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Monday, March 20, 2017

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

Dr. Deneen begins his essay "Manners And Morals" with a reflection on eating. Actually, the picture of eating a meal serves as a metaphor for most of what he says here. He says that manners--and specifically table manners--developed as both an acknowledgment of our animal nature, and an attempt to transcend it. We need to eat, but we eat in a manner reflecting a desire not to be enslaved by our passions. Eating together both symbolizes and actualizes a new solidarity born from the recognition that we ought not eat each other.

Our propensity to eat flesh meat, and Deneen's reflection on that fact, may be disconcerting to the reader, but it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our limitations, as well as our dignity. One intriguing aspect of these reflections--which Deneen does not make explicit, or at least to the extent that he could--is the connection between meal time solidarity, and politics as such. A healthy politics, he does say, delicately balances the recognition of personal needs with our duty to the other.

For my part, I recall many accounts of the "good old days" in American politics described the smoothing out of disagreements literally over beer. We do not eat and drink together because the forms of civility that such things indicate are viewed with outright hostility. Indeed, Deneen is not the first to note a kind of anti-politics at work. I join in his lament over this anti-politics, mourning much of what has been lost.

Deneen's sharp critique of the economics of "fast food" stings a little, and I hope not only because of my frequent trips to the neighborhood Arby's. [They know you by name, dude.--ed.]

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