The bourgeois values of honesty, fidelity, diligence, reticence, delayed gratification, and self-control that once reigned supreme have been contested for many decades by an ethic of self-expression, self-indulgence, instant gratification, and demanding the impossible. Our politics is a competition for control over what Michael Novak called the “empty shrine” at the center of pluralist democracy. The champions of Christianity and militant secularism, free speech and political correctness, meritocracy and diversity, the entrepreneurial instinct and an inflamed egalitarianism, and historical memory and limitless iconoclasm struggle for a dominance that is never fully attained.
Both the right and the left are uncomfortable with the democratic capitalist trinity. Both would rather have the empty shrine be replaced with something else. That is why you see laments for the loss of political community, as well as critiques of inequality, on both Fox News and MSNBC. “The original socialist criticism of the bourgeois world is, to a remarkable degree, a secular version of the indictment which the ‘reactionary’ Catholic Church was then continually making, though to a world increasingly deaf to Christian tonalities,” Kristol wrote. If the chimes of church bells were faint in the era of Charles Fourier, where can they be heard today?