Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Pierre Manent, an eminent French political theorist, has a lengthy essay in City Journal in which he meditates on the political forms which both created and are eroded by modernity:

Today in Europe, civic activity is feeble, the religious Word almost inaudible. Yet as we noted at the outset, the modern project continues. Is it merely running on its own inertia, or is the ceaseless quest that I have just described still going on? To answer that question, it may be useful to offer a description of Europe’s present situation concerning the relationship between speech and action.

A frequent criticism of representative democracy or of parliamentary regimes is that they produce lots of talk but are incapable of action. Marx spoke of “parliamentary cretinism,” for example, and Carl Schmitt liked to cite Donoso Cortés’s sarcasms against the bourgeoisie, a  clase discutidora —an “argumentative class.” In reality, however, a functioning representative democracy or parliamentary regime constitutes an admirable articulation of actions in relation to speech. During an electoral campaign, everyone proposes all sorts of imaginable actions, both possible and impossible. As soon as the election is over, those who have won the majority undertake to act according to their speech, while the minority, abstaining from action, must satisfy itself with talk in order to prepare for the next election. This transference back and forth of power, or the effective possibility of such transference, is essential to the mechanism.

[But now we] are going forward on thinning ice.

In fact, Manent has a piece in the October issue of this very magazine which might be considered as further discussion of this subject (it explores the notion of cosmopolitanism and what he calls the West’s “false religion of humanity”). So consider this background reading.

Show 0 comments



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles