Thursday, March 09, 2017

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

Dr. Deneen continues the discussion of democracy and its underpinnings by citing Santayana to the effect that virtue and virtuous citizens are necessary for the preservation of democracy. But as we have seen, if the division of labor and autonomous "liberty" have severed people from their sources of knowledge and morality, the "virtues" actually inculcated are personal desires, and self-preservation. Indeed, Deneen argues that self-preservation is the motivating force in the liberal political order, if its assumptions about humans in the state of nature are correct. A contradiction is introduced, then, between fidelity to professed virtues such as self-sacrifice, and that which liberalism actually rewards.

The occasion of the commemoration of noted Union general Robert Gould Shaw provided William James the opportunity to reflect on the difference between more conspicuous virtue, such as dying in battle, and less conspicuous virtue, in this case, a willingness to be seen as a goat by one's own countrymen as a consequence of doing the right thing.

In fact, Tocqueville thought the social pressure of the majority--or one's perception of being against it--was actually more imposing than the traditional manifestations of state-sponsored coercion.

There isn't anything in the apparatus of liberalism, so to speak, that can resolve the contradiction identified earlier. Yet perhaps the practice of virtue will furnish later opportunities to resolve the contradiction.

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