SO REASON CAN RULE: Reflections on Law and Politics by Scott Buchanan

SO REASON CAN RULE: Reflections on Law and Politics

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Philosopher Scott Buchanan (1895-1968) was one of the originators of the Great Books curriculum at St. John's College, so it is no surprise to find his 13 reflective essays laced with reference to ""the Greats""--particularly to the Greek political philosophers and the Roman jurists. These sources do not merely adorn the page. In one of several essays dealing with the corporation in American life, Buchanan briefly surveys the history of the idea of a corporation as it referred to the Church and the nation-state; then, following a discussion of the withdrawal that was signified in the Roman citizen's identification with a cosmic community, he asks whether today's corporation, and the identification of individuals with it, doesn't play a similar role. This leads to the further, critical question of how the habits formed by individuals in corporations accord with the habits necessary to republican forms of citizenship. The answer--that they do not, because bureaucracy and technology are antithetical to the discourse and action of the political realm--is implied in the discussion which precedes the question. This Socratic style is similar in all the essays; the same concerns reappear; the specific proposals, founded on a rejection of the idea that politics is the art of the possible, draw in every instance on historical memory. Buchanan proposes, for instance, that we revive the idea of government charters for corporations--to subject them to public law in the execution of their public responsibilities, while granting them the rights of self-government. The idea itself rests on Buchanan's interpretation of the Constitution--as an instrument of education. Whereas private law develops willy-nilly, and grows out of wheeling-and-dealing, public law generates self-reflection on the principles of citizenship; so an extension of public law would make possible, though not ensure, the further education of citizens. (Buchanan knows that his proposal conjures up images of 20th-century Fascist corporatism; but his potential monster might be tamed, whereas privatized, unreflective social life cannot be.) More than just thoughtful essays, these are examples of a kind of informed political and legal discourse that briefly flourished under the auspices of the Fund for the Republic and the Center for the Study of Democratic institutions. As such, they are to be warmly welcomed.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux