LAUGHING WITH DON QUIXOTE
Lectures on Don Quixote
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983
xix + 219 pp., $17.95
By Joseph Alulis
Don Quixote is not the foremost comic masterpiece of the European spirit. It is not a "humane and humorous" book at all. In fact, it is not even funny except in a "coarse," "stupid" way. Any decent person ought to be ashamed of himself if he laughs at it. Rather, it is "one of the most bitter and barbarous books ever penned." So, at least, says the late Vladimir Nabokov in his recently published Lectures on Don Quixote (pp. 52, 24, 65, 75, and 111). Until now, Nabokov thinks, the world has been deceived by a pack of enchanters called Cervantesists (pp. 7, 52, and 55). What they proclaimed a genuine Mambrino's helmet of humanity is, in reality, a barber's basin of barbarity. The truth, however, is that it is Nabokov and not the Cervantesists who would play the enchanter here. And despite the power of the magician, the spell will not take.
Nabokov's argument goes as follows. "Both parts of Don Quixote form a veritable encyclopedia of cruelty" (p. 52). The so-called humor of the book consists throughout of the torture, both physical and mental, of a madman and his simple-minded companion. Indeed, the companion sometimes "tortures" the madman, and the madman is himself guilty of being "flippant" about his madness (pp. 57, 74, 61). Nothing could be more cruel or less funny. Nabokov briefly sketches Don Quixote's adventures, emphasizing the pain such doings must have entailed for flesh and blood, commenting all the while with heavy-handed irony, "What a riot, what a panic!" and so forth (p. 53). All of this, Nabokov argues, might have seemed funny in the harsh world of the seventeenth century, but it is not at all amusing today (pp. 52 and 111).
In arguing his thesis, Nabokov deserves credit for this, that he does not shrink from the hardest test. He goes right to those passages at which readers have always laughed most heartily and flatly denies that they are funny-or suggests that readers are barbarians for laughing at them. But the reader is on firmer ground forgetting the critic and trusting to his own innocent reaction to the work. Surely few readers from Cervantes's day to this have failed to laugh aloud at the encounter of knight and squire "with certain wicked Yangueseans" and their subsequent misadventures with Maritornes at the Inn of Juan Palomeque the Left-Handed (Pt. 1, chaps. 15-17). Without doubt, mores have become gentler since the time of Cervantes. But we do still laugh at these episodes in which master and man take such a drubbing, just as we laugh at the misfortunes of the comic creations of Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers. Is all of this cruel? How are we to determine whether it is or not?
Nabokov comments that there is a difference between "all fun that comes from the devil" and "authentic humor" which "comes from the angels" (p. 65). But he never explains how these two come to have laughter in common nor how they are to be distinguished. In order to judge Nabokov's evaluation of Don Quixote, a brief examination of the question of humor is necessary.
What makes us laugh, in the broadest terms, seems to be a sense of incongruity, that things are not what they should be. In the humor of language, for example, we laugh at puns and malapropisms, the argot of the underclasses or the use of grand language to describe mean things. As for human behavior, what greater incongruity is there than that between what we should be and what we generally are? In every case it is this incongruity, in the form of some kind of powerlessness, imperfection, or deficiency, that makes us laugh: all kinds of deceits and misunderstandings, including those effected by disguise, and especially confusion about an individual's sex; the way our passions blind us to what is evident to others; the gap between what we want and what we get; embarrassing departures from the norms of society such as the antics of a drunk, mugging, and facial grimaces. The laughter is cruel when the deficiency that occasions it results in serious harm or when the motive is simply to flatter ourselves with a sense of our own superiority at the expense of another. But an author may make us laugh at our defects in order to move us to correct them (comedy of manners); he may make individuals or ideas he thinks wicked or wrong an object of ridicule in defense of right and truth (satire); he may expose our common weaknesses, our finitude, so that by laughing at ourselves we may be reconciled to our condition (comedy of the highest form).
Now let us consider Don Quixote. No serious harm ever comes to knight and squire however fierce the blows they suffer, for the realm in which they and their assailants move, as every reader realizes, is simply not the same as that of Gloucester and Cornwall or Lady Macduff and Macbeth's hirelings. The literalness with which Nabokov treats Don Quixote's adventures is inappropriate. One need not quarrel with his plea for "Freedom from Pain" as the platform for a campaign for humanity to note that such an appeal is out of place in this context (p. 75). (Although, it must be added, this slogan does put one in mind of Brave New World, and one would like to explore its consequences before endorsing it.)
As for the intention of Cervantes, on this score above all Don Quixote is free of the taint of cruelty. Far from being, as Nabokov calls it, "one of the bitterest . . . books ever penned," it is the best antidote to bitterness that art has ever devised (p. 52). That this is its author's intention is suggested in the episode of the bandit Roque Ginart where Cervantes calls our attention to the way in which the desire for vengeance corrupts life (Pt. 2, chap. 60). Rather, what Cervantes does throughout is to make it possible for us to laugh at our misfortunes thereby drawing the bitterness out of them. He does this by creating a character who is such a mixture of intellect and folly, of generosity and delusion, that he is as hugely lovable as he is hugely comic. The Knight of the Mournful Countenance makes it possible for us to accept the idea of ourselves as ridiculous and yet admirable; as noble despite our weakness; as ultimately forgivable, because innocent of ill-intent, for the trouble we sometimes cause ourselves and others; not least, as capable of rising from every fall so long as our purpose is true, of bearing every humiliation so long as our heart is pure.
One portion of the book provides some pretext for Nabokov's interpretation, the long segment devoted to the visit of Don Quixote and Sancho with the Duke and Duchess (Pt. 2, chaps. 30-57, 69-70). "The cruelty of the book," Nabokov writes, "reaches here atrocious heights" (p. 62). At least two of the pranks played by the ducal circle are not funny but rather harmful. But is Nabokov warranted on that account in calling the book cruel? Does Cervantes invent these bad jokes to make us laugh? Does he ask us to applaud the pranksters?
In the two cases where the jest is most harmful, "Don Quixote's bell-and-cat fight" and "the troublous end of Sancho's government," Cervantes makes it plain that the jests are not intended by him to be funny (chaps. 46 and 53). He clearly conveys this by making their perpetrators regret their actions. Moreover, following the prank played upon Sancho, Cervantes has the squire take himself out of the way of any further jests with a dignity and humanity that is one of the great moments of the book. Nabokov acknowledges the "dignity" that Sancho "reveals" in this scene (p. 72). But Cervantes gets no credit for this and is, instead, classed with the pranksters.
In another joke, Cervantes pauses in unfolding the hoax to draw an extraordinary contrast between Don Quixote and the Duke entirely to the advantage of the former (chap. 36). Don Quixote's nobility of soul is here presented in so clear a light that the Duke's mockery discredits only himself.
Finally, Cervantes delivers through the medium of three different characters a negative judgment of the ducal pair's jokes: Don Quixote remarks that there is "little glory" for those who mock one who puts his trust in them; the Duke's Major-Domo observes of one jest that, in the event, "the jesters are mocked"; Cid Hamete Benengeli, the Arabic historian of Don Quixote's deeds, comments that "the duke and duchess were not two fingers' breadth removed from being fools" (chaps. 41, 49, and 70). Of these, Nabokov notices only the last and then does not comment on its significance (p. 74). But the conclusion warranted by this passage, as well as the others I have cited, is that the only instances in the book in which there is the slightest hint of cruelty are not intended for the amusement of the reader and, instead, serve to heighten our respect for Don Quixote and Sancho to the shame of those who perpetrate the jokes.
Nabokov insists that his thesis is sustained by the very presence of cruelty in the book "with or without the author's intent or sanction" (p. 52). But what sense does it make to call cruel a book in which the author's intention is not cruel, the book's effect is to cast anything like cruelty in a poor light, and the book in reflecting "cruelty" but truthfully mirrors the world? If the intent is good, and the effect is good, and the speech is true, can the speech be bad?
But there is something more than this to the book and to Nabokov's complaint about its reputation. The comic vision of Don Quixote has often been called Christian, to which Nabokov takes exception because of what he sees as its very un-Christian cruelty (pp. 52 and 18). Nabokov notes a Christian dimension to the book only in passing. He compares a number of events in the career of Don Quixote with incidents in the passion of Jesus, but without ever making anything of the comparison. In every case but one, Don Quixote's "last supper," the effect is pathetic. Any clear sense of the triumph of the resurrection is missing. But a Christianity deprived of the resurrection would, for a Christian at least, be meaningless. The teaching of Christianity is that man, who is powerless to save himself, is saved by God become man, and that consequently for the man of faith, in the light of this event, no other event, whether triumph or catastrophe, whether in the history of mankind or of an individual, is of critical significance. In this respect, Don Quixote embodies the Christian teaching.
Don Quixote is the Christian vision of man. He is really powerless to save himself or any other, save by some chance which deludes him as to his own capacity. (Compare Nabokov's lecture on "Victories and Defeats" which misses this point.) He is noble in our eyes more for his intention to do good than for any deed, though we love him also because he is tireless in his efforts to give his intentions their proper effect. Calamity after calamity befalls our hero, yet we do not weep but are invited to laugh, for no one is really harmed nor does anything serious hang in the balance. This is a world from which ultimate calamity has been banished. When Don Quixote declares that "virtue is omnipotent" and that it "will emerge triumphant from every peril and bestow light on the world as does the sun in the heavens," whatever other emotions are stirred by this speech and the scene, we are inclined both to believe that this is so and to realize that it shall never happen by the efforts of man alone (Pt. 1, chap. 47). On both counts, because it assures us that the good is secure and because it denies man the status of tragic hero, Christianity makes tragedy impossible for the Christian, unless he deliberately limits his vision to the human horizon.
If Don Quixote deserves to be called, in Thomas Mann's words, "a travesty of tragedy," it is precisely because it is, in the deepest sense, thoroughly Christian. Insofar as Nabokov shows no recognition of this Christian significance of the novel, one is free to wonder if he has sounded the depths of this work as well as some of the lesser critics he ridicules (p. 24).
Nabokov does not appear to have much liked Don Quixote. After the spring of 1952, he never repeated his lectures (p. viii). In fact, it was not his idea to lecture on the book in the first place (p. vii). Throughout he clearly conveys his judgment that this is not a book to which one returns. In the end he is only too anxious to deliver his Don Quixote from the hands of a creator and a world he deems unworthy of the knight (p. 112). It is hardly surprising then that Nabokov has so completely misunderstood the book. His Lectures do possess some merit. There are a few valuable insights, and any student of Cervantes and his masterpiece will want to read what Nabokov has to say. But for reliable guidance as to the meaning of Don Quixote, the reader is well advised to look elsewhere, even to the least of the Cervantesists.
RECOLLECTING ERIC VOEGELIN
The Voegelinian Revolution
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
xiv + 271 pp., $19.95
By Patrick Coby
This intellectual biography has a startling thesis to argue; namely, that the works of Eric Voegelin constitute a scientific revolution comparable in magnitude to the mathematical, astronomical, and physical revolution wrought by Copernicus and Newton. Voegelin, in other words, has redefined the very meaning of science. Pause just for a moment and ponder Sandoz's claim-that with Eric Voegelin there comes about a radical alteration in the scientific enterprise. If the proposition sounds incredible or at least hyperbolic, part of the reason lies in the fact that so few people are even aware of Voegelin, and that the revolution, alleged by Sandoz, must seemingly have occurred unbeknownst to the academic world. Sandoz does acknowledge the relative obscurity of Voegelin, a condition he accounts for and by his book tries to dispel. Indeed it might be said that Sandoz regards himself as witness to an event of profound significance, and that the purpose of his biography is first to announce this event, this revolution, and second to detail and analyze its salient features. Sandoz, however, is no popularizer, despite the intention of introducing Voegelin to a wider audience. By his own admission he has kept to the high ground of Voegelin's thought, expressing himself through Voegelin's unfamiliar and difficult vocabulary. The result is that Sandoz's biography is nearly as demanding a book as the works of Voegelin about which it speaks. Even with the help of The Voegelinian Revolution, therefore, Voegelin remains difficult of access.
The Voegelinian Revolution reads as conventional biography in only two of its eight chapters. The first of these chronicles Voegelin's academic career up to his departure from Austria in 1938; the second places Voegelin in his new American home, especially the sixteen years spent at Louisiana State University. In writing of Voegelin's life, Sandoz was assisted by what he calls an "Autobiographical Memoir," lengthy question-and-answer sessions between the two men that were taped, transcribed, and then edited by Voegelin himself.
Voegelin was born on January 3, 1901, in Cologne, Germany. After some years spent in the Rhineland, his family moved in 1910 to Vienna. Voegelin later attended the University of Vienna and in 1922 received his doctorate in political science. In 1924, a post-doctoral fellowship brought Voegelin to the United States, where for three years he studied at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Wisconsin. The results of his American research and experience are reflected in his first book, On the form of the American Mind (1928). Voegelin came to regard commonsense experience as the indispensable starting point of all philosophy. Following his return to Vienna, he wrote two books on the race question and two on the problem and origins of contemporary ideologies.
In 1938 Hitler marched into Austria. With the Gestapo in hot pursuit, Voegelin quickly fled Vienna. His books contained anti-Nazi themes, and the Gestapo had confiscated his last book. America was his final destination; once here, he taught at Harvard, Bennington, and the University of Alabama, before moving to his more permanent home at Louisiana State University in 1942.
Voegelin taught at L.S.U. until 1958 when he returned to Europe to assume the Directorship of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Munich. There he remained until his retirement in 1969. From 1969 to 1974, Voegelin was Henry Salvatori Distinguished Scholar at the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. In the years following his "second" retirement, Voegelin continued work on the fifth and final volume of Order and History. However, he did not live to see its publication. Voegelin died just weeks ago, on January 19, 1985.
Sandoz's central concern here is with Voegelin's writings since the early 1950s, particularly The New Science of Politics, Order and History, and Anamnesis. Sandoz's approach is thematic, with separate chapters devoted to significant periods in Voegelin's intellectual development, periods which generally coincide with the publication dates of the above-named books: 1952, 1957, 1966, 1981. Throughout it all, Sandoz's purpose is to follow the thread of Voegelin's thought, to identify alterations and new insights, and to explain how taken as a whole the works of Voegelin provide the makings of an intellectual revolution.
The core of the Voegelinian revolution lies in Voegelin's rejection of the methodology of the mathematical natural sciences, especially as that methodology is taken to be the hallmark of rational thought and as it is applied paradigmatically to the study of man. The focus of Voegelin's complaint seems to be the presumed objectivity and detachment of modern science, its distinctions between subject and object, knower and known, and facts and values which permit it from afar to record and measure the motions of a material world. Detachment, according to Voegelin, is a falsification of reality. The foundations of knowledge lie in human experience, and human experience is emphatically participatory. Thus genuine science must proceed from and investigate the participatory experience of man. Such science Voegelin calls noetic.
Noesis is a term taken by Voegelin from classical philosophy, mainly from the vocabularies of Plato and Aristotle. Its root is nous, which means mind, intellect, or reason. As explained by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, nous is an intuitive faculty which enables the mind to grasp first principles without the intermediate steps of induction or deduction. Aristotle contrasts nous with the discursive reasoning called dianoia.
Voegelin's indictment of modernity charges it with severing dianoia from noesis, the former being identified with reason itself, the latter with the irrationality of pre-positive thinking; i.e., with myth, religion, and metaphysics. Voegelin does grant, indeed even insists upon, the kinship of noetic philosophy with myth and revelation. But he disputes that these modes of thought are irrational or that they have been superseded by positive science. What man participates in at various levels and what he sometimes seeks is order; and myth, revelation, and philosophy are symbolic articulations of the order experienced. Science, then, for Voegelin is the analysis of these experiences, because only by these experiences does man make contact with ultimate reality. Furthermore, these experiences, whose record constitutes history and meaning in history, are themselves confirmation of reality, called the divine ground of being by Voegelin, such that the separation of faith and reason never quite arises-man need not believe in God, for he experiences, or can experience, an order that has its roots in the divine. Additional confirmation of the scientific character of noesis, and of myth and revelation, lies in the fact that rationalist suppressions of human experience succeed only in deforming the experience but never in destroying it. Voegelin's studies of Gnosticism show that "religious" ideologies such as Marxism and fascism are the inevitable by-products of the Enlightenment.
The participatory experience which cannot be destroyed expresses itself in any of several questions: When the quest for the ground is directed to the genesis of things, the question is of the Beginning; when the ground is located in things existing, the question concerns the Depth; when the ground is outside the cosmos of things as transcendent being, the question is about the Beyond; and when eschatological perfection through the Parousia (second coming) is anticipated, the question is of the End. Human nature at all times is open to participation in the divine whose order is experienced either as Beginning, Depth, Beyond, or End. For the most part, cosmological myth articulates experience of the first two, noetic philosophy of the third, and revelation of the third and fourth.
Noesis, as the defining principle of science, is participatory, but it is also differentiated, as suggested above, with some experiences being more luminous than others. Voegelin means by luminosity the realization of the hierarchical structure of existence, moving from the physical to the spiritual, rational, and divine, as well as the awareness of the structure of consciousness as kindred to the structure of reality. Myth is less luminous, more compact, than philosophy or revelation because its experience of the divine is largely physical, with intramundane gods postulated, and because the separation of man and God is absolute. Philosophy and revelation constitute advances over myth and are called "theophanies" or "leaps in being." There also is the suggestion that revelation is more differentiated than philosophy, because of the former's consciousness of history as a succession of increasingly luminous theophanies.
The human condition, says Voegelin, evinces one constant feature, that of existential tension between the poles of the noetic heights and the apeirontic (limitless) depths. Stated more simply, man is neither God nor animal but something in between. Life in the In-Between, Plato's metaxu, typifies the human condition which people everywhere experience and record. Voegelin bases himself here on decades of painstaking research, on first-hand familiarity with source materials from all civilizations and in all languages. Part of what Voegelin means by science is the scholarship which documents these many experiences, be they Stone Age petroglyphs, Mesopotamian myths, Old Testament revelation, Platonic dialogues, medieval mysticism, or the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.
The experience of tension and the search for order, says Voegelin, express themselves through symbols of their own devising. There is a close and necessary connection between the experience and its articulation. As Sandoz puts it:
In noetic science, experience so understood engenders the symbolisms that let it articulate itself. Experience-symbolism, thus, is a unit: without the experience there is no symbolism, and without the symbolism no articulate experience. Both arise at once in the participatory search of the Ground, which differentiates the structure and process of consciousness-reality. (p. 208)
Theophanic experience of all kinds-myth, revelation, philosophy-is articulated through symbolic speech. Voegelin repeatedly calls symbolic even the theoretical discourse of Aristotle, or appropriate portions thereof. He offers as an example the opening line of the Metaphysics: "All men by nature desire to know" (for what they
desire to know, says Voegelin, is the ground). Why this is symbolic speech is not entirely clear, but three points might be mentioned: (1) such speech may be symbolic because it means to describe what is imperfectly understood; thus it is imprecise and ought not to be mistaken for a declaration of the truth; (2) it is symbolic because it works to produce in others the experience it describes; accordingly it bears some likeness to poetry; and (3) it is symbolic because its own intelligibility depends completely on the experience which engendered it; divorced from this experience, it can only be misunderstood.
The last of these points is of vital importance to Voegelin, for it explains the unfortunate history of philosophy ever since Aristotle. With its experiential foundations forgotten, philosophy became a series of dogmatic propositions about unseen phenomena. Over time such dogmatism hardened into rival schools (monists versus dualists, idealists versus empiricists) and religious wars, with the final result being the anti-metaphysical and anti-religious revolution of modern science. While sympathetic with the causes of the revolt, Voegelin asserts that it leaves untouched, because unknown, the noetic science that preceded this 2,000-year derailment. The Voegelinian revolution, therefore, is essentially a reclamation, or, in Voegelin's own words, a recollection, an anamnesis.
Voegelin's revolution is not one that promises to overtake the intellectual establishment. In that sense it is quite unlike the earlier revolution to which Sandoz compares it. Apparently Voegelin cherished no hopes that the academic community any time soon will take up the practice of noetic science or that a political order, rid of sterile, ideological dogmatism, will shortly emerge. He did, though, deny that the individual need mirror the deformations of the age. Resistance is always possible, and Voegelin's life work plainly has the purpose of assisting a few individuals in that endeavor. Voegelin, therefore, seems very much like a disciple of Plato. And Plato, as it happened, proved to be the author of a revolution more profound and perhaps more enduring than that of Copernicus and Newton.
TOTALITARIAN FOREIGN POLICY
How Democracies Perish
Translated by William Byron
New York: Doubleday, 1984
376 pp., $17.95
By Sherman Garnett, Jr.
As citizens we turn to Revel's book not to discover how we shall perish but rather how we shall survive. Revel's thesis is that modern democracy suffers from an internal illness which not only places it at a tactical disadvantage with Communist totalitarianism (as embodied most perfectly in the Soviet Union) but ultimately destroys our intellectual and moral will to resist it at all. Communism suffers from its own form of decay; however, it manifests that decay in a way that prevents our taking advantage of it. In a democratic world, our internal flaws would not be mortal; but in a world where democracy is rare and faced with a powerful challenger, democratic regimes may well be in danger of becoming "historical accidents." In Revel's view, we cannot blame our troubles on Communism, not because Communism is not evil or a great danger-it is both-but because Western democracies are "predisposed to succumb" (p. 215).
Revel structures his book to educate the reader to both the internal illness responsible for this predisposition and the true nature of the external threat. He divides his work into four parts and a conclusion: In part one he discusses the way democracy faces its enemy (chapters 1-5). In parts two and three, Revel analyzes the real Soviet threat and not merely the threat as the West is inclined to see it (chapters 6-9, 10-17). In part four he returns once more to democracy's "mentality of defeat" (chapters 18-26). The work concludes with a section entitled, "Neither War Nor Slavery."
Revel denies any intention to reeducate his readers: He claims merely to "lay bare a mechanism," or to describe the tendencies he observes. This pose contains a good bit of that familiar French decadence which we would all miss if Revel had not supplied it. Yet at several places the author betrays a more serious intention by identifying himself with Demosthenes (pp. 67-68, 159, 212, 356). The book is intended, it would seem, as a similar warning, if sufficient time and virtue remain.
Revel identifies Communist totalitarianism as the central political phenomenon of our time: "The real antithesis is not that of totalitarianism to democracy, or communism to capitalism, but of totalitarian communism to all the rest. Communism is the necrosis of economics, totalitarianism the necrosis of politics, of the body civic and of culture" (p. 343).
Revel argues that the long-term aims of Soviet foreign policy are clear: Communism, with the Soviet Union as the vanguard state, aims at "world conquest." A certain class of reader will conjure up images of the master plan and other bogey men of the McCarthy era. He will brand this view as "a reactionary notion." However, one of the aims of Revel's book is "to determine which of these two points of view is the less delusive" (p. 21). The democracies, he maintains, fall easily into an optimistic view or, worse, are afraid of acknowledging the facts for what they are.
Revel spends a great deal of the book discussing a wide variety of notions-which he calls myths-which govern our discussion of the Soviet Union in particular and totalitarianism in general: that the Soviet Union is nothing more than a "conservative empire" interested only in the status quo; or that Soviet expansionism is a sign of weakness; or that demographic and economic difficulties will limit Soviet freedom of action; or even that there are "hawks and doves" in the Politburo.
While Revel does not deny that there is some truth in each of these notions, he points to a systematic pattern of misuse which obscures the larger, if simpler, truths of Soviet behavior: the long history of expansionism, the unparalleled military build-up, the pursuit of a discernible overall strategy to weaken and, ultimately, to supplant the West.
It would be comforting if Revel were speaking only of a professional failure peculiar to a certain class of journalists, scholars, and Sovietologists, but in fact he describes a more general and widespread intellectual failure "in evaluating facts, gauging threats, choosing responses, and understanding the enemy's methods" (p. 215). At bottom, it is a failure to see ourselves as we are, and therefore to understand the Soviet challenge for what it is.
Revel chronicles a self-deceptive mood among our intellectuals. Some are little more than apologists for the Soviet regime. The arguments are by now familiar: Ignoring the Soviet military build-up, they accuse the West of squandering its wealth on armaments. Our prodigal sons and daughters have meditated profoundly upon "Western militarism," suggesting that it is the result of the unwarranted influence of greedy arms merchants, industrialists, and soldiers, or that we lack the imagination or reason to see how things could be different, or even that our infatuation with certain armaments can be attributed to their shape. That arms might be a necessary response to the tenacity of evil never occurs to them.
If they are confronted with the Soviet threat, they respond with a litany of democracy's imperfections which deprive us of the right to criticize. Revel offers an extreme but not uncommon illustration: "In Holland in 1981, a considerable share of public opinion, questioned about its feelings on Poland and Afghanistan, declared that the Dutch lacked the moral right to criticize Communist repression or Soviet imperialism as long as housing conditions in Amsterdam fail to meet the highest standards of modern comfort, as long as women remained exploited and the legal rights of heterosexual married couples are denied to 'homosexual married couples'" (p. 15). The oft-repeated pattern of famines, forced labor, and police terror in Communist lands has its counterpart in a Western pattern of denial, minimizing, and forgetting. Revel writes: "When it comes to mass extermination, communism has to polevault to prodigious heights to reach the threshold of Western perception. And even that threshold merely represents an average. Papandreou's threshold of perception, or Palme's, for example, is higher than any Communist vaulter could ever reach" (p. 328).
Of course, outright apologists for the Soviet Union are less common than previously. After all, we should expect that, willingly or unwillingly, intellectuals have learned something after nearly seventy years of Soviet rule. However, in place of the old apologist, we find someone who has adopted a "more enlightened" view: that both superpowers share an equal responsibility for failures to control nuclear weapons or to maintain detente.
But, as Revel points out, the equal responsibility thesis rests upon a supreme indifference to distinguishing right from wrong. Its adherents have chosen such a lofty perspective that they no longer see the obvious difference between our way of life, however imperfect, and Communist totalitarianism, however improved. They display only a profound weariness of the spirit which makes a choice by making no choice at all. Regardless of the intellectual or moral consequences of this view, it represents a palpable loss of that vigor which any system needs to survive.
The differences between representative and one-party institutions, a free and a planned economy, individual liberty and mass organization, are not simply the result of custom but of the long-standing quarrel over who man is and how he should live. No matter how hard some try to avoid the fact, the question of whether we survive is, if properly asked, inextricably linked to the question of how we should live.
For Revel, Western survival ultimately depends upon our dedication (or rededication) to the principles which first reconciled "governmental authority with individual freedom." To do this, we must adopt a way of reasoning about the world which is not alien from, but actually rooted in, the principles which underlie the everyday lives of free men and women.
Like Demosthenes, Revel reminds us that the contrast between our way of life and that of our adversary should be the foundation for more complicated reasonings about international intentions, methods, and goals. This contrast is at once both the greatest lesson we can learn and the one we seem to forget or willingly ignore at every turn. This is why Revel is convinced that democracy is the most beautiful and moral, yet fragile of regimes. But the citizen, spared the philosophe's abstract way of looking at things, must continue to believe in "the recuperative power and virtue" which a free society husbands for dark times, as well as in the presence of those who know the joys and costs of freedom and love it above all other things.
A FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER
Works of Fisher Ames
As published by Seth Ames; edited and enlarged by W.B. Allen
Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1983
Two volumes: Liii + 841 pp.
xxxvii + 776 pp.
$30.00 (cloth) set
$15.00 (paper) set
By Wesley Phelan
Fisher Ames is, as Samuel Eliot Morison observed, the statesman quoted most often by historians of the American Founding. He may also be the least understood public figure of that era. To Progressive historian Vernon Parrington, Ames was an intolerant, dogmatic aristocrat and a foe of the common man. He was a symbol of an age gone by, when government was the special province of the rich and well-born. Since he was an anachronism, Parrington contends, he is of little interest to later generations.
Morison, on the other hand, assigns to Ames a legitimate though limited role in the American political experience. He is significant because his writings constitute the most brilliant account of the political program, and of the hopes and fears, of a small group of men known to history as the New England Federalists. The implication is that Ames's writings have no independent status, that they offer no insight into the problems unique to American government. One would read them merely to learn about the time, the region, and the social class to which he belonged.
Neither of these views squares with the facts of Ames's career. He reached manhood during that critical period in American history between the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution, when the Union floundered under the ill-conceived Articles of Confederation. The political crisis came to a head in 1786 with the outbreak of Shays's Rebellion, an uprising of debt-ridden farmers in western Massachusetts. In response, Ames, under the pseudonym Lucius Junius Brutus, argued in a series of newspaper essays that the farmers' momentary sufferings could not justify the complete overthrow of the social and political institutions of the state.
In February of the next year, Ames, now under the pseudonym Camillus, congratulated the government of Massachusetts and the Confederation Congress on the suppression of the rebellion. He then set forth his understanding of the origin, purpose, and operation of republican government; and he placed his voice in the forefront of those calling for a change in American politics that would render the national government supreme. These five essays articulated the desires of thoughtful men that the gains of the Revolution be institutionalized before they were lost in political anarchy. Ames never wavered from this original statement of republican principles, or from his desire for a strong, energetic federal government.
Following the Constitutional Convention's conclusion in September 1787, the Constitution went to the states to be ratified or rejected by specially elected conventions. Ames served in the Massachusetts convention, where he helped beat back an attempt by the "Antifederalists" to reject it. Having thus earned the respect of the voters, Ames, now 30, was elected to the first Congress of the United States.
Ames participated in nearly all the major debates in the House when the new government conceived by the Constitution took form. When Madison split with the Federalists, Ames became their most able debater. He was instrumental in gaining House approval for Hamilton's plans for funding the Revolutionary War debt, assuming the debts of the states, and establishing the first Bank of the United States.
Ames reached his zenith as a debater and as an expounder of the Constitution during the House debate over the constitutionality of the Bank. He delivered the first comprehensive statement of the position for loose construction, the expansive reading of the national government's powers under the Constitution. His arguments became Federalist Party doctrine and were incorporated into American government by Chief Justice John Marshall through such cases as McCulloch v. Maryland.
Ames retired from public office with Washington in 1797. He spent the remaining years of his life trying to rally the waning strength of the Federalists against the Jeffersonian Republicans. Ames filled the Boston newspapers with essays designed to show that the work of the Founding, from 1775 to 1797, was being betrayed by Jefferson's election in the Revolution of 1800.
Professor Alien's new edition of Ames's works has much to offer. Its foreword is the best short sketch of his life yet written. The edition also includes 85 letters never before published. Ames wrote 13 series of essays in addition to his various single essays. Previous editions of his works left six of the essay series incomplete.
The speeches, letters, and essays of Fisher Ames are part of our American heritage and should not be abandoned to the dusty shelf of the antiquary's attic. One hopes that Professor Allen's new edition of these works will not only return "a more perfect" Ames to historians' libraries but, more important, bring him into classrooms around the country where the American heritage is studied, appreciated, and passed on.
The Democratic Muse: Visual Arts and the Public Interest
Edward C. Banfield
New York: Basic Books, 1984
xii + 284 pp., $15.95
By Tilo Schabert
Some years ago the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded a grant to an American "artist" who had proposed to use the stipend for producing "art" of the following kind:
I will rent a ground level studio with high ceilings and a cement floor, adjacent to a lush meadow. And to this place I will bring Pigme, a full-grown sow (whom I have known since her ninth day), two female rabbits (who know each other and me), a buck (stranger), two ring-necked doves (strangers), a wooley monkey, Georgina (who knows me slightly). . . . We will all move together. I will also bring those things necessary for a comfortable survival, including food and materials to use for building and maintaining nests. All of us will contribute to the creation, maintenance and change of such an environment. Once settled, we may discover that there are others who would like to join us even if just for a short time (birds, mice, people, etc.). I will record our activities so that those unable to visit and experience our situation directly will know something of what it is like. This will best be done by using portable video equipment. Sometimes, we will leave our place and go together to another, or bring others to us. For these events, we will need a vehicle, preferably a motorbike with a large sidecar. Perhaps this communal way of life will be quite difficult. However, the educational value, for all of us will be extraordinary.
During fiscal 1984, Congress appropriated $162 million for the NEA. (In both fiscal 1982 and 1983, the appropriations were $143 million.) The NEA supports the arts by using taxpayer dollars. In other words, some part of the wealth created by the productive labor of some Americans was used to finance that communal life of a sow, two rabbits, a buck, two doves, a monkey, and an "artist" which the NEA thought would be a work of "art."
To be sure, most projects sponsored by the NEA are quite conventional. But it has also supported a sizeable number of extremely dubious proposals. Yet the NEA is not entirely to blame for these decisions. Some indeed were reached only after considerable controversy within the NEA. The NEA is merely the institutional expression of a "national arts policy." The problem is that the federal government has assumed the role which the Emperor Augustus gave to Maecenas: It presides over the production of the beautiful.
When and where did the American people decide that supporting the arts is a proper function of the federal government? What is meant by "the arts" if they are made the matter of a national policy? Can "art" be defined? And, if so, what are the implications of officially defining the relationship between the arts and society? Again, do not the arts, as a matter of public policy, become pawns of the interest groups that benefit from the largesse of the Great Maecenas in Washington, D.C.?
In pursuing these questions, Edward C. Banfield has produced a most admirable book. Written in elegant prose, The Democratic Muse unfolds a captivating story while it scrutinizes a public policy. Although Banfield shows great sympathy for the activity of the true artists, he does not condone the treacherous bizarrerie of a certain contemporary art such as Vito Acconci's regular calls to the New York Times announcing that his "breathing is art." His study is a straightforward account, a story of politics that hardly any other author could have told as uncompromisingly and yet as dispassionately as Banfield.
Public support of the arts in a democratic society is, in principle, an incongruous undertaking. Since a democracy proves itself by a pluralism in tastes and manners, one cannot assume a general agreement on the nature of art. Nor can one presume that art is a constituent of the public good. In our age, art is essentially subjective.
Banfield brings this incongruity to the fore as he surveys the history of arts policy in the United States. From the beginnings of the American republic to the present, a body of citizens has favored public support of the arts. In pursuing their objective, they could adopt two possible strategies: to strive for their goal and to accept nevertheless the constitutional idea that the federal government serves only certain purposes, none pertinent to the patronage of the arts; or to ignore the constitutional limitations and force the federal government into the new role of initiating, enacting, and financing a national arts policy.
During the time between the founding of the republic and the New Deal, the arts lobby either did not succeed at putting support of the arts on the national agenda or did not seriously try. Beginning with F.D.R., however, the lobby became increasingly influential, and its influence grew apace during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was under President Johnson that the lobby finally prevailed over any doubts concerning the role of the federal government in the field of artistic creativity. In 1965 the support of the arts had become, by legislative acts, a function of the American government. The National Endowment for the Arts was created as the agency empowered to promote, and subsidize, the arts.
Three aspects of this story are particularly remarkable. First, the drive for federal support of the arts was masterminded by those who stood to gain from a national arts policy; the American public at large was mostly indifferent. Secondly, even though the influence of the arts lobby has eclipsed the "proper sphere of government" prescribed by the Constitution, the Reagan Administration thus far has shown little willingness to challenge its ascendancy, other than through budget cuts. A Task Force on the Arts and Humanities appointed by President Reagan in May 1981, Banfield notes, "wasted no time asking what was meant by 'the arts' or why government should subsidize them" (p. 91). Thirdly, public support of the arts was not proposed and enacted, as one might suppose, for the sake of art. Instead, justifications quite extraneous to the arts were advanced: Support of the arts, it was said, would contribute to the public welfare, alleviate the crisis of the cities, prevent vandalism, better the lot of the poor, increase the national prestige of the United States, and finally, offer the artist public recognition as "a first-class citizen . . . worthy of being taken as seriously as the scientist, the businessman or even the economist" (J. K. Galbraith, as quoted by Banfield, p. 55). If these are the reasons he should seek public funds, any artist attaching a certain dignity to his work might well prefer to decline public support.
"Art," as it is known since the Age of Enlightenment, is "private" art, rooted in an "aesthetic" experience which is not a universal but a radically "subjective" experience. Being a "modern artist" means to disassociate oneself from the community of men, to oppose and shock society by one's "originality." Hence, contemporary art, by its very nature, negates any "public" notion of art. Or, in other words, there is no art that could be associated with the public interest; there are only as many "arts" as there are artists.
In a very subtle and stimulating chapter, Banfield discusses art in our age. He differentiates four principal modes of aesthetic experience: the ideational, the romantic, the transcendental, and the nihilist. He then examines the implications of these modes under several criteria: beauty, cognitive content, moral and political significance, art as play, fine and applied arts, nature of appeal, originality, and technical skill. Throughout the discussion he applies this framework of modes and criteria with great fairness, contemplating nihilistic art as seriously as the ideational, while attaching the highest degree of morality and public relevance to the latter. Yet Banfield must acknowledge that a great amount of what is presented as art today tends to provoke the question: But is it art? Thus, the next question arises: How can there be a national arts policy if no one can really know what its object is, given the largely idiosyncratic nature of contemporary art?
In the United States and other contemporary societies, "art" and "the public" meet under various institutional, economic, and social settings. The "art museum" is the most notable of these settings. Banfield does not go as far as George Santayana who described them as "mausoleums" where only "dead art" could be found. Yet, with a mixture of precise documentation and disarming irony, he demonstrates the astonishing evolution of museums into business enterprises that use the public interest in the arts as the source of their self-perpetuation.
Public schools, another setting where art and society are supposed to interpenetrate, are studied by Banfield with equal accuracy and disillusioning consequence. He concludes that public schools try to do what they cannot; namely, transform young people into "artists." At the same time, they fail to do what they should, transmitting a knowledge about the arts to their pupils.
Banfield also examines a contradiction between the public interest and private interests in discussing the subject of "collecting" art. He emphasizes his intention not to criticize "those who collect art or anything else, whether for pleasure or profit. The point is that these nonaesthetic interests in the art market compete with the public interest in making the aesthetic experience of art more widely available and more frequent" (p. 143). The art world has succeeded in persuading the rest of society to believe that only "original" art is truly art (although this idea of an "original" art is itself, as the history of forgeries shows, an illusion). Hence the average citizen has two choices: He can either buy "original" art (which he is usually incapable of doing or unwilling to do), or he can visit museums (where his enjoyment of art is considerably restricted). If he turns to "copies" or "imitations," he exposes himself to the ridicule of "art connoisseurs" and can, in addition, hardly expect to find any support on the part of the public. Banfield astutely criticizes what he calls "the double standard for music and the visual arts": "Many people would never dream of having a 'fake' Rembrandt on their walls, however high its quality, yet own and enjoy record sets of the Beethoven symphonies" (p. 151).
Banfield implicitly recognizes that in older, pre-modern societies the public interest (or the common good) and the "artistic" representation of the Social world were in greater harmony than in America today. He is well aware, that the people in medieval Europe, for instance, perceived the Gothic cathedrals as something quite different from modern, idiosyncratic art. They beheld the cathedrals as symbolic representations of their existence in a social cosmos that reflected the cosmos of the world. This coherence is gone, as we know all too well.
Even if the question-But is it art?-destroys any illusions about a national arts policy, the question-What is it that symbolically represents the American republic?-is still valid. Given the democratic nature of the American republic, any attempt to approach this question by a "policy" must necessarily fail. What represents America in the mode of "art" can only be known "historically": by perceiving a work of art from the "past" and recognizing that it has acquired the status of an American symbol.
Human Rights in Our Time: Essays in Memory of Victor Baras
Edited by Marc F. Plattner
Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1984
xiv + 161 pp., $18.50
By Dennis E. Teti
It is a curious paradox of contemporary politics that the left and right share much in common in their respective understandings of human rights.
Consider a remark by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young: "We must recognize that [the Soviets] are growing up in circumstances different from ours. They have, therefore, developed a completely different concept of human rights." Addressing a U.N. Commission on Human Rights on which some of the world's leading despots sat, the U.S. Ambassador said: "I see my country as vulnerable as anybody else's around the table."
In apparent reaction to this left-wing view, our current Ambassador, Jeane Kirlcpatrick, has written that the Carter Administration's purism
leads to an overriding concern with purity of intentions [emphasis in original]. When the morality of motives is more important than the consequences of our acts, we will not feel too concerned about creating a totalitarian tyranny, provided that we "meant well."
She hoped that the Reagan Administration, wiser than its predecessor, "will take the cure of history, which is nothing more or less than the cure of reality." She concluded by emphasizing that America's freedom is "rooted . . . ultimately in our rights as Englishmen."
Yet, for all her apparent disagreement with the Carter policies, Ambassador Kirkpatrick shares some basic philosophical assumptions with them: First, the rather Kantian notion that "intentions" alone define moral actions; and second, an appeal to "history" for guidance on foreign policy, especially with regard to rights. Neither the Kirkpatrick nor the Carter view seems to have considered the idea that the core of morality is the virtue of prudence, which properly relates eternal truths to temporal circumstances. Neither entertains the possibility that the "cure" for faulty policy is to seek guidance from "nature" rather than "history." Both have abandoned the natural rights tradition of the American Founders in favor of "human rights." To be fair, Ambassador Kirkpatrick now seems to have developed a deeper interpretation of human rights drawn from the United States' true natural rights tradition.
Given such a perplexing state of affairs, the anthology under review provides some timely thoughts on the subject of rights and our foreign policy. Written by a group of friends who studied political philosophy seriously, it is dedicated to the memory of the late Victor Baras, a young teacher who passed away eight years ago. Baras was intensely concerned about the theory and practice of human rights, and it was proper to offer this volume to his memory. He was also an exacting scholar and so could not have accepted in toto the arguments of all the authors since they are not entirely in agreement among themselves. Some essays are clear and illuminating, while others only deepen our perplexity. They deal with theoretical and practical, historical and contemporary aspects of human rights and politics. The order of analysis here will proceed from the most persuasive to the most problematic.
Claremont McKenna College Professor James H. Nichols ably summarizes the entire volume in his concluding essay with the understated and careful clarity that marks his scholarship. He rightly maintains that human rights are most threatened by our "forgetfulness" of their meaning, and his article strives to recall the strengths along with the problems of the human rights doctrine.
The only selection centrally concerned with a domestic problem, the essay on "affirmative action" by Kenyon College Professor Fred Baumann (who has edited a book on human rights) is the clearest, most thoughtful piece in this book. His understanding of human rights reflects profound judgment on the relationship between theory and practice. If human rights demand equal treatment of individuals before the law, "affirmative action" clearly contradicts that demand by calling for preferential treatment; i.e., privilege, on the basis of race, gender, religion, ethnic group, etc. The only criterion which ultimately determines which group is entitled to such privileges is raw political power.
