05 July 2010

America is rhetoric

Political documents from the ancient and medieval world generally seem to be articulations of a certain set of political decisions and, in a broader sense, of the political order that created the document. The Declaration of Independence is the first document to imply a political order that did not yet exist. Though many of the liberties the Declaration sought to establish were existing liberties that had been abridged by the tyranny of the British crown, these liberties were asserted in the name of citizens of a state that had not yet come into being. The essence of this state was created by the Declaration itself: a true city in speech. At its foundation American political existence was rooted in rhetoric. Instead of political symbols arising from a long process of national self-identification, people identified themselves as Americans in virtue of the symbols established by the Declaration.

What makes a society created by rhetoric great is that its essential existence is ideal. The great danger of a society created by rhetoric is that people will lose touch with language, and thereby lose touch with everything that makes them who they are. The mystery of a society created by rhetoric, which can be its salvation and its destruction, is the distance that usually seems to exist between what is ideal and what is "actual."

4 comments:

rainscape said...

I like this post (and the new look) very much. I would like to comment/question further and will later perhaps.

"The mystery of a society created by rhetoric, which can be its salvation and its destruction, is the distance that usually seems to exist between what is ideal and what is 'actual.'"

Sebastian said...

Hello Adam,

It seems clear to me that America will be destroyed if our political language is fully lost. Perhaps this is a commonplace. But since America is an ideal—a city on a hill, a city in speech—there is the possibility for a deep recovery of the meaning of our political language and fundamental self-understanding in the event that the apparent difference between "actual" things and ideas breaks down. This sort of shared mystical experience (I think perhaps World War II was such a time), like the journey to the chapel in The Waste Land, can reverse the decay of a political society, at least for a time.

But as you can no doubt imagine, if this momentary apocalypse does not occur, or if it does occur and no one is receptive to it, then the society will collapse all the faster. Everything hinges on kairos, if it comes.

Clipstock said...

Personally, I liked the old look more. I was just reading The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams and some of the things you mention in response to Adam's comment, in particular the breakdown between actual things and ideas, resounded with the theme of the book. Good stuff, Charles Williams.

-Clipstock

Sebastian said...

I also preferred the old look, but I think this one is more seasonal. The image (like the previous) is drawn from Jung's remarkable Red Book.