The Strange Lament of a Bohemian Conservative

by Ted V. McAllister on July 31, 2009 · 23 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low

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“Half-knowledge is more victorious than whole knowledge: it understands things as being more simple than they are and this renders its opinions more easily intelligible and more convincing.”

–Nietzsche

Several years ago I heard a scientist being interviewed on NPR declare that humans are “just sacks of rapidly degenerating amino acids,” or something similar.  I sensed at that moment that I had come across the deepest fault-line in American life—not the most evident and certainly not the best understood.  Closer to the surface we see all manner of fissures that cleave Democrats from Republicans, secular folk from religious folk, and across which we perpetually hope someone will build bridges.  But deeper than any of these visible chasms is a divide about how to understand reality and our experiences of reality.  Hidden deep under our democratic culture are competing conceptions about mystery and truth.

The scientist’s quotation is an excellent, if extreme, example of intellectual simplification—the stripping away of all complicating factors in order to isolate a defining “fact”.   As we develop an intellectual habit of reducing things to their most elemental physicality we both have the assurance that comes from knowledge and we can feel the liberation that comes from a certain moral plasticity.  If humans are “just sacks of rapidly degenerating amino acids” then we have utterly demystified them and we can dispense entirely with the questions about any trans-human purpose or meaning to our accidental existence.  Freed from the most strenuous ontological journey, we can now think creatively:  what do we want out our lives?  This ontological reduction both reduces humans and elevates them—makes them simple biological beings while it gives license to make whatever we want of ourselves and our environment.  We may not eliminate moral considerations from our plans, but we greatly expand the realm of morally acceptable, making any moral choices truly moral CHOICES.

This is an intoxicating form of anti-intellectualism that parades as hard-headed rationalism.  It is a close cousin to Christian Fundamentalism since both seek to reduce complex things to a simple, declaratory, unambiguous “fact.”  Each of these intellectual habits seeks something certain, unambiguous, so as to get the intellectual assurance that eliminates the need for a spiritual journey that would encounter more mysteries than uncover certain answers.

And here we discover the essential AESTHETIC difference between bohemian conservatives and the intellectual and moral simplifiers:  conservatives find the most profound meaning in mysteries.  The goal is not to solve mysteries, but to enter into them fully and to see what wonders our dim faculties might apprehend.  Across a room a conservative might spy a sack of rapidly degenerating amino acids, but rather than thinking of the elements that make up the body he sees, he wonders about this creature’s past, its network of relationships, its relationship with books.  The conservative might wonder if this creature could be his love someday—and when he wonders this he is fully aware that the creature before him is not “just” a sack of rapidly degenerating amino acids.  During the love affair that may follow, the conservative might read all manner of books on attraction, on chemical changes in the brain that make lovers altogether crazed humans, and he may come to see that the experience of love has connections to evolved mechanisms of selection, but he will never allow the various parts of the explanation become sufficient—for his experience teaches him that love is a mystery—painful and glorious.

The reader, by this point in the essay, has charged me with gross simplification, with creating a false dichotomy, and therefore of displaying the very failure that I criticize.  And she is justified in her critique.  Very few people are so reductive as the noted scientist and many people live comfortably with mysteries of one sort of another.  And how many people allow the science of love to undermine the power of love? And yet, if we have a clear conception of the philosophical poles in this cultural field, we can identify tendencies, directions, and developed or habituated tastes that pull our culture toward ontological reduction, and the willingness to believe that simple is truer than complex.  The trend may be ineluctable and therefore this essay testimony to truths rendered invisible by a myopic imagination.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted the democratic tendency to love abstract and general words as they made both thinking and communicating fast and easy.   Because equality eliminated classes and tradition, both of which had provided authoritative beliefs, each person “withdraws narrowly into himself and claims to judge the world from there.”  But as the individual person cannot know from his own experience the facts relevant to a large public matter and he has accepted the authority only of “the people,” he relies on “the public” which has “a singular power among democratic peoples.”  And so, while equality has freed individuals from older forms of authority like class and tradition, it also “leaves [the individual] isolated and without defense against the action of the greatest number.”

