PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY IN A DEMOCRACY: TRANSCENDENTAL VALUES AND FREE SOCIETY IN THE POLITICAL THOUGHT OF JOHN H. HALLOWELL AND IRVING KRISTOL

ROBERT FELIX CUERVO, Fordham University

Abstract

The purpose of the dissertation is to explore one answer to the question of what kind of consensus, if any, is needed to sustain political civility. The answer given by postwar political science has been that a consensus about fair political procedures is all that is necessary for a healthy democratic order.^ A dissenting view, commonly associated with Walter Lippmann and John Courtney Murray, holds that democracy requires not just a consensus on procedure but a substantive moral consensus about the nature, destiny, and dignity of man. This moral consensus, known as the public philosophy, includes traditional Western values like a natural moral law which restrains both rulers and citizens, a theory of human nature that respects man as a creature of unique dignity, a theory that law is the product of moral reflection rather than an arbitrary state fiat, and an epistemology that regards human reason as capable of obtaining objective, morally binding truths.^ Another key insight of the public philosophers is that the public philosophy has been lost. Since they regard the public philosophy as the basis of civilized constitutional government, its loss raises the possibility of dysfunctions within the political community. Among these are a lessened ability to raise an intellectual defense against potentially totalitarian doctrines, the loss of moral theories which help to restrain arbitrary government, and a reduced possibility of dialogue in terms of common values (as opposed to mere selfish bargaining).^ Accordingly, the problem is to enunciate the principles of the public philosophy, to examine the phenomenon of its loss, and to inquire whether it can be recovered. These questions have been explored by analyzing the political thought of John H. Hallowell and Irving Kristol through an examination of their writings, interviews with them, and comparisons of their viewpoints with those of other thinkers.^ What emerges is an appreciation of public philosophy based on several sources. Hallowell discerns two sources of the public philosophy--human reason and Christianity. Reason is capable of discerning objective truths and the principles of natural law. The Christian legacy dignifies men by emphasizing a transcendent destiny that no state may rightly interfere with.^ Kristol locates the American public philosophy in self-discipline. This self-discipline is fostered by America's nonpolitical institutions--the family, the churches, the schools--which transmit Western and American values in a manner appropriate to a diverse society.^ Hallowell believes that the West lost its public philosophy through the gradual replacement of the rational-Christian legacy with a scientific ethos that rejects natural law and transcendent human destiny as arbitrary value judgments and emphasizes the irrational rather than the rational aspects of human nature. Hallowell particularly discerns these tendencies in social science positivism, democratic theories based on group struggle and manipulation of citizens, legal positivism, and efforts to "scientifically plan" human nature.^ Kristol finds his public philosophy challenged by a new "adversary" approach to culture and by the attitudes of a professional-bureaucratic "new class," both of which reject his theory of self-discipline. Self-discipline is also threatened by democratic theories that are excessively utopian, populistic, or mechanical, and by "libertarian" approaches to capitalism that downplay "bourgeois virtues" in favor of the unrestrained pursuit of affluence.^ Generally, public philosophers regard education as the chief means of restoring the public philosophy. Some public philosophers have also turned to journalism as a forum for their arguments. Whatever the forum, they are calling for a new social philosophy which will define democracy in terms of man's highest aspirations and may, as a result, ensure political civility. ^

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

CUERVO, ROBERT FELIX, "PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY IN A DEMOCRACY: TRANSCENDENTAL VALUES AND FREE SOCIETY IN THE POLITICAL THOUGHT OF JOHN H. HALLOWELL AND IRVING KRISTOL" (1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8014185.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8014185

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