Friday, July 23, 2010

On Plato and the Closed Society: conversational indirections occasioned by the HP

Dear HP,

Yes, it is true that I have written that book. I had almost forgotten all about it. I suppose I really ought to get rolling in the search for a publisher.

Who wants a book that makes no policy prescriptions, and writes out of a place that is before and beyond the ground on which the liberals and the conservatives grunt and spit at one another?

It is a serious question, earnestly asked.

You will recall that, at the recent public scrutiny of my effort, Fr. Flannery questioned whether the notion of the city as a man writ large and of society as the cosmos writ small - a guiding idea for me and, so I argue in the book you mention, for what I call, "America" - is really central to my defense of America as really and adequately responsive to man's natural aspirations.

In raising the question, Fr. Flannery pointed out that neither the political societies that were the consitutive elements of the United States, nor their several constitutions, nor the federal constitution, could reasonably be described as similar to the constitution of the ideal city as discussed and presented in the Republic of Plato, in which the supposedly guiding notion has its origin.

I roughly and readily replied that, if one reads Plato as the source of metaphysical doctrines and political prescriptions, then his objection is unanswerable; I went on to suggest that, fortunately for me, there is another way to read Plato: as a dramatizer of the philosophical moment - by which I meant that Palto's works (re)create the drama (in the strict, etymological sense of the word) of realizing that one is a disciple in a way of life called friendship in wisdom; I was content at the time of the raising of the question to escape the strictures of the former way of reading, but I failed to address how it is that, if one reads Plato in the latter way, then it is at least possible to see expressions such as Publius', "Government...[is]...the greatest of reflections on human nature, (Federalist #51)" as more than dappling allusion, but as a sign that America's way of thinking about the basic questions of how we do and ought to order our lives together, is really in the tradition of thinking, the roots of which are in and through Plato.

This kind of thinking will have consequences.

It might, for example, press upon us the serious hermeneutical question whether - as Popper would have it - Plato is an "enemy of the open society (whatever that is)" or whether America really is an "open society" if it is really in the way of Plato.

While I would never discourage anyone from pursuing that question, nor would I suggest that my work could not be brought to bear on such a question, neither would I pursue it myself, as couched - my work is not inspired by such a question.

I am rather interested in the question, around which which your posts have been teasing, whether it is not true that governments are given for societies of men - and societies are not all the same, certainly not equal - so that a government, which protects life and secures property adequately and even admirably for one society, may do disastrous disservice to another if the elements of the former society's government are simply and merely counterfeited and placed over the latter society.

I am interested in the question whether societies of men are capaable of choosing good government by reflection and choice - which Publius asks America pretends to answer; I am interested in the further question: what does the thinking of America have to teach us about the (way toward an) answer to the problem?


No comments: