Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Progress or Return (you guessed it)

As I continue to mull over the good, the bad, and the ugly in Obama’s victory speech, I realled Leo Strauss’s excellent reflections upon what he called "Progress or Return." A sophisticated argument that this blog will certainly not do justice to: nevertheless, given Obama’s constant reference to "defining moments," "our time," and most of all "CHANGE," here’s what Strauss said on the subject of progress:

When the prophets call their people to account, they do not limit themselves to accusing them of this or that particular crime or sin. They recognize the root of all particular crimes in the fact that the people have forsaken their God. They accuse their people of rebellion. Originally, in the past, they were faithful or loyal; now they are in a state of rebellion. In the future they will return, and God will restore them to their original place. The primary, the original or initial, is loyalty; unfaithfulness, infidelity, is secondary. The very notion of unfaithfulness or infidelity presupposes that fidelity or loyalty is primary. The perfect character of the origin is a condition of sin—of the thought of sin. Man who understands himself in this way longs for the perfection of the origin, or of the classic past. He suffers from the present; he hopes for the future.

Progressive man, on the other hand, looks back to a most imperfect beginning. The beginning is barbarism, stupidity, rudeness, extreme scarcity. Progressive man does not feel that he has lost something of great, not to say infinite, importance; he has lost only his chains. He does not suffer from the recollection of the past. Looking back to the past, he is proud of his achievements; he is certain of the superiority of the present to the past. He is not satisfied with the present; he looks to future progress. But he does not merely hope or pray for a better future; he thinks that he can bring it about by his own effort. Seeking perfection in a future which is in no sense the beginning or the restoration of the beginning, he lives unqualifiedly toward the future. The life which understands itself as a life of loyalty or faithfulness appears to him as backward, as being under the spell of old prejudices. What the others call rebellion, he calls revolution or liberation. To the polarity faithfulness—rebellion, he opposes the polarity prejudice—freedom.

Discussions - 2 Comments

Quoting Strauss and Reagan just ain't gonna get it done anymore. It already feels like ancient history that anyone paid any intellectual attention to it in the first place. You need some new moves in the neocon playbook.

No one is suggesting, certainly not I, that a mere quote gets anything done politically. For a blog like this one, the point is to stimulate reflection, thought, and further reasoning on things folks take for granted and presume to be obvious. For example, Obama's promotion of CHANGE as the American creed is utterly vacuous and mundane--all elections pose the question of change or preservation. Moreover, change as the genius of America is profoundly Progressive, as it emphasizes not so much a change that RETURNS a people to their noblest ideals--in America's case, the principles of the Founding--but a change AWAY FROM what is old and past and TOWARDS something that is new and different. What is "new," according to this way of thinking, is be definition "improved." This is what I was trying to suggest by my quick excerpting of Strauss. In short, Obama the Progressive is a man who is smart enough to know he has to pay lip service to the American founding (which is why he mentions the Declaration, quotes Lincoln, uses words like liberty and individual responsibility) but is really more interested in moving the country towards a Wilsonian view of society and govt. Borrowing from the Bible, Obama turns "Be my brother's keeper" into a mandate for govt. redistribution of wealth. Nuff said.

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