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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (II)

Dr. Deneen's second essay is called, "Patriotic Vision: At Home In A World Made Strange." It's significant that this was a talk given shortly after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. After a brief reflection on the excesses of patriotism, and the elite suspicion of it, Dr. Deneen takes us back to the origin of the word "theory". He says that the idea comes from the Greek meaning, "to see," and it noted a specific office within the city-state, occupied by a person charged with traveling to other places to report on how they lived. Such a person was well-versed on the idioms and customs of his own culture, and indeed reported on the other in that language, as it were. Insofar as he offered critique to his own culture, it was carefully tempered by his appreciation and love for his native place.

The critics of patriotism do naturally ask whether the love of one's own in patriotism is in irreconcilable conflict with universal values like truth and justice. While rejecting an idea of balance, Dr. Deneen seems to think that these special embedded observers--the theoroi--can still have a unique role that benefits society. He notes that critique unmoored by loyalty or indebtedness began in earnest with Descartes, and I cannot help but wonder if his similar ideas in epistemology influenced him, to similar destructive results.

There is what I might describe as a creative tension in being part of a culture, running the risk of being unable to critique it due to love and loyalty, and yet, that same embodied position preventing the critiquing impulse from becoming destructive. Deneen is correct to say that a desire for moral purity could well find itself incompatible with love, at a certain point. We know that we cannot love what we do not know.

For my part, I couldn't help but recall my own appreciation for then-Senator Obama's ability to "translate American exceptionalism into liberalese, if you will." We can say that our competing tribes have an embedded idiom, but that we do not speak it in common. I'll bet that Dr. Deneen could have an extremely fruitful conversation with Dr. Haidt on these matters.

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