At the beginning of his career, Pierre Manent spoke of political philosophy’s “healing light.” Likewise, he pointed to Cicero as a classical model of a philosophically informed citizen who could speak to princes and peoples alike about matters of public concern. His modern-day model was his teacher, Raymond Aron. After a period of apprenticeship, then a steady stream of works of political philosophy, Manent himself entered the civic conversation. Beyond Radical Secularism is his most recent contribution, appearing in French as Situation de France in 2015.
It’s been a year since my last little piece on the Declaration of Independence, and what a year it’s been.
On the Right of our political spectrum, one could sum up its events and eventfulness in one word: Trump. A party has been captured by an outsider, the disaffection of millions of its rank-and-file revealed. At the national level, the Grand Old Party is not so grand or even particularly coherent, and some fear it might not last as a party. Something similar can be said of the party of the Left. Substitute “Clinton” and “Sanders” and comparable deep fissures emerge, although perhaps with less likelihood of disintegration.
What light, in terms of principles and manner of thinking about politics, might this context shed?
Goldilocks’ dictum about porridge is the gold standard for all sorts of things. It is also difficult to achieve, as Aristotle’s discussion of the noble mean, the mēson, in Book Two of the Nicomachean Ethics indicates. This is also the case, he explains in the Poetics, for artistic chef d’oeuvres, those works perfect in their genre, with nothing to be added or subtracted from their magnitude or proportions.
While not a work of dramatic fiction, but rather of searching philosophical analysis, French political philosopher Pierre Manent’s Metamorphoses of the City: On the Western Dynamic is one such work.
With Leo Strauss: Man of Peace, Robert Howse situates himself between the two opposing camps of the Strauss-wars. He is neither a Straussian nor an anti-Straussian; and his Leo Strauss is neither the unsurpassable resurrection of the Socratic spirit nor a malevolent teacher of immorality. His Strauss is a “man of peace”: a humane if tough-minded philosopher who confronted the tyrannies and political violence of the 20th century and attempted to make sense of them and the philosophical minds that endorsed or were complicit in them. He sought to do so at the deepest level, not being content with moralistic,…
Last year I penned an analysis and something of a paean to the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps a follow-up is in order. Who knows, perhaps it could become a fourth of July tradition? Certainly there is a good deal more in the famous text than one entry could survey. In fact, the general purpose of this one is to provide material for reflection. That would be a thoughtful way of being patriotic on this day of commemoration and celebration.
The Declaration applies various sorts of principles – theological; anthropological; and political – to a set of “Facts” – chiefly “injuries and usurpations” on the part of the British monarch (and, belatedly, Parliament). It judges the facts as evincing a design of tyranny, and concludes, as it began, with the necessity and duty of revolution and independence, understood as self-government by and for free men and women.
This is an impassioned book about the Declaration of Independence. It comes from specific personal and pedagogical experiences, as its author, a classicist and political theorist at Princeton, winsomely reports. Danielle Allen employs several techniques, some old, some new, in engaging and expositing her book’s central object: what she calls a close, “sentence by sentence” reading of the document, one that sometimes lingers over the meaning of a single term but that also draws upon modern theories of the uses to which language can be put. But while the methods are specific, the aim is quite grand and ambitious: to make…
In literary terms, Marilynne Robinson is a national treasure. In political terms, not so much. “When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid,” as the nursery rhyme has it. Robinson might not even mind my saying that, by the way. As an essayist she deliberately tries to make countercultural moves, intellectually and spiritually. Unfortunately, Robinson’s political views as expressed in her latest collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books, are far from countercultural if by that we mean unusual. They’re off-the-shelf liberal. Like her hero, President Obama, she is disinclined…
A friend over at NRO’s Postmodern Conservative blog recently asked which contemporary French authors might profitably be read by American conservatives. As a Francophone who has translated French philosophers from this and previous centuries, I thought I’d contribute my two cents.
My criteria were: 1) What could help American conservatives better understand Europe, the evolving nature of liberal democracy, and the pathologies of the age, both abroad and at home? and 2) Who are the contemporary French authors who could speak to a fairly diverse cohort?
If democracy is to endure, thoughtful citizenship is a requirement for a critical mass of the citizenry. We have an opportunity to live up to that obligation today. America’s birthday offers an opportunity to go back to the self-conscious beginnings of our common enterprise, where we meet the Declaration of Independence.
In a letter to Richard Henry Lee, Jefferson famously characterized the Declaration as “an expression of the American mind.” Let’s spend a few minutes considering that mind. We will find it to be: 1) logical; 2) liberty-loving; 3) manly; and 4) gesturing towards, and calling for, philosophical and theological reflection.