The Personalist Project

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Accessed on October 13, 2019 - 8:57:08

The philosophy and politics of isolation

Jules van Schaijik, Dec 01, 2011

The last chapter of the text for tomorrow's reading circle gathering is about the spirit of communion in the Liturgy. In it, von Hildebrand explains how all genuine values have a twofold unifying power: they unify the individual person from within (interior recollection) and they unify a collection of persons into a genuine communion.

It so happens that Anthony Esolen just published a piece in which this theme of the relation between objective values and interpersonal communion is also central. Like von Hildebrand, Esolen contrasts genuine communion sustained by value with its counterfeit rooted in mere pleasure:

Here we need not consider the sadness at the heart of pleasure seeking—the profound loneliness that settles upon young people drinking at a party when there is nothing to celebrate, as they warily circle about one another, checking one another out, reckoning and being reckoned... [T]he pursuit of such fleeting goods... is necessarily divisive. Here I mean more than that people compete for eminence in them. I mean that there is nothing in them that unites us; they presuppose that we are not meant for one another in love, but that at best we can get along beside one another, sometimes pursuing a pleasure we have in common, but otherwise acknowledging that people themselves are to be valued only according as they assist us in our own pursuits.

Esolen also makes an interesting connection* with the political sphere. Where people are united in and through objective values, they also "stand against both the state and the hedonistic isolation it encourages."

...a moral philosophy of isolation, of the autonomy of the individual pursuing his own pleasures, coincides with a politics of isolation, whereby individuals purchase that autonomy at the price of ceding to the state everything that people as social beings used to do for one another.

So, if you are participating in tomorrow's reading-circle, either at our home, or from a distance, and if you have finished reading von Hildebrand, Esolen's piece makes for a great supplement.

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*While these political implications of the virtus unitiva do not come up in Liturgy and Personality, von Hildebrand discusses them in his work on the metaphysics of the community (not yet available in English)