Uncommitted    -         Committed
Universal          -          Particular
Unbiased           -          Biased
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

A proper understanding of the function of social criticism requires us to reject the "standard view of the social critic as someone who breaks loose from his particular loyalties and views his own society from the outside—from an ideal point, as it were, equidistant from all societies."

In place of this disembodied or "desocialized” criticism, Walzer advocates “connected” criticism, which tries to steer between the universal and the particular, the abstract and the concrete.

Unconditional commitment to the universal tends to create an “ideologically flattened world” in which particular human beings disappear and the critic's “impartiality slides into a cold indifference." Unconditional commitment to the particular, on the other hand, leads to undiscriminating acquiescence in a community's good opinion of itself, to an acceptance of its self-serving illusions at face value.

Loyalty to a particular way of life, unless it is attentive to the disparity between profession and practice, undercuts the very possibility of social criticism, while the refusal of loyalty, on the grounds that the intellectual’s only allegiance is to truth and justice in the abstract, renders it harmless and irrelevant.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.423-4

The relevance of self-organisation becomes clear upon the adoption of a certain kind of systems thinking that attempts to incorporate and include rather than to falsify and ignore. It is a kind of thinking that is not horrified by contradictions and opposites but rather turns them into the forces that vitalise the system.

Variations of systems thinking have been with us since the dawn of philosophy. The position of Heraclitus provides a good example. For him, the basic principle of the universe was strife: war is common to all and strife is justice, and all things come into being and pass away through strife. Instead of privileging a specific element - as Thales did with water and Anaximenes with air - Heraclitus placed everything in mutual competition. In this dynamic tension 'all things come into being and pass away'.

A kind of systems thinking also governs the medieval theories concerning the four elements and their respective humours and principles. The ideal state of affairs occurs when all the elements are in balance, when they co-operate. This harmony was believed to be unobtainable in the fallen state of the world and therefore constant adjustment is necessary. Modern examples of systems thinking would include the linguistics of Saussure and Freudian psychology.

The postmodern denial of single meta-narratives, and its emphasis on the importance of difference and opposition, is not normally formulated in terms of 'population thinking' (to use the biological expression for the kind of systems thinking referred to here), but the similarities are undeniable.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.107

While the diplomacy of neutrality and intervention was moving along the lines we have described, a parallel diplomatic effort was being directed toward efforts to negotiate peace. These efforts were a failure but are, nonetheless, of considerable significance because they reveal the motivations and war aims of the belligerents.

They were a failure because any negotiated peace requires a willingness on both sides to make those concessions which will permit the continued survival of the enemy.

In 1914–1918, however, in order to win public support for total mobilization, each country’s propaganda had been directed toward a total victory for itself and total defeat for the enemy. In time, both sides became so enmeshed in their own propaganda that it became impossible to admit publicly one’s readiness to accept such lesser aims as any negotiated peace would require.

Moreover, as the tide of battle waxed and waned, giving alternate periods of elation and discouragement to both sides, the side which was temporarily elated became increasingly attached to the fetish of total victory and unwilling to accept the lesser aim of a negotiated peace. Accordingly, peace became possible only when war weariness had reached the point where one side concluded that even defeat was preferable to continuation of the war.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.159

Whatever its shortcomings, Schmitt’s account of politics captures the essential strangeness of the unfolding confrontation between the West and Islam.

This strangeness consists of the radical difference between the way the confrontation itself is viewed by the two sides. Perhaps never before in history has there been such a radical difference. The Islamic side retains a strong religious and political conception of reality; it views its struggle with the West as a matter more important than life and death, because Allah will judge his followers in the afterlife by how they performed in that struggle.

By contrast, on the Western side (if it can even be called a side), there is great confusion over what the fighting is for, and why there should be a civilizational war at all. An outright declaration of war against Islam would be unthinkable; we much prefer to think of these measures as police actions against a few unusual criminal sociopaths who happen to blow up buildings.

We are nervous about considering a larger meaning to the struggle, and even the staunchest Western partisans of war know that we no longer believe in the existence of a Gott mit uns in heaven.

[Peter Thiel]
‘The Straussian Moment’

The modern Western world is a deliberately secularized Christian world that has been moved away from existential concern with the deep, serious dimensions of human life—like those addressed by religion—towards commercialism and a doctrine of rights based on circumventing the difficult question ‘what is man’ […]

By moving away from the serious dimensions and all-important questions, the apostles of modernity may have believed they were moving away from the deepest sources of conflict […] But Strauss once wrote as follows:

“Agreement at all costs is possible only as agreement at the cost of the meaning of human life; for agreement at all costs is possible only if man has relinquished asking the question of what is right; and if man relinquishes that question, he relinquishes being a man. But if he seriously asks the question of what is right, the quarrel will be ignited … the life-and-death quarrel: the political—the grouping of humanity into friends and enemies—owes its legitimation to the seriousness of the question of what is right.”

We cannot relinquish our humanity: modernity is not enough. But neither can we accept Schmitt’s agonistic re-politicization of the West vis-a-vis Islam, Thiel argues, since that risks “doing away with everything that fundamentally distinguishes the modern West from Islam” and would therefore be a “Pyrrhic victory.” Western re-politicization would amount to a kind of mimetic rivalry with the Islamic world, and mimetic rivalry leads to runaway violence.

So, we need the political, but not in the way Schmitt gave it to us.

[Michael Millerman]
‘The End of the Straussian Moment?’

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