Tag: America

you want it darker

Damon Linker:

We have stopped believing in reason’s power to persuade. The right thinks the critical social theories espoused by many on the left are both wrong and pernicious, but it doesn’t expect to be able to convince the left of this view. Hence the move to use raw political or legal power to suppress it. The left, meanwhile, thinks many of those who don’t share its premises are motivated by racism and other forms of bigotry that are in most cases untouchable by argument. Hence the move to use moral condemnation to get resisters excluded from social circles and cultural institutions in which they enjoy various forms of power and status.

These examples are themselves expressions of a broader trend we see all around us in our public life: the tendency to skip the work of attempting to change minds in favor of grabbing the power to control what’s permitted. The clearest, and oldest example, of this move is the appeal to judges to resolve disputes that resist resolution through democratic deliberation and consensus-building. Instead of the right trying (and likely failing) to convince the rest of the country that the New Deal is a bad idea, it seeks to get the Supreme Court to declare the New Deal unconstitutional. Instead of the left trying (and likely failing) to convince the rest of the country that abortion should be legal, it seeks to get the Supreme Court to declare abortion a constitutionally protected right.

I don’t think this is quite right. The problem is not that many Americans have lost faith in the power to persuade; the problem is that they have lost the desire to persuade. An argument that would win over those people is not an argument worth making. Sweet it is to have enemies, and passing sweet to get them dragged on Twitter. 

As I wrote a while back, this is the triumph of the Manichaean Party in American politics. The last thing that party wants is unity; unity is loathsome to them. So to them I can only say: You want it darker.

I’m not sorry that I wrote a book called How to Think. It was worth doing. But it now seems to me that a more urgent task – ideally for someone wiser than I – would be to write a book that answers this question: Why Think?

UPDATE: Kevin Williamson makes a decisive point: “I do not think the United States is headed toward a civil war — civil wars are too much work. But it does matter that the dominant American political fantasy of our time is a dream of civil war. The mass arrests dreamt up by Q and the massacres envisioned by its rivals may be exercises in wishful thinking, but what Americans are wishing for matters.” 

a time of reckoning

This essay by my dear friend James Davison Hunter is absolutely essential for our moment:

It is important to remember that times of crisis are always times of reckoning. Whether one admires [MLK] or agrees with his politics is not the question. In his day, public opinion was overwhelmingly against him, and even against today’s idealized and sanitized version of King, there are those who disparage the man and his achievements. The question, rather, is whether we have the requisite moral resources to reckon with our nation’s internal flaws and external challenges. King modeled a disposition, a voice, and a moral authority that could credibly compel such a reckoning in his own day, but in ways that made it possible for opponents to imagine a way forward together.

Although incomplete, his life and witness, his words and deeds, brought about constructive change in large measure because they were grounded in metaphysical and theological sources that transcended tribalized identities, prejudices, and shibboleths. King’s critique of America was radical, more radical than many today remember. But so too was his humanism. Dissent and solidarity were welded together — and could coexist precisely because they came from the same place. Both were rooted in an equally radical theological anthropology that demanded justice, refused ideological purity tests, and recognized the yearnings, fears, flaws, weaknesses, capacities, and aspirations that all human beings share — and, finally, obliged each of us to forgive our foes.

The particular moral resources that animated King and the clergy that surrounded him are certainly less available to us today. Their renewal is not impossible, but it is far from likely. But this only heightens the urgency of the question: What moral resources are available to us to come to terms with the crises we face?

That last question is the essential one. If you’re not meditating right now on your answer to it, you’re not serious about the challenge that faces us. James’s essay points us in the right direction. I am so grateful for his work and his witness.