Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On Modern Western Democracy - Roger Scruton & Mark Vernon

Providing meaning for its citizens is the thing Western democracy fails to do, because it is premised on forging a company of strangers, not brothers. Roger Scruton argues that it is our faint-heartedness in the face of questions of meaning that is the great contemporary failing: we laugh them off as if they are the questions of children.

The limitation of Western democracy, then, comes in 'only' managing to form a company of strangers, and that would be to do with its associated individualism. This finds it difficult to recognise that my own good is intimately caught up with the lives of others: we are prepared to live with others insofar as it's good for me; the test is how far we are prepared to live with others because it's good for others.

That, in turn, brings us back to the issue of meaning, for other-orientation - and the sacrificing of some self-sufficiency and autonomy it implies - is what makes for meaning: it takes the individual out of themselves and so situates their life in something that is bigger than themself.

That other-orientation is also what the terrorist so hideously perverts, since whilst their violent actions take them out of themselves, and so yield meaning, they necessitate the killing of others in the process. In truth, then, terrorism is not other-regarding but self-obsessed - a kind of extreme individualism, in fact, and in that sense thoroughly modern.

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