Positivist Patriotism, Postmodern Patriotism

September 20, 2007 § 3 Comments

The perennial debate over the nature of patriotism carries on at WWWtW with a new post by Paul Cella. In one corner of the larger debate stands the “proposition nation” patriots, claiming that to be American in its essence is nothing but adherence to certain universal propositions. In the other stand the blood and soil patriots, seeing the essence of America in her particular history and people: blood and soil, and may that abstract propositional stuff be anathema! Various commenters stake out various positions, and the discussion is interesting and worth reading in its entiriety.

In the spirit of riding my own personal hobby horses to death I will say a few words about the subject here. I posted the following slightly edited comments in that thread, which I now reproduce combined into a single post:

In the spirit of potentially annoying everyone in the discussion, isn’t one core issue understanding propositions (doctrines) as erasing blood and soil, as opposed to being a modal aspect of them? Isn’t what is at issue really the attempt to saw abstract and universal truths off from history and incarnation, to treat them as a complete and free-standing system disconnected from its roots in reality? In other words, isn’t the real problem not propositions or adherence to universal truths per se but rather positivism?

After all, the world would be a better place in at least some senses as a universal Christendom rooted in Western Christendom. From my own standpoint it would be abstractly better if everyone on earth were formally a member of the Catholic faith. But as Americans one of our principles or traditions (it is difficult to say which really) is modesty in our encounter with the incarnate world: that is, that something may be abstractly desirable by no means licenses us to usurp its actual realization, in particular times and places among particular peoples, from Providence. It is this latter principle or tradition which I think began to wear at the edges during the Civil War and which was decisively pushed to the background in the twentieth century. And whether we call it principle or tradition by name, it is essential that it be recovered.

From a certain perspective the positivist-postmodern dichotomy represents an encounter between the abstract/universal and the particular/local/actual, where one attempts to dominate the other to its exclusion.

Clearly there are universal truths, and just as clearly there are local actual particulars: I take this as self-evidently true.

Positivism on this understanding attempts to take some set of local particulars and make an abstraction out of it: to make us omniscient in our knowledge of at least the domain in question; to in a sense reduce the domain in question to our abstract knowledge of it. For positivism the abstract/universal utterly dominates some sphere of the particular/actual: in this case, America becomes nothing but some comprehensive set of abstract propositions defining what it is to be American. Postmodernism realizes (correctly) that this isn’t just wrongheaded but literally impossible, and concludes (incorrectly, in what amounts to a temper tantrum directed at the impossibility of being an omniscient God over at least some domain) that this falsifies the possibility of universal truth. The postmodern is in this sense the particular/actual dominating the abstract/universal, flattening reality into a sea of equivalent sense experience subject only to whatever conventions we arbitrarily assign for our own purposes.

Both are wrongheaded, and indeed are in my understanding two sides of the same erroneous coin.

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§ 3 Responses to Positivist Patriotism, Postmodern Patriotism

  • brandon field says:

    <>From my own standpoint it would be abstractly better if everyone on earth were formally a member of the Catholic faith. <>At the risk of being off topic, I share this view. Actually, it was the realization I had (when I was still a Protestant) that everyone on earth <>could<> formally be a member of the Catholic Church that convinced me that She was the right place to be. The plurality-of-denominations Protestantism implicitly assumes a relativism of the form “I personally side with Marty, but if you get along better with Chuck and Johny, go right ahead” that I just couldn’t stomach.

  • Hapax Legomenon says:

    Very interesting, as usual, Zippy.

  • zippy says:

    <>The plurality-of-denominations Protestantism implicitly assumes a relativism of the form “I personally side with Marty, but if you get along better with Chuck and Johny, go right ahead” that I just couldn’t stomach.<>C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” is <>almost<> positivist in a sense, except that he saves the day by recommending that one find a particular denomination and settle down, if you will. Of course no actual community is <>existentially<> either positivist or postmodern, since positivism and postmodernism both attempt as a creedal matter to deny essential aspects of being. That doesn’t keep people from trying though.

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