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Preserver and Rebel


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The headline of this blog entry is "Preserver and Rebel."
I deliberately don’t say “conservative” or “liberal” or “right” or “left.” Preserver and rebel have fairly obvious (and obviously relative) meanings, such that for example President Ford was a preserver within the Republican Party of themed 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was a rebel. Nothing very complicated or controversial so far I hope.

The preserver often has a case.  And when he does it is always the same case. Whatever he wants to preserve, he is willing in order to do so to lock out some interests and disdain some passions.   The reasons always come down to this: those interests and passions are (a) inconsistent with the existing social equilibrium, and (b) we can not now see our way clear to a better one. But each passion has its champion, and the collective pressure of them helps make way (whether they as individuals wanted this or not is irrelevant) to a broader, more tolerant, equilibrium later.
Here I have to quote William James's Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life. "Since victory and defeat there must be, the victory to be philosophically prayed for is that of the more inclusive side -- of the side which even in the hour of triumph will to some degree do justice to the ideals in which the vanquished party's interests lay."

Later, and adopting I would say a somewhat more Olympian tone, James writes, "The pure philosopher can only follow the windings of the spectacle, confident that the line of least resistance will always be towards the richer and the more inclusive arrangement, and that by one tack after another some approach to the kingdom of heaven is incessantly made."

Well, yes, but the living can’t afford to be “pure philosophers.” We can’t and don’t regard our own lives as a spectacle to be followed.
  So although in some respects I preserve my own Jamesianism, I must rebel against it, too.

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