Localist Principles, Populist Words (or, The Problem Defined)

by Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2009 · 22 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Politics & Power

populism

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I suppose Front Porch Republic is experiencing growing pains, because all the talk lately is about “what’s next?”–what cause, what platform, what principles or agenda or policy, if any, FPR should support? The ideas being thrown around are many (see, for example, here, here, here, here and here), and as one might expect, some of them I agree with, and some of them I don’t. I certainly don’t think I’ve got either the brains or the wisdom to attempt a synthesis of them all. But there is at least one large problem looming behind all this rousing debate about differing proposals, and that is a disagreement as to why, or to what end, proposals are to be offered in the first place. I don’t think I’ve got either the brains or the wisdom to attempt an answer that could encapsulate all of the above. But recently I read a phrase–in a different but not entirely unrelated context–which strikes me as a good way of expressing the overarching problem, and thereby perhaps one which could help people like me know where we stand, and think about what we want to say.

The phrase I’m thinking about arose from a comment made by one of my favorite bloggers, Timothy Burke. As part of a reflection on his mixed reaction to Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft–which, of course, we’ve discussed at length before–Tim and I got into a bit of an exchange, during which he sharpened his complaint with Crawford’s tone:

Crawford’s manifesto strikes me as at least half based on his aesthetic view of what makes for the good life. Which is absolutely fine. It’s absolutely fine even to evangelize for the good life as you understand it, and that’s inevitably going to involve suggesting that most other people ought to like what you like, live as you believe they should live. But it’s got to start from a constant recall that this is about good (food) (sex) (wine) (literature) (machines) (daily habits) and an aesthete’s appreciation of their goodness, which seems to me should always be unabashedly personal. That way, when you argue that everybody else should get with the aesthetic program, you tend not to forget that you think you have better taste than other people, rather than tricking yourself into thinking that everybody would have this good taste if the Powers that Be/Consumer Culture/Hegemony/Mainstream Media or whatever weren’t enslaving your mind. It’s about not confusing a project of persuasion with a project of emancipation, and I think Crawford really does confuse the two.

I like that–not all of it, maybe, but certainly at least the last line: a “project of persuasion” and a “project of emancipation.” I can work with that, maybe run with it a little bit. The former project is one where you are attempting to argue through appeals to taste, morality, beauty, or virtue: qualities that may once have been widely accepted as objective, derived from ancient philosophical or traditional religious sources, but which today, in modern Western democracies anyway, are most usually assumed to be plural and subjective. In any case though, you’re talking about something that will partake of a sense of the aristocratic, or the elite: a concern for the good (or, at least, a better) life. Of course, talking about “the good life” pushes up against talk about “the common good”; the two overlap somewhat, but not entirely. Common good talk partakes mostly of the latter approach, in which your goal is to do more than to persuade others about the worth of your values: it is to teach them about the practical, personal, and/or popular freedom or opportunity that you are convinced is available to them. This is an approach which requires not just making a case for a way of life, but an attack upon the structures, policies, and situations that you believe define both your own and others’ ways of life. You are, in sort, appealing to the (presumably objective) political, economic, and/or social interests of your interlocutors. Tim adds that he thinks Crawford’s book has been particularly successful amongst a certain type of social conservative because they also frequently confuse the two…and though he was kind enough to give me the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but feel the sharp edge of that criticism.

I don’t really consider myself an out-and-out localist, but my family and I do try to live in accordance with certain localist, self-sufficient, simplicity-oriented principles: we try to eat local and buy cheap, we walk or ride bikes, and so forth. I’m also not much of an out-and-out populist, but there is so much which, I think anyway, potentially goes hand-in-hand with populism–a commitment to democracy and sovereignty, a recognition community integrity and social equality–that I don’t mind the label, and use it repeatedly. (See here, here, here, here and here, for a start.) Point is, I find myself wanting to be able to do both things, just as Tim accuses Crawford of doing. I want to communicate a source of belonging and virtue and culture–call it “localism”–that I consider, philosophically and psychologically and, yes, aesthetically, to be valuable. I also want to communicate my belief that what gets in the way of people being able to appreciate their communities as sources of such is, more often than not, structural economic and political opposition to such–call that “populism.” Is it really possible to do both at the same time?

Perhaps not. Localism–or, more plainly, a commitment to a specific, local community–is, quite possibly, in a world characterized by what Michael Walzer called the “Four Mobilities” (geographic, social, marital, and political) like our own, invariably just an affectation, not an agenda. True, we can–and should!–discuss the numerous economic and social forces which sustain the modern Western world’s environment of innovation and dislocation, but until and unless a complete collapse of wealth and/or technology drains the pool of opportunity through which even the most grounded and conservative of individuals swim, you’ll be hard pressed making the case for local communities without including along with your quasi-Marxist jeremiad a large portion of romance. (I know; I’ve tried.) By the same token, the populist critique almost invariably can’t stay localist, can’t stay nostalgic or simple: if you really want to empower people, then you have to attend to what people actually do…and if what they do is move around and live and buy and sell beyond the sphere of some basic, hypothetical, self-sustaining polity, then any attempt to reach those people will have to involve some compromises with and positive action towards socializing and preserving a communitarian sensibility within said polity. (In short: simplicity is complicated, and sometimes local communities are their own worst enemy.) So perhaps localist principles can never quite entirely support the sort of populist arguments which their defense requires, and conversely perhaps populist claims can never quite entirely capture the whole appeal of living locally in the first place. It’s enough to make you want to move to some isolated cabin in the mountains of Montana–or a some nondescript anonymous apartment in Manhattan; whichever place best allows you to give up on any attempt at straddling–and leave the whole “project” alone.

(Of course, one could also respond to this fear with the example of more than a few Western European polities, which have arguably demonstrated that pursuing populist (or, at least, progressive or “socialist”) ends, ends which to a great extent ground themselves in a socio-economic critique of those aspects of the market which can undermine equality, in fact rebound to the sustaining of local ways of life and the preservation of community. This is probably my own one weak hope: the Red Tory/left conservative/Laschian breakthrough! Though I suspect I’m mostly alone in believing the United States should strive to learn “conservative” or “communitarian” lessons from our Christian Democratic brethren across the Atlantic.)

In a comment to a recent post, Patrick Deneen asked whether the kind of conservative effort which Front Porch Republic is engaged in–if that is, in fact, what it is engaged in, a point about which I would have some questions at the very least–ought best be considered an “ethos” or a “movement.” He further asks, “whether it’s possible to advance an ‘ethos’ through politics and a political movement.” If I might continue to make use of Tim’s distinction, it is a question as to whether or not any “political” argument that necessarily involves some element of aristocratic persuasion–about what makes for good food, a good family, a good community, and a good, local life–will ever be plausible or workable in our modern, liberal democratic, interest-group-dominated political world. And it is a question of whether, assuming we can come up with a political argument that speaks of local common goods, will that “common good” be so watered down by the policies and compromises necessary to achieve real democratic emancipation–the freedom and capacity for the masses of individuals to get away from the rat-race, and find fulfillment the popular control of one’s economy and culture and polity–that it isn’t really conserving anything at all, anymore? For me, divided modern man that I am, this is the problem. But of course, it’s actually a problem for all of us, in the end.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Siarlys Jenkins November 23, 2009 at 9:23 pm

“By the same token, the populist critique almost invariably can’t stay localist, can’t stay nostalgic or simple: if you really want to empower people, then you have to attend to what people actually do…”

I’ve said this on other posts about Populism, but the original People’s Party was anything but localist. It started with local concerns, developed by local bodies called Farmers’ Alliances. But farmers needed credit. In the west, it came from banks at exorbitant interest. In the south, it came from “The Man,” also known as The Furnishing Man or The Advancing Man. To get credit at reasonable rates required getting the country off the gold standard (silver coinage would allow more money in circulation), and a source of low-interest loans. The Populist proposal was a series of federal sub-treasuries in every state.

Getting that accomplished required a political party. Some southern Democrats took a good deal of the populist rhetoric, and for a while some farmers thought, OK, we’ve taken over the state Democratic Party. But, control of financial policy rested with the federal government, and national parties were not responding at all. (Ben Tillman in South Carolina wasn’t doing much for the farmers anyway, except feeding them red-hot rhetoric). Ergo, a third party must contest for power on the national scene. They were making a good start, but as soon as a silver-tongued orator took the stage at a Democratic convention, half of the populists were mesmerized, and the movement was all over.

Localism can’t deliver a Populist agenda. Federalism, if the division between local, state and national is properly resorted out, might open up room for a Populist agenda, at all levels. But it would be some hard work to get there.

avatar rufus November 24, 2009 at 2:17 am

These days, I’m tending more towards inactivism. Perhaps one day I’ll found a stasis. Stephen Pearl Andrews made the useful suggestion that the ideal model for society could be found in the dinner party:
“The highest type of human society in the existing social order is found in the parlor. In the elegant and refined reunions of the aristocratic classes there is none of the impertinent interference of legislation. The Individuality of each is fully admitted. Intercourse, therefore, is perfectly free. Conversation is continuous, brilliant, and varied. Groups are formed according to attraction. They are continuously broken up, and re-formed through the operation of the same subtle and all-pervading influence. Mutual deference pervades all classes, and the most perfect harmony, ever yet attained, in complex human relations, prevails under precisely those circumstances which Legislators and Statesmen dread as the conditions of inevitable anarchy and confusion.”
Going beyond a dinner party, however, I suspect you tend to run into trouble.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 24, 2009 at 7:08 am

Siarlys,

[T]he original People’s Party was anything but localist….The Populist proposal was a series of federal sub-treasuries in every state….Localism can’t deliver a Populist agenda. Federalism, if the division between local, state and national is properly resorted out, might open up room for a Populist agenda, at all levels. But it would be some hard work to get there.

I don’t disagree; clearly, in an socio-economic environment where credit and mobility are easily obtained options, no solely localist agenda can achieve what it wants to achieve: to be able to flourish in one’s own place. Populism, and the political effort to bring key elements of one’s local–as well as state, as well as national–environment under democratic control, almost surely must go along with any local preferences. My point, however, is that it’s possible, maybe even probable, that any populist movement will need to make a case for itself which runs counter to the manner in which localist preferences should be expressed. Maybe I’m wrong, but Tim’s comment crystalized certain random thoughts of mine, particularly dealing with the notion that defending locality may often require a kind of “aristocratic” mentality, an observation which Ryan Davidson made in the comments to this post. How to make an argument which negotiates between the push for popular control (which localities need, but which must also reach beyond them to be successful) and the praise of locality itself (which may necessitate the sort of virtues which enable to one to refuse to look beyond what one has been given)? I just don’t know.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 24, 2009 at 8:36 am

Arben, I know I’m not allowed to tell you that this is an excellent essay but I will anyway and hope Mr. Lundy is too upset…me not wanting to upset anyone.
I want you guys (our blogging leadership) to take the question to its base…the intrinsic inquiry. And, if we do that I think we find that our current existence has been what the beloved Voegelin referred to as ‘immanentized.’ That is we are not living in the tension of existence defined as the Platonic “In-between”, where the poles of existence are the immanent and the transcendent.
In pointing to a solution I’ve noticed that our interlocutors are not emphasizing a restoration of the transcendent and when we do, as in the case of Brother Peters, we end up in a internicine brawl.
So, if we are to capture man’s experience with reality in the truest sense possible we have to engage what Voegelin called the “experience of existential tension,” a set of symbols that describe the experience of being a human being:
“1. the polarization of cosmic time into the time and timeless of the tension; the flow of presence.
2. the world-transcendent God
3. the language of noetic and spiritual life”

We have to recapture an understanding of the symbol “immortality,” that life is structured by death in tension toward the divine ground, and that the age in which we live is one collapsing under very serious disturbances that seek to negate the reality of the transcendent, of God.
We will know how to live when God tells us. In fact He’s doing that now, and as the Logos speaks we are bound to listen, the cosmic dialectic.

avatar D.W. Sabin November 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

The very act of attempting to define a “political solution” to the problems du jour represents a capitulation of sorts….a capitulation to the large institutional model of man’s basic political urges. We take it as an article of faith that the life of the so called “modern” revolves around a kind of halcyon median, to be sorted out by the political edifice with the aid of the little flickering screen in the parlor. Populism is a natural outcome of this underlying capitulation because it is perceived as some kind of antidote to it, rather than simply another flavor of it…a nutty flavor where plain speaken reglar fellas step into the breach in order to help their fellow by entering Washington in a white virginal linen suit, and then, in the fullness of time, leaving profoundly richer , professing pragmatism and “results” from the confines of a sharkskin suit.

After all, the great thinkers and leaders of today’s political moshpit like to parse ethos from movement, as though a movement possesses anything of substance without an ethos. Immanentize indeed. It is as simple as tab A in slot C….the deity is a mechanic.

avatar Ryan Davidson November 24, 2009 at 10:11 am

Russell, that was brilliant. I think it hits the tensions I’ve been complaining about right on the head.

[I]f what they do is move around and live and buy and sell beyond the sphere of some basic, hypothetical, self-sustaining polity, then any attempt to reach those people will have to involve some compromises with and positive action towards socializing and preserving a communitarian sensibility within said polity.

What I’d highlight here is that this is not a feature of modern, industirl society. It has always been the case. Those who purport to harken back to a time when everyone stayed put are at best fixing on a rather abnormal historical accident, and at worse engaging in an outright fantasy. History is characterized far more by mobility and migration than by of fixity or stability. Even in the Middle Ages, people moved around with surprising regularity and surprising range. Why do you think the barons were so adamant about serfs staying on the land? It’s precisely because serfs had a tendency to wander off, which makes maintaining an agricultural feudal unit pretty difficult. So all this talk about “place” continues to strike me as historically inaccurate and more than vaguely aristocratic.

Why aristocratic? Because unless you’ve implicit–and irrational–faith that when left to themselves, local governments will automatically and inevitably produce the kind of vibrant local community that FPR seems to be about, there needs to be some way of making that happen. As one with absolutely no faith in the virtue of the common man–which makes me more than a little un-American, but I’m okay with that–the hand-waving that goes on around here about how awesome things would be if only we could “restore” power to the local level sounds consistently aristocratic. It’s Plato all over again, because obviously the philosophers should rule.

I submit that any political or social system which depends upon the virtue of the participants is doomed to fail. I further submit that every political and social system depends upon the virtue of the participants. Which is why much of FPR sounds like immanetizing the eschaton from where I’m sitting. Ironic, that.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 24, 2009 at 11:36 am

Russell, I’m glad you’re still pushing this conversation forward. It’s a valuable contribution, and I know you won’t mind (though you may disagree!) if I say that I find this post and especially the larger discussion of which it is self-consciously a part, a little “off.” That is to say, I have the sense that ideas are largely being treated like ping-pong balls, as W.Chambers put it. Everyone has a theory, and everyone chases the latest theorist. The whole idea of an FPR “project” which consists solely of a group blog**, along with the pea-shooting of commenters like Ryan, strikes me as faintly ludicrous.

Which is not at all to suggest that such theorizing is without value or merit.

In the end, it all comes down to love. Which I’ve discussed previously here. And when questions of love are addressed in the context of more than one person, they quickly become questions of power. There is no distinction possible here between “persuasion” and “emancipation”. In fact, those categories really don’t even make sense unless you first grant that we are involved in a pointy-head discussion rather than in a fight for what we love.

As for the question of populism versus elitism, I am of the Bolingbrokian view that rather than being polar opposites, they are of a piece.

The questions clarify themselves and the various power arrangements and lines are crystalized by examining concrete realities of love and interests rather than abstractions like “democractic” or “elitist” etc.

This truth is embodied in many aphorisms of folk wisdom such as “follow the money.”

** Which is not to say that the initial web foray of FPR can’t or won’t (indeed I believe it can and hope it will) mature into something more formidable.

avatar rex November 24, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Jason, I do not see populism and localism at odds with each other. There is nothing in (my) localism that says you can’t move around if you choose too. Just don’t expect it to be like home when you get there, and don’t try to make like home if you are just visiting. Even if that visit lasts a lifetime.

Populism is a response to an elite that governs unconscionably and it is a short term movement. The population makes its voice heard, and when they have reached an acceptable solution, or are defeated, the population will by and large loose interest by and return to the business of living. When change is effected some form of ruling elite will emerge, whether this new or modified elite improves the common good is a separate question.

Timothy Burke dismisses the influence of “the Powers that Be/Consumer Culture/Hegemony/Mainstream Media or whatever…” too easily. The effects are incalculable on something as subjective as taste. I believe it is almost impossible to judge these effects without stepping outside of those influences in some way. Jason Peterson gave us his insight on cell phones, and his refusal of this technology. Some folks run-offt and travel; or give up their cars; or immerse themselves in their faith. Any and all of these things can give you insight into profound depth of these influences.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Bob and Caleb: remarkably, I think you guys are saying the same thing. Bob: “In pointing to a solution I’ve noticed that our interlocutors are not emphasizing a restoration of the transcendent…” Caleb: “The questions clarify themselves and the various power arrangements and lines are crystalized by examining concrete realities of love and interests rather than abstractions like ‘democractic’ or ‘elitist’ etc.” As I read you both, your comments overlap upon an insistence that any attempt to articulate a proper way of living (a way of living that might involve a “localist” content, a content which in turn might require a “populist” defense) needs to have, if it is to avoid perhaps inevitable contradictions, a vertical dimension: something that is loved, by grace and by gift. By turning to “justice” or whatever else, I am already allowing that there is not enough love in the world…or at the very least, that the things we say we love (our families, our towns, our mores and such) are not apprehended by us as being extensions of that which was transcendently given to us, therefore leaving our love weakened, and incapable of getting past the divisions of modern life. Does that express your common agreement pretty well, do you suppose?

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 24, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Ryan,

What I’d highlight here is that this is not a feature of modern, industrial society. It has always been the case. Those who purport to harken back to a time when everyone stayed put are at best fixing on a rather abnormal historical accident, and at worse engaging in an outright fantasy. History is characterized far more by mobility and migration than by of fixity or stability.

I’m not sure there’s anyone here who would disagree with you; I certainly wouldn’t, though I would quibble with what you seem to intend your observation to mean. I fully agree that FPR, at most, must be content to address itself to varying degrees of relative stability and/or locality, not some absolute, ahistorical, probably non-existent standard. But what does that mean for our arguments, though? It reminds me of academic debates between liberals and communitarians back in the 1980s and 90s, where the assumption was that anyone who advocated a communitarian way of thinking about a particular problem must, therefore, have been advocating a return to 17th-century Salem. Which isn’t true, of course, and boxing people into those kind of rhetorical corners isn’t terribly helpful.

Because unless you’ve implicit–and irrational–faith that when left to themselves, local governments will automatically and inevitably produce the kind of vibrant local community that FPR seems to be about, there needs to be some way of making that happen. As one with absolutely no faith in the virtue of the common man–which makes me more than a little un-American, but I’m okay with that–the hand-waving that goes on around here about how awesome things would be if only we could “restore” power to the local level sounds consistently aristocratic.

I think some of those who post at FPR who engage in what you call “hand-waving” probably really do have that kind of implicit/irrational faith in ordinary people governing themselves locally. I confess to having some of it myself; that’s the sneaky, participatory, quasi-Rousseauian/Marxist element to my populism, the belief that many of the choices which drive people to trust to individual rights and opportunities (and the large organizations which vouchsafe such) are a product of those choices having been structured economically and socially beforehand, so that the productive capacities of people to take care of themselves have been stunted. But, you’ll rightly point out, that’s just another form of a “false consciousness” argument, and if you go too far down that route, you’re right back to the vanguard (or the aristocrats) leading the people again, right? So why waste time with people in their local places in the first place?

