Politics and the inherent dilemmas of “liberal democracy” | Brian Jones | The Dispatch at CWR
Instead of the primacy of the contemplative order, modernity elevates the practical order to be supreme. With this abandonment of “being,” it is action that becomes man’s fundamental earthly endeavor.
Aristotle stated in his Politics that one of the most necessary, yet dangerous, political and intellectual tasks was to say precisely what a political regime is. In other words, the health of a community and culture presupposes the capability to describe and understand what it is ultimately about.
We can perceive, hopefully, why such a task might be dangerous, especially in a culture such as our own. Our present political regime is often characterized, or identified, as a “liberal democracy”. However, I do not think it is far-fetched to say this is not entirely accurate. While it is true that our institutional structures, and our voting and electing tendencies could be labeled as “democratic,” it seems more true that our anthropological and philosophical orientations are predominantly those of liberalism.
I raise these initial points in light of a recent essay by Professor Francis Beckwith over at The Catholic Thing titled “Rock-Ribbed vs. Faint-Hearted Liberalism”. My aim is not to critique Dr. Beckwth’s ideas as presented in his thought-provoking essay; rather, I want look at liberalism through the lens of intellectual history and political philosophy. In order to understand liberalism, we must be able to see it in connection with modernity, or with what Leo Strauss calls “the modern project”. I want to simply highlight what I consider to be two of the fundamental principles of modernity and liberalism, both of which have a number of wide-ranging and destructive effects.
In his classic 1963 work, The Structure of Political Thought, Charles N. R. McCoy made the following observation about the beginning of modernity—an observation that is also essentially linked with liberalism: