[first published April 14, 2016]
by David Pence
Professor Daniel Mahoney, who has written penetrating studies of Charles de Gaulle (De Gaulle: Statesmanship, Grandeur, and Modern Democracy) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent From Ideology), has been a major force in bringing Pierre Manent's thought to the English-speaking world. Dr. Mahoney has grounded his work in history, not by the epochal narrative sweeps of Dawson but by renditions of political biography. He is that rare academic who is steeped in political philosophy, but tests himself by writing history. He teaches at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Theo-political thought of Pierre Manent by Daniel Mahoney.
Here are excerpts:
The 'sacred nation' and a Christian society coexisted with a lay or neutral state. These political and spiritual elements were never wholly separate, as one saw in the l’union sacrée that brought Catholic and secular Frenchmen together in defense of the nation during World War I. The wounds of the Dreyfus Affair were partly healed in this great rassemblement of the French people. The French state also never reduced itself to the single desideratum of protecting (ever-expanding) individual rights. Under Charles de Gaulle, the state embodied the dignity of France, even its "grandeur." As a statesman, de Gaulle strove to overcome divisions—partisan, religious, and ideological, Left and Right—and defended the independence of the state. The Cultural Revolution embodied by May 1968 challenged the vision of the "man of June 18th, 1940." Authority, in every aspect of state and society, came under assault, and society began to undo its bonds. The rights of man were increasingly understood in contra-distinction to the rights of the citizen. Individualism went hand in hand with a theoretical and practical antinomianism. Public institutions found themselves redefined as "docile instruments" at the service of a conception of rights that made no serious moral or civic demands.
The political form of the nation was crucial to this unprecedented collaboration between the pride of the acting citizen and the humility of the Christian. In Beyond Radical Secularism, Manent suggests that the intimate union, not separation, of religion and politics is the key to the European adventure. Of course, Christianity is no mere instrument of the political order: it is ultimately independent of every human order. This intimate union can readily coexist with the institutional separation of Church and state, and it makes possible the mixing of Roman virtues, such as courage and prudence, "with a faith in a God who is a friend to every person."
Beyond Radical Secularism contains beautiful reflections on the Jewish Covenant (l’Alliance in French). Manent pleads with contemporary Jews not to take their bearings from the ultimate crime—the Shoah or Holocaust—but rather to remain confident in the promises of God. It was the Jews who first brought divine friendship to nations, and we in the West must bow before this idea of the Covenant, which is not exactly rational but is not simply irrational, either. To restore the credibility of the Covenant, one must recover a sense of the dignity of the human association, the nation, "that bore the Covenant until the European arc was broken." Now that Jews have reassembled in a great, self-governing nation, Europeans can repudiate the nation only by "fatally wounding the legitimacy of Israel." That would be an affront to an admirable national effort of self-government and to whatever trust is left in the friendship of God.
Manent thus proposes a "social contract" with French Muslims that accepts them as they are, along with their moral practices, with two notable and crucial exceptions. He argues that the burqa is inadmissible because "it prevents the exchange of signs by which a human being recognizes another human being." [See our previous praise of Manent’s work on the nation as Covenant with our objection to his Burqa/Ummah restraints]. Europeans have never covered their faces. This "lugubrious servitude" is incompatible with a free society. France has the "right and duty to impose the most absolute prohibition on this manner of dress." The second prohibition is that of polygamy. The family, with one husband and one wife, is the building block of civil society and an indispensable pillar of a free society.
Manent recognizes that the increase in open acceptance of Muslim ways (e.g., dietary restrictions in schools, separation of boys and girls in certain social activities) comes with certain risks. Those risks can be compensated for by active efforts to preserve or reinforce the "ancient constitution" of France. To begin with, Muslims must accept that they live in a nation of a Christian mark with a strong and enduring Jewish presence. They must break with the umma, a universal Islamic empire, and proclaim their loyalty to France. They must wean themselves of reliance on foreign funding and repudiate extremism of every kind. Most of all, they must stop hiding behind accusations of Islamophobia.
|De Gaulle with Konrad Adenauer in Bonn, 1958|
In Mahoney's work on Charles de Gaulle he shows the French statesman defined the common European civilization in a very different manner than Western Civilization college courses. Individual liberty sprang from the Gospel's recognition of the sacred value and dignity of every ensouled being. The real source "is not classical antiquity and its discovery of philosophy and politics but the Gospel's recognition of the spiritual dignity and equality of all men before God." De Gaulle grounds civilization in Christianity, medieval institutions, nations with sacral identities and men with souls. Mahoney contrasts de Gaulle's vision of a Europe of organic nations with the transnational project that created a huge bureaucratic state populated by individuals with no sense of national duties and exaggerated claims of individual rights. He cites Charles de Gaulle:
"I do not believe that Europe can have any living reality if it does not include France and her Frenchmen, Germany and its Germans, Italy and its Italians and so forth. Dante, Goethe, Chateaubriand belong to all of Europe to the very extent that they were eminently Italian, German, and French. They would not have served Europe well if they had been stateless or if they had written in some kind of integrated Esperanto or Volapuk."
From Mahoney's book on Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
He (Solzhenitsyn) dissects Andrei Sakharov's 'Saint Simonian' vision of world government and scientific management of the international economy guided by spiritually sensitive experts and administrators. Solzhenitsyn is among those who "set the highest value on the existence of the nation, who see in it not the ephemeral fruit of social formations but a complex vivid unrepeatable organism not invented by man." Solzhenitsyn speaks of "the profoundest similarity between the individual and the nation," a similarity that "lies in the mystical nature of their givenness." Nations. like individuals, "can change beyond recognition in the course of their lives... Because of the mutability of all existence, a nation can no more live without sin than an individual."