Friday, March 4, 2016

the supremes

Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803)
People are justly concerned at the moment about the danger of making the wrong choice to fill the presently vacant position on The Court.  An irritating aspect of this is the pretense that the constitutionalist position of the conservative block has any real justification.  Underlying that rigidity is the assumption that the creators of the Constitution made up the whole thing without relying on any historic antecedents.  That ahistorical perspective is seen among the same group in regard to the present day rejection of models of government and society which lie beyond our borders throughout the developed world.

I got to thinking about all of the above due to some recent reading.  Today, for instance, I came across a marvelous article in a sociolinguistics journal by Ingrid Piller about the "18th century educator, philosopher, theologian, translator and general polymath by the name of Herder".   Piller's main goal is to challenge some current orthodoxy in sociolinguistics about Johann Gottfried Herder, but she also provides a very nice overview of 18th Century European thought about society and governance.

Herder, for instance, has been portrayed as a proponent of monolingualism and nationalism, but Piller shows that he was neither, but rather a committed multiculturalist, an anti-imperialist, and a fervent supporter of the French Revolution at a time and place that was very inhospitable to such ideas.  Herder did not get his ideas about social justice from America, but from a long tradition of such thought in Europe.  It is possible to go back a century further and find similar gems about the nature of monarchy and oligarchy in the literature of those times such as Cervantes' Don Quijote.  The point being that while the framers of the Constitution were creative and courageous, they were also historically literate and open to learning by example.

No comments: