Place, Limits, Liberty (In That Order)

by Russell Arben Fox on March 5, 2010 · 29 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Philosophers & Saints,Politics & Power,Region & Place

townmeeting

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Herewith, some thoughts about the arguments to be had here on the Front Porch, on the occasion of its first birthday.

About a month ago, Harvey Mansfield–one of the very few living scholars of political theory whose ideas and arguments have had a real-word impact–wrote a thoughtful essay for The Weekly Standard, alleging that the central problem with President Obama’s and the Democratic party’s determination to reform our nations health insurance systems was that it betrayed a love for “progress” over a love for “liberty.” Mansfield writes: “[Obama's] politics is apolitical; it wants to put an end to politics. It considers its measures to be progressive, and progress to be irreversible. Only through this conception can one recognize, and understand, the pretentiousness of wanting to be the last president to take up health care.”

The idea of putting an end to politics would–and should–of course inflame anyone who subscribes to at least some of the principles avowed by FPR; after all, while localism certainly does involve a purely aesthetic or historical affection for one’s own community, it also involves the political recognition that it is within one’s own community that genuine democracy, and real self-government, is possible. To attempt to “put an end to politics,” in the name of moving the whole conversation forward to some progressive end, would thus appear to be an attack on one of the central purposes of localism, and there something that anyone who writes for Front Porch Republic ought to oppose.

So how is it that I, someone who has pleasantly participated at this site since only a couple of weeks after its beginning, have regularly defended it?

Well, William Galston–himself no slouch when it comes to scholars of political theory influencing real-world debates–provides a bit of an answer. In a strong rebuttal to Mansfield’s accusations, Galston brushes aside Mansfield’s specific characterization of Obama’s and the Democrats’ proposals as tendentious, and hones in on his basic presumption: that there is an “inherent contradiction between progress and liberty.” This he simply rejects: “Simply put,” Galston asserts, “removing issues from the political agenda–placing them beyond dispute–often promotes liberty.”

I think Galston is correct. I think that the push against a government reform in how insurance companies offer coverage and how costs are to be controlled–about which there are, to be sure, innumerable and important political disputes–too often, and wrongly, seems to partake of an attitude which presents “liberty” primary in terms of a private contest between interests, and “progress” primary in terms of government agencies intervening (presumably in an authoritarian manner) into those private contests to “resolve” issues, and thereby take them out of the people’s hands entirely. Galston summarizes this stance succinctly:

If government doesn’t have the right [to intervene], then considerations of efficacy are irrelevant. Even if government could bring about a good result by acting ultra vires, doing so would be an invasion of liberty, which is the most fundamental good. Rather than invade liberty, we should be prepared to live with the consequences of government forbearance. (I note for the record that if Abraham Lincoln had accepted this view, we’d probably be presenting passports at the Virginia/Maryland border.)

I say that I think this conception of the argument between liberty and progress is wrong–and wrong in such a way that has implications for the kind of debates which keep me interested in what goes on at FPR–because I think it fails to respect the deep logic (and not just the euphonious quality!) behind the particular arrangement of terms at the top of FPR’s masthead: “Place. Limits. Liberty.” I think this conception (which I’ve yammered about before, and which in perhaps unavoidable in a country whose bone-deep individualism was diagnosed and fretted over by Tocqueville close to two centuries ago) fails to appreciate that liberty is often, necessarily, a positive and empowering concept, which flows from being able to (politically!) establish and “resolve” ones place, accept and work within the community limits which any such place would entail, and find greater liberty of real opportunity, action and accomplishment accordingly. Galston elaborates upon this distinction at length:

In the real world, there is no such thing as freedom in the abstract. There are only specific freedoms, which differ in their conditions and consequences. FDR famously enumerated four such freedoms, dividing them into two pairs: freedom of speech and worship; freedom from want and fear. The first pair had long been recognized and enshrined in the Constitution. The second were a new formulation, and Roosevelt made them concrete when he signed Social Security into law, justifying it as a way of promoting freedom from want….The conservatives of his day dismissed the second pair as “New Deal freedoms” rather than “American freedoms.” But those who have experienced the freedoms made possible by the New Deal are not so dismissive. It is often observed, rightly, that Social Security has virtually eliminated poverty among the elderly. But this noble achievement has an equally profound flip side. Throughout human history, those who reached the age where they could no longer work have typically depended on their children or on charity for their basic subsistence. Social Security broke this age-old dependency by giving the elderly a minimum degree of economic self-sufficiency, expanding their range of effective control over the conditions of their post-retirement years….

“Freedom of” points toward spheres of action in which individuals make choices–for example, which faith to embrace, or whether to endorse any faith at all. The task of government is in part to secure those spheres against interference by individuals, groups, or government itself….The other face of freedom–”freedom from”–points toward circumstances that (it is presumed) we all wish to avoid. In such instances, the task of government is, so far as possible, to immunize individuals against undesired circumstances. Here, government acts to protect not individual agency and choice, but rather an individual’s life circumstances against outcomes that no one would choose, or willingly endure. It follows that the “right to choose” is but a part of freedom in the fuller sense. As a motorist, I am rightly free to choose my own route and destination. But government correctly infers that I also wish to be protected from smashing into other cars, and so restricts which side of the road I and others can drive on. My desire to avoid an accident is no less real than my desire to drive where I please….

The point is that any society that takes freedom from want and fear seriously has made collective decisions: Certain conditions are objectively bad; its citizens should not have to endure them if the means of their abatement are in hand; and individual choice is not a necessary component of, and may be a hindrance to attaining, these freedoms. The current debate over health care only underscores these truths.

It is worth noting that while Galston’s formulation of this debate might strike some readers as accommodating a degree of collective action and communitarian “intervention” and “resolution” that might seem a poor fit for the United States of America (which, if true, doesn’t necessary speak well for our political culture, I suspect), Galston himself has insisted that he does not believe positive liberty should be, and would not want to see it, carried too far. In an old debate with Michael Lind, in fact, Galston insisted that “freedom” was the central value for the great majority of Americans, meaning that we are all individualists of one fashion or another, and hence have to think carefully about how we want to speak of providing collective goods so that communities, families, and individuals can enjoy the liberty which a secure and supportive and fair environment can provide. He agrees with many of Lind’s civic republican ideas, particularly Lind’s observation that a more explicitly communitarian or “public interest” language “permits republican liberals to justify public education, policies promoting widespread economic independence, taxation, military or militia service, jury duty and voting, along with public health policies and environmental protection, without needing to show that these programs and institutions could be derived from separate, individual goods or that each individual citizen is likely to benefit”…but he concludes that, as valuable as the concept of public liberty may be, “the language of republicanism inherently looks backward to a system of economic provision and social class structure that is gone for good and that applying it to the economic and social problems of the present will often lead to damaging results.” In other words, as I would say it (putting my own preferred spin on Galston’s words), the revolutions of mobility, technology, and individual choice–all diagnosed long ago by Marx so very well–have so disrupted the permanence of our socio-economic ties and traditional relations that all we can do is to empower people in their chosen publics and places, rather than work to instantiate a public liberty that truly belongs to us all. There can be, of course, egalitarian provision and protection on a broad, general, even national scale, for the sake of promoting the aforementioned positive liberties…though the particulars and extent of such are and should be subject to continuous political debate (it is pretty settled that the United States will have a national defense, for example, while the debate about health insurance regulation remains unsettled). But to to really go deep into the ability and the right of a people to democratically govern themselves, to truly create a “beloved community” and truly exercise sovereignty over public things–to go, in other words, fully republican (or socialist, if you prefer)–requires, in today’s world, a turn to local places, and their limits. That is where all the more general collective actions will enable the greatest, and most valued, liberty of all.

