Friday, April 28, 2006

Localist Virtues vs. Nationalist Self-Interest

From an old Philadelphia Society meeting:

Americans, like most people, have a history containing multiple streams of competing political standards of value. All traditions, in truth, demand a measure of choice and some selection criteria by which one stream rather than another is preferred. In particular, Americans have inherited from the years surrounding their country's separation from Britain, two contrasting visions of republican government. One vision, that most readily associated with American ideals held from the time of the first plantations in the seventeenth century and advanced as the goals of the War of Independence, held Americans to be particularly virtuous and, thus, especially capable of democratic self-government. The second vision, one embraced largely in an atmosphere of disappointment in the decade following the end of America's first war of independence, is best associated with the ideals of self-interest as the recognized engine of political and social life, and with centralized patterns of governmental control modeled on America's British Imperial inheritance. These are the two visions of "republican" government that, I suggest, Americans have inherited and that, as conservatives, we are asked to choose between. That is, we must choose between the longer-lived vision of virtue and local self-government that remains resident in localistic and Christian based politics today, and the shorter-lived vision of self-interest and elite governmental imposition favored by America's liberal elites.
-Barry Shain
Self-Interest Versus Virtue: Conservatism and America's Divided Inheritance

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