The Personalist Project

In this fascinating segment of Uncommon Knowlege posted at National Review Online today, Peter Robinson asks Hillsdale Professor Paul Rahe what has happened to the American experiment?  How is it that the greatest democratic system in history has been systematically subverted?  His answer, in a word, is "progressivism", and he identifies Hegel as its source.

Thanks to Hegel, says Prof. Rahe, the idea spreads that government should be conducted by "rational administrators"—an elite whose role it is to caretake the rest.  This is of course in direct opposition to the American  ideal of self-government.

The administrative state grows by "offering a helping hand" and "with that helping hand, goes control."

There's lots more in this segment too, such as the idea that the "anxiety" natural to citizens of a commercial society, where the government minds its own business, is alleviated by mediating institutions, private associations, and, especially, strong families.

I'd love to know what others think.

Comments (14)

Scott Johnston

#1, Nov 17, 2011 2:32am

Hmmm. Only a quick note here. (Gosh, I see down there a word limit of 200; I don't know if I can handle that!) . . .

To my way of thinking, a very significant factor is the error of thinking a utopian ideal is actually attainable in this world. Thus, professional beurocrats and politicians who are under this delusion proceed to try to bring about utopia through their governance. If only people would do things their way (because of course they know better), a perfect society could be achieved. But, some people don't want to go along, so, they must be forced even against their will. This is necessary for the attainment of the utopian ideal.

And in my observation, non-Christians (or nominal Christians) are far more likely to believe in the possibility of utopia through goverment manipulation and coercion. Committed followers of Christ know that utopia is unattainable here, even as they know that things can always be (and should be) made better. The true utopia is heaven.

Good to see you back! Bless you!

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Nov 17, 2011 7:53am

I've been loving the word limit at Ricochet.  That why we did it here.  The brevity induces wit and makes for livelier conversations.  

About utopianism, I agree entirely, including that non-believers are much more prone to it.  Human beings need religion, and we reject God, we will find something else to absolutize and worship.  Voegelin's turn of phrase, "immanentize the escaton" nails it.

I was just very interested to hear Prof. Rahe finger Hegel as the source of progressivism.  That was a new thought to me.  

Gregory Borse

#3, Nov 20, 2011 11:20pm

In another (very important) context, George Will comments: 

Asking, in effect, what limits Congress's suddenly discovered unrestricted power to limit?

I'd say it happened this way, Katie:  In a rush to apply a scientific paradigm for the accumulation of knowledge (or power or whatever), post-Hegelians have assumed mistakenly that the freedom of each individual can be added to the freedom of each other individual in order to make a kind of "corporate" or "social" power to exercise choice.  Hence, total freedom is accretional.  But, since each individual is unique--the expression of freedom for each is unique and "un-add-able."  The whole, in this sense, is not greater than the sum-total of its parts.  Each part resists subsumption into a false whole. . . .

Gregory Borse

#4, Nov 20, 2011 11:26pm

To put it more simply:  The sum-total of humanity is expressed within the person of an individual--Christ.


Katie van Schaijik

#5, Nov 20, 2011 11:32pm

Gregory Borse, Nov. 20 at 11:20pm

Each part resists subsumption into a false whole. . . .

.And therefore any given "part", i.e., person, might (in the view of the modern totalitarian) have to be neutralized or eliminated, as not in accord with the "general will".  Am I following you, or am I off?

The idea that each person is unique and (therefore) resists subsumption is at the heart of personalism as we understand it.

Wojtyla described the totalitarianisms of the 20th century as the "pulverization" of the uniqueness of the person.

Gregory Borse

#6, Nov 20, 2011 11:43pm

You are following me, Katie.  And that is exactly precisely what happens to the individual at the hands of the utopian totalitarianist:  the most exquisite expression of this goes one step better--abortion--because it combines the expression of individual free-will with the obliteration of another subject's being and then revels in the act (not literally) in the expression of a god-like power to grant or not grant ontological status by an act of the individual will which, ipso-facto, fundamentally establishes being-through-obliteration to the exercisor-of-will-upon-another's-existence.  See how that works?


Gregory Borse

#7, Nov 20, 2011 11:59pm

The flip-side of this negative example is the sacrifice of Christ--since in the exercise of His perfect will he accomplishes a supremely self-less act and one that counter-balances poetically (and tragically) the other supremely (and comically) supremely other self-less act:  creation.

Abortion:  creation for the sake of destruction as an exercise of a selfish domination of existence

Crucifixion:  destruction of the individual as the means of salvation for others; an exercise in self-denial-even-to-death as an exercise in the selfless giving up of domination for the sake of others' existence

Amy French

#8, Nov 23, 2011 9:58pm

Katie--as for Hegel as the source of progressivism, I heard an interesting lecture to that effect by H. Tristam Englehart last week. His interpretation of Hegel amounts to "God" being realized by the collective Spirit of society. Definitely immanentizing the eschaton.  Reality itself is improving as society moves towards the realization of Spirit in the nation state. So you can see that progressivism could be considered a watered-down version of Hegelianism in that human beings are supposed to be inexorably improving their own condition. 

Gregory Borse

#9, Nov 23, 2011 10:10pm

Which means that no one individual is responsible for any single decision that resulted in an actual action--stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve. But if this is true, then how can we believe in the exercise of individual free will on the individual basis and then use that to become a componant of some aggregate action that realizes its perfection in the realization of God-head?  Wasn't C.S. Lewis ahead of the curve here by arguing, in "That Hideous Strength" that the only possibility is the existence of one lonely individual after all others have been done away with?

Amy French

#10, Nov 23, 2011 10:15pm will vs. collectivity DOES seem to be a sort of weird contradiction within progressive democracies--do I understand you aright? I wish I had read That Hideous Strength so I could comment on that!

Gregory Borse

#11, Nov 23, 2011 10:16pm

We are fallen.  Whence did we decide that our fall meant the "fall" of reality?


Amy French

#12, Nov 23, 2011 10:18pm

Ha. You are so right! I think instead of recognizing our own fallenness Hegel decided to try to repudiate the existence of something transcending us instead. Blech. 

Gregory Borse

#13, Nov 23, 2011 10:35pm

Blech.  Best thing I've read or heard all day.  Happy Thanksgiving, All!

Gregory Borse

#14, Nov 23, 2011 10:41pm

The first move is not to reject God; it is to envy Him.  It is to assume that we ARE God and then to assume that our actions matter in the same way His actions do.  Which they don't.  But you can build a philosophy on the assumption that your actions are just like God's, can't you?


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