Monday, March 30, 2009

The Future of the Liberal Arts

Tonight at 7:30 I deliver a keynote lecture at Oglethorpe University on the subject of "The Future of the Liberal Arts." My own view is rather bleak - I think it's likely that the future of the liberal arts is close to non-existent - at least in the short- to middle-term future. My argument, in a nutshell, is that the liberal arts were based on the teaching of an older form of liberty, namely the liberty that is achieved through self-governance. Its role has been increasingly displaced with the rise of the new liberty - achieved through the new sciences - namely, the liberty from limits aimed at the fulfillment of our desires. That project is ever more fully realized (even in spite of our economic crisis, which for most now means we need to redouble our efforts of control), meaning that the liberal arts are on the verge of being altogether routed. However, growing evidence of the costs and consequences of unrestrained appetite and the necessary expansion of the modern scientific project simply to control the deleterious effects of its own activities suggests that we will - someday, and hopefully not too long or too late - rediscover the wisdom of the liberal arts, and the real humanities (not their craven modern incarnation) that was at their heart.

If you're in the Atlanta area and don't have anything better to do (hard to imagine), do stop by.

A taste, here:

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The current revolution redefining the university has very old roots that are only now giving bloom to foliage that threatens to overrun the entire university system. That revolution began in the early modern period with an argument that a new science was needed to replace the old science, a new science that no longer sought merely to understand, but to transform. In the domain of the sciences, it gave rise to the scientific revolution. In the domain of economics, it gave rise to a new system of free market economics. In the realm of politics, it gave rise to the liberal polity. It afforded theories of rationalization and standardization, rejected old claims of tradition and culture, of cult and creed, of myth and story. First it sought to remake the natural world, then it set its aims on human nature. It has given rise to unprecedented liberty, prosperity, opportunity, openness, discovery, technology, - all that Francis Bacon called “the relief of the human estate.” Its success is so profound and extensive that nothing can stand in its path.

Yet, for many years, an older science still lie at the heart of liberal education. It was pre-modern in origins, mostly religious and cultural, deriving its authority from the faith traditions that one generation sought to pass onto a next generation. One sees it today on most campuses as a palimpsest, that is, like a medieval vellum whose old writing was erased to make room for new writing, but from which a trained eye can still read the ancient teaching. In the gothic buildings, the name “professor,” “dean” and “provost,” the flowing robes that are donned once or twice a year for ceremonial occasions – these and some other holdover presences and practices are fragments of an older tradition mostly dead on most college campuses, but remnants and reminders, nonetheless, of what had once been the animating spirit of these institutions.

For centuries the humanistic disciplines were at the heart of the university: while the sciences were an integral part of the original liberal arts education, they were understood to be the main avenue toward understanding the natural and created order of which humankind was a crowning part. Humanity was the highest created creature, the created creature most worthy of study, because we were created in God’s image and, as a creature with Godlike features, we were the creature that had the unique capacity for liberty. This liberty, we understood, was subject to misuse and excess; the oldest stories in our tradition, including the story of humankind’s fall from Eden, told the tale of the human propensity to use freedom badly. To understand ourselves was the effort to understand how to use our liberty well, especially how to govern those appetites, submission to which would actually represent the loss of our liberty and reflect our enslavement to desire. At the heart of the liberal arts was an education in what it meant to be human: how to negotiate that hard and difficult task of determining what was permitted and what was forbidden, what constituted the highest and best use of our freedom and what actions were – to use varying terms - hubristic, sinful, unethical, immoral – wrong. We consulted the great works of our tradition, the vast epics, the great tragedies and comedies, the reflections of philosophers and theologians, the revealed Word of God, those countless books that sought to teach us what it was to be human, above all, how to use our liberty well. To be free – liberal – was itself an art, something that was learned not by nature or instinct, but by refinement and education. At the center of the heart of the soul of the liberal arts were the humanities, the education of how to be a human being.

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For the humanities – the older science – liberty had been understood to be the achievement of hard discipline, the learned capacity to govern appetite and desire, to tame the unlimited cravings of the will and achieve a condition of self-government. For the new science, liberty was constituted by the removal of obstacles, by the overcoming of limits, by the transformation of the world – whether the world of nature, over which humans increasingly exercised control by means of science and applied technologies, or even the nature of humanity itself, a nature that was believed to be as malleable as nature had proven to be. Education was to be increasingly a process of liberation, not the cultivation of self-restraint.

To meet the conditions of this increasingly dominant sense of liberty, the humanities sought acceptance by the dominant purveyors of liberty by advancing theories that asserted the pure liberation of human beings from all constraint. Post-modernism sought to expose all forms of power and control, implying that the ideal human condition was one of complete liberty – even the liberty from what was once understood to be human (see Foucault, The Order of Things). Purportedly natural conditions were regarded as “socially constructed,” including “gender” and “heteronormativity.” Of course, nature could no longer a standard in any sense, since nature was now manipulable and alterable. Why accept the facts of biology when those “facts” could be altered? The definition of what it was to be a human – already challenging and elusive – became increasingly indefensible. Many people began to conclude that there was no human nature, only endless possibilities of self-creation. Education increasingly became oriented not toward the achievement of a certain end, but rather an invitation to endless possibilities.

We were increasingly told that the sole attribute of humanity was that of will – that raw assertion of power over any restraints or limits that would otherwise define us. Rather than the source of an education in limits and restraint – as they had once been – the humanities became the most conspicuously liberative of the disciplines, even calling into question the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise. Ironically, the very trajectory of its liberatory logic was only a reflection and extension of the very ethic of the new science that had come to dominate the structure of the university.

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If the humanities are on the verge of being routed, one can only imagine now what they might say. I would think the humanities of old would part the stage with a warning and even a lament. Its warning would be simple, I think: at the end of the path of liberation lies enslavement. Such liberation from all obstacles is finally illusory, for two simple reasons: human appetite is insatiable and the world is limited. We cannot be truly free in the modern sense for both of these reasons. We can never attain satiation; we will be eternally driven by our desires rather than satisfied by their attainment. And, in our pursuit of the satisfaction of our limitless desires, we will very quickly exhaust the planet. Our destiny, should we enter fully down this path toward our complete liberation, is one in which we will be more governed by necessity than ever before. We will not be governed by our own capacity for self-rule, but rather by circumstance, particularly the circumstances resulting from scarcity, devastation and chaos.

Our commitment to a future of liberation from nature and necessity is illusory – it is the faith-based philosophy of our time. Religion is often accused of being incapable of drawing the right conclusions from evidence, but it seems to me that we have in plain view the greatest leap of faith in our time, perhaps of all time – namely our willful refusal to alter our behavior in response to the various crises that now face us. Take, for instance, the response of the leadership of our nation and our institutions of higher learning to this very economic crisis in which we find ourselves, in whose dark shadow we gather today. This crisis, as everyone now knows, was the result of the idea that one could consume without limits, that we were permitted to live indefinitely and permanently beyond our means. The wanting of something was warrant for the taking of the thing. Our appetite justified consumption. Our want was sufficient for our satiation. The result was not merely literal obesity, but moral obesity – a lack of self-governance of our appetites ultimately forced us on a starvation diet.

I have yet to hear a University president or leader suggest that there was some culpability on the the part their own institutions for our failure to educate well our students. After all, it was OUR students who occupied places of esteem in these elite financial and political institutions throughout the land that helped to precipitate this crisis. It was OUR students who occupied places of power and influence in the national economic order. We readily take credit for Rhodes scholars and Fulbright recipients; what about our students who created sub-prime CDOs and complex derivatives whose main reasons for existence was to line their pockets? Are we so assured that they did not learn exceedingly well the lessons that we have taught them?

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Conversation

I had the great pleasure of recently meeting Mr. BC of Northern Ireland, who writes for a wonderful blog, Burke's Corner. He has graciously, and quite accurately, recorded a number of points from our discussion, and I'm very pleased to point you not only to that conversation, but to his extremely valuable commentary throughout his site. My thanks for the visit and a terrific conversation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Two Upcoming Events

For residents of or visitors to the greater DC metropolitan area, next week we have two noteworthy events co-sponsored by the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, an initiative I direct at Georgetown.

First, we will co-sponsor a "Cicero's Podium Debate" with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the question of "Economic Freedom and Moral Virtue: Does the Free Market Produce Captive Souls?" The debate will pit Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute (answering in the negative) against David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (who will answer in the affirmative). The debate will take place on April 1, 2009, 7:00-9:00pm in Salon D of the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center (attached to the Leavey Center, the main campus student center).

Second, we will co-sponsor with the Mortara Center and the Center for Peace and Security Studies a lecture by Andrew Bacevich entitled "The End of American Exceptionalism: 1941-2008 as the Short American Century." The lecture will take place the following day, April 2, 2009, from 5:00-6:30pm in the Mortara Center, which is located at 3600 N. Street, N.W., a block from the main campus front gates.

Both lectures are free and open to the public - please RSVP to tocquevilleforum AT georgetown.edu. For those interested but far-flung, we will post a video recording of the debate and an audio recording of the lecture within a short time after their conclusion. You can also check out recordings of an amazing array of previous events, here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wisdom of the Anti-Federalists - Part Two

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Men of Great Faith
            i. In contrast to the Framers, the Anti-federalists held that self-interest could not be the organizing principle of a good polity.  A good polity relied not upon the unleashing of self-interest, but its restraint and proper ordering.  While many Anti-federalists adopted the natural rights language dominant in many of those contemporary debates, the thrust of their arguments was a hearkening back to pre-modern understandings of human nature and its necessary formation in political settings.  That is, rather than assuming, like the Framers, that human beings are by natural free and independent individuals, the Anti-federalist’s emphasis on education and the inculcation of virtue rested on the view that man is by nature a political animal.  This view was stated most clearly by Agrippa of Massachusetts, who explicitly rejects the assumptions about human nature that underlie the philosophy of the Constitution:
It is common to consider man at first as in a state of nature, separate from all society.  The only historical evidence, that the human species ever existed in this state, is derived from the book of Genesis.  There, it is said, that Adam remained a while alone.  While the whole species was comprehended in his person was the only instance in which this supposed state of nature really existed.  Ever since the completion of the first pair, mankind appear as natural to associate with their own species, as animals of any other kind herd together.  Wherever we meet with their settlements, they are found in clans.  We are therefore justified in saying, that a state of society is the natural condition of man.  Wherever we find a settlement of men, we find also some appearance of government.  The state of government is therefore as natural to mankind as a state of society.
[CAF, 6:107]
Agrippa’s clear statement on this point helps to make sense the Anti-federalists’ near-unanimous insistence on the necessity of virtue as the basis for the good polity.  Government is not merely the artificial restraint upon our natural and ungoverned self-interest; it is the natural inculcation of the excellent qualities of human nature to achieve a standard of self-governance, laws freely made and willingly observed.  In accordance with classical teachings such as found in Aristotle or the widespread colonial understanding of Christian liberty, government and law is educative, making us more fully human rather than restricting our natural liberty.  Numerous Anti-federalists objected to the absence in the Constitution requiring formal institutions of civic education, although for many the law was thought to be itself an education, and should reflect that underlying view of the necessity to teach restraint and self-governance.
Avarice/luxury
ii.  A government based upon self-interest would incline to self-aggrandizement, vainglory, avarice, dominion and ultimately would be tempted to adopt measures antithetical to republican government in order to retain the pleasures associated with the satisfactions of self-interest.  The Anti-federalists insisted that the proper sphere for the inculcation of civic virtue was necessarily within the confines of small republic.  A small republic afforded an intimate bond between the ruling body and the laws, leading to the voluntary and willing submission to laws made by the people themselves.  A smaller sphere permitted the flourishing of local variety and legislation that reflected particular local and cultural commitments.  The Anti-federalists feared that the consequence of greater distance between ruler and ruled would be the felt sense that law would be an external imposition, thereby requiring its enforced observance.  They feared that the national uniformity of laws would result in the destruction of local variety and particularity, and would create instead a homogenous nation which would be ruled entirely from the center, giving rise to an “aristocratical” ruling class.
They saw in the proposed Constitution a strong tendency toward becoming a commercial empire.  Patrick Henry asked, “shall we imitate the example of those nations who have gone from a simple to a splendid government?  Are those nations more worthy of our imitation….?  If we admit this Consolidated Government, it will because we like a great and splendid one.  Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things…” (5.16.2).  Cecilia Kenyon is undoubtedly correct to note that the Anti-federalists feared the rule of a small cadre of self-aggrandizing elites; however, it was not so much government tout court that they feared, so much as (as Christopher Duncan has perceptively argued) a “corrupt or detached government.”  It was not that they misunderstood the ambitions of the Constitution; they disagreed with its basic aims, instead urging a commitment to a modest republic of relatively local commerce and defensive military posture.  As Melancton Smith would argue in the New York ratification debates against his opponent Alexander Hamilton, a more local and modest scale would not only serve as the cradle of an education of virtue, but would provide modest means for the attainment of great ambitions. 
Those in the middling circumstances have less temptation – they are inclined by habit and the company with whom they associate, to set bounds to their passions and appetites – if this is not sufficient, they also want the means to gratify them – and they are obliged to employ their time in their respective callings.  Hence, the yeomanry of the country are more temperate, of better morals, and less ambition than the great. [emphasis mine]

            And, of course, the Anti-federalists held that any inculcation in the virtues of self-restraint and self-government required a sound and widespread set of religious commitments.  Perceiving among a number of the Federalists a skepticism toward religious belief, they noted the Constitution’s silence about God and protections for worship, and argued on behalf of the central role of religion in the maintenance of republican self-government.  As the Revolution’s historian Mercy Warren was to write, America ought not to follow the example of Enlightenment Europe on the path toward incipient secularism:  “Bent on gratification, at the expense of every moral tie, they have broken down the barriers of religion, and the spirit of infidelity is nourished at the fount; thence the poisonous streams run through every grade that constitutes the mass of nations” (6.14.148).
In their belief that a limited and modest republic could serve as the necessary backdrop for the inculcation of virtue, the Anti-federalists showed themselves to be men of great faith, not men of little faith as Cecilia Kenyon contended nearly 60 years ago.  Rejecting the cramped view that “moral and religious motives cannot be relied upon,” the Anti-federalists insisted that virtue was a lived possibility in the small settings of the American confederation, and sought to defend those cradles of civic inculcation against efforts to dissipate their influence and unleash ambition and appetite toward the goal of national glory and “splendor.”  If their argument was weaker, as Herbert Storing concluded, it was only because its achievement is always a challenge, never without difficulty. Building higher than the “low but solid ground” of modern philosophy, the Anti-federalists relied upon the inculcation of restraint of appetite and ambition – never an easy task for fallen and sinful mankind. 
iii.  In contrast to the Framers, whose system sought to encourage the great and ambitious to hold public office, and the superiority of good administration to local rule, the Anti-federalists insisted upon the superiority of the common sense embedded in and derived from the variety of places throughout the confederation.  Rather than promoting office-holders from among the group of “speculative men,” the Anti-federalist Melancton Smith commended the homely virtues of ordinary citizens, arguing that they were grounded in modest professions and less likely to be subject to aggrandizing ambition and national glory.  Smith argued in favor of what might be called “local knowledge,” or sensus communis, a common and shared stockpile of accumulated wisdom that is derived from the lived experience of people in the places they lived, knew, and loved.
The idea that naturally suggests itself to our minds, when we speak of representatives, is that they resemble those they represent; they should be a true picture of the people; possess the knowledge of their circumstances and their wants; sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests.  The knowledge necessary for the representation of a free people, not only comprehends extensive political and commercial information, such as acquired by men of refined education, who have the leisure to attain to high degrees of improvement, but it should also comprehend that kind of acquaintance with the common concerns and occupations of the people, which men of the middling class of life are in general much better competent to, than those of a superior class.  To understand the true commercial interests of a country, not only requires just ideas of the general commerce of the world, but also, and principally, a knowledge of the productions of your own country and their value, what your soil is capable of producing, the nature of your manufacture…, [and more than] an acquaintance with the abstruse parts of the system of finance.  [Melancton Smith, 6.12.15]
            The Anti-federalists recognized that modern republics required a form of representation, though their theory inclined them to a sympathy with more direct forms of democratic self-governance.  To the extent that representation was required, they argued that representatives should be bound closely in ties of friendship and close contact with constituents, and that the opportunity to serve as public servant to one’s fellow citizens should be widely available, namely through shorter terms and rotation in office.  Relatively small and coherent districts were strongly supported by the Anti-federalists.
            A more numerous legislature composed of “yeomen” lawmakers was therefore one goal of the Anti-federalists, one that would reflect the variety of local circumstance and encourage a strong connection between office-holders and constituents.  The New York Anti-federalist Melancton Smith contended that a mutually-reinforcing virtuous cycle would result, in which men of “middling” circumstance would serve in government – and in which frequent rotation would ensure the existence of a large body of civically-minded citizens – that would in turn encourage civic-mindedness among the broader body of citizens.  While representatives would naturally be drawn to defending and advancing the interests specific to his particular district, the dynamic interaction and civic trust between representatives and represented meant that there was greater likelihood of discussion and persuasion over public matters – that politics would go beyond the expression of mere interest that was the deepest assumption of modern philosophic assumptions, but instead would in some ways be a form of education about the one’s interests, “rightly understood.”
            Representatives must not only speak for the interests of their constituents, but speak to and with them.  As the Anti-federalist Brutus agreed, the trust between representative and constituency made it possible for representatives to “mix with the people and explain to them the motives which enduced the adoption of any measure, point out its utility and remove … any unreasonable clamors against it….”   By contrast, he feared in the arrangement of the proposed Constitution, with a republic of large extent and few elite representatives, that “the people in general would be acquainted with very few of their rulers:  the people at large would know very little of their proceedings, an dit would be extremely difficult to change them.”  Increasingly perceiving their government to be distant and unknowable, Brutus argued that  the citizenry would eventually “have no confidence in their legislature, suspect them of ambitious views, be jealous of every measure they adopt and not support the laws they pass.”  Increasingly perceiving laws to repressions externally imposed – and not self-generated – government would be “foreign” and outside, law would cease to be understood to be self-imposed, and a growing apparatus of external enforcement would become necessary, even to the point, Brutus concluded, that an “armed force [would be needed] to execute laws at the point of a bayonet.”
           
To Come:  Conclusion


                                                                                                 
           

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Wisdom of the Anti-federalists - Part One

Tomorrow at the Notre Dame Law School, and Thursday at Christendom College in Front Royal, VA, I will be delivering a lecture on the insights, wisdom,and prescience of the original opponents to the Constitution, the Anti-federalists. I append below my introduction the lecture, which largely positions their concerns in our current moment. I will post the body of the lecture - exploring the elements of the regime that they opposed, and then an exploration of the alternative arguments of what they supported - after Thursday's lecture. I invite those of you who are in those respective areas to come by to hear the whole thing.


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Men of Great Faith: The Wisdom of the Anti-federalists

Patrick J. Deneen
Georgetown University

Periodically there are eruptions of fascination with the disparate group of men who, during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, took the stance of the loyal opposition, resisting the fundamental alteration of the regime that had heretofore been in effect under the Articles of Confederation. In general, while that fascination has been fair to the substance of their arguments, some of its more prominent articulations have tended to be dismissive of the deeper philosophical and political claims of the Anti-federalists.

Two of the major treatments of the Anti-federalists in roughly the past half-century have largely rejected the legitimacy of their criticisms of the proposed Constitution. One well-known critique of the Anti-federalist position was published in 1955 by Cecilia Kenyon, entitled “Men of Little Faith” in which she argued that the Anti-federalists had little faith in the good will of the future rulers of America – that they were too inclined to attribute self-interest as the sole motive of human beings and thus were skeptical of the good of a more central and well-administered government, and hence ultimately small-minded in their inability to grasp the benefits that would redound to the nation as a consequence of adopting the Constitution.

Doubtlessly the most significant publishing event in regards to the Antifederalists was Herbert Storing’s seven-volume collection of their writing, published in 1981 by the University of Chicago Press. Storing’s lengthy introduction of the Anti-federalists remains the best introduction to their thought, but in its final chapter Storing summarily concludes that “the Anti-federalists lost the debate over the Constitution not merely because they were less clever arguers or less skillful politicians but because they had the weaker arguments” (71). Published nearly thirty years apart, two of the most significant interpreters of the Anti-federalists nevertheless largely dismissed their relevance to contemporary politics inasmuch as – here to quote Kenyon – the Anti-federalists were clinging to a theory … that was already becoming obsolete…” (38).

Now, nearly 30 years after the publication of Storing’s monumental scholarly achievement, and about 55 years after Kenyon’s original article, the moment seems ripe for a reconsideration of the arguments, and even prescience of the Anti-federalists, particularly in light of some recent and near-recent events. We are, of course, in the midst of a remarkable national moment, a fundamental reassessment of the role and place of the central government in the lives of American citizens, a massive expansion of the role of the government in the economic and personal affairs of the daily life of the nation, and a reconsideration even of America’s place in the global order, with one real possibility a move toward a new international order that will begin to resemble the aspirations of Kant and neo-Kantians cosmopolitans.

Taking a slightly longer view, for over the past half-century in the United States, and longer still in the wider Western world, the political scene has been divided between partisans of liberalism and conservatism. During those fifty years, conservatives were often in the ascendancy, with conservative gains particularly of note in the United States in the Presidential victories of Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes, with a pause during the two terms of President Bill Clinton during which arguably many conservative policies were realized. Yet, even during this time of seeming bitter partisan ire and considerable conservative achievement, over that time frame the expansion of what outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower called “the military-industrial” complex has continued unceasingly. The aim of both American parties – irrespective of different means – has been to promote economic growth and to pursue American military predominance in the world. More fundamentally still, both seek, with some different emphases, to expand the modern project of human progress in the sciences and applied technology, extending the human mastery of the world that was the stated aim of one of modernity’s inaugural thinkers, Sir Francis Bacon. Both agree that human happiness is measured by the achievement of “the American Dream,” a dream whose content is often evanescent, but which often tends to mean our material abundance, free movement from place to place, the ownership of a house and two cars, the chance to run in the race for success, the opportunity to “pursue happiness,” a society of meritocracy, mobility and opportunity. To that end, both have recently dedicated themselves to the revival of an economy premised on unending growth and expansion, at whatever cost. For all of the many differences in particulars, which take the form of means, the ends shared by both parties are remarkably similar.

While these developments doubtlessly might lead some to conclude that the arguments of the Anti-federalists are more “obsolete” than ever, by another measure developments of our time make a reconsideration of their views all the more necessary. This is especially so because, some two-hundred and twenty years ago, a great many of these men were fearful of the likely consequences of the adoption of the proposed Constitution. They feared that these consequences would not be immediate, but that, given tendencies within the framework and assumptions of the proposed Constitution, its tendency over time to shape the nation and its citizenry would lead eventually to the evisceration of the basic and essential features of republican self-government in America, and would perhaps even lead to its demise.

One Anti-federalist, “The Impartial Examiner,” sums up best the fears that lie behind many of the criticisms of the proposed Constitution, and should strike us today for its remarkable foresight:

It is next to impossible to enslave a people immediately after a firm struggle against oppression, while the sense of past injury is recent and strong. But after some time this impression wears off against oppression, while the sense of past injury is recent and strong. But after some time this impression naturally wears off – the charms of popular equality, which arose from the republican plan, insensibly decline – the pleasures the advantages derived from the new kind of government grow stale through use. Such declension in all those vigorous springs of action necessarily produce supineness. The alter of liberty is no longer watches with such attentive assiduity; a new train of passions succeeds to the empire of the mind; different objects of desire take place; and if the nation happens to enjoy a series of prosperity, voluptuousness, excessive fondness for riches, and luxury gain admission and establish themselves – these produce venality and corruption of every kind, which opens a fatal avenue to bribery. Hence it follows, that in the midst of this general contagion a few men – or one – more powerful than the others, industriously endeavor to obtain all authority; and by means of great wealth – or embezzling the public money – perhaps totally subvert the government, and erect a system of aristocratical or monarchic tyranny in its room. It is this depravation of manners, this wicked propensity, my dear countrymen, against which you ought to provide the utmost degree of prudence and circumspection.
(CAF, 5.14.15)

Particularly in this time when both so-called conservatives and so-called liberals are largely in agreement that the main aim of modern Republicanism is little different than that aim first articulated by Machiavelli and developed further by Bacon, Hobbes, Locke and Smith – namely, national glory, power, wealth, growth. and dominion over the natural world – Americans who would attempt to discern some possible divergence from this main project are hard pressed to find potent articulations of a true alternative among today’s major parties. How strange perhaps the words of the Impartial Examiner sound, particularly the use of the words “prosperity” and “luxury” laced with negative connotations when today they are deemed wholly positive! Such strangeness we are well advised to confront and to consider as a way of being shaken from the narrowly conceived political differences of our day, to consider a true and forceful opposition to our predominant worldview. We are well-advised to look at articulations of what might be called a submerged but powerful “alternative tradition” in American – and indeed, Western – political thought, one that was powerfully articulated by the original opponents to the Constitution.

