Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

"A Dopey Nostalgia for a Nonexistent Past"

Paul Beston of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, writes a very good review in today's Wall Street Journal of what looks to be thoughtful and entertaining book--The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andew Potter.  Beston clearly enjoys the flair with which Potter pokes holes in the "authenticity" of the all-too-earnest seekers of authenticity and he appears to relish in Potter's ability to expose the vanity underlying so much of what passes for public sincerity; particularly as it applies to those of an anti-modernity and environmental bent. 

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls "conspicuous authenticity," by which the well-heeled embark on a "perpetual coolhunt," whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the "natural building" movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

So much of what motivates human beings--and not just the kind held up to ridicule in Potter's book--is really just vanity; that vain (and, usually, futile) wish to hold oneself apart from the crowd.  But as is so often the case, this wish can result in its wisher simply joining ranks with another crowd and taking part in just another form of this folly.  Thus, the subtitle, "How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves."  We get lost, probably, because we rarely ever do find anything more "authentic" than the life we are already living.

What we're really after, it seems to me, is judgment.  And the trouble with developing judgment is that there is no shortcut to it as there can be in joining the "right" crowd or supporting the "right" movement.  There are also no easy targets for blame, such as "modernity" or "capitalism" or, dare I say it, even "progressivism," to substitute for difficult thinking about the tragedies of life.  
 

Discussions - 1 Comment

Rod Dreher will not like that book.

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