I’m now reading Daniel J. Mahoney’s short book on the political thought of the late Sir Roger Scruton (whom Mark and I had the honor of hosting for the second leg of the Tradition Project–see below for his talk) and Pierre Manent. Dan argues that these philosophers share a common project to “recover the meaning of politics, civilization, and the soul” from the depredations of various “late modern dogmas.” He is aware of their differences but he focuses in these essays on their many affinities, including their similar views of secularism and the modern state (in my office, I have a signed copy of Scruton’s The Soul of the World, where he takes on some of these matters with great sensitivity and depth). Dan’s book is Recovering Politics, Civilization, and the Soul: Essays on Pierre Manent and Roger Scruton (St. Augustine Press).
The Western inheritance is under sustained theoretical and practical assault. Legitimate self-criticism has given way to nihilistic self-loathing and cultural, moral, and political repudiation is the order of the day. Yet, as Daniel J. Mahoney shows in this learned, eloquent, and provocative set of essays, two contemporary philosophic thinkers, Roger Scruton and Pierre Manent, have––separately and together––traced a path for the renewal of politics and practical reason, our civilized inheritance, the natural moral law, and the soul as the enduring site of self-conscious reflection, moral and civic agency, and mutual accountability.
Both Scruton and Manent have repudiated the fashionable nihilism associated with the “thought of 1968” and the “Parisian nonsense machine,” and have shown that gratitude is the proper response of the human person to the “givenness of things.” Both defend the self-governing nation against reckless nationalism and the even more reckless temptation of supranational governance and post-political democracy, what Manent suggestively calls a “kratos” without a “demos.” Both defend the secular state while taking aim at a radical secularism that rejects “the Christian mark” that is at the heart of our inheritance and that sustains the rich and necessary interpenetration of truth and liberty. Scruton’s more “cultural” perspective is indebted to Burke and Kant; Manent’s more political perspective draws on Aristotle, St. Thomas, Tocqueville, and Raymond Aron, among others. By highlighting their affinities, and reflecting on their instructive differences, Mahoney shows how, together, the English man of letters Scruton, and the French political philosopher Manent, guide us to the recovery of a horizon of thought and action animated by practical reason and the wellsprings of the human soul. They show us the humanizing path forward, but first we must make the necessary spiritual decision to repudiate repudiation once and for all.