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Debating Democracy's DiscontentEssays on American Politics, Law, and Public Philosophy$
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Anita L. Allen and Milton C. Regan

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198294962

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198294964.001.0001

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Can This Republic Be Saved?

Can This Republic Be Saved?

(p.193) 15 Can This Republic Be Saved?
Debating Democracy's Discontent

Jean Bethke Elshtain

Christopher Beem

Oxford University Press

For most Americans, intense sectarian commitments embodied in congregations were central and helped to fuel the penchant for political liberty. The replacement of citizenship with a state-sanctioned, consumerist-driven, perpetual childhood also explains our willingness, even eagerness, to orient our politics according to the dictates of pity–that is, the uncritical embrace of the victim. What we are seeing in this child-mindedness, this domestication of political imagery, is the reversal of the old standard in loco parentis: in the arenas of mental health, sexuality, values, we are all at sea, it seems, until others have clarified matters for us. As the epistemological status of civic claims has declined, it has become ever more difficult to counter the ethos of the “neutral” state; unless we can say that we understand that the good we seek reflects a truth, and that the grounds for that belief are universally accessible to all persons of good will, then there are no grounds for avoiding the counter-charge of coercion. Even the most ardent defenders of the procedural republic accept that democratic government requires a modicum of what is usually labeled civic virtue, but can one celebrate the idea of freedom as self-government without claiming that self-government and its exercise is good for its own sake?

Keywords:   child-mindedness, congregations, consumerist, domestication, epistemological, in loco parentis, pity, sectarian, truth, victim

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