PART II

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Measuring the Humanities

An essay in today's "Higher Education" on how to meaningfully measure achievement in the humanities - mainly by means of "personal portfolios" - prompted me to respond on the website on which it appeared, "Inside Higher Education." My response follows:

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It is interesting how the label "Luddite" can be used unreflectively as an insult, or a position that no sane person would consider. Considered beyond the reductionist category of people who feared technological innovation, the Luddites were people who opposed the introduction of machinery into the world of craftsmanship and work done with care. They opposed the advent of a new economic system whose sole standard was low prices, along with the concomitant social and cultural destruction such a standard left in its wake. They sought to protect a sphere of good human work, and life that was lived and measured on terms not subject to "measurement" or reduction to efficiency. They were opponents of uniformity, homogenization, and the dehumanization of work.

For teachers of the humanities to regard the impulses of Luddism as unthinkable already reflects a profound problem. The humanities have fundamentally lost the battle that Luddism originally sought to fight, and the universities are only going to accelerate their path toward the evisceration of the humanities in the name of scientific and technological progress. The humanities are potentially the one source from which this general path can be questioned and criticized, but many faculty in the humanities have lost their capacity or willingness to do so. Having become generally critics of the very humanist texts they study (or deconstruct), they are unable to commend their lessons against the grain of the age.

This essay is generally reasonable, but reasonable within a cultural context that makes the humanities increasingly irrelevant, and which in turn our teachers in humanities have largely become incapable of opposing. The proposal here is innocuous, but in an age of financial crisis and growing scientific, economic, technological and military competition from abroad, will come across as laughably self-indulgent. It strikes me as a grown-up version of the journals my elementary-school age children are asked to keep, recording their "experiences." It is a wallowing in a kind of individualist narcissism, shorn of a larger conversation within a long tradition - a tradition that goes fundamentally unmentioned by this author. Parents who have been sold on college education by those institutions as a necessary credentialing for the future economic success of their children will not be enthused to hand over up to 50K a year so that their children can keep electronic journals.

What are the humanities for? Humanists had better rediscover this answer. However, the answer will put them in opposition to the dominant pathways of the modern university. It is perhaps too late to stage another Luddite battle - and we saw what happened last time that was tried - but the trajectory now is not toward redemption through assessment, but total irrelevance.

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I will be lecturing on March 30 at Oglethorpe University on the theme of liberal education. Thoughts on this subject have been scattered in various posts throughout this "blawg." I look forward to gathering my thoughts, and will eventually post the lecture here. In the main, I think that liberal arts are and ought to be dominated by the humanities. Moreover, I believe that what is distinct about the Western tradition in particular is that the humanities (closely aligned with the religious traditions from which they arose) actually teach something substantive. To eviscerate the humanities in the name of scientific and technological progress is to go down a path of anti-humanism. Ours is a critical moment in the history of the West, and the signs and omens are not altogether hopeful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Unreal Estate

Two news items of note that have recently caught my attention. The first, that China has been taking advantage of the global firesale of stuff, along with its massive cash reserves, to buy up various overseas commodities. Second, that the Fed today committed to buying $300 billion of long-term Treasury bonds in order to drive down interest rates and, it is hoped, stoke demand for houses. The Chinese are buying goods with cold hard cash which we have been shoveling their direction every time we shop in Wal-Mart or run a federal budget deficit; we are buying loans from ourselves with money we do not have. The first is called real estate; the second is called fantasy-land.

In response, the price of gold shot up nearly 5%, or about $50, settling at about $930 an ounce, while the dollar fell to 1.34 against the Euro, moving higher from lows set when the dollar briefly was perceived as a safe haven. While the Fed is surely right that the economy has not yet “bottomed,” those with a view beyond today’s market gyrations can see that when growth is “restored,” that the U.S. will be using inflated dollars to chase after dwindling resources. Stuff will be getting a lot more expensive in the not-distant future, and you can bet that the Chinese are not going to be selling it cheaply to us in return for our increasingly worthless greenbacks. Perhaps the only thing more grim than our current economic moment is the economy that is awaiting us. We will either learn thrift by a new commitment to old virtues, or we will learn it the hard way. We will be able to afford fewer things, move around less and we will find ourselves facing a world that is not subject to our notional control. For most, this will be an occasion for lamenting. To my mind, it would generally constitute a better way, but a hard way when it comes by force and not by choice. Hard especially because - like our response to the current “crisis” (a word that reflects our belief that this is something extraordinary, unexpected, exceptional, a departure from the norm rather than the new norm), we will not believe in the reality of the reality that we face. We will deny its truth and its causes, looking instead for another cause other than ourselves. We will deny until the bitter end, avoiding the bankruptcy that awaits us in the belief that past returns are the guarantee of future results, most of all for no better reason than we wish it to be so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Long Run

Apologies for my relative silence; I have been traveling during the past week and had little opportunity to reflect and comment on the ever-present "political theory of daily life."

However, over at "The Front Porch Republic," I've posted a reflection on the ways that modern democracies and economics constrains our understanding of time. I offer a taste here:

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The Long Run


It has become a commonplace to observe that the thought of John Maynard Keynes is back in fashion. Keynes argued strenuously on behalf of government spending - including deficit spending - as the essential avenue toward the end of “stimulating” an economy in recession in order to set it back on a path of growth. He rejected objections that this approach might saddle future generations with the irresponsibility of the current generation, much less that there might be inherent limits to a growth economy at all. Famously, he opposed the idea that “the long run” ought to bear much significance in considerations of current economic policy, stating: “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.”

Doubtless there is some modicum of truth to this position - but only if we credit astrophysical evidence that eventually all forms of concentrated energy in the universe will dissipate, leaving someday a cold, dark, sterile and dead universe. In the very long run, we, the human race, are indeed all dead. Perhaps for some, the prospect of inevitable planetary annihilation when the sun begins to expand some 4 billion years from now, if not the eventuality of the relentless dissipation of all energy in the universe dictated by the second law of thermodynamics, suggests that we ought to live recklessly and irresponsibly in the present. Others who might give Keynes’s retort a modicum of reflection ought rightly to observe its utter falsity, if not perniciousness: in the short run we are individually all dead, but in the long run - it might be hoped - generations will follow us. As far as human beings are concerned, in our long run we properly hope that we - by which we might mean our children and theirs and theirs, and so on - are very much alive.

If Keynes is a preeminent proponent of short-term thinking on behalf of current prosperity, then we have ALL been Keynsians for an exceedingly long time. Indeed, this condition is one that is likely endemic to modern democracy, if Tocqueville is to be believed. One of modern democracy’s severest challenges is to preserve some capacity to think in temporally expansive terms - to think beyond the present. It is the nature of democracy to narrow our sense of time to a narrow band, to forget the past and neglect the future. Ways of life must be encouraged to preserve a more expansive sense of temporality - namely, widespread engagement in local civic affairs in which we are called upon as a matter of habit and ongoing practice to consider the generational implications of our actions; and, secondly, robust religious belief that directs our eyes above and beyond our current affairs and calls to mind our debts to the past and our obligations to people who have passed from this life, those with whom we share our short lifespans, and those who are not yet born.

The presence of the future depends on the presence of the past. If we think of time at all, we might be tempted to think of the past and future as opposites of a kind, one the accumulation of time past, the other time not yet realized. Yet, considered from the perspective of most creatures, the past and future are practicably the same - neither exists. Both are generally irrelevant to most living creatures which live constantly and necessarily in the present, generally guided by instinct that dictates actions without reflection or choice. Temporality beyond the present is irrelevant - they are no less likely to celebrate a birthday than to fear their own death.

In this regard, human beings are unique (yes, some will point out extraordinary features of chimps or dolphins and so on, but there are no chimp libraries and no dolphin investment funds). We are unique because we have the capacity to remember and to anticipate. Indeed, these two phenomena are fundamentally connected: without some capacity to recall the past, we would have no basis to consider likely events in the future; without our concern for the future, we might have little impetus to strive to remember. Neither the past nor the future are “present” in both senses: only the immediate moment is “real,” constantly passing out of existence and entering a future that moments ago did not yet exist. Yet for human beings - particularly inasmuch as we are creatures defined by culture, that is, the collected remembrance and inheritance of past generations as embodied in our daily practices - the past and the future are actually present for us. At the most basic level, the past is present in memory, and in all the ways that we seek to preserve memory: story, books, monuments, gravestones, libraries, the built environment, and so on. And the future is equally present to us, if less fully known, at least in the form of hopes, dreams, fears, anticipation, promises, plans, imagination. It is present in such basic features of human life as marriage, when we promise to remain with someone whom we love at least in the present, anticipating especially that in marriage our love and commitment will extend, and - we hope - we will propagate our species and our culture into the future. The past and future are profoundly present in our churches, the places we both remember and promise, where we recollect and where we hope (every human death properly commemorated combines the simultaneous presence of all aspects of time, past, present and future). Human culture is the remarkable achievement of the prolongation of our temporal horizon: in this capacity to make present those parts of time that are no longer or are not yet here, ours is a unique achievement among the creatures. Perhaps above all for this reason was Man given dominion over nature’s creatures - not because we were supposed to use such dominion to sate current appetite, but precisely because we had been given the unique capacity to learn from, and thus anticipate, the costs and benefits of our actions. Ours was a grant of stewardship, not rapine or devastation.


More here.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

When Giants Roamed




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I often have occasion to mention here two of my great intellectual influences - Alexis de Tocqueville and Wilson Carey McWilliams, professor of political theory at Rutgers University until his death in 2005. Most know Tocqueville, or at least have heard of him; fewer know of McWilliams. Carey (as he was called) was very well-known and even better liked throughout, and beyond, the political science profession. He wrote only one book - the magisterial tome, The Idea of Fraternity in America, as well as several hundred essays, a number of which his daughter Susan and I are currently gathering for a set of volumes. He was enormously learned, deeply wise, and capaciously generous. As well known as he was to many in the profession, many people never had the great good fortune of meeting, or at least hearing him. Well now, courtesy of C-Span, you can at least see him in action at a 1997 colloquium that was devoted to exploring the theme of "Tocqueville and Conservatism." Carey speaks at the 22nd, 49th, 1hr07th, and 1hr20th minutes. What's more, the assembled group is a virtual who's who of giants of political theory and history, including Harvey C. Mansfield Jr., James Ceaser, Peter Lawler (who raises a crunchy or Marxist question in his first intervention...), Dan Mahoney, Tracy Strong, Nancy Rosenblum and a number of other notables (all looking a bit younger, as we all did 12 years ago). And, there are some sadly and recently departed giants - John Patrick Diggins and Delba Winthrop, in addition to Carey.

If you have a spare hour and a half, it's worth watching. The best part, in my view, occurs toward the latter third when the discussion turns from Tocqueville and conservatism (mainly focused on a comparison with Burke) to Tocqueville and religion. McWilliams, Lawler and Mahoney are particularly good in those sections. Most of the others exhibit customary academic tin-earedness on the subject of religion, desperate to historicize religous belief in ways unrecognizable to Tocqueville.

For those who knew Carey - or Delba or JP Diggins - I'm sure you'll see some moments through mist. For those who didn't - well, enjoy.

(Hat tip, Mr. Sitman of Virginia)

Free Riding

Over on The Front Porch, I have posted some reflections on the paradoxical nature of free riding by "Front porchers" upon modernity, and, correspondingly, the free riding of modern liberalism upon pre-modern cultural (and material) inheritances. In response, Rod Dreher has further good reflections at his site.

In brief, I note:

Among this group here at this electronic outpost and like-minded fellow travelers, there is a fair amount of self-consciousness about the various ways that “traditionalists” (or “paleo-libs??) free-ride on the broader culture that they otherwise criticize, no more evidently by employing a medium that can, at best, create only a “virtual” community. Farmer’s markets, new urbanism, bike paths, “the Benedict option” - most all of the various ways that community is forged today is less and less a result of organic communal forces required by necessity (e.g., live near water and arable land, don’t live too far apart since we don’t have internal combustion engines), but achieved by our prosperity. In his at-times uncharitable review of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, Peter Lawler nevertheless was correct to note that not a few of the “crunchies” arrived at their destination by a circuitous, often well-travelled path, often ending up far from places of origin (or at least with many stops in-between departure and return), and benefit in oft-unacknowledged ways from the umbrella of security offered by America’s armed forces and the orderly world it largely affords. Few of us would survive very long in Augustine’s world.


But, I suggest,

This line of reasoning is clearly one of the most obvious, and oft-employed criticisms against arguments for localism in a world where to be local is simply one more “lifestlyle choice.” Yet, if there is any defense to be made, it is a keen self-consciousness of this paradox, an awareness that a culture of choice forces every way of life into its paradigm - even those ways of life in which there is an effort to constrain choice. Thus, its curiousness produces, to some extent, a salutary kind of perspective on one’s own life amid all of its compromises - not unlike that experienced by Augustine’s pilgrim - and thus, given the psychic distance and self-consciousness that it induces, the likely absence of the all-too frequent rigidity of the zealot or the ideologue. I would argue that this very paradox is one of the sources of the good cheer amid the broader pessimism of this group (aided doubtless by substantial quantities of bourbon), and why it has never materialized as a programmatic or fanatic venture. We are, in some senses, simply too self-conscious of the fragility of our own position.


By contrast, modern liberalism equally free-rides on an earlier inheritance, but, I argue, without a corresponding sense of fragility and humility:

That said, we are also generally aware of the ways that the culture we oppose - of mobility, deracination and placelessness - is also based upon widespread free-riding. The culture of liberalism - writ large - has always free-ridden on the health and vitality of a pre-liberal, even anti-liberal culture. Most basically it assumes the existence of, but does little to support or replenish, the culture of good families. It relies upon the virtues of children raised in those settings, even as it is suspicious of - even destructive of - what are necessarily “paternalistic” (or “maternalistic”) features of those settings. It has sought to open every closed association and civil institution, ultimately emptying them of the capacity to elicit loyalty, memory and stability. It relies on the good will and sacrifice of citizens even as it assumes that we are fundamentally rational actors driven by self-interest....

The difference in these forms of free-riding, I would suggest, is that liberalism seeks mightily to obscure or ignore the extent to which it’s riding on the cheap. It works diligently to disassemble the deeper sources of its own viability, convincing itself that it’s simply making the world more just and equitable (all achieved by its own efforts alone), all the while forging a world in which people will have fewer children and in which there will be less of the world’s bounty for the children that happen to be born. They increasingly do more honor to their philosophy that shapes their selves. In its willful (or ignorant) disregard of its free-riding, it permits itself a self-certainty and ideological rigidity, perhaps ironically - and ultimately - undermining its own basis for existence, but not before leaving some considerable amount of devastation in its wake, both moral and environmental.


The whole thing is here.


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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring Tour

The Deneen Spring Lecture Tour is about to kick off. Roadies are packing and groupies are swarming. Black T-shirts have already sold out.

Here's where I'll be:

March 10-11: Los Angeles, CA (private event, but contact me if you're interested)

March 12-15: San Diego, CA (conference)

March 19: Montreal, Canada. Concordia University. Lecture: "Conservatism as Conservation"

March 24: South Bend, IN. Notre Dame University Law School. Lecture: "Men of Great Faith: What the Anti-Federalists Were For"

March 26: Front Royal, VA. Christendom College. Reprising the previous.

March 30: Atlanta, GA. Oglethorpe University. Lecture: Liberal Education Rightly Understood.

Early April: Recovery Ward, undisclosed location.

Come say hi if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Front Porch Republic

A number of us got to thinking. Why isn't anyone articulating what's gotten us into this mess? Why are the leaders of both parties trying to put it back together again, if its basic components are so broken? Isn't there a better way?

And so, we decided to pool our efforts, to get beyond Left and Right - symbols of somewhere where we are not, or perhaps where we are not centered, not in a place (to be Left or Right is not to be HERE) - and, we hope, alight some WHERE instead. We decided to call it "Front Porch Republic." And so it begins today.

I will be posting there about once a week, the idea being that I'll try to write something there each Monday. We have some heavy hitters among us; some utility infielders; some minor leaguers with dreams of the Bigs; and some fans who root for the home town. There's Dreher, Kauffman, Larison and Carlson, major authors who have been toiling for some time to carve out some new space; there's Jason Peters, Jeremy Beer, Mark Mitchell, Mark Shiffman and Susan McWilliams - all friends of some years now, kindred spirits all. There's more: and I hope it will be a place to bring together people of many persuasions who are less invested in maintaining our status quo in some form but rather seek instead a revitalization of the diverse tapestry of American communities across the land, the reduction of BIGNESS in every form - public and private - and the restoration and preservation of vibrant cultures that shape the decent human life. And maybe, by indirection and the power of ideas that cannot die if seem to be permanently out of fashion, things will begin to change.

So visit us there. My first post is up there today - entitled, appropriately enough, "A Republic of Front Porches." I give a taste below; for the complete story, visit our Front Porch.

A Republic of Front Porches

Names are important, and few can be more significant than what a new publication calls itself. Perhaps at first greeting the name will give pause, causing the new reader to think momentarily about what it means, how it came about, what its creators intended. After a time its explicit meaning will fade into the backdrop, becoming a label that is rarely reflected upon, barely registered, but still confers meaning - increasingly implicit - for the undertaking, and for those who originally named it, or who write under its banner. A name such as this one - Front Porch Republic - deserves some reflection before it fades into that subconscious role.

I can think of no better text by which to explore the meaning of our publication's name than an old essay - one few have encountered and even fewer still would remember - that I read during my freshman year of college in a course taught by the man who became my mentor and dearest companion still, though he has passed from this vale - Wilson Carey McWilliams. I've never forgotten the essay - it impacted me then, and remains with me still. It was written by a man named Richard Thomas, and was entitled "From Porch to Patio." (Published in The Palimpsest, journal of the Iowa State Historical Society, in 1975). It had such an effect on me not only because of what it taught me, but because so much of my childhood and young adulthood had involved being in various ways on our big front porch where I grew up in Windsor, CT. It was more than merely theory - it taught me about who I was, and why that was so.

In this simple but profound essay, Thomas explores the social implications of the architectural practice of building porches on the front of homes and its eventual abandonment in favor of patios behind the house (I've discussed this transition in relation to the film "It's a Wonderful Life" in comparing Bedford Falls to Bailey Park). As with any central feature in our built environment, this is more than merely a passing fashion trend or a meaningless design change: the transition from porch to patio was one of the clearest and significant manifestations the physical change from a society concerned with the relationship of private and public things - in the Latin, res publica - to one of increasing privacy. The porch, as a physical bridge between the private realm of the house and the public domain of the street and sidewalk, was the literal intermediate space between two worlds that have been increasingly separated in our time, and hence increasingly ungoverned in both forms.

Thomas expresses clearly some of the social dimensions of the porch, and contrasts them with the patio. The porch, he wrote, "presented opportunities for social intercourse at several levels."


More.


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Monday, March 2, 2009

Work

The economic crisis has hurt most directly not, I would argue, those who have lost some measure of their stock portfolios, but rather those among us who have lost jobs and livelihood. It is expected that job losses will continue to accumulate, with some predicting unemployment to rise as high as 10% or more by the time the new Depression hits its trough (and that number all acknowledge to be a deflated figure, given that it does not measure "long-term" unemployment or those people with a part-time job).

Much of the current policy is aimed at stimulating the economy so that we can begin to re-employ the many millions who have lost jobs, or at least prevent further job loss among those people who, at the moment, are in tenuous industries. By minimizing further job loss at this point, we might begin to break the vicious cycle of downsizing that has now gripped the land.

What jobs, then, are in particular most in need of support or wholesale re-creation? Looking broadly across the landscape, the biggest losses appear to be in industries associated with housing, building, construction, automobile manufacture, Wall Street investment and banking, etc. The companies that have been hard hit constitute a What's-What of the modern industrial complex: GM, Chrysler, Ford; Caterpillar; Citibank; AIG; Fannie and Freddie; Home Depot; a bevy of house-builders; big-box retailers far and wide.

What we are proposing to stimulate is the economy that has just proven to be a dismal failure, and to shore up the industries that have proven to be the breeding-ground of irresponsibility, unreflective "growth" and anti-localism in all of its forms. We are proposing - without any debate, discussion or reflection - to, as best we can, reconstitute the economic "engine" that now, and then, too, mercilessly displaces people from positions when cheaper labor can be found, and just as much has sought to collectively reshape the American and world landscape so that it is as uniform and commercially homogeneous as possible, an economy dictated by and trapped in the throes of short-term thinking. We are witlessly striving to shore up the massive concentrations of private corporate power by means of increasing concentrations of "public" power - "public" only insofar as it remains deeply beholden to, and enmeshed in, the success of those massive private entities. Rather than entertaining the possibility that a private organization that is too big to fail is perhaps for that reason too big to exist, we instead like narcotized adolescents accept that Big Daddy will take care of us in the end and we bear no special burden to consider our own complicity in what has befallen us. We are content to look elsewhere for the perpetrator of crimes against our innocence - if on the Left, to blame to greedy corporate interests (as if we have not been blithely shopping at Wal-Mart or Target or Home Depot while local shops have withered on the vine); or, if on the Right, to accuse the depredations of Government and especially Barney Frank. And, above all, we yearn to revisit our blithe state of unconscious belief that the good of life consists in getting what we want without cost, travail, or consequence.

In all of this, it seems to me, there is a certain effort to remain in a state of lassitude: at a certain level we want to avoid work. This is, of course, not to suggest that there are not many people unemployed and employed alike who now crave the goods and dignity of work, and who labor exceedingly hard at what they do. But, if we look above at the list of jobs and companies that have shed some of the largest portions of their labor-force - housing, construction, automobile manufacturing, finance, national retail, and the like - we see those industries that have grown most intensively during the latter half of the twentieth-century at precisely the time that Americans were abandoning more traditional professions (especially farming) for ease of life. These professions were designed to employ us so that we would not have to work. The very activity being done was a circumvention of work, including especially the work of being thoughtful about what it is we are doing. Whether housing that sprung up on farmland and was designed to distract us from what had been done outside; construction that made all roads straight, in spite of the local conditions, allowing us to speed past the world with nary a sideward glance; agriculture that forced the earth to provide its goods, or animals their bounty, at a pace that we accelerated by chemical and biological dominion; financial machinations that increasingly separated the production of useful things from the just payment that should be rendered for those things, and instead placed a priority on "growth of capital" by whatever means necessary; and perhaps above all, automobiles that liberated us from place, from circumstance, from culture and home - we witnessed a half-century of the wholesale displacement of work for "jobs." If work was in some sense related to the rhythms of the world, what the earth is able to provide according to the slow and steady turning of the planet, the descending rays of the sun, the fragility of the world's systems that slowly developed over millenia, then the demise of a new system that displaced work was foreseeable insofar as it was based upon a temporary suspension - but not abolition - of the limits imposed by nature.

It was work that we sought to replace with something fundamentally antithetical - "jobs" that were provided by the very BIG entities that now demand the future livelihood of our children to remain viable. We believed that we were gaining more freedom by abandoning work for jobs, but were in fact placing ourselves in a position of dependency on ever-larger entities that had no fundamental investment in the places where the goods of life are truly met and sustained. The etymology is again utmost revealing: "job" derives from the Middle English, jobbe, meaning a "lump," or more generally, a "piece." Thus, the first definition of "job" in my indispensable Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition is "a piece; a lump; a stump"; and the second definition, accordingly, is "an odd or occasional piece of work." That is, a job was originally defined by its separateness or randomness, in general disassociated from the regular rhythms of what Wendell Berry has called "The Great Economy." On the other hand, "work" is etymologically related to the Greek words "ergon" and "erdein," - "to do" and "to sacrifice" (ergon, it turns out, also lies at the root of the word "liturgy," or "public service"). Etymologically, work is embedded in the rhythms of life and death, and of sacrifice that a person makes for another, a generation undertakes for the next, the people for God and God for man - the continuous effort to work on behalf of the good of the community writ large (dead, living, and not yet born). "Good work" is thoughtful about what it is doing; it is more than merely earning a paycheck, but consists of practices and ways of life that sustain a people in a place and over time. A "job," by contrast, has increasingly come to mean an activity that divorces us from place and limits us in time. It borrows from the future to pay for the present, and cannot be sustained because the future's bank has a credit limit (as we have discovered).

Already people are returning to work. They are repairing instead of buying; they are fixing instead of paying; they are cooking instead of ordering out; they are entertaining with what can be done at home rather than purchasing distraction created by others. As in times past they will barter and trade; they will grow and preserve; they will repair bonds of neighborhood and begin to live among generations. For many this will feel like a step back, a temporary suspension of progress - in the form of autonomy - we were promised. But perhaps it is a better way yet, if not a full return - we have forgotten too much for that - a time of learning anew of truths that people have always had to learn, albeit less harshly than we who have purposefully sought to escape the past. The mother of the Muses - those daughters of culture - was, according to the Greeks, Mnemosyne, or "memory." The past was thus never past, but preserved in present practice born of the old trials and preserved in habit, passed on to successive generations as a gift until it was rejected in our time. There is thus work that awaits us, good work that will perhaps sustain us in darker times.