We can see the Enlightenment assumptions underlying the American Right and Left in two events from last month: Glen Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally and debate over the 9/11 Mosque.
Here is Harvey Mansfield on the ‘Restore Honor’ Rally:
“Glenn Beck is a kind of libertarian, and he has made a fair amount of money. But he rejects the private life that libertarians seem to recommend. He goes public with his distrust of everything public and thus requires libertarians to march behind patriotism, religion, and honor—all things not in your immediate self-interest.”
Usually, Libertarians want to reject loyalties to country or God and replace it with enlightened self-interest. Their belief is these traditional loyalties are merely irrational prejudices and so they can’t provide the basis for public policy. Yet appealing to your self-interest isn’t going to inspire the public in a rally. And its not going to unite the citizenry together either. In the end, calculation and contract are not enough to form a community.
Lets see how similar thinking underlies the Left’s view of the 9/11 Mosque. Liberals criticize Conservatives for manifesting “what the ancient political philosophers called “the love of one’s own.”
Liberals believe this preference creates a distinction between insiders and outsiders. For example, the current controversy is making Muslims feel like outsiders. And since no one should be made to feel like an outsider, Liberals reject the “love of one’s own” as unjust.
Carson Holloway explains how this view began in the Enlightenment:
“Liberals act in these ways in part because contemporary liberalism is abstract and rationalistic in its philosophic roots. Liberals are still in important respects children of the Enlightenment and still hold dear its universalistic assumptions and aspirations. The Enlightenment hoped to usher in an empire of the “rights of man,” to establish society on the basis of what is owed to human beings as human beings, and accordingly rejected older, more partial loyalties—to clan, country, or faith—as merely arbitrary.”
The commonality between the Libertarians and Liberals then is they strip human beings of all ties which make life meaningful (faith, family, and friends). Both reject patriotism; Libertarians replace it with collective selfishness while Liberals emphasize cosmopolitanism e.g. they’re citizens of world (which is to say they’re citizens of no place in particular).
Is the “love of one’s own” aka inherently unjust? Holloway thinks not:
“From another perspective, however, one might contend that such loyalty is perfectly rational—in the sense that, while every man would admit that his father has no particular claims on the human race, every man would equally claim that a father does have a very powerful claim on the help and affection of his own son.”
Instead of rallying around the flag, these Enlightenment extremes would either say every man for himself or we shouldn't play favorites when it comes to attending rallies.