So the arguments–and they are political arguments–over what it means to value and wish to preserve one’s front porch are going to continue, and they will, I think rightly, include arguments that can incorporate possibilities of action that range from the most personal and individual of decisions to some (not many, but some) that will properly involve the highest and broadest levels of government. To argue that there is something illegitimate, something by definition apolitical, and thus opposed to liberty, in an attempt to respond to a particular political issue through the national government, is no more inherently sensible, I think, than claiming it is apolitical to allow a neighborhood council to make a decision about the maintenance of the sidewalks on your street, or to allow a county election to determine policies about the sale of alcohol in your town, or to allow a state legislature to make a decision about gambling in your county. Any of those decisions could be bad, of course, and any might deserve to be protested. But to deny the value of the kind of positive, collective liberty they demonstrate (though, as I said above, I would suggest that you arguably need to see the more interventionary of those demonstrations limited to communities where the relevant scale allows the residents to express themselves more directly and democratically) is to fall, intentionally or not, into a more privatized and negative notion of liberty, one that sees it as an individual possession, and not something that also obtains in places themselves.

About a month ago, Caleb Stegall pointed to a particular taxonomy that he found to be particularly relevant to figuring out where different folks stand at the Front Porch Republic. Suggesting that while some on the left side of FPR might “make common cause against certain Classic Liberal centrists” along with localists like himself, the fact remains that folks like him and me may be “miles apart on a more fundamental level.” I’m not entirely in agreement with his taxonomy (I’ve thought about some of my own), or his conclusion, but he’s probably more right than wrong. The Jeffersonian-individualist strain in American localism (and populism too, for that matter) will probably always be far distant from (and far more common than, as well) my own preferred Laschian-communitarian strain. But we go along. And it makes for good discussions–and good politics too–all the same.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Carl Scott March 5, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for this…digesting…and meantime, let me say that Bill Galston is a thinker more Porchers should know about. Of course, I usually prefer Mansfield and think I will probably agree with him on this dust-up.

avatar John Gorentz March 5, 2010 at 11:57 pm

“removing issues from the political agenda–placing them beyond dispute”

I don’t think you got back to this point in your essay.

Yes, government intervention can promote liberty. I don’t care for the way of dealing with the tension between security and freedom by redefining security as freedom, as FDR did. It would be better to come to grips with the fact that there is a tension between the two and that we need to balance the two, rather than evade the issue as FDR and others have done. But yes, collective government action can promote freedom in the real sense. There is also no question that it can destroy it, and often has.

But what does that have to do with removing issues from the political agenda, or placing them beyond dispute? That would seem to be one of the surest ways to end up with government interventions that destroy freedom rather than enhance it.

Did I miss the part where you explained that?

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 6, 2010 at 12:59 am

Carl, thanks for taking this little essay seriously; the ideas–if not my presentation–are worth digesting, I think. And yes, Galston’s work is, I think, very much worth Porcher attention.

John, I’ll allow that it’s not a particularly tight or even entirely coherent bit of writing, but I don’t think I let that concern disappear. To restate my point, using some of my language above, there seems to be implied in Mansfield’s argument the notion that attempting to resolve a political dispute through the implementation of some agreed-upon action, if it involves a certain degree of government authority to carry out said action, is a way of shutting down politics and therefore liberty; it’s the “progressive” claim to have “moved beyond” any democratic argument about an issue. Perhaps Galston is being unfair to Mansfield on that point, but upon reading Mansfield’s essay, I agree with his characterization. And I also agree that it’s both seriously and fundamentally mistaken: I just don’t understand why a resolution that involves government intervention should be understood as an attempt to “rationalize” and settle and thereby take away from citizens the politics of the matter. Have the political arguments over race in America ceased just because the federal government enforces the 14th Amendment?

avatar John Willson March 6, 2010 at 10:27 am

RAF,

This is a wonderful (it fills me with wonder, which is a good thing) essay, and constructive in the way that the Porch means to be constructive. Thank you.

Here’s a point of fundamental disagreement: the national government never, ever, promotes liberty. It does promote equality, badly understood; it does promote democracy, which is rarely good. I refer to your comment on the 14th amendment, which completed the change from a republic to a national state. Do you really think that “the political arguments over race” have improved–that is, been “progressive” to–our liberty?

I think I understand Lasch. He gave us a lot to think about, and I believe was a truly good man, but in the end lived in a pseudo-communitarian never-never-land. Galston’s notion about Social Security is the same. I draw it–it is my right, given the fact that the government prevented me from supporting my mother by its confiscation of money I could have made a couple of million dollars with. And now of course the government which hath given is about to take away. Communities exist only where they are natural and commonly understood. The nation-state is not a good thing in which to place our hopes for liberty.

But as I said before, you take these things seriously.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm

John,

Thanks for the comment, which expresses some of our disagreements so clearly and fairly!

Here’s a point of fundamental disagreement: the national government never, ever, promotes liberty.

I’m assuming that we can at least agree that liberty can take both negative and positive forms. (If we don’t, then there’s not a whole lot in this post that can be talked about.) Given that, I would respond: if this claim is premised upon a historical assessment of the national government of the United States, then I absolutely disagree with you (see below, for examples). If, however, is is a claim premised upon the idea that nothing as large as a national government can ever pass and enforce laws which empower and expand the liberties and capabilities of its citizens, because such a large entity must by definition be squelching local government, I’d grant you a point. But I would also insist on following it up with a demand for specifics: at what point exactly does a government become too large to be incapable of empowering it’s citizens without doing harm to self-government along the way–that is, at what point will all attempts to ensure “positive” liberty always backfire? Would you say, for example, that state governments never, ever promote liberty? How about county governments? Is there any particular reason why the line gets drawn in one place, and not another?

Please note that I can easily image different justifications for such line drawing (for example, one might argue that there are institutional or procedural reasons why our state constitutions are legitimate social contracts, but the national government’s Constitution is not). But if that’s the premise supporting your claim, debating over the specific details is both an interesting and an important thing to do.

I refer to your comment on the 14th amendment, which completed the change from a republic to a national state. Do you really think that “the political arguments over race” have improved–that is, been “progressive” to–our liberty?

Absolutely–and on the basis of my experience, the overwhelming majority of African-American citizens, and a strong majority of everyone else, would fully agree. The 14th Amendment may have completed the nationalization of our political culture and systems of government (though I think that is debatable), but even if it did, the Civil War–and then, a century later, the civil rights movement, when the 14th Amendment finally came to be fully appreciated and enforced–may be understood as presenting to the American people the option of preserving a republic which tolerated institutionalized racism, or of progressing towards something different. It surely was not an easy choice, but it was a decisive (and by all accounts today, a popular) one.

Communities exist only where they are natural and commonly understood. The nation-state is not a good thing in which to place our hopes for liberty.

Phrasing it this way takes us back to what I speculated above; that perhaps your concern isn’t with the American national government in particular, but the very idea of “national government,” to say nothing of a “national community,” entirely. Which is a powerful challenge, and a difficult one to respond to, especially since I agree with much–not all, but much–which would argue the exact same thing. Trying to figure out the appropriate place for the nation (and I do believe there is a legitimate place for it; I’m just not sure exactly what it is) will be one of the most difficult of rows for localists of all stripes to hoe.

avatar D.W. Sabin March 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Pardon my skepticism but I am finding it difficult to reconcile the Legislative process in the Modern State with

“removing issues from the political agenda-placing them beyond dispute- often promotes liberty”.

The amount of broadcast barking, ink on newsprint and pixels on a computer screen debating the political life of the nation has only increased with the avalanche of legislative activity. Liberty has not increased, nor has dispute ended. If anything, Progressive Politics would seem to elevate the Federal Government to a kind of entertainment , equalling sports as the daily fixation.

Meanwhile, Habeas Corpus is deemed “antiquated” , political protests are assigned cattle pen “Free Speech Zones” far from the scene of the action and the FBI is accused in a current case of hiring a New Jersey Blogger to post inflammatory suggestions of assassination against Federal Judges in order to entrap the lunatic fringe.

Like it or not, Progressive Politics is like miracle grow for rancorous debate and Crab grass killer on Liberty. The current “Health Care Crisis” imbroglio is a perfect demonstration of the state of permanent hustings of our legislative life. The proponents are saying they wish to simply get something passed , even if flawed so that future legislative remedy will miraculously address any problems.

What am I missing here?

avatar ken mcintyre March 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I’ve dropped out for a while but this piece drags me back in. It does so because, like much of what you write, it actually points to serious distinctions between some of we porchers which can’t be neglected, though perhaps they also shouldn’t be exaggerated. I have absolutely no use for Straussians of any stripe and Galston, being both a Straussian and a lefty, is the worst of all possible worlds in my opinion.

As a card-carrying member of the Hegel fan club, I am as aware of the importance of a robust notion of liberty. However, since TH Green and Mr. Dewey hijacked the term ‘liberalism’, there has been a tendency to conflate paternalism with liberty among so-called progressives like the benighted Galston. It is true that bracketing off some areas of human activity from political decisions can increase liberty, but only if those areas bracketed off allow for actual human choice. To say that centralizing all decision-making about a policy area like health care at the federal level increases liberty is like saying the Chinese ‘one-child’ policy increases liberty. Oh, sure, those Chinese no longer have to worry about their ‘reproductive decisions’ because they have been bracketed off, so to speak.

Berlin put the point as well as anyone could when speaking to the inherent falsity of contemporary notions of positive liberty. As he suggested, and contrary to the greatly overrated and, I hope, soon to be relegated to the dustbin of history Galston, it’s one thing to claim that we should legislate for people who are incompetent to make decisions for themselves. It’s quite another to claim that these decisions are the ‘real and free’ decisions of those who oppose them. This is frankly dishonest. If you want to trade-off liberty for security or, in the health care situation, a reduction in the anxiety of certain members of the population, that’s fine. I will oppose it, but at least your argument is honest. Galston’s nonsense on the other hand is merely another example of the silly American notion that we can have all things good and sacrifice nothing.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 6, 2010 at 10:12 pm

That’s a fierce comment, Ken, and it deserves a thorough response, which I can’t give right now. I will just say, briefly, that 1) the description of Galston as a Straussian is one that I have genuinely never heard before, and it doesn’t seem to be at all supported by what I know of Galston’s work, and 2) that I would be far quicker to describe Berlin as overrated rather than Galston, especially since I think he employed his analytically sharp and enormously useful “Two Concepts of Liberty” to push an account of positive liberty that was frankly puerile. To describe any and all collective decision-making as partaking of an “organic fallacy” which wrongly connects individuals together and thereby compromises their individual liberty simply stacks the deck against community self-government from the start. Galston, as I read him, is not denying there are often trade-offs behind individual freedom and collective provisioning and security; he is, rather, denying that such either-or-thinking is the complete story of liberty. Hegel would, of course, agree.

avatar ken mcintyre March 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I look forward to your response because I know that it will be on topic and quite ingelligent. And my own commitments to Hegel bring us quite often close together on some topics. I waver on Berlin, and quite often think that he is merely a Paganini of ideas, but he is also keenly perceptive about some of the insights of analytic philosophy that some of us ignore. We might just have to disagree on Galston, I’m afraid, who I think is a complete waste of time.

avatar ken mcintyre March 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Galston is rather well known as the eccentric lefty Straussian. His emphasis on the political community as an enterprise association in the service of some sort of notion of virtue is the most obvious debt that he pays to Leo (this is what he shares with the neo-cons). The fact that he never actually defends this idea as a reality is one of his many weaknesses.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 7, 2010 at 8:13 am

Galston is rather well known as the eccentric lefty Straussian. His emphasis on the political community as an enterprise association in the service of some sort of notion of virtue is the most obvious debt that he pays to Leo (this is what he shares with the neo-cons).

Interesting that I’ve really, so far as I can remember, heard or read anyone making this point; I guess either my memories are failing or I’m even less engaged with the literature than I should be. (And, just now looking up Galston’s entry on Wikipedia, I see him listed right there as a student of Strauss…so obviously the second explanation above is the correct one!) I’m having a very hard time seeing the positions Galston has defended–at least ever since Liberal Purposes, which is as early as my knowledge of him goes–as aligning with neoconservatism, but perhaps you can enlighten me.

avatar James Matthew Wilson March 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Pardon if I overlooked something that addressed this point thoroughly (I see Willson approached it, but in a manner from which I would like to take a step back. You write,

“To argue that there is something illegitimate, something by definition apolitical, and thus opposed to liberty, in an attempt to respond to a particular political issue through the national government, is no more inherently sensible, I think, than claiming it is apolitical to allow a neighborhood council to make a decision about the maintenance of the sidewalks on your street, or to allow a county election to determine policies about the sale of alcohol in your town, or to allow a state legislature to make a decision about gambling in your county. ”

To the contrary, “inherently sensible” is just what it is. Politics is a good, and the State is the legitimate culmination of one aspect of politics — the meeting place of just authority and positive law. On this, presumably, we agree. Settling law — including the laws possibly surrounding health care — does not itself remove something from politics. On this, too, we agree.

But, here comes Aristotle: politics can only exist in a polis, the organic union of sufficient households into a community. Anything that violates this natural ordering to the good results in alienation. We tend to focus on the modes of alienation of the individual from the society, but our current moment chiefly provides us example of the alienation of the State from the polis.

If the polis is the place for politics, and the state is one “culmination” (that is, an instrumental good) of politics, then de-politicization occurs not when laws are passed within the political realm of the community, but when those laws and the authority to enforce them alienates itself–sometimes literally, right? by moving the locus of authority to a distant city — from the community.

Healthcare reform would not “end” politics or remove something from politics, because we do not have politics as such at present. We have a technocracy: the State derives its authority from sources external to the polis or the households within the polis. It derives from elites, Mr. Lasch.

I recognize I’m dwelling at a level of abstraction so high that it can include ancient Greece as a positive example and our age as a negative one, but I think it is just at such a level where the problems with your argument lie. We agree in the priority of place and limits, but here and elsewhere, I don’t think you take those terms seriously or as binding. I agree with criticisms to this effect that have been addressed to your other posts.

I’m a localist not because I think it might be nice, but because I do not believe it is possible for the political realm to exist beyond a very limited population and geographical range — the precise number of which we should approach as unphilosophically as possible, e.g. “If Fred comes in, we’re sure to be too many! Give him to Shelbyville.” This limitation serves the purpose of allowing participation, i.e. allowing its members to fulfill their identity as political animals. The moment it is exceeded, alienation occurs: one sees the State no longer as a culmination of the politcal realm of a polis, but as an entity existing independently and likely to replace its original foundations with new ones sui generis.

To stick with the occasion of your essay: if Devon, PA decides to pass “borrough-wide” healthcare, I’d probably oppose it but would recognize it as a possible action proper to, and internal to, the political realm of the polis.

And so, while I agree that the prioritization of an abstract liberty is either misleading or foolish, that is because the end of politics is not individual liberty but the good life, whose sine qua non remains recognizing man as a political animal capable of seeking the good in community. As such, Galston’s facicious yammer of passports at the Maryland/Virginia border, which serves him the same turn it does neo-cons (to incite fear of real conservatism), sounds like a decent start to opening up the possibility of politics in the modern world.

While, no doubt, subsidiary associations can extend beyond the polis, the minute they become the new, expanded political realm — they destroy politics and the possibility of seeking the good in commynity.

Sorry for the long response. I have noticed that I have been so busy since last summer that I have not been replying to your posts, and so the kettle’s steam is built up.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

James, I’m delighted to be the occasion to release some of this worthy, challenging, and edifying steam! Thanks for the response. I have slightly more time (though not a whole lot) to respond now than I did to Ken’s thoughts, so let me see what I can do.

Politics is a good, and the State is the legitimate culmination of one aspect of politics–the meeting place of just authority and positive law….But, here comes Aristotle: politics can only exist in a polis, the organic union of sufficient households into a community. Anything that violates this natural ordering to the good results in alienation….Healthcare reform would not “end” politics or remove something from politics, because we do not have politics as such at present. We have a technocracy: the State derives its authority from sources external to the polis or the households within the polis. It derives from elites, Mr. Lasch.

In this very eloquent criticism, you interrogate my preference for Galston over Mansfield, not on the basis of specific indictment of our current national government (though you obviously do that as well), but on the basis of your rejecting on Aristotelian grounds on the very possibility of “politics” (that which makes possible liberty) and laws emerging from the government of a nation-state co-existing; the latter would obviate the other. In this, you’re following the line of argument which I acknowledged in my response to John Willson: namely, that the problem may lay with the very idea of national governments themselves. In which case, I would want to put to you the same hypothetical questions I posed to John: “[A]t what point exactly does a government become too large to be incapable of empowering it’s citizens without doing harm to self-government along the way–that is, at what point will all attempts to ensure ‘positive’ liberty always backfire?” In other words, I think some details are in order.

You write that you are a localist because you “do not believe it is possible for the political realm to exist beyond a very limited population and geographical range.” I assume that you hold to this belief because, again following Aristotle, you consider it a “natural ordering.” Are you open criticisms of how you assess that nature, however? For our world is not Aristotle’s: it is Christian (or at least post-Christian, if you prefer), it does not approve of slavery, it rejects the assumption that those outside the polis are barbarians beyond the purview of the gods, etc. While many goods have been lost with the emergence of modernity (of that I fully agree with you), I would insist that many have also been gained. Perhaps you could claim that the natural order of things is unchanging, and that the recognition of women as full citizens, the development of modern technology, and all the rest are irrelevant considerations when thinking about political life I seriously wonder about that, however. It may be that something akin to the polis is no longer available to us, not without a massive rejection of the egalitarian goods of modernity, but it may be that other forms of political discursiveness and decisionmaking are nonetheless still available–or at least potentially available (referring specifically to your final shot at Christopher Lasch, what if mechanisms were instituted to prevent the elite concentration of power, or at least to minimize such, something we will be much in need of following the Citizens United decision?).

You seem to be open to some of these criticisms, when you allow that certain kinds of “subsidiary associations” can legitimately extend beyond the polis, but then hasten to add that such associations cannot be considered part of the “political realm.” But that makes me ask further: who or what, then, would be administering these subsidiary associations; how would decisions regarding them be made? Would all such associations be, by definition, “apolitical”? But if so, and yet the role of such associations is acknowledged, then you are granting that there are goods worth obtaining that may emerge through apolitical–that is, beyond-the-polis–processes. If that is the case, then, assuming your definitions (which I am not entirely willing to do, pace my suggested criticisms above), then who is to say that, for example, health insurance might legitimately be determined (by, I suppose…a political process?) to be the sort of good which requires a higher level of subsidiarity to accomplish?

avatar John Gorentz March 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

After reading James Matthew Wilson’s fascinating comments, I got to thinking that Aristotle would probably have considered an Amish congregation to be sufficient for politics to exist. Here is what an anonymous Amish man wrote, as quoted in one of my favorite blogs, Amish America. It’s about mustaches and cell phones more than health care, but one can see how it might apply to other issues:

The question came up of what would happen if one would grow a mustache. And although it would entail questions and a visit from the ministry, it still is hard to say exactly what and how it would happen. The reason being it has never happened. If one would grow a mustache, that person would very certainly have other issues with the Ordnung as well. …

This is an interesting example about the nature of Ordnung. It is not so much a set of arbitrary rules and regulations handed down from some authoritative council somewhere, rather it is a set of understandings about expected behavior that is refined and modified by an informal process of practical testing and subtle negotiation. It is a model for a way of life.

