Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The sovereign individual

Bill McClay has a nice extended meditation on some of the themes Peter L. brought up in this post. A sample:

The “progressive” view may seem coolly rational and unsentimental, the very picture of enlightened science. But its instrumental rationality actually operates in service to madness, to the most gaudily romantic and fantastical ideas of human selfhood. It regards the abstraction of the liberated individual, of homo invictus, as the benchmark reality, the only true source of moral standing. By grounding moral judgment in the self’s ability to stand alone and radically independent, it must try to deny history—and even deny time itself, seeking to freeze the present and then utopianize it, preserving the youth and beauty and strength that are one’s own, or that one can acquire for oneself, whatever the cost to the future (or to the past). But that state of independence is all-important. The minute one’s ability to be independent falters and fails … well, then the game is up, and all one’s entitlements are revoked, rendered null and void.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Yes, the "rugged individual" who makes his own rules and lives "by his own lights" is very temporary, and mostly mythological. This is why I’ve been so concerned about libertarian influences in modern conservativism. While radical individualism is an easy way to invoke the ol’ "am I my brother’s keeper" dodge, the fact remains that we must maintain our communities. What conservativism should be about is the maintenance of our values and the balance between the individual, the community, and the state. Less and less government is not the answer...better and better government, appropriately checked-and-balanced, should be our goal.

The McClay post is actually part of a long critical review of the idea of a "culture" or "party of death." The party of death, in his view, ought to be called the party of sovereign mastery. It is, in its way, all too pro-life--I, me should never die! Bill’s point, which is also point you’d find hidden a bit (I’m a uniter, not a divider) in my STUCK WITH VIRTUE, is that Robby George and the new-natural law Thomists think that the struggle they’re properly engaged in is much easier than it really is.

dain’s comment is very serious and needs to be addressed, but I can’t do it right now.

Exactly...but isn’t this simply the Continental critique of Locke and Mill? You can’t pretend this is original stuff. And didn’t the French revolution fail because it was interested in being french...that is in bringing in the idea of Fraternity? Isn’t that what we are talking about: Liberty without Fraternity!(this is certainly McClay’s beef) And what did Fredrick Bastiat have to say about this? One side would have to win. In France fraternity won... mediated human rights won...and human rights were spelled out in detail (painfully ontologized...Compare this to the debate in America over having or not having a bill of rights )...and thus in France there began a continuous and therefore turbulent constitutional convention to spell out how to strike a ballance between "the individual, the community and the state" Dain would have it.

My prediction: If the hand of history is forcing us to mediate rights...then break out the guilotine...because this is going to get ugly.

If Dain can say this with a straight face..."This is why I’ve been so concerned about libertarian influences in modern conservativism." (modern conservatism??? what is next post-modern conservatism???) then it is time to focus on Hayek’s essay "Why I am not a conservative."

I guess I am troubled by "modern" conservative influences on liberalism.

What happened in France was the destruction of all the mediating social institutions that protected the individual from the state, John. In erecting the Goddess Reason, they forgot that just under the skin we are all glorified apes. Without the church, the local magistrate, the family, the occupational group, the civic group, and so on we place control into the hands of a very few people...people who think they can perfect society. It’s called totalitarianism, and it has as much to do with naked individualism as it does with "community." Indeed, the sledge hammer that’s been used to destory our mediating institutions (i.e., plural power bases that check the state) is precisely individual civil rights. It’s all been done in the name of the individual, and that’s not an accident. Only very powerful states can guarantee the liberties of the individual, and they do it by crippling those ’constaining’ institutions that deny ’freedom’ to the individual.

I wished you Libertarians would read Burke.

Hayek was deeply influenced by Burke--but then again, Hayek never called himself a libertarian, as far as I know. He preferred "Old Whig."

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