Monday, October 17, 2011

Rousseau on Economics

"If what you wish is merely to make a great splash, to be impressive and formidable, to influence other peoples of Europe, you have before you their example: get busy and imitate it. Cultivate the sciences, the arts, commerce, industry; have regular troops, fortified places, academies, and, above all, a fine financial system, which will make money circulate smoothly and so multiply and greatly enrich you. Strive to make money absolutely necessary so as to keep your people highly dependent - which calls also for fomenting material luxury and the luxury of the spirit that is inseparable from it. Do all this, and you will end up with a people as scheming, violent, greedy, ambitious, servile, and knavish as the next, and all of it at one extreme or other of misery and opulence, of license and slavery, with nothing in between....

"But if perchance you wish to be a free nation, a peaceful nation, a wise nation, a nation that fears nobody and needs nobody, a nation that is sufficient unto itself and happy, then you must use another method altogether, namely this: keep alive - or bring back to life - simple customs, wholesome tastes, and a spirit that is martial but not ambitious. Instill courage and unselfishness in the hearts of your people. Employ the masses of your population in agriculture and the arts necessary for life. Cause money to become an object of contempt and, if possible, useless besides...."

--Jean Jacques Rousseau, Considerations on the Government of Poland (1772)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nine Eleven

September 11, 2001, we are frequently told, is the day that "changed everything." For the 3,000 people in New York City and Washington D.C. who were killed on that blue-skied day, and for their families, that 9-11 "changed everything" barely suffices to describe what happened on that day. For the many more thousands of people in our military who have been deployed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for their families, their years of service have been very different than would have the case been before the attacks. For these people in particular - a fragment of our population - September 11th changed everything.

For the rest of us, very little has changed. Our national descent was likely accelerated by the events of that day, but that discernible course was not fundamentally altered. Our national ethic of consumption and distraction, while discomfited by the economic shocks experienced over the subsequent decade, remain our way of life. Our national reliance upon international militarism as our main discernible pose toward the world remains evident. Our recourse to the language of technique to confront deeper questions of moral crisis remains regnant. That a mere seven years after the attacks, the rot of our economic system came clearly into view - a system based upon a Ponzi scheme (yes, I said it), graft, debt and a "get-rich-quick" mentality that was universally shared, should at least give us pause about our character and our capacity for serious self-discernment.

After the first flush of horror and the desire to help, our long-term responses were two-fold. First, we were told by President Bush that we should "go shopping," and - finding it the easiest call to national "sacrifice" ever made - we followed his advice with abandon. We especially bought and sold property - countless sub-par piles of hastily constructed drywall structures unworthy of the first little pig - "paid for" by plentiful "cheap" money that we borrowed seemingly without limit. While 9/11 families continued to feel the anguished absence of loved ones whose lives were snuffed out inexplicably on a day they went to work or took a flight, and soldiers and their families prayed that they would not die on that day in the desert or the mountains far from home - we shopped. We spent - as families and as a nation - massive and finally uncountable amounts of money that was not ours. Many of our finest families became nominally rich on their "equity," turning their houses into piggy-banks which led to the purchase of more houses and a king's ransom in luxury goods.

A favorite television show in the years that followed the attacks on 9-11 became "Flip that House," joining other notable "reality" programming of the past decade that reflected the depth of our national seriousness and purpose after the attacks, such as "Jersey Shore" and "Keeping up with the Kardashians." During this week we have tuned in momentarily to recall the attacks and our hours of disbelief, and perhaps above all to be believe and hear voices intoning that we can feel deeply; but, tomorrow, we will return to our regular programming of empty carbs and circuses.

Second, we deployed. Every nation must defend itself, and a price doubtless had to be exacted from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. If there was no shortage of money to borrow in the housing market, the attacks of 9-11 justified the unquestioned and unquestionable, and perhaps finally incalculable expenditure of national treasure in pursuit of a small terrorist sect who spent roughly $500K to bring down the towers. According to one estimate, the United States has spent $7,000,000 for every dollar spent by Al-Qaeda in response to the attacks - or, one-fifth of our current national debt. We will never know for certain how many people have gotten rich off of the "war on terror, but we at least have an inkling of the existence of a growing and largely unaccountable "top secret America."

In the meantime, we have refused to understand the attacks of 9-11, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - not to mention much that has preceded those events in America's growing involvement in the Middle East since the 1970s - as further expansion of, and evidence for, our age of resource wars over a diminishing pool of that most essential source of the industrial age - petroleum. It is not tantamount to the heresy of "blaming the victim" to note a fact that is rarely commented upon about the rise of Osama bin Laden, preferring as we do simply to understand him as an incomprehensible, mad, fanatic: he was one of a wave of "fundamentalists" whose main complaint was the presence of Western, and especially American, troops in "Mecca." That presence was the result of the invitation of the House of Saud dating back to the 1940s, when a cozy bedfellowship created by Saudi need for Western scientific prowess and Western need for Saudi oil fostered an unholy alliance that led most recently to an American president bowing to a desert sheikh. While bin Laden's response to this perceived incursion of the "infidel" into holy land was heinous and despicable, the truth is that we have been the main party in supporting a deeply pathological political and economic system throughout the Middle East, all in the name of securing "oil markets." Yet, we remain "shocked, shocked," that we are hated especially in this part of the globe.

It goes without saying that, for all of our "support for the troops," we will be willing to deploy them everywhere, anywhere, and for any length of time, as long as we can put cheap gas into our weed whackers.

The golden thread that runs through our response to 9-11 is how little has changed, especially considering our incapacity to subject our actions to probing and even discomfiting scrutiny. Above all, we are unwilling to question the obscenity of our blithe consumption, our foundational economic reliance upon usury, our addiction to irony and distraction, and our unswerving capacity to discount the effects of our current actions upon future generations.

9-11 was a lost moment to gain a clearer national self-understanding, but we have instead embraced a national ethic of self-deception. A decade later we are nearly in ruins. We have wrecked our economy through our failure to exercise prudent and responsible "household management" - the Greek roots of the word "economy." We have wrecked our political system through our failure to see clearly what even (or only?) Sarah Palin was willing to pronounce recently - that we have lost the Republic and have gained an oligarchy. We have wrecked our primary educational institutions in the name of "self-esteem" and "no child left behind"; we have dismantled our vaunted liberal arts inheritance once aimed at teaching limits, character, and virtue, for the utilitarian ambitions of "assessment," job-preparation and STEM. We have wrecked our moral ecology with our willingness to trade vibrant local cultures in which families and communities might flourish, for a global profit-making anti-culture of distraction based largely upon pornography and violence. We have wrecked our physical ecology for the inconvenience of not having to live within ten miles of a market and the convenience of not having to wash the dishes.

Much of the greatest damage in all these spheres of life has occurred in the decade since 9-11. So perhaps I'm wrong - everything has changed. But it has changed because we have not.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Community AND Liberty OR Individualism AND Statism

(What follows is the text of the remarks that I delivered at the recently concluded I.S.I. Honors Program. The conference was entitled "The Language of Liberty").

Fells Point, Baltimore A narrative today dominates our political landscape that poses liberty as defined by classical liberalism against the collectivism of “progressive” liberalism or Statism.

One might reasonably conclude that, when it comes to “the Language of Liberty,” liberty seems – like Americans – to speak only one language. Thus, if we confine ourselves to one language, this narrative seems compelling enough as far as it goes. But it is, in the end, a severely limited “language,” even one that finally leads us to an incomplete and even mistaken set of conclusions about the relationship between individualism and collectivism. I’d like to see if we can’t expand our vocabulary a bit, and even suggest that a more appropriate name for this conference might be “the Languages of Liberties.”

By expanding our consideration to a different understanding of liberty, we change our position somewhat and see with more clarity that, what looks from our current position like a deep antipathy between individualism and Statism, is in point of fact something more of a continuity and logical progression. Without the addition of a distinct understanding of liberty to that of classical liberalism, from close up, all that we can discern are the opposite features of the two dominant political views of our day. By expanding our vista, however, we can better discern their relatedness, and propose that a true alternative is not between these siblings, but between a false choice of these two ideologies and a true choice between distinct and competing ideas of the very nature of liberty itself.

While there are a number of thinkers who can aid us in this expansion of our vocabulary, one thinker I wish today to highlight is one of the most penetrating and prescient of the mid-twentieth century conservative authors, the sociologist Robert Nisbet. I will have recourse to some of his powerful insights in his 1953 book The Quest for Community – recently re-issued by ISI Books – as well as his later 1975 book Twilight of Authority. Nisbet's key insight, variously articulated, was that Statism is a logical and even inevitable consequence of individualism – and thus, that the apparently opposite and conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and progressive liberalism are actually inseparable. If this is the case, to seek to combat iterations of collectivism by appeal to the individualistic principles of classical liberalism is to be engaged in the philosophical equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire.

At the heart of Nisbet’s analysis is the following claim – human beings are by nature social and relational creatures, and that modern liberalism begins with a set of assumptions that contradict that reality. In so doing, the assumption of anthropological individualism at the heart of liberalism, and the practical realization of individualism in the world, deforms the human person. It is this deformation – particularly the evisceration of a thick set of identities embedded in a variety of groups, whether family, community, polity, church, or any other of other institutions and organizations – that fosters the conditions that makes collectivism an attractive and even inevitable alternative. Without the rise of individualism, the rise of collectivism is inconceivable. To take recourse to an important image from an essay by Leo Strauss, the two philosophies represent major “waves” of modern thought – and, like waves, one forms from the material that preceded it onto the shore.

