The Constitution and the American Way of Life – Patrick Deneen, Political Science
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The Constitution and the American Way of Life – Patrick Deneen, Political Science

October 27, 2019

When we think about a Constitution we
ought to think more comprehensively. When Aristotle writes of the Athenian
Constitution he includes discussions of theater, he discusses battles that are
fought, in other words, that a constitution is more comprehensive and,
simply, the way that we order our government institutions. My interest is
in exploring the way that the American Constitution, in some ways, establishes a
way of life that is identifiably distinct from the way that peoples in
other nations tend to live their lives. Why is it that in America there’s been
in particular an attraction to living in a set of suburban arrangements rather
than congregating in cities in the way that one sees, for example, in Europe. This tendency to want to find spaces where we can withdraw and have a kind of sense of
our own autonomy is a very American tendency. Also, in the 1950s, there was a
radical change away from the front porch and the building style adopted was that
of the back patio. What the signal was more than merely a change in style but a
change in how we viewed ourselves and our relationships to each other. Now this
is a decision that was made that one might regard as private but which has
rather extensive public implications. One of the great ironies, it seems to me, of the American experience is that the very achievement of our Liberty here perhaps
represented in the flight to the suburbs and the capacity of every
person to have their own yard is also reflects a tendency toward a kind of
individualism. One that poses a threat to democracy’s vitality, to the capacity of
democracy to find the Civic resources by which it can flourish. So it’s in these
sorts of areas how we live our lives, how we educate our children, where and how we build, where we find the practical effects of a set of ideas that if we’re
only looking at the things that we tend to think of as political
we’ll tend to overlook the ways that those have been shaped by philosophical
assumptions. One of the things that I encourage among my graduate students is that in addition to a deep understanding of political ideas that they develop
ways of thinking about how those ideas connect to political practice. The ways
in which these philosophical ideas have consequences for our practical lives as
citizens together. Political philosophy is an essential field of study if you
want to understand our condition as human beings who attempt to live well
and to flourish together.

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