This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The individual-state opposition

The rhetoric of the Founders fixates on a novel idea—that there exists a real opposition between ‘the state’ and ‘the individual.’ This opposition, being a theoretical abstraction, exists mostly in minds of theorists but, thanks to a small group of such theorists who Founded a nation, it has become a philosophical presupposition for most modern people.

The popularity of the individual-state dichotomy explains why the various state-level constitutions within the union, as well as the many future constitutions modeled on the American one, not only take this opposition for granted but go so far as to emphasize it as the central feature of political life. The whole of political philosophy then boils down to the question of how to balance this relationship and, more importantly, the question of how the individual can be protected from the state, since the state is, in this framework, always odious to him. This fixation leads directly to the elaboration of so many ‘rights’ granted to the individual. These rights are typically rattled off in list form and often without any connection or common justification. The citizen claims these rights against all other political entities, and perhaps invents a few additional ones—why shouldn’t he?—you can never have too many.

The primary antagonist, against which the rights were theoretically directed, was envisioned to be the encroaching state, but in the long run they are handy against anyone and anything that limits the ‘exercise’ of the ever-growing list of rights.

What is conspicuous about this emphasis on ‘the state’ in early American rhetoric is that, at the time, there was no domestic ‘state’ to oppose to the domestic ‘individual’. There was the crown, but the crown does not correspond to what the state would become in the United States Constitution, and so this legislation was in a sense developed ex nihilo and aimed to regulate an imaginary future antagonist. In Europe there was similar legislation, but any such act was a reform of an existing legal tradition and if political power was revised, it was always a long-standing organic relationship that was under revision, rather than the invention of a legal apparatus designed in anticipation of a future relationship.

Individual rights were born in the minds of European philosophers and in the shadow of decadent political institutions that were themselves centuries old, but these rights came into their own in America. European reformers had in view actual political powers that matched the ‘state’ component, but they had to imagine the ‘individual’: the American intellectuals had the ‘individual’ but they had to imagine what it would be like to have a ‘state’. These two different points of departure meant that the imagination had to play a very different role in each situation, and the result is that the blind spots and excesses are very different in the American context than elsewhere.

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