Baumann's concern for the threat posed by the principles underlying "affirmative action" stems from the fragility of consent in liberal democracy. Huge majorities of Americans, including the supposed beneficiaries of these programs, oppose them. As a practical matter, there is much to be concerned about: Baumann cites the case of a Carter Administration official who returned from the People's Republic of China praising almost every aspect of their school system, including its ideological and class discrimination against the children of "bourgeois" parents. United States education, subject to popular opinion, is characterized by "confusion and near-hysteria," she charged. Bureaucracy always rests uneasy under the need for consent; theories justifying preferential treatment simply give impatient bureaucrats new reasons to disregard democratically determined policy and ultimately to revolutionize the regime. Baumann's intention in this article is to strengthen democracy and human rights by reminding the reader that accomplishments, talents, and virtues are the only legitimate standards in a polity of equal opportunity.
The essay by State Department official Charles Fairbanks on the British suppression of the slave trade in the nineteenth century shows a successful human rights policy in practice. The decades-long policy of Britain to terminate international slave trading could not have succeeded without enormously superior naval power. Britain's ultimate success demonstrates to even the fainthearted that military superiority, reputation for strength, and the will to project power are the necessary conditions for advancing the common good of mankind around the globe.
Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member James Ring Adams's article on the Helsinki process is a twentieth century analogue to Fairbanks's essay. Decisive U.S.-Western European military superiority has long since vanished, and with it went the possibility of enforcing a human rights policy on reluctant regimes. Moreover, our century's understanding of the meaning of human rights has been clouded by the historicist reinterpretation which superadded economic, social, and cultural rights to the original understanding of rights as natural and political. The Helsinki process did not come close to saving Poland from the Soviet-inspired coup d'etat in 1979. Perhaps Helsinki has elevated the world's awareness of the rights of man, but the question is whether, absent decisive strength and the will to act, that awareness can lead to anything beyond a certain smug moralism among the democracies.
Cornell University Kremlinologist Myron Rush, on the other hand, shows that the Carter Administration's human rights policy toward the Soviet Union succeeded neither in moderating that regime, internally weakening it, nor transforming it. President Carter's policy was vague and flawed because it was simply an alternative to anti-Communism. It arose from both the President's moralism and the perceived need for a different foreign policy after our Vietnam debacle. Rush is skeptical about the whole idea of basing foreign policy on human rights. Yet he concedes that President Carter's early human rights rhetoric did focus the world's attention on "evil" Soviet domestic policies, thus damaging Soviet prestige, embarrassing their apologists, and gaining "not insubstantial" new respect for the United States abroad. These are not small gains, and indeed the Carter emphasis on human rights could be viewed as preliminary to the Reagan Administration's effort to combine anti-Communism with concern for human rights violations. Rush moderates his opening remark by concluding that any sustained U.S. foreign policy must have a "moral foundation." But if that foundation is not concern for human rights, he does not offer any other.
The article by Defense Department official Abram Shulsky raises further doubts about the practical importance of human rights emphasis in foreign policy. One conceivable solution to East-West conflict might be sought in revising the post-Thirty Years' War maxim, cuius regio eius religio, to mean, roughly, every state its own ideology. The difficulty here is that Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism denies toleration in principle. Marxist society only comes into its own as a universal global imperium, after having crushed every class enemy.
This essay leaves us in the same quandary as the previous one: Threatened by a totalitarian regime which is certain of its triumph in existential history, we are yet deprived of any "self-evident truth" at the basis of our democratic faith in human rights. It is true that liberal democracies cannot be created everywhere in an instant. And it is reasonable to recognize that Soviet totalitarianism aims to overthrow decent governments throughout the world. Anti-Communism then is a key aspect-but only one aspect-of a comprehensive foreign policy.
Both Rush and Shulsky are eager to reject Jimmy Carter's "moralism." But by rejecting the notion of human rights itself as either "relativistic" or "ideological," they apparently have nothing left to substitute for it. Both articles leave U.S. policy under a cloud of pessimism.
Carnes Lord, formerly of the National Security Council staff, transforms Shulsky's doubts about human rights into a formula for near-paralysis. Lord worries that Third World peoples do not accept Western-style liberalism. Primitive nations regard human rights legalism as subversive of their moral basis, preventing their governments from regulating morality through such means as censorship or other restraints on personal liberty. Therefore we need a "redefinition" of human rights purged of "liberal, democratic, and capitalist elements." This means concentrating on "civil rights"-yet even these must be "redefined" so as to be recognized by a broad variety of regimes. Lord clearly has deep reservations about the value of liberalism and Western progress for non-Western peoples; we may even wonder whether his reservations extend to the West itself. In fact, it is hard to avoid concluding that he, like Rousseau, fails to make the elementary and obvious distinction between civilization and barbarism. Surely one mark of civilized people is their acknowledgment of human rights, while barbarians typically ignore the difference between the human and the nonhuman. An American foreign policy that did not advance civilization in preference to barbarism would be a curious policy indeed.
The essay by University of Toronto Professors Clifford Orwin and Thomas Pangle takes the Lord argument even further. Had Gibbon concluded his Decline and Fall by commending the martial virtues of Christianity, we might be no more surprised than by these authors' call for a "principled" synthesis of the American human rights tradition with Rousseauian and Kantian moral thought. The learning evident in this tour de force is broad; yet rarely has the difference between scholarship and wisdom been so clear.
The essay begins unobjectionably by stating that the meaning of human rights turns on the meaning of "human." They articulate the origins of human rights doctrines in the low, calculating philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, ascribing the American tradition to these early moderns. Rousseau and Kant "transform" human rights by historicizing them, elevating them morally, and rendering them more "sublime." This sublimity generates the desire to advance the cause of human rights internationally. But have our authors forgotten the words of Jefferson, hardly a Kantian, on the American natural rights teaching?
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. . . . All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
Curiously, the central section of this essay concedes that Kant is to blame for moralism and utopianism, and for placing liberal regimes on the defensive against Marxist and other totalitarianisms, which the authors admit are themselves transformed versions of Kantian thought. Still, the American human rights tradition is said to be weighted too heavily by self-interest and is insufficiently "sublime" to win the world to its cause. They argue that the only way to save liberalism from either Marxism or moral relativism is to Kantianize the American tradition.
The authors thus ignore these facts among others:
(a) A Kantianized foreign policy was the unique achievement of Woodrow Wilson, epitomized in his League of Nations and the Fourteen Points. Wilson's formalistic principle of self-determination, applied to Europe in complete disregard of political prudence, laid the foundations of the Second World War.
(b) Any regime is likely to be weakened, not strengthened, by diluting the vitality of its principles with others that are antithetical. The wish to overcome our foreign policy weaknesses by "historicizing" the original principles of natural rights-making them part of a historical development-would make Americans more tolerant of our most dangerous Marxist enemy, They propose curing vertigo by jumping off a cliff.
The grandeur of regimes is measured best by the greatness of the character types which they generate. Abraham Lincoln revitalized and ennobled the American human rights tradition from within, by strengthening the connection between those rights and the twin political principles of nature: equality and liberty. Lincoln followed the Founding Fathers in making self-interest coincide with duty as far as possible.
No genuine understanding of human rights can stand with one foot planted in nature and the other in history. The idea of human rights requires the same cosmic support needed by the philosophic, or pious ways of life in order to make them choiceworthy. One cannot help noticing that in their search for a noble or sublime foundation for human rights, these two authors never mention a Creator or Supreme Being. Yet the Declaration of Independence makes no fewer than four references to such a Being. And Jefferson, condemning that totalitarian denial of human rights known as chattel slavery, asked, "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"
Having begun by asking what it means to be human, our authors conclude by recommending the "sublime" morality of Immanuel Kant. Kant summarized his categorical imperative as follows: "Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature" (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, II ): Let every man act like a god.
Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future
Newt Gingrich (with David Drake and Marianne Gingrich)
New York: TOR Books, 1984
xvi + 272 pp., $14.95
The American Idea: Ending Limits to Growth
Washington, D.C.: American Studies Center, 1984
xxx + 355 pp., No price
By John A. Wettergreen
Ronald Reagan had not even been nominated before the campaign for the Republican nomination in 1988 began. Who would be the President's successor? By late August before the campaign had really begun in earnest, place-hunters in Washington were already speculating on every shift of personnel or policy, however trivial: Did it betray a presidential leaning toward George Bush and "the pragmatists"? Would it work to the advantage of Jack Kemp and "the "supply-siders"? The campaign itself did little to resolve this infra-party tension. For example, at a celebration on election day, I saw high-spirited young Republicans repeatedly turn the Vice President's picture to the wall, because it kept being turned back by "moderates." To this day, the division among Republicans inspires interest, so that no insider's report from Washington is complete without a story or two of the cunning, bungle, bluff, and maneuver of the 1988 race.
It should go without saying that no one can know who will run in 1988, but one can appreciate the importance of the question for Republicans. On the one hand, the Democrats, having staked their all in the 1984 race, are not only in disarray, but also practically headless. Of their two leading men, Senators Kennedy and Hart, one was whipped by Jimmy Carter and the other by Walter Mondale. On the other hand, Republican hegemony over the national government was not secured in 1984, in part because the party's command over itself was uncertain. So, because the prospects for the Republicans are good, their divisions are critical: As Lincoln said in 1858, "Their only hope is that we won't pull together." The situation is not nearly so grave for the Republicans as 1973, when Elliot Richardson and his compatriots were still powerful and when both the Republican President and his Vice President had been opponents of the "moderate," i.e., Northeastern, wing of the party. Still, as has been the case for at least the past five years, the most interesting political contentions are likely to continue to be between Republicans, not between Republicans and Democrats, and certainly not between Democrats.
Although the division among Republicans is generally described as one between "moderates" and "conservatives," also called "pragmatists" and "ideologues," this description does not accurately convey a full sense of the differences. With what right do we call Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, the strident running mate of Gerald Ford, a moderate and House Republican Whip Trent Lott, the survivor of the trench warfare of the Watergate scandals, an ideologue! Perhaps it makes sense to call Minnesota Representative Vin Weber a conservative; during the 1984 campaign, he said that Ronald Reagan should promise to cut taxes further and not even talk about the circumstances under which he would raise them. If that does indeed make sense, then is Senator Goldwater, who appears on the nightly news only to advocate raising taxes and cutting defense, a moderate pragmatist? Plainly, something is happening within the Republican Party-and, therefore, in the nation-that defies these easy categories.
