Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, July 18th, 2012
Earlier this week, I spoke to a group of young professionals, most of whom are conservative. And one of the conversations I had was with a person who was asking me about the link between culture and politics, arguing – as others I know have – that culture is “upstream,” and therefore in many respects more important, than politics.
This question reminded me of a passage from the late Alexander Bickel’s book The Morality of Consent, which deals in part with the competing traditions of Locke-Rousseau and Edmund Burke in Western thought and in American constitutionalism and political process:
The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. Nor is it bearable. To acknowledge no values at all is to deny a difference between ourselves and other particles that tumble in space. The irreducible value, though not the exclusive one, is the idea of law. Law is more than just another opinion; not because it embodies all right values, or because the values it does embody tend from time to time to reflect those of a majority or plurality, but because it is the value of values. Law is the principal institution through which a society can assert its values.