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home \ conferences \ palermo 18-23 luglio 2004 \ Jeffrey Langan - The Spirit of the City: The Problem of Republican Citizenship in Global World


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18-23 luglio 2004


The Ethical Traditions of Europe and the USA:

Common Roots and Possibilities for Dialogue


The Spirit of the City:

The Problem of Republican Citizenship in Global World.




Jeffrey Langan

University of Notre Dame, United States




The American and French Revolutions inaugurated the movement towards democracy in the modern world.  This paper presents a picture of the different tensions that exist within the political culture and citizenship in the United States and in France during the time of the French Revolution.  By extension, these tensions could be applied to other democracies because, in many ways, both France and the United have been the great exporters of modern democratic ideals.  Of central importance for this paper is the idea that many of the notions of citizenship rooted in equality and freedom have difficulty respecting the freedom of conscience of Christian citizens who take the time to form their conscience and then act on it.  I want to try to better understand why this is so, and what distinctions could be made so as to show that the Christian citizen has something to add to the modern theory and practice of citizenship.


It will be helpful for me at the beginning of the paper to say a few things about what I think is good in the European and in the American understanding of citizenship. Among Europe's contributions to humanity are its arts, architecture, philosophy, humanism, and religion.  It has a rich history.  Its cities have republican traditions, culture, and a basic savior vivre.  The people and institutions also maintain a sense of the practice of virtues, honor, spirit of service, and refinement that can make a great contribution to other societies of the world.  In fact, many observers from America, when they come to Europe they note the sense of tradition, history, honor, and virtue that remains much stronger in the spirit of the people than it does in the United States.  I am always pleasantly surprised by the magnanimity with which I see Europeans undertake projects of service, both how they conceive them and how they carry them out.  As individuals and as societies they are able to think and act with a view to the common good in mind.  One also sees in the French Revolution a great expression of human rights.  One can see in modern Europe a continued concern for rights in the European Court of Human Rights and in other international legal institutions that European Governments adhere to for the sake of upholding the practice of human rights in Europe and throughout the world.


While also having an expression of human rights, it seems to me that Americans are inculturated to be free and pragmatic.  In general, they are willing to overlook differences in race or economic status in order to work together to get things done, especially if it involves making money.  They also have a sense of freedom, letting each person fend for himself in life.  At this point, America seems to be the leading country in the world.  It is the leader in advancing global economic markets and it is the leader in promoting democratic regimes throughout the world.  As a country, it has a good capacity to offer the opportunity of the life of leisure for many of its citizens, a kind of life only a few could dream of in times past or in many parts of the world at the moment.


This having been said, I think that the United States is involved in a difficult and yet important moment in its history.  Europe is as well.  And how the United States and Europe relate to each other over the next century or so will probably be of paramount importance in the development of the world.  Europeans and intellectuals in the United States will have a major role to play in how the next several decades work themselves out, for good or for ill in the United States and from the United States to the rest of the world.


Europe and America can compliment one another very well on the international stage.  One could say they can complement each other the way that freedom can compliment equality or the way freedom can complement virtue.  Yet, there are strands within each culture that tend to form citizens in a way that makes them blind to the complementary relationship that they can have with each other.  Or, there are strands that understand citizenship in a way that might unite the two continents, but only in a superficial way and for a short period of time, they offer an imperfect notion of citizenship that over time will create disharmony.  There is also a tendency over time for the democracies of the West to lead their citizens into apathy and indifference.  The result is often romantic nationalism, racism, or militarism. 



Revolutionary or Republican Citizenship


The French and the American Revolutions are two places one can start to understand conceptions of modern society and the role of the citizen within it.  Alexis de Tocqueville, who was familiar with the political systems that both revolutions produced, explained the idea of citizenship as fundamental part of what leads to the spirit of the city.   He saw this spirit best represented in the United States in the New England township.  There, he saw active citizens, engaged in political decision-making.  They knew they were free, national and local governments respected their basic civil and political rights, and they were also responsible for themselves and for their community.  They took seriously their duties in society.


