Community and Political Thought Today

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

cultural and institutional transformation," can foster community and spiritual fulfillment. From Zen Buddhism to New Age-ism to feminist theology, all proper religions share hostility toward neocapitalist America's economic individualism. As to those who believe in the more traditional notion that God's will is revealed in the Bible, such believers must recognize that the Bible is the collection of texts that Jews and Christians have used through history to make meaning."34

Religion is a means by which we decide what we shall value and how we shall pursue these things. It is a means by which we determine what is right and what is wrong, and so create morality. Likewise, history is a means by which we create our past. In reinterpreting our past and our understanding of God we reconstruct models of proper conduct and principles on which to build our community. Thus democratic participation itself becomes the highest good because it makes one a participant in the process of communal self-creation. A community has no past beyond the time of its creation. Thus a persistently re-created community effectively has no past at all, save that which it gives to itself. Lacking a God or transcendent order that is beyond our ability to re-create, we lack constraints on our desire to change our past and ourselves. We lack any need for objective history, and any basis on which to believe it exists.


NOTES
1
See my "Robert Bellah and the Politics of Civil Religion" in Political Science Reviewer 14 ( 1992): 148-218.
2
Of course, Bellah's claims in this area at one time reached much further. The title Habits of the Heart is a literal translation of Tocqueville term "mores," and in this work Bellah purports to present a Tocquevillian analysis of the habits of belief and action constituting contemporary America's disjointed character or way of life. Indeed, Bellah's work, a series of interviews with individuals -- including a Vietnam war deserter, an environmental activist, and a nurse who has named her "faith" after herself -- "not unrepresentative" of active Americans, is seen by its authors as "a detailed reading of, and commentary on, Tocqueville" ( Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart, updated edition [ Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996], 306). I have argued elsewhere (see note 1) that such claims are indefensible. Apparently Bellah and his co-authors agree. The readings in Individualism and Commitment in American Life ( New York: Harper and Row, 1987) contain only one selection from Tocqueville's two-volume work on Democracy in America -- three pages on individualism. And in their more recent works, including The Good Society (New York: Knopf, 1991) and the new introduction to Habits of the Heart, the claims to be Tocqueville's heirs are much more muted and narrow in scope.
3
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated by George Lawrence (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969), 506.
4
Bellah et al., Habits, 335.
5
Bellah et al., Individualism and Commitment, 6; Bellah et al., Habits, viii.
6
Bellah et al., Habits, 39.
8
See ibid., 217-218, for Bellah's use of Schwartz to argue that " 'people's political

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