And along the same lines, I just finished a remarkable little book this afternoon: “The Nazi Impact on a German Village” (1993) by Walt Rinderle and Bernard Norling. Rinderle has a family connection with the village under study that enabled him to do oral history that would not have been possible for complete outsiders. But his book is about a lot more than the Nazification. One learns in it how community health care decisions and allocations were made in a community where everyone knew everyone else. I won’t try to summarize at this point, other than to say there were a lot of good, Front Porch-like aspects as well as others that might make people say “good riddance”.

avatar John Willson March 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Gorentz, that is perfect! And JM Wison(I left the pathetic one L out just for kicks) I think I agree with every word.
Here is a level that is not abstraction: Forrest McDonald (with the great help of his wife Ellen) once made a study of the meaning of liberty to the generation of men and women that made up most of our constitutions, on every level from the most rural local to the Philadelphia convention of 1787, and the conventions that made up constitutions for such of our churches that had aspirations beyond the local. Early Americans were peculiarly non-ideological, and disposed not to define things too carefully. But there was an idea of liberty, OVERWHELMINGLY used, and notice how it transcends things like the attitudes of African-Americans (whatever they are) or any other interest group. I quote it here from the Book they all read: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4 KJV) Not that I am a particular authority (I did teach the Early American Republic for over forty years) but I see the fullest practical description of American liberty in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which was passed, by the way, by the Articles of Confederation Congress. Arthur St. Clair was the President of the Congress, and then became the first and only governor of the entire Northwest Territory, responsible for putting that expression of liberty into practice. It’s a great story.
Now, I know that Progressives don’t care much about what has come before, and I also know that most political philosophers don’t care much about the Bible; but insofar as our republic was based on truths that went beyond simple time, space and matter that was it. We haven’t improved on it.
And RAF, I would be willing to start with the Old Northwest Territory as a nation and see how we get along. We could sell our water for income instead of having other people give away our jobs.

avatar James Matthew Wilson March 7, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Russell, you fire back to substantially for one so slow of study as I. I think you’ve inspired me to do an FPR essay on the Politics at last — something I have demurred or delayed doing, knowing it was nonetheless inevitable at some point.

Your attention to my paragraph on subsidiarity is worth immediate attention. I was trying there to prepare a germinal answer to Roger Scruton’s critique of subsidiarity in the EU and in practice: it is always up to the highest political form to determine the power and activities of subsidiary associations, and so the highest political form — whether the national or international State — always ends up absorbing the would-be subsidiary power. A bit of reasonable Carl Schmittian analysis: sovereignty, who decides, is the political and so the highest power is politics per se, everything else beneath subsisting as a gift or a slave.

Now, the social encyclicals from Leo to Benedict do not really provide an adequate answer to Scruton’s criticism — except for John Paul II’s curious (and increasingly, to my mind, compelling) way of simply erasing the State from the personal entities of the world: the individual person, family, and state are all “persons” in JP II’s personalist ethics, but the State exists strictly as functional, a mere instrumental tool of these things. I think this is a problematic claim, but it helps explain how he can suggest robust rights-discourse-based roles for the state (a right to dignified and fruitful employment?! my goodness!). For, John Paul is merely saying how the State might serve; it has no powers of its own. Those powers lies, he thinks, in the three kinds of “person” listed above.

My attempt at a more adequate defense of subsidiarity would be one that does not fail to grant the State, when rightly understood and rightly ordered, as effectively coextensive with the Polis. Like foreign policy, the creation of larger subsidiary associations between poleis (or communities, if you like) should not result in the creation of new sovereignties. To be concrete (a problem of late): I think it’d be great if a bunch of small states wanted to create a congress with authority to act that derives directly from the sovereignty of the small states (the poleis) themselves. If that’s what the U.S. was, I would think it a great subsidiary association. But it’s not: sovereignty actually reposes in the federal government, even though it once derived from the states.

International treaties (which, so far as I’m concerned, is what the Constitution is!) are not extra-political or non-political as you suggest; but their validity as categorically political would be contingent on sovereignty reposing in the individual poleis. Since, as I said above, the federnal government does not exist in this manner, it and all of its actions are technocratic rather than, say, democratic.

I’ve gone on too long, so let me be blithe in dismissing the suggestion that ours is not an Aristotelian world: nobody is equal, and to the extent we think we’ve made people equal we lie to ourselves; we have replaced service slavery with the underclass, which helps some of us sleep at night and keeps some of us awake; but in one key respect your criticism DOES prompt me to clarify: the natural order is divine gift rather than being itself divine and necessary, as Aristotle thought. Insofar as we live in a Christian world, the world understands that much (so it doesn’t . . . but I do, and so accept your point). As I’ll be talking about in a week or two in regarding to Caritas in Veritate, Creation means that divine love and truth proceed the truth — the rational order, which Aristotle took to be “necessary” — of nature. But this underscores rather than undermines the great insight of Aristotle’s metaphysics, from which his politics of course derives: we are driven toward the good by eros, by desire, by a love that precedes us, form us, and completes us. My mind is slowing . . . I guess I just don’t see how this changes the intellectual architecture of Aristotle and I DO see how it and Aristotle together call into question the goodness and validity of the intellectual and political structures of modernity.

I have done. More to follow in me own dern post.

avatar Carl Scott March 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

Ken McIntyre–I am a Strauss-influenced Tocquevillian social(i.e., Christian) conservative. Or, if you will, and it looks like you will indeed, a kind of Straussian. (Cue–whispering voices in background–) Yes, Bill Galston is quite Strauss-influenced. To a lesser degree, so is Pat Deneen and his late great teacher Wilson Carey McWilliams. Straussian, Straussian, Straussian, by your estimation. And if you prick “us”(some who stand with the Dems, some with the GOP, some with neither; some who are athiest, some who are not) and put these intellectual “yellow badges” upon upon us, don’t be surprised if we return the favor with somewhat vengeance-motivated critiques.

But, knowing as I do that I speak in anger, I nonetheless do offer the following advice in a sincere spirit of objectivity. Because Strauss simply will be recognized in the future as one of the two or three greatest minds of the 20th century, who made breakthroughs in the study of Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Locke, among other greatest minds of centuries past, and whose students have gone on to make breakthroughs in an innumerable number of areas and upon virtually every great thinker, really a vast majority of those who aspire to wisdom in the future will be in some way Strauss-influenced, that is, categorizable as “Straussian” by lazy dismissers such as yourself. But by then, such statements as you made above will seem largely ridiculous. For now, though, folks like you get to momentarily surprise folks like Fox, who apparently has been saddled by other purveyors of nonsense that Straussian = neoconservative. But guys like Fox, upon reading Deneen and especially McWilliams more deeply, and thus recognizing that even certain positive aspects of the Porch wouldn’t exist w/o Strauss’s help, are not going to be fooled indefinitely. And Ken, you shouldn’t fool yourself. I am in agreement with the basic thrust of your critique of Galston, as hopefully I will be able to voice below.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

Going back to Ken here, for an additional exchange,

However, since TH Green and Mr. Dewey hijacked the term ‘liberalism’, there has been a tendency to conflate paternalism with liberty among so-called progressives like the benighted Galston. It is true that bracketing off some areas of human activity from political decisions can increase liberty, but only if those areas bracketed off allow for actual human choice. To say that centralizing all decision-making about a policy area like health care at the federal level increases liberty is like saying the Chinese ‘one-child’ policy increases liberty. Oh, sure, those Chinese no longer have to worry about their ‘reproductive decisions’ because they have been bracketed off, so to speak.

Your contempt for the conclusions you associate with Green and Dewey comes through, but not how you actually connect the dots to associate them with said conclusions. You’re correct, of course: liberty–in the positive, defining and empowering sense–does have an element to paternalism to it; while it took our oldest daughter years to recognize it, her liberty was increased by our requirement that she practice the piano daily (that, our removal from her of any free choice in the matter), in that it enabled her become skilled and thus free to use her skills more broadly. In the same way, a government–say the state, if you prefer–acts in a paternalistic way when it realizes that liberty (or at least many peoples’ liberty) can arguably be increased through any number of paternalistic acts: taking from people the free choice of dumping garbage in the local creek (thus helping to insure the chemical pollutants are not being introduced into someone else’s drinking water), removing from drivers the free choice of owning and using an automobile without care insurance (thus helping to insure that taxpayers will not be overly burdened with the many incidental costs of accidents on the road), etc.