Before exploring this dynamic in more detail, let me first contrast two competing understandings of liberty, one largely developed in the ancient and Christian world, and the other centrally developed in the early-modern period by, among others, the philosopher John Locke. Both claim the “language of liberty,” but if one is true, the other is false, but, importantly too, it is only from the perspective of ancient liberty that one can see more clearly the close relationship between the individualism of classical liberalism and the collectivism of progressive liberalism.

Modern liberalism begins not – as might be believed if we were to follow the narrative of contemporary discourse – not in opposition to Statism or Progressivism, but rather in explicit and intense rejection of ancient political thought and especially its basic anthropological assumptions. Hobbes, among others, is frequently explicit in his criticisms of both Aristotle and “the Scholastics” – that Catholic philosophy particularly influenced by Aquinas, who was of course particularly influenced by Aristotle. Modern liberal theory thus began with an explicit rejection of Aristotelian/Thomist anthropology.

According to Aristotle, and later further developed by Thomas Aquinas, man is by nature a social and political animal – which is to say, that humans only become human in the context of polities and society. Shorn of such relations, the biological creature “human” was not actually a fully realized human – not able to achieve the telos of the human creature, a telos that required law and culture, cultivation and education, and hence, society and tradition. Thus, Aristotle was able to write (and Aquinas after him essentially repeated) that “the city is prior to the family and the individual” – not, of course, temporally, but in terms of the primacy of wholes to parts. To use a metaphor common to both the ancients and in the Biblical tradition, the body as a whole “precedes” in importance any of its constitutive parts: without the body, neither the hand, nor foot, nor any other part of the body is viable.

Within human societies, to the extent that humans are able to develop true and flourishing individuality, it is only by means of political society and its constitutive groups and associations, starting of course with the family. An essential component of our capacity to achieve human flourishing is our learned ability to place ourselves under rule and law. At first, as children, we are expected to obey because of the claims of authority – we follow rules and law because we are told to do so by our elders. As we grow in maturity and self-knowledge, we assume the responsibility of self-government – ideally in a form that is continuous between the individual and the city. For the ancients, liberty is the cultivated ability to exercise self-governance, to limit ourselves in accordance with our nature and the natural world.
The various practices by which we exercise self-limitation and self-governance is comprehensively called virtue. By contrast, for the ancients, the inability or unwillingness to exercise virtue was tantamount to the absence of liberty. The unbridled or even extensive pursuit of appetite led necessarily to a condition of servitude and even slavery – slavery to one’s passions. Thus, for the ancients, law was not an unnatural imposition of humanity’s natural freedom; rather, law (ideally, a self-imposed law) was the necessary and enabling condition for liberty.

This idea of liberty is certainly not unknown in more recent times, though it is rarely articulated. One can find it, for instance, beautifully stated in the second verse of Katherine Lee Bates hymn "America the Beautiful":

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

The ancients emphasized the necessity of an appropriate scale in which such human flourishing could take place. First, the experience of law must necessarily be close, not distant, and must ideally be experienced as a form of self-governance. The more distant and impersonal the promulgation of law, the more it would necessarily be experienced as an external and even unnatural imposition upon me, and a divide would open between law and liberty (government “out there”). Additionally, the larger the scale, the law would fall generally and categorically upon a variety of circumstances, thus tending to inherent injustice as the natural variety and distinctivenss of human arrangements would be ignored or dismissed. Further, a large scale also lent itself to the anonymity and corresponding forms of irresponsibility (think of nature of anonymous commentary on many websites), while undermining the kinds of trust and responsibility that were required to foster a sense of gratitude and corresponding obligation between generations. Another consideration was that large scale political entities tended to aim at national or imperial greatness and wealth, and thus tended to stoke and tempt the appetites and undermine the inculcation of virtue. Ancient theory thus centrally considered the appropriate scale in which liberty as the practice of self-government through virtue could be realized. Liberty, so conceived, could only be realized in a small and local setting.

For the ancients, the highest aim of society was the flourishing of the free, self-governing individual and the achievement of our particular capacities – our talents and abilities – but such “individuality” could only achieved through the auspices of our political and social relationships. Thus, even as we might flourish in our particular gifts, we are simultaneously obligated to acknowledge that such gifts have their source in and through the contributions of our community. The achievement of our full humanity is necessarily appropriately accompanied by a disposition of gratitude, and a corresponding assumption of obligation to proffer the same prospects for future generations. Thus, while classical philosophy – especially Aristotelian and Thomistic iterations – extolled the condition of achieving the condition of a free individual, it was a philosophy that could be confused as aiming at “individualism.” The properly cultivated individual can never be conceived, much less experience, a wholly separate relationship to his community. It is incorrect to suppose that ancient thought denied a place for “liberty” or the aspiration to achieving distinct forms of individuality, but the context and definition of each differs considerably from contemporary understandings.

*** *** ***

Liberal theory fiercely attacked this fundamental assumptions about human nature. Hobbes and Locke alike – for all their differences – begin by conceiving humas by nature not as parts of wholes, but as wholes apart. We are by nature “free and independent,” naturally ungoverned and even non-relational. There is no ontological reality accorded to groups of any kind – as Bertrand de Jounvenel quipped about social contractarianism, it was a philosophy conceived by “childless men who had forgotten their childhoods.” Liberty is a condition in which there is a complete absence of government and law, and “all is right” – that is, everything that can be willed by an individual can be done. Even if this condition is posited to show its unbearableness or untenability, the definition of natural liberty posited in the “state of nature” becomes a regulative ideal – liberty is ideally the ability of the agent to do whatever he likes. In contrast to ancient theory, liberty is the greatest possible pursuit and satisfaction of the appetites, while government is a conventional and unnatural limitation upon our natural liberty.

For both Hobbes and Locke, we enter into a social contract to secure our survival, but to make the exercise of our liberty more secure. Both Hobbes and Locke – but especially Locke – understand that liberty in our pre-political condition is limited not only by the lawless competition of other individuals, but by the limitations that a recalcitrant and hostile nature imposes upon us. A main goal of Locke’s philosophy especially is actually to expand the prospects for our liberty – defined as the capacity to satisfy our appetites – now through the auspices of the State. We come to accept the terms of the Social Contract because its ultimate effect will actually increase our personal liberty by expanding the capacity of human control over the natural world. Locke writes that the law works to increase liberty, by which he means our liberation from the constraints imposed by the natural world.

Thus, for liberal theory, while the individual “creates” the State through the social contract, in a practical sense, the liberal State “creates” the individual by providing the conditions for the expansion of liberty, now defined increasingly as the capacity of humans to expand their mastery over nature. Far from their being an inherent conflict between the individual and the State, – as so much of modern political reporting would suggest – liberalism establishes a deep and profound connection between the liberal ideal of liberty that can only be realized through the auspices of a powerful State. The State does not merely serve as a referee between contesting individuals; in securing our capacity to engage in productive activities, especially commerce, the State establishes a condition in reality that existed in theory only in the State of Nature – that is, the ever-increasing achievement of the autonomous, freely-choosing individual. Rather than the State acting as an impediment to the realization of our individuality, the State becomes the main agent of our liberation from the limiting conditions in which humans have historically found themselves.

Thus, one of the main roles of the liberal State becomes the active liberation of individuals from any existing limiting conditions. At the forefront of liberal theory is the liberation from limitations imposed by nature upon the achievement of our desires –one of the central aims of life, according to Locke, being the “indolency of the body.” A main agent in that liberation becomes commerce, the expansion of opportunities and materials by which to realize not only existing desires, but even to create new ones that we did not yet know we had. One of its earliest functions is to support that basic role it assumes in extending the conquest of nature. The State becomes charged with extending and expanding the sphere of commerce, particularly enlarging the range of trade and production and mobility (e.g., Constitution positively charges Congress with “to promote the Progress of sciences and useful arts.” (“Progressivism” already in the Constitution). The expansion of markets and the attendant infrastructure necessary for that expansion is not, and cannot be, the result of “spontaneous order”; rather, an extensive and growing State structure is necessary to achieve that expansion, even at times to force recalcitrant or unwilling participants in that system into submission (see, for instance, J.S. Mill's recommendation in Considerations on Representative Government that the enslavement of "backward" peoples can be justified if they are forced to lead productive economic lives.).

One of the main goals of the expansion of commerce is the liberation of otherwise embedded individuals from their traditional ties and relationships. The liberal State serves not only the “negative” (or reactive) function of umpire and protector of individual liberty; simultaneously it also takes on a “positive” (that is to say, active) role of “liberating” individuals who, in the view of the liberal State, are prevented from making the wholly free choices of liberal agents. At the heart of liberalism is the supposition that the individual is the basic unit of human existence, the only natural human entity that exists. If liberal theory posits the existence of such individuals in an imaginary “state of nature,” liberal practice – beginning, but not limited to the rise of commerce – seeks to expand the conditions for the realization of the individual. The individual is to be liberated from all the partial and limiting affiliations that pre-existed the liberal state, if not by force (though that may at times be necessary), then by constantly lowering the costs and barriers to exit. The State lays claim to govern all groupings within the society – it is the final arbiter of legitimate and illegitimate groupings, and from its point of view, the only ontological realities are the individual and the State. (for evidence of this fact, consider the frontispiece of Hobbes's Leviathan). Eventually the State lays claim to set up its own education system to ensure that children are not overly shaped by family, religion or any particular community; through its legal and police powers, it will occasionally forces open “closed” communities as soon as one person claims some form of unjust assertion of authority or limits upon individual freedom; it even regulates what is regarded to be legitimate and illegitimate forms of religious worship. Marriage is a bond that must be subject to its definition. A vast and intrusive centralized apparatus is established not to oppress the population, but rather to actively ensure the liberation of individuals from any forms of constitutive groups or supra-individual identity. Any allegiance to sub-national groups, associations or communities come to be redefined not as inheritances, but as memberships of choice with very low if any costs to exit. Modern liberals are to be pro-choice in every respect; one can limits one’s own autonomy¸ but only if one has chosen to do so, and generally only if one can revise one’s choice at a later date – which means, in reality, one hasn’t really limited one’s autonomy at all. All choices are fungible, alterable, and reversible. The vow “til death do us part” is subtly but universally amended – and understood – to mean, “or until we choose otherwise.”

*** *** ***

Various forms of Statism thus arise quite logically from these basic aspects of the liberal system. Progressive philosophy agrees fundamentally with the liberal vision of the liberation of the individual from all partial and mediating institutions, but eventually comes to include the State itself as one of those partial and limiting associations. This follows with iron and inevitable logic: if the State is the creation of individuals, then eventually the State itself needs to be abolished to achieve the thoroughgoing liberty of the individual from all partial associations. Marxism’s dream of the “withering away of the State” is a logical extension of the trajectory of liberalism.

It is here that Robert Nisbet notices some additional relationships between the two. It is only when the variety of institutions and organizations of humankind’s social life have been eviscerated – when the individual experiences himself as an individual – that collectivism as a theory becomes plausible as a politics in fact. Liberalism’s successful liberation of individuals from what had historically been “their own” and the increasing realization of the “individual” made it possible for the theory of cosmopolitanism to arise as an actionable political program in the modern era. The idea that we could supercede all particular attachments and achieve a kind of “cosmic consciousness” or experience of our “species being” was a direct consequence of the lived experience of individualism. Locke is the midwife to Marx, in a manner of speaking.

Nisbet also notes the psychological conditions arising from liberalism’s unfolding that also give rise to a longing for collectivism. He argued that collectivism arises as a reaction against the atomization of liberalism. The active dissolution of traditional human communities and institutions provokes a violent reaction in which a basic human need – “the quest for community” – is no longer being met. As naturally “political” or “social” creatures, we long for thick and rich set of constitutive bonds that necessarily shape a fully-formed human being. Shorn of the deepest ties to family (extended), place, community, region, religion, and culture – and deeply shaped to believe that these forms of association are limits upon our autonomy – we seek membership and belonging, and a form of extended self-definition, through the only legitimate form of organization available to liberal man – the State. Nisbet saw the modern rise of Fascism and Communism as the predictable consequence of the early-modern liberal attack upon smaller associations and communities – shorn of those memberships, modern liberal man became susceptible to the quest for belonging now to distant and abstract State entities. In turn, those political entities offered a new form of belonging by adopting the evocations and imagery of those memberships that they had displaced, above all by offering a new form of quasi-religious membership, now in the Church of the State itself. Our “community” was now to be a membership of countless fellow humans who held in common an abstract allegiance to a political entity that would assuage all of our loneliness, alienation and isolation. It would provide for our wants and needs; all that was asked in return was sole allegiance to the State and partial and even the elimination of any allegiance to any other intermediary entity. To provide for a mass public, more power to the central authority was asked and granted. Thus Nisbet concludes – following a basic insight of Alexis de Tocqueville: “It is impossible to understand the massive concentrations of political power in the twentieth-century, appearing so paradoxically, or it has seemed, right after a century and a half of individualism in economics and morals, unless we see the close relationship that prevailed all through the nineteenth century between individualism and State power and between both of these together and the general weakening of the area of association that lies intermediate to man and the State.”

Lastly, collectivism arises logically from classical liberalism out of sheer necessity. Having shorn human ties to the vast web of intermediating institutions that sustained people through good and bad times, the expansion of the experience of individualism renders humans bereft of recourse to those traditional places of support and sustenance. The more individuated the polity, the more likely that a mass of individuals will inevitably turn to the State for help in times of need. This observation – made before Nisbet most powerfully by Tocqueville – suggests that individualism is not the alternative to Statism, but its very cause. As Tocqueville wrote in v. 2, bk. iv, ch. 3 of Democracy in America,

Since … no one is obliged to lend his force to those like him and no one has the right to expect great support from those like him, each [person] is at once independent and weak. These two states – which must neither be viewed separately nor confused – give the citizen of democracies very contrary instincts. His independence fills him with confidence and pride among his equals, and his debility makes him feel, from time to time, the need of the outside help that he cannot expect from any of them, since they are all impotent and cold. In this extremity, he naturally turns his regard to the immense being [the tutelary, bureaucratic, centralized State] that rises alone in the midst of universal debasement. His needs and above all his desires constantly lead him back toward it, and in the end he views it as the unique and necessary support for his individual weakness.” (644)

Far from fundamentally opposing one another, the individualism arising from the philosophy of classical liberalism and the subsequent philosophy of collectivism have been mutually reinforcing. Indeed, they have powerfully combined to all but rout the vestiges of the ancient conception of virtue as a practice or even an option. Today’s classical liberals and progressive liberals remain locked in a battle for the end-game – whether we will be a society of ever more perfectly liberated, autonomous individuals or ever more egalitarian members of the global “community,” but while this debate continues apace, the two sides agree on essential means to achieve their distinct ends, thus combining in a pincer movement to destroy the vestiges of the classical practices and virtues that they both despise.

To the extent that modern "conservatism" has embraced the arguments of classical liberalism, the actions and policies of its political actors have never failed to actively undermine those areas of life that "conservatives" claim to seek to defend. Partly this is due to drift, but more worringly, it is due to the increasingly singular embrace by many contemporary Americans – whether liberal or “conservative” – of a modern definition of liberty that consists in doing as one likes through the conquest of nature, rather than the achievement of self-governance within the limits of our nature and the natural world. Unless we recover a different, older, and better definition and language of liberty, our future is more likely than not to be one not of final liberation of the individual, but our accustomed and deeply pernicious oscillation between the atomization of our Lockean individualism and the cry to be taken care of by the only remaining entity that is left standing in the liberal settlement, the State. If we care about liberty, we need rather to attend to our States and localities, our communities and neighborhoods, our families and Churches, making them viable alternatives and counterpoints to the monopolization of individual and State in our time, and thus to relearn the ancient virtue of self-government.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Tocqueville Forum

Here's a nice birthday present for me - an excerpt from the latest edition of Choosing the Right College, from the section on Georgetown University.

"The most outstanding resource that Georgetown students should explore is the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, whose purpose is to highlight 'the two main roots of American democracy, Western political philosophy and the biblical and Christian religious tradition.' Its founding director, Professor Patrick Deneen, is a leading scholar in classical political theory and a popular cultural commentator. The forum offers lectures and conferences featuring first-rate authorities ranging from Andrew Bacevich to Patrick Fagan, and also serves as a meeting place for many of the most thoughtful students on campus."

I started this program five years ago, and I couldn't agree more that the program draws together "many of the most thoughtful students on campus." It's been a labor of love, and a deeply rewarding one at that. An even better birthday present would be a growing number of Georgetown alumnni supporters. If you are a graduate or know any, I hope you'll consider lending support or passing on the word.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Caylee's Law and the Specter of Civil Breakdown

In the wake of the "not guilty" finding in the Casey Anthony trial, large numbers of outraged individuals have begun a campaign for the creation of various State and even a Federal version of "Caylee's Law." In addition to such an effort in the state of Florida, similar legislation is being explored in states such as Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. This law would promulgate strict requirements under which parents or guardians would be expected to report a missing and deceased child to police. Under such a law, it can be presumed, such actions as that of Casey Anthony would have led to a guilty verdict - if not for murder, at least on the scandal of a parent failing to report a missing child.

The law is clearly a response to the outrage and anger felt by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict. Yet, what would be the expected efficacy of such a law? Can it really be expected that it would deter what must be a infinitesimally small number of parents who would not immediately call the police at the slightest suspicion of a missing child? (Let's face it - if anything, most parents are likely to contact authorities before checking all the likely places a child might be).

The pressure to pass such a law is most obviously an expression of thwarted vengeance, an outburst of outrage and frustration toward someone the public believes got away not only with murder, but the murder of her own small child. This is an understandable human response.

But it seems also plausible that the pressure to pass such a law reflects more deeply the anxieties and fears of many that the fabric of informal social norms have become so frayed that only the impotent passage of largely pointless laws can give some comfort in the belief that there is some kind of replacement. What strikes one about Anthony's is how relatively "normal" they are in today's America. The Anthony's had moved to Florida from Ohio, indicating a normal "mobile" American lifestyle. They live in a suburban neighborhood in Orlando, one of innumerable such "communities" where people can live in relative anonymity amid proximate families. As of 2006, there were 12.9 million single parents raising over 21 million children. Some four million of those single parents live with their parents. The stories of Casey's insecure employment history is not unusual for many young people today, particularly for under-educated single mothers. The anxiety provoked by the Casey Anthony story is not born of the perception of someone so wildly different from the way many Americans live today; it arises from the deeper perception that this is the way that many more of us are likely to live in America today.

