Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Jim Ceaser on blue vs. red

Jim Ceaser is one of our best commentators linking theory and practice in American politics. If you haven’t read Reconstructing America, The Perfect Tie, or Red Over Blue (the latter two with Andrew Busch), you simply must. His latest is Nature and History in American Political Development: A Debate, which I just ordered via the Ashbrook site.

You can find what appears to be a summary of that book’s argument in this essay (a 25 page pdf), which is the "framing essay" for this conference. The essay ranges widely over the American political spectrum, offering incisive commentary on tendencies and theories on both the Left and Right. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

The non-foundationalist position represents a utopian experiment that has as yet no basis in real political science. Nothing in experience suggests it could ever work, at least for a nation that is tasked with performing an important role on the stage of world history. Without a foundational principle, even more without the moral energy that derives from a concern for foundational principle, a community cannot exist in a deep or meaningful sense. And without this energy, a community would be unable to extract from its members the added measure of devotion and resolve that are needed for its survival and for undertaking any important projects. What is involved, ultimately, in the shift to non-foundationalism is an evacuation of what makes a nation. When the illusion of a genuine nation existing without foundations is finally acknowledged--if it is acknowledged--political life will return to the real political question: which is not whether to have a foundation, but rather, which one(s) to embrace and in what mixture. This conclusion only gets us back to where sensible political life begins, which is finding foundational remedies to the problem most incident to foundational thinking. On that ground, and on that ground alone, let the polarization continue.

Read the whole thing.   

Discussions - 4 Comments

Joe is right to pull you toward Ceasar. I mentioned his new book here.

And I’m plugging away at my review of it for SOCIETY.

That’s a very subtle and brilliant paper by JWC. Still, the phrase "foundational principle" rubs me the same way as "faith tradition."

Thanks for the link to the JWC paper. What a witty beginning, recounting the trip from Charlottesville to DC! And at the end, unlike his rather confined- by-scholarly limitations book Nature and History in American Political Development he declares: let the public debate over foundations (including anti-foundationalism(s)) begin! He perceptively and wittily noted that the anti-foundationalists tend not to want the wider public to know what their "position" (sic) is.

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