Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Empire of Consent

Well, I thought I’d introduce another passage from Manent’s A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS? to illustrate the concern that does or should separate the conservatives who favor mediated rights from the liberals who want rights derived immediately from the wholly abstracted or isolated individual. For conservatives, the freedom accorded by the proper understanding of the idea of rights is for performing one’s duties as a citizen, creature, parent, or child, and not an absolute "right of secession" from every tie to other human beings or to God:

The empire of consent spreads, the process of individualization intensifies, and thus the authority of different orders in which human beings hitherto found the meaning of their life--the nation, the family, the church--declines more and more each day. The nation is henceforth a community among others and no longer the community par excellence; the family is an optional, uncertain, and recomposed association; the church is the place where one tentatively looks for meaning, no longer where one recives it. The French and Catholic father of a family--the man who was defined by the communities to which he belonged--has become an individual in search of his identity.

Discussions - 8 Comments

The individual can still find meaning in the nation, the church, or the familly. If he so chooses. And the man is still defined by the communities to which he belongs...in a sense he is more so defined because it is more open to choice. Is the man a member of a chess club? It does not follow that he lives in a city with a chess club...he could live in Idaho and play chess with a gentleman from New York. A man’s geography matters less than ever...Fewer and fewer factors have the same necessity of meaning... But didn’t Ortega note a long time ago that we were shipwrecked? I prefer to think that we are simply unanchored which holds out both the possibility of shipwreck and the possibility of smooth sailing and discovery depending on how good you are at the wheel.

To what extent is this not an observation of what has already occured? Perhaps it has not occured universally...but then again probably nothing will occur universally where choice is free to form distinctions. There are certainly christian communities where religion is the meaning of life. There are communities where familly is the meaning of life. And I suppose there are communities where the nation is the meaning of life. And communities that combine the three...and communities that combine an ever greater multitude of concerns. All communities that do exist do not exist in spite of consent but because of it.

But in all serious how can one favor "mediated rights" or "the right of secession"(In other words is it a political battle or a metaphysical fact?) Abstractly, Freedom of the will is the "right of secession", predestination or determinism is akin to "mediated rights". You are born and as you grow the environmental conditions around you dictate to you your choices...you are born to a Muslim familly of 5, you are born in 1500 AD, you are born in Morrocco, for every factor about your situation that can be listed or conceived you are hemmed in to specific duties. You do your duty because living is hard enough without doing something that will make things harder...and you do your duty because you understand it...it is you, you embrace your identity as it is passed on to you.

Much to say, of course. Perhaps first by drawing attention to the full phrase, "empire of consent." Tocqueville spoke of "the empire of democracy." In large part what he meant was the sway (he uses the French word) that "the dogma of popular sovereignty" holds over "the nation," Jacksonian America. That dogma consisted in a fundamental principle and a specifically political derivation. The principle? Each individual has the intelligence from Nature and/or God to conduct himself alone/solely/on his own in the things that pertain to him solely or principally (parenthetical remark: see, even "back then" Enlightenment (Nature) and Protestantism (God) - not to mention enlightened Protestantism - fundamentally agreed even in the midst of in their disagreements about the "sources of self" or right. End parentheses.)

The political derivation? Popular sovereignty.

Tocqueville saw (and analyzed) an entire nation enveloped by these tenets, he saw them at work throughout the society - family, civil society, and in politics. In a way, it was "the law of law," informing not only legislation but mores. (He knew, of course, that other principles, some of them ’aristocratic remnants’, were also present and operative. But they had to contend with, they had to fit within, the dominant ideological framework - including Christianity!)

Now, Manent see this empire enveloping (Western) Europe and informing the process of the construction of the EU. What it means (in part) is that a certain anthropology - philosophical view of man or human being - is at work, claiming rights, demanding that institutions be reworked, e.g., marriage, to suit it.

One of the things that Manent adds is that the older notion of the sovereign individual articulated his demands and freedom in terms of the right to consent. But as other passages in A World beyond Politics? show, that anthropology has been ’deepened’: the sovereign individual is now cast as the autonomous individual. "Consent" now is even less tethered to nature, even more open, free, creative, willful, than ever before. This transformation is indicated and contained in the reference to "identity" in the last line. Man as such is (only) autonomy and historically/culturally/societally-applied "identities": once he sees that, though, he can move from imposed or thoughtlessly assume "identities" to personally chosen, and creatively adapted - or even, created - identities. I call it the "Anne Heche" phenomenon (even though I don’t know the deeper facts behind her remarkable ’lifestyle’ shifts from before-Ellen, to Ellen, to after Ellen.

Paul and John, Two excellent and instructively contrasting comments.
I’m mostly for what Paul says, although I’m going to have to do some research into Anne and Ellen.

I should add that I, too, found John’s comments (as usual) well said and helpful. In this case I just thought I should explain Manent’s thought a bit more.

Thank you Paul. I realize that I was ranting so I think you are generous. I still have to think about all of this a lot more. I should probably read Manent and re-read Tocqueville. But I was thinking in part of Jefferson and his argument for why true religion (and I think true belief, period) requires that the mind be unforced(is this true?)

I was also thinking of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and essentially how "mediated rights"(or social realities/duties pressures) form and mold our conceptions. And because I am in Iraq I have to wonder if the guy on the street is my enemy...and why? And I wonder all the time when I read this blog...and when I talk to people if there is any possibility of convincing someone of a proposition if they are already rooted(that is the Iraqi Sunni is quite likely to actually believe that his duty to God and his people involves killing me,and suppose for instance that his son, or grandson was collateral dammage...then his views of Duty to his God his nation and his familly conspire against our message and his willingness to believe it.) In what sense is "the right of sucession" itself a necessary right if we are even to begin speaking of freedom of consciousness itself?

In the west we have some pretty strange identity crises and I am not even sure we are compensated by being open to the truth...just perhaps more open than in Iraq. In Iraq the Nation (or the tribe) the familly structure and the Mosque are powerfull shapers of identity...and so I don’t have much of a problem in being able to see why some people think they have a "mediated right" to kill me. Even before things got a little worse here...I was worried about polls in the Arab Times showing an almost universal belief in Jihad as a fundamental right for all believers, even when a majority believed americans were good.

Especially because...well how do I put this... aren’t we trying to seperate them from their understanding of mediated rights? Aren’t we assulting the familly structure and undermining the Mosque? How do you explain this in terms other than the "right of secession"?

Lets put it another way... I don’t like Madonna but assuming she was free to put on a concert mocking the Prophet in Iran would we have as much reason to worry about Nukes?

Dear John (no, not in that meaning of the salutation),

I didn’t know you’re in Iraq. Best of luck. One of my good friends is returning in a couple of months for his second tour. On his first tour he brought with him Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and, I think, David Pryce-Jones’s The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs. Said he got a lot of mileage out of both.

You guys are pretty much in a state of nature, so any discussion of rights (mediated or otherwise) needs to be modulated.

I will say that even if Madonna could "perform" in Baghdad, there’d still be purportedly Muslim minds dreaming and scheming about the restoration of the Caliphate and scheming and spending on the international weapons black-market.

It hit me that I should explain: Manent’s talking about Europe, not America. We have our pockets of Europe here in America (including importantly in our current constitutional law - notice I did not say the current Court, which hopefully will roll-back some very bad Warren-Burger-Rehnquist Court decisions). The process of institutionalizing an endless list of individual rights and personal autonomy is in many, many regards further along in Europe than here in America. Although, as Mary Ann Glendon regularly reminds us, we have the most extreme pro-abortion regime of the Western industrial countries. And feminism is much more advanced here in the States. They (the French) can still say "Vive la difference" with a straight face and clear conscience. So, Peter & I (or at least, I) tend to use Europe as an object lesson - a display board - for where tendencies here at home could lead us.

"The process of institutionalizing an endless list of individual rights and personal autonomy is in many, many regards further along in Europe than here in America."

Do you really think so?(I don’t know much about either place)

I believe that ceteris paribus the more the economic and political system approaches pure Capitalism the more the empire of consent has spread. Because I believe that it is in essence the unfettered-market that removes "necessity of meaning".

Pure capitalism desires and works towards making everything maleable...making everything open to consent. I think of the empire of consent in terms of differences in the shear number of choices available to Jean Francois, France 2006 vs. Korku Mohamed 1500 Morrocco. But I think the American Mike Jones is ahead of Jean Francois in 2006, because we have less tradition and more capitalism(if you can even talk about such a ballance in terms of those two competing abstractions.)

So Mediated Rights vs. Abstract Rights. Determinism vs. Free Will. Tradition vs. Capitalism. Europe vs. America. German/French Enlightenment vs. English/Scottish Enlightenment. Continental philosophy vs. Analytic philosophy.

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