Things have declined greatly from a highpoint under the Duke of Zhou

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    What does invoking Confucius get us here that we wouldn’t get by invoking, say, Chesterton?

    That’s an interesting way to couch the question: considering Confucius, does Chesterton sofa by comparison?Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    I guess I evoked Confucius here because my method is sort of the reverse of how it seems- I’m reading through texts and seeing what they bring to mind and then commenting on that. I’ve read a lot of books, but frankly my memory is crappy and I can’t think of a topic and remember who said the most interesting thing on it, or really what most of them said about anything, which more erudite people can do. It’s pretty sad- for my reading field, I got through all the important texts of the Enlightenment, and can remember about a sentence description of each.

    From what I remember from Intro to Chinese History, I’d imagine Confucius is exaggerating the past quite a bit. And I recognize the problems with that, especially as someone who studies the past in depth. However, I’ve started to wonder if there isn’t something useful to conjuring up imaginative golden ages- in the past or future- as a means to imagine a better world. I’ve heard quite a few people rail against “utopianism” for all of its inherent dangers; and yet, I’m starting to wonder if being strictly against Utopian thinking doesn’t keep us locked in thinking this is the best of all possible worlds.

    Similarly, I see clearly the dangers of idealizing the past, especially when so many aspects of life have simply improved. However, I’ve been fascinated as of late with people who are creatively anachronistic. For instance, these lifestyle rockabilly fans. It seems to me that their point is that we can eschew everything bad about the past (since it is, after all, in the past), while still having the nice dresses, good music, cool 50s design, and music sounding a hell of a lot better on vinyl.

    This was a rambling way of saying I think it probably does require a certain amount of myth-making; but maybe we can productively make myths, while still recognizing that they are myths and what their limits are?Report

  3. Avatar Bob Cheeks
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    says:

    You might find Voegelin’s essay, “Configurations of History” (CW, Vol. 12, Univ. of Missouri Press) enlightening. Voegelin considers the “Ecumenic Age,” Jasper’s “Axial Age” and Toynbee’s critique of Jasper in his Vol. 12 of his magnus opus. Here the work doesn’t seek the idea of rise or decline rather it rests on other constructions of history such as “spiritual outbursts” during the Ecumenic Age which parallels the “axist time of history,” St. Augustine’s explorations of the tension toward God found in Heb. 11:1 (“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the proof of things unseen”), the follow up effort to project the kingdom of God into the future, the apocalyptic escape, the sundry Gnostic movements, and finally the Christian solution: the acceptance “of apocalyptic imagery of something that happens in the future.”
    The current decline, and remember “declines’ and progress at least in pneumatic terms occur simultaneously, is grounded in the Enlightenment, where the “I” hypostatized the transcendent.Report

  4. Avatar Boonton
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    says:

    The problem here is that there seems to be a false dichotomy. There’s us here and over there ‘the state’. But we are the state. Consider the following:

    a. Sunbathing nude on your front lawn.
    b. Having sex with your wife or gf or both on your front lawn!
    c. In your car parked on your street.
    d. Running a junk yard, repair shop on your front lawn.
    e. Renting your basement out as a dormitory style living quarters for 15-20 day laborers of dubious immigration status.
    f. Opening an adult bookstore or strip club in the middle of a town’s most respectable business district.

    In all these cases you are quite likely to have ‘the state’ knocking at your door. The state, though, is not some alien occupying power. It’s likely knocking on your door because you’ve offended your neighbors tastes. Yet in the US its possible to engage in all of those types of activities. How is this? Because in some areas its within the accepted ‘tastes’….at least it doesn’t offend tastes as much as to provoke a state reaction.

    The question then is by what systems or measures should issues of taste become so strong that a tipping point is reached that state action is justified. Before you say a simple, high bar, keep in mind zoning laws are very low yet widely supported. Yet most people don’t figure they are a serious infringement. Yes you can’t open a junk yard on your front lawn but you knew that when you brought your house and you felt it was a good deal because you knew your neighbors were likewise prohibited thereby protecting your home value.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Boonton
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      says:

      @Boonton, I think maybe we, as citizens, have choices outside of averting our eyes and politely ignoring the offensive behavior, or calling the police. You’re right though. In a lot of places, the neighborhood committees, for example, are much worse than the police ever could be. And there are certainly aspects of my own life that I have to keep secret from the neighbours for fear of being ostracized on the block. So my general tendency is to err on the side of letting others be, even if they are humping on the lawn.

      However, my question is more whether, by not going over and saying, “Hey I’m fine with watching you have sex, but you might want to take it inside before someone complains”, am I not just leaving it to someone else to call the cops? I partly wonder about this because we had a young couple across the street who had the cops show up regularly about their domestic scuffles. Was I doing the wrong thing in not going over and talking with them?Report

      • Avatar Boonton in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        @Rufus F.,

        I think you should consider the role society has in socialization here. While its easy to compare rhetorically the threat of being “ostracized on the block” with the tyranny of a tyrannical state, there’s an important difference. You *want* to be like the block. It’s like when you join a club. You are quiet as you observe how its members behave. You observe how its popular members act and you try to emulate them. You are doing this because you’ve decided the club supports virtues you consider worthy hence you model their behavior. (An even more explicit example may be a gym. You will follow the exercise routines of the people who have bodies that you would like to have).

        The tyranny comes in when you are forced to conform to some ideal you do not share. This is why “neighborhood committees”, zoning laws, or condo associations often restrict freedom in ways we could barely imagine ‘the state’ doing yet we happily tolerate it, for the most part. For the most part we consider this all good socialization for helping us and others become the people we want to become.

        Tyranny then seems to consist of being forced to become the type of people we don’t want to become. It’s interesting that first person accounts of tyrannical states (North Korea, Nazi Germany, the USSR etc.) seem to focus not so much on the individual seeking to be an individual but the individual being pushed to become something he finds detestable. For example, neighbors being pressured to ‘inform’ on their neighbors, children being pressured to ‘inform’ on their parents all seems very wrong because this subverts the idea of what most of us want to be.

        In contrast, being told we can’t have car parts in our front yard or being told we *must* keep our house freshly painted may sometimes feel annoying, may feel unreasonably ‘goody goody’ given the context of where we live but isn’t quite tyranny.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Boonton
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          says:

          @Boonton, Oh I didn’t want to give the impression that I see neighborhood norms as comparable to tyranny. I do agree that communities have standards and that one of the really terrible things about tyrannies are the ways they subvert and replace those standards. And I do consider the fact that you can check out those rules and bylaws before you move in and choose accordingly.

          As for the unofficial norms, they can be trickier. Certainly, we’re okay with our neighbours, and moved to this area partly because people here are very social. What has made us uncomfortable is how gossipy some of them are, as well as some of the questions they ask us that are none of their business, while implying that they already know a lot that we haven’t told them. The other day, I mentioned to a neighbour that I’ve been eating too many microwave meals lately and she replied, “Yeah, that’s what the lady across the street was saying you’re doing.” (!)

          And then I suppose there are norms that are across most of the society. Outside of certain, very liberal cities, we’d have to keep aspects of our life secret wherever we go. I definitely see the advantage of being able to move though. And I think that’s why so many people flock to the cities when they reach a certain age.Report

          • Avatar Boonton in reply to Rufus F.
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            says:

            @Rufus F.,

            Where I’m going though is that sometimes those ‘community norms’ can jump the shark from simple ‘peer pressure’ to legitimate law. For example, zoning laws. Part of this is the rules of the game that we all ‘agreed too’ when we joined certain communities but part of this also transcends that.

            The recent debate over Civil Rights laws illustrate this. If this was only about the norms that existed as ‘community law’ when we ‘joined’ then segregationists had a legitimate claim. When they purchased their businesses they were buying into a segregated community that was historically segregated and had its norms supported by law. The ‘rules of the game’ were indeed being changed on them.

            But norms had changed and they weren’t bound by the previous norms no matter how deeply enshrined they were in law and tradition.

            Outside of certain, very liberal cities, we’d have to keep aspects of our life secret wherever we go.

            Unless you’re, say, a smoker in which case you’re going to have to travel to those gossipy small towns to buy cigarettes at price that is not halfway insane and even so you won’t even be able to smoke them in the back of the bus!!!Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Boonton
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              says:

              @Boonton, cigarettes have been outlawed in cities?????Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Boonton
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              says:

              @Boonton, It’s interesting about social norms jumping into the realm of law. I’ve wondered before if that’s what happened with homosexuality. Some of the recent histories have suggested that the law created the category of homosexual through prosecution for various vice laws, but it’s hard to believe that, prior to those laws, communities embraced homosexual behavior; or that as those laws have been done away with, every community now accepts homosexuals living among them.Report

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