Mel Bradford's Political Credo
By Jeffrey Dennis Pearce, August 25, 2010 in Outside the Classroom

Professor, literary critic, historian, sage--all of these terms apply to Mel Bradford. In his "On Remembering Who We Are: A Political Credo" in Modern Age, Spring 1982, this American patriot writes "in praise of the inhibition and limitation which come from remembering who and what we are, politically speaking." He quotes Robert Nisbet writing about Aristotle. Nisbet makes the point that Aristotle was not so much concerned about the form a government took, but "'the relation between government and the social order. What was important was not whether government was monarchy, oligarchy or democracy but whether the family, private property, legitimate associations and social classes were able to maintain themselves free of incessant political invasion or domination irrespective of what form of government existed.'" (Roben Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co.,1973), p. 396) Bradford agrees, and goes on to briefly examine three societies where the relation between the government and the social order found harmonious balance: Viking Iceland, the Venetian Republic, and the United Netherlands. This article is a fascinating introduction to the thought of Mel Bradford, and has many thought-provoking insights worthy of consideration and discussion.

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1 Comment
Anonymous on Aug 26, 2010 at 6:38 am

It's not clear to me that Nisbet has gotten Aristotle right--in fact, the portion quoted by Bradford seems to get Aristotle dead wrong. His comments seem a more apropos description of the federalism of Althusius or of Reformed Covenantal thought more generally of the later Catholic teaching about subsidiarity. I realize that there are those who adopt a subsidiarist interpretation of Aristotle. Nonetheless, Aristotle suggests that just as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so the good of the whole is greater than the good of the parts. Consequently, he maintains that whenever the common good comes into conflict with the good of associations less comprehensive than the polis or with the private good of individuals, then the common good always trumps. Ken Grasso seems right when he suggests that Aristotle, his treatment of the polis as an association of associations notwithstanding, capitulates to the tendency to subsume lesser associations and individuals to a degree incompatible with the sort of social ontology that fits best with a principle like subsidiarity (or, I would add, with the federalism/covenantalism of theorists like Althusius or even Bullinger). One wishes folks like Nisbet and Bradford were a bit more careful in their analysis of the history of thought--and that they were more aware of Federal/Covenantal thought in the 16th and 17th century--a body of thought which balanced due emphasis on the common good with the good of less comprehensive social associations, the good of which is the reason for the existence of more comprehensive political associations. Of course, even in 17th and 18th century American thought, there is sometimes an emphasis on the common good that comes at the expense of the good of less comprehensive societies within the larger polis. For many early Americans, virtue was prioritizing the common good over individual good, the good of my family, or the good of any less comprehensive association to which I belong.

about the author

Jeffrey Dennis Pearce
Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

I have a B.A. in history from Biola University, La MIrada, California, and an M.A. in history from California State University, Sacramento, California. I teach Western Civilization, and am an associated scholar and member of The Abbeville Institute, and a member of The Ghost Story Society.

I am a proud descendant of Charles the Hammer (through the Blossom/Fitz Randolph line of Plimoth Plantation), Revolutionary and Southron Patriots, and Danish and English settlers to the Stillaguamish and Skagit River valleys in Washington State.

Reading and research interests include Colonial and Revolutionary America, the American South, ghostly tales, the writings of Russell Kirk, Mel Bradford, Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, and T.S. Eliot, and Anglo-American Conservative intellectual history and literature.

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