In his recent book The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama seeks to explore the question of how more advanced industrial societies have moved away from "kinship relations" of more "primitive" societies to more complex societies of strangers in which our relationships are based on impersonal legal and economic relationships. Fukuyama - still evincing his characteristic progressive worldview - regards these advances as an inevitability of evolution itself, a sign of our greater advancement. But these very "advances" render us increasingly strangers even to those near to us - not only our neighbors, but our own children and parents. Our liberation from "kinship" is based upon our increased ability to artificially create radical forms of isolation from even those kinship relations. As Fukuyama correctly notes, "that individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts" (29).

The calls for lawmakers to "do something" in the wake of the Casey Anthony "not guilty" verdict shows the limits of our impersonal age. Lacking confidence in the remnants of the social norms (not legalisms) upon which those kinship cultures were based, we turn now to the law to instruct fellow citizens how to behave with their children. The passage of such laws, far from indicating a triumph of our greater civility, reveals its unceasing attenuation and even breakdown. Our anxieties will only be stoked, not relieved, and each "solution" will only exacerbate the root causes of our deeper alienation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wilson Carey McWilliams

Some, perhaps many readers here will know that I learned much of what I know of political philosophy - and, much of my understanding of life - from one of the most wonderful men who has trod the earth, Wilson Carey McWilliams. Professor McWilliams - who taught at Rutgers University for thirty years, in addition to some years at Oberlin and Brooklyn Colleges and stints at Haverford, Harvard, and Fordham - was a legendary teacher, lecturer, and raconteur. I was blessed to have taken many of his classes during my undergraduate years at Rutgers, and traded a spot at University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought to finish my Ph.D. studies under his tutelage some years later. He was a mentor and good friend during my formative years of young adulthood, and I would doubtless be doing something very different than what I do now but for his guidance and encouragement.

Carey - as he was widely known - passed away suddenly in 2005. While he was widely known and admired in the circles of academic political philosophy, and his admirers in the political domain included the likes of E.J. Dionne and Karl Rove (yes, seriously!), even those who knew him were largely unaware of the vast body of writings that he left behind. Over the past few years I've worked with his daughter - Susan McWilliams of Pomona College, also known to many through her posts at Front Porch Republic - to collect some of his best writing in two separate volumes, both of which have now been published. I hope that those readers who have been interested in my writing here will acquire - through purchase or borrowing, perhaps all means short of theft - both collections of his writings. They are a compendium of essays containing political, philosophical, theological and common-sense justifications for many of the positions that I've come to argue here on these pages (though my scribblings evince far less subtlety and learning than those of Carey's). Also know that I recommend these books without pecuniary interest - all royalties will go toward an endowed award named for Carey, bestowed annually by the Politics, Literature and Film section of the American Political Science Association.

The two books differ somewhat in character. The first is entitled Redeeming Democracy in America, published by the University Press of Kansas. Carey was co-editor - along with historian Lance Banning - of a renowned series on American Political Thought published by Kansas. Fittingly, this book contains some of Carey's best writing about American political thought, drawing on his vast corpus of writings on his understanding of the non-liberal "alternative tradition" in the American tradition.

The second - just released - is entitled The Democratic Soul: A Wilson Carey McWilliams Reader, from the University Press of Kentucky. This book - as the title suggests - is more of an omnibus reader, and includes many of Carey's best essays on a broad range of topics, ranging from his 60's and 70's writing on issues of civil disobedience, to his writings about particular thinkers (including not-to-be-missed essays on Reinhold Niebuhr, Bertrand de Jouvenel, George Orwell and Leo Strauss), to his late reflections on the (sorry, but not hopeless) state of contemporary American politics.

Each book has extra goodies: the Kansas book has a comprehensive bibliography of McWilliams's writings (we've only been able to gather about a third of his published essays alone in these two volumes, not to mention his many reviews, co-authored articles and political commentary); while the Kentucky volume contains a lengthier introduction on McWilliams's contribution and approach to American thought and political philosophy. Both volumes are highly recommended, and readers will find in the pages of these two books a highly original, deeply learned, and profoundly challenging way of thinking about our time, place, and legacy.

Assuming that many readers have not encountered McWilliams before, I will include below a substantial extract from the introduction from The Democratic Soul. I hope it will be sufficient to whet your appetites and move you to consider reading directly from the pages and words of my teacher and my friend, Wilson Carey McWilliams.


“A Better Sort of Love”:
On the Life and Thought of Wilson Carey McWilliams

Patrick J. Deneen and Susan J. McWilliams

Wilson Carey McWilliams was born on September 2, 1933, in Santa Monica, California. His was a pre-freeway, pre-plastic Los Angeles: a city of barely more than a million people still dominated by what he later remembered as a “provincial, boosterish” mind-set, with “its numberless improbabilities always hinting at great possibilities.”

It was also a city that McWilliams experienced not as a “city of strangers,” but as the home of his large, extended family. By his own account, it was a family of titans. His mother’s family, the Hedricks, were a formidable clan of German and Dutch descent who placed great emphasis on education – sending all daughters as well as sons to college, long before doing so was considered fashionable or even appropriate. During McWilliams’s childhood, his grandfather, Earle Raymond Hedrick, a renowned mathematician and associate of Albert Einstein’s, served as the Provost and Vice-President of the University of California, Los Angeles, and was well ensconced in the city’s intellectual elite. McWilliams’s maternal grandmother received a doctoral degree in mathematics from the University of GÅ‘ttingen before having her twelve children. McWilliams was surrounded by Hedrick aunts and uncles, most of whom were educators and many of whom had advanced degrees. His mother, Dorothy Hedrick McWilliams, was a UCLA graduate who spent her career as a high-school teacher.

If his mother’s family were titans of the academic sort, his father’s family were titans with a decidedly political bent. McWilliams’s grandfather, who died before he was born, had been a prominent cattle-rancher and Democratic State Senator in Colorado. And his father, Carey McWilliams, was a California journalist then best known for his writings about migrant farm labor, who would go on to edit The Nation magazine. The elder McWilliams, a self-proclaimed radical, was from early on a prominent public figure, targeted and often threatened for his then-controversial commitment to racial equality and his attention to the marginal and disenfranchised.

In light of these early familial influences, it seems almost fated that McWilliams became a political scientist, a relentless intellectual and dedicated educator possessed of an unusually keen political insight and committed to seeking the wisdom contained in unpopular or “alternative” points of view.

But the familial comfort of those earliest years was not the only formative influence on McWilliams’s life, for, like the provincial Los Angeles of his youth, it was not to last. His parents decided to dissolve their marriage in 1941, necessitating a brief move to Reno, Nevada – the establishment of residency in that state then being the easiest way to acquire a no-fault divorce – and then a series of subsequent moves around California. The transience of those years provided a stark contrast with what had come before, surely underpinning much of McWilliams’s later emphasis on the value of rootedness and his attention to the costs of America’s culture of mobility.

McWilliams and his mother eventually settled in the Central Valley town of Merced, where in 1951 he graduated from Merced High School. It was in Merced that McWilliams first discovered and refined his skills as a debater – William F. Buckley, Jr., would later call McWilliams the most formidable debater in the United States – as a member of his school’s forensics team. And Merced’s then farm-country, railroad-town charms reinforced his appreciation for small and local communities.

McWilliams graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1955, funded in part through a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship, and after graduation he served in the 11th Airborne Division of the U.S. Army for two years, remaining in active reserve service with the 91st Division until 1961. Having considered but ultimately deciding against a lifetime military career, he returned to Berkeley, where he received his master’s and doctorate degrees under the tutelage of the eminent political theorists Norman Jacobson, John Schaar, and Sheldon Wolin. Each of these great teachers influenced McWilliams in distinct ways, but all together instilled in him a deep and abiding love of the great texts and arguments of the history of political thought. Speaking about Wolin at the time of his retirement, McWilliams’s words might summarize his experience of all three of his teachers: “A secular agora, [their] classrooms were also part sanctuary, places where politics took on a grace and mystery.” At Berkeley, McWilliams also helped to found the activist student group SLATE, one of the first formal organizations of the New Left.

In 1961, McWilliams took a position in the Government Department at Oberlin College, where he involved himself in the ferment of the 1960s and found great success as a classroom teacher. Largely based on his energizing experience at Oberlin, McWilliams would remain a fierce advocate of liberal-arts colleges all his life, although he left Oberlin in 1967 to spend most of the rest of his career at larger universities: first at Brooklyn College and then at Rutgers University, where he taught from 1970 until his death in 2005. McWilliams had also had visiting and summer appointments at Berkeley, Fordham University, Harvard University, Haverford College, Lafayette College, the State University of New York at Buffalo, UCLA, and Yale University. At all those institutions, McWilliams sought out the company of students, preferring face-to-face mentorship in and out of the classroom to the more impersonal formats of academic publishing.

And yet, as this volume testifies, McWilliams’ publication record was substantial in terms of both scope and quality. His most famous work, The Idea of Fraternity in America, appeared in 1973 to high acclaim, receiving the National Historical Society Prize in 1974. He became a prolific essayist, writing regularly in journals such as Commonweal and Newsday and throughout his career dividing his time equally between high theoretical examination and penetrating contemporary political analysis. He wrote extraordinarily well-regarded essays on the meaning of each American presidential election, essays that were eventually collected in his two later volumes, The Politics of Disappointment (1995) and Beyond the Politics of Disappointment (2000).

McWilliams was the recipient of numerous professional honors, including the John Witherspoon Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities. He taught a series of summer seminars for teachers under grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and served on several editorial boards. He held key positions in the American Political Science Association, including Vice-President and Secretary, and he was active at Rutgers on numerous committees and task forces.

But it is worth noting that for the last 30 years of his life, McWilliams cultivated his community life alongside his professional one. He made a home with his wife, the psychoanalyst and author Nancy Riley McWilliams, in Flemington, New Jersey. There, they had two daughters, and McWilliams became a fixture of the local scene, serving briefly as a town councilman and spending many terms as an elected member of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee. He was an elder in the Flemington Presbyterian Church and a member of the Hunterdon County Historical Society – living, much as he taught his students to live, a life made valuable through citizenship, association, sacrifice, and friendship.


In one of his last publications, McWilliams’s description of the novelist James Baldwin might easily apply to himself: “He was a fervent critic of the American regime because he was an anguished lover, and nothing is clearer in [his] work than the depth of his concern for American public life and culture.” McWilliams too, was an “anguished lover” of America, discerning that it was a nation born at least partly of the Enlightenment that was worthy of love not because of its official philosophy, but in spite of it. Throughout his writing, McWilliams recommended “a better sort of love”: the love between and among citizens, one evoking an older model of citizens as friends – and not the self-love that lies at the heart of liberal theory and that at least in part officially undergirded the American founding.

The kernel of McWilliams’s thought lies in his insight that the official creed of America – the liberalism of Hobbes and Locke, premised upon the belief of humans to be pre-politically individual and whole – is fundamentally a false anthropology, and thus cannot serve as the basis of a viable regime. To the extent that liberalism seemed to have proven itself to be successful, McWilliams argued that it was the result of a pre-liberal inheritance that relied on non-liberal assumptions and relationships – particularly those at the heart of the family and the neighborhood, but also ones that must infuse the schools, the economy, and ultimately the polity itself. “Liberal society is a kind of moral school which must be protected against the logic of liberal theory, walled off and governed according to different precepts,” he argued. Rather, he held, America’s better and truer pedigree lie in its “unofficial” founding, that “alternative tradition” he plumbed often in its religious, literary and immigrant traditions. Calling it “America’s Second Voice,” he discerned in such authors and thinkers ranging from the Puritans, the Anti-federalists, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut, and such political figures as Thomas Jefferson (sometimes), Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, evocative cadences of that “second voice.” Above all, McWilliams heard that voice in Alexis de Tocqueville, that great interpreter of America, to whose insights he returned again and again. He found in Tocqueville’s analysis of democracy in America the exhortation for America to aspire to be its best self – to pursue that “better sort of love” – and, in eschewing our temptation to credit self-interest as our most fundamental motivation, to cease doing “more honor to our philosophy than to ourselves.”

In one of his earliest publications – co-authored with his teacher, John Schaar – McWilliams set out a basic premise that would guide his thought thereafter.

The political process is an effort to unite men in the pursuit of a common goal and vision. Politics, then, involves two questions: the question of “with whom” and the question of “for what.” Furthermore, it involves these questions in precisely that order.

Modern politics stressed “for what” – its view was utilitarian and instrumental, aimed at understanding human relations as a means to achieve particular desired ends of individuals. Modern thought, beginning with Machiavelli, placed the “for what” question first, viewing the “with whom” question as secondary – subject to convenience and shifting need. According to liberal theory, the public realm exists to serve the private. McWilliams sought to evoke an older tradition in which the private was subordinate to the common weal. In an evocative phrase, he argued that politics is itself a main avenue toward taming the “idolatry of self”; by contrast, modern theory turned this “idolatry” into its main orthodoxy. To the extent that the ends of politics become detached from the goal of reinforcing the goods of solidarity in political and community life itself, those ends tend toward destruction of a fundamental human good of our shared human life. The question of “with whom” conditions – even limits – the possible range of answers to the question of “for what.” Questions of what politics should seek to achieve will necessarily be conditioned by the question, “In what way will our activities support and improve our common life?”

Liberalism, McWilliams consistently argued, was not neutral toward ultimate ends, in spite of some claims of its main proponents. According to McWilliams’s analysis of early modern thought in such thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke, and as distilled in its practical expression in the thought of the Founders – especially Madison and Hamilton – politics was to be arranged to increase human power and mastery. According to liberal theory, individuals are understood by nature to be “free and independent,” and accede to form and join political community only as a second-best option, preferring in their respective hearts to be unfettered and ungoverned. Law is experienced as an imposition upon natural freedom, a necessary but onerous compromise with the reality of other self-interested humans. A consistent theme in liberal thought is that these inconveniences and compromises are acceptable because of what we ultimately gain in return – namely, the ability to master nature and a resulting increase in human power. As a result, our condition as individuals is apparently improved: while we remain under the impositions of positive law – and, indeed, as the power of the State must increase concomitant with the growth of power over nature – we appear to escape the rule of nature’s law, achieving greater liberation as individuals than would have been possible in a State of Nature. Political organization is thus a means to achieving the original desired ends of the individual, namely power and mastery. Liberalism – hardly neutral about ends – contains a deeper teaching, and organizes the polity to achieve the ends of that particular pedagogy.

Ancient conflict within and between communities over ends – the stuff from which politics itself arose and which it sought to contain, yet which is always fraught with the threat of outright conflict and violence – was to be replaced by a set of aims and activities that demoted politics to the status of handmaiden to the modern project of mastery. Politics was largely to become subservient to technique, itself becoming a science – “the new science of politics.” Modern political thought appeared to subordinate concern with ends for the promotion of means, above all, various techniques based upon that new science. Liberalism’s apparent indifference to ends – its vaunted relativism – masks its deeper devotion to power and mastery, particularly the modern project of nature’s conquest along with the aim of material increase through a deeply individualistic economic arrangement. Modern politics contained a teaching that shaped the human soul over time, transforming all institutions and human aspirations in its image. Among its most effective tutors was the market: McWilliams argued often that it was commerce, more than any other feature of modern life, that introduced radical relativism and deep instability even into the heart of those parts of life that needed to be resistant to its corrosive effects, especially the family, schools and community. “The great commercial republic, the Framer’s creation, is always threatened by the market, its central social institution…. The market … teaches us to see all virtues and goods, all allegiances and loyalties, as so many ‘values,’ prices set by and shifting with the vacillations of the market and of opinion.”

Building on the lessons of the market, perhaps what the great liberal project above all taught modern man was a habituation in detachment, and all that follows. Freedom, it was understood, consists in our relative lack of obligations and duties, our ability – indeed, the inescapable necessity – for mobility and absenteeism. Understanding and tracing the consequences of this inculcated tendency toward detachment is a major theme in McWilliams’s work, not only because it constitutes a real psychic loss in our ability to form lasting and stable relations, but because of its unintended deleterious social and political consequences, particularly a disposition not to care sufficiently to seek to secure the common weal. The result of the insecurity and instability of our civic domain, McWilliams (following Tocqueville) observed, is that the public realm comes to be seen as “the theater of indignity”; liberal citizens are prone to seek meaning in retreat from this sphere where they are insignificant and weak, shorn of the bonds and connections that Tocqueville praised as arising from a habituation in “the arts of association.” They are “disposed to barricade themselves in private life, where they find a measure of significance and control.”

In the absence of the kinds of civic training Tocqueville commended, liberty came to be defined not as a kind of “discipline of freedom,” but as the relative lack of constraint upon individuals. The attendant growth in various kinds of human power – scientific, technological, and military, among others –obliterated obstacles to the human will and reshaped the world in the image and likeness of the unencumbered individual. A form of democratic liberty – what Aristotle defined as “ruling and being ruled in turn” – was substituted for the aspiration of “not being ruled at all.” What most contemporary people understood to be the very heart of the definition of democracy – freedom as lack of constraint – was, for McWilliams, the polar opposite of democracy. And the pursuit of the theory presented modern democratic man with unforeseen privations. The theory that had been developed to advance thoroughgoing human liberty – requiring endless efforts to increase techniques of mastery – left humans increasingly subject to the very powers that had been unleashed. Largely incapable of understanding the complexities of modern life, rendered mute and insignificant by a vast and impersonal nation-state, and buffeted by titanic powers that were often “private” and increasingly ungovernable, the modern democratic citizen experienced a radically different outcome than that which had been promised by the modern project. Isolated, voiceless, and civically powerless, they would find that a crass materialism and feeble claim to autonomy had replaced the noble calling of citizenship and self-rule. Thus, not only was the practical consequence of this re-definition of liberty an intense violence done to nature in the form of environmental degradation – but a similar violence was also done to human nature, namely a profound deformation of the human soul itself.


McWilliams believed that a main impulse to be resisted in considering problems of contemporary politics was that of seeking solutions based on “technique,” that is, an approach to politics that resorted to the same motivation from which arose the deepest challenges presented by modern politics. Most policy proposals – even those of a “communitarian bent” – were content to base proposed solutions within the structural framework of the liberal regime, insuring that they would necessarily be swamped by the regime’s deeper individualist assumptions. McWilliams believed that most such endeavors were doomed, if not likely to worsen our condition. Before indulging a reforming impulse that was likely to be born of the same source as the “new science of politics,” McWilliams held that deep reflection upon the truth of our condition was necessary. In the first instance, he believed, action should be preceded by a right understanding of our condition – an understanding that needed to be ruthlessly honest about the daunting nature of the modern political challenge. Secondly – based upon that understanding – thinking about politics needed to be both radical and modest: radical in its aims to change the fundamental assumptions about politics, but modest in its recognition of what could realistically be done in the context of modern nation state. McWilliams – borrowing a phrase he once used to describe his one-time teacher, Bertrand de Jouvenel – sought to “bring the old gods to a new city,” but in a way that understood that any such effort would require “sacrifice and patience more than dazzling exploits.”

Above all, he held that any effort to remediate the modern retreat into the private and the individual must begin – as Tocqueville understood – by shoring up those pre- and non-liberal sources that long co-existed alongside America’s liberal self-understanding. Ironically, the source of the improvement of civic life would come largely from sustaining and strengthening largely “private” institutions.

Many "private" institutions—most notably, families, churches, and local communities—have often taught an older creed which speaks more easily of the public as a whole, appealing to patriotism, duty, and the common good. Of course, these private bodies have been influenced, increasingly, by the liberalism and "modernism" of our public culture, and they articulate the more traditional view only infrequently, incoherently, and apologetically. Nevertheless, the “private” order shaped the American character, in part, in terms of a teaching that human beings are limited creatures, subject to the law of nature, born dependent and—by nature—in need of nurturance and moral education.

McWilliams was a defender of the “traditional” family not out of romantic traditionalism, but rather because he understood that the family, like church and community, is based on a set of human commitments that rub against the grain of liberal individualist assumptions. This understanding led McWilliams toward what might be called “populist” sympathies, to supporting the sorts of traditional associations and commitments suspected and attacked by a range of historical liberal and “progressive” actors (the sort of “elites” excoriated by a kindred spirit and friend, Christopher Lasch). McWilliams defended not merely groups – in this, he was no trendy supporter of “multiculturalism” – but groups whose basis reflected commitments based in loyalty, memory and place.

It was private or semi-public entities such as the family or political parties that were the training ground of community life within the larger frame of the modern nation state. While relying upon these pre-liberal institutions, the modern state also subtly undermined all such inheritances, remaking them in the image of liberal assumptions, and thus diluting their affective ties. McWilliams understood that the liberal state was purposefully designed to separate humans, to encourage the assumption that we are at base physical bodies that come temporarily into contact without any natural or teleological relational basis. The vastness and impersonality of the nation-state was part of the intentional design of liberal theory, intended at once to advance the modern project of mastery, while making public life so impersonal and distant as to render modern liberal citizens more likely to favor withdrawal into private life and affairs. While seeming to ensure our dignity – mainly in the form of individual rights – modern arrangements tended instead to undermine the affective basis of every pre-liberal human institution, rendering us ever more alone and isolated, and bribing us instead by visions of autonomy and a taste of power that distracted us from our effective powerlessness.

McWilliams appealed to an older teaching – one he gleaned from ancient Greek philosophy as well as the Biblical tradition – that understood community to be the natural home of humans, and political association to be the natural schoolteacher of shared self-government. Politics, according to McWilliams, is a kind of teacher of the human soul – not, as liberal theory held, a necessary inconvenience upon our natural freedom. It is a tutor that makes true human freedom possible, above all the freedom gained in self-government. From Plato and Aristotle in particular, he absorbed the lesson that political life requires a fundamentally small setting wherein interpersonal relations can be fostered. Drawing particularly on an Aristotelian teleology, McWilliams held that politics is natural to the extent that human flourishing requires formation within well-formed political communities. Liberal theory understood rightly that humans tend to experience themselves as separate bodies, but this theory stopped short of a fuller comprehension. At best and under good conditions, humans can be drawn out of this individualized existence, coming to see the extent to which the good life rests upon political life. Yet the human capacity to understand and embrace a shared conception of the good life beyond fulfillment of our immediate desires is not infinite and hence needs a bounded and palpable scale. Modern politics rejected this teaching, beginning and ending with our fundamental separation, and concluding that vast scale is the best setting for the satisfaction of such selves. From the ancients McWilliams learned otherwise.

The Biblical tradition echoed this teaching using different lyrics but the same basic harmonics. Largely relying on Calvinist bearings, McWilliams understood Biblical teaching to stress the fact of human fallenness, our partiality, our pride, and our need for stern but loving guidance. Humans strain against limits and law but, properly tutored, can come to embrace those constraints as a self-imposed discipline, thereby achieving a better freedom. Particularly evidenced in God’s actions upon Israel, the Bible teaches that politics plays a vital role in this education of the soul. “Political society needs to limit and constrain its citizens, demanding sacrifice and punishing them when needed. In so doing, it imitates – in a small, relatively effective way – God’s desolation of pride. At the same time, a good political order nurtures, educates, and improves its citizens: its chastenings are intended to teach the lesson that the whole is a good order.” McWilliams was largely unique among contemporary “communitarian” thinkers in stressing that the communitarian strain in American thought – and, indeed, the broader Western tradition – if originating with the Greeks, had in many respects been deepened and more fully conveyed through the Biblical tradition. Like Tocqueville, he located the American founding not in 1776 or 1789, but with the Puritan settlement of New England. He argued that America’s first efforts of self-understanding derived from sources like John Winthrop’s sermon aboard the Arbella, “A Model of Christian Charity,” in which he urged fellow citizens to “delight in each other; make other's conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.” In both his writings and his riveting lectures in and beyond the classroom, McWilliams stressed that politics is always fundamentally about teaching, instructing us, above all, to seek the excellence of citizenship, a condition aimed at achieving civic equality through the discipline of freedom.


Although McWilliams was largely tentative about suggesting explicit activities for government in this effort to strengthen local communities and associations, he held that such succor was inescapably necessary. He excoriated “conservatives” whose anti-government animus often veiled their willingness to support a market economy that relentlessly undermined the very kinds of associations that undergird the “traditional values” that they claim to support (Ronald Reagan was a frequent target of McWilliams’s withering criticism – among other things, for his fondness for quoting that impious revolutionary, Thomas Paine). Yet McWilliams was also aware of the paradox that our situation presented: support from central government against the corrosive tendencies of the market is inescapable, but too often the government itself is a partner in those activities. His arguments largely sought to clear the way for a new and different understanding of what government ought to aim to achieve – mainly, the ambition to give primary allegiance to “with whom,” and thus informed, “for what.”

For citizenship, in any case, government is indispensible to any solution, and only incidentally is part of the problem. The school of citizenship is small, personal and local, and in that sphere, ‘getting government out of the way’ does not ‘empower’ citizens: it leaves them nakedly exposed to forces that are titanic, impersonal and international. Citizens need stronger governments to give localities power as well as responsibility and to reduce the extent to which ‘getting involved’ is an exercise in frustration. In fact, government is the target of so much resentment because it is relatively responsive: citizens can vote against school budgets and elected officials, but not against technological change. Our anger at government is a mark of its humanity, just as democratic citizenship, to the extent that we can preserve and revitalize it, gives us voices against the grey silence of our time.

McWilliams suggested elsewhere that while modern governments are “too clumsy and impersonal to promote friendship directly, they can at least be friendly to friendship.”

His understanding of the fundamental need – indeed, the basic dignity – of political life drew him inexorably to the Left. For all of McWilliams’s differences with Marx, he was always committed to the Left side of the modern political landscape. This was most obviously the case during his active years in the student movement at Berkeley, and is also evident in his lifelong devotion to the Democratic party. More deeply, McWilliams’s critique of the theory of liberalism, and its close social ally, the capitalist market economy, drew him away from the contemporary Right. To the extent that the Right in America tended toward vociferous defenses of liberalism and particularly its economic arrangements – and was often the font of hostility toward the successive wave of immigrant groups who embodied the “second voice” of American thought, including that tragic group of unwilling immigrants, African slaves and their progeny – McWilliams found in the Left and the Democratic Party his natural home.

Yet, McWilliams’s relationship to the Left was anguished. He broke early with friends who opposed the Vietnam War, and throughout his life was a severe critic of Communism and most modern ideologies of progress. His defense of family and other “traditional” arrangements, his criticisms of the idea of a “right to choose,” a “right to privacy,” his defense of the “great books” – among other positions – made him at least as often a critic of modern “liberals” and “progressives,” as apt to find among his political compatriots on the Left a betrayal of a fundamental commitments to politics as he did among those on the Right. He admired the arguments advanced by conservatives such as Allan Bloom, and counted him – and many other conservatives – among his friends and allies. Yet, far from experiencing alienation from the Left or the Right, the very source of his discomfort with elements across the contemporary political spectrum was also the basis of at least partial agreement with nearly everyone he encountered: aided by his wit and sense of humor – punctuated by countless anecdotes and a fondness for bourbon – along with his uncanny ability to forge political alliances, he easily made friends and companions across the entire political spectrum.

For McWilliams, politics is finally ennobling not only for teaching the truth about our human condition – one of dependency and mutual need, and as a calling toward the achievement of the common good – but finally to the extent that it points us beyond even the limits of politics. McWilliams constantly affirmed that politics teaches us our partiality – points us toward the whole – but that politics itself is finally only partial. It is a part that aspires toward the whole; the community itself calls us outside ourselves, but it too must ultimately be cognizant of its own partiality, even as it aspires to a kind of partial completeness. “At best, politics encourages us toward philoso¬phy and toward religion, toward a concern for the truth and for the nature of things.” Politics is the point of departure toward an understanding of the nature of the created order; at the same time, philosophy and religion alike must be cognizant of the limits or at least need for prudence that are placed upon that examination of the whole, given the necessity of the human community that encourages and even makes possible their examinations.

McWilliams expressed this tension at the heart of “political philosophy” with simple eloquence on the occasion of his reception of the 1989 John Witherspoon Award from the New Jersey Committee for the Humanities.

I think that Plato was right: at bottom, human beings are yearning animals, who want more than is simply or narrowly human. They want perfect things, answers to great riddles, beauty that endures, Being that is now and always, justice without fault or error. But if we seek the perfect in things, persons or governments of this world, we will be disappointed – and worse, we will fail to appreciate their decencies and real achievements. We need the critical comparison and argument between high things and our lower striving, between Socrates who is human and our own incomplete humanity. Even the most successful practice does not make perfect though it does make better; but we cannot recognize what is better without some inkling of what is best.

Thus, for McWilliams, politics ultimately points beyond itself. Politics is a means to a further end, the appreciation of the whole and of the truth that we are necessarily always only partly able to grasp. Politics is thus the inescapable condition of human creatures, a sphere of education about our true selves that give us dignity and meaning. It is to be informed by the goal of seeking the common good of our fellows and compatriots – through the medium of citizenship – but finally it must be aware of its own limits and shortcomings, pointing beyond any of those commitments to a whole that exceeds our earthly grasp. In this, McWilliams was finally a partisan of philosophy and religion, the highest pursuits nevertheless always moderated by the real experience and essential reality of political life, that condition of being human among humans. He sought to ennoble and chasten, pointing us simultaneously to the high aspirations of the true and eternal things and to the earthy reality of our diurnal political existence. And so – as the chapters of this book demonstrate – he was a passionate student of the great thinkers and a lover of the rough-and-tumble, a singular combination of philosopher and politico with a bit of saint and rapscallion mixed together. These essays are a partial testimony to the breadth and scope of his vision, to a deep and profound learning that will awe and humble, and to the wisdom of a lover of political and human things. This book will at least will serve as a reminder of that man admired and missed by many, and as an introduction to those who have come too late to enjoy his capacious laughter and embraces.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Win

Pay up, Hayward.

(Original gauntlet here).

Hayward's prediction: oil at or below $75/barrel on June 2, 2011.

Todays' closing price: $100.29/bbl. Don't worry, it will go higher still.

I'd love a hardbound copy of Carroll Quigley's classic The Evolution of Civilizations. He was a famed Georgetown professor - an achievement worthy of aspiration. He should also be remembered for decrying Georgetown's path to self-immolation in its frantic efforts to throw off its grounding in Catholicism in favor of academic fashion - already back in 1967. Prescient. If he could see us now...

You can have it sent to:

Department of Government
Georgetown University
37th and O Sts, NW.
Washington, DC 20057

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Future of American Democracy

This week I have been lecturing at the Ignatianum Academy in Krakow, Poland. It has been a marvelous experience thus far, including time spent in the classroom with bright students, as well as evenings spent dining with wonderful new and old friends in this beautiful city.

Last night I was invited to deliver a public lecture on the subject of "The Future of Democracy in America." While I don't break any new ground here (well, I never really break new ground - I just go over ground that seems less trodden these days), the talk was well-received, and I post it here for those who may be interested.


The Future of American Democracy
Ignatianum Academy
Krakow, Poland
May 25, 2011

I am very grateful to be with you tonight, and deeply honored by your presence. I have been deeply moved by this ancient city, with its rich history, its tragedies and its triumphs, its stunning beauty, and particularly by the piety of its people. To see the churches here in the heart of Europe filled with worshippers, and the many signs of Poland’s special devotion to the Virgin Mother and the great joy that has accompanied the beatification of the Blessed Pope John Paul II, has been very hope-giving.

I have been invited to speak to you about the “future of democracy in America,” a daunting topic, and one that may deserve a question mark at the end of the title. There are, of course, many particular issues pertaining to contemporary politics that must be of interest to you – particularly in light of an impending visit by President Obama to your country at week's end, and the increased discussions of another upcoming election for the Presidency. I expect I may disappoint some of you by failing to address some of these pressing questions of the day – but you are to blame for inviting a political philosopher to speak to you, rather than a journalist. I would like rather to discuss some questions that pertain to the nature of democracy itself, and to ask whether even today America is “democratic” in certain important respects. I am fearful that it may becoming less democratic every passing day – as I understand that word – which is why I suggest that a question mark is needed at the end of the title of my remarks, “The Future of Democracy in America?”

Let me begin at the beginning – with Aristotle, of course. In Book 6 of his great work, The Politics, we find the only time he describes the principle of democracy to be liberty, and provides two understandings of liberty by which democracies can be guided. The first way in which liberty can be manifested in democracy echoes Aristotle’s consistent definition of citizenship, which he describes numerous times in the Politics as “ruling and being ruled in turn.” By this definition, liberty is a form of self-rule, the sharing in rule by citizens in which one is ruled by laws that are self-made. This is a special definition of liberty, calling upon the widespread presence of virtues that are required by self-government, including moderation, prudence, and justice. To be “ruled and be ruled in turn” is also to live in understanding of Aristotle’s great and hard teaching, that “man is by nature a political animal,” that we are only fully human when we live in political communities in which we learn to govern our basest impulses and aspire to attain our human telos, our end, to the greatest extent possible. By this definition, democracy is the most idealistic regime of all, the one that aspires to the greatest possible extension of virtue to all citizens; but, by this same definition, it is also most demanding and perhaps least achievable, since it requires a special set of circumstances, above all a special kind of schooling in citizenship, that permit the widespread flourishing of the arts and practice of self-government.

The other way in which the principle of liberty manifests itself is what Aristotle describes as the ability “to live as one likes,” for, he notes that some democrats say that it is preferable “to be ruled by none, or if this is impossible, to be ruled and rule in turn.” Outwardly this form of liberty can look the same as the first version of democracy – for, it involves the appearance of ruling and being ruled in turn. But its principle of liberty is not based upon the embrace of self-rule, especially citizenship, as the essence of liberty, but instead the acceptance of the appearance of rule as a second-best option. Aristotle describes a situation in which, by this second understanding of liberty, our deepest desire is to “live as one likes,” which, for the ancients, is the very definition of tyranny. However, realizing that no one of us can achieve the condition of all-powerful tyrant, we agree instead to the second-best option of living under democratic forms. In such a condition, we outwardly exhibit the appearance of citizenship, but such democrats harbor a deeper desire to “live as one likes.” Such democrats have the souls of tyrants.

Aristotle’s distinction is worth keeping in mind, because today most democracies are liberal democracies, and thus, have the principle of liberty at their heart. However, liberal democracies are often content to fudge the difference between the two definitions, and often implicitly accept the second definition of liberty to be fundamental. America is a nation that is a perfect portrait of the tension between these two definitions. It was founded first by Puritans who articulated almost verbatim Aristotle’s first definition of liberty. This was the founding of America so admired by Alexis de Tocqueville during his visit to the United States in the early 1800’s, who in Chapter 2 of the first volume of Democracy in America quoted these lines from one of America’s earliest Puritan intellectuals, Cotton Mather:

I would not have you mistake your understanding of liberty. There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is affected both by men and beasts, to do as they want. This liberty is inconsistent with authority and impatient of all restraint. This liberty is the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But there is another form of liberty, a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end of all authority. It is the liberty for that only which is just and good, and for this idea of liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives. (I.ii.42).

Tocqueville noted that this understanding of liberty informed the practices of the citizens in the townships of New England, even long after the dissolution of the closed and confining Puritan communities of the 1600s. By the time Tocqueville visited America, he witnessed this kind of liberty – the practice of “ruling and being ruled in turn” – in vibrant forms of local self-governance throughout New England. He wrote that what he saw there was an admirable combination of “the spirit of liberty” and “the spirit of religion,” one in which the spirit of liberty was moderated by the truth of our condition under God, and in which religion supported the practices of political liberty. Tocqueville admired especially the spirit of common good that pervaded the New England townships and the rich fabric of associations that populated civil society. He praised these forms of “local freedom” and especially the educative force of active civic engagement which, he wrote, drew people “from the midst of their individual interests, and from time to time, torn away from the sight of themselves.” Through what he called “the arts of association,” citizens were “brought closer to one another, despite the instincts that separate them, and brought them to aid each other.” He called the local townships and associations “the great schools” of democracy, inculcating a spirit of healthy democratic orientation toward a common good. Through civic life – that ancient practice of “ruling and being ruled in turn” – Tocqueville observed that democratic citizens “learn to submit their will to that of all the others and to subordinate their particular efforts to the common action." Through the activity of political life, he wrote, “the heart is enlarged.”

