Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Recently -- both online at Public Discourse and in the pages of First Things -- there has been an interesting conversation about law, liberalism, happiness, culture, etc. among Robert Miller, Patrick Deneen, David Tubbs, and others. Here is a link to Prof. Miller's latest intervention, "The Practical Eudaimonist." Here is a bit from his opening paragraphs:
[My first point] was that, although the liberal political institutions of the United States can easily and naturally be justified on the basis of a liberal political philosophy, they can also be justified as pragmatic political compromises worked out by people who disagree sharply on moral issues and have divergent interests and life goals. I called the former kind of justification for liberal institutions philosophical liberalism and the latter pragmatic liberalism.
My second point was that a Roman Catholic like me, who understands morality to be eudaimonistic in the manner of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, can and should be a pragmatic liberal, because, in the totality of current circumstances, liberal political institutions comprise the best available system of government in the sense that they afford the best chance of allowing people to lead good human lives, which is the central concern of eudaimonistic moral philosophy. . . .
I am sympathetic to Miller's claims (and think that his responses to his critics -- including my friend and neighbor Deneen -- are convincing). Of course -- and I'm sure Miller would agree -- there are dangers posed by "liberal political institutions" like ours to human flourishing. One of those dangers, in fact, is that these institutions will become less liberal and more (illiberally) statist and monistic, and this danger is a very live one, I think, today. Still, I think that Miller (like John Courtney Murray) is right to think that America's "liberal political institutions" can be regarded, and defended, by Catholics as maintaining the space and order within which the work of moral formation and integral human development can be done by families, communities, the Church, and so on.