Saturday, October 04, 2003

As is the case with all collective enterprises, the social sciences have many more practitioners than they do ideas and principles. I would even argue that they rest upon one sole principle, the separation of facts and values, which sets them apart from philosophy and testifies to their scientific character. The demise of political philosophy is of a piece with the triumph of this principle. I admit that generally such sweeping statements are better avoided. Nevertheless it is a fact that the fact/value distinction has become not only the presupposition of present–day social science but also the prevalent opinion in society at large. In present conditions, a teenager proves his or her coming of age, a citizen proves his or her competence and loyalty, by making use of this principle.

[...]To put it in a nutshell: while previous societies organized themselves so as to bind their members together, while they extolled the ideas of concord and unity, our democratic society organizes itself so as to untie, even to separate, its members, and thus guarantee their independence and their rights. In this sense, our society proposes to fulfill itself as a dis–society. An extraordinary phenomenon indeed!

[...]We have seen that predemocratic societies were "incorporated" societies, rooted in the fecundity of the body, culminating in the King’s body. As for democratic societies, while they are not particularly religious, they are politically and morally spiritualist, even otherwordly. Electing a representative, unlike begetting an heir, is the work of the will—of the mind or the soul.

[...]It might be argued that this heterogeneity is adequately taken care of through the public acknowledgment of the legitimate plurality of human values. Nothing could be more mistaken. As Leo Strauss once tersely remarked, pluralism is a monism, being an –ism. The same self–destructive quality attaches itself to our "values." To interpret the world of experience as constituted of admittedly diverse "values" is to reduce it to this common genus, and thus to lose sight of that heterogeneity we wanted to preserve. If God is a value, the public space a value, the moral law within my heart a value, the starry sky above my head a value . . . what is not? At the same time, for this is confusion’s great masterpiece, the "value language" makes us lose the unity of human life—this necessary component of democratic self–consciousness—just as it blurs its diversity: you don’t argue about values since their value lies in the valuation of the one who puts value on them. Value language, with the inner dispositions it encourages, makes for dreary uniformity and unintelligible heterogeneity at the same time.

-Pierre Manent, The Return of Political Philosophy

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