hardly liberalism’s fault, though, when it’s the post-libs pushing it. Indeed, what else are the post-libs peddling? I'd trade 130,000 words of abstract theorizing for a single 5,000 word model Constitution, The Josias!
It is worth noting, again in passing, that liberalism does not demand disestablishment. There is nothing illiberal about a government explicitly embracing particular religious, moral, or metaphysical claims, and even promoting them. Freedom of conscience and discussion must be preserved, but the government simply having and promoting an official opinion does not limit conscience or discussion. Two centuries of American practice show that establishment of religion in various ways (school prayer, nativity scenes, Sunday "blue" laws) is perfectly compatible with liberalism. Several states maintained actual, established, taxpayer-funded state churches well after the ratification of the First Amendment. Justice Thomas has worked hard in his jurisprudence to show that the aggressive judicial application of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause to lower levels of government (states, cities, schools) is not justified by its own text or by the Incorporating Clause of the 14th Amendment. Personally, I would be delighted to see that particular brand of judicially-imposed tyranny rolled back in favor of our prior liberal regime.13
Liberals are not amoral, either. Sometimes you hear that liberalism requires us to consider policy apart from morality. Anyone who tries this line is selling something. All policy is moral, because all policy is based on some vision of the common good. Even (foolish) liberals who insist (foolishly) that "you can't legislate morality" can't explain what that sentence means without invoking the very moral values they claim to be taking off the table. The Liberalism Machine is amoral, sure... but the liberals who use it are all regular humans with a sense of right and wrong. That's exactly as it's supposed to be.
Liberals ended slavery with moral arguments. (Liberals with a different vision of the common good tried to save slavery with moral arguments.) Liberals abolished alcohol with moral arguments. (Liberals with a different vision of the common good brought it back.) Liberals today argue for tax hikes with moral arguments. (Other liberals argue for tax cuts with moral arguments.) Liberals made moral arguments for banning pornography, and only started losing in the 1960s, when other liberals (with help from the Supreme Court's questionable force majeure) made moral arguments for legalizing it. Liberalism does not deny the role of morality in legislation, because it cannot.
Some people see this as a kind of hypocrisy. "Aha!" they say. "You claim to embrace amoral liberalism, yet here you are trying to sneak your morality in through the back door! Your liberalism is just illiberalism in disguise, so my honest illiberalism is no worse! Liberalism is a chimera!" But this (once more, with feeling) misunderstands what it means to be a liberal. All liberals have their own moral codes, their own visions of the common good. I believe that my vision alone is correct, but so does everybody else. We are liberals not because we share a single vision, but because we agree to a framework where our differences can be resolved openly, without bloodshed, in an environment where the content of our ideas matters more than the size of our armies.
That's an idea worth fighting for. Today, because liberalism reigns, we can fight for it most effectively by writing and talking. Tomorrow, if post-liberalism ever succeeds at smashing the Liberalism Machine, we will have to fight for it on the battlefield.
If you're flirting with post-liberalism,14 ask yourself: is that really what you want? Like all of us, you dream of a better world. But is it really the case that, if we kill a few thousand people, and muzzle hundreds of millions more, your dream will finally come true? What if you're one of the dead? Or what if you lose? Or both? Is your dream so great that it would be worth it? Are you sure that your oppressive utopia is going to be the one oppressive utopia that finally works out?
I know my answer.
The same goes for Curtis Yarvin, but he represents a different strain of Right Post-Liberalism, and he has two virtues: (1) he's self-aware enough to know he'd be the first against the wall when the revolution comes, and (2) he's very funny.
What a great turn of phrase. Good thing nobody else has said or thought of it before ever. I hereby copyright it.
For example, if the Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade in this summer's Dobbs v. Jackson decision, liberalism on the Right will become untenable. You can tell from Ahmari and Vermeule's tweets that they not-even-all-that-secretly want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe, because that would vindicate them so thoroughly.
It's true! If, after five decades of hard political and legal work within the framework of values-neutral liberalism, we can't even get the Supreme Court to repudiate a precedent that flies (violently) in the face of values-neutral liberalism (and I’m talking real violence here: dismembered baby skulls, not Ilya Shapiro tweets), then we will know values-neutral liberalism is a lie and perhaps always was. Whatever its theoretical merits, liberalism will be a corpse. Liberals after 2022 will be like those pathetic communists after the fall of the Soviet Union who insisted that "Communism never failed! Real communism has never been tried!"
The really unsettling thing? I suspect that the Supreme Court overturning Roe could have a similarly radicalizing effect on left-liberals. I won't critique their perspective here.
This mode of liberalism is what Patrick Deneen is referring to in the first chapter of Why Liberalism Failed, when he writes: "Liberalism is most fundamentally constituted by a pair of deeper anthropological assumptions that give liberal institutions a particular orientation and cast: (1) anthropological individualism and the voluntarist conception of choice, and (2) human separation from and opposition to nature." It is also what Vermeule himself is talking about when he defines liberalism as "the doctrine that the central purpose of politics is to promote individual autonomy and secure its preconditions" in his odious Atlantic article, “Beyond Originalism.”
The Catholic Church has not only made its peace with this form of liberalism, but it actually appears to consider some form of this liberalism necessary. For example, some form of liberalism is clearly mandated by Dignitatis Humanae 2, which is as clear an infallible teaching as an ecumenical council has ever taught, and therefore is to be held by all Catholics with divine and catholic faith. Failure to accept liberalism, at least this far, is, for Catholics, heretical.
That’s a joke. Obviously, my priest-hole is reserved for Catholic clergy. Jesuits will have to hide elsewhere.
The marquee right-wing post-libs are maddeningly shy about this. Deneen avoids talking about the future, Ahmari focuses on particulars, and Vermeule evades through aggression, of the "I know you are but what am I?" variety. The Josias, however—openly endorsed by the other integralists—is perfectly frank about its plans to abolish freedom of discussion, freedom of conscience, and written laws ("ban positivism" lol). They're tentatively okay with diffusion of power through democratic systems, but their first instinct is toward oligarchy. Even those who support democracy would require some supervisory entity to keep it from violating the state religion. We've seen what that looks like in modern integralist states. And we've even seen some post-libs defend the very worst consequences of a modern state that runs according to their ideals.
As for left-wing post-liberals, we know what their society looks like, too. Ever heard of a little something called the U.S.S.R.? It killed more people than Hitler, and that it killed quite a few of them by indifference rather than hatred is no point in its favor. The apotheosis of political correctness is the KGB, which invented it.
Replace that term with whatever you actually personally think the One True Faith is. Personally, I'm Catholic, but Protestants, Muslims, Jews, and Atheists all have just as much to gain from freedom of conscience in a Secularist state as I do.
I should note that there is one religion that Secularism is very happy to work alongside: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which makes only insipid supernatural claims that do not challenge practical Secularist policy in any way whatsoever.
It is worth noting in passing that liberalism's need to prevent too much power from becoming concentrated in too few hands is an important reason for our antitrust laws. Spreading out public power among many different power centers does no good if private companies can unilaterally set policy and shape lives anyway. Big Tech's private censorship power is a particularly vivid and urgent example of a concentration of private power so great that it threatens liberalism itself.
For this reason, it is obvious why the most destabilizing policies in America today all came into effect by bypassing the republican consensus process. They invariably come from oligarchs (judges) or elected monarchs (governors, the President, the Presidential bureaucracy) and are enacted unilaterally.
I deliberately avoid the term "freedom of expression" here. Not only does that phrase miss the point, but it lends itself too easily to a libertarian understanding of liberalism that I have expressly rejected.
There is a genuinely interesting discussion to be had about to what extent the "natural law" or "law of human nature" can be considered "automatically" promulgated, because it is imprinted on human nature. This is mostly not the conversation left-wing post-liberals (who deny human nature) and right-wing post-liberals (who want to use their particular interpretation of natural law as an excuse to steal home plate) are, in fact, interested in having.
And, hey, no judgment, we've all been there. I spent years flirting with post-liberalism, since back in the day when "integralism" was a crazy idea confined to a few Wordpress blogs with Latin names. It's where the exciting ideas are! But, sadly, the fact that they're exciting doesn't make them all good.