Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Tea Party (alleged) Jacobins

Mark Lilla presented us with his reflections on the political phenomenon of the day, which he styles as the Tea Party Jacobins.

Now, I have been away from the States since a few years, and to be more sure of what I say I should come for some fieldwork, to go around a speak with people. But, even basing myself on my recollections complemented by my studies, he doesn't convince me.

Lilla rightly remarks that the main trait of the Tea Party movement is diffidence toward the "educated elite" that wants to control their life; but, alas, his analysis of this diffidence shows that he belongs to this same elite, incapable to understand the people it pretends to guide.

A first question I could address to him, for which there is no answer in the article, is why he calls the Tea Party goers "Jacobins". But I leave it at that.

My main objection is to the uncritical way in which he stresses the alleged individualism of the movement. See all the intellectual conceit of these words:

The new Jacobins have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.

Which Americans is he here talking about? Liberals or conservatives (or, if you want me to be verbally exhaustive, add to them moderates)?

The trouble I found in talking about American political things is that on either side they make appeal to the "individual". But they don't' mean exactly the same thing.

Read again these other lines:

Americans are and have always been credulous skeptics. They question the authority of priests, then talk to the dead; they second-guess their cardiologists, then seek out quacks in the jungle. Like people in every society, they do this in moments of crisis when things seem hopeless. They also, unlike people in other societies, do it on the general principle that expertise and authority are inherently suspect.

Lilla doesn't seem to notice that "expertise" and "authority" are not quite the same thing. What appears "suspect" to the Tea Party folks, I'd say, is the first, claimed by an elite really "swaddled in self-esteem". Authority is another thing, what particularly the self-referential individuals of the elite refute.

In the American conservative lingo the individual is something else. It is the common man, endowed, as such, of common sense. How much it is involved in this "common sense" that conservatives oppose to the education of the elite: the whole education that they have inherited from the centuries past, which the elite appears to have dropped.

In America, like in Europe, the elite doesn't understand any more people like those alleged individualists in America, whose distrust toward (invading and corrupting) institutions doesn't come from "confidence in the self".

Probably they would rather say (in whatever confused way): in God we trust.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Two words

What is "political correctness": to think that you can change reality by changing words.

Well, in some cases it may be true, because name calling has been known since ever. And since ever it has been reprimanded.

However, a blind man is no less so if you call him "not seeing".

And present day terrorism doesn't cease to have its well known matrix if rather than calling it "Islamic" you simply qualify it as "violent".

Was it this the "change" promised?


Thursday, May 27, 2010


There are two persons, friends or lovers, squabbling. One says to the other: you have got a problem. The other might say: we have got a problem.

Who has more chance of being right?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just a question

I wonder: is it an ideological prejudice to say that the present incumbent of the presidency is an incompetent, unable to face a crisis?

I mean: it is I don't remember how many days that the collapsed platform in the Gulf is spilling oil, determining what is perhaps the worse ecological disaster ever. And POTUS is waiting for BP to take care of it, while blaming it and threatening to make it pay.

So I ask: isn't the American army a most powerful technological apparatus? Wouldn't have been possible to mobilize this apparatus to face the problem?

Wasn't in the POTUS' power to say to BP, now you get out of the way; then call all his military engineers and ask them for the possible solutions? Listen to the options, and implement whichever appears to him the best? So taking his responsibility, and only later, in a second moment, asking BP to pay the expenses?

What is this man capable to do? Beyond blaming others for everything that doesn't work?

These are meant as bipartisan questions.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

A clarification

To be clear, I actually didn't deny that there is something like common sense, but only observed that it is not legitimate to use it as an argument.

I looked back at what one of my preferred authors - little known in America but one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last two centuries, the blessed Antonio Rosmini, who lived in the first half of the 1800 - says on this regard. He defined common sense as the faculty of first principles, something like what previously used to be named synderesis. But a simple appeal to it risks of losing the strength of the "common", to make it sound as an absolutization of our own ways of thinking and living.

That was the zest of my post. As human beings we are educated, and education makes the first principles reflexive, but, alas, con also deviate from them. That's why I oppose two styles of education, a kind of ivy league one, where the sense of tradition is lost into an empty universalism, and another, may be apparently less sophisticated, but better rooted in a tradition of wisdom.

I claim that only by starting from the second it is possible, in deep humility, to reach the higher learning that allows to really comprehend common sense, the knowledge and wisdom by which all men can come to know themselves as naturally participating of society, and, by way of society, of God.

Those who think to do without God, have actually taken themselves out of society, save wanting to reconstitute it by way of what is for them common sense. Too bad, for them and for us, that it is far from being common. Actually, in wanting to do away with God, they just fall prey to idols.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Uncommon sense

I've been absent from this page for a while, and I feel in debt at least of a few lines. Just a short thought.

Some conservatives like to describe their preferred characters as endowed of common sense, over against liberals' claim of knowing better because better educated.

Well, if it is put it in such simple terms, I must disagree. It might be true, but to explain why would require a ling discourse, and I wanted to be short.

To this end, the only thing I can do is to overturn that description: things stand the other way around, and it is the reverse to be actually true.

It is liberal education that, dropped all reference to tradition, doesn't have anything to ground itself upon other than the alleged evidences of the common sense of the last three centuries. On the other side, then, there isn't common sense, but genuine education, grounded in the tradition and rationality of millenia.

For now, this paradox is enough.