April 12, 2016

cONSERVATISM IS IRRECONCILABLE WITH INDIVIDUALISM:

How Covenants Make Us (David Brooks, APRIL 5, 2016, NY Times)

Strong identities can come only when people are embedded in a rich social fabric. They can come only when we have defined social roles -- father, plumber, Little League coach. They can come only when we are seen and admired by our neighbors and loved ones in a certain way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds."

You take away a rich social fabric and what you are left with is people who are uncertain about who they really are. It's hard to live daringly when your very foundation is fluid and at risk.

We're not going to roll back the four big forces coursing through modern societies, so the question is how to reweave the social fabric in the face of them. In a globalizing, diversifying world, how do we preserve individual freedom while strengthening social solidarity?

In her new book "Commonwealth and Covenant," Marcia Pally of N.Y.U. and Fordham offers a clarifying concept. What we want, she suggests, is "separability amid situatedness." We want to go off and create and explore and experiment with new ways of thinking and living. But we also want to be situated -- embedded in loving families and enveloping communities, thriving within a healthy cultural infrastructure that provides us with values and goals.

Creating situatedness requires a different way of thinking. When we go out and do a deal, we make a contract. When we are situated within something it is because we have made a covenant. A contract protects interests, Pally notes, but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people.

People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts. Out of love of country, soldiers offer the gift of their service. Out of love of their craft, teachers offer students the gift of their attention.

The social fabric is thus rewoven in a romantic frame of mind. During another period of national fragmentation, Abraham Lincoln aroused a refreshed love of country. He played upon the mystic chords of memory and used the Declaration of Independence as a unifying scripture and guide.

These days the social fabric will be repaired by hundreds of millions of people making local covenants -- widening their circles of attachment across income, social and racial divides. But it will probably also require leaders drawing upon American history to revive patriotism. They'll tell a story that includes the old themes. That we're a universal nation, the guarantor of stability and world order. But it will transcend the old narrative and offer an updated love of America.

It's no coincidence that our Puritan Nation is the product of Covenant Theology, contractual political theory and the covenantal Founding.

Posted by at April 12, 2016 5:40 AM

  

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