Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Blue vs. red again

I mentioned this conference some time ago. Here’s the transcript, for your leisurely consumption, all 39 pages of it. As soon as I’ve read it, I’ll offer some comments. Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

Update: I had a chance to read the transcript. There are some real disagreements as to whether the polarization expressed by us chatterers is present in the electorate at large. People like Bill Kristol and David Brooks don’t seem to think so. Brink Lindsay had this to say:

Are we as a people, beyond the political classes, fundamentally divided into red and blue camps? On the
fundamental questions, I would say “no.” I would side with people like Morris Fiorina and others who certainly see a great deal of division, diversity, and conflict in American society, but it doesn’t line up neatly into a red-versus-blue cleavage. In other words, the distribution of
opinions and values isn’t bimodal—two big humps—but rather bell-curve shaped, and there’s a big central hump that dominates the tails on the left and the right.

And I think that that central hump is located in a rather different place than it was a generation ago, and in fact it is not torturing the language too much to say that it is a kind of libertarian, centrist consensus that prevails. On the one hand, there is a very deep attachment to traditional, middle-American values like patriotism, law and order, the work ethic, and family life; on the other hand, there are very heavily counter-culture-influenced attitudes on race, sex, on authority
in general, and on the kind of fervent, almost absolutist embrace of relativism, of which tolerance is the key and cardinal virtue. There is a kind of aversion to preachiness or absolutist truth claims
of any kind.

I’m not persuaded that this basically, but not necessarily essentially, libertarian position is coherent, stable, and sustainable, though I do think that there’s a logic underlying it that militates against some of the commonsensical things to which "we the people" are attached. I explored this issue many moons ago here, concluding:

I fear that our moderation is unstable because it is unprincipled, or rather, because it is ultimately immoderate. Its most culturally compelling element, at the moment, is sovereign individual choice, which recognizes no limits and is by definition infallible.

I remain impressed by the conclusion of Jim Ceaser’s essay, which served as a point of departure for the discussion. Can we be a nation without a foundation, or a nation founded only on the bare assertion of individual autonomy? Some of the panelists (Charles Murray comes to mind) spoke of European non-foundationalism as a real and really dangerous temptation for Americans. I’m inclined to agree and to think that Europeans can actually live longer and better with non-foundationalism than we can, in large part because they are products for the most part of particular national cultural traditions, albeit ones that are rapidly diminishing (for more on this theme, see this Pew Forum transcript, noted here). We, on the other hand, are constituted as a nation by a particular kind of theoretical act, which we forget or whose significance we diminish at our peril.

There’s lots more in this very interesting and wide-ranging discussion. Read the whole thing.  

Discussions - 3 Comments

Joe, it was a fascinating transcript. I too was struck by Brink Lindsay’s points, in part because I’d never come across him before. I think there was something of a misfit between Ceaser’s academic intention, which is to draw political scientists’ attention to foundational ideas, and the pundits (and professors’) desire to talk more directly about America. But the exchanges had the good effect of drawing Jim out. Well worth reading and even pondering.

Actually I don’t mean to hijack this post...but what better place to have a discussion about culture...isn’t this what we are really argueing about Dain?

FYI, I am in complete agreement with Brink Lindslay. Albeit, I think we are a nation held together by an assertion of individual autonomy, and I am unsure what Dr. Knippenburg is talking about when he says that we are constituted as a nation by a "particular kind of theoretical act". I have always assumed that this theoretical act was summed up in the Declaration of inalienable rights(Independence).

I also think that the "Independence" portion is significant because it signified not just independence from the soft tyrants across the sea but also from the home grown variety, defense against which often requires vigilance and an overall attitude that can be described as counter-cultural(or even counter bell curve..outlier).

At the same time I think the red vs. blue distinction is a significant tool and not a horrible distinction...unless one were to objectify a particular individuals political tilt based only upon geography...or to believe that they were in some way betraying the red convictions they should have for living in a red state or vice versa...Does Harvey Mansfield betray Harvard? Of course not?...because Harvard is non-foundationalist?...maybe. But essentially I believe that like a good University a good nation is constituted upon freedom of thought, and within certain boundaries freedom of action proceeding from such thought. In a sense we are currently a nation founded upon John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

I thought Brink looked like anyone of my 5000 anchestors, but they are dead. My enjoyment is in the present, and I won't have the same present for too long. I have just had the Supreme Court decide that others are better at decideing when my farm title should change hands for the highest and best use of the town,ie state. I wish I had visited Russia---. I have lost the value of my property through the lowering of its zoning to go from 3 ac. zoning to only farm use. No subdivision of 235 ac. 90 miles north of nyc and 60 miles south of Albany. Now the town can have its taking and the non profit Scenic Hudson and Hudsonia won't have to pay very much for the farm. I don't have privacy of my home, it can be entered without warrant. And no notice EVER being given to me. i personally worked to get Gordon Liddy out of our face when he raided and arrested without warrarnt on two occasions. My Gov and Congressman Ford shipped him off to Wash. DC and off of the Consrevation line for congress. I have no provacy on my mail or email or tel. communicaiton lessing my fun with language less some 30,000 government worker sees my Italian married name and figures I'd be easy picking for his bigoted boss. i have no security on my assests due to the fact the Patriot Act allows for the full RICO stats which allows takings prior to charges or conviction. My Constitution has been bastardized by the Senate and President signing a treaty with the EU( Only the EU) for intellectual Property, including vacating any other mechanical patents security. So what is left that offers me Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happy times? I see no talking, well healed educated person writing the checks to what maybe necessary for these times. This is totally inecuseable. We even have talking heads discussing how to give out ID cards and moving Iraqs around and dividing up the country. I guess everyone has forgotton 1933 Germany even those whose families lived that history, they have no shame because they have decided I won't call them on this travesty, because they are Jewish. Forrgettabout it. My grandfather and father in law fought in WW1 while the tribes of Europe fought. Then I had my dad at 37 go blow up bridges and build bridges so I don't have to hold my breadth. My family has been in the Hudson Valley for 360 yrs. and everyone needs to enjoy the items they want. And every town needs a Day Care supported by both private and public and for very bright 31/2 yr olds reading need their own teacher. We have worked out all kinds of teaching in Day Care over the last 35 yrs. It isn't even on the table it is just a fact. Anyone who can't get their heads around that are families who have a boat and cover its use under a none profit status and go on education tops. Or have a lot of children to teach each other and mom needs to stay home anywhy. Now I concider myself a critical thinking centrist. So what stops this conversation?

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