Sunday, February 27, 2005

Leonine Musings

John Leo (one of the best commenters out there, in my view) has an excellent column about the decline of liberalism. This section brought to mind something for me:
[T]he cultural liberalism that emerged from the convulsions of the 1960s drove the liberal faith out of the mainstream. Its fundamental value is that society should have no fundamental values, except for a pervasive relativism that sees all values as equal. Part of the package was a militant secularism, pitched against religion, the chief source of fundamental values. Complaints about "imposing" values were also popular then, aimed at teachers and parents who worked to socialize children.

Modern liberalism, says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, has emptied the national narrative of its civic resources, putting religion outside the public square and creating a value-neutral "procedural republic." One of the old heroes of liberalism, John Dewey, said in 1897 that the practical problem of modern society is the maintenance of the spiritual values of civilization. Not much room in liberal thought for that now, or for what another liberal icon, Walter Lippmann, called the "public philosophy." The failure to perceive the importance of community has seriously wounded liberalism and undermined its core principles. So has the strong tendency to convert moral and social questions into issues of individual rights, usually constructed and then massaged by judges to place them beyond the reach of majorities and the normal democratic process.

Back in 1991-1992, I belonged to a discussion group of fellow readers of the magazine Utne Reader, which is a monthly compendium of all the best articles from the "progressive alternative press". A major (really, the major) theme at the meetings was the total lack of any kind of genuine community in our society, with the puzzling question, "How can we build community?" always being brought up. In early 1993, the group just sort of fizzled out. A couple of years later, my religious conversion started. When I joined the Church, I finally understood what real community was, and I no longer feel any sort of forlorn lack of it.

I also later noticed that Utne Reader tends to spend half its pages bemoaning the lack of community and trying to come up with ideas on how to make public life more meaningful. The other half is spent more or less trashing traditional religion and trying to come up with newfangled alternatives...

If I could find a cartoon somewhere that shows a guy pulling a lever that is connected to a mechanism that causes a boot to kick his own a--, I guess that would be a good illustration of the dynamic...

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