Unlike what he saw in Revolutionary France, the citizens of the New England township were religious.  They saw their religion as supporting, not detracting from, the overall life of the community.  They avoided the entanglements of mixing Church and State, but they had an intuitive sense that religion had a place in civil society.  There was a place for God in civil religion or the social religion of the New England township.  The law of the town, the state, and the nation reflected the moral and religious character of these men.  In short, the New England township reflected the spirit of the city.  Tocqueville thought this was a rare event.  He saw the spirit of the city as being an ideal for political life, difficult to produce, and fragile in its existence, hard to maintain. 


This spirit existed at moments in the French Revolution, but it was built on a different conception of republican citizenship.  Revolutionaries hoped for the participation of republican citizens who were full of zeal, energized, and electrified by their interest in seeing the principles of freedom and equality lived out with their brother citizens.  While there were brief moments of zeal, energy, and interest, the Revolutionaries also feared, and, as the Revolution went on, lamented the apathy and disinterest that they saw in citizens.  They also did not know what to make of the peasants, who often became most zealous, energized, and electrified in their revolts against the revolutionaries.  The revolutionaries dreamed of a national democracy in which groups of citizens expressed their will to the representatives and the representatives, taking account of this expression of the will of the people, who make laws from which the citizens of society would be free and equal. 


Unlike the American revolutionaries and most of their progeny, the French revolutionaries and most of their progeny have wanted to control much more closely what kind of religious spirit is allowed by the society.  In part, this is because they fear the presence of the Catholic Church in civil society.  It is interesting to note that the American founders also feared the influence of Catholics in their society.  John Adams, in a letter that he wrote late in his life to Thomas Jefferson, noticed a large influx of Irish (and therefore Catholic) immigrants coming to the United States.  Adams had deep-rooted prejudices against Catholics.  In this particular letter he told Jefferson that he thought that letting all of these Catholics into the country would ruin the United States.  At the same time, he also told Jefferson that if Americans were to be consistent with the principles of the founding and religious freedom, they would have to take the risk of letting them in and letting them operate freely. 


One might contrast the letter of Adams with the actions of the French Revolutionaries.  At one point during the revolution, in their efforts to de-Christianize France, the revolutionaries defaced the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  Thinking that the statues of the kings on the façade of the Cathedral represented the kings of France, they tore them off the Cathedral.  This was the sign that they were destroying the mélange of nobles and clergy that supported the ancient Regime.  As it turns out, the statutes of the kings were the kings of Israel from the Old Testament.  That says something about the ancient regime and something about the revolutionaries. The Christian king in the Ancient Regime often appeared to be the modern equivalent to a king of Israel.  In his worst form, he had mistresses instead of many wives.  The old regime was at times a kind of theocratic regime, one in which priests often exercised political offices and the external forms of religion were often upheld to the detriment of inner spiritual renewal.


The French who revolted found themselves revolting against a regime in which it was difficult to distinguish between the supernatural mission of the Church, the mission of the political community and the role of the citizen in political and civil society.  It could be that the ancient regime itself had too much of an Old Testament view of itself.  Needless to say, the Revolutionaries initially did not change their thinking too much on how the state should intermingle with religion.  In the early years of the Revolution, they drafted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the logic with which they drafted the bill is a reminder to us of what the revolutionaries thought of the distinctions between Church and state.  Simply put, the Revolutionaries thought that since the Church was complicit in the Ancient Regime, then it should alter its structures to accommodate the new regime.  The Ancient Regime was a monarchy.  The new regime was democratic.  Therefore, the Church in France should become more democratic.  It should let the democratic assembly appoint priests and it should let its priests take an oath of loyalty to the new regime. 


From the reports of historians like Francois Fuhret, it seems that the elites in France had little problem with this constitution.  The Clergy who were part of the National Assembly (who helped write the Constitution) had little trouble taking the new oath.  It seems that the first people to really object to the oath were parish priests and peasants in the countryside, and who somehow had an intuitive sense that such a constitution and the requirement of taking an oath to a regime would not fly.  


