Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview

digm, so that one conceives of valid knowledge as that which somehow exists independently of any human interpretation (as a written or printed word on a page appears to do) and dismisses knowledge dependent on interpretation as mere subjective "opinion." It is hardly accidental that the initial sharp distinction between true, objective knowledge and mere opinion was first made by the highly literate classes of ancient Greece and that the even more extreme dichotomy between facts and values became the prevalent mindset during a period of universal literacy and heavy reliance on visual means of communication. The discovery that all knowledge is formed by interpretation has, as we have already discussed, resulted in the relativism of late modernity. If we want to escape the objectivist/relativist dichotomy, and the nature/convention dualism that derives from it, this analysis implies, certainly not a return to a nonliterate state, which would be absurd, but rather an attempt to redress somewhat the imbalance between vision and hearing in our everyday experiential orientation. A greater reliance on sound, and specifically human speech, could decrease our tendency to understand knowledge, including moral knowledge, in the rigidly dualistic manner characteristic of modern visual culture.14

If this is the case, and a reorientation toward sound might help us escape the dualisms of modernity, then the narrative-based communities discussed by MacIntyre and Hauerwas, which would entail greater use of oral communication, could be one way to achieve such a reorientation. At the same time, such communities could avoid the hierarchies of the past by recognizing the capacity of every person to formulate narratives that can contribute to debate about the common good. Such a conception could preserve and even enhance the modern commitment to equality while abandoning modernity's narrow and ultimately destructive conception of acceptable knowledge as well as the utopianism that the modern notion of individual autonomy generates. Stated another way, it could recapture the more flexible, practice-oriented model of moral reasoning and education employed by premodernity without reviving the rigid hierarchies of the past. Communitarians could present themselves, not as nostalgically yearning for a vaguely-defined communal solidarity destroyed by modern individualism, but as working toward a new kind of democratic community, based on a new model of knowledge, in turn derived from a different sensory orientation, to replace the exhausted visually-based objectivist (now relativist) individualism of modernity. Such an approach would clearly establish communitarianism as looking toward the postmodern future -- without, however, the illusions of modern progressivism.


NOTES
1
See, for example, Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction ( Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1949) and Karl Löwith, Meaning in History ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949). For an alternative interpretation, see Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953).
2
See Francis Fukuyama strangely prophetic "The End of History?" The NationalInterest

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