Friday, April 07, 2017

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

This penultimate essay is called, "The Future Of Democracy In America". Deneen reminds us that according to Aristotle, liberty entailed the art of ruling, and being ruled in turn. We recall from earlier essays that Aristotle thought politics could and should be a sphere for the practice of virtues. A functional polis never denies individual needs, but neither does it elevate them above the common good.

Deneen says that this definition of liberty, and the temperance it requires and engenders, might easily be set aside, in favor of a radical autonomy, "liberty" as the freedom to do as one likes. The liberal State, he says, exists to maximize this second type of liberty, and functionally to limit the damage that  this permission implies. Problems arise because both definitions coexist as acceptable in our American discourse. A philosopher might say that an entire nation teeters on the edge of a cliff, formed by an equivocation. [A philosopher wouldn't be so poetic, getting to the point.--ed.]

Deneen says that each major American political party allows Locke to triumph over Aristotle, in terms of the definition of "liberty." The Democrats admit no binding moral limitations in the area of personal morality and sexual conduct, while the Republicans admit no moral dimension to economic matters, broadly speaking. Each one is right about the other, but inconsistent in applying its moral principles to itself.

Deneen believes that exercising virtue at lower levels can be the prelude to re-building the polis.

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