If America was founded according to a spirit of liberty that encouraged the practice of Aristotle’s first understanding of democracy, centered especially on the practice of self-government among citizens, America also had a subsequent Founding in which the second understanding of liberty dominated. This is the Founding that drew especially upon the understanding of the social contract philosophy of John Locke, and informs the core documents of the American government such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. According to Locke, by nature human beings are born free into a State of Nature in which law and government are absent. Our natural condition is one of complete freedom and lawlessness, and only in order to escape the “inconveniences” of the State of Nature do we form a contract and abridge our natural freedom. To live under government and law is a second-best option: the first best option would be for everyone else to abide by the terms of the social contract while I would be free to transgress against those terms. But, being informed by reason as well as constrained by law, we abide by the terms of the contract in spite of our inner desire to “live as we like.”

By this Lockeian understanding, government exists only to secure our rights and to advance our individual freedom. It does not seek to foster conditions in which our souls are educated in self-government, and thus Locke – following Hobbes – rejects the ancient idea that there is a summum bonum or a finis ultimus. We are authorized to define our own conception of the good (or to reject the idea of any such conception), and the role and purpose of government is to provide the conditions, as far as possible within the bounds of civil peace, that allow the full flourishing of individual freedom. Thus, while law is most fundamentally an unnatural imposition on our natural freedom, increasingly under such a government, the law will be increasingly oriented to expanding the sphere of personal liberty. Citizenship as a practice of self-rule is replaced by a definition of democracy dominated by a belief in personal freedom and autonomy. The only shared belief is that individual freedom should be expanded to the greatest extent possible, and government becomes charged with providing the conditions for that expansion.

Unsurprisingly, there is a tension if not outright contradiction between these two understandings of liberty. For the first, liberty to “live as one likes” is a contradiction to the idea of liberty in conformity with a conception of the human good. Its libertarian leanings, stressing the choices of individuals, proves destructive to the institutions and practices that are essential to an education in ordered liberty. The second understanding of liberty understands the first to be illiberal, based upon a conception of human good that confines the liberty of individuals to choose their own life-style. It demands liberation from the confines of restraining customs and laws, arguing that individuals should have the fullest freedom possible to chart their own life path. Yet, as contradictory as these two understandings of liberty are, they have both deeply informed the American self-understanding. They combined in a powerful coalition during the Cold War especially, presenting a common front against the collectivism and atheism of Communism, which they both opposed for different reasons. They have co-existed, if uneasily, for much of American history, perhaps in even salutary ways restraining the excesses of the one while correcting the other’s deficiencies. But, much evidence today suggests that they are undergoing a long-term divorce.

II. The Great Divorce

What Tocqueville describes in Democracy in America is the co-existence of these two forms of liberty, but predicts a slow but steady advance of the second understanding of liberty – “the live as one likes”- in place of the first, “ruling and being ruled in turn.” If he sees great evidence of civic practices in America of the 1830s, he also detects tendencies in democracy that will incline it, over the long term, toward an understanding of liberty in which people will seek to “live as they like.” He predicts the rise of individualism and the decline of civic engagement and mutual responsibility for the fate of fellow citizens, and, as a consequence, foresees the rise of a centralizing State that will take on many of the functions and duties that would once have been part of local practice. Many recent studies of American civic life seem to confirm Tocqueville’s prescient conclusions. Studies ranging from books such as Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart to more recent books on civic participation and American religion by Robert Putnam confirm that Americans have become more individualistic and self-oriented over time. At the same time, Americans have become less prone to be engaged in the activities of civic life and regard such activities to be interferences on their individual freedom. By one measure then, we are “more democratic” – more free to pursue our individual ends. By another measure, we are less democratic, less apt not only to participate in civic life, but less willing to entertain the idea of a common good and to moderate our self-interest in the spirit of common weal. There are fewer and fewer informal spaces in which the civic art of “ruling and being ruled in turn” can be trained and exercised. And, as Aristotle would observe, without practice, civic virtues will atrophy and weaken.

Tocqueville also warns Americans that they are self-deceived if they believe that democracy can survive if it defines itself in an increasingly exclusive way as “living as one likes.” Americans, he suggests, come to take for granted their inheritance of practices and institutions in which the civic arts can be learned and exercised. However, without consciously attending to their continuation, over time they will be weakened and abandoned in favor of individualism and “living as one likes.” Today we see growing evidence of weakening relationships and ties throughout American society, from bonds of community and neighborhood, to the ties of family life, to declining religious adherence. Many of those ties are today discarded or abandoned in the belief that they restrain individual freedom, but what is neglected is the way that their presence has been the necessary training ground on which the arts of civic self-rule were learned. Their abandonment – in the name of democratic freedom – today imperils democracy itself. In the name of individual freedom, we increasingly abandon the aspiration of self-rule.

For this reason, Americans must be confronted with a difficult question: is it possible that its victory in the Cold War over the great threat of Collectivism may yet prove to be a pyhrric victory, if it be the case only two decades later we see growing signs that American society is no longer capable of self-government? Was the health of liberal democracy over-stated in comparison to its vicious 20th-century ideological rivals, with its own inherent weaknesses today coming more fully into view? I believe the great challenges now facing the United States – economic, political, social and otherwise – are more than merely a passing crisis, but are manifestations of this deeper question whether a democracy based upon the ideal of “living as one likes” can survive. Evidence of the ruins of this belief are all around us. In our financial crisis we see the evidence of a set of behaviors in which greed and self-interest dominated a concern for the common weal. In our current debt crisis we see evidence of the way in which our obligations to future generations have been traded for today’s comforts. In our growing partisan divide we see the expression of raw interest that neglects our greater civic obligation to seek out the common good. In our high levels of divorce and the practices of serial monogamy, we see evidence of a self-serving definition of our most central relationships. In our massive over-consumption of resources we see evidence of selfishness that neglects the consequences of our actions upon the globe and upon future generations. I could go on.

III. The Parties Today

What would fascinate Tocqueville the most about America today is not only the evidence of the truth of his predictions, but how there persists at least a residue of the older understanding that democracy requires for us to “rule and be ruled in turn.” In our two political parties we see evidence of both definitions of democracy, the on-going presence of the internal contradiction that has been present in America from its earliest moments. In our Democratic Party – the party of President Obama – there are two simultaneous tendencies. There is, on the one hand, the belief that concerning lifestyle choices – especially regarding matters of human sexuality – there should be no limits upon personal and individual autonomy. This Party especially has become the party that defends nearly unlimited access to abortions, as well as advancing a re-definition of marriage away from its grounding upon the union of one-man – one woman. This Party denounces and even ridicules arguments about the need to promote the traditional values that sustain family life and a culture of modesty and self-restraint. At the same time, this Party also calls for restraints upon the Market, arguing that free markets encourage the vices of greed, produce indefensible forms of inequality, and lead to the degradation of the environment. In a speech given two years ago at Georgetown University, President Obama cited the gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 24-28, calling for America and the globe to build the economy not upon sand, but upon rock that could withstand the rains and floods. When it comes to economics and the environment, the Democratic Party cites the Bible to encourage an embrace of morality, but in personal choices of lifestyle, the Bible's admonitions are wholly rejected.

Alternatively, our Republican Party – which in recent elections took over the lower house of Congress – defends personal morality, particularly pertaining to family life and sexual matters. The Republican party has opposed the license to obtain abortions without limit, and has tirelessly sought limitations upon its practice. For this reason, for many decades many Catholics switched their historic allegiance from the Democratic Party to the Republicans, though their vote has recently tended to be closely divided. The Republican party has promoted policies that they argue support “family values,” including encouraging the support of traditional marriage, encouraging the formation and maintenance of families, and seeking policies that favor a moralization of society. At the same time, they have tirelessly defended an unfettered free market system that places greed, acquisitiveness and materialism at the heart of its endeavors, that encourages hedonism and the sexualization of our popular culture, and which has produced titanic levels of material inequality in our nation.

I think it is fair to say that at the heart of each of these parties is a self-contradiction, an incoherence at least in theory. However, I would argue, too, that this contradiction has tended to be resolved in practice in favor of that form of liberty that promotes a culture of “living as one likes.” While the Republican Party has been successful in promoting a free market system, they have not been very successful in their encouragement of their program in “family values.” And, while Democrats have been successful in advancing the cause of freedom in personal lifestyle choice, they have been less successful in advancing a moralization of the economic system. In each case, the “Lockeian” part of their agenda has undermined the “Aristotelian” part of their platform. And, in practice, the Republican promotion of unbridled free markets has led to the undermining of family stability, while the Democratic promotion of unbridled personal freedom has encouraged a broader hedonism that informs our economic lives. To “live as we like” increasingly undermines the institutions and practices that train us to “rule and be ruled in turn.”

On this point, I believe Poland can be of great assistance to the future of democracy in America and the world. For, at the end of the twentieth-century, it was leaders in the Solidarity movement and Pope John Paul II who articulated the argument that the true choice facing the world was not between collectivism, on the one hand, and radical individualism, on the other, but between a true and false understanding of the human anthropology – human nature. This is a false dichotomy that Americans have come to accept over the years, even though neither party fully accepts the terms of the debate. America remains imperfectly a nation of Lockeians, tending as the years pass to dissolve the institutions and practices that chasten the tendency to “live as one likes” and promote the practice of “ruling and being ruled in turn,” showing evidence of becoming more individualistic in our practice with each passing year. The future of democracy, in America and everywhere, depends on correcting this tendency toward a flawed definition of democracy, and re-learning the ancient art of “ruling and being ruled in turn.”