I don’t have a good answer. Though, I should also add, that I think some of the folks who post here–in fact the large majority of them, I suspect–engage in the aformentioned hand-waving not because they think government and/or community order would improve or be made more virtuous by taking it to the local level, but rather simply because they want less, or at least weaker, government and community order entirely, and they feel that keeping things small will best assure those ends. This is the liberatarian streak in much FPR writing, which I think is pretty prominent, though others assure me it’s not actually here.

I submit that any political or social system which depends upon the virtue of the participants is doomed to fail. I further submit that every political and social system depends upon the virtue of the participants.

So…you’re an anarchist, then? Well, you’ve got good company.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Yes, Arben, speaking for myself you’ve said it quite well, as you should since you’re a professor!
A ‘vertical dimension’, how PoMoConish of you, and well put. Yes, we are bound to (re)discover the truth of our existence, to find the old symbols or develop new ones and use them to live our life, a life structured by death.
I’d prefer to set aside the identifiers: democratic, conservative, polity, etc., and explore the existential questions of a full, complete and human existence grounded in the love of God. We are searching for nothing less than the divinely ordered community.
We continue to live in the universe of the cosmos and “not in the universe of physics.” We must avoid alienation, despair, the ideological breakdowns common to modernity and the ensuing constructs of history..and so it is challenging and fascinating and I have a feeling Caleb’s explication of the Brolingbrokian project may present an interesting and worthy perspective. Much to look forward too, and thank you, Arben!

avatar rex November 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Whoops I addressed my comment to Jason and I meant Russell. Please do not base any reforms on my proof reading ability. Since I lost that job as Sarah’s speech writer I just have not been the same. My apologies.

avatar Ryan Davidson November 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Russell, I’m not an anarchist, I’m a pragmatist, at least about politics anyways. Because I don’t think any particular form of government is inherently superior to any other–it’s all in the execution–I’m willing to work with whatever we’ve got without insisting that x is wrong and y is automatically better, where x and y are defined however you like. Do whatever works and go nuts. It’s all going to burn sooner or later (“sooner” is where I’d put my money these days), so though we’ve got to do something, it isn’t all that important to me what said something looks like. I’m also pretty insistent that any order is better than none.

I recognize that we’re dealing with an immensely complex and interconnected system with extraordinary potential for unintended consequences, and I am resistant to suggestions that it all just needs to be made simpler and smaller. I am thus resistant to a lot of what gets posted at FPR, not because I don’t like the way it sounds or that I disagree with the aesthetic/philosophical/theological commitments of the authors, but because many of the suggestions are enormously impractical and frequently counterproductive.

Caleb, I think you’re being too modest by half, if not actually disingenous. The whole idea of an FPR “project” which consists solely of a group blog**, along with the pea-shooting of commenters like Ryan, strikes me as faintly ludicrous.

Really? You mean to say that there’s no kind of group enterprise at all here? Not even, as you put it, “a fight for what we love?” Even in the post you like you describe FPR as having some kind of “work”. Bagging on me for having the perception that something is going on here, maybe even something significant, seems unfair.

I’m all with you in thinking that a community which loves both each other and the same things is vastly important. But you then go on to make absolutely outlandish suggestions about “what is to be done” politically. Whatever happened to desires of the heart which are politically agnostic, which have no political expression at all? I thought we were supposed to belong to the kingdom built without human hands. “Place?” Whatever happened to being without a home?

My solution? Be the church. When they tell us not to, be the church. When they come to take us away, be the church. And when they kill us, die like the church. Romantic? Maybe. But while I do seem to recall Someone promising that He would bless such activities, I can’t find any equivalent promise about political organization or populism.

The solution is not and has never been federalism, localism, centralization, or any other political dodge. The solution is resurrection.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Ryan, politically speaking, blogging is an almost infinitely insignificant activity. And commenting on blogs is geometrically more insignificant. Hence my jibe about pea-shooting, says the veteran pea-shooter down the railing at the gallery. Hit the monkey target and watch him clap his symbols! You neglected to acknowledge my footnote which allows for the possibility of something more meaningful to spring out of this infant project.

absolutely outlandish suggestions

Oh please. I said some of the ideas were hair brained from the get go. Blogging is tiresome enough without all the terminal earnestness.

avatar Ryan Davidson November 24, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Caleb, yeah, fine, you “got” me. Feel better now?

