Commitment




Universal          -          Particular
Global               -          Local
Tepid                 -          Vivid
Many                 -          Few
Disconnected    -          Connected




[…] Don Quixote [is] a romantic political figure, but not a political romantic.

Instead of seeing the higher harmony, he was capable of seeing the difference between right and wrong and of making a decision in favor of what seemed right to him, a capacity that the political romantic lacks […]

[…] the ability to make a decision between right and wrong […] is the principle of every political energy […] Where political activity begins, political romanticism ends […] Romantic activity […] is a contradiction in terms. 

Any relationship to a legal or moral judgment would be incongruous […] and every norm would seem to be an antiromantic tyranny. A legal or a moral decision would be senseless and it would inevitably destroy romanticism. This is why the romantic is not in a position to deliberately take sides and make a decision.

On romantic grounds, he cannot even decisively reject the theory of the state that proceeds from the view that man is "evil by nature.” Even if many romantics find this theory uncongenial, there is still the possibility of romanticizing this wicked person, the “beast,” as long as he only remains sufficiently remote.

From the standpoint of romanticism, what is at stake is something higher than a decision.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 116, 124, 147, 160




Strauss too perceives an inner insincerity and a subjective tyranny in the romantic. He explains it […] in terms of the inner uncertainty in a conflict between antagonistic forces.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.151




If Royce and Bourne failed to give enough attention to the reconciliation of conflicts and the mechanisms of social cohesion, it was because they saw desiccation as a greater danger than social conflict.

The debate about cultural pluralism came down to the issue posed by William James in his exchange with Hobhouse. The assimilationists, like Hobhouse, worried about intolerance and fanaticism, whereas the pluralists, like James, saw "insipidity" as a greater danger - the "tame flabbiness," as Bourne put it, that was "accepted as Americanization.”

In their view, the rootless, emancipated, migratory individuals so highly prized by critics of particularism were cultural renegades who believed in nothing except their own right to a good time. Boas was impressed by the traits shared by all men and women, once the differences imposed by culture were peeled away. Royce and Bourne, like Brownson, attached more importance to cultural differences and to the loyalty they inspired. They were less concerned with the danger of competing loyalties than with the erosion of the very capacity for loyalty.

Even blind loyalty, Royce thought, was better than a "thoughtless individualism which is loyal to nothing."

Modern life gave rise to "social motives that seem to take away from people the true spirit of loyalty, and to leave them distracted, unsettled as to their moral standards, uncertain why or for what they live." Utilitarianism obscured the existence of "something much larger and richer than the mere sum of human happiness." The “spread of sympathy" and the spirit of universal philanthropy made people forget that when philanthropy was "not founded upon a personal loyalty of the individual to his own family and to his own personal duties," it became "notoriously a worthless abstraction.”

Those who sought "simply to help mankind as a whole," without first undertaking “to help those nearest to themselves," dissipated their energies. Since "a self is a life insofar as it is unified by a single purpose," moral passion had to be concentrated on particular objects, even at the risk of narrowness.

If these objects came into conflict with each other, Royce suggested, the principle of "loyalty to loyalty" might supply its own corrective. This was no empty phrase. It implied respect for a worthy opponent, not the liberal principle of live-and-let-live. When Royce left “to the individual the... choice of the cause," he did not mean that one cause was as good as another or that it was impossible, at any rate, to adjudicate their conflicting claims. Nor did he pretend that people holding conflicting opinions would agree not to push them to the point of open conflict, in view of the difficulty of defending the moral superiority of any one of them.

He assumed, on the contrary, that those moved by loyalty to a cause would defend it to the death. They would defend it, however, without hatred or bitterness and without denying their opponents' humanity. Loyalty to a cause, as Royce conceived it, carried with it an appreciation of loyalty for its own sake, without regard to the ends on behalf of which it was enlisted. In his Philosophy of Loyalty, he compared its effects to those of "divine grace in an older theology."

Those effects included both undeviating devotion to a cause that "must control you" and a respect for the same devotion in your enemies.

Royce argued, in effect, that respect for enemies was more likely to encourage men and women to treat each other as human beings than the denial of enmity or the fiction of universal brotherhood. Those who believed in their own cause were less likely to disparage others. For those animated by loyalty, "cheerful rivalry” prevailed in war as in sports.

Loyalty carried with it a refusal to allow the end to justify the means. It might lead to war, "but even then," it refused to "assail” whatever was "sincere and genuine" in the enemy's conduct. Loyalty encouraged "fair play in sport, chivalrous respect for the adversary in war, tolerance of the sincere beliefs of other men." It held the key to all the familiar mysteries about the right relation of the love of man to the strenuous virtues."

No doubt his concern with fair play will seem quaint to self-proclaimed realists who assume that conflict is inherently brutalizing and who therefore see conflict resolution as the overriding objective of political action. Royce had the good fortune to live in a time when it did not yet seem utterly absurd to speak of honor and warfare in the same breath.

In the twentieth century, of course, war has degenerated into cruelty on a grand scale, and peace, accordingly, has come to stand as the highest social good. We are all pacifists now.

But the vast and understandable revulsion from war - which has not led to a more peaceful world, incidentally - has had the unfortunate effect, as William James predicted it would, of discrediting the “permanent human goods” formerly associated with the ethic of honor, glory, and self-sacrifice. That would be bad enough, in the absence of a "moral equivalent” of war; but the loss of the virtues associated with loyalty has had the additional effect of making war itself (and by extension, every form of conflict) more bloodthirsty and degrading than it ever was in the past.

The twentieth-century degradation of war, far from discrediting Royce's argument, gives it additional support. Like James, Royce understood that peace and plenty were inadequate social goals and that it was more important to settle the "right relation of the love of man to the strenuous virtues." He did not mean that the "love of man" provided the corrective to the "strenuous virtues.” He meant that it depended on them. Loyalty to an abstraction like loyalty itself (with its respect for the principle of fair play) could take root only in loyalty to something quite specific.

The misguided attempt to remove the sources of social conflict by discouraging particularism, in the hope that brotherly love would then come into its own, killed the very possibility of brotherly love by cutting off its roots.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.357-9
 



This outburst, dashed off in the impetuous indignation of youth ready announced one of the themes of Niebuhr's mature work, the positive force of “fanaticism." "Liberalism is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history," Niebuhr told the readers of the New Republic.

Like Sorel, he believed that only "myths” had the power to inspire effective political action. Like James, he saw desiccation, in effect, as a greater menace than superstition and fanaticism."

Contending factions in a social struggle require morale," as he put it in Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932); “and morale is created by the right dogmas, symbols and emotionally potent oversimplifications.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370