Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reposted Comment from Orthosphere--Thoughts on Concreteness

Warning: Absurdly long comment to follow.

I have only a little experience with the meme that liberals are abstract while conservatives are concrete, because my time following other blogs is limited (I did glance at your post, Proph).

I do think it is important to point out a sense in which that is true.

I do not think conservatives are defined by loyalty to abstractions. We are defined by loyalty to God; by loyalty to family; by loyalty to specific things or places.

One can, immediately, point out that we are loyal to them beneath a particular abstract code of behavior--lets call it natural law, for simplicity's sake, but you can call it divine positive law if you prefer. We are committed to following this, and thus seem committed to a particular set of abstractions.

Well, yes. Liberals, also, are committed to a particular set of abstractions--personal self-determination, whatever. Whenever you do anything, you're more or less committed to a particular set of abstractions, because abstractions are the result of looking at a particular and drawing from it a universal code of behavior.

The thing is that the conservative abstractions return one inevitably to the individual, historical, situated things we encounter. This God. This country. Your wife. Your children. Your parents. One has a history as a conservative, and this history matters; you cannot shuck it off from moment to moment to moment. History matters, and can make you obliged to do things. And history is the representation of the concrete; that is why, for the universal-interested Aristotle, it was not a science.

For a liberal, though, abstractions do not return one to anything concrete. My self-determination remains, despite whatever came before me; indeed, my self-determination is exercised against wife, children, parents, country, and ultimately God. To be liberal is to think that I should not be defined by the history in which I find myself. The liberal can say, as someone or other said, that history is bunk.

I am defined by the story and narrative in which I find myself, if I am a conservative. You cannot give an abstract reason for why I am in this story; but it still matters. I'm stuck in it. So I am a character in a story.

For a liberal, I am defined not by the story in which I find myself, because I am the author of my story. My abstract reasons only reinforce my freedom from and height above the narrative. I am the author of a story.


Perhaps no one disagrees with me when I make this point. Everyone might know what I am saying. That's great, if that is so.

But I think that there is something incredibly important about concreteness, that we should keep in mind.

There is a theological narrative wherein, before Christianity, we find adherence to a particular universal code of behavior to be the way man finds "salvation," if you will. This narrative is only partly true, but it is partly true; the important thing for Aristotle is to act in accord with a somewhat abstract, universal code, even if this code is modified by particular circumstances.

But although a Christian _will_ act in accord with a universal code (the Decalogue, natural law), you are no longer saved by so adhering to it. You are saved by adhering to Christ. What matters ultimately is the particular. This is undoubtedly true theologically. According to the theological narrative, however, Christianity revealed through Christ the value of the particular. And this--literal--revelation is still coming to be understood. (Cf. Josef Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity . . . . somewhere in the book).


Finally, and in a separate point: at least according to some Thomists, metaphysics is in fact the most concrete of all the sciences--Aquinas says it proceeds by "separatio" than "abstractio," or something like that. I'm not ready to say exactly what this means, because a lot of scholars have written on it. But I would point out that metaphysics finds, as the chief intrinsic principle of being, something absolutely unique and uncommunicable (esse) and it finds, as the extrinsic principle of being, something absolutely unique, concrete, and uncommunicable (God).

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