Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still More on Bloom

Entry 5: March 17, 2010
In the Chapter or section on “Relationships”, Bloom says the following about Hobbes and Locke: “Hobbes and Locke supposed that, although the political order would be constituted out of individuals, the subpolitical units would remain largely unaffected. Indeed, they counted on the family, as an intermediate between the individual and the state, partially to replace what was being lost in passionate attachment to the polity. The immediate and reliable love of one’s own property, wife and children can more effectively counterpoise purely individual selfishness than does the distant and abstract love country.” [p. 112]

This is, I believe, just unpersuasive and inaccurate. It is unpersuasive because it is almost inconceivable to me that thoughtful people who were looking to revamp the political order in fundamental and basic ways would think that what Bloom calls “the subpolitical units would remain largely unaffected.” How could this be? How human beings are politically is one crucial determinate of how they are “personally.” We the People are not the same people that we would be if we lived in a confederation rather than in a nation. For example, Robert E. Lee turned down the command of the Union forces because he was, first and foremost, a Virginian. This might seem quaint to us but it did not to Lee. The political arrangement as it existed then affected Lee’s very personality. I remain unconvinced that Hobbes and Locke were so superficial as to think that a fundamental realignment of the political would not affect “the subpolitical.” I mean, even Bloom calls it “the subpolitical.”

It is also inaccurate as one can see from reading Locke on marriage. For Locke, marriage is nothing more and nothing less than a “contract.” It is, for example, no longer viewed as a covenant. Hence, Locke posits that once a married couple has raised their children and liberated them after making them fit for the world, they can go their separate ways! So much for “love and marriage” or for the idea of marriage as a sacrament or covenant. Of course, Locke might have known already that once human beings embrace what we like to call “capitalism” today that marriage as traditionally understood would be an impediment to a full embrace of the “free market.” And if he did, then Locke did not see a contractual view of marriage as something which would undermine a civil society. Unlike present day “conservatives,” Locke did not romanticize the family or “family values.”

A few pages later, Bloom traces the divorce rate to just such changes in these subpolitical units and then adds: “None of this results from the sixties, or from the appeal to masculine vanity begun by advertisers in the fifties, for from any other superficial, pop-culture events. More than two hundred years ago Rousseau saw with alarm the seeds of the breakdown of the family in liberal society, and he dedicated much of his genius to trying to correct it.” [p. 115-16]

This is an enlightening passage for more than one reason. First, it is one of the few times that Bloom admits that the phenomena he is dealing with have roots that go much deeper than such contemporary phenomena as feminism, Marxism, black power, rock n’ roll, or any other such phenomena. Second, insofar as these phenomena are deeply rooted in the past then it is necessary to get beyond the snipping that all too easy when aimed at these more contemporary phenomena. But Bloom looks back to Rousseau which implies that the crucial changes lie in the distant past, e.g., in the thought of Hobbes and Locke and other distant political philosophers. But what if the crucial changes, at least for the United States, are not so distant, not so deeply buried, as it were? What if the crucial changes could be traced, say, to the ratification of the Constitution in 1787-1788? Ah, now there is a thought worth considering, perhaps. What if the Anti-Federalists were correct, that the ratification of the Constitution would undermine the basis of a genuine republicanism here in the United States and, therewith, undermine the moral fiber of the nation? Anyway, it seems worth thinking about, especially these days when there is so much dissatisfaction with our political system, enough that some states are trying to reclaim their sovereignty.

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