The Political Form of Freedom


Daniel Mahoney in The American Conservative:

Much of [Pierre] Manent’s previous work centered on making sense of modernity as a self-conscious “project” for liberating humankind from the West’s dual classical and Christian heritages. This theme finds elegant expression in Metamorphoses of the City. As Manent puts it in a particularly notable passage,

the modern State … rests on the repression, in any case the frustration, of the two most powerful human affects: on the one hand the passionate interest in this world as expressed in active participation in the common thing, and on the other the passionate interest in the eternal and the infinite as expressed in the postulation of another world and participation in a community of faith.

Modernity represses or frustrates “two fundamental movements of the soul” and creates a human order that is both post-civic and post-Christian. Manent is one of the rare thinkers to appreciate that the de-Christianization of the West is part and parcel of the same process as its de-politicization. As he writes near the beginning of his book, “In Europe today, the civic operation is feeble and the religious Word almost inaudible. The two poles between which the Western arc was bent for so long have lost their force.” Manent’s work as a whole is in large part an explanation of how Europeans arrived at this remarkable depletion of civic and religious energies.

Yet paradoxically, the modern project first came to light as a political project, a great endeavor of human thought and human action. One of the tasks of Manent’s book is to locate the project of collective action that is modernity “in the history of European and Western political development.” To understand our late modern condition with its “dearth of political forms,” its utopian quest to leave politics behind altogether, one must return to the pre-modern period, when a great variety of political forms—the city, the empire, and the Church—competed for the loyalties of men.

More here.