Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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A “Particular” Meaning

Moral and spiritual progress do not necessarily correspond with technological progress. While the direction of technological progress tends to be forward as it is refined over time, moral and spiritual progress may actually regress – sometimes as a consequence of the former. Consider the mere variety of distractions from a virtuous life that exist now as never before. Technology often removes consequences that helped to enforce better behaviors. A belief in self and self alone seems to be an unintended consequence of the democratic view of progress.

Whereas the democratic view of progress was a movement away from poverty and injustice, it has morphed into nothing more than movement toward “power and freedom.” Peter Augustine Lawler explains in this essay in the latest issue of Modern Age that power and freedom aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. Power and freedom are …

means to be understood as good or bad according to the ends they serve. Those “hows” are good to the extent they serve human-worthy “whys.”

Lawler goes on to explain that power and freedom are necessarily limited. We don’t have control over our mortality, for instance, we are finite. As long as this is the case, power and freedom don’t really change who we are as “beings born to know, love, and die.”

Technology really has no impact on that universal truth.

But the democratic view of progress glosses over this in spite of repeatedly unfulfilled promises of how technological progress will transform people into better and better versions of themselves. Too often those who espouse the Whig view of history confuse the two realms, assuming that progress in one area means progress in all areas.

Lawler does not deny the benefits of technological progress, or even those of orienting education toward producing a “meritocracy based on productivity that, in principle, is open to everyone that participates in the global competitive marketplace.” Thus this “techno-orientation” universalizes education into something common to all.  But at the same time it is focused upon “making it all about working for oneself, satisfying one’s own needs.” This, like power and freedom, is not necessarily a good or bad thing. However, it has had consequences.

It is education for a particular free or displaced individual, for someone who is from nowhere and belongs nowhere in particular.

How many on the left have laid claim to be citizens of the world? Isn’t that a citizen of nowhere in particular?

The techno-orientation of education has been a two-edged sword as Lawler explains,

Orienting our middle-class democracy toward the meritocracy based on productivity has helped us to think of ourselves less as members of races, classes, religions, “genders” (sexes), and (lately) sexual orientations. It has helped us think more truthfully and justly of all human beings as equal beings with natural rights. It doesn’t help us think of who we are as citizens or creatures or parents or children or friends or neighbors.

In other words, we are steadily dissolving the connections between people and have begun to think of ourselves as singular disconnected beings. Such beings are not constrained by antiquated conceptions of morality, or even by such quaint notions as biology defining one’s gender. This has been encouraged by the courts in ever broadening definitions of the meaning of personal liberty.

In our time, a newly comprehensive or extreme view of that individual liberty is undermining particular relational institutions. More than ever, we believe that the free person can’t be defined by being part of some relational whole. We’re having a hard time remembering the difference between being impersonal and expendable parts of the collectivist wholes of the fascists and the communists and being relational, personal parts of countries and churches and even marriages.

It is “particular” relationships, with families, churches and communities where things like virtue come into play. For it is here that we remember that we are not disconnected creatures, but part of something bigger than ourselves. We are not autonomous, all-powerful, or omniscient. We are indeed “beings born to know, love, and die.” There is a difference between being an expendable component of the global marketplace, to be discarded when no longer productive, and having an intrinsic value instilled by God. And there is equally a difference between an isolated, autonomous individual and being part of the community of human beings through “particular” relationships that demonstrate the universality of human existence. But to accept this implies a recognition of human limitations, a sense of humility and place in the universe. This is what cannot be tolerated and behind the steadily escalating attacks on the church.

Lawler puts himself in the shoes of the church and argues,

The court has already judged that every effort to privilege “traditional” or opposite-sex marriage is driven by an irrational animosity destructive of individual rights.

Suddenly, anyone who holds such beliefs is branded a bigot, racist, or at best outmoded.

Ironically, the political correctness that mandates such views in the name of personal liberty does not extend to intellectual liberty. Diversity, while seemingly the highest good to which we can aspire, is not permitted in intellectual discourse.

Today’s political correctness limits intellectual liberty to “discourse” within the prevailing view of individual liberty. Just as we used to tolerate diverse views on racial segregation but do so no longer, we used to tolerate diverse views on same-sex marriage, but do so no longer. Moral and intellectual diversity is trumped by “diversity” as a judicial/bureaucratic project. Diversity is official “multicultural diversity,” but it’s really about freeing individuals everywhere from the authority of particular cultural and political norms over personal behavior. So, as conservatives routinely and rightly note, the word diversity has morphed into pure mendacity. It is [sic] involves clamping down on the diversity of opinion about the fundamental human issues that have separated us into a variety of cultures or “regimes.”

This attack on culture is unfortunate, for according to an essay by Robert P. Kraynak, in the same issue of Modern Age, cultural tradition is one of the four components of the Founders’ idea of ordered liberty. While Lawler explains the American founding in terms of the tension between Puritanical influence and personal liberty, Kraynak lists republicanism, natural law, cultural traditions, and constitutionalism as the elements of a new political ideal. That idea is that Americans have the moral maturity to responsibly governing themselves.

The implication is that liberty was embedded in cultural traditions that gave it higher and nobler purposes than mere self-expression or the values of a consumer-entertainment society. The American Founders assumed that such customs and traditions would provide a set of moral virtues for the exercise of responsible liberty by citizens and leaders.

When we decouple liberty from responsibility the center no longer holds. While in Kraynak’s words, “… an objective moral law inscribed in nature and human nature by the Creator…explains why such a life is just and accords with the moral order of the universe.,” cultural traditions extend “… the idea of moral order to social practices.” This is, in fact the glue that holds society together. Without it, it is every man for himself.


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