* * *
The books of Congressmen Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich help to explain what is happening. Although they are very different from one another, both are intellectually serious writings-as distinguished from campaign biographies, political tracts, or programmatic proposals. In this respect, they differ from the writings of all other nationally prominent politicians, including those of Senator Hart and Senator Bradley. Both, but especially Kemp's carefully edited (by Marc Lipsitz) collection of speeches, remind one more of the important pre-New Deal political books like Roosevelt's New Nationalism or Wilson's New Freedom (not to mention Coolidge's Price of Freedom) than of anything written recently. They do so precisely because Kemp and Gingrich make serious pretensions to being intellectuals. Since Franklin Roosevelt's administration, and all the more since John Kennedy's, politicians have preferred to have members of the intellectual class do their intellectual work for them rather than become or appear to become intellectuals themselves. This is not to say that politicians since the New Deal were the intellectual inferiors of their apologists in the intellectual class; clearly, Franklin Roosevelt was as superior to Rex Tugwell or Raymond Moley, as Sam Rayburn was to Adolf Berle, as Kennedy was to Neustadt or Schlesinger, as Johnson was to Galbraith, or as Carter was to Rawls. Nor is it even to say that recent presidents have lacked aptitude or taste for a life of the mind. On the contrary, we note with pleasure that Presidents Truman and Nixon studied-books!-while in office, and that President Eisenhower, finding his Greek in disrepair, returned to the translation of Thucydides after he left office. However, the intellectual bent of Kemp and Gingrich is public.
Although Republicans have had a majority in the Senate for four years, the party's intellectual leadership comes out of the House of Representatives, because so far the Senate's leadership has proven not to have the stomach for rule. For example, Senate Majority Leader Baker retired to private life, complaining that his colleagues were "elected bureaucrats" and that his position was "janitorial." Here was a man who could have used his position to advance any cause he chose, daily and on national television. And what was his cause? Getting the Senate debates televised!
In contradistinction, Kemp and Gingrich agree with Ronald Reagan: To rule this country, "we first [have] to win the battle of ideas" (American Idea, p. xiii). As a measure of how seriously they take these words: No national Republican has presented a view of American politics, a view at once comprehensive of details and founded upon principle, which can rival that of the best speeches in The American Idea, nor has any exhibited the keen taste for ideological warfare of Window of Opportunity, Kemp and Gingrich understand that, in countries like ours, public opinion is everything.
For the past twenty years, appeals to private interest, supplemented by appeals to compassion for the least fortunate and the stigmatized, have been the dominant means of molding public opinion, the means preferred by the Democrats and accepted by the moderate/pragmatic wing of the Republican party. In 1984, Walter Mondale reduced this kind of politics to absurdity. Toward the end of his campaign, obviously reaching in desperation for still another interest group for whom citizens could feel compassion, he claimed that his coalition included not only the poor, the black, the elderly, the handicapped, and so on, but also "the sad"-as distinguished, presumably, from "the gays."
The politics of private interest and public compassion is theoretically as well as practically self-destructive, because it has no public principle limiting it: In this view all self-interests are equally worthy of being fostered by government, but also every putative "minority," no matter how justly or unjustly despised, is equally worthy of compassion; i.e., of governmental preference over other interests. Thus, in the terms of this ludicrous rhetoric, Walter Mondale's claim against President Reagan was valid: The President did appeal to the selfishness of Americans. Mondale's mistake was in supposing that, because it was compassionate, his own appeal could neither be selfish nor appear to the voters to be so. He did not see that a generation of voters who have cut their political teeth on interest-group liberalism are quite sophisticated about compassion, for, in the same ludicrous terms, Messrs. Reagan, Kemp, and Gingrich have succeeded by making the American people feel compassion for themselves-as workers, taxpayers, and parents. That is why Jack Kemp delights in calling himself a "bleeding-heart conservative."
For Kemp and Gingrich, this beating of the liberal Democrats at their own game is only one victory in the war for the public mind. Ultimately, they intend to replace the false dichotomy of private interestedness and public compassion, which has tortured the public mind for so long, with a positive principle of self-government. Kemp calls the society produced by the operation of this principle "the American opportunity society." Gingrich calls it "the conservative opportunity society." Both societies are to be distinguished from the welfare state by the fact that they would produce human welfare freely or by means of economic growth, rather than by bureaucratic redistribution of existing wealth and income. In distinguishing the opportunity society from the redistributionist state, Kemp is especially concerned to show that economic growth is superior to welfare programs for the elimination of poverty. Accordingly, he emphasizes the beneficent effects upon the lowliest of reducing marginal tax rates and of continued deregulation of commercial enterprise (above all, of the financial industries by returning to the gold standard); Kemp would go so far as to create select havens from taxation and regulation ("Urban Enterprise Zones") for the benefit of the poor. Gingrich emphasizes more the material, moral, political, and intellectual amelioration of the lives of non-poor Americans which could result from economic growth. He looks forward to a vast transformation of the American economy, and indeed of the whole of American society, as a consequence of governmental policies for unleashing and fostering technological progress. Despite these differences of emphasis, the basic supposition is the same: A better society will result from the free choices of the American people than from bureaucratic regulation.
* * *
Gingrich's proposals appear to be far more radical than Kemp's. Above all, he urges that government accelerate "the transition to a high-technology, information-based society." This society would be superior in every way to the present one, and in no way inferior. Of course, it would be wealthier, healthier, and more secure. These are the expected, material results, the ones typically promised by technological progress. Such a society, Gingrich argues in addition, would be morally and politically superior because the new political economy would permit, perhaps even require, more economic independence for the individual citizen, which, he asserts, would in turn breed moral self-restraint and intellectual independence in the citizenry. Such a civic body would not tolerate today's highly centralized bureaucracy and would not need today's welfare state.
This unbridled optimism becomes tiresome sometimes: "A generation from now, every local country club and neighborhood recreation center should have an idea center as well as a tennis center" (p. 175), nevertheless, we should recognize in it the spirit of Jefferson, who firmly believed that technological progress, especially on behalf of the common man or yeoman farmer, would be political progress. One does not have to undertake a critique of Heidegger to see the good sense in Jefferson's enthusiasm for modern technology. The enemies of oligarchy and its contemporary moral-political equivalent, bureaucracy, are more likely to be found among the new centers of wealth and the rising men than among the well-established interests who profit from the existing order. Although Gingrich, like George Gilder, might be mistaken in supposing that the independent spirit of high-tech entrepreneurs is due to their moral, religious, and intellectual enlightenment, rather than to the fact that they have almost invariably risen despite the bureaucracy, he is correct in supposing that that spirit is the heart of liberal democracy.
No one on the national political scene and no intellectual is superior to Congressman Gingrich at exposing the economic dependency, despair, and servility cultivated by the current welfare state (pp. 84-115). Gingrich interprets that demoralization not as an accident, but as the intended result of bureaucratic redistribution, whose advocates' power requires ever-increasing dependency upon the federal government. Accordingly, he sees today's struggles over what I hesitate to call "the budget" as the throbbing of the nation's political heart:
The Reagan Administration [the Congressman writes] has been afraid to balance the budget because it has been afraid to break the back of the Washington establishment. We will never be able to balance the budget-or even significantly shrink the deficit-unless we either give in to the Liberals by raising taxes or break the power of the Liberals. (p. 189)
Here we see that the real difference between the moderate pragmatists and the conservative ideologues has little to do with being pragmatic or conservative. As Faith Whittlesey has observed recently, "The more pragmatic one becomes, the more one moves to the right," for the only way to extirpate the root of the current evils is to "break the back" of Liberal Washington.
Perhaps the current evils are tolerable, and perhaps a considerable amelioration of social, political, and economic life is possible short of overthrowing the welfare state. This is Jack Kemp's view, insofar as it is distinguishable from Newt Gingrich's. Accordingly, Kemp is far less sanguine about the promise of technology, and far more tolerant of the welfare state and, in general, of Big Government.
The most famous instance of this was his "supply-side" tax-rate cut, which Kemp proposed as a way to save the welfare state. By operating on the supply side, Kemp hoped to be able to reduce welfare dependency and other forms of dependency, but he also hoped to increase federal revenues to the levels required by entitlement programs. In 1981, Kemp refused to go along with those who demanded that domestic spending be cut before tax rates. "It makes no sense to me," he said, reasoning that the question of which tax rates maximize governmental revenues is different from the issue of federal spending. Kemp also noted, "It is futile" to propose such cuts but did not bother to explain why.
Compared with Gingrich's, Kemp's hopes for the opportunity society seem sober enough: "I believe an expanded private economy will reduce the need for excessive government spending, and the rate of growth in such spending will fall of its own accord" (p. 16).
In other words, excessive government spending would continue under the supply-side policy, but not so excessively. However, whether or not we suppose that supply-side economics has been tried yet-marginal tax rates have been lowered and indexed to inflation, but the total tax burden on employment has not been eased since 1981-it is clear that governmental spending exceeds excess, having no respect for such old-fashioned limits as revenues, the needs of the federal government, the size of the deficit, or the health of the economy. Or, as the brilliant economist Paul Craig Roberts has observed at book-length and with much chagrin, these days federal fiscal and monetary policies have very little to do with economics and public finance, and very much to do with "politics," in the narrowest, most partisan, and personal sense of the word. Kemp's expectations from the supply-side, modest as they might appear to be, have proven to be wildly Utopian in the present political circumstances.
Even while the circumstances of Ronald Reagan's first term were proving Jack Kemp not to be so good a political economist as Newt Gingrich, he became the most thoughtful apologist for free government on the American political scene. Truly, the President-not Irving Kristol, Leo Strauss, Paul Craig Roberts, or Art Laffer-is Congressman Kemp's mentor in this respect. To put it in his own words: ". . . . this is what I admire so much about President Reagan. He has urged us to take our democratic heritage seriously-not as a pretext or rhetorical gloss for acts of naked self-interest, but because it is a true heritage, for ourselves and for the rest of the world" (p. 335).
Thus, increasingly in his later speeches, like "The American Opportunity Society," "Free Enterprise: An Industrial Policy That Works," and "America's Religious Heritage," the Congressman strives to articulate the relation of the narrowest questions of economic or foreign policy to what he regards as the fundamental principle of our freedom: "All men are created equal." Indeed, most of these later speeches are practical meditations upon that abstract moral principle. So today the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence seems to occupy that center point of the Congressman's thoughts, where once the doctrine of the supply-side and honest money prevailed.
Still, he has not abandoned his earlier, almost wholly economic concerns, so much as he has broadened them into political and moral concerns. "I find it hard to think of a political issue that does not involve the choice between right and wrong in some way," he writes. Accordingly, ". . . economic growth must come first, not because it is inherently more important than other personal or social goals, but because without growth, our progress as a nation toward one goal can be achieved only by impoverishing something or someone else" (p. 298).
Not greed, not political ambition, and not compassion, but the desire to avoid doing an injustice thus appears as the basis of Mr. Kemp's supply-side economics. Reading such clear and forceful statements, one can see why. Newt Gingrich regards Jack Kemp as the intellectual founder of tomorrow's Republicanism. (See Window, p. 269.)
