The Democratic Soul

The Democratic Soul: A Wilson Carey McWilliams Reader

Wilson Carey McWilliams
Patrick J. Deneen
Susan J. McWilliams
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    The Democratic Soul
    Book Description:

    In 1973, Wilson Carey McWilliams (1933--2005) published The Idea of Fraternity in America, a groundbreaking book that argued for an alternative to America's dominant philosophy of liberalism. This alternative tradition emphasized that community and fraternal bonds were as vital to the process of maintaining political liberty as was individual liberty. McWilliams expanded on this idea throughout his prolific career as a teacher, writer, and activist, promoting a unique definition of American democracy.

    In The Democratic Soul: A Wilson Carey McWilliams Reader, editors Patrick J. Deneen and Susan J. McWilliams, daughter of the famed intellectual, have assembled key essays, articles, reviews, and lectures that trace McWilliams's evolution as a scholar and explain his often controversial views on education, religion, and literature. The book also showcases his thoughts and opinions on prominent twentieth-century figures such as George Orwell and Leo Strauss. The first comprehensive volume of Wilson Carey McWilliams' collected writings, The Democratic Soul will be welcomed by scholars of political science and American political thought as a long-overdue contribution to the field.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3370-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. “A Better Sort of Love”: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Wilson Carey McWilliams
    (pp. 1-18)
    Patrick J. Deneen and Susan J. McWilliams

    Wilson Carey McWilliams was born on September 2, 1933, in Santa Monica, California. His was a pre-freeway, pre-plastic Los Angeles: a city of barely more than a million people still dominated by what he later remembered as a “provincial, boosterish” mind-set, with “its numberless improbabilities always hinting at great possibilities.”¹

    It was also a city that McWilliams experienced not as a “city of strangers,” but as the home of his large, extended family. By his own account, it was a family of titans. His mother’s family, the Hedricks, was a formidable clan of German and Dutch descent that placed great...

  5. Part 1. Political Thought in America
    • Liberty, Equality, and the Problem of Community
      (pp. 21-43)

      Created equal and born free, Americans have valued liberty and equality as a child does his inheritance. We have taken them for granted, and we have assumed that because we are familiar with both words, we know what they mean, like a child mistaking received opinion for achieved understanding. Confident that we possessed liberty and equality, Americans have been equally certain that both would be available in abundance.¹

      This is changing. Time out of mind, Americans believed the future would be better; now, most expect it to be worse. Nature no longer seems abundant. We cadge for oil and try,...

    • Religion and the American Founding
      (pp. 44-55)

      Americans are typically apt to forget that the era of American founding was a time of uneasiness as well as confidence. A political founding demands daring, but entails dread: new laws open new pitfalls as well as new prospects. A political beginning is necessarily a venture into the unfamiliar, and the effort to create a new regime requires a turning from convention to theory, an appeal to first principles rather than second nature. The American framers observed the civil decencies in their speech and writing, but creating a new republic demands, at least, that one be willing to think shamelessly....

    • Civil Religion in the Age of Reason: Thomas Paine on Liberalism, Redemption, and Revolution
      (pp. 56-91)

      For all its apparent confidence and optimism, the eighteenth century—in Europe and in America—was also uneasy, Prometheus haunted by Pandora. Celebrating material progress and the advance of science, shrewd observers recognized that these very gains entailed specialization and individuation, the weakening of community and authority, the encouragement of private ambition, and the fragmenting of moral order. As the next century dawned, Jeremiah Atwater, who praised the “spirit of enterprise” and glorified in the extension of commerce, applied the moral to America: “With pain we are forced to acknowledge, that it is the natural tendency of prosperity to corrupt...

    • The Anti-Federalists
      (pp. 92-97)

      The Anti-Federalists drew strength from ancient wisdom, but they were also eighteenth-century Americans, and—like their countrymen generally—they were “people of paradox,” torn between the old and the new. They were also a diverse lot, united mainly by what they opposed, but Anti-Federalism, for all its eddies and currents, followed a mainstream, and Herbert Storing was right to draw our attention to “what the Anti-Federalists were for” in the volume of that name that introducesThe Complete Anti-Federalist.¹ The Anti-Federalists shaped and defended an ideal of the fraternal republic which is distinctly American. They were the losers in 1787,...