Why is the Civil Constitution of the Clergy important?  Citizens are not required to take an oath to their regime.  France, for example, professes to be an "lay state."  Clergy and peasants are not being martyred anymore for adhering to the basic principles of their faith.  But, it seems that in countries like France, the political and intellectual leaders keep this vision of Catholicism as being essentially what it was in France under the ancient regime.  Therefore, it and Catholics need to be controlled.  Religion needs to be controlled by the state.  



Revolutionary Citizenship in America


Now, it seems that it is somehow part of the consciousness of a European political leader that to mention God in the Constitution would be to hearken back to the religious wars, to national state Churches, to the Inquisition, in other words, to all of the institutions that worked to build up a post-Medieval political and religious structure that governed nations.  Therefore, Europeans have to live a kind of forced amnesia.  They have to completely forget their past rather than know it in such a way so that they can purify their memories. 


It seems that in several ways, the effect of the policies of modern Europe is not to be neutral to religion, but to be anti-Catholic, to deny history, perpetuate prejudices, and suppress Catholics from exercising their freedom of conscience, freedom of organization, freedom of education, and freedom of spreading their ideas in social and political life.  In order to achieve a society that controls the Church, they end up developing a society of control.  The governments create social space for all sorts of abnormal behavior in this way.  They perpetuate the insinuation that Catholic citizens would only use power to oppress the freedom of other citizens.  Thus, if we look back to Tocqueville's spirit of a city, they will have difficulty allowing for the healthy mix between republican virtues and a religious spirit that could foster the kind of citizenship that still seems to be at the heart of the desires of many intellectual and political leaders in Europe.


In some ways, Europe's problem is America's problem.  This excursion into French politics helps us to better understand where America stands in her current political and cultural debates. This year, European political leaders chose to leave God out of the Constitution.  A different yet in some ways similar debate faces Americans in the debate over the pledge of Allegiance.   The most recent Supreme Court decision has avoided the question of whether having school children stand and say "One nation, under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance violates freedom of conscience.  Most polls indicate 90% of Americans have no problem with this practice.  It is an act of civil religion.  Still, it looks like a majority of the Court rejected the case on procedural grounds.  Based on the opinions of Stevens, Souter, Kennedy, and Ginsberg from previous cases, it would not be difficult to see the Court eventually declaring that the Pledge, by encouraging grammar-school students to recite that the United States is a nation "under God," violates freedom of conscience.  The case is only one in a series of cases that have taken place in the United States over the past sixty years dealing with freedom of religion and freedom of speech, or, if you will, freedom of conscience.


Rather than descend into the details of the cases, which I am not competent to do, I think that we can see a picture emerging from these cases of the different forces that are at work forming the conception of Americans of who they are.  What we see developing in the United States is a debate or a struggle at the level of societal leadership between ordinary men and the intellectuals.  The intellectual class would include most university professors, leaders of professional associations such as the leaders among the lawyers and doctors, teacher's unions, artists, Hollywood, TV, Film, Radio (except for talk radio), and most media outlets (FOXNEWS being the exception).  At the same time, we can see emerging within each of these fields a competent and growing minority. 


If I were to attach these leaders to an intellectual tradition, it would be that of the more radical ideas of the French Revolution.  We see it in progressive elements of the New Deal, Wilson (who drew a lot from Hegel and Rousseau), Rousseau, Kant, the progressives of the American and the French Revolution. 


Perhaps an example from the American founding will indicate what I mean.  By the 1820's, John Adams (one of the most radical delegates at the Convention in 1776) was fearful of what he thought to be a growing Roussean influence in American politics and a number of men who were using Rousseau as a lens through which they would interpret and apply the principles of the Constitution.  It is in the sentiment of John Adams that we can see the kernel of an idea that is modern but that distinguishes itself from the French Revolution and its progeny on the Continent.  This sentiment has a great respect for the tradition of rights, even the tradition of rights articulated in the early years of the French Revolution.  At the same time, it does not see how it can legitimately create an environment which would stifle or control the freedom of conscience of a group of its citizens, even if the insinuation or prejudice exists that over time these citizens might ruin one's country.  It is the expression of a protestant culture, one that sees a need for reconciling some notion of God in public life while avoiding the problems associated with post-Medieval Europe, a political and cultural mélange in which it was often hard to distinguish between the responsibilities of a priest and the responsibilities of a political man.


The sentiment of John Adams tends to find its expression in the ordinary man throughout the history of the United States.  It has not yet found its philosophical or systematic representative.  A generation ago, Daniel Boorstein argued that the genius of American politics was that it avoided the intellectual abstractions, and therefore the ideologies, that typified modern political life in Europe.  The ordinary man tends to find his way in the business world and in the service professions.  Before the World War One this spirit could be found both in the township (which typified the ideal in protestant America), and in the neighborhoods of American cities (which typified Catholic America).  The two cultures lived together in a pragmatic federal system.  In the past fifty years in the US these two cultures have tended to move out of the cities and into the suburbs.  It is not always easy to attach this tradition to a certain class or group of intellectuals.  It is not a group that sees itself as having to bring to fruition, create, or give birth to new ideas.  In many ways, these citizens see themselves as trying to discover, imitate and implement what is already there.  I would say it is kind of an optimistic pragmatism.


In the past eighty years, a new political culture has developed in the cities, a culture that seems to draw its lineage from what is styled progressive politics.  This is a story in itself.   If there has been a chief weapon of this culture, it has been the use of the Courts.  Most of the cultural and political debates of the past fifty years in the US can be summed by looking at the Courts.  The intellectuals have used the Courts to subvert as much as possible the traditions established by the ordinary men in the US.  In doing so, they have relied on a set of theories and an ideal of political and cultural life that they have inherited from the left of the French Revolution.  Perhaps in its best expression, they imagine a national political community, democratic, equal, and free, based on rational principles of political and social discourse in which a diverse number of lifestyles and voices are given place in the community.  They also envision an active and participatory democracy in which each citizen has a say in electoral and political outcomes.  Often courts are the best way of bringing about the outcome of a free and equal society because there one finds the best locus for rational discourse independent of the influence of irrational groups or backwards ideologies.  


Ironically, this group, when it acts and succeeds, usually ends up implementing policies that would never come about if put to a democratic vote.  Usually, after an initial burst of progressive activism, participatory democracy has worked in a more conservative direction.  Activist then resort to the Courts to overturn the choices of the people because they have violated "rights" to privacy, to determine one's meaning of the universe, or to determine one's sexual identity independent of public considerations.  When we better understand this group and its influence on American politics, we can better understand both how the left and how the right in the United States have changed in the past fifty years, and how these changes affect American notions of political life and citizenship. 



Change in American Citizenship


To return briefly to the problem of citizenship in the United States as it stands, one of the central concerns of political science over the past twenty years is the lack of active citizen participation in national and local elections.  Most don't care or don't see what is so important in the election of a national official to go to the polls.  Books like The Vanishing Voter speak to the problem of the lack of citizen participation.  It is now the norm in the United States that in a national election half or less than half of the eligible population votes.  In local elections, the numbers are significantly smaller. 


Modern life seems to leave citizens apathetic and alienated.  It is safe to say that it lacks the spirit of the city.  On the bright side, half the nation does actually vote.  Half the nation has a list of issues that they hope will be dealt with by local and national politicians.  If we were to compare this level of participation even with the level of participation during the founding generation of America, it would be seen as general improvement.  At that time, voters consisted almost-exclusively of property owning males.


In short, while there are good signs, the conditions are also ripe in the United States for the kind of messianic nationalism that has stuck nations throughout the history of the world.  I think one can put together a picture in which one can see the circumstances coming together that would be opportune for an ambitious politician to use military expansionism as a way of resolving the problem of the spirit of the city.     


