Hydras and Incorruptible Institutions: Two Modern Myths

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Language is the basic social institution.

–John Searle, Freedom and Neurobiology (2007), p. 83.

Over at The Public Discourse,  Rachel Lu has written an interesting essay that both describes some current problems for conservatives in the U. S. and proposes a solution. So, on the merits of its utilitarianism, her writing wins the reader.

But where Lu describes the opponents of conservatism as a “militant secular culture,” I would define these opponents as a fringe minority but nonetheless part of a majority nihilist apathetic culture.

To use Lu’s metaphor, I see the proliferation of nihilistic apathy as the body of the beast, and “militant secular culture” as merely one more hydra head. For militancy eventually runs out of gas, but apathy is equivocal to entropy.

But that’s being nitpicky.

The significant portions of Lu’s piece are found in her conclusion:

We should, however, try to ground our political institutions in a substantial and realistic view of human good. Our aim should be to construct a society that bolsters the natural benefits of virtue instead of tearing them down. We should cherish our liberty, but always with a sober understanding of what liberty is for, and of the many ways in which vice and corruption can undermine the conditions that make true freedom possible. [¶] This is the true answer to America’s political and moral dilemma.

Can (and should) one aim to ground political institutions in a “substantial and realistic view of the human good” when it seems many citizens (liberal and conservative) live day-to-day life based on a social ontology that equivocates all institutions with the “human bad?” Does Acton’s dictum not apply? There may be such things as powerless, and therefore incorruptible, institutions, but do Americans daily encounter them?

No, rather, all institutions originate in the assertion of power, and therefore, all institutions are somewhat corrupt, never virgin pure. Lu’s solution is a “good” I cannot choose, as C. S. Lewis reminds us:

For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. (Mere Christianity, sec. 2)