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McClay Editor ,. Ted V.
Wilfred M. McClay
McAllister Editor. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life. Do we, in losing our places, lose the crucial basis for healthy and resilient individual identity, and for the cultivation of public virtues? And if these dangers are real and present ones, are there ways that intelligent public policy can begin to address them constructively, by means of reasonable and democratic innovations that are likely to attract wide public support?
Why Place Matters takes these concerns seriously, and its contributors seek to discover how, given the American people as they are, and American economic and social life as it now exists—and not as those things can be imagined to be in some utopian scheme—we can find means of fostering a richer and more sustaining way of life.
The book is an anthology of essays exploring the contemporary problems of place and placelessness in American society. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages.
Published February 25th by Encounter Books first published February More Details Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Why Place Matters , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Disconnected from public obligations, having come to think of individualism as a virtue, the democrat sees only his own small world of family and close associates and then the abstractions of nation or humanity; the rich world of political and civil associations in between are invisible to him.
For Tocqueville, the logical end of democracy left to its savage instincts is an administrative regime that oversees infantilized individuals. In his chapter on democratic poetry, Tocqueville emphasizes that equality reorients human consciousness by destroying the middle ground between the individual and the broadest abstractions, leaving the person with something very small to contemplate — the self — and something too vast to comprehend — humankind.
He tends to understand the latter in relation to what he knows about the former, but in order for this to work he must assume an abstract idea of the human; thus, being a human whose nature is universally applicable to the species, he can look inside to his own nature to understand the whole of which he is a part. Thus the unmoderated democrat — the one who lacks the democratic dispositions that Elshtain so cherishes — makes a virtue out of indifference. Democracy, at this point, is about administration rather than self-rule, about individualism rather than self-reliance. This unmoderated democrat will recognize few obligations to people or institutions.
Meanwhile, this democrat will love humanity and will traffic in self-evident abstractions; this both establishes his command of universal truths and therefore his standing as a citizen and provides him with the vocabulary by which to engage in political speech that requires no particular, concrete political knowledge. The point is that democratic instincts destroy the middle ground between the individual and humanity, and the democratic dispositions about which Elshtain writes are the primary means by which individuals enter into public life. If voluntary associations, mediating institutions, and robust local politics help form citizens who are capable of civic virtues — who can at a minimum operate with self-interest rightly understood — then we must pay attention to how Americans form the habits of self-rule, of gregariousness, and most importantly, of serious conversation and compromise.
Most discussion of this problem focuses on the decline of civil society, the decline in voluntary associations, the retreat of certain forms of religious engagement, and the relative decline of local and state politics at the expense of the administrative state. But there is a very complex relationship between the institutional arrangements that allow or even foster these democratic dispositions and the deeper social and cultural forces that give us the desire to participate meaningfully in our self-governance. To design our political world so as to encourage the growth and development of both localist politics and mediating institutions requires that people want such arrangements and that they prefer the messy adventure of self-rule to the comfortable slavery of the administrative state.
At least in the past, Americans have wanted these arrangements and have accepted self-rule as something noble.
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As a result, we have cultivated the democratic virtues that people like Jean Elshtain and Christopher Lasch have cheered even as they worried that democratic virtues are, in our day, waning. What exempted Americans, for a time at least, from the logic of modern democracy, and what has changed to make citizens less enthralled with the ideals of self-rule? Nor did American freedom spring from the freedom of an individual in a state of nature.
The most important freedom to appear in the American wilderness was political freedom — the power and latitude of citizens to govern themselves without any real interference from outside and more distant authorities. This political freedom, resting on the authority of a historically expansive franchise, allowed each township to define its own laws. American devotion to freedom emerged from social and political life, not from solitary individuals seeking protection of what is theirs by nature.
Because democracy serves as a solvent to relationships that bind individuals together through mutual forms of obligation, it tends to reduce society to a loose association of individuals whose connections are products of affection, desire, and mutually agreed-upon contract. The origins of American freedom are essential to explaining how democratic instincts were altered by circumstance.
In the Summer of , NANR asked reformers to submit their responses for review and presentation to potential funders. NANR received 65 impressive submissions.
Click to view top submissions. Pete Peterson Leadership, California Forward. Pete Peterson Leadership, California Forward Pete Peterson, dean of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy SPP , is a leading national speaker and writer on issues related to civic participation and the use of technology to make government more responsive and transparent. Peterson was the Republican candidate for California Secretary of State in John Opdycke President, Open Primaries. Kent J.