Philosophy's Profound Impact
In the early 1970s, Thomas "Timmie" Adamson was Cedartown, Georgia's, only Republican. My father, James Young, was a Sam Nunn type Democrat.
Timmie and my father would hold court every day around 2 p.m. at the Cherokee Country Club and debate political issues, to the delight of golfers and other friends who would drift in and out of the clubroom during the afternoon. They were political opposites, and had ferocious arguments on the subjects of the day. Yet, when the debate was over they were still best friends. Today this respect between opposites is rarely, almost never, seen.
Political philosophy has a profound impact on everyday life. It is the unseen hand that influences our lives without our even knowing it. John Locke's notion that man's natural tendency to form moral contracts with his fellows, instead of following a king, is the basis of modern democracy.
My hero is the German Max Weber (1864-1920), who believed that the world is best served by the characteristics of Protestantism, in particular the idea that hard work and wealth increase the chances of one reaching his or her calling. He described this calling as one which would build a social contract to use economic freedom to help others. Weber believed that America was the best place to find this spirit, now known as the Progressive Movement of the earlier part of the 20th century.
After the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, Weber's theory propelled the thoughts of American academic Francis Fukuyama whose book, The End of History, proclaimed the triumph of liberal capitalism and a universally just society. This is an optimistic theory whose ideas have propelled the Neocon Movement, used by President Bush to spread democracy into the Muslim world.
However, philosophers of the last half of the 20th century strayed from such noble ideals - in fact leading the world and its peoples into negative despair and concern.
The End of History was ridiculed by the academic establishment. Unfortunately, the ideological void left by the end of the Cold War has been filled by radical religious fanaticism and a profound attack on American and Western European political values.
Recent negative thinkers of this century come from France and include:
- Philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-84), who said no truth can be defined unless it is used to cement power. He built on Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas that knowledge and power are used to make people conform to social norms dictated by the state, (i.e., the West). He noted that America is the worst example of this oppression.
- Jean Baudrillard (1929-) believes that old structures of class have vanished into a void of the masses. His famous concept of "Hyperreality" refers to the unreal nature of present culture in an age of Internet and mass communication and mass consumption. He believes America is so engulfed in imagery of mass media that the lines between reality and fiction are blurred.
- Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-) believes that Europe and America have in the past controlled the world by the use of linguistics, the study of language. Multiple media sources, including the Internet and satellite television, have changed this; and once oppressed people such as women and cultural or ethnic groups have a found wider and stronger means of expression. Media innovations, Lyotard believes, have contributed to the development of a new social and political order that undermine all the universal hopes that once gripped the Western world. The term "political correctness" stems from his teaching.
- Jacques Derrida (1930-2005) invented the concept of Deconstruction, used today in colleges to prove that white Europeans and Americans are associated with the language of control. American values are associated with reason, progress, freedom and justice. Yet he attempted to prove we are far removed from those values.
My father and Timmie Adamson would turn over in their graves at such nonsense. Yet these four French philosophers will be noted in history books as the most influential thinkers of the second half of the 20th century.
With so many people from all over the world attacking America's social and political systems, we must have new leaders and philosophers to help us unite our country internally, instead of further dividing left and right political persuasions. If we fail in this effort, our world of freedom could be gone in the next 100 years.
Neely Young is editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend . Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.