You are here

What, generally speaking, is to be done?

A commenter asks those who post here “What does your ideal America look like?” The question’s worth discussing.

From the standpoint of specific practical political goals, I don’t really have an ideal America. No society is ideal, since every society depends on the cooperation of imperfect human beings. The specifics of what’s good politically depend on time, place, habit, history, what works out, and a lot of unpredictable contingencies. And in any event politics has to do with force, so it has a limited and not-very-ideal role.

Still, some things are better than others, and what I’d like to move toward is a society that allows more play to natural human ways of doing and understanding things, one driven less by attempts to force everything to conform to narrow and inhuman misunderstandings of knowledge, reality, and human life. I’d like to have less of a role for scientism and formal expertise and more of one for local and traditional institutions—e.g., family, neighborhood, religion, particular culture—that are capable of capturing the kinds of perceptions and experiences that value-neutral reasoning, social science, economics, therapeutics and so on can’t take notice of.

So my improved America would be more decentralized than what we have now. The Feds and the states would be responsible for less, localities and informal institutions for more. Borders and local authorities would count for more, so social relations would gain in particularity and concreteness. Government responsibility for the material well- being of particular individuals would be reduced, so enduring personal connections and responsibilities would gain in importance. Antidiscrimination laws would be cut back, so people could establish cooperative connections based on the affinities and commonalities that seem relevant to them.

The most directly political part of my “program” would therefore be reduction in the activity of the state, although the state would still be important for some things, for example national defense, suppressing crime, and establishing boundaries so social arrangements can have a certain local particularity and stability. However, society isn’t just a matter of politics and programs. Beyond the particulars, every society has ultimate reference points that have to do with what people, or the dominant classes, think is good, beautiful, and true. Those reference points are normally the single most important thing about political society, even though they’re more fundamental than politics and so can’t be treated as simply political.

Anyway, in this country and the West generally the overgrowth of the state and of specialized authority has turned those reference points into something that state officials remake at will based on ruling class ideology—concretely, liberalism and scientism. So you get atrocities like the school prayer cases, the abortion cases, and the recent judicial redefinition of marriage in Massachusetts. I think the understanding of law and government that made those decisions possible is outrageous and has to be changed, so the ideas of man and the world that guide government can correspond less to to the ideology of technocratic elites, and more to deeper, more widespread, and more enduring understandings that take institutions other than the state and the formal bureaucracies of knowledge seriously.

Naturally, like other people I have views about which understandings are best. For example, I consider Islam better than contemporary advanced liberalism, the individualistic, nondoctrinal and moralistic Protestantism traditional in America better than Islam, and Catholicism better than Protestantism. You can’t force such issues though. The government of a country should in general recognize and cooperate with the country’s informal, traditional, moral and religious habits and institutions. Those things have to do with what people at bottom believe in and love, and as the philosopher (or whoever) said, “you can’t hurry love.” They precede politics and the attempt to remake them politically is tyrannical.

Those are my thoughts. Others?