What is to prevent this logic from leading to Chinese family policy levels of paternalism? Well, nothing–assuming that is the only value in the mix. But of course it isn’t; on my reading, at lease, both Green and Dewey, and many others of their ilk, value many things alongside and beyond the collective increase of positive liberty. They valued democracy, for one, and communities of mutual respect, for another. You could argue, of course, that their appreciation for those values was flawed or lacking, but you should not argued that such never occurred to them.

This is, I think, exactly the point which Berlin also misses in his aforementioned essay; he makes the assumption that the struggle over liberty–couched in individual terms–is the be-all and end-all of political life, and so any effort to collectively vouchsafe the empowering aspects of liberty is simply terminologically confused, and at best a tragic necessity. But of course real political life involves multiple values, seeking concurrent expression. Even if I recognize the conceptual similarity between the procedural justifications for national health insurance reform on the one hand and China’s one-child rules on the other (and, in the realm of pure ideas, I do), that hardly means that I think the one equals or is in any conceivable way going to lead to the other. I don’t believe that, because I see so many other things, so many other values, in play alongside it…not the least of which is a respect for the family and natality (and keeping that respect strong is another argument entirely!), the constitutionally secure right to privacy (a right which, in my view, has done much wickedness, but also serves some moral purposes), and so on and so on.

Using the power of government to bracket off certain choices (and, pace my exchanges with John and James, determining which level of government is appropriate for any such bracketing), all in the name of increasing the overall liberty to establish the broadly held beliefs and norms of the community in question, is always going to be a difficult matter, one which ought to be attended my significant democratic debate, because it opens up many potential abuses. But I don’t see any good reason to assume that the logic behind such actions inherently implicates any use of that logic in any or all of those potential abuses. Maybe the association is clear to you, but it isn’t to me.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 8, 2010 at 10:47 am

A couple more short takes, very quickly:

John,

I would be willing to start with the Old Northwest Territory as a nation and see how we get along.

A nation the size of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota? I could go with that. I’d be kind of sad to see the United States go, because I confess I like our collective myths. I also wonder if a nation of that size would be able to generate, in this era of modern technologically-enabled transportation and community, the sort of virtues which come along with patriotism. A survey of other nation-states of a similar size shows a mixed record in that regard.

James,

let me be blithe in dismissing the suggestion that ours is not an Aristotelian world: nobody is equal, and to the extent we think we’ve made people equal we lie to ourselves; we have replaced service slavery with the underclass, which helps some of us sleep at night and keeps some of us awake

Your reflections on JPII’s personalist writings intrigue me, and I look forward to learning more, but in regards to this short aside of yours: do you really genuinely believe that there is no substantial difference between service slavery and wage slavery, and that there is no significant difference in the forms of trouble those different forms of slavery pose for the conscience of some individuals? How very…Fitzhughian of you, I guess. Would this mean that you would be open to arguments that the former form of slavery–making, say, African-Americans, or whomever else might fit the appropriate Aristotelian category, into a dependent class–might be better for our citizenship (those who are allowed to have it, that is) than the current form? After all, if there is no substantial difference between the two, than we might as well just compare them on the basis of their respective (utilitarian?) merits.

Ken and Scott,

I’d rather not get into an argument about Strauss or Straussianism, both of which I have a fair amount of respect for, though some sincere disagreements as well. However, I’d like to make it clear that I was not saying that I believed Strauss = neoconservatism. I was asking Ken to elaborate upon his claim that Galston’s belief in “the political community as an enterprise association in the service of some sort of notion of virtue” is something that he “he shares with the neo-cons,” as I don’t see Galston making that argument in any way similar to how, for example, Kristol makes it. But again, perhaps I am missing something important.

avatar Carl Scott March 8, 2010 at 11:10 am

Now to the real deal.

Well, Galston v. Mansfield has sort of vanished from view, but that’s okay, since we get Fox and sundry others v. the localist-fundamentalism of Wilson.

Wilson, we do await the Aristotle essay with anticipation, and I am glad you’re reading Scruton. I think taking him seriously, along with Pierre Manent’s last two books, will help you shake what I’m unkindly calling your fundamentalism. And, I’d also recommend you balance the rightfully authoritative text of Aristotle’s Politics with accounts more forthrightly attuned to the tragic trade-offs of localist political liberty–i.e., on the practical level, the first twenty or so Federalist papers read together with either Livy’s first seven or eight books or Thucydides. More theoretically, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and perhaps nasty ol’ Machiavelli, and then my two masters–Plato (particularly book VIII of the Republic, the central sections of the Laws, and the Gorgias) and Tocqueville. Oh, and Paul Rahe’s first volume of Republics Ancient and Modern will vividly portray what polis life looked like from the inside.

Less pedantically, what seems necessary to say is that when and if the Porchers become politically significant, one of the big divisions they experience will likely be between those who A) dogmatically demand a return to localist government ASAP, even entertaining secessionist threats as they do, and those who B) have a road-map for returning the USA to a more township-friendly and states-rights friendly polity, so that this return MAY INVOLVE some activist national government programs early on, and which NECESSARILY INVOLVES winning political victories at the national level by in part articulating an agenda that can govern the national mess we’ve inherited in the best possible way for the short term. One version of B) might be Galston-leaning, which even (yeah, major stretch IMO) might include a nationalized health-care policy. Another version of B) might be radical legislation enacted at the national level to empower localities everywhere, or even to reconstruct them, a la Leon Krier, via enlightened “zoning” policies. Similarly, a B) that nationalized certain environmental issues is conceivable.

AND MY VERSION OF B, of course, IS GET THE G.O.P. IN POWER ON THE SHOULDERS OF A PORCH-LEANING, NOT CORPORATE NOR LIBERTARIAN LEANING, COALITION, so as to have basic sanity on federalism, social morays, the Constitution, basic property rights, etc., and most especially on the size and extent of government. A G.O.P. in power in this manner would hopefully convince the mostly-losing Democrats to go the Galstonian New Democrat route, and so the intermitent periods of Democrat electoral ascendancy would not derail the basic vision. (Of course, the Dems in such a situation might go for a new “Liberaltarian” coalition, i.e., a coalition most repellant to every Porcher or Porch-sympathizer.)

I dream, I must be smokin’ something, you say… …maybe so, but not in an all-or-nothing manner as does Wilson. What does he say? Liberty = X. X requires Y, therefore, Z. Uh, no. That’s not political science, as Aristotle knew, and which for our day, Tocqueville expresses more clearly than any other. Unless you are prepared to deal with Democracy, with the Nation-State, with Dogmas Modern and Christian, with the problematic continuum running from individual property/contract rights into corporately-exercised ones, with losing and winning elections, with wars and rumors of wars, and with your likely American electoral allies as-they-are, you simply are not prepared. Impotent bitterness or empowered folly awaits you.

But know that nothing is settled by getting beyond Wilson’s stance, even though one must get beyond it–because how will one get the various Porcher “Bs” to agree? Or how would a Porcher coalition chose which “B” road-map to primarily pursue? It will be most difficult, it will involve some intense debates about means (and some ends too), and, alas, some friends will part ways.

But it is nonetheless noble and necessary work.

avatar Carl Scott March 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

Mr. Fox, glad you don’t fall for the neo-con/Strauss narrative.

You do give Dewey’s words and formulations more credit than they deserve. Of course he’s for everything wonderful under the sun, and assumes in advance we can scientifically combine old-time liberty and the new freedoms. Yes, he deluded himself and others.

But Galston ain’t Dewey, but someone who is much more serious about balancing values in the way you envision. I think he is quite wrong to defend Obamacare and to dismiss the Mansfieldian critique of Obama’s technocratic-progressivist-”antipartisan” rhetoric, but I would certainly expect that Galston’s not-quite-Progressive stance of certain-political-ends-rightfully-get-settled might gain a certain amount of respect from left-leaning Porchers, enough so that they would want to keep their ears open to thinkers like him.

avatar ken mcintyre March 8, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Mr. Scott,

I’m quite aware of Professor Deneen’s fondness for certain Straussian themes. I just don’t share his opinion, nor yours, concerning the importance of Strauss’s scholarship nor that of his students. I am sincerely dubious about the academic value of any of it. I have an essay coming out in the forthcoming edition of the Journal of the Philosophy of History that explains, in part, why I don’t think that Strauss or his epigoni have made any significant contributions to the study of the history of political thought. I’m sure that you won’t agree with my contentions, but I’ll just have to live with that.

Further, though I certainly share some opinions about contemporary politics with certain Straussians like Mansfield (e.g. the opposition to nationalized health care), I think that the involvement of Strauss-influenced neo-cons in politics at the national level has been an unmitigated disaster, both for the cause of limited government and for the country as a whole (though I am well aware that not all Straussians are either neo-cons or eager to participate in the squalor of DC politics).

I would also politely disagree with you concerning the import of Strauss or his students to the existence of this online magazine. I’m not aware of the intellectual pedigree of all the contributors, but I would wager a good amount of money that there are quite a few of them who know Strauss and don’t care much for him (including one former editor-at-large, yours truly).

Russell,

I think that Berlin effectively answered your critique in his introduction to the four essays on liberty (the introduction being an answer to earlier critics). His answer was that it is indeed true that liberty is just one among many values that modern polities hold dear, and that hard choices inevitably must be made which will sometimes involve trading off liberty for other things, e.g. clean air, material equality, etc. However, it does us no good to lie to ourselves and say that we are freer because of the trade-off. Your example of positive freedom is telling, however, because proponents of such ideas do in fact necessarily think of their fellow citizens as children or moral/intellectual incompetents who need to be guided by the not-so-friendly hand of the government. Unfortunately for such a way of thinking, children grow up, whereas those pesky, immature, and unreliable adult citizens always have to be led.

Whether Galston’s purposes are the same as someone like Bill Kristol’s is actually immaterial to me. The commonality is that they both believe that the US is a purposive entity and would happily empower the national government to override the multiplicity of individual and collective purposes of the citizens of the US in order to enact whatever foolish dream they happened to have last evening after dinner.

Sorry for intemperance, but it’s been so long since I posted that I just couldn’t help it.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Ken,

No need to apologize; a little righteous indignation and intellectual zeal never hurt anyone (or hardly ever, anyway).

Your example of positive freedom is telling, however, because proponents of such ideas do in fact necessarily think of their fellow citizens as children or moral/intellectual incompetents who need to be guided by the not-so-friendly hand of the government. Unfortunately for such a way of thinking, children grow up, whereas those pesky, immature, and unreliable adult citizens always have to be led.

A fair point…but let’s unpack it a little bit. The twin assumptions I see carrying your sharp condemnation of my analogy are 1) that yes, there is such a thing as “liberty” conceived in the positive, empowering sense, and 2) that such liberty is a wholly inappropriate aim when it is government doing the “empowering,” because such positive liberty is only sensible when applied to children, and never to citizens, who are adults and are thus, and should be, self-directing. Would you agree, or am I misstating your guiding assumptions? If you agree, then I am led to ask: are you saying that government actions ought never be justified in reference to any possible tutelary or educative role, and rather that all that government actions that involve the restriction of choices must always be described and justified as, in your words, “hard choices [which] inevitably must be made”? If so, then I think we stand on opposite sides of a deep (though perhaps narrow) philosophical divide regarding the nature of human consciousness and the political community, since I do believe that the collective political context, the laws and norms which both sustain and constrain us, do in fact often shape and educate us, sometimes every bit as much, for good or ill, as our personal convictions do.

Perhaps, however, you are not making a normative claim, but only an observation: that the idea of “positive liberty” is psychologically or developmentally inapplicable to citizens, because of their age, perhaps, or because of their social situation. Thus maybe you would disagree with my summarized point 1) above, and prefer instead to say that actually there is no such thing as “positive liberty” anyway, at least not any that can be realized outside of an intimate family setting. But here I would again disagree, and point to some pretty straightforward social science which demonstrates that refusing to democratically constrict individual choice or abstaining from channeling individuals toward certain collective ends determined by the community as a whole, is psychologically harmful, not to mention destructive of the polity. See Barry Schwartz or Juliet Schor–or, for that matter, Wendell Berry–on that point.

Either way, it seems to me that you are implying that politics must abandon arguments which treat the polity as something other than strangers making hard choices, to use Sandel’s formulation. But I find that hard to believe, so surely I’ve missed something in your critique. What is it?

avatar Carl Scott March 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

Well, Ken, alas, but here’s hoping that your anti-Straussian piece isn’t characterized by falsehoods the way previous efforts in this genre have been. The shamefully fact-averse book by Shadia Drury comes to mind.

But as we politely move on from that, I remain annoyed by your dismissal of Galston, even though I’m with you in your overall critique of “liberal” paternalism. Maybe “liberals” from Dewey/FDR on don’t deserve the label, but is it too much to ask you to at least mention that Galston’s own chosen label is liberal in the midst of your assertion that he’s a leftist?

I think Galston is relevant to my efforts try to prod the Porch conversation into thinking about how its principles might become a political movement of some sort. And if one possible path, that some would want to pursue is creating a Porcher-friendly faction within the Democratic tent, then they will desperately need the pro-life Dems and any remnants of the 90s New Democrats as allies. Galston’s Liberal Purposes remains one of the best ways to articulate capital-D Democrat opposition to the Cult of Rawls and Ever-More Rights Enforced By Ever-More Judge-Rulers. It also is quite strong in supporting a Berry-like view of the connection b/t family-friendly and morals and economics, as well as having a sane view of the establishment clause. Now, Galston is not with the Porchers on the localist emphasis, but I know of nothing in his work inherently hostile to policy of fostering more federalism state and localist. Thus, Galston, and more importantly, what I would call the Galstonian Persuasion, are potential allies. And no, I do not think Political theorists are issued a license that allows them to wave aside such considerations.

Of course, I think the correct route to go is allying with/partially converting conservatives.

P.S. Ken, I am intrigued by what I take to be your Hegelian Liberalism. Currently I’m working on some books by anti-Progressive Jaffite Straussians, and boy do they have it in for Hegel. Too much so, it seems to me, as my understanding is that he basically advocated liberal democracy, and can only be held so responsible for how the likes of W. Wilson, to say nothing of scores of noxious German thinkers, ran with his thought.

avatar ken mcintyre March 9, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Russell,
I’m saying that, in a Hegelian sense, it might be rational to speak of the education (but certainly not the socialization) of children in terms of helping them to become more completely free by becoming more completely human. However, I’m much more dubious about this conception when applied to adults, and I’m unsure why we should assume that the government either has such knowledge that it can be trusted to ‘know what’s best’ or that it will in fact do what’s best anyway. As I’ve noted before, my commitment to localism (and a very strong version of antebellum federalism) is much more closely connected with my suspicion of centralized power than with communitarian commitments (I would insist that Hegel is actually on my side in this, but that’s a scholarly argument that is irrelevant for the present).
I would also say that there is no contradiction between acknowledging the “hard choices [which] inevitably must be made”, while still insisting that “the collective political context, the laws and norms which both sustain and constrain us, do in fact often shape and educate us, sometimes every bit as much, for good or ill, as our personal convictions do”. Here I would only add that I generally wouldn’t make such an abstract distinction between such norms and our appropriation of them in our personal convictions. After all, though these norms condition our choices, they are also the result of past choices and are conditioned in their turn by our current ones.
On your developmental point, I would answer that I don’t think that the concept ‘positive liberty’ is of much use in modern politics. It is almost always a cover for treating citizens as imbeciles, and, while they might be so, I have no confidence that their elected or appointed officials are any more competent. And I just think that it would make for a more honest kind of debate about the issues if, for example on health care, those in favor just said, ‘some of you are going to be harmed by this legislation and, for every American, the damage to your future capacity to make your own choices about how you want to live will be real; despite these negatives, we feel that these other positives (insert argument here) are more important.
Finally, I don’t think that the modern state necessarily consists of strangers, but, as I mention below, I don’t believe there are any specific substantive purposes that we Americans (300 million now) share, outside perhaps a concern for the territorial integrity of the US.
Carl,
My critique of Strauss focuses on his understanding of the character of historical explanation, so, though it’s doubtful that you will find it convincing, it also owes nothing (as far as I’m aware) to Drury’s criticisms of Strauss. I also want to add that my own negative conclusion about the value of Strauss’s work and the work of his students doesn’t mean that I believe that they are either evil or stupid. I’ve met Professor Mansfield, who I think is one of the most delightful ‘big-name’ political theorists in America, and I know quite a few students of students of Strauss who I believe to be extraordinarily bright. I’m just not convinced by their arguments.
In terms of Galston, my reaction to him is based primarily on his unsupported claim that all political communities are defined by common substantive purposes. He certainly shares this idea with Dewey, et al., but I don’t think that there is any theoretical or empirical basis for it. I ran across his work because he is critical of Oakeshott’s explanation of civil association, which I believe to be a much more adequate conception of the modern liberal state. So, he’s not a neutralist liberal like Rawls (though I don’t really think that Rawls could be called one either), but he fully accepts the common (and Rawlsian) misunderstanding of the modern state as an enterprise association constituted by the shared purposes of its citizens, sort of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals writ large. So, while some of Galston’s purposes might be agreeable both to me and to some of the Porchers, the fact that he believes that the modern state is a purposive association places him in a different camp from me. Given the involuntary nature of the modern state, conceiving of it as a purposive association involves a fundamental rejection of the importance of individual moral agency.
My reading of Hegel, as you might guess from the paragraph above, is informed by the interpretations of British Idealists like Bradley, Collingwood, and Oakeshott (but not Green), and Italian ones like Croce and Ruggiero (but not Gentile). As you might also guess, I don’t have much time for the Jaffa/Jaffaite interpretation of either Hegel or the American political tradition. Hegel understood better than any modern thinker that the real novelty of the modern state was the development/emergence of civil society as a sphere of real liberty, while also understanding (as I have admitted to Russell) that it could not be allowed to completely destroy the political community.

I also finally figured out how to get rid of my face when I post.

avatar Carl Scott March 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

Useful comments Ken, my thanks. You’ve explored thinkers I’m not familiar with, although my general impression of Ruggiero, Oakeshott, and Croce has been positive. For someone not majorly dedicated to the project, (i.e., has no desire to do comprehensive Hegel studies) what do you think would be the best two or three book/article recommendations, or perhaps sections of Hegel recommendations, to counter the Jaffite interpretation of Hegelianism as fatal to liberalism in the long run? (No, it does not speak in your favor that you have, again, “no use” for their interp of the APT, but that’s another topic.) That is, while I am agreed with the broader Straussian account of historicism, I am interested in Hegel’s liberal or liberty-friendly commitments.

avatar ken mcintyre March 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Carl,

I suppose that I recommend Elie Kedourie’s Hegel and Marx (it also has an interesting essay on Hegel and the Middle East tacked on at the end). Oakeshott offers a brief exposition of Hegel in On Human Conduct (257-263). Paul Franco has a very good book on Hegel called Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom. Shlomo Avineri’s Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State is pretty good as well. You also might want to look at Roger Scruton’s “Hegel as Conservative Thinker”.

Cheers.

avatar Bob Cheeks March 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Voegelin on Hegel (On Hegel, Vol. 12, CW):

“Since, however, nonreality has no power of salvation, and Hegel’s true self knows this quite well, the false self must take the next step and, by “the energy of thinking,” transform the reality of God int the dialectics of consciousness: the divine power accrues to the “Subjekt” that in self-salvation through reaching the estate of reflective self-consciousness. If the soul can not return to God, God must be alienated from himself and drawn into the human state of alienation. And finally, since none of these operations in Second Reality would change anything in the surrounding First Reality, but result only in the isolation of the sorcerer from the rest of society, the whole world must be drawn into the imaginary Secondary Reality. The sorcerer becomes the Savior of the “age” by imposing his System of Science as the new revelation on mankind at large. All mankind must join the sorcerer in the hell of his damnation.”

avatar Wessexman March 17, 2010 at 1:34 am

As a Perennialist follower of the likes of Frithjof Schuon and ultimately a high church Anglican Platonist I know little about Strauss vs Hegel vs classical liberalism; I agree with the Perennialists that if Kant(or any modernist thinker.) is a philosopher then Plotinus(or any ancient or medieval thinkers from Shankara to St.Thomas except for a few late Graeco-Roman and writers.) is not and vice versa.

I squarely come down on the communitarian side, it is extremely hard to see how liberty can mean or exist outside a strong, healthy society, culture and social associations. Society is a complex and varied organism and though localism and decentralism is important there needs to be a balance of levels of society and gov’t and these cannot be accomplished by a complete localist-fundamentalism(which I once supported myself.). By being too localist or individualist we undermine a proper localism and decentralism.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: