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Friday, May 02, 2003
Well, I was going to type up some Voeglin for you guys today, but when I went to get my backpack from the practice space last night, there were two people sleeping in front of the (interior) basement door--presumably homeless, although I guess they could be residents chronically averse to stairs--so today I am backpack-less. But it did prompt me to start reading Justice as Fairness: A Restatement by John ("Fuckin'") Rawls, and oh man, it's brilliant. Of course. But lemme type up some of that instead. Here's section 1.3:

A third role [of theory], stressed by Hegel in his Philosophy of Right (1821), is that of reconciliation: political philosophy may try to calm our frustration and rage against our society and its history by showing us the way in which its institutions, when properly understood from a philosophical point of view, are rational, and developed over time as they did to attain their present, rational form. This fits one of Hegel's well-known sayings: "When we look at the world rationally, the world looks rationally back." He seeks for us reconciliation - Versohnung - that is, we are to accept and affirm our social world positively, not merely be resigned to it.

We shall be concerned with this role of political philosophy in several respects. Thus I believe that a democratic society is not and cannot be a community, where by a community I mean a body of persons united in affirming the same comprehensive, or partially comprehensive, doctrine. The fact of reasonable pluralism which characterizes a society with free institutions makes this impossible. This is the fact of profound and irreconcilable differences in citizens' reasonable comprehensive religious and philosophical conceptions of the world, and in their views of the moral and aesthetic values to be sought in human life. But this fact is not always easy to accept, and political philosophy may try to reconcile us to it by showing us the reason and indeed the political good and benefits of it.

At first blush this might seem like the kind of positivism that Voeglin decries as leading to the false affirmations of political science, which seek to merely describe current institutions instead of critiquing them or offering suggestions for improvements or renewal. But instead, I think it makes an important point about politics: that it cannot come from anger if it is to be democratic. Anger is, of course, a legitimate reaction to politics, but it is not one that can ultimately produce positive action. (It can, of course, result in profoundly negative action.) It is a spontaneous emotion that requires a quick remedy or response, and since these are (thankfully) rare in politics, it easily turns into apathy. Rawls isn't saying we should affirm our policies, but simply our democratic institutions, and by doing that he does not promote an acceptance of the status quo but a hope for change. Indeed, if anything, anger ends up promoting the status quo. Rawls seeks not to drain political energy from the citizen, as some might charge, but to induce a slow-burning resolve that change can occur. And that political philosophy can help with this, which I think it can. Theory-heads unite!

The other important thing, of course, is Rawls' assertion that a democracy can never be a community. This stands in stark contrast to those who complain about the fragmented nature of American society, or the seemingly intractably opposed interests of some of its citizens. But, Rawls would point out, this is merely the hallmark of a functioning democracy; if everyone held the same views, we would be living under an authoritarian regime. It is a problem that can be alleviated, but largely by a source we are reluctant to turn to: theory. People talk about the relativism of some theory, but relativism is necessary for living and working productively with other citizens in political life. Or so it seems to me.