Thursday, June 10, 2010

Economy of Tradition

From Daniel Kroeker, in the comments:
The economy may be fixed, but until there is something behind the decisions that fix it which touches every citizen with a new self-actualizing power and liberty, we will remain a people unworthy of our tradition...What it's really going to take is some generation or other having the humility and prescience to say, "We must give our children something we have lacked--an education which may save our democracy."

What it takes to be worthy of our tradition is to give our children something the tradition did not supply us with. A generation receives the tradition worthily only if it augments the tradition in passing it on. The virtue of the strong anti-traditional current in the American tradition is this requirement that its inheritors not rest with what they have received.

What has to be added to the American tradition? First of all, Daniel says, "humility and prescience." Then, by the light of these virtues, we must discover "an education which may save our democracy." I don't know whether it would be prescient to study the ancient Greeks: does our future lie in their past? But at least it would require some humility to learn from them while we cherish our own tradition, which has come so far since the fifth and fourth centuries BC.

Plato's Republic may teach us the lesson we need to learn, provided we are not reading it to "meet the demands of [our own] souls" (see rimwell's cautionary remark). I'm learning that the issue in the Republic is what good we can do the next generation (an aspect of the text you don't see when you're reading it in college as part of "GeneratioNext" yourself). The question of the nature of justice arises directly from a consideration of whether diligent stewardship of money supplies this good. Cephalus believes he has done right by his sons by leaving them a little more than he inherited, but if money does not facilitate justice, as Cephalus says it does, one may wonder whether he has augmented the right inheritance. Yet, perhaps Cephalus can redeem his stewardship by passing on an argument: if Polemarchus inherits the question of justice, this may be due not to some kind of intellectual cowardice in his father, but rather (as rainscape has argued in a paper on this subject) a humble, prescient relinquishment of his spiritual possession.