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The Faux Localism in the Legal Theory of Michael Sandel
By Ryan R. Holston

Recently, the prominent political and legal theorist, Dr. Michael Sandel, visited my campus to give a lecture, and this has prompted me to revisit one of his most famous works, Democracy’s Discontent.  In this book, one of Sandel’s main arguments is that the courts’ interpretation of the Constitution both reflects and has helped facilitate our transformation from a society based on self-governance and republican principles to one of liberal individualism in which self-governance is effectively impossible.  The first part of Sandel’s work is devoted to uncovering the jurisprudence of what he calls “the procedural republic.”  Sandel uses this term to describe the allegedly value-neutral legal framework demanded by liberal political philosophy, which sees citizens as free and independent selves who must be allowed to choose their own ends or values.  In the first half of his book, Sandel thus traces jurisprudential developments in America over the last two centuries that have increasingly embodied this idea.  For Sandel, the neutral state represents an impoverished public sphere, one which he would prefer to see devoted to deliberation about the common good.  The argument I would like to put forward is at once sympathetic to but critical of Sandel’s analysis.  I believe his diagnosis of our jurisprudence as catering to an ethos of individualism and legal neutrality is sound.  Yet, I see his “communitarian” corrective as insufficiently committed to principles of federalism and subsidiarity.  To support this argument, I will briefly sketch the fundamentals of his analysis of the procedural republic but then identify elements that prohibit him from embracing a jurisprudence that empowers state and local communities. 

Sandel begins with the familiar observation that two competing conceptions of liberty have been in tension since the early American republic, one republican and one liberal.  Liberty within the republican tradition, which traces back to the Ancients, entails sharing in self-government and requires deliberating with fellow citizens about the common good.  To do so, citizens must have a knowledge of public affairs, a sense of belonging, and a moral attachment to others in the community.  Thus, certain civic virtues are seen as necessary for self-rule, and politics entails cultivating these essential qualities of character.  Liberty in the liberal tradition, by contrast, is seen as an absence of restraint for the free-choosing individual.  Liberal thinkers as diverse as Locke, Kant, Mill, and Rawls have, accordingly, emphasized toleration and respect for individual rights.  Eschewing the cultivation of virtue, this tradition has instead embraced government neutrality toward moral and religious views so as not to impose any particular conception of the good life on its citizens.  On this view, the political and legal framework ought to be a set of neutral procedures that ensures the freedom to choose one’s own ends.

For Sandel, two prominent theories have come to justify the procedural republic.  Kantian Liberalism, represented by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, claims that the just regime will allow individuals to choose their own ends in order to respect their inherent dignity as human beings.  Drawing a distinction between the “right” and the “good,” i.e. between a framework of rights and liberties, on the one hand, and the particular ideas of the good life that may be chosen within that framework, on the other, Kantian Liberals see justice as a matter of respecting the capacity to choose one’s own ends.  In other words, the just regime will provide a neutral framework of rights that establishes a mere procedural justice, leaving the good life undefined.  However, Sandel objects, this priority of the right over the good assumes a self that is prior to all ends he pursues, whereas many obligations are not freely chosen but born into, such as duties to God, family, city, or nation.  In short, there is no free-choosing self who exists prior to all his values, but a society of encumbered selves whose inherited obligations are mistakenly banished from the public sphere in the name of choosing what cannot be chosen.  The second justification for the procedural republic Sandel terms Minimalist Liberalism.  Here, such preexisting obligations are acknowledged, but the moral diversity of modern society is used to justify the demand that we bracket or keep private all such moral claims that may be controversial.  The case for state neutrality is now based on a pragmatic concern for political agreement, and Minimalist Liberalism aims for a public sphere that is “political, not metaphysical.”  In short, we agree not to impose conceptions of the good on each other out of practical necessity.  But, Sandel objects, there is no guarantee that political agreement is always so compelling as to defeat the private moral interests of citizens.  In the case of abortion, for example, the claim that we bracket our morals and let individuals choose for themselves requires those who believe abortion is murder to sacrifice moral concerns for political consensus.  Similarly, he notes, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas had essentially made the argument that moral concerns about slavery be bracketed, i.e. left up to states to decide, in the name of political consensus.  But the value of pragmatic agreement did not outweigh the moral evil of slavery for many, including Lincoln.  Sandel further notes that instances where we do claim to have bracketed moral concerns actually rely on a tacit moral approval of the act in question.

Despite such flaws, the philosophy of the procedural republic has come to dominate our public life and, Sandel argues, it finds its clearest expression in our constitutional law.  The Supreme Court has come to preside over the priority of the right in two senses:  first, the Court defines the rights of the individual who must not be prohibited from choosing his ends by majorities who would impose their conception of the good on him, and second, the Court identifies rights in a way that seeks to avoid any particular conception of the good life.   In the early republic, this was not the case, as the Supreme Court rarely exercised judicial review, much less based on individual rights.  In Barron v. Baltimore (1833), the Court refused to invalidate a Maryland law using 5thAmendment property rights, due to the belief that the Bill of Rights could not restrict state laws.  From then on, rights enforcement did not figure in the invalidation of any piece of legislation until the Missouri Compromise was struck down in the Dred Scott decision of 1857.  But even after the Civil War and the passage of the 14thAmendment, which was aimed at bolstering the rights of citizens vis-à-vis their state governments, the Court’s role as rights enforcer was slow to emerge.  The first hints came in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873).  Here, the Court refused to invalidate a Louisiana law that created a monopoly for butchers on the grounds that it violated the liberty of those put out of business by the creation of the monopoly.  However, Justice Fields, writing in dissent, claimed that the 14thAmendment was aimed at protecting citizens against rights deprivations by their states, and that it should “give practical effect to the declaration of 1776 of inalienable rights.”  The Court’s role as enforcer of rights clearly emerged in a subsequent case, Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897) and set the controversial precedent of the Court acting as rights monitor.  Over the next four decades, Sandel laments, the Court invalidated over two hundred state and federal laws in the name of the right to property and the liberty of contract of the individual allegedly found in the 14thAmendment.  Known widely as the Lochner Era, for a case by the same name, this period of judicial policing of rights established for Sandel “the first sustained constitutional expression of the priority of the right over the good,” in that rights could be seen as acting as trumps against majorities that would interfere with the free individual attempting to order his life as he saw fit.

It may appear as if the Court’s presiding over the priority of the right then came to an end in 1937, when it reversed course in West Coast Hotel vs. Parish, by rejecting the fundamental right to property and finally ratifying the New Deal.  However, the priority of the right had merely been appropriated by Progressivism from its laissez-faire roots.  The priority the right was now used to justify judicial deference to majorities, instead of judicial review.  Increasingly, Sandel argues, one began to see intimations of state neutrality in the opinions of Progressive jurists, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Deference to democratic majorities was thus justified based on an aversion to reading the Constitution as embracing a particular social philosophy, such as laissez-faire. Meanwhile, social welfare policies were perceived as empowering individuals with the material means by which they could order their lives as they saw fit.  Laissez-faire, according to Progressives, had merely sanctioned the unequal status of citizens in the economy, whereas redistributive policies would provide the means by which all individuals on an equal basis could choose their own ends.  Moreover, despite this deferential posture, Progressivism even found a way to justify a new form of judicial review.  Justice Harlan Stone, in his influential footnote in US vs. Carolene Products (1938), outlined certain occasions on which rights could still be protected under the 14thAmendment.  Here, Stone grounds future rights protection in the neutral procedures of the democratic process, which, he claimed, it was the role of the judiciary to enforce.  Where “discrete and insular minorities” are targeted by legislation, or access to the democratic process has been blocked to such minorities, laws would now be suspect.  For Sandel, the significance is the justification being employed – the Court now becomes the enforcer of civil rights, not for substantive moral purposes, but in the name of the procedural Constitution, one that provides a neutral framework by which all individuals may choose their own ends.

I find Sandel’s diagnosis of the procedural republic compelling.  But the real problem with Sandel’s analysis emerges when one looks to his concluding chapter for insights into how to restore the republican project.  Here, Sandel says all of the right things about reinvigorating a republican ethos.  With regard to the formation of civic virtues, Sandel looks to Tocqueville for inspiration and explicitly rejects the republican project of Rousseau.  For, in the former, he admires the gentler formation of character through persuasion and habituation, while he rejects the harsher, more coercive civic education of the latter.  Moreover, Tocqueville’s is a republicanism that embraces the differentiated and clamorous character of local institutions, while Rousseau’s general will aims at too much uniformity and unanimity among citizens.  Sandel thus extols the virtues of localism and “the politics of neighborhood,” while suggesting “unrealized possibilities implicit in American federalism.”  For, he explains, in a line worthy of Robert Nisbet, “[Federalism] suggests that self-government works best when sovereignty is dispersed and citizenship formed across multiple sites of civic engagement.  This aspect of federalism informs the pluralist version of republican politics.”  There is, in the end, only one glaring problem with this concluding chapter:  Where is the jurisprudence?  In other words, Sandel spends the entire first half of his work depicting our constitutional law as the “clearest expression” of the procedural republic.  Yet, he refuses, in this “solution” section to devote one sentence to addressing needed reforms to our jurisprudence.  It would appear, in light of everything else Sandel does say in this section, that what would be needed is a refusal on the part of the federal judiciary to continue to preside over the priority of the right and, in particular, to cultivate an attitude of respect and deference to the outcomes of self-governance among state and local authorities.  We are logically led to this conclusion, but nowhere does Sandel spell out the implications of his critique of our constitutional law.

 What is to account for this conspicuous lacuna in Sandel’s analysis?  Why not tease out the implications of his theory of localist republicanism for the analysis of constitutional law with which he began his argument?  My sense is that Sandel cannot live with a jurisprudence that favors a politics of federalism and subsidiarity because this, to him, resembles too much the “bracketing” of moral controversies for which he was critical of Minimalist Liberalism.  For Sandel, the desire to remove moral controversies from the public forum in order to defer their diverse resolution to lower-level decision-makers seems to be a symptom of the liberal aspiration to state neutrality.  Consequently, Sandel is caught in a Catch-22.  On the one hand, he believes that his commitment to keeping morality in the public forum requires refusing to bracket moral issues, as Stephen Douglas had attempted to do.  On the other hand, his conclusion clearly embraces a localist republicanism that would seem to require bracketing, in the form of devolution.  In the end, Sandel appears to come down on the side of refusing to bracket such controversies, and I believe this is why he will not spell out the implications of a jurisprudence of federalism.  The problem, viewed in the light of his critique of the procedural republic, is that Sandel would view a jurisprudence of federalism as bracketing, i.e. as akin to the pragmatic and amoral public philosophy of Minimalist Liberalism. 

However, what Sandel fails to grasp is that in the name of a genuinely localist republicanism, some bracketing is necessary.  Moreover, the case for devolving such moral issues need not always or merely be made on the grounds of avoiding moral imposition on controversial issues.  The case for bracketing issues at the national level and resolving them through local governance may in fact be made based on a concern for morality itself – on the grounds that moral choosing, i.e. the exercise of what Aristotle would call practical reason, must always take place in the particularity of our concrete existence in small communities.  Sandel would likely reply – as he does in the case of Minimalist Liberalism – that for every such instance of bracketing, we are in fact relying on a tacit moral approval at the higher level where the issue has been set aside.  However, to see all such setting aside of issues for local resolution in terms of their having been tacitly judged at a higher level of bracketing, i.e. the national level, is to establish the ontological priority of a national community or public sphere over all local communities or public spheres.  On this view, all such controversial examples are seen from the vantage point of the abstract moral reasoner whose judgment is exercised at the national level, i.e. from no particular community.  Understood in this way, the moral reasoner is theoretically imagined as existing apart from his own situatedness and sits in judgment of decisions that emerge at the local level, which are conceived as blinded by their own narrow or parochial situatedness, in need of approval from the clarity of moral perspective that can only come from above.  In the light of such assumptions, we should not be surprised when such theories seem reluctant to spell out the implications of a truly localist republicanism.  With friends of federalism and subsidiarity such as Michael Sandel, one might indeed wonder who needs enemies.

MLK's "I Have a Dream" and the Principles of the American Founding
By Jason Jividen

This week I’m organizing an academic roundtable to help celebrate Martin Luther King Day at my college in January.  I’ll also soon be teaching King’s famous “I Have a Dream” as part of my course in American political thought.  So the speech is on my mind, and I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

 It is appropriate that King begins “I Have a Dream” with reference to Lincoln, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  One hundred years after emancipation was promised, King declares, the Negro is not free, crippled by the chains of segregation and discrimination.  Interestingly, King suggests that the effort to obtain this freedom and equality for black Americans is an attempt to realize the principles not only of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but also the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The Founders, King claims, wrote a check to future generations that all men would be guaranteed their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  According to King, his dream is “deeply rooted in the American dream.”  Now, in my experience, this sounds strange to my students.  Arguably, this is not the received wisdom of many American historians and political scientists.  Frequently, the nation’s founding documents are seen as relics of the past, written by dead racist white men for dead racist white men. 

 But King did not see it this way.  King held that that the Declaration really did proclaim that natural and inalienable rights belonged to all human beings as such, and that the Constitution was intended to secure those rights.  Even if such a sentiment is perhaps rare today, in this opinion, King followed in a long tradition.  This appears to have been the opinion of the most prominent of the Founders, their constitutional compromises with slavery notwithstanding.  They were clear-headed enough to recognize that their compromises did not measure up to their principles. By examining their writings we gain insight into this problem.  Of course, today, in the height of our supposed wisdom, it is more common for us to claim to understand those authors better than they understood themselves. 

 But King seems to have believed that the Founders actually did believe all men were created equal.  They really did believe that all men were entitled to the equal liberty to pursue their own happiness.  These things are the “check” that King wished to cash.  We should not overlook that Lincoln frequently made the same kind of argument in his struggles against Douglas and Taney.  The Declaration’s statement that all men are created equal was the fundamental premise of Lincoln’s understanding of free, republican government.  Lincoln sought to reaffirm the principles of the Declaration, suggesting that no human being (black or white) was good enough, virtuous enough, or wise enough to rule over another without that other’s consent. 

 Responding to Taney’s claim in Dred Scott that the Founders could not have included either slaves or free blacks in the Declaration’s “all men are created equal,” Lincoln suggested:

“I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include allmen, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” … They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcementof it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere” (“Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” Springfield, IL, June 26, 1857).

Like Lincoln, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass criticized those who would read African-Americans out of our Founding documents.  In his famed address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” (1852), Douglass argued with Northern abolitionists who had declared the Constitution fundamentally rotten because of its compromises with slavery.  To use William Lloyd Garrison’s famous words, for many abolitionists, the Constitution was “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”  Douglass responded to such sentiments with the following: 

“There is no matter in respect to which the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon as that of the pro‑slavery character of the Constitution.  In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but interpreted, as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.  Read its preamble, consider its purposes.  Is slavery among them?  Is it at the gateway?  Or is it in the temple?  It is neither.”

 For Douglass and Lincoln, the North had allowed proponents of the Southern slave interest like John C. Calhoun and Justice Taney to impose upon them a pro-slavery reading of our founding documents.  Both Lincoln and Douglass called upon the friends of liberty and equality to resist that imposition.  As the “I Have a Dream” speech makes clear, King followed Lincoln and Douglass in that effort.  Today however, despite the authority of Lincoln, Douglass, and King, it seems that the old Southern reading of our Founding documents has actually prevailed, in much of academia at least.  Despite the fact that many academics would agree with King’s ends of equality, they often think King was fundamentally wrong in his understanding of America’s Founding.

 

 

 

  

Friendship and Some Obstructions: Reflections on the Ego-Centric Predicament
By Anonymous

In this post I would like to reflect on two themes: Friendship and Rationalism—or, it may be better to say, I would like to reflect on friendship and the obstruction presented to it by some modern epistemological presuppositions.  To express myself more formally, the presumed self-sufficiency of mind’s practical activity within certain modern rationalist philosophies establishes a barricade between men by blocking the activity of shared concern peculiar to the excellence of friendship.  It blocks this shared concern because it blocks access to both the need for and possibility of the kind of intellective act that constitutes friendship and constitutes the possibility for its activity.  I will be making my reflections on the basis of the presentation of two essays: Robert Sokolowski’s “Phenomenology of Friendship,” and James V. Schall’s “Aristotle on Friendship.”[1]

From an Aristotelian perspective, friendship is a moral excellence or virtue.  Virtue requires knowledge, the exercise of reasoned activity, and self-awareness.  Hence friendship requires a particular kind of intelligence, both of oneself and of the friend.  Under Sokolowski’s reading of Aristotle, this act of intelligence not only substantiates the being of friendship but because it substantiates it, it is a necessary component of its formation and activity.  That is to say, I must take on as my own good the good of another; I must recognize his good as my good, and I must do so in such a way that I do not mistake the apparent for the real, and in such a way that I do not nullify the other or impose myself upon him.  I am friend to an other and he is friend to me because I recognize or identify with his good as my good, and he mine.  And it is this act of intelligence, I propose, that is obstructed by two aspects of rationalist epistemology: 1) the presumed self-sufficiency of the intrinsic and insular resources of the cogito; and 2) the reduction of intelligence to procedural rationality.

If I am oversimplifying things here, let’s think of it this way: the modern rationalistic demands of 1) radical independence of mind, and 2) reason construed as methodological step-wise procedure-following puts up a barrier to the practical intellect’s act of taking on another’s good as one’s own.  It thereby tends to reduce friendship to some form of utilitarian relation, at one extreme, or, at the other extreme, to some form of emotional connection.  If you remain locked in your own self-inflated ego and significance, and if you have a single minded attachment to calculative, productive thinking, friendship would only appear and be open to you on the level of utility and the usefully and immediately pleasant.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX, we find Aristotle’s description of friendship, its features, worth, and necessity for living in a way worth living as a human being.  “For no one would choose to live without friendship, even if he had all the other goods”[2] (1155a5).  Friendship, Aristotle asserts, either is virtue or implies virtue (1155a).  It is an opportunity for the exercise of the moral virtues; it is a help in adversity and danger.  It is also a guide and opportunity for the exercise of moral action and intellectual excellence.  Friendship is, as James Schall formulates it, “a critical good of human life,” for “without it the highest questions never arise in their fullness, nor will happiness as such be achieved without it.”[3]

And as Schall also helpfully points out, Aristotle almost off-handedly remarks: “friendship would seem to hold cities together, and legislators would seem to be more concerned about it than about justice.  For accord would seem to be similar to friendship. . . .Further, if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition; and the justice that is most just seems to belong to friendship” (1155a24ff).  This is a curious statement.  As Schall formulates the problem: “what constitutes the clear superiority of friendship to justice . . . without denying the necessity of justice? . . . Why is justice not enough?”[4]

As we know from our own reading of Aristotle’s work, he does not always come right out and clarify discretely what he means.  And in many passages where he does explicitly clarify what he means, the style is often a kind of shorthand demonstration.  Aristotle’s texts are not treatises worked up for publication, but more like lecture notes, say, in a fairly dynamic and rigorous graduate class.  So reading him can be somewhat disheartening, given our modern preoccupations with discrete treatises, and we may miss the significance of what he says, especially in passages that seem to be slapped together by some, let us say, conscientious graduate student.  Nevertheless, as Schall further points out, “in this treatise [Books VIII and IX], Aristotle is deadly serious.  He is engaged in the culmination of his ethical reflections where he is constantly running up against questions that cannot, apparently, be resolved within his system, even though they appear to arise legitimately within his argument (1156a22-b6; 58a6-9).”[5]  Note that Schall is identifying Books VIII and IX as the summit of the Ethics—not Book VI and, curiously, not Book X.  Sokolowski concurs with Schall—and with sufficient attention paid to Book X and the contemplative life:

“The Nicomachean Ethics reaches its highest point in the discussion of friendship because the exercise of friendship is the best form of human moral action.  It is true that in book 10 Aristotle goes on to say that the theoretical life is higher than the practical life, but in the practical order noble friendship is the highest form of activity that men are capable of.”[6]

Morally speaking, therefore, the summit of the Ethics is the discussion of friendship in Books VIII and IX.

Sokolowski himself has an interesting treatment of theNicomachean Ethics as a whole.  Aristotle’s reflections about moral activity and about the human moral agent is developed in a logical progression.  As Sokolowski describes it, Aristotle moves through three successive stages.  From the moral virtues in Books II & III, through the account of particular virtues in Book IV, the first summit is the account of magnanimity in Book IV, chapter 3.  Magnanimity is a kind of “capping” of our behavior in regard to our emotions.  Sokolowski describes this as a kind of consolidation of our passions and desires wherein we take self possession of ourselves.  “Magnanimity is the completion of what we could call our ‘internal or ‘individual’ virtues.  It is moral virtue brought to self-awareness, the confidence that comes to us when we have achieved virtuous dispositions and know that we are able to act in a noble manner.”[7]

The second summit of the Ethics, still following Sokolowski’s account here, is the discussion of justice in Book V.  There we find the particular types of justice: distributive, corrective, reciprocal.  More importantly, we find a discussion of general justice.  This type of justice is more holistic to virtue than the particular kinds, and functions as a kind of second capstone, as Sokolowski describes the phenomenon, to the whole of moral virtue—a ‘finish’ perhaps of the capstone of moral self-awareness in Book IV.  General justice, Aristotle tells us, is a completion of virtue in its entirety.  It allows us to transcend our own needs and wants, goods and desires, and deals with our relation to other people in a way analogous to the way magnanimity deals with our relationship to ourselves.  General justice is complete virtue with respect to oneself and to other people: “. . . justice is the only virtue that seems to be another person’s good, because it is related to another, for it does what benefits another” (1130a1-7).  The just man himself, then, is the one who can see and bring about equalities i) within himself, ii) between himself and other, and iii) among others (1134a1-10).

The third and final summit of the Ethics, again still following Sokolowski, is the discussion of friendship in Books VIII and IX.  Justice alone is not the summit of ethical life.  For all that justice activates within us with respect to the practical order, it still does not fully actualize the full potency of practical reason.  I think Schall’s answer to his own questions above is well worth quoting here at length:

“Perhaps we can make this understanding clearer if we realize that the difference between friendship and justice is that justice . . . does not concern itself with the uniqueness of the person with whom one enters into just dealings.  Justice is concerned with the abstract relationship (1158b29-33).  . . . Justice in this sense is depersonalizing.  The very people who are only just to one another are not, therefore, friends.  In a sense, the relationship of justice prescinds from the reality of friendship itself.  Friendship, on the other hand, deals only with those for whom justice, while not being denied, is not the primary concern in the relationship.  Justice does not take into account the very uniqueness of the persons involved in the exchanges of friendship.  . . . At a minimum, there is justice between friends.  But this is not its essence or especially its perfection.”[8]

In other words, friendship adds something to our lives—something that cannot be provided by the moral virtues themselves or by justice alone.

There are three types of friendship for Aristotle: the useful, the pleasant, and the true or complete friendship, sometimes called the noble.  It is this third kind, complete friendship, that, as Sokolowski phrases it, is “the paradigm of human agency” within the practical order of things.[9]  Perfect friendship befriends the other for the other’s sake—for the sake of the other—for the virtue, goodness, nobility of the beloved himself—because he is what or who he is.  The friendship therefore is non-coincidental.

In friendships of utility and pleasure the other is befriended for the utility or pleasure they give or provide.  Some other person could just as easily be loved in the same way. The persons themselves, in their individuality, and peculiarities of their personalities, histories, manners, looks, etc, do not matter so much as what they offer.  The relationship of true friendship, in contrast, targets the uniqueness of the friend, not for what he provides, but for the friend himself—in himself and for him.

The completeness of this sort of friendship occurs of course in the community of shared activity, of accomplishing shared goals and the communication of shared interest.  The friendship must be reciprocal and the friends themselves must both be virtuous.  The virtues themselves are exercises of reason—knowing what the right thing to do is at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, with the right people, toward the right end, etc.  Virtue is a mean in regard to extremes, the mean as determined by reason, the reason of the excellent person.  In short, as Sokolowski calls them, virtues are “embodiments of practical reason.”[10]

These embodiments of practical reason all involve a particular kind of intellective form, or “categorial structure.”  Sokolowski identifies four of these categorialities.  First there is the structure of means-to-ends found in most practical activity. Second, there is the determination of the mean in regard to extremes, of intuiting the appropriate middle between extremes.  Third, there is the proportional or arithmetical calculation of justice—of calculating what goes to whom under what circumstances and under what conditions, whether proportionally, as in distributive justice, or arithmetically as in corrective justice.  Fourth, there is the kind of practical intelligence appropriate to perfect friendship.  The reciprocity of perfect friendship is such that each friend wishes well of the other and that this well-wishing is mutually acknowledged.  “This reciprocal . . .well-wishing,” Sokolowski states, “involves a categorial form.  It is a highly sophisticated intellectual structure.  It is a form of recognition or identification.  The good of my friend is identified as my own good, and my good is identified as the good of my friend, and both of us rejoice in the identifications that we mutually accomplish.”[11]  This type of mutual identification cannot occur with too many people.  Perfect friendship is rare—we are lucky to have one or two, maybe three, over a lifetime.  One reason for the rarity is that the knowledge required is profound—we must know what our friend needs, and how he needs it, and at what time.  “We simply cannot understand many people with the detailed and personalized knowledge that friendship demands.  Friendship, therefore, requires an act of intelligence; it has to understand the needs, inclinations, and emotions of the friends so that it can calibrate the equation that is the friendship between them.”[12]

I will now, briefly, contrast the above description of friendship and its intellective act to Rationalism and certain features peculiar to that philosophical enterprise.

Rationalism is that philosophical position and presupposition which considers the mind as self-sufficient and radically autonomous in its capacity for complete understanding of all reality.  The definition is primarily Cartesian, but applies also in a variety of variations to other modern philosophers—including those that self-identify as non-Rationalistic.[13]

 In modern rationalism, there is a clear distinction and separation of mind and body (i.e., metaphysical dualism).  Modern rationalism also distrusts the senses, and symbolic mathematics is considered necessary for a clear and distinct understanding of the world.  To quote Jacob Klein on the subject: “In a broader sense rationalism is that approach to an understanding of human behavior, history and the world around us implied by the premises of mathematical physics.”[14]

We get a more or less immediate impression of this approach in Part VI of the Discourse on Method.  There Descartes clearly says that what he wants is a practical philosophy geared toward utility and the satisfaction of desire by means of technological invention.  “It is possible to find,” he tells us, “a practical philosophy, by means of which, knowing the force and actions of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, just as distinctly as we know the various skills of our craftsmen, we might be able, in the same way, to use them . . . and thus render ourselves . . . masters and possessors of nature.”[15]  What we have in Descartes is algebraic or symbolic mathematics as the paradigm measure of all knowledge put in the service of human design and control.

The theme of control and dominance comes up in earlier portions of the Discourse as well.  After reflecting on the ingenuity of his own intellect for inventing a method, and for increasing his knowledge “by degrees” and for raising his “mind” “little by little to the highest point,” Descartes “cannot but take immense satisfaction in the progress that [he thinks he has] made in the search for truth.”  Moreover, he “cannot but envisage such hopes for the future that if, among the occupations of men purely as men, there is one that is solidly good and important”—namely, the one that he has adopted for himself. (Discourse I; 2)  Note three aspects of Descartes expectations:  1) that there is only one method and 2) only one just occupation of mind; and 3) that this method is predicated on a single-minded love of process. 

Within a different context, F.A. Hayek makes a similar point regarding the rationalist strain.  In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek tries to make the case for the dynamism of freedom and the social conditions which help bring it about culturally.  Anathema to freedom, he says, is the idea that man has deliberately produced his civilization and thus can change it as he designs.  “This assertion,” he says, “would be justified only if man had deliberately created civilization in the full understanding of what he was doing or if he at least clearly knew how it was being maintained.”[16]  At root in this Cartesian-esque view of society is the idea that at any time we have perfect knowledge of both what is and of what is good for us.  “The whole conception of man already endowed with a mind capable of conceiving civilization setting out to create it is fundamentally false.  Man did not simply impose upon the world a pattern created by his mind. His mind is itself a system that constantly changes as a result of his endeavor to adapt himself to his surroundings. . . [and] The conception of man deliberately building his civilization stems from an erroneous intellectualism that regards reason as something standing outside nature and possessed of knowledge and reasoning capacity independent of experience.”[17]  Contra rationalism, there are no omniscient men. And part of Hayek’s point in all this is that the rationalist, who does seem to assume at least some measure of latent omniscience, “[does] not see that, for advance[ment] to take place, the social process from which the growth of reason emerges must remain free from its control.”  Or in other words, “the rationalist who desires to subject everything to human reason is thus faced with a real dilemma.  The use of [modern conceptions of] reason aims at control and predictability.  But the process of the advance of reason rests upon freedom and the unpredictability of human action.”[18]

The last feature of rationalism that I would like to discuss is the idea that mind is sufficient unto itself.  In Discourse IV Descartes turns his method back in on himself.  “I resolved to pretend that all the thinks that had ever entered my mind were not more true than the illusions of my dreams.  But immediately afterward I noticed that .. .it necessarily had to be the case that I, who was thinking this, was something.  . . . I think, therefore I am . . . I judged I could accept [that] without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking.”[19]  Or in other words, what the love of process produces first, for Descartes, is immediate, certain and indubitable self awareness.  As Sokolowski has phrased it in a different context, what the mind knows first and best is itself; the mind principally knows itself.[20]  From this self-knowledge, it can then take possession of itself—“From this I knew that I was a substance the whole essence or nature of which is simply to think, and which, in order to exist, has no need of any place nor depends on any material thing.”[21]

The primary and most important discovery of Cartesian methodology is the establishment of the cogito in all the vitality of . . . itself and its self awareness.  As Patrick Masterson puts it: “in virtue of a programme of radical doubt . . . [ consciousness] . . . takes as its only and absolute starting point the luminous presence of the thinking subject to himself—a subject defined as identical with his own thought.”[22]  What we have with Descartes and the subsequent philosophical tradition is an isolated and insular mind, closed in on itself and its own workings and dealings.  It is as though we are all in a way, like Descartes, “shut up by [ourselves] in a stove-heated room, where [each one of us individually] are completely free to converse with [ourselves] about [our own] thoughts.”[23]  And this, for Descartes, is to be the starting point for the life of the cogito—isolated and self contained, for it has within itself the resources for perfect knowledge.

Finally, contrast that picture of man with Book IX, chapter 9 of Nicomachean Ethics.  Towards the end of this chapter we find a discussion of perception.  Aristotle brings out that there is a kind of self possession in the activity of perception.  We not only see but we see that we see; we not only think but perceive that we think.  This reflected perception is more vivid and clear when directed not just on our own activity but toward that of a friend and toward the activity that is shared with him.  For Aristotle, the self-hood of the person is not closed in on itself.  Rather it is a dual or shared personhood, as Sokolowski has expressed it.  A friend is another me, and I am also another “self” to the friend.  As Aristotle puts it, “the excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another himself.” (1170b9) 

Now this is not to say that for Aristotle, a friend forces his views on his friend.  For Aristotle, contra Descartes, it is not that we start with a complete self and then make another one just like me, as a kind of clone—which seems to be the effect of the cogito.  In our friend we see ourselves active, or we see the activity that we both of us share.  This sort of enhanced perception is not possible without friends.  And this is why Aristotle says that in seeing our friends and our friends activities we see ourselves better.  In our friend, we can “see” or “contemplate” his good actions; his actions are in a way our own actions reflected back on us.  Thus, even the good and fully virtuous and self-sufficient man needs friends, and it would be absurd, Aristotle says, to deny them to him. (1169a5-b30)

More to the point, if I am methodologically insulated from external communication, then I have no need of friends.  And friendship would certainly not be possible if I think that the good of another is not derived from the other—his being, his situation—but derived from my own internal resources.  If I, in the completeness of my cogito, possess such qualities as corresponding to all external reality, I have no need to postulate the need of friends.  I have no need of the enhanced perspective I can get on myself with my friend and I have no need to take on his good as my own.  For, I, if I were a rationalist, am self-sufficient and complete unto myself; for I myself can take full possession and self-awareness from out of the completeness of my own internal resources of mind. And the other, to the extent that there are other people for the rationalist, is self-sufficient and complete unto himself.  From the rationalist perspective, what need would there be for friendship?  Contra Aristotle, it is friendship that would be absurd, not the lack thereof.



[1] Robert Sokolowski, “Phenomenology of Friendship,”  The Review of Metaphysics 55 (March 2002).  James V. Schall, “Aristotle on Friendship,” in The Mind that is Catholic: Philosophical & Political Essays, 105-113 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008).  Any wisdom or insight in what follows should be attributed to these thinkers and not to the present author.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin, 2nd edition (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 119.  All citations from Aristotle are taken from this edition unless otherwise idicated.

[3] Schall, “Aristotle on Friendship,” 106.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sokolowski, “Phenomenology of Friendship,” 453.

[7] Ibid., 451.

[8] Schall, “Aristotle on Friendship,” 107.

[9] Sokolowski, “Phenomenology of Friendship,” 452.

[10] Ibid., 453.

[11] Ibid., 460.

[12] Ibid., 462.

[13] See, for example, Patrick Masterson, Atheism & Alienation: A Study of the Philosophical Sources of Contemporary Atheism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971).

[14] Jacob Klein, “Modern Rationalism,” in Lectures and Essays of Jacob Klein, ed. Robert B Williamson and Elliot Zuckerman (Annapolis; St. John’s College, 1985), 57.

[15] René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Donald A. Cress, 4th edition (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 35.

[16] F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 23.

[17] Ibid., 24.

[18] Ibid., 38.

[19] Descartes, Discourse (IV), 18.

[20] Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), see chapter 14.

[21] Descartes, Discourse (IV), 19.

[22] Masterson, Atheism & Alienation, 9.

[23] Descartes, Discourse (II), 6-7.

The First "On Liberty"
By Anonymous

 

Puritan minister and magistrate, John Winthrop, is perhaps most well-known for his 1630 sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” In this sermon, Winthrop makes his oft-rehearsed comments enjoining his Puritan compatriots to understand themselves as a “city on a hill.” However, that phrase (though not all of its uses and abuses) is not the only contribution that Winthrop—and the Puritans—made to the nascent American nation.  Fifteen years later, Winthrop made the short speech “On Liberty.”

Unlike John Stuart Mill’s identically named work, Winthrop’s “On Liberty” sought to disaggregate two notions of liberty, namely, natural liberty and civil or federal liberty. Winthrop identifies “natural liberty” as the liberty “common to man with beasts and other creatures.” It is, in other words, the “liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good.” Importantly, this type of liberty resists all authority and ultimately, is the source of moral evil.

On the other hand is civil or federal liberty, which Winthrop also calls moral liberty. This “federal liberty” is liberty governed by covenant. Winthrop gives examples of the “covenant between God and man” as well as “politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves.” The marriage covenant and the Christian church’s covenant with Christ are further instances of cases where federal liberty appertains.

This distinction between two types of liberty—liberty of the individual free from society and the liberty of the individual upon entering society—is not entirely unique to Winthrop. In fact, one finds a similar basic framework in social contract thinkers, including Hobbes and Locke. The similarity is not a coincidence. As John Witte has argued, social contract theory owes a debt to the Calvinist theology that also forms the foundation of Winthrop’s Puritan theology.

Hobbes and Locke, like Winthrop, make distinctions between the liberty “natural” to human beings in the state of nature and that of political society.  While there are indubitable differences among Hobbes, Locke, and Winthrop, a commonality is the understanding that human beings give up some “freedoms” when entering society. For Winthrop, one gives up the freedom to “do as he list.” In Locke’s scenario, the individual gives up the right to be the executor of the law, and in Hobbes, the member gives up the right to all but self-preservation. Obviously, benefits are gained from joining civil society, including safety, commodious living, and peace, but Winthrop and his fellow social contractarians are clear that something is, in fact, given up upon entering society. Winthrop’s term “federal liberty” for civil liberty draws on the latin root of federal, foedus, which means treaty or contract. Civil liberty, then, occurs within covenant or contract. A covenant involves both parties agreeing to abide by specified terms. It involves self-imposed limits and restraints. Further, in Calvinist theology, God’s relationship with human beings and his redemptive work always occurs within the context of covenant. Human sinfulness is combated by the work of covenants, both divine and political.

Winthrop’s insight into the nature of federal liberty explains how Tocqueville could herald the Puritan settlement of America as the true founding of the United States. In his chapter on the Puritans in Democracy in America Tocqueville examines the rigorous and minute legal codes in the Puritan colonies. Here he makes a surprising claim: “Nothing is more peculiar or more instructive than the legislation of this time; there, if anywhere, is the key to the social enigma presented to the world by the United States.” How is it that the restrictive and even absurd laws of Puritan New England provide the key America’s ability to remain a free and vibrant nation? Tocqueville asserts, “we must not forget that these ridiculous and tyrannical laws were not imposed from the outside—they were voted by the free agreement of all the interested parties themselves.” What Tocqueville sees in these strict legal codes, then, is the Puritans’ understanding of federal liberty at work. Given their covenant theology and understanding of sin, the Puritans were well aware that “true freedom” involved self-control and willing submission to limits on “natural freedom.”

Winthrop’s “On Liberty” reminds us of the notion of liberty that rests at the core of the social contract tradition, but is often forgotten. Modern liberal thought envisioned a political society that fostered individual liberty, but implicit within the idea of the social contract lies the notion that such liberty, by definition, is ensconced within contract, compact, and covenant. The liberty that exists outside of these structures remains different altogether, and ultimately unsatisfactory for human happiness. 

A Place for Statesmanship in our Republic
By Timothy L. Simpson

Today, statesmanship is not viewed as a remedy, but rather as a toxin to our government. I believe, however, that statesmanship still has a place in our republic.

Deliberative democracy theorists, like Benjamin Barber, argue against statesmanship and for a facilitating leader. (See “Neither leaders nor followers,” in A Passion for Democracy) Barber views strong leaders, such as statesman, as a direct threat to a healthy democracy. For Barber, statesmen weaken democracy in three ways. First, statesmen narrow the political participation by citizens. Second, statesmen restrict political deliberation and judgment by citizens. Third, statesmen impair autonomy and self-government.

Ultimately, the objection to statesmanship is premised upon an underlying assumption regarding democracy. For Barber famously advocates for a “strong democracy” which is defined by a government where all the people some of the time in some public affairs deliberate, participate and judge political matters. All political judgments are experiments based on considerations and judgments of the past, and they are in need of testing through scrutiny and deliberation.

Barber’s position on democracy, and his promotion of a facilitating leader, poses some risk to the perpetuation and health of our republic. The problem stems from a failure to grasp the nature of our republic and the nature of political life in general. In short, our democratic republic is not exhausted by process alone. His position misconceives the nature of our regime because it assumes that right actions (in the form of skepticism, inquiry, participation and judgment) are more important than right thoughts (in the form of opinions and beliefs).

Our regime rests on opinions, convictions and an emotional attachment to the regime. Our regime’s fundamental opinions are most notably articulated in the Declaration of Independence. No less a student of our democracy than Abraham Lincoln reminds us, though, that the animating principle of equality in the Declaration is the “leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”

Here is where Barber’s position is most dangerous to our republic. If it is the case that foundations of some kind are needed for the establishment of our regime, and the conditions of freedom generally, then failure to protect these foundations could lead to our regime’s demise. Paraphrasing David Frum, it never seems to occur to those like Barber that a genuine questioning of “all beliefs” might overturn liberal-democratic idols.

Given that we have overcome the difficult task of actualizing the principles asserted in the Declaration, what kind of leadership do we need to preserve them? Here, I think, is a place for statesmanship.