* * *
From a strictly intellectual point of view, the movement of Kemp's concerns from political economy to political morality over the past few years is a broadening and a heightening. That is, Kemp has become, if anything, even more cerebral than he was in the 1970s. At the same time, he is much less the ideologue, much more practical. After all, his supply-side doctrine was well-calculated to appeal to the traditionally Democratic, industrial union members who make up a large part of his constituency in Buffalo. Perhaps not in Buffalo, but nationally, there is a group of citizens-at least equal in size and political organization, and far more solidly Republican than industrial unions-for whom moral and religious issues are decisive. Kemp's moral appeal is a well-calculated and perfectly principled attempt to win the hearts of these voters, while preserving his strength with industrial workers. No wonder presidential candidate Kemp observes a careful silence about the social, moral, and fiscal problems of the welfare state, about which Representative Gingrich writes so eloquently! If his design succeeds, he could win even greater victories for the Republican Party than Ronald Reagan.
STRICTLY LIBERAL CONSTRUCTION
The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984
182 pp., $25.00 (cloth), $7.95 (paper)
By Michael Zuckert
An ancient saying holds that it takes a good man to seek the middle way and a wise man to find it. But the middle path often fails to recommend itself to writers and thinkers, for, the world being what it is, the middle way as often as not earns the blame or contempt of those on either side. Even though he expects his book The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy "to annoy almost everyone," John Agresto strives boldly to find the path between liberals and conservatives. He seeks that middle way not out of a mere desire to compromise or accommodate, but out of a conviction that the Court's role in the American political regime is best understood as a tension which must be retained, rather than resolved in the manner typical of contemporary liberal comment on the Court, or contemporary conservative polemic against the Court.
Liberals now generally like the Court and favor it for its innovation in the realms of liberties protected and equalities secured. Liberal commentators, such as John Hart Ely, Jesse Choper, Ronald Dworkin, and Michael Perry defend an activist and creative Court. Conservatives, who before the Warren Court tended to like the Court more than liberals did, are in one degree or another disaffected from the Court in its present role. They now press for one or more forms of "court-curbing": strict constructionism, that is, a return to the historically authentic constitutional text; judicial self-restraint and deference to the political branches; more active use or threats of the impeachment power; constitutional amendments to undo various court actions; and lesser things like adjusting the Court's appellate jurisdiction, appointing more conservative justices, and regulating such technical legal matters as standing. Agresto sees the limits of both the liberal and conservative positions, and accepts neither their underlying analyses of the role of the Court nor their specific "solutions." He surely will annoy many.
The spirit of the early work of Alexander Bickel hovers over this book. Twenty years ago, Bickel too rejected the ways of left and right and sought to present a vision of the Court in terms of "tensions." But Agresto's analysis of the tensions characterizing the Court's role in American government differs from Bickel's. He also rejects Bickel's prescription for the Court of judicial restraint through the exercise of "the passive virtues" of avoiding constitutional pronouncement on many if not most occasions.
Bickel identified two particular tensions in the Supreme Court's role. As he said, "The root difficulty is that judicial review is a counter-majoritarian force in our system." It is imperfectly democratic, because "the heart of the democratic faith is government by the consent of the governed." The Court nonetheless has a justifiable role because in every "good society . . . government should serve not only what we conceive from time to time to be our immediate material needs but also certain enduring values." Thus, the first tension is between consent or majority rule, and principle, or, as Agresto puts it, between "democracy" and "constitutionalism." For both Agresto and Bickel, one cannot simply give up one side of the pair: to give up rule by majority will, as, ironically, many liberal defenders of the Court appear willing to do, or to endorse clear legislative or democratic supremacy, as, doubly ironically, many conservatives for the moment seem to wish to do.
Bickel's way of responding to this tension was his doctrine of self-restraint and the passive virtues. The Court serves principles best where it obtrudes only sparingly on the democratic process of rule by consent. That self-abnegatory role is mandated not only because majority rule is itself a principle of the good society (and thus requires respect along with any other principles the Court may speak for), but also because of a certain problem regarding the application of principle to practice. This problem constituted a second tension for Bickel. Practical life requires "many compromises." The Supreme Court in its attachment to principle cannot be so imprudent as to prevent necessary measures, but in bending to what is necessary, it ought not to give the merely expedient constitutional legitimacy. Thus, from Bickel's perspective, the arts of avoidance-neither forbidding nor endorsing-are among the Court's most precious tools for doing its job properly.
While Agresto pays some slight obeisance to this second tension of Bickel's, as when he blames the recent Courts for perhaps imprudently applying their principles in areas such as busing, this focus is largely replaced in his scheme by the development of a tension hardly present in Bickel. In a brief but very deftly done discussion, Agresto presents an historical account of the development of judicial review. He shows far better than Bickel, not only that the Founders intended the institution, but also that it takes its place within a novel notion of constitutions and constitutionalism which the founding generation worked out in the course of resisting Parliament and then founding new political orders of their own.
The new notion culminates in a familiar idea-the Court as part of a system of mutually checking institutions which supplement and help make effective republican electoral control. The Court checks, but, Agresto emphasizes, it must also be checked in this system of mutual checks. The former is widely granted; the latter, Agresto argues, has frequently been lost to view. The Court's role in this system of constitutional restraint can also be called a tension, as the Court is both checker and checked, because it needs independence and strength to keep other branches within constitutional courses but must not be so autonomous as to escape control itself.
Agresto rejects Bickel's judicial restraint as a response to these tensions because he has both greater fears and greater hopes for the Court than Bickel does. In the face of that experience, Bickel published his book in 1962, after Brown v. Board of Education but before the Warren and Burger Courts hit their stride. From a perspective of twenty years later, Agresto worries about the ever-growing power of judges to "shape public policy on their own authority, unchecked." He no longer accepts the Hamiltonian description of the Court as the "least dangerous branch," a description which Bickel even took as the title of his book. Agresto concludes that the "most striking thing about such self-restraint is its almost inevitable futility." A proper appreciation of the Founders' Constitution points out some of the reasons for that, because "mot self-restraint, not personal or institutional modesty, but interdepartmental checks lay at the core of [their] understanding." To be an integral part of the constitutional scheme, therefore, requires being subject to external, not merely internal checks.
Agresto rejects self-restraint for another, perhaps contradictory, reason. Where self-restraint may not prevent the Court from becoming imperial, it may prevent it from making its positive contribution to American constitutional democracy. "Insofar as the Constitution embodies certain principles of justice and the just life . . . the Constitution necessarily will develop." The Court's task is not merely the relatively easily granted one of applying existing constitutional principle to "new occurrences," but developing "the ideas embodied in the constitutional text," which, like "all ideas," have "the dynamic power of growth." Thus the Court can rightly apply constitutional principles even against the historically ascertained intention of the framers, as, for example, the Court did when it held segregated schools unconstitutional, even though the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment found them unobjectionable. Agresto rejects Bickel's judicial modesty because the Court's task of creatively deepening the Constitution points toward an active, even assertive Court. For the same reason he rejects other plans for Court curbing favored by critics of contemporary judicial activism.
The solution Agresto prefers depends on a distinction he draws, following Lincoln to some degree, between the legitimate doctrine of judicial review and the illegitimate doctrine of judicial finality. The latter is the basis, he argues, for current tendencies toward judicial supremacy. That doctrine not only arms the Court with the power to expound the Constitution, but claims that power to be authoritatively final and exclusive in the Court. It leads to the logically absurd position, he argues, that the Constitution means only whatever the Court says it does, and the politically absurd position that the Court stands outside and above the entire constitutional structure of mutual checks and balances.
Agresto wishes to save judicial review but curb judicial independence by undermining its chief intellectual prop, the doctrine of judicial finality, which neither the intention of the framers nor the logic of the system nor the positive goods the Court can do, justifies. Just as Lincoln claimed the right after the Dred Scott case to press for a course of national legislation which the Court had declared unconstitutional, so Agresto urges the political branches to reconceive their constitutional roles so that they too join in the great task of constitutional interpretation and stop deferring to the Court as they now do. Congress in particular should exercise its independent constitutional judgment in order to "force reconsideration" of constitutional rulings. This in turn would both supply a check on the Court and, through "creating a dialogue between Congress and the Court," would perhaps produce a closer fit between evolving judgments of principle and democratic rule. He urges Congress to re-pass laws the Court has invalidated, to circumscribe constitutional holdings in an attempt to delimit their effects, and perhaps most radically, he invites Congress to use more fully its relatively unexplored powers under section five of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Some of the finest things in Agresto's book are in the details, like his treatment of the history of judicial review or of the defects in alternative proposals for checking the Court. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that his clear perception of the desirability of a middle way is simply the most valuable feature of this book and an important reminder to those on both left and right of what their enthusiasms might cost.
I mention just a few matters where I have questions or reservations. In more than a few key places, Agresto has left his argument insufficiently well developed for it to be entirely persuasive. For example, he suggests that the doctrine of judicial finality is largely or entirely responsible for what he diagnoses as a drift toward judicial supremacy, but he never makes clear how this is so. More important for moves in this direction seems the shift in judicial function from being essentially checking or "anti-legislative" to being "legislative in the fullest sense: creating categories of expectation and entitlement," etc. Agresto notes this shift, but makes very little of it, and never makes clear its connection to the doctrine of finality. In reckoning the causes of the present place of the Court, the doctrine of judicial finality, as developed by Agresto, looks to be a mere stick of dynamite compared to the hydrogen-bomb impact of the shift toward broad legislative-like power. Agresto rejects the dynamite because his principle of an evolving constitution leads him, sub silentio, to embrace the H-bomb; the growing meaning of constitutional liberty justifies or requires such a turn toward more positive powers.
He develops his solution too briefly as well. How will it work, and what will it look like? We really need a fuller picture than the very thinly limned sketch here. He fails, for example, to discuss the difficult conceptual issues raised by his advocacy of section five of the Fourteenth Amendment, some of which the Court discussed in Katzenbach v. Morgan. He might have looked a bit at the experience of legislative response to the abortion decision and shown if this was the sort of thing he has in mind. Moreover, he omits almost entirely the issue of Supreme Court action vis-a-vis the states. Most of the controversial decisions of the Warren Court related to the states after all, as does most of the current federal judicial involvement in governance.
Finally, the doctrine of constitutional growth stands very near the center of the book, but it too is very lightly developed, and most disappointingly left vague and unsubstantiated. I wish to see a fuller discussion not only of the idea of evolving or developing constitutional ideas, but a more specific discussion of how Agresto sees the substance of these developments. He speaks much of constitutional principles but rather little of what these are. He senses what is truly needed but seems uncertain how to supply it: The reader requires an understanding of the substance of constitutional principle such
that he may judge the adequacy of the development the Court, and other agencies of the
American polity, give to those principles. Lacking that, Agresto gives us instead a procedural substitute-a brief for the involvement of others in the continuing discussion of constitutional principle. That is valuable but, I suspect, not sufficient.
