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Stanley Fish on Palin's Exceptionalism

One of the nation's leading intellectuals, a man on the left, pours on the praise for Sarah Palin's tract on American exceptionalism.  An excerpt:

The book is really an anthology. The author does not present herself as controlling or magisterial; she gives her authorities space and then she gets out of the way. Her performance mimes the book's lesson: rather than acting as a central authority, she lets individual voices speak for themselves. Humility is not something Palin is usually credited with, but here she enacts it by yielding the stage as others proclaims the truths she wants us to carry away.

Fish appreciates how Palin uses Jefferson Smith and Martin Luther King to illuminate the principles of the Tea Party.

TreppenwitzRoss Douthat, don't let Fish swim to your right!

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 3 Comments

I know the name "Stanley Fish" but I have little prior experience with his writings or his beliefs.

I'm not as intellectually nimble as some on this site, so I can't cite chapter and verse from various foundational works by Tocqueville or Hobbes or Locke. That said, Fish cites Capra's typical hero: "a man who draws his strength from an internal reservoir of virtue, a man who refuses to deed his integrity to some impersonal structure of government or business, a man who is, above all, free."

There are two elements to that -- reservoir of virtue, and free.

There's a temptation by some, I think (I could be wrong), to explain the first by citing the second; that is, the virtue is a product of being free.

However, there is another current underpinning Palin, and for that matter many conservatives, historical and current -- faith in God, primarily via "Christianity."

This is a subject that vexes liberals because (again, I believe) they simply do not understand what "Christianity," properly understood, is truly about.

I don't really know Palin's particular strain of Christian belief. The peripheral differences in doctrine hardly matter, however. At core there is the key thought of ourselves lacking much (if any) virtue of our own, and in truth having less "freedom" that we might suppose.

The glue that holds this together is God Himself. But the purpose of my post here is not to go down that path.

Rather, the point I'm thinking of a theme that runs through the Bible, and quite heavily in the writings of Paul -- that boasting in our own abilities has no place in our lives because whatever virtue we may appear to have is not really ours, but is given us.

From that come some observations:

1) I am forever intrigued by the "humble yet strong" man; the man who has an inner strength that does not require a loud voice, or physical threats. I am no historian, but it seems that quality was shared by many of the founders -- Washington, Jefferson ... I gather Adams was a bit louder at times.

2) The "Tea Party" succeeds (I believe) when it relies on this "humble yet strong" foundation. It will surely crumble and fall if it goes down the path of loud boastfulness. Boehner seems to understand this.

(The "Moral Majority" was, in my opinion, an abject failure precisely because it evolved into a kind of chest-thumping, exclusionary, triumphal expression of "Christianity." It did the true Christian church no favors.)

3) Palin's TV show harmed her (I believe) because it was easy to see in it a kind of boasting in her fame. Being in the limelight is one thing; seeking it is quite another.

Well put, Don. Christians entering politics suffer from a kind of defensiveness and leads to impolitic exchanges. It appears that Palin's book is an important contribution to building the confidence necessary for political life.

The ironic thing is that defensiveness is about the last thing one should resort to if one has a good grounding in Christ.

I tend to be very defensive; ergo ... :-(

It also explains why the political life -- or even the executive or management life -- is not for me. I was president of my homeowners' association in Virginia a decade ago. Never, ever again ...

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