To begin, many citizens are not interested in political life in a practical way.  Better put, if they are interested in political life, it is a concern that has only the most theoretical expression.  It usually is not "felt" in the ordinary course of the life of a citizen.  Most are too busy to vote or to get involved in politics.  They will support foreign adventures from time to time.  They do care about the stock market.  They might have an emotional attachment to their family, but it is probably not reflected in their deeds.  They probably do not follow any developments in local politics.  They will probably say that they live very busy lives, that they lack time for the things they would really like to do, that they spend a lot of time driving around in cars from thing to thing, and that while they work a lot they feel insecure about their job.  They sense that at any moment their job could be cut and they could be forced to move to another part of the country to find another job.  They are concerned about security.


In addition, people tend to ignore the local or particular in practice while being concerned about the national or universal. When they think of their lives and when they make major decisions in their lives, they are likely to make economic success the top priority among the priorities that they weigh in making a decision.  The authority of the corporation or work in the consciousness of a typical America citizens seems to be large.  The actual authority given to the local community, the family, or a local nexus of authority seems to take second place when it comes time to make a practical judgment in the life of a citizen.  They are willing to move where the jobs are.  As institutions, the family and the neighborhood, small groups, have declined in authority over the course of the past hundred years.  During that time, economic corporations and the national political community have grown in authority.


Furthermore, many are willing to look to the military as providing the exemplar of behavior and as providing the kinds of standards that all groups in society should adopt when conceiving of how they will act.  This point is not simply a point about the popularity of the military.  It is a sociological point that the ways of living, thinking and acting that are commonly associated with the military are, over time, being adopted by other social groups in society. The standards of military thinking have come to dominate the consciousness of individuals.  It does not simply mean that America is organized to be a military machine, though it could lead to it.  It is also to say that the kinds of standards and practices one associates with the military are the kinds of standards and practices that one finds in the consciousness of Americans. The psyche of Americans, of American corporations, and of American political institutions are all set for a national society in which the possibility of military expansionism remains a threat.  The military is probably the only institution that still earns the respect of a majority of Americans.


In addition to what might be the form of the American social state, and whether it is conducive to forming citizens who over time will accept or be indifferent to the prospects of war, we also have the psychology of persons themselves to observe.  Right now in the United States the Armed Services have to turn recruits away.  Recruiting is not a problem in May 2004.  What could be the attraction to War?


What explains these developments?  The sociological analysis of Robert Nisbet has been helpful in showing what is at stake.  He was a sociologist of history who wrote from the late 1930's to 1990.  He fought in the Second World War.  One can see in his writings from the 1950's a large concern about status of local forms of authority in American social and political life.  What is interesting from the point of view of this study is that in his writings of the 1950's he begins to express a small concern that it could happen that the United States could become a military society as the result of its efforts to win the Cold War.  By the time of his last works, the United States becoming a military society becomes a dominant concern.  In The Present Age he devotes almost the entire study to drawing the line of development of a military society from the presidency of Woodrow Wilson during the First World War to the presidency of George Bush during the late 1980s and early 1990s.


Wilson engaged in a propaganda campaign to weaken elements of the ethos of the township and neighborhood to get the United States in the War and to further his goal of making the world safe for democracy.  He saw these local communities as a threat to national democracy at home and as an obstacle to promoting democracy abroad.  Wilson brought to the fore a struggle between the local authority, state authority, and national authority in way that would tip the balance in favor of national authority against the authority of small groups, local authority, and state authority.  Localism was a threat to a national society capable of acting with energy.  It represented a kind of particularity at odds with universal equality.  It represented a kind of freedom and responsibility that was inefficient and often unjust.  Tocqueville saw the township model of society as inefficient, because it duplicated in many different places what could be done on a broader and more equal basis by one institution.  Yet, the township model by giving space for freedom, risked certain injustices, but also risked the possibility of responsibility and the practice of making a felt and a real contribution to the good of others.


Wilson believed in a rational and universalist politics.  He thought that equality, efficiency, and justice could all be better served by the United States and the World conceiving of itself as one community.  He thought that small groups were obstacles to achieving this vision.  They tended to oppose the war that would help him bring about this vision. 


After the experience of the First World War many Americans, especially those who fought in the war, began to see the benefits of acting like the army acted in winning the war.  They thought that social problems could best be solved by a political hierarchy in which citizens organized and waited to obey the directions of a general who had thought out more efficiently and rationally the best strategy for attacking a problem.


We see in the presidency of Wislon and what came after a trend that modern presidents would follow that work against the understanding of the proper role of the small group in a society, or creating abstractions so that while citizens mouth their support of the small group or their feelings for it, they act so as to bring about its further decline.  We see in the presidency of Wilson an aspiration towards a national and international community.  We see an indifference to or suspicion of the authority of small groups.  We see a suspicion of the local businessman.  We see a reliance on the military if it helps bring about the aspiration of a creating democracies with universal principles.  We see the use of propaganda to turn the average citizen to this aspiration.  We see the use of intellectuals to enlist their support in the cause of justice and democracy. He saw intellectuals as his great aid in molding the masses to accept and to bring about his vision of a national democracy at home and spreading democracy abroad.  The intellectuals helped him develop a system of propaganda for "freeing" individuals of their attachments to ethnicity and neighborhood that prevented them from fully accepting this vision.  Presidents since Wilson have, in general, followed his model. 


Wilson as a statesman was confident he could control all of these forces so as to build a national democracy in the United States and to create a missionary nation that could bring that democracy to other countries.  He had a kind of confidence in his personal capacity to intuit the right thing to do.  Wilson was re-elected on the platform of opposing intervening in the First World War.  He later attributed his change of policy to a personal inspiration, an inner light.  Wilson's inspiration created an aspiration, the thought that Americans were a specially elected people to protect and spread democracy around the world.  Wilson made the city on the hill not just a city that Americans were to build on this continent.  He made it the city that Americans had a reason to export to all the nations of the earth.  Americans now aspired to a more perfect national democracy, purified of its local ethnic cultures, as well as an international democratic ethos, purified of all corrupting elements one could find in local cultures.  This aspiration, if met, would bring about peace on earth. 


Wilson believed that "what America touches, she makes holy."  He inherited from his father the notion that America was a city on a hill.  It was the Redeemer Nation that would purify or save all other nations from themselves.  His inspiration brought him to the world assembly as the apostle of democracy.  He accepted war because he thought that it would help him in his ultimate goal of reforming the world and bringing democracy to all nations. 


The danger of the ideology of Wilson or those who follow in his footsteps is that they risk undermining the kinds of institutions in which persons form the habits that lead them to be active citizens in a democracy.  There is also a danger that they give a kind of religious quality to democracy, rather than subjecting it to the standards of fairness and equality to which they say they aspire.  They also risk creating conditions within which the missionary goal of spreading democracy could easily become the military goal of protecting markets. 


By weakening local institutions, Wilson weakened their capacity to carry out their traditional functions.  He also weakened the capacity of citizens to habituate themselves to make use of the ordinary channels of social and political life for exercising their rights and duties as citizens.  So, we see in the Twentieth Century that the nation has an increasingly difficult time understanding and regulating morality.  Part of this is due to the intellectual, legal, and cultural attacks on morality.  Part of it is due to the weakening of the institutions that are the appropriate institutions for regulating morality, the institutions that Wilson saw as the enemies of his plan. 


Local and state institutions traditionally exercised the police power.  By police power I do not mean simply the power of arresting criminals.  Arresting criminals is one function of the police power.  The older and broader understanding of the police power includes preserving the character of the community through unwritten and written laws, many having to do with actions connected to marriage and education, with education including building character.  Signs in our own day of the complete and dare I say stunning victory of the mentality of Wilson are seen in the shift in the attitude of the Republican Party to move debates about education and marriage to the national level.  President Bush has promoted both a national marriage amendment, which would in effect transfer control of marriage from the local to the national level.  He has pushed to have national education standards, again transferring control of education from the local to the national level.   


We also see a victory accorded to Wilson's ideology by the way in which most Americans now think first, foremost, and only about the importance of the presidency in an election, if they vote at all.  The rest are content with the kind of nationalized democracy that Tocqueville feared in Vol. 2, part IV of Democracy in America.  They basically let the government do whatever it wants so long as all of their needs and enjoyments are fulfilled.  In this, they are content to live as perpetual children.    