LOCKE ON MORALITY AND LIBERTY
Locke's Education for Liberty
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984
viii + 272 pp., $22.00
By John Zvesper
The greatest weaknesses of twentieth-century liberalism stem from liberals' failure to maintain their ability to make moral judgments. Moral relativism has transformed sane liberals into manic depressives, who alternate between theoretically unfounded activism and practically impotent wishy-washiness, between the attempt to have morality without judgment and the attempt to have judgment without morality.
Liberals have forgotten how to make liberal principles and strong moral positions mutually supporting. They have forgotten that the liberal attempt to put some distance between moral education and political power is based on the same premise as the attempt to separate church and state: that this separation is the best way of ensuring that both religion and politics-and both morality and politics-survive and flourish. They have forgotten that this liberal separation of state and society is not absolute. Not only is political power still derived from (and therefore bound to be colored by) society; less obviously, society, economy, morality, and religion still need political regulation, albeit now for the purpose of keeping them healthy and limited by the recognition of individual liberty, rather than (as before) healthy and neglectful of individual liberty. Liberal politics demands delicate moral and political judgment, not political indifference to morality or thoughtless moralism.
Because of its loss of memory and confidence, liberalism in our day tends either to be reduced to a simplistic libertarianism, or to be perverted into a radical neglect of liberty or of liberal morality. Liberal politics loses its way. The practical result of this liberal disorientation is illustrated by an episode that was reported last May. The city of Indianapolis passed an ordinance that outlawed pornography, defined as the violation of women's civil rights by the depiction of women as "objects for domination, conquest, violation, exploitation, possession, or use. . . ." Civil libertarians immediately challenged the constitutionality of the law. Opposing their challenge was an alliance of radical feminists (including an older if not wiser Linda Lovelace-Marchiano) and Moral Majoritarians. The three factions in this dispute were fragments or perversions of a wise, Lockean liberalism, which would teach the civil libertarians and the Moral Majority how liberty and morality need to be combined, and would teach the feminists how much that combination can support their cause.
Professor Tarcov's book is an excellent reminder and analysis of that wise liberalism. He gives us a fuller version of what in a previously published sketch he called "a 'non-Lockean' Locke."1 He states his thesis and his intention in the "Conclusion" of his book:
To understand [Locke's] view of human life as an entirely degraded one, bereft of any dignity, is to do an injustice not only to Locke but to liberalism and ourselves. . . . finding nothing decent or inspiring in the interpretations of Locke that are offered to them, students of our political culture have gone off seeking ‘non-Lockean' elements in our heritage. They should discover, instead, the ‘non-Lockean' elements in Locke. (p. 210)
This "non-Lockean" Locke is primarily a non-Hobbesian Locke. Many scholars have recognized that Locke protests too much his innocence of the Hobbesian way of thinking about politics. Locke and modern liberalism do owe much to Hobbes's thinking. But they do not owe it everything. Leo Strauss once suggested that Hobbes could be seen as playing Sherlock Holmes to Machiavelli's Professor Moriarty;2 perhaps Locke should be seen as Dr. Watson or Sir Arthur himself, more concerned with educating citizens in liberal habits of civility than with instructing good or evil princes in the more troubling exceptions to the rules. Hobbes's premises and questions are often the same as Locke's, but his conclusions and answers are remarkably different. Hobbes preaches despotism, however tempered by a prudent latitudinarianism; Locke preaches liberal politics, however qualified by recognition of the need for "executive prerogative." Hobbes's atomistic individualism requires a leviathan state that dominates the family, educational establishments, and other social institutions; Locke's position is so opposite that Professor Tarcov is able to suggest that "the fundamental separation of powers" in Locke's doctrines is between political power and the power of education, which he entrusts exclusively to the private sphere. By emphasizing the similarities between Hobbes and Locke without also appreciating their great differences, one risks mistaking the character of liberalism.
In his first (and longest) chapter, Professor Tarcov contrasts Locke's liberalism with Sir Robert Filmer's patriarchalism and Thomas Hobbes's illiberal individualism. He shows how Locke's reinterpretation of the family was fully as individualistic (and anti-patriarchalist) as Hobbes's, without being as corrosive. Liberal political thinkers are often accused of being historically and sociologically unrealistic in their assumption that individual human beings-classless, raceless, sexless, parentless, and childless-are the units of political society. At the same time, many critics accuse liberals of abandoning their individualism and accepting sexist and patriarchalist assumptions when they discuss conjugal and parental relations. One of the most valuable services of this chapter is its carefully argued response to both of these accusations. One can quarrel with certain details of Professor Tarcov's argument. For example, he seems too concerned to explain away Locke's recognition of the natural tenderness that parents feel for their children (pp. 67-70); this recognition does not threaten the integrity of Locke's individualism as much as Professor Tarcov fears it does, because Locke recognizes this tenderness not as the motive for parents to undertake the government, nourishment, and education of children, but only as a force that tempers parents' government of children, once undertaken (Second Treatise, §63, 67, 170). Furthermore, while Professor Tarcov notes Locke's openness to the natural legality of polyandry and other unconventional family forms (pp. 75, 209), he overlooks Locke's argument that durable unions of one man and one woman greatly encourage a liberal society's industriousness, "which uncertain mixture, or easie and frequent Solutions of Conjugal Society would mightily disturb" (Second Treatise, §80; see also First Treatise, §59). Locke makes the family serve the end of industriousness, which is, in turn, a means to the comfortable security of individuals. However, these quarrels are meant only to improve Professor Tarcov's argument that Locke (like Hobbes) is individualistic but (unlike Hobbes) is not atomistic. Locke's thinking can be historically and sociologically plausible at the same time that it is politically liberal, because he understands both political society and the politically independent family as results of individualism rightly understood. The logic of liberalism is not opposed to families and other subpolitical, "intermediate" associations.
Locke also tries to understand morality as a product of individualism. He discusses the moral virtues in Some Thoughts Concerning Education, which he first published in 1693, four years after his Two Treatises of Government. The rest of Professor Tarcov's book (chapters 2-4) is an enlightening commentary on Locke's Thoughts. He helpfully points out the division of this work into three main parts, which first treat the establishment and methods of exercising parents' tutorial authority, then move up to the proper employment of that authority in the cultivation of certain virtues, and finally descend to more particular consideration of the several parts of education. He summarizes Locke's liberal virtues as "self-denial, civility, liberality, justice, courage, hardiness, humanity, industry, the avoidance of waste, and truthfulness" (p. 182). Locke clearly does not favor "a mean-spirited, selfish materialism" (p. 210). But from merely listing the Lockean virtues, even without going through Professor Tarcov's detailed analysis, it is equally clear that he does favor materialism and does not seek to cultivate aristocratic virtues. (This is related to Locke's "philistine attitude toward poetry, music, and painting": pp. 204-205, 247 n.87.) He seeks rather to form "men of business and affairs," "fit and courageous, able to be soldiers if necessary," but much more importantly, "willing and able to concern themselves with their estates, perhaps even with trade, and to be active and informed in public affairs." Such men would be "in temper neither slavish nor tyrannical but free men, independent and self-reliant," but also "acutely sensitive to praise and blame, to the power of public opinion" (p. 5). Professor Tarcov's conclusion quoted above is carefully stated: Locke's view of human life is not "an entirely degraded one, bereft of any dignity" (my emphasis).
The deepest question raised by this book is the adequacy of liberal morality for human happiness. Granting that liberals both need and can justify moral virtues, do they not need (and can they justify) higher moral virtues than those put forward by Locke? Locke's "education for liberty" may avoid political domination of the formation of souls, but it still seeks to structure human choices, and that being so, does it not risk stifling some of the better parts of human nature? Professor Tarcov's account of Locke's educational thought ends with an outline of a way of defending Locke's "bourgeois or middle-class morality" against the Rousseauian critique that is still so appealing-today:
[Locke] may offend our moral taste by seeming to slight imagination, passion, and sexuality in favor of reason, self-expression in favor of self-denial, beauty in favor of utility. Our egalitarian but affluent society seems to yearn for some of the aristocratic ethos Locke had to criticize to make us possible. His emphasis on the harsh virtues of self-denial, courage, hardiness, and industry may offend our easygoing self-gratification, but these virtues may still be necessary to the individual liberty and comfort that we join with him in valuing. Locke saw that we have to be willing to deny our desires, face our fears, endure our pains, and take pains in labor in order to preserve our equal liberty and avoid being either tyrants or slaves. . . . For Locke, passion and imagination make us subject to the authority of others, exploited by their ambition and covetousness. (pp. 210-11)
This is a beautiful statement of a useful strategy for sensible liberals. Such a strategy can reveal both the dignity of liberal virtues and the low "effectual truth" of the "higher" virtues of Rousseau, Marx, and other radical critics of liberalism. But even thus fortified, Lockean liberalism faces a weakness (if not such a widely appealing challenge) on its right flank. There is a gap in Locke's educational system. He writes at length about the way to transform children into liberal citizens (and in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding he addresses the philosophers), but he leaves much to individual tempers and circumstances. He composes reflections on education for the English gentry of his day, and leaves other liberals in other times and places prudently to determine their own appropriate educational scheme. Locke may be a moral liberal but he is also a merely liberal moralist, whose morality is not an end in itself but a means to liberty. There is therefore an indeterminacy and open-endedness in Lockean morality, which makes it theoretically unsatisfactory, even if no less tenable and useful in practice.
The heart of this problem is made clear in Professor Tarcov's analysis of the low and narrow psychological foundation of Locke's political and moral thought. He avoids "the vexed question of the rational foundation of morality in Locke's writings" (p. 77), but boldly lays bare its psychological foundation. For Locke, the "basic human desire" is not for sensual pleasure but for a more willful and less determinate end: "liberty," which means having one's own way, or being treated as a rational being (p. 133). "This indefiniteness of human desire is related to Locke's minimization of human nature ..." (p. 115). In this light, Locke's frequent recognition of the rationality of human beings looks less like an idealistic statement about human nature than a realistic acceptance of the fact that human beings will insist on being treated as rational creatures, whether they are or not (Thoughts, §41). Perhaps no less than for radical critics of Lockean liberalism, for Locke himself human nature is too indefinite to make the perfection of human nature the end of education, even of education safely separated from politics.
Even if we "begin"3 with Professor Tarcov's more than commonly appreciative version of Locke's thinking, we end by wondering whether we do, after all, still need to seek "non-Lockean elements in our heritage" and in our own lives.
1. "A 'Non-Lockean' Locke and the Character of Liberalism," pp. 130-141 in Douglas MacLean and Claudia Mills, eds., Liberalism Reconsidered (Totowa, N.J.: Rowan and Allanheld, 1983).
2. What Is Political Philosophy? (New York: The Free Press, 1959), p. 48.
3. "A 'Non-Lockean' Locke," p. 138.