One thing that’s always unfashionable is pessimism about the Power of Love. I touched a bit on love yesterday, and I see today that Daniel did the same a few days before that — in the context of another go against our love-projecting cosmopolitans. Where the cosmops would seek, technologically, to infinitely expand the scope of love, marching its borders forward as inexorably as progressively, Daniel’s orthopaleos would journey into the depth of love, sinking into its profundity like a plumbline. When it comes to love, to drop anchor is to stay local. But Daniel draws out the difference between anchoring love in the community and the household :
If people voted their individual or household interests, such policies would in all likelihood never be accepted by very many. The trouble with these policies is that they are, in fact, sound and serve the common good and the well-being of the country, but they probably would inflict temporary hardships and would require some serious understanding of citizenship and social solidarity * to keep their effects from provoking a harsh backlash.
About that asterisk. Daniel seems to allow that, whatever may be said about recovering a serious understanding of citizenship, the only sane or trusty philosophy pertaining to social solidarity emerges from religion. In another post , he asks:
Is the paradox the product of human craving and the inevitable disappointment and dissatisfaction that follow from desire? If so, the answer could lie in the self-denial of humbling oneself exceedingly in imitation of the Lords kenosis , which would entail forsaking status and honor to take, as it were, the form of a slave. That probably sounds bizarre, but it points to what Caleb Stegall has been saying about the centrality of love in all of this and, I might add, the right ordering of loves, which would tell us not to seek greener pastures but rather cultivate the ground where we are. A culture in which kenosis , self-emptying, was the highest ideal rather than self-fulfillment would be one in which mobility and flight might be possible but would very rarely be considered desirable.
This I do not doubt — wildly at odds as it is with our American culture, and ruthless as it is in its disciplines exacted upon the human soul. Yet — and granted, this isn’t the focus of his post, but it bears strongly on it, I think — Daniel doesn’t capture the way in which cosmopolitan love reflects something deeper than a mere taste or longing for ‘greener pastures’. Michael Gerson doesn’t just want greener pastures; he is apt to obsess over the most barren lands. There is a guilt-racked masochism, deriving from a massive anxiety that we’re fated to know ever more about all the world’s suffering, which can’t be reduced to a symptom of the cosmopolitan’s bored urbanity and idle hands. There is a serious tension afoot: we are commanded to love our neighbor, yet we can never love the world nearly as much as the Lord. The neighbor question — who’s proximate enough — is one never to be settled. Technologies of information in a world preoccupied with suffering and cruelty unsettle things further. We always already must constantly renegotiate our uneasy horizontal in the vertical authority of God’s love.
In the Christian schema the breadth and depth of Christ’s love is inimitably infinite and eternal from the perspective of finite, mortal man. The world, or our fallenness, imposes limits on our power to deepen our love and empty ourselves, just as it imposes limits on our power to broaden our love to reach perfect human solidarity. Under anxiety of imperfection we practice therapies of progress, in which the experience of deepening or broadening takes place of privilege over the attainment of depth or breadth itself. Unavoidably, the pathologies of self-reflection taint both our localism and our dislocalism. There is something never fully human about a slave, even — perhaps especially — one self-made.
Maybe it’s inevitable, as Daniel reveals, that in the battle between individualists and communitarians the household is accused by each side of sitting in the enemy camp. Surely the household inevitably is in ‘danger’ of falling under the sway of one to the exclusion of the other. Family love has annoyed the individualists as arbitary and unequal, and frustrated the communitarians in its constant willingness to put the fortune of the child ahead of the fortune of the locality. But the jury is out as to whether the child is more ‘radically self’ or ‘radically other’. Nor can we really tell whether the boorish individualist or the boorish communitarian is more likely to err in the direction of the former or the latter view. The family frustrates those categories in its relatively stable negotiations of love’s bounds and depths. But the family is a bad foundation, or none at all, for politics. And this is the start of our problems.