Alan Jacobs thinks and writes on every topic imaginable. Not long ago he published The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography, which I think would be fascinating. Before that, it was The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. I’ve mostly been listening to him on Mars Hill audio interviews for a couple of decades, but more recently I like to read his blog Text Patterns [paused in 2018] on The New Atlantis.
This morning his brief article quoting and responding to Roger Scruton’s new book provided a refreshing take, by each of them in different ways, on a old and wearying phenomenon. Here are a couple of paragraphs:
“In the new edition of his book on the modern Left, which I review here, Roger Scruton writes,
‘Occasional lip service is paid to a future state of ‘emancipation’, ‘equality’ or ‘social justice’. But those terms are seldom lifted out of the realm of abstractions, or subjected to serious examination. They are not, as a rule, used to describe an imagined social order that their advocates are prepared to justify. Instead they are given a purely negative application. They are used to condemn every mediating institution, every imperfect association, every flawed attempt that human beings might have made, to live together without violence and with due respect for law.’
“Like Scruton and most other old-school conservatives, I believe that healthy mediating institutions are essential to a healthy society. And I think he is right in noting how relentlessly the Left attacks such institutions. But international capitalism does too, because every healthy mediating institution, by providing security and fellowship and belonging to its members, reduces its members’ dependence for their flourishing on what can be bought and sold. Neither the Left nor the Market want to see such institutions flourish, though their hostility sometimes stems from different agendas.
“I’m usually allergic to generalizations in these matters, but let me risk a big generalization: I think what we have seen and will continue to see in our social order is the fragmentation of institutions and their effective replacement by platforms.”
When I saw the word platforms I thought of the abstraction of a political platform, but that’s not what Jacobs is referring to. His meaning surprised me, but shouldn’t have. Read the rest of the article here.