9.11.2009

E Pluribus, Pluribus, Pluribus...

Without endorsing this article by Patrick Buchanan, I'd like to recommend it. Here's one of the very interesting passages:
One half of America sees abortion as the annual slaughter of a million unborn. The other half regards the right-to-life movement as tyrannical and sexist.

Proponents of gay marriage see its adversaries as homophobic bigots. Opponents see its champions as seeking to elevate unnatural and immoral relationships to the sacred state of traditional marriage.

The question invites itself. In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

Buchanan ends the essay on a more direct note: " 'E pluribus unum' – out of many, one - was the national motto the men of '76 settled upon. One sees the pluribus. But where is the unum? One sees the diversity. But where is the unity?"

Part of me thinks he makes an interesting point: after all, I don't sense that most of my academic friends and colleagues would be sorely disappointed if all of the people who oppose abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and preach about Jesus all moved to North and South Dakota and started their own little nation. From Buchanan's view, the inmates are running the asylum. It's a fascinating reversal of history.

When I teach William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" in my early American literature class, I always emphasize the conflict of cultures that sprang up almost as soon as the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Bradford wrote, in the 1630s:
...they fell to a great licentiousness, and led a dissolute life, pouring out themselves into all profaneness. And Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism. And after they had got some good into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and strong waters in great excess, and, as some reported, ten pounds worth in a morning. They also set up a maypole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, like so many fairies, or furies rather, and worse practices.
But the Puritanical settlers managed to shut down Morton's operation. Morton and his revelers were kicked out, and disbanded. My direction today is spurred by the article I read yesterday about moral culture as a necessary foundation for a market economy. An email from a friend yesterday convinced me that moral culture might be necessary regardless of the structure of the economy. If you didn't read the article yesterday, read it today.

We've talked enough about ethics. It's time to implement that culture. Time to... what?--"strongly encourage it?"--in ourselves and also in our compatriots. I asked a question yesterday at Wishydig's place about whether a nation could stay unified in a situation where different parts of the nation spoke different languages. Buchanan may be giving up prematurely, but I think his concern must be considered a valid one -- after all, he too must be considered a part of this country if this country is going to remain "United."

Near the end of Bradford's tract, he described a situation in which the formerly close-knit community began to fragment. Take the time to read it--judge for yourself whether it be prophecy or cynicism:
For now as their stocks increased, and the increase vendible, there was no longer any holding them together, but now they must of necessity go to their great lots; they could not otherwise keep their cattle; and having oxen grown, they must have land for plowing and tillage. And no man now thought he could live, except he had health insurance cattle and a great deal of ground to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks. By which means they were scattered all over the bay, quickly, and the town, in which they lived compactly till now, was left very thin, and in a short time almost desolate. And if this had been all, it had been less, though too much; but the church must also be divided, and those that had lived so long together in Christian and comfortable fellowship must now part and suffer many divisions. First, those that lived on the other side of the bay (called Duxbury) they could not long bring their wives and children to the public worship and church meetings here, but with such burthen, as, growing to some competent number, they suied to be dismissed and become a body of themselves; and so they were dismissed (about this time), though very unwillingly. But to touch this sad matter, and handle things together that fell out afterward: to prevent any further scattering from this place, and weakening of the same, it was thought best to bailout some major corporations give out some good farms to special persons, that would promise to live at Plymouth, and likely to be helpful to the church or commonwealth, and so tie the lands to Plymouth as farms for the same; and there they might keep their cattle and tillage by some servants, and retain their dwellings here. And so some special lands were granted at a place general, called Green's Harbor, where no allotments had been in the former division, a place very well meadowed, and fit to keep and rear cattle, good store. But alas! this remedy proved worse than the disease; for within a few years those that had thus got footing there rent themselves away, partly by force, and partly wearing the rest with importunity and pleas of necessity, so as they must either suffer them to go, or live in continual opposition and contention. And others still, as they conceived themselves straitened, or to want accomodation, break away under one pretense or other, thinking their own conceived necessity, and the example of others, a warrant sufficient for them. And this, I fear, will be the ruin of New England, at least of the churches of God there, and will provoke the Lord's displeasure against them.

8 comments:

Wishydig said...

yes yes. and i'll get around to it.

Gretchen Pratt said...

ha.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

My gut response is a la Burke and Lakoff--to point to Buchanan's opening and note how unfair he presents the binaries. Those opposed to the annual slaughter probably do not conceptualize themselves primary as viewing the right-to-life movement any old way, I'm sure their primary identification concerns something other than a negative dialectic. Anywho.

As to the pluribus, I've been working out the opening of an article on Obama as a post-Cosmopolitan image of Cicero's "good man speaking well." I locate the post-cosmopolitanism particularly in the way he uses the pronoun "we Americans" not to assimilate America into a homogenous collective [singular] but rather to identify us as a heterogenous cohabitors [plural]. It is precisely this SOPHISTication that represents the contemporary "good" (hu)man. [Yes, Cicero needs some qualification]

I'm working on another article right now, on Plato's Callicles as his most accurate interpretation of Protagoras' "man is the measure of all things," so Obama and Cicero will have to wait for a bit.

I did read your article from yesterday, and thought it was quite interesting. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what to make of it at this point. But it is scratching the back of my brain.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

The irony of my grammatical error above, leaving an "a" in front of "heterogenous cohabitors," is probably telling.

Casey said...

I don't know enough about Cicero, regrettably. Yeah that article tickled my brain the same way... I suspect that, without a moral foundation, the structure of political-economics is almost insignificant? Or, I suspect that I suspect that.

It was always clear to me as a libertarianish-conservative that socialism fails because it posits a "New Socialist Man"... but I'm recognizing now that capitalism can only succeed if it is the order over a society full of "New Capitalist Men," which means a bunch of people who more or less love each other already.

Hmm... which leads me to the question that's really nagging me lately: can legislation ever replace love and charity? The answer suggests itself, and explains my recent impulse to withdraw from political discourse entirely, taking sides with neither Republicans nor Democrats, Sadducees nor Pharisees.

Which puts me in the "Holier than Thou" party.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

How does capitalism require love? Wouldn't socialism be more requisite of love?

Casey said...

If a capitalist society's first and fundamental motivation was "love" (in the "charity" sense of the word, not in the romantic sense), then the end of entering the market wouldn't be selfish... it would be communalist. You'd have a job in order to be better-able to help your community.

But I mean -- that's at least as impossible as it sounds. Except for the fact that (according to the book of Acts) the early Christians managed it for almost a generation, and (according to Bradford and others) the "pilgrims" managed it for about half-a-generation.

It's worth noting that two generations into the puritan experiment they were hanging each other as witches... in other words, "love" as the foundation for society doesn't usually translate from one generation to the next.

So we're back to politics, I guess, depressingly... but in my view, it hardly matters "which" politics we decide upon -- the best indicator of how good it is to live in any given society isn't GDP or equality of opportunity (or outcomes)... it's how much love/charity/faith there is underneath all that. Tough to measure. Impossible to enforce.

Casey said...

[I should note: I'm not exactly sure the Acts group OR the Puritans can be said to have lived in "capitalist" societies... so... nevermind.]