Public discourse, under conditions where almost no one can know the facts in their particular and eccentric forms, must rely on general ideas.  In order for general ideas or abstractions to be useful or persuasive, one must already come to believe that the public is, more or less, a larger expression of one’s self—to assume that as one examines claims based on one’s common sense that the sense is indeed “common.” There is, in other words, a mutually reinforcing process by which the affirmation of the right and the ability of the individual to be a judge in large political matters necessitates the use of ever more abstract or processed slogans.  In this way very different people can express themselves, individually, on subjects that none of them can address based on particular evidence in context.  A slogan makes a community–or it gives abstract consensus to particular and highly divergent beliefs.  But slogans cannot foster deliberation.

And so the tendency of democracy, under the influence of “equality of conditions,” is to foster beliefs in abstract truths about large political matters.  At one level, a bohemian conservative need not object to this reality of democratic life insofar as he wishes to embrace a large nation in which local and state political life is more robust than national politics.  Under these conditions he can expect local politics to possesses the particularity and eccentricity of local conditions, local characters, and a scale of participation that encourages a particularistic vocabulary of politics without sweeping universalisms.  But two trends have been warring against this accommodation:  national politics is ever more important, detailed, and comprehensive; and the political vocabulary people employ locally borrows heavily from the sloganeering of the national politics.  Even local politics trends toward the use of abstractions.

The conservative defense of complexity and particularity in our political and moral discourse has been evolving since Enlightenment thinkers claimed to identify and articulate universal laws about human nature.  In the United States Enlightenment political ideas concerned rights primarily—and in the beginning, “natural rights.”  By declaring simple human rights as grounded in nature, people could employ clear, unambiguous, and universal moral slogans.  The conservative response to natural rights was not to reject them, but to reject the simple, cavalier and universalistic expressions of their meaning and application.  The most famous, and still the best, critique of the abstract use of rights came from Edmund Burke.  Asserting that humans do indeed have natural rights, Burke noted that the reductive expression of them is prone to error.  He wrote that “these metaphysical rights entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are, by the laws of nature, refracted from their straight line.  Indeed in the gross and complicated mass of human passions and concerns, the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections, that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original directions.  The nature of man is intricate….”

Our moral obligations to one another are made easier if we make a list of natural and universal rights, such as life, liberty, and property.  Of course we can add various liberties and call them rights, such as free speech, free exercise of religion, and so forth.  Over time our “rights talk” become part of our common sense—abstract truths we can apply at home and abroad, or at least abstract claims that help us know how to feel about the nations of the world—because we possess a simple, easy to articulate, universal standard by which to judge.  Once rights have become part of our common sense then our public moral vocabulary becomes simplistic as we debate over whose rights trump.  Each camp in the debate gets to take the moral high ground and declare themselves in slogans.

The trend lines in America all lead, then, toward simplification in political language and, especially, in the moral discourse about human nature and human rights.   But, from the point of view of a bohemian conservative, the problem is deeper and pre-political.  I can illustrate my point with a neglected passage from Walter Lippmann’s 1914 apology for Progressivism, Drift and Mastery:

[The] uprooted person is the despair of all those who love the flavor of words, for his language has gone stale and abstract in a miserly telegraphic speech.  That is why literary men are forever hunting up folk songs and seeking out backward peasants in Galway or Cornwall.  Among country people words still taste of actual things:  contact with sun and rain and earth and harvest turns the simple prose of the day’s work into poetry for the starved imagination of city-bred people….For the slow movement of the seasons we have substituted the flicker of fashion.  The old world changed, but it repeated itself.  Birth and youth and age, summer and winter changed the world and let it unaltered.  You could think of eternal ideas, for there was beneath the change some permanence.  But in our day change is not an illusion, but a fact:  we do actually move toward novelty, there is invention, and what has never been is created each day.

Lippmann here noted two facts about the America of a century ago.  First, the contact with the natural world that gives language the “taste of actual things” is fading with urbanization and industrialization.  The artificial and standardized environment of industrial society fosters a standardized and abstract language and imagination.  Less in need of particular individuals, moderns are more dependent on society as a whole—a condition that encourages people to think in general terms–of classes, types, groups, rather than particular people.  Second, Lippmann stressed that the life of the villager (or anyone whose life and work put them close to nature) witnessed changes in the context of an underlying constancy.  Moderns see constant change and anticipate that change is the new normal.  The villager possessed both the experiences and the language to ponder metaphysical truths.  The modern lives in such flux that he is fixed on what is next rather than what is always, and his language reflects the experience of living in the midst of constant change.

At the risk of approaching a definition, a bohemian conservative believes humans ought to appreciate, live amidst, and even love the eccentric particularity of physical nature, of distinctive persons, of local culture, of odd traditions that reach back before memory, and more generally of the person rooted in time and place–a historical expression as unique as the proverbial snowflake.  The bohemian conservative appreciates less the abstract beauty of the woman on the billboard and more the peculiar beauty of the woman who works at the diner.  The bohemian conservative does not love the individualist as much as the eccentric person who is rooted in cultural soil unprocessed by sanitizing consumerism.  The bohemian conservative admires the unique and peculiar over the abstracted perfection of a universal form.

The person, understood as a being rooted in history, culture and tradition, is not any one thing.  She isn’t defined by the composition of her body. She isn’t defined by her individual experiences.  She isn’t defined by her accomplishments, or failings, or abilities, or limitations.  The complexity of her person, as contextualized in a living culture, allows her to think of herself as physical and spiritual, as an individual and part of a group, as living in the flux of existence that is nonetheless situated in the timelessness of reality.

I began by expressing my fear of the tendency to simplify all complex things and to break apart complex things into component parts and think of the parts abstractly, separated from their complementary context.  I referenced an extreme version of this tendency whereby humans become nothing more than a constellation of amino acids.  To be sure that degree of abstraction is not typical in our society, but the tendencies of democracy and modernity is toward reducing all things—physical, social, spiritual—to their elements.

My concerns are political.  The democratic tendency to speak in the simplistic language of rights, the propensity to trust the attenuated “common sense” of the “public” has reinforced Nietzsche’s claim that “Half-knowledge is more victorious than whole knowledge: it understands things as being more simple than they are and this renders its opinions more easily intelligible and more convincing.”  Because the undermining of federalism, the expansion of the size and scope of federal power, is part of the problem and is theoretically reversible, we might hope to improve things.  However, the underlying conditions are pre-political and reach to the way we moderns experience our world.  These are not reversible by any political choice.

Underneath this complaint, however, is an assertion that reality is truly more complex than our language allows and that humans have souls–they can therefore experience themselves alienated from reality.  Over time, our ersatz reality (i.e., our constructed reality of simple truisms) will no longer satisfy our deepest longings and the desire to be enveloped in a true mystery will spur a reaction to our disordered times and foster a new language of experience that is truer to its complexity.  In the meantime, we must endure simplifiers to the left of us and reductionists to the right, fully aware that no deliberation is possible.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Alfred E. Newman July 31, 2009 at 9:22 am

While Mr. McAllister is eloquent on his position, I have to disagree with it. A person can view the world and universe in all its manifest forms (real or imagined) in what he believes the simplest of terms and deductive reasonings without sacrificing the awe and mystery behind them. While religious people (and or institutions) view humans, the Earth, and the universe through the veil of their particular religious tomes, and while scientists view the same things through reasoned, observed, and logical experiments, the hows and whys of why things are the way they are still do not lie somewhere in between, but occupy a space somewhere outside of that sphere, beyond human understanding. We will never figure out the “mind of god”, so to speak, but it’s fun trying.

avatar David July 31, 2009 at 10:10 am

Nice to see your work published here Ted. I believe it will be well-received. As I’ve said before in private, your writing often feels like secret broadcasts to the remnant hidden within.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 31, 2009 at 10:45 am

Very nicely and truly put. Thanks.

avatar MMH July 31, 2009 at 5:04 pm

“The bohemian conservative admires the unique and peculiar over the abstracted perfection of a universal form.”

Is this necessarily a good thing? I’ve long held that one of the reasons a liturgical wedding, for example, is far superior to the unique and particular versions served up by so many couples who do not belong to any tradition, in ways aesthetic, spiritual, and societal precisely because the liturgical wedding is not “unique and peculiar” and precisely because it doesn’t celebrate the couple as unique and peculiar. Rather, the liturgical wedding is important precisely because it’s universal, and the couple’s import is increased as being one of a universal thing. Doesn’t it mean more to follow in the footsteps of one’s parents and one’s parents’ parents than to be doing something unique to oneself? I do realize that this isn’t really the point you’re making, but sometimes FPR types emphasize the particular at the risk of losing what makes the particular of such great value: that it is an instance of a universal (e.g., I am important, not because I’m this particular individual MMH who likes gelato, but because I am a being created in the image of God).

avatar Ted McAllister July 31, 2009 at 6:22 pm

MMH notes that my argument was not a brief for individualism or an obsessive desire to be unique and distinctive. MMH is correct about this, but what I find odd is that I was precisely arguing against this point of view. Perhaps the word “unique” is the stumbling block, but the argument I make is that bohemian conservatives love the particular and the rooted, which amounts to almost the same thing. If I were to go to a marriage ceremony conducted in the Republic of Georgia and according to the Georgian Orthodox Church, as I had hoped I would, then I would wish to celebrate its particular traditions and rituals. They are not my traditions and rituals and I can’t just choose them simply, but the recognition that this wedding is part of something very old, something mysterious, and is a means by which a couple participate in a reality much greater than themselves or their family, inspires in me respect as well as a sense of wonder at the contours of meaning I can only begin to fathom.

What could be worse then shedding thousands of years of continuity in ceremonies that link each person in each generation to a much greater reality for a individualistic ceremony of love between two people who are in the mood to engage in a marriage contract? So, MMH, don’t we agree?

avatar MMH July 31, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Ted, I think we do agree to a point, but I’m still working out my own position. I’m less interested in the fact that the Georgian wedding liturgy is local than that it conveys something universal, something that speaks of man and woman as such, together; but certainly we both agree that the traditional liturgy is something larger than the “whims and inconsistencies” (J. Austen) of a ceremony cobbled together by the individual couple. It was the sentence that I quoted at the beginning of my last post that raised the red flag: “The bohemian conservative admires the unique and peculiar over the abstracted perfection of a universal form.” I tend to be a Platonist–and it seems to me that many FPR voices are, rather, Aristotelian, holding that the form exists pre-eminently in the particular–and perhaps I jump too quickly on arguments against universal form. I think I’m still not sure how my penchant for localism fits in with my more fundamental Platonism. But I liked your post and wouldn’t have bothered to respond had I not thought it said something worthy.

avatar Ted McAllister July 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm

MMH, we do agree and we disagree…along that fault line separating Plato and Aristotle. Your comment puts me in mind of Richard Weaver’s struggle to be a Platonist and an Agrarian. In “Ideas Have Consequences” Weaver was in full Platonic voice, but by “Visions of Order” he was markedly leaning toward Aristotle. Despite these differences, we both agree, I think, that one can find very different ceremonies (let’s broaden out from marriage) that all affirm, in their various ways, some known or presumed universal. In that way we can imagine many different expressions of the same truth. Because humans are historical beings, I take the appreciation of our rooted natures to be important even as I take our participation in divine purposes to be important. To me it matters a great deal that human nature is, in great part, historical.

avatar David July 31, 2009 at 10:09 pm

I have a dilemma in the Plato v Aristotle. I’m simply not smart enough to know where I’ve gone wrong. In some metaphysical sense, I suppose I’m Platonic as it’s being discussed here because my theological constructions suppose that everything precedes from God. But my anthropology is distinctly Aristotelian, even nominalistic, that rejects universals existentially.

This brings in the mystery of the Incarnation where I experience God in Christ existentially, particularly, but who is sent as an image of the Father therefore is “begotten” of the Father who is the source of the Godhead. Christ seems to be both universal and particular. “Before Abraham was, I am” or the lamb slain “before the foundation of the world.” Or St John insisting that Jesus was in the beginning creating all things. Somehow the Incarnation exists outside of time and purpose or at least it’s my feeble comprehension of the paradoxical theandrical statements of faith that are inadequate.

Anyway, that’s more rambling than is good for me.

avatar peter lawler August 2, 2009 at 11:42 am

To Ted with the long hair, scraggly beard, and other bohemian features: I posted a comment at POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE. (It’s both short and positive.)

avatar Ted McAllister August 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Peter, I appreciate your comment, even if you impugn my beard. Because you sometimes write elliptically, I’m not certain I understand the full meaning of your reference to Kirk’s competence and prudence. But I agree very much with your comment about my essay when you write: “He could be clearer that our alienation–what ails us as persons–couldn’t be cured by going back to the farm.” I detect in your comment a critique that extends well beyond my essay, but it is a fair comment and one that deserves serious and extended treatment. I hope to do that soon with an essay on a related subject, but I wish to emphasize right now that rootedness is not the same thing as being entirely “adjusted” to the world. The human condition remains the pressing fact of our existence whether we live in a vibrant, “organic” community with rich traditions or a suburb and work in a corporation and know none of our neighbors.

More importantly, we cannot find answers to our deracinated condition by going back to the farm. THe Lippmann quotation that I offer in my essay is, I think, true. We cannot go back and nostalgia is a perverse answer to our needs. Yet, better relationships with nature, with land, with our labor, with the commercial world are possible and products of our choices. For some a life that is closer to nature and that incorporates farming, for instance, is more authentic and affirming than the disconnected existence in which many people feel trapped. In the long run, there is no going home, however, because we can never make a home.

Finally, the Maynard G. Krebs reference is too dated for me, except that I might note that Krebs the proto-hippie turned into Gilligan, the focus of a socialist paradise.

avatar Ted McAllister August 2, 2009 at 7:29 pm

David, Upon reflection, I’m not sure the Plato v. Aristotle discussion takes us very far in the long run. Some people seem to call themselves Platonic as a shorthand way of saying that they affirm some unchanging order to which we are bound and in which we are located. I think it is unnecessary to invoke Plato for that purpose–Aristotle is sufficient for this particular claim. Others know better than I.

avatar David August 3, 2009 at 9:11 am

My first class in college that actually offered something substantial was Great Books. In that class our professor set up Plato v Aristotle aka Inductive v Deductive aka Ideal v Particular aka Philosopher v Scientist aka Religious v Agnostic.

All of these are oversimplifications and there is a poor (and in fact often misleading) parallel between any set of these pairs. For some reason, I’ve never been able to fully unlearn that framework. I get stuck back in my freshman year over and over.

Thus why I reverted. Apologies.

Modern life does set up an interesting paradox, once your tradition is no tradition (or at least the apprehension of none) you can’t really fix it by trying to artificially “reviving” tradition of some other time and place. Is this what you mean when you say we can’t go back to the farm?

avatar peter lawler August 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Ted–Maynard G. Krebs–from the semi-classic show DOBIE GILLIS–was famous for his aversion to work. Russell Kirk, whom I admire, couldn’t really hold a normal job. The same might be said of numerous professors, but Russell even found being a State U. professor too stultifying. Kirk’s political judgments are very uneven, and that’s not why anyone serious would read him. There are others who are masters of prudence but are boring otherwise, like the used-to-be-underrated Eisenhower or even the erotically challenged Bob Dole. Burke, to recall the controversy at our conference, scores really high on the prudence-meter and at least moderately high on the bohemian one. But he’s the exception who proves the rule. Otherwise, it seems we’re pretty close to agreeing. I’m no Lockean, as you know, although we’re stuck with Locke’s inconvenient partial truth about our freedom.

avatar Ted McAllister August 4, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Peter, if Maynard was famous for his aversion to work, Gilligan was more successful at being “natural” and “authentic” without the beatnik pretensions of Krebs. Gilligan, oddly, was closer to Rousseau than Krebs–neither of them what I had in mind for my somewhat eccentric adoption of the label bohemian.

If by Kirk’s “uneven” political judgments you mean that his were often at variance with yours, then I agree. I’ll push our agreement even further. If one were to list the reasons for reading Kirk, his reflections on contemporary politics would be near the bottom–this is particularly true by the time he got involved in the election of 1992. But I’m not sure exactly what a normal job would be. It sounds very much like those folk who use the hideous phrase “real world” to make reference to some privileged sphere of commercial activity. It is safe to say that Kirk would not have been good at many professions, which is to say something obvious about almost all humans.

The fact of the matter, however, is that despite our very different ways of saying things, we agree much more than is seemly.

avatar peter lawler August 4, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Gilligan is like Maynard G. without a soul–so you’re right. And I didn’t mean my comments on Kirk to be criticism, just Bohemian observation. Despite some who find Platonic meaning in GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, I’m with the more conventional critics who thought it just stunk. Dobie is full of something much more like real people–including the ambitious Zelda Gilroy.

avatar Alfred E. Newman August 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I always preferred Mary Ann over Ginger, myself. Or is that too far from the discussion at hand ?

avatar Ted V. McAllister August 4, 2009 at 5:12 pm

With regard to Peter’s interest in human alienation (much of this explored in his discussions of my essay in postmodern conservative), Gilligan’s Island deserves more attention than he acknowledges. Gilligan was, as Peter noted, soul-less, but probably better described as lacking eros. But he was well-adjusted to his environment. He was Rousseau’s most complete man. Ginger was the most alienated because she could not find happiness finally on or off the island–in constant need as she was of outside affirmation of her ego–suicide was surely her fate eventually. The Howells had truly discovered their happiness, though they never lost their habituated attachments to wealth. Their wealth never helped them on the island–they never really needed to be rich anymore. Mary Ann is more attractive to those drawn to this isle because she was more naturally herself, in need of only a normal amount of outside affirmation.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 5, 2009 at 6:12 am

Then again “Dobie Gillis” had the lovely Tuesday Weld oft dressed in the provocative Angora sweater symbolizing procreative possibilities inherent in the human drama.
This talk of “Gilligan’s Island” is yet, another indication of the decline of academia.
And, of course, you’re required to do something on the ‘true’ meaning of the X-Files!

avatar Ian, Killer of Flies August 5, 2009 at 11:17 am

Plato’s attitude towards reaching the universal through the inmattered and contingent seems to vary through the dialogs, though. In the parable of the cave, he seems to assert, gnostically, that the contingent world is mere illusion (though in that he is just being a good Parminidean); from that, it would seem to follow that the particular is of no importance, and that we must reach to the abstract by the shortest distance possible (likely through geometry…). But in the Symposium, the love of the forms must begin in the love of what is in front of us — we ascend through the material world, which is all we have, to the universals which lie behind it: a more “Aristotelian” approach!

avatar Ted V. McAllister August 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Bravo Ian. I’m sure St. Louis is experiencing a noticeable decrease in the population of flies.

avatar MHartzler August 11, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I enjoyed your essay, but confess to laughter on reading your defense to charges brought by a hypothetical reader. It collided so neatly with the truth in my case.

avatar Wessexman August 7, 2010 at 11:37 pm

“David, Upon reflection, I’m not sure the Plato v. Aristotle discussion takes us very far in the long run. Some people seem to call themselves Platonic as a shorthand way of saying that they affirm some unchanging order to which we are bound and in which we are located. I think it is unnecessary to invoke Plato for that purpose–Aristotle is sufficient for this particular claim. Others know better than I.”

Really Aristotle is a Platonist, he criticises Plato and has different emphasises but there really is no Aristotlian system with the Platonic doctrines stripped from it as the Platonic Lloyd Gerson put it. As brilliant as Aristotle is Plato and the Platonists are even more brilliant and capture an even greater part of reality, particularly of the transcendent levels of reality as Aristotle is somewhat more focused on the immanent and sensory. Aristotle is sufficient for some and more Peripatetics in the modern West would be a good thing but more Platonists would be even better.

Ted has wonderfully described Bohemian Conservatism in passages likes this:

At the risk of approaching a definition, a bohemian conservative believes humans ought to appreciate, live amidst, and even love the eccentric particularity of physical nature, of distinctive persons, of local culture, of odd traditions that reach back before memory, and more generally of the person rooted in time and place–a historical expression as unique as the proverbial snowflake. The bohemian conservative appreciates less the abstract beauty of the woman on the billboard and more the peculiar beauty of the woman who works at the diner. The bohemian conservative does not love the individualist as much as the eccentric person who is rooted in cultural soil unprocessed by sanitizing consumerism. The bohemian conservative admires the unique and peculiar over the abstracted perfection of a universal form.

And I don’t think such a position is necessarily at odds with a Platonic position, after all Platonism not only affirms universals but all the potentials or possibilities within the universals and the limitless nature of the One. You need to remember the Platonic and Aristotlian ideas of the universal, essence and unity of course but that does not remove the truth of the diversity we are talking of either, it doesn’t even remove its goodness as long as it is seen within the full framework which also remembers the place of universals etc. Historically Platonism has not been opposed to all diversity or distinction, far from it; distinction has been seen as a key part of Platonism. Of course there will be tensions in this philosophy and it must be remembered that for Plato the prime place does not go to deductive reason or language, which are though still important but to the Intellect or Spiritual intuition when it comes to understanding and reconciling the true nature of reality and overcoming any lingering tension or ambiguity at the level of discursive thought.

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