Repost: From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”

Full review here. (Thanks to the A & L Daily for the link)

Mansfield identifies Rahe as a follower of Leo Strauss, and as a historian who disagrees with both Quentin Skinner and J.G.A Pocock’s historicism:

“In their view…ideas can be traced to prior conditions that are not ideas, such as economic forces or, more particularly for them, political interests. Ideas are essentially defensive; they justify, defend, and protect the established interests of various regimes and of their opponents, for example the defense of the American colonists in the Declaration of Independence.”

Mansfield argues that Rahe takes a different tack; ideas can come from sources.  Sources such as the influence of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Alexis De Tocqueville.

However, Mansfield also argues there are two problems that seem to arise from Rahe’s view, namely that De Tocqueville’s thinking runs deeper than those sources:

“…when democracy comes to America fully visible “in broad daylight,” as Tocqueville says, it is in the democratic “idea,” both political and religious, that the Puritans brought with them. It seems that, before the Puritans, democracy was working under cover of aristocracy–on its own, as it were–without benefit of advocates who were strong enough to speak openly on its behalf.”

…namely that he was a historicist in some ways (democracy has been there all along, back to the Greeks at least) , as well as the fact that De Tocqueville:

“…does not appear to be a political philosopher, at least not one of their kind. He does not provide either a comprehensive survey of politics, as did Montesquieu, or an abstract foundation for politics, as did Rousseau.”

Mansfield argues that De Tocuqueville took care to resist the lure of top-down abstract surveys applied to people and how they organize , as well as even resisting historicism.

“In this he offers testimony to the influence of ideas while avoiding them, and to the power of the democratic context of ideas while resisting it. One could say that he yields some ground to historicism as he decisively rejects it”

Food for thought.  Mansfield seems to find Rahe’s book not quite convincing.

I still very much find myself compelled by Strauss’s fact-value distinction (from wikipedia):

“Strauss treated politics as something that could not be studied from afar. A political scientist examining politics with a value-free scientific eye, for Strauss, was self-deluded”

Addition:  Wikipedia’s Straussian definition of historicism, and why Strauss saw it as so dangerous.

Also On This Site:  Bernhard Henri-Levy: no De-Tocqueville? Scott McLemee At ‘The Nation’ On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes HimFrom The New Atlantis: MontesquieuAre You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. Mansfield

From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few QuotesVia An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

Add to Technorati Favorites

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Current Events, Philosophy, Politics, Public Debate, Religion

Author:chr1

An independent blogger seeking to discuss deeply while keeping an open mind. I'm mostly on the right, but living in Seattle I have to think about what that means on a daily basis. I like to read philosophy.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,354 other followers

%d bloggers like this: