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2007-07-17 Home Front: Culture Wars
Death & Politics
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Posted by mrp 2007-07-17 13:15|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [408 views ]  Top

#1 Joseph Bottum. I began to fall asleep 6 paragraphs into the article. The man needs to take a course in writing, especially in how to express his thoughts concisely. Quantity does not equal quality.
Posted by Throger Thains8048 2007-07-17 18:14||   2007-07-17 18:14|| Front Page Top

#2 That's unfortunate, TT, because you missed this gem in Part V:

Our contemporary political question might be put this way: How much of the premodern does the modern need in order to flourish? How many of the political and scientific gains of modern times rest on the assumed continuation of premodern institutions and sensibilities?

It’s possible to take this merely as the perennial worry of modern conservativism: At what point ought one to stand athwart history yelling Stop? At what stage does one insist This far and no further? How much of the Christianity that was present at the nation’s founding does the American experiment require in order to continue today? How many modern democratic freedoms depend on traditional manners to prevent their social escalation into self-destruction?

But there is more here than simply the long-running battle between liberals and conservatives over the social application of the Enlightenment. The problem of how to treat the past is as old as modernity itself. Indeed, in a certain sense, this is the defining problem of modern times, and it resurfaces in every generation’s political quarrels. Society, as Edmund Burke famously declared in 1790, is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born”—to which Thomas Paine just as famously replied in 1791, “I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away and controlled and contracted for by the manuscript-assumed authority of the dead.”

The distinction between the natural order and the social order helps clarify the quarrel. Except insofar as we are procreated beings, we do not owe to previous generations the brute fact of reality. The physical world is the given—in both senses of the word: the premise of our existence and the gift of creation. Those who went before did not make this globe, and they did not bequeath the natural order to us; they merely left it. “The earth belongs to the living and not to the dead,” as Thomas Jefferson insisted in an exchange of letters with James Madison in the fall of 1789.

As it happens, those letters ostensibly concerned the power of modern democratic governments to borrow money—hardly the first place one would think to look for deep thoughts about the political meaning of death. But the exchange between Jefferson and Madison turned quickly into the question of whether public debts incurred in one generation must be paid in another and thus to considerations of whether the dead can bind the living.

What Madison saw is this: The social world, unlike the natural, genuinely has been inherited. It is the manufactured. The social order was built, maintained, and left to us not just by a vague and nameless antiquity but by particular people, within living memory, whose serial deaths link us to the past. We receive the buildings they put together, the languages they spoke, the books they wrote, the ideas they had, the economic opportunities they made possible, the moral consequences of the things they did, the memories they left in us—just as others will receive ours. “The improvements made by the dead form a debt against the living, who take the benefit of them,” Madison wrote back to Jefferson. “This debt can not be otherwise discharged than by a proportional obedience to the will of the authors of the improvements.”

This 1789 correspondence marks a fascinating moment in the history of the American Founding. It shows Jefferson at his most rhetorically brilliant and simultaneously at his most autodidactic and eccentric. (He includes in his letters, for instance, long and slightly inaccurate mathematical calculations, based on a French census, of the number of years necessary to form a generation.) It shows Madison, as well, at his most wise and simultaneously at his most convoluted as he tries to construct counterweights to revolution in the aftermath of a revolution. Jefferson wants the new world to stay new, and so he rejects public debt as the past binding the present. Madison wants the new world to find stability, and so he accepts public debt and the consequent role of prior generations. But both of them—to their credit—see that the simple logic of an immediate political problem forces them to decide about the living uses of the dead.
Posted by mrp 2007-07-17 19:57||   2007-07-17 19:57|| Front Page Top

#3 Based on that concise reasoning 'gem' in part V, I would suggest tenure be extended to Prof. Bottum
at the padded wing in Belleview.
Posted by Phinater Thraviger 2007-07-17 23:39||   2007-07-17 23:39|| Front Page Top

23:58 Verlaine
23:47 Eric Jablow
23:45 Zenster
23:41 ed
23:41 Zenster
23:39 Phinater Thraviger
23:18 Verlaine
23:13 Super Hose
22:57 Zenster
22:45 Anonymoose
22:38 BA
22:37 Super Hose
22:36 W.O.P.R.
22:30 Super Hose
22:23 Super Hose
22:23 Sherry
22:17 Raider Ray
22:08 Odysseus
21:59 Super Hose
21:54 Super Hose
21:40 JosephMendiola
21:31 JosephMendiola
21:28 Mike N.
21:25 WTF

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