Charles Taylor Thursday #4: Define your terms! (Plus, voting.)

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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9 Responses

  1. J.L. Wall says:

    I’m not sure how relevant these paragraphs from R.R. Reno’s “Culture Matters More Than Politics” over at First Things actually are to Taylor’s phrase, but I came across them right after reading this:

    “This is why the most potent force in political life is the human imagination, not control over the levers of state power. Utopian fantasies and exaggerated dreams of national greatness agitated millions in the twentieth century, providing legitimacy to communist and fascist regimes.
    “At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay.” (

    I don’t have much more of a comment on it (yet) — but thought it was maybe worth noting.Report

    • @J.L. Wall, over the summer I read James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, which takes the same general perspective as Reno in that quote. I never wrote much about the Hunter book, so I’ll see if I can tie it in some time. But basically Hunter argues that the religious right’s goals of changing culture through electoral politics are unachievable.

      Culture matters more than politics, but elections are just so amenable to quantitative analysis…Report

  2. sam says:

    “Which indicates that I’m struggling to theorize something pre-theoretical.”
    Perhaps Wittgenstein’s discussions with himself in On Certainty are germane here. Because we have an untrammeled ability to form sentences that have the form of a proposition, that is, have the form of something that can be true or false, we suppose that everything we can say about ourselves and our place in the world is either true or false (and thus the Cartesian program is set in motion). But in this we are mislead by the surface structure of our language. There are certain things that we can say about ourselves and our place in the world that are beyond truth and falsity, for it is these, I’ll call them, “primordial beliefs” that are the foundation of all the beliefs we have that inform the lives we lead as human beings. To doubt them at all is to remove ourselves from the sphere of the human: “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.” [OC, para. 233]

    Our social imaginary is based on these (shared) primordial beliefs, and these beliefs are neither rational nor irrational, for all that is rational or irrational is based upon them. They range from “The world exists apart from me” to , I’d argue for Americans, “I am a citizen in a democracy.” So, in enacting the democratic ritual of voting, I am acting in accordance with that primordial belief that undergirds and structures my beliefs about myself and my place in this society. The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of my vote is irrelevant in this wise. It is the action that counts.Report

  3. Jane says:

    What’s the difference between Taylor’s social imaginaries and the institutions of the New Institutionalists?Report