One feature of the modern politician is that he is open to the nationalism of a Wilson.  At the same time he is critical of the intrusive morality that he sees in the ethnic neighborhood.  He finds such morality stifling, a cause of boredom and alienation, restrictive, backwards, and ultimately against progress.  By contrast, the modern politician lives in the cosmopolitan neighborhood, his gateway to the world. He lives in Seattle.  It offers him all choices.  It frees him from the suffocating atmosphere of the ethnic neighborhood or the alienation of the suburb.


Wilson's national community with aspirations to democracy and to spreading democracy around the world produced a social state that formed citizens to serve it well.  This social state formed citizens who conceived of themselves in terms of a national, and eventually world, economic market as well as a national, and world, political community.  It formed citizens who are suspicious of local authority, whether in the family or in the neighborhood.  It formed citizens who are also more likely or more quickly disposed to resort to the use of war to protect their markets and their way of life at home and abroad.  Since these citizens no longer found joy in the family, they were kept in a perpetual childhood.  So long as the national and international institutions, and most importantly, liberating moral practices, could keep them happy, and move them around using the fear of economic instability or the fear of insecurity, then these citizens would not oppose the spreading of democracy around the world.  What person in his right mind could oppose such an aspiration?  Another way to spread democracy abroad, if the military fails, is through economic coercion or population control.  All of these methods were employed to keep the world safe for democracy.           


Ironically or lucky for us, the desire for community does not die.  We see in the 1990's in the United States a revival of urbanism.  Many American women are choosing to work out of their home and to have large families.  We see more women urging their husbands to stay close to the family.  We see many cities attempting to bring back traditional neighborhoods.  We see Mexicans and Asians re-inhabiting many of the neighborhoods previously inhabited by the Irish, Polish, Germans, and Italians.   


In summary, the history of the Twentieth Century has been a history of the breakdown of the family and the neighborhood from the point of view of the function that those institutions fulfill in the matrix of a society.  The government, citizens, and planners let these institutions break down or actively assisted in their breakdown because of philosophical, economic, political, and militaristic reasons.  The liberal philosophy found local groups and what they represented inimical to universalism and the new morality.  The liberal economist finds them difficult to reconcile first with national and then with global markets.  The political universalist finds traditional forms of authority embedded in these neighborhoods an obstacle to the growth and development of universal rights, however those are understood.  The military finds the local community less enthusiastic about any sort of nationalist expansionism or universalist patriotism.


In some sense, one might say that economic, political or military universalism is the false goal of a desire that is natural in man.  The human person is part of the family that is called the human race.  The person has within him desires to be united to his family.  Early on in human history his chances for fulfilling this desire became more difficult.  His capacity to see his unity with others and his capacity to know how to justly bring about this unity was weakened.  Yet, the desire persists.  Each of these attempts to universalize are attempts built on a desire that is good, but the desire needs to find its proper goal. 


In summary, what can we say that is good about the French Revolutionaries and about Wilson's agenda?  We see in both of them an expression of great ideals and great hopes for the human race.  We also see in them great ideals about what is a political community and the happiness that it can bring to those who belong to it.  We also see a fear of clericalism, a state or a community in which the clergy, and not the citizens, run things.  Where do their ideas err?  They err in insinuating that a Catholic or a Christian citizen that uses his freedom and responsibility to form his conscience and act on it might disagree with Wilson, a progressive, or a Revolutionary.  There were times when the concerns that they had were true, Christian citizens did not participate in politics or did not take the time to form their consciences well while they participated in politics, deferring to their pastors in making political decisions.  However, the error that they made was in assuming that this was an integral part of local communities.  We might say that now is a good moment for Christian citizens to re-evaluate how they see themselves as citizens and to show by their deeds that they know how to act in political society exercising their freedom and also their responsibility to form their consciences well.    



Robert Nisbet, Quest for Community, Twilight of Authority, The Present Age

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

John Adams, Letters to Thomas Jefferson



VII European Seminar of Philosophical Studies



Collegio Universitario ARCES



Grand Rapids, Michigan



Università degli Studi di Palermo