Post-liberalism has a new online home: Compact, a “radical American journal” launched yesterday by Sohrab Ahmari (formerly of the New York Post) and Matthew Schmitz (formerly of the Christian magazine First Things).
As you might expect from two Catholic converts known for their intense religious conservatism, the site boasts contributors such as controversial Harvard Law School Professor Adrian Vermeule and articles bearing titles such as “Why We Need the Patriarchy.” But close readers may notice something curious besides: Is that a whiff of socialism?
It’s not your imagination. The final co-founder of the site is Edwin Aponte, identified in a New York Times write-up as a “Marxist populist”; according to the paper, he agreed to join up with Ahmari and Schmitz only on “the condition that more than half the articles focused on material concerns.”
The first paragraph of the site’s “About” page gets right to it: “Our editorial choices are shaped by our desire for a strong social-democratic state that defends community—local and national, familial and religious—against a libertine left and a libertarian right.” As Britannica defines it, social democracy is a “political ideology that originally advocated a peaceful evolutionary transition of society from capitalism to socialism,” which later came to be associated with more moderate calls for “state regulation, rather than state ownership, of the means of production and extensive social welfare programs.”
Americans are primed to think of their politics in terms of a left-right spectrum. But these days, the more interesting and important divide is the liberalism schism, with liberal in this context referring to the principles of classical liberalism rather than left-of-center politics. Both left liberals and right liberals generally support due process, free trade, religious liberty, and the like, although left liberals are usually less concerned with economic freedom than are right liberals.
For the most part, the left illiberals and the right illiberals have maintained a considerable degree of separation, with the socialists tending to inhabit one social and professional world and the nationalist, populist, and theocracy-curious conservatives tending to inhabit another. (The Christian socialist contingent, which has blessedly failed to achieve much mainstream appeal in this country, arguably constitutes an exception.)
Compact appears as a high-profile effort to introduce a united illiberal front, one that couples support for state enforcement of traditional social mores with a healthy appetite for redistribution and central planning of the economy. (For what it’s worth, the first day’s offerings point as well to a strong anti-interventionist bent on foreign policy.) Gluing it all together is the editors’ certainty that liberalism, whether on the left or on the right, is the enemy.
There were hints before now that a convergence was afoot. In summer 2019, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made headlines for praising progressive Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “economic patriotism,” while former Mitt Romney adviser Oren Cass came out strong for a top-down “industrial policy” to prop up domestic manufacturing. More recently, the “Buy American” section of President Joe Biden’s 2022 State of the Union address might as well have been written for his predecessor.
The overlap thus far has been largely confined to economic issues, however, and has been limited even there in its scope. By bringing a “labor populism” with deep roots in the socialist tradition and a “political Catholicism” that questions the very separation of church and state under a single roof, Compact has built an intellectual meeting place not just for post-liberal conservatives but for anti-liberals of every stripe. Watch out.