Friday, January 01, 2010

Muddling Through . . .

The genius of the American system of government is that it was fashioned by men who were cognizant of the fallen condition and who devised a polity that was institutionally wary of both concentrations of power and inordinate political enthusiasms. The system survives by virtue of its prudential exercise of governance, its suspicion of government intrusion into the lives of its citizens, and its aversion for political messianism and grand utopian chimeras.

As exhilarating as messianic and utopian visions might be, they both miss the real value of muddling through. In the retrospective aftermath of the inevitable collapse of these exhilarating projects, muddling through looks pretty appealing.

In my view, muddling as a political attitude can only remain an appealing position when it is accompanied by a culturally fostered sense of an eschatological horizon -- in Christian terms, a sense that the Kingdom for which the heart ultimately longs is not of this world.

Humans are religious creatures, and without the kind of eschatological vision that Christianity presupposes, we tend to invest politics with religious aspirations that are entirely inappropriate to it. Thus arise political messianisms and utopian fantasies that inevitably end in catastrophe.

So here's a political resolution for the New Year: let's return to the realism of the founding fathers and the attenuated Augustinian anthropology on which it was based and be content with muddling through.

As Robert Frost put it in his poem "Mowing":
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows. . .


Gagdad Bob said...

Or as the Pope said, the loss of transcendence leads to the flight to utopia.

ignatius said...

Great thoughts. Thank you, Gil.

Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, I am surprised you haven't mention the Pope's New Year address today. Maybe something about that tomorrow?