Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

What is to be done?

So asks Patrick D. Do when fight cultural decay (hopefully, but not optimistically), or do we withdraw into our monasteries? Time was, we could expect universities to be part of the solution....

Discussions - 11 Comments

Mr. Deneen writes: "I strive to give an answer that merely echoes Lasch - that not optimism, but perhaps hope, is warranted."

The answer lies in what - or, more to the point, who -- one choose to invest one's hope in.

The problem with our culture today is that our hope is placed in ourselves. Throughout history that has proven to be a poor and unreliable source of hope.

I'm reminded of what may be the primary "big picture" message of the Bible -- our hope and trust is best placed in God. Anything else simply leads to bad things.

That trust in God really has nothing to do with specific points of doctrine, or specific religious rituals. It's really more a question of the inclination of our heart and the subordination of our will.

Sadly, in today's world we've defined the highest form of human expression as being able to do with heart and will whatever we please. And we wonder why the culture decays.

I'd liked this particular post by Dr. Pat very much. He laid more of his cards on the table than is normally the case. I can't help but think that his Carey MacWilliams-inspired view of the Constitution (and Publius) blinds him to certain things that can -- and should and must -- be done: teach proper constitutionalism. In Peter Lawler's formula, instruct any and all why Roe was wrongly decided. In mine: critique "privacy and autonomy" jurisprudence. That's a political-cultural need that all we polisci (and fellow-travelling) folks can assume, isn't it?

Paul, while I can appreciate the value of properly taught constitutionalism, I doubt that's the whole of the issue. For instance, even if Roe were overturned -- or if it had never been decided -- there'd still be abortions (though perhaps not as many), and there'd still be plenty of other social ills.

Don, thanks for the temperateness of your reply. I, of course, know that getting rid of liberal progressive privacy-autonomy jurisprudence wouldn't cure all that ails us; and I even know that "getting rid" of it is in an absolute sense, preposterous. But names like "Roberts" and "Alito" make a significant adjustment in our jurisprudence somewhat possible. In any event, we polisci folks (and con lawyers et cetera) can teach our students the unconstitutionality (as well as intellectual-and-moral bogusness) of contemporary privacy-autonomy. In my modest post ("among them") I was more narrowly responding to Dr. Pat's tendency to see next to nothing to be done at the national political level (except for encouraging courageous politicians to tell us to curb our hubristic and self-destructive consummerist consumption patterns). Culture-folk often tend to denigrate and despair of "the political" at the larger and higher levels, in favor of their localism. I refuse to do so. They often don't see the goodness of bigness and the virtues of soaring ambition.

Dr. Pat does need the correction of Dr. Paul, and Dr. Paul need to get to Huck to get him to focus on ROE. I say this, in part, because I really think Huck is a player now. He and McCain were the only authentic guys in the bizarre You Tube debate. Rudy and Mitt were terrible. I may be bold enough to write later today about my new idea of a Huck-McCain ticket. (Hard to know right now who should be on top.)

Well the drubbing by poker players never occured or else it was never measured as such. That said I do agree with Murray. I am that sort of libertarian, and a semi-pro poker player to boot. The government has cracked down on online poker and continues to do so all the while advocating for the lottery. For a catholic to attack Murray's argument is somewhat shortsided in the details...Catholic churches condone bingo a game without skill or positive expectations...played by old ladies who are seeking some form of fellowship while being bilked. Poker is a game of virtu in the machiavellian sense opposed to fortuna. A game of skill and thus not gambling. Bingo is gambling(reliance on fortuna) except that the sums involved are rarely significant. Poker is a game that has infected Harvard...it is the game of the american west...stripped of blatant cheating to become a game that represents and rewards virtu in the machiavellian sense.

If Law should establish a moral code that influences the culture then that moral code should be virtue in the machiavellian sense in opposition of fortuna. Gambling and games of chance such as the lottery, bingo and slots should be attacked...they preach that one can become rich without merit, and strive to grant the unearned. No action can be justified that does not have rationally defined positive expectations. Dr. Pat should strive to remove bingo from the church as a first step.

