Missouri senator Josh Hawley might be the most interesting thinker the U.S. Senate has seen since Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Or at least, he’s the senator today who most resembles Moynihan as a sweeping and adventurous social critic.
Last night, at a dinner held by the American Principles Project Foundation, Hawley gave a remarkable speech. Like most good political speeches, it was straightforward and accessible. But unlike most good political speeches, it was also a searing piece of cultural criticism, an indictment of America’s economic and social arrangements. This is notable because at the moment, the president of the United States — a man who happens to belong to Hawley’s party — is touting the unparalleled success of the American economy. …
For basically my entire adult life, the default mode of Republican speechifying has been a kind of reheated “optimism” with lots of waxing poetic about the great reserves of American can-do waiting to be tapped. These attempts to recapture “Morning in America” have been delivered through clenched, Prozac-like smiles by men who promptly enter black SUVs to be hurried off back to their gated communities. I’ve always accepted that this is the way of electoral politics, which doesn’t have much to do with a conservative intellectual disposition that tends to be more dour, or at least skeptical.
But Hawley’s speech went from those baleful statistics to a prophetic critique of a cult of the individual and self that is “so thoroughly ingrained in American culture.”
Hawley called it the Promethean idea: “This is the individual as creator, as self-creator, maker of meaning and author of reality, rather like Prometheus who in the ancient myth created all mankind. So call this view of the human person the ‘Promethean self.’” …
Hawley went on to say that “the Promethean ambition leaves us lost and unmoored. And the market worship and cultural deconstruction the Promethean vision has inspired have failed this country.” This is likely to be met with disdain or active resistance by many Republicans, including some of my own colleagues here at National Review. So too is Hawley’s mention of labor unions as one of the institutions that bring people together and ground them in their communities. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
Hawley ended with a rousing call for “a new politics of family and neighborhood, a new politics of love and belonging, a new politics of home.”
I was there last night at the Mayflower for Sen. Hawley’s speech. Stylistically it was disappointing in that he spoke from a teleprompter, but substantively it was solid:
What Sen. Hawley and Sohrab Ahmari and others are attempting to articulate isn’t simply a new generation of conservatism so much as a new vision for American solidarity.