Excerpt from “Standing to Declare” in The Soul of a Nation

The Soul of a Nation: available for order by the end of November!

Here is a brief excerpt from The Soul of a Nation: America as a tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood, taken from a section dealing with Stanley Cavell on Ralph Waldo Emerson on the notion of “wording the world” and the public nature of language. There are echoes and resonances of J.L. Austin in here (unsurprising for anyone who reads Cavell), and the whole thing is pointing toward something even more radical than a (mere) indictment of John Locke and his “theory” of property.


Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, “Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776”

 – Ferris is appreciated these days for his attention to particular detail, though he is unconerned with conveying “accurate” portrayals of the events of history, which form part of his Pageant of a Nation series. I suspect he may have understood better than his critics (aesthetic or historical) what Eric Voegelin calls “paradigmatic history”, a notion he develops especially in Order and History, vol. I: Israel and revelation –

Could it be that Locke wasn’t nearly as important to the Founders’ project as subsequent generations – including a set of people with a particular set of political and intellectual commitments in the present day – have been wont to make him?

“[T]o word the world is another way of turning an experience into thought; to word the world is precisely to make its meaning public (add to this that there is an open question in philosophy whether the world is a fact, that is, whether the world is made). Wording the world is precisely what God does when He creates it. God gives humanity the power of logos so that mankind might have, under Him, lordship over creation. The logos becomes flesh and  dwells among us, and gives us words to say that do things: hoc est enim corpus meum. In that story, words open doors between the worlds. The structure of the world in which we live may change when the right person says the right things in the right circumstances; for example, political bonds among distinct peoples may be dissolved by declaring their dissolution. The last chapter considered the circumstances of the American case. The question has now become: who is to say the words?”

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