I’m just rambling a bit this morning.

What’s wrong with the CIVIC ENGAGEMENT movement in higher education is that it aims to eradicate dissent. No more time for thought, it’s time for action, the issues are clear and critical. And they have to with global warming, inequality, and diversity, and they all require “transformational” government action. If the goal were really ENGAGEMENT as such, the model would be the localism of Tea Partiers. But find me an administrator or bureaucrat who says anything good about THEIR issues. Another model would be the LOCALISM of the Porchers, who are not about transforming but preserving local community. Their ecological concerns don’t show up in the various reports either.

Anyone really for CIVIC ENGAGEMENT would be all about the crisis of JUDICIAL ACTIVISM stomping on DEMOCRATIC CIVIC DELIBERATION. It’s right and just that Americans now have to think about how the evolution of their understanding of what marriage is now makes same-sex marriage plausible. But there’s no way that issue should be resolved by our courts. There’s no way those who disagree with the elitist and expert view should be pushed outside of “public reason” and “constitutional law” in our democracy. And of course the same stuff can be said about ABORTION. Fine, let’s have CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, let’s argue, let’s have a national “conversation” on whether ROE was rightly decided, given that a majority of Americans still disagree with what the Court actually ruled. What CIVIC ENGAGEMENT commission is for that?

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT is really about ELITE OPINION—the dominant opinion of the professor-administrator class—dissing public opinion. Why else do universities have “transformational” civic missions? So CIVIC ENGAGERS are actually allied with the COURTS and BUREAUCRATS as TRANSFORMERS.

Here’s a question that came up in one of the JAFFA STUDIES thread: Is the South more philosophical than the North? One answer, NO: Everything about the SOUTH is too emotional, beginning with its religion. You can add, everything about the SOUTH resists sensible calculation; the South is honorable, violent, and prejudiced. (Meade whipped Lee at Gettsyburg because he was more sensible and better organized.)

Another answer, YES: Everything distinctive about the South resists our POP CARTESIAN expert dogmas. It is, for good and bad, our COUNTERCULTURAL regime. That means, for one thing, the South remains more open to the REAL TRUTH of Christianity, not to mention the real truth of the classical philosophy (loosely, Stoic) of the Greeks and Romans. Mr. Jefferson was an EPICUREAN; most southern aristocrats were self-consciously Stoics. And it’s only from the South that we could have gotten 21st century Thomism—Percy and O’Connor. There’s something to both the NO and the YES, but Jaffa-ites seem weak on the argument for the YES.

(Our Puritans were also COUNTERCULTURAL in the opposite way, God bless them. Where would we be without their highly intrusive but deeply egalitarian concern for souls? But the only Puritan left is Marilynne Robinson. And philosophical American have to come to terms with her sympathetic criticism of Jefferson.)

The COUNTERCULTURAL South is also, for that matter, the source of the African American contributions to our culture, which are both profound and the envy of the world.

Articles by Peter Lawler


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