Friday, March 12, 2004

Spring 1971 Intercollegiate Review

"One does not have to be an anarchist or a cynic to hold that society is meaningless; no less a personage than a US Ambassador to a South American country--Mr. John Cabot Lodge--said in a recent ceremonial public speech that "society is an abstraction, only individuals are real." This latter-day nominalism is destructive and silly: society is "man writ large," and the proof is that no two communities are interchangeable--precisely because they embody experiences which make increasing sense within a given framework, which translates the reality of the world into the language of specific shared relationships."

Thomas Molnar, Tradition and Social Change

The manner in which society exists has always intrigued me. Does a given society have its own "essence," its own way of life that forms its members by its very nature? Or is it simply the sum total of its relations? Time to revisit the nominalist controversy.

The authors[of The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition] undertake to illuminate the problem that has been generated by liberal domination since the Great Depression. That interpretation has attempted to show that the only American tradition has been "liberal" and that the liberal view has been the basis for the utopianism of contemporary reform. For the liberals, the interpretation of the American tradition has created a unified myth that America stands primarily for liberty, equality, and the rights of man, making the Declaration of Independence the foundation stone of the new edifice.

[...]Our authors attack the overemphasis on the idea that the Declaration is talking individual rights, and more particularly the illegitimate use of the Declaration by Abraham Lincoln. Such a use was a derailment of our tradtion, not its proper interpretation. And this leads to the problem of definitions of equality. The authors affirm that there is no foundation for saying on the basis of the Declaration that individuals have rights that stand above the government of their community by a virtuous people.

[...]It is our constitutional morality not to have a showdown between the three branches of the government. Our system, say Kendall and Carey, cannot survive such confrontations. But the new morality of the judges does not want us to go through the laborious process of gathering the deliberate sense of the community: We march instead toward an "open society" of equality.

Francis G. Wilson, Reclaiming the American Political Tradition

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