Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Character: Grit

Off to jury duty this morning, reminded again that much of the staying power of majoritarian democracy comes from the hollow pretense that when we do things (like jury duty) collectively, we are doing them with a common will, like one multi-part organism acting in unison — when in truth most of us are simply participating under duress.

The pretense that it’s instead a Rousseauian acting-in-concert enraptures thinkers like Jeff Madrick, the big-government-defender about whom I wrote yesterday — and, sure enough, in the recent “Grit” issue of the fine ethics journal In Character, he contributes an essay arguing that Americans have best shown grit and mettle when raising taxes, passing regulations, etc., building the nation’s schools and so on, as if taking money from your neighbor by threatening him with arrest is ever an act of courage.

In making collective, involuntary action sound like the essence of heroism, Madrick is rather like the New York Times‘ self-appointed “ethicist,” Randy Cohen, for whom personal morality always somehow boils down to things like union membership instead of good individual behavior.  Not surprisingly, I’ve heard he’s unpleasant in person.

My boss’s daughter, Christine Whelan, has a more individualism-extolling piece in the same issue of In Character as Madrick, though, so I wouldn’t want you to think it’s a total loss.

1 comment:

Gerard said...

That doesn’t surprise me.

Cohen’s conception of ethics seems to be restricted to planks in the current Democratic Party platform.

The Politics of Ethics