Bringing up apparently serious ideas and then ridiculing those who take them seriously seems a bit… unsporting.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Another bubble burst!

avatar Caleb Stegall November 24, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Ryan, that’s entirely the point. “Serious ideas” are nothing but pious puffs of smoke unless and until they are grounded in concrete love for real people and real places, which in turn will necessitate involvement in on-the-ground struggles of power and participation, implicating one always in risk, compromise, guilt, and the ever present possibility of real failure.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 24, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Caleb, Ryan, I’m as much for a maybe-serious-maybe-silly-blog-rumpus as anyone else, but very quickly: aren’t you both, in at least one very real way, agreeing with each other? You may be taking very different lessons away from that agreement, but it seems to me that you share some ground. You both agree that our communities–our places, our homes–are best to be understood as something worth loving, and as a site of loving, they are to be church-like, standing witness to the invariably failing yet constant efforts of individuals to take root in creation. That’s an immensely important agreement; it separates you both from those who see communities as contracts, and places as opportunities for resource extraction. What follows from that agreement, of course, matters a great deal too: is the ecclesia a built city, built through and out of loving struggle with the rival, ground-level interests and materials which characterize our pluralistic and fallen world, or is it a gifted city, a grace which gets instantiated as we go about all our other business? Can it, in short, be truly lost, or do we “merely” lose one mode of seeing it, and thereby have to go about seeing it somewhere else? I think tend towards the second, but I don’t want to put too much weight on something I’m not sure of my own philosophical grip upon.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 24, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Russell, I think Bob and I are both saying something similar, if not exactly the same. We are both influenced to some degree by EV’s political philosophy, which I imagine is showing. I would not use the word “transcendent” as Bob does, but that may be a quibble. To lapse into EV jargon, I certainly agree with Bob that our most basic political problem is that the symbols we have to work with have become opaque in their capacity to become “luminous for the truth.” And so our most basic political task must be to reimagine, ressurect, and recreate symbols potent for their ability to bind us to the ground of existence in a socially authoritative way.

I have thought for some time that agrarianism remains one of the more potentially fruitful resevoirs of such symbolism. I believe populist movements may also contain the potential for such symbols.

But this is quite a digression and given my previous comment I better shut up before Ryan smacks me again!

avatar Bob Cheeks November 25, 2009 at 9:43 am

Arben, one more comment related to your post and the questions raised.

I believe, and I’m willing to accept any criticism anyone cares to offer, that to incorporate into the FPR or localists environment individuals who are the product of a immanentized existence is to conjoin within the founding movement those elements that will result in the future collapse of the community.

The only people acceptable within a community that seeks to exist as “divinely ordered,” or as God intended, or as Nous requires, should be those who have some understanding of the reality of the existential tension of human existence, e.g. that we experience life in what Plato referred to as the “In-Between,” between time and eternity, immanence and transcendence, the existent and non-existence.

And, while we should be free to refer to the transcendent pole as “God”, Jesus, the Absolute Idea, Infinite Being or whatever, we must focus on the reality of existence that teaches us that man exists both in time and eternity and belongs completely to neither. Specifically what I’m saying is that as a community that exists to live as men where intended, to encourage those that “seek, quest, and search” for the truth of reality, we must reject the modern experiment that has left us as world-immanent beings.

There is no need to recount the litany of gross error, systemic slaughter, deformations, intellectual perversions, that is the result of this condition, and it must be avoided at all cost. If we have learned anything we must know by now, that given free reign, man’s unfettered libido dominandi will not only make opaque the symbols of the truth of reality but he will seek to cast himself as the hero in an act of self-salvation. A being, in the Marxist sense, who becomes God and is capable of self-redemption.
There is always a price for blasphemy.

avatar rex November 25, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Curious, this essay dropped off the front page very quickly.

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