Thursday, March 13, 2014

Solid but Low: The Challenge for Honor

This is a quote from Martin Diamond's essay, "Ethics and Politics: The American Way," which sums up the challenge for honor in modern liberal democracy. The new policy is Madison's solution to the problem of faction--the large commercial republic which thrives and relies upon self-interest.

"From the point of view of the generality of mankind, the new policy delivered on its promises. In comparison with the pre-modern achievement, it raised to unprecedented heights the benefits, the freedom, and the dignity, enjoyed by the great many. But the cost must be recognized, precisely in order to continue to enjoy the blessings. Again in comparison with the pre-modern perspective, that cost is the solid but low foundation of American political life. And foundation must be understood quite literally: American institutions rest upon it. Those who wish to improve American life, specifically, those who would improve the relationship between ethics and politics in America, must base such improvement upon the American foundation; and this means to come to terms with the "policy" that is an essential part of that foundation. Revolution or transformation, that is something else. But if the aim is improvement, it must be improvement that accepts the limits imposed by the "genius" of the particular political order; it must be improvement that makes America her better self, but still her own self."

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