    • Standing at Armageddon: Morality and Religion in Progressive Thought
      (pp. 98-119)

      Progressivism was more disposition than doctrine, its ideas developed by thinkers who were almost relentlessly idiosyncratic and at least suspicious of the forms, in logic if not in society.¹ Necessarily, the movement was somewhat amorphous, and almost every generalization about it calls to mind an obvious exception, e.g., Progressives, pretty much across the board, were critics of local party organizations and especially of “boss rule,” yet no one wrote more appreciatively about ward politics than the remarkable Mary K. Simkhovitch.² And Brand Whitlock—successful both as a novelist and a reform mayor of Toledo—came to suspect that the old...

    • America’s Two Voices in a World of Nations
      (pp. 120-130)

      It is not surprising that other nations are often puzzled by America. Americans do not understand themselves or their country very well, and in many ways they do notwishto. Our leaders often speak of an American “creed” or “way of life,” implying that American culture is a unified whole, and periodically a crusade for “Americanism” grips large numbers of citizens, as it seems to be doing today. In fact, however, American culture is profoundly incoherent, composed of elements that are radically incompatible. America descends from Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and from Enlightenment rationalism on the...

  6. Part 2. Political Thinkers
    • George Orwell and Ideology
      (pp. 133-140)

      George Orwell is paradoxical in the best sense: he is beyonddoxa,outside the camps and categories of conventional political discourse. Admiring critics snip and squeeze, but Orwell will not be tailored into an ideology. An anticommunist nonpareil who never doubted that it was necessary to support the United States against the USSR, Orwell in 1948 expressed a preference for Henry Wallace, that scandal to Cold Warriors. In fact, although Orwell called himself a socialist, he scorned both socialism and capitalism as those terms are ordinarily understood, because he rejected the modern political doctrine which is the foundation of both....

    • Reinhold Niebuhr: New Orthodoxy for Old Liberalism
      (pp. 141-161)

      Reinhold Niebuhr has profoundly affected American thought in theology, on society, and about politics.¹ He has puzzled more than one of his many critics and commentators, especially by the veritable panorama of doctrines which, at one time or another, he has appeared to advocate: several varieties of socialism, liberalism, and what seems to be a sort of mellow conservatism. The confusion engendered by this ideological medley has not been alleviated either by the voluminous extent of his writings or by his Teutonic, yet highly personal style.² But Niebuhr’s policy suggestions have been shaped in response to changing conditions in the...

    • Community and Its Discontents: On Amitai Etzioni and the Future of Communitarianism
      (pp. 162-177)

      The founder of a significant movement and an important presence in U.S. public life, Amitai Etzioni exemplifies political engagement, but he looks beyond the barricades, seeking first principles and things that endure. It is no surprise, consequently, that his argument for a “community of communities,” while thoroughly contemporary, also stands in a grand U.S. tradition, linked to Randolph Bourne’s hope for a “trans-national America” and Josiah Royce’s precept “Be loyal to loyalty” as well as to that founding mystery,E pluribus unum.¹ And as a critic, Etzioni is admirable in recognizing and confronting the shortcomings of intellectual fashion, even among...

    • Bertrand de Jouvenel on Politics and Political Science in America
      (pp. 178-191)

      References to the United States are relatively infrequent in Bertrand de Jouvenel’s major works, but America was never far from his thoughts. He knew America well, at first hand as well as from books, and he united a friend’s familiarity with American culture with a profound appreciation of American political institutions.¹

      He admired America as an exceptional regime, the world’s chief bulwark against totalitarianism, a liberal polity which survived the Great Depression and total war with its character more or less intact. Recognizing that the power available in American society is so great that the United States can rank as...

    • Leo Strauss and the Dignity of American Political Thought
      (pp. 192-206)

      Leo Strauss wrote only rarely about American thought, but he pointed his students and readers toward the “high adventure” of the American political tradition as a serious encounter with the great questions of political philosophy. Strauss saw American theory as a contest—one fought less between Americans than within them—pitting modernity’s “first wave,” with its appeal to reason and natural right, against the more radical individualism and the historicism of later modern doctrine. Religion and classical rationalism, offering their own standards of a right above opinion, had been historically the allies of “first wave” modernity, but those voices, Strauss...

    • Power After Power: Reflections on Liberalism in Sheldon Wolin’s Politics and Vision
      (pp. 207-226)

      InPolitics and Vision,¹ liberalism—and specifically, Anglo-American liberalism—is nemesis, framing modern political thought as alpha and dark omega.² Already in part 1 (chapter 9), liberalism is identified with the “decline of political philosophy,” and in part 2, liberalism—its great antagonists destroyed or self-destructed—is the official doctrine of “Superpower,” being promoted as the basis of a world system, apax liberalis.³

      Liberalism has had its conquests, but its characteristic triumphs have been won by insinuation and temptation, its happy accommodation to human frailty. One of Sheldon Wolin’s great contributions, in fact, has been to correct the notion...

  7. Part 3. Theory and Practice
    • On Time and History
      (pp. 229-239)

      Men have times; mankind has history. Times are close and personal things: “having a good time” is possible only for small groups of men, in comparatively intimate settings. Our most generous feelings toward those who are not present can be expressed only as a “wish” that they were; times are things of narrow boundaries and exclusive limits. History is comparatively open and in discriminate. It refers to a stream of related events, made up of myriad individual lives and times.

      No profundity is required to make the distinction between times and history, and it requires only a little more insight...

    • On Political Illegitimacy
      (pp. 240-264)

      Ours is a “crisis of illegitimacy,” a decline in the conviction that some actions are impermissible, for one’s self as well as for others. Lacking the secure expectation that their political opponents will feel morally restricted in their choice of means, men are forced and permitted to reject such limitations on themselves. And as Hobbes knew, a condition in which “nothing can be Unjust” is one in which “Force and Fraud are . . . the two Cardinall vertues” and the rule of right comes to be that it is “every mans that he can get; and for so long...

    • Civil Disobedience and Contemporary Constitutionalism: The American Case
      (pp. 265-285)

      The idea of civil disobedience is coeval with political philosophy but, until events of the 1960s catapulted it into the headlines, it was given little attention by modern political thought. The “serene stream” of constitutionalism¹ had sought to lower the risks of political life by substituting the rule of laws for that of men; constitutionalist thought tended to reduce the great human choices to the single standard of legality. Seeking to minimize dependence on the statesman, it also tried to minimize dependence on the citizen.²

      From Birmingham to Chicago—to take events of that time—political life in the modern...

    • The Case for Censorship, Rightly Understood
      (pp. 286-292)

      The arts and sciences are forces to conjure with, magical powers that speak to the deepest desires and hopes of men. They puzzle, tempt, and beguile the rudest barbarian; the city without art and science will not endure, whatever its theoretical virtues, because it is less than human.¹ The power of the arts and sciences necessarily makes them a political problem, for magic is black as well as white.

      All political societies short of the ideal are founded on opinion, and opinion is an uncertain ground. The charlatan can mislead “true opinion,” and base art and science can corrupt a...

    • Equality and Citizenship: The Rights of Man and the Rights of Women
      (pp. 293-318)

      The Equal Rights Amendment has been defeated, but this blow to the advocates of women’s rights may be a blessing in disguise. Constitutional provisions can be slippery footing. For a century, the Fourteenth Amendment failed to fulfill the racially egalitarian aims of its framers because there was insufficient political will to carry them out; the Eighteenth Amendment is another case in point. Law is a kind of speech, and its effect depends on the audience to which it is addressed. The most eloquent words are mute when they fall on deaf ears, and a hostile public can turn legal harmonies...

    • Honor in Contemporary American Politics
      (pp. 319-326)

      Honor is associated with rank and inequality, so that it is somewhat paradoxical to speak of democratic honor at all. A democracy can aspire to “an aristocracy of everyone” in the sense of making excellent things available to all its citizens.¹ But inevitably, increasing the number of those honored decreases the value and significance of honor.² As Gilbert had the Inquisitor sing inThe Gondoliers,“When everyone is somebodee /Then no one’s anybody.” Honor demands an audience who observe and admire.³ But inequality of honor, as Tocqueville recognized, creates its own paradoxes. Tocqueville presented honor in the Old Regime as...

  8. Part 4. Democracy as a Moral Enterprise
    • Democracy as Means and End
      (pp. 329-335)

      Americans these days are uneasy patriots, their celebration of the country’s laws and liberties balanced by a long list of discontents. They value democracy and tend to identify it with the American Constitution, but great numbers of them do not vote and—despite the surge of support that followed September 11—they have a good many doubts that government can be trusted to do what is right or that it cares about people like them. Yet while this level of disenchantment is relatively high, the ambivalence it reflects is anything but new: from the beginning, American political life and culture...

    • The Search for a Public Philosophy
      (pp. 336-352)

      At the beginning of a new millennium, the American republic is prosperous and unrivaled, its material power matching the New Rome of the founders’ imagining, but its public life marked by “discontents,” or even a “lost soul.”¹ The century’s last year began with the president impeached before the bar of the Senate, but behind the headlines, it is American democracy that stands “on trial.”²

      Americans seem increasingly apt to regard government with suspicion, begrudging its authority. Policy makers, fearing to offend, walk on tiptoes. By contrast, party conflicts have grown bitter, but Theodore Lowi is right to call the parties...

    • Toward Genuine Self-Government
      (pp. 353-360)

      It is no secret that Americans are wretchedly informed about public affairs. The New Millennium Project of the National Association of Secretaries of State found that only 25 percent of young citizens (ages eighteen to twenty-four) could correctly answer all three of the following questions: Who is the vice president of the United States? Who is the governor of your state? How long is the term for a member of the House of Representatives? And at the beginning of a recent American government class at my university, only 9 percent of students could name the chief justice of the Supreme...

    • Democratic Multiculturalism
      (pp. 361-370)

      Historically, multiculturalism has often not been associated with democracy; more often, it has been the practice of empires and hegemonies, the condition of a policy of divide and rule.¹ In fact, multiculturalism is not easily compatible with democracy: Yugoslavia managed, more or less, as a one-party autocracy, but it proved unable to survive democratization, and it would be easy to add other painful examples.

      Nor is this surprising: a grand tradition of political theory holds that democracy requires a high level of trust in one’s fellow citizens, or at least a broad sphere of the taken-for-granted in civil life. As...

    • Critical Rebound: Why America Needs a Catholic Recovery
      (pp. 371-379)

      Begin with the Augustinian truth: the Catholic Church, like its rivals, aspires to speak of and for the City of God, but it must speak in and to the City of Man. The transcendent is its reason for living, but it must live in order to fulfill that reason. Compelled to adapt to the temporalities, religion must also be watchful lest it become simply a function of time and place.¹ If a church accommodates too much to society, it loses its distinctive character, and along with it any strong sense of community or claim on the identity of its members....

    • Religion, Morality, and Public Life
      (pp. 380-398)

      Like quarrelsome kindred forced to live under the same roof, faith and morals—and with them, religion and political society—are often pressed to stay on speaking terms.

      Evidently, religion can offer society invaluable support, adding divine sanctions to law and identifying society’s fundamental orders—the distinctions of gender, age, family, and property—with the sacred or natural. In political society, where ways and rules are at least partly departures from custom, religion can veil the extent to which the laws are conventions, products of speech and hence open to question and contradiction. It can make government into a kind...

  9. Index
    (pp. 399-430)