Politicians should campaign to end state lotteries. Only games of skill/virtu should survive.

Contra Don in AZ proper Machiavellian Republicanism is based on investing hope in ones self. It is all about accenting virtue and minimizing fortuna.

Thus the real travesty inherent in Murray's argument was that the government was cracking down on a game of virtu while reaping profit from the fools it encourages to play the immoral lottery(fortuna).

In other words I want to raise Ayn Rand/Machiavelli/Locke in an opposition to Lasch. Is the problem autonomy? Is the problem that we have overemphasized virtu in the machiavellian sense over and against fortuna? Is the culture really decaying because we have overemphasized the capacity for virtu? Is it not rather the case that the culture may be decaying for the opposite reasons?

"Thus society is weakened every time a law is passed that large numbers of reasonable, responsible citizens think is stupid. Such laws invite good citizens to choose knowingly to break the law, confident that they are doing nothing morally wrong." This is true.

The way to fight cultural decay is to advance an argument that becomes entrenched and widely held...of course if you advance a certain way of looking at the world then the dominant idea you supplant will see the new perspective as the embodyment of cultural decay. Thus it is probable that in arguing for a theater in Geneva the cultural decay will be when people come to see theater as cultural health, and lack of appreciation for theater/music as a sign of moral decay. Rousseau arguing against theater and music in Geneva is opposed to the perspective that would have a crisis in such musical/theatrical appreciation be moral decay. The anti-smoking establishment has gainned tremendously, the final unquestionable grounds of argument is that smoking is lethal and that second hand smoke kills. Ultimately virtue will come to dominate the law in this case and we will see that more and more places will ban smoking. Smokers will still smoke in contempt...they will disagree with the grounds of the new virtue...but eventually anti-smoking laws and sin taxes will diminish the number of people who smoke. Thus we will have progress for those who oppose smoking while those who disagree with the moral argument behind banning smoking will see this as cultural decay. If we are living in an age of cultural decay we are also living in an age that is enthralled with moralistic quests...Cultural decay is really to a certain degree simply the decay of a set of arguments about the good, and the emmergence of a replacement. We look at prisons and we say these folks have it too easy...so we vote for those who are "hardcore" on crime. Then we argue that people are being released from jail in no shape to re-enter society...so we argue for more rehabilitation...but more rehabilitation makes prisons look like community colleges so we accentuate being "hardcore". Just as we vacillate between extremes in the philosophy of incarceration so we fumble around with all ideas, at times accentuating a particular premise to the exclusion of others and other times reversing the standard. The problem is that it is almost impossible to control for all variables and even if it were we would still have disagreements over hierarchy. In fact politics is following Aristotle something of a discussion about heirarchy. That cultural decay exists relative to a static philosophical standard hierarchy is undeniable and necessary in a regime where no one is really of the same mind on all questions.

The law reflects culture and culture reflects what people think is reasonable. Everything is open to progress and decay...if a position is no longer seen as a reasonable it is discarded and a new argument takes its place. The law influences culture in so far as the law provides a rational argument accepted by the culture. Invariably we cannot have cultural progress without cultural decay. The whole is only greater than the sum of its parts from the perspective of a particular part with the exclusion of itself accounted for. From the perspective of a particular part the whole is always a corruption of that part.

In any case we have 300 million people running around in america to varying degrees concerned with with cultural decay and pet moralistic quests...all 300 million oppose the "status quo" to one degree or another...and yet they collectively support/compromise the status quo. Only the rarest of Hegelians who see the unfolding of the Begriff in the status quo itself support it for its own sake.

John Lewis wrote: "Contra Don in AZ proper Machiavellian Republicanism is based on investing hope in ones self. It is all about accenting virtue and minimizing fortuna."

I wasn't thinking of "Machiavellian Republicanism" when I wrote my comment. I was referring more to the central theme of the Bible, which is a fundamental trust and reliance on God. I don't expect everyone to agree with that. But that is the central theme of the Bible.

It is, of course, possible to go through life without relying on God, and to be "successful" at it. But when a society disengages, it starts to drift. The "cultural decay" referred to in the original article is a wide spread thing, having to do with far more than merely constitutionalism or republicanism. It is, I assert, because we are, increasingly, relying on ourselves. God will let us do that. But then we're on our own; He won't help us. And the results are what you see.

I am quite aware that you didn't mean that. What I mean to say is that there are a lot of people who agree with you, and a lot of people who disagree with you. To an atheist relying on God is the same thing as relying on luck or fortune. Ayn Rand would be irrate. Some people might say that even addopting a semi-Hegelian perspective as I do in comment 8 is reliance upon fortune/God. Indeed for me reliance upon God is reliance upon Hegel, a hope that God works in history in mysterious ways unknown to us but by the grace of the holy spirit or the universal spirit. That just as Adam Smith discovered an invisible hand in economics, so to there exists an invisible hand/dialectic guiding man towards Enlightenment and progress.

"God will let us do that. But then we're on our own; He won't help us. And the results are what you see." Well I don't know if I like the idea that if we just follow God he will automatically help us...sounds like an idea abused by televangelists...send $50 to me and by the grace of God you will be rewarded 10 fold. I am in other words quite skeptical about what following God as a society would mean practically. What is the begriff of such a utopia? In particular I am skeptical of what abdicating reason would mean. In my world people have deeply held beliefs that they can't just shrugg off for the sake of convenience, they have to come to see inconsistencies as important enough to do something about them.

Also if "the results are what you see" then I am deeply skeptical of assinging particular causes to them... american society after all is comprised of people like yourself as well as people from other spectrums. The problem might be that everyone has developed networks of various reasons for the results that they see. So everyone goes about assigning blame to different groups for different reasons. Everyone sees slightly different moral decay. I myself am seemingly trapped in at least two different Hegelian dialectics.

I might agree with you Don that our society is really disengaged from the christian God and is drifting...but then again I believe in a sort of Hegelian American Exceptionalism...my problem is that I can't simply attribute praise and blame quite so narrowly as various logically consistent ideological narratives would have it. The virtues and vices of america are not so neatly compartmentalized. America is the greatest nation on earth, it is perhaps because so many people are so adament at attacking its vices and seeking progress. No matter how comprehensive your worldview, you still must submit particular suggestions. A lot of what we think of as cultural decay is just the void between our idealized values and the begriff of policy. Cultural decay is what lies between us and utopia.

John, I wish I were capable of following all the philosophical references, but I'm not. I admire those who are capable of understanding it, but to be honest I don't believe it to be relevant to the point I was making.

Long before Hegel, long before Machiavelli, long before Aristotle or Plato, God was. God's nature -- whatever that may be; truly I'm not trying to assert my vision of any specifics -- is not dependent on how any of those people defined him. God was and is, regardless of what of what we might say or think about Him.

That right there is probably a sticking point. God has become, to many, merely a concept ... a derivation of our hopes and wishes. What I am asserting is that if God exists, he exists beyond our ability to define or shape Him.

Few people today who say they trust in God truly do. I do not. But I have seen glimpses of people who do. And it is a striking thing. And they'll be the first to say they accomplish their humility and gentleness not by striving to be that way, but by learning (it is not instantaneous) to set aside their reliance on themselves and increasingly submitting themselves to guidance and rule by God. To a person they say that.

Britney Spears is a complete mess. She speaks of "God," but she has not -- as evidenced by her behavior -- really grasped the reality of God and his present Kingdom on earth. Paris Hilton spoke of "God" while in jail, and has quickly abandoned it now that she's out. She too has not embraced the reality of God and his active Kingdom. Please, set aside pretty much everything you see in today's society relative to "God" because nearly all of it is self-serving idolatry.

The "decay" of our society is, as I assert, because we are increasingly drifting from even a tenuous reliance on God. Time was, not too many years ago, we acknowledged "right" and "wrong" and at least tried to do right. Now many will not even acknowledge there is such a thing as right or wrong.

Things such as "right" and "wrong" and "Truth" come from a self-existent God. Absent that essential concept, we are adrift. The evidence of that is all about us.

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