Statesmanship is a form of political leadership. Its unique context is the political realm or the state. The statesman, though, is not a politician. The politician aims for his own good. He says and does what the electorate wants to hear and see so that he can be re-elected. The politician is self-interested rather than interested in the public good. The statesman, however, aims for the public good; he aims for the good of the state. As a student of human nature and politics, he possesses the ability to discern it in the midst of particular circumstances and acts with prudence to acquire it. The statesman’s focus on the goal, namely the public good, makes him distinct from a manager. A manager is focused on process and organization. A manager oversees the process to ensure maximum efficiency. The goal, and the wisdom of the goal, is lost to the manager. The goal is always on the mind of the statesman. The statesman may engage in the management of details, but always with a sense of the higher goal in mind, namely serving the good of the state.

So, the statesman serves the state. But what makes a state a state? The essential character of a state is the “thing that belongs to all and yet which cannot be divided up and parceled out to each citizen. That public thing, that thing which is held truly in common, is a common view of the public good.” This common view helps integrate members into the beliefs, practices and traditions of the city. Rituals, literature, and codes of conduct all emanate from this central view of the public good and work to integrate citizens. A state, then, is this complex of values unified by an image or ideal of the public good that defines its way of life, its character.

The statesman’s responsibility, then, is to attend first, and energetically, to these underlying opinions and ideals, which are the most important things. Put more succinctly, the statesman’s duty is to care for the state’s vital principles. For this reason, statesmanship is a better alternative to the facilitating leader proposed by Barber for the perpetuation and health of our republic.

In order for the statesmen to perform his duty as a steward and preserve our vital principles and, thus, the health of our republic, he must educate Americans in the meaning of their original charters. Failing to achieve this task, we risk the dissolution of the glue that binds us together. Barber does recognize the importance of education through schools and civic associations for our republic. The problem is that he furnishes our republic with citizens possessing the manners and morals of the university classroom. His educational scheme would cultivate the talking virtues.

The exclusive exercise of the talking virtues, however, is not enough for our republic, or any political regime. A political regime, including our own democratic regime, will need to exercise political virtues to some measure by some degree in our population.  Political virtues are those habits and dispositions needed to sustain every political regime. Political virtues aim to sustain the core principles, practices and traditions of a regime. For example, the political virtues of moral courage, law abidingness, and self-restraint are needed to sustain our republic.

As Lincoln so aptly noted, to prevent the dissolution of our experiment which we have so bravely and honorably fought for, we must “[L]et reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap.” Let reverence for the laws “become a political religion.” Only if these virtues are cultivated in our citizens can we as a republic survive and flourish. In order for the statesman to perform his duty as a steward, he must oversee the cultivation of these virtues to preserve and enhance our vital principles.

 

Electronic Splitting of the Human Atom
By Anonymous

Although I've done more than my share of academic writing, this is my first foray into the blogosphere. That's why it's appropriate that this essay should be an apology (defense speech) for my techno-logo-phobia. My misgivings have to do with the electronic splitting of the human atom a.k.a. the soul. The 21st century threatens to do to the soul what the 20th did with the so-called, literally un-splittable, physical atom. I fear that we could be left with radioactive souls. The dangers are even more serious than those posed by nuts with nukes. This time the enemy isn’t radical evil. We’re threatened by our techno-banality, a concupiscent consumerism that promises to turn us into happy gaming animals. And we salute it with all the zeal that our non-judgmental souls can muster. It seems to be the ideal non-adversarial game: a Special Olympics where all are winners. Fleeing the zero-sum cutthroat economy, a game we’re losing to China and India, we’ve instead realized the dream of Nietzsche’s Last Man and invented the art of happiness. It’s a victimless crime performed in daylight at a college near you. You could call it 2nd semester intellectual abortion. It’s all about choice and the consumer is always right.

I am a tenured professor at a small Catholic liberal arts college in New England. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It’s the sort of place where everyone knows your name. The college prides itself on its niceness. Yet the very future of this academic Eden, this teeming womb of future social workers and special ed. teachers, is badly compromised. We’re reeling under the impact of a contagious cyber-virus that’s left most students illiterate and addicted. It is our task to keep them entertained and safe. It’s all about the right to a diploma. Yet the vast majority of our graduates cannot read one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Many of their professors are also infected by consumerism. Aided and abetted by a brave new generation of book-kindling librarians, they will knowingly peddle video entertainment in the classroom. All talk of great books threatens their academic freedom. They envy their students. They will do anything to be forever young. Their dream is to be Fonzie for the next generation of Happy Days. Once the Fonz became the shortest regular on the show, it was only tacitly conceded, that he was terminally cool. But he’s the role model for a generation, a Peter Pandemonium of Ph.D.’s.

But the Fonz was the last of a dying breed. He was a mechanic. The gap separating the mechanical age from the electronic eon is exponential. While our WW II GI’s were the envy of the world because they could strip and reassemble their equipment -even a jeep- in a blindingly short time, their counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan cost a million dollars a year, per soldier, to maintain on the field. Their gear is smarter than its operators. The latter are merely mahouts or weapon bearers. Their equipment is easier to replace than to fix and it’s impossible to understand. Even worse, such an army is totally dependent on its very long electronic tail. It’s doomed to win every battle and lose every war. Yet the real struggle must be waged within our civilization. Most of us don’t know what culture is. Many learn to blame the West for all that’s wrong with the world while others, with equal ignorance, define it as free trade and libertarianism. Our troops –who once embodied the freedom they fought for- are but once and future consumers in service of technology.

While there’s disagreement as to whether the greater threat is from the bang of technology or the whimper of religious submission, Western Civilization is surely faced with two grave dangers: the Macworld and the Jihad. They both represent different forms of violence and submission. In each case the danger comes from letting others do our thinking for us. The result is the loss of the Greco-Christian logos: a kind of wrestling rational articulate speech. Mindless jargon, whether from the Imam or the programmer, should never replace it.

The trouble with our culture is that it craves diversion and denies reality: God and man are no longer the measure of truth, the computer is. Post-Modern man has declared his body a pleasure zone. Quite happy to let others do his thinking for him, he only asks to be entertained. Thus the world is duly organized to maximize its cyber-efficiency and we may no longer be able to understand reality, not that this generation even expects to.

The risk is that the master-slave dialectic will duly exact its toll. Those who leave their thinking up to slaves usually become slaves and addicts themselves. However since these cyber-slaves are not human, there will be no counter-revolution. All things will be quantified and qualitative aspects of human reality like justice or love will be deemed meaningless by the regnant power of cyber-positivism. Once we allow most of our thinking to be done by spreadsheets, maximizing the profits of billionaires, pension funds and international hedge funds, both the nation state and the citizen will wither away.

Further since thought will no longer be something that humans will be able to perform efficiently, most jobs will become slavish. In most of the world already, the real distinction is between those who are and aren’t worth enslaving. Today’s students no longer want to learn about the world; they only seek security and diversion. Bread and circuses could become the cultural content of quotidian reality and inevitably there will be less bread and more circuses as obsessions and addictions replace human moderation.

These are the challenges facing our Republic. They must be confronted and discussed.  

The October Country
By Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

"...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain..."

From The October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury

According to Mr. Bradbury, there is a country called "October." I am sure Mr. Bradbury has visited it many times. I've never been there, but I've seen glimpses of it, and have read much of its literature.

Some of the best literature of the October Country ever written are ghostly tales. I'm not talking about horror tales, with blood and axes and maniacs. I'm talking about suspenseful tales told in whispers about things behind doors, under beds, maybe in your closet. I'm talking about stories of revenants, ghouls, ghosts, and residents of Purgatory and Hell who come and go quietly in the dark shadows of our lives, from the grey corners of tombs and mausoleums and crypts. I'm talking about tales of moral judgement for the damned, who you cannot pity, because they have been given chances to repent, and rejected them time and again.

Without argument, the best of these stories are the ghostly fictions of Russell Kirk, the Wizard and Sage of Mecosta, Michigan, man of letters, Stoic, Christian, American Patriot, and literary genius. As you catch glimpses of the October Country this month, and on through the Autumn and Winter months, traditional seasons for Anglo-American ghost story telling, I heartily commend to you Dr. Kirk's ghost stories: morbid, creepy, understated, beautiful tales reminiscent of the moral stories of the Old Testament, with no delay for judgement for the damned, but with mercy aplenty for the righteous.

If you want to read all 22 of his ghost stories at a reasonable price, and your library cannot help you, you need to buy two books:

Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, which contains 19 stories, plus an essay called "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale," and The Surly Sullen Bell: Ten Stories and Sketches, Uncanny or Uncomfortable, With a Note on the Ghostly Tale, which contains the three tales not in Ancestral Shadows, plus an essay called "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale," which is not the same essay in Ancestral Shadows, though it has the same title. Both of these books can be found used at very reasonable prices. I've been able find new copies of Ancestral Shadows over the years at huge discounts.

Beware! These stories are not for the faint of heart. Kirk himself writes in Ancestral Shadows: "Elaborated from certain encounters of mine with life and death, these stories were not written for children." Indeed. And though fictional tales, they are truer than most of what passes for real life in our dark, neo-Barbarian Age.

Are We Witnessing the Demise of Democratic Capitalism?
By J. Henry Allen

I used to enjoy and agree with some of the writings of NY Times writer Thomas Friedman. Now, I find myself less and less agreeing with what he writes, since he seems to have taken a more decidedly leftist turn in his views.

But here's a piece that he recently wrote that I find at least to be a conversation starter. His piece comes in the wake of the recent Occupy Wall Street (and other US cities) "rallies" related to a whole grab bag of assorted, progressive/leftist causes (anti-corporations, anti-capitalism, anti-military, eco-Vegan-pacifist-Free Mumia-you name it leftist causes, etc.) in which protestors seek to re-create a '60s leftist activist vibe for our times. Of course, Occupy Wall Street protestors are typically compared to their polar opposite counterparts, the Tea Party movement (which is often associated with aggressively right wing sorts of causes):

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/opinion/theres-something-happening-here.html

Friedman gives us 2 different perspectives about the nature of the hair trigger, divisive times politically and culturally that we find ourselves in today in the USA. But the 2 perspectives that he gives us, while both involving temporary disruption and widespread angst, nevertheless, offer everybody a happy ending when all of the dust of global and economic reconfiguration and transformation finally settles.

But as a student of history and of the patterns often displayed throughout that human history, I see the increasing possibility of a darker, not-so-happy ending for the USA and its system of democratic capitalist values. I see more and more shades of the Weimar Republic in Germany, circa 1918-1933, emerging here in the USA. There are obviously stark differences of historical context for the Weimar Republic (e.g. under staggering financial reparations obligations in the aftermath of WWI) versus the USA today (e.g. national debt exploding due to expansive entitlements and rampant government spending on a multitude of projects).

Certainly, the USA right now is not nearly as in dire financial and cultural shape as was post WWI Germany. But things in the USA seem to be moving downhill fast....And there are more, eery parallels that pop up: economic instability; chronic unemployment issues; currency devaluations; national debt crises; disillusionment with political leadership across the whole ideological spectrum; a sense that the entire political/economic system is "broken"........

And most of all, the rise of more and more shrill, aggressive ("extreme") voices that call for wholesale, "systemic" changes to the current framework. In the Weimar Republic, extreme polarization set in with the Communists drawing in militant leftists versus the Fascists appealing to those with militant right-wing views. The supposedly representative Weimar government became feckless and impotent, and it grew to be despised by huge numbers of Germans across the ideological spectrum. Internal riots and bloodshed occurred, along with a defiant lawlessness that increased the sense of things spinning out of control.....And we all know the not-so-happy ending of a strong man (Hitler) rising to the "rescue" of a battered Germany.

I realize that we have a ways to go before we truly get to a Weimar Republic-like condition in the USA. Yet, the inertia of our times seems to be pulling us in that direction. I certainly pray to God for a better resolution to the current ills of the USA than what transpired in 1930s Germany.

From Professor to Social Worker
By Lee Trepanier

Preparing for the spring semester, we have received a notice from the university’s office of disability services that wants faculty to look for certain signs and symptoms among students to see whether they qualify for additional accommodations. I certainly am not opposed to faculty members who want to take students aside and ask them as to why their academic performance is so poor; and I certainly recommend at the beginning of the semester students who believe they require additional accommodations to visit the office of disability services in order to be diagnosed. However, I am reluctant to take these additional responsibilities, as 1) I am not qualified to do so, 2) it is not part of job description as a faculty member, and 3) I am concerned about liability issues apart from the problem of potential grade appeals. To put it simply, I’m not a social worker and don’t desire to be one. I would be curious whether other people have encountered similar situations and how they handled it.

Class on Presidents and Policy
By Angela Miceli

I have been asked to teach a class next semester and would love some reading suggestions.  The class is an upper level American government class called "The President and Policy Process" and the course description reads as follows:

"A study of presidential leadership as the embodiment of social forces and as reflective of the personality of the incumbent; the president as national leader reflecting national myths and ideologies; the growth of the presidency; issues and forces affecting the continuity of presidential leadership; degree of institutionalization of the presidency."

This pretty general and I know I can have a lot of fun with this kind of class, but I am pretty unfamiliar with much of the secondary literature.  And it has not been offered in at least five years at the college. Any suggestions for good secondary literature on a course like this?  Thank you! 

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