Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alasdair MacIntyre and the RNC

The 2008 RNC is being held here in my hometown of St Paul, MN, and as the event gets closer, our local paper is filling up with daily news items about various protests that have been planned. I think of Alasdair MacIntyre whenever I see these stories:

"It is easy also to understand why protest becomes a distinctive moral feature of the modern age and why indignation is a predominant modern emotion. 'To protest' and its Latin predecessors and French cognates are originally as often or more often positive as negative; to protest was once to bear witness to something and only as a consequence of that allegiance to bear witness against something else."

"But protest is now almost entirely that negative phenomenon which characteristically occurs as a reaction to the alleged invasion of someone’s rights in the name of someone else’s utility. The self-assertive shrillness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure that protestors can never win an argument; the indignant self-righteousness arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure equally that the protestor can never lose an argument either. Hence the utterance of protest is characteristically addressed to those who already share the protestors’ premises. The effects of incommensurability ensure that the protestors rarely have anyone else to talk to but themselves. This is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective and that its dominant modes of expression give evidence of a certain perhaps unconscious awareness of this."

MacIntyre, After Virtue

Ironically enough, all these planned protests require a permit from the city, a nice bureaucratic-managerial touch which MacIntyre would likely appreciate for its absurd irony.


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