Politics in the Age of Fundamentalism

I should confess something: I’m having a lot of fun with last.fm right now.

The ultimate fundamentalism is the one all people in society today accept, and from which Left and Right both stem from: our individual “right” above all.

The material instantiation of “right” is property, and the intellectual instantiation is the expectation of government to defend property. This is evident in Montesquieu’s formulation that the civil order is centered on property, and the political order is centered on liberty. A government that concentrates on promoting liberty is a government subservient to the citizens.

Which, as we have discussed, is a wonderful thing when the citizenry is thoughtful and responsible and wanting to make the best use of its freedom. But what happens when an emphasis on freedom becomes an excuse to overthrow authority of all sorts, including the authority of the best one is capable of?

Fundamentalism is the assumption one already knows what is best, and has no need to submit to anything.

With such an assumption, self-knowledge, the quest for which leads one to be educated, is considered to already be had.

What we find in the place of education is self-expression. I often tell people that writing a journal is a very dangerous thing, especially on the Internet, where public approval is waiting no matter what one says. But even a private journal has pitfalls – take note of how many things you can justify to yourself just by thinking you’ve thought through the issue (“it’s in writing! I must have been right”).

The turn to music as a complete form of knowing, a hobby which cultivates one’s tastes and teaches one how to appreciate perspective, was ironically developed by Plato and Aristotle – mousike is a complete liberal arts education in ancient Greece, but it involves knowledge of Homer and all the myths he works with and all the dramatists and writers and other interpreters responding to him, maybe even knowledge of how to perform dance and song and even recite to some degree. Still, Plato and Aristotle hint very strongly that this public education isn’t enough to create a virtuous citizenry, and the Republic is testament to the power and necessity of an education that is private.

Our popular music “scene” is just that – partial in a greater drama, all of us being the drama queens. It’s not educative, as much as I love it, and therein is the appeal: We don’t need no education. We don’t delude ourselves when we choose shows over school: we know what we want to reject.

And maybe if we were a better, kinder people we could get away with this. And maybe music can make us better and kinder! And we’ll all make love, not war, or worship in pure ecstasy in the Megachurch!

The trouble is that while love takes many forms, it has to take the form of knowledge: it cannot be spiritedness wholly, or soulfulness, as that will tend to the satisfaction of appetites and not keep in vision the higher good. The higher good is a difficult concept: we all have different visions of it, and it is from each other we learn about what is best. Some of us learn that what is best is giving to others; they learn this lesson so well they are willing to be dust and have their memories become dust just because.

Those who make such sacrifices want to know there is something lasting, that life isn’t just all desire.

I don’t know how to answer them any more. The rule of law is not aimed for a public good that is lasting, but the public good that is freedom. Strictly speaking, that’s not a “good” – it is a possibility. We make of it what we will.

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1 Comment

  1. A very interesting post- I’m trying to play around with it- the idea of public good as possibility is intriguing but how do you define freedom?

    Personally I think one of the things that we don’t do enough is rigorous self examination- as you know I beleive in self doubt as a religion almost- one of the real ideas that the early moderns did have that I think needs more reclaiming is stern self-examination. Just as a point on the publishing phenomenon- I have found- even in these late exchanges with you- one of the benefits of writing on the internet is that one can look in one’s own eyes very stupid. I felt inconceivably stupid when you pulled me up on the Federalist Papers- I went back and checked and thought that you had got it right and I think that’s a good thing because if political engagemetn is ethics, the way that it attacks the ego, that the other’s arguments reinforce self doubt has to be a good thing.

    Sorry waffling but good post (even if I do disagree with parts of it)

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