Paul Seaton’s Public Philosophy and Patriotism: The Declaration and Us is a very countercultural book. It advances the provocative thesis that not only is the Declaration worthy of our study today, but its principles and way of thinking about politics can and should be used to judge us and our politics today. That’s countercultural. While conservatives still have a warm place for the document in their hearts, one rarely hears them apply it to today’s debates. Progressives tend to take two contradictory tacks toward the founding document: on one hand, it’s the negligible product of hypocritical white males, on another, it limns the “ideals” and “values” of the American project that History is charged with fulfilling. Neither of these views takes the document intellectually seriously. Jefferson, however, articulated a different view when he called the Declaration “an expression of the American mind” at the time of the Revolution. Here was a self-conscious, self-confident American mind, ready to take on the world. Taking his cue from Jefferson, Seaton takes the Declaration seriously. He takes it seriously as the expression of a mind that confidently judged despotic designs, but also grasped the principles of free government and free and reasonable politics and looked forward to a country embodying them. Seaton argues that both these dimensions of Declaration political thought are applicable today.
He does so in an interesting way. For a number of years, he penned a Fourth of July essay on “the Declaration and Us” for the Law & Liberty website. On that occasion, he provided an exposition of some theme of the Declaration and applied it to a contemporary debate or issue. Over the years, they added up to a rather full exposition of the document, as well as an ongoing commentary on American political life. With this collection, the essentials of the Declaration’s view of politics are laid bare, and significant threats to freedom-loving Americans are identified. This is the bold claim and aim of this unique book.
At the beginning and end of the collection, Seaton makes a point of dating the completion of the manuscript on April 18th. When the curious reader looks up the date, he finds that it is the date when Paul Revere undertook his famous ride. In this way, the author indicates his judgment of the dire circumstances in which we live today and the patriotic models to which he hearkens. In the form of an explication de texte, this collection is a call to arms against today’s enemies of ordered liberty.
Dr. Paul Seaton teaches philosophy at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, MD. His areas of intellectual interest and specialization include