a common place

May 2, 2008

“By dint of obscuring the difference between the historical and the philosophical study of law, it becomes possible to shift the point of view and slip over from the problem of the true justification of a thing to a justification by appeal to circumstances, to deductions from presupposed conditions which in themselves may have no higher validity, and so forth. To generalize, by this means the relative is put in the place of the absolute and the external appearance in place of the nature of the thing. When those who try to justify things on historical grounds confound an origin in external circumstances with one in the concept, they unconsciously achieve the very opposite of what they intend. Once the origination of an institution has been shown to be wholly to the purpose and necessary in the circumstances of the time, the demands of history have been fulfilled. But if this is supposed to pass for a general justification of the thing itself, it turns out to be the opposite, because, since those circumstances are no longer present, the institution so far from being justified has by their disappearance lost its meaning and its right.

–Introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford.

“Political economy was transformed into economics, the science of private gain. Darwinism introduced a principle which was interpreted as implying an eternal struggle for existence on a material plane, as lending biological sanction to the primary significance of material interests. The Church was divorced from the state and the desiderata of politics became fundamentally secular.

— Charles A. Beard, Idea of National Interest

“Modern culture in its various forms feels certain that, if men could be sufficiently objective or disinterested to recognize the injustice of excessive self-interest, they could also in time transfer the objectivity of their judgments as observers of the human scene to their judgments as actors and agents in human history. This is an absurd notion which every practical statesman or man of affairs knows how to discount because he encounters ambitions and passions in his daily experience, which refute the regnant modern theory of potentially innocent men and nations.

— Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

“Successive generations have a way of forgetting their most recent past and even repudiating it; their fathers are more passe than their grandfathers, who are apt to reappear in the academic garb of dissertations.”

–Herbert W. Schneider in the 1964 Forward to Sources of Contemporary Philosophical Realism in America published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company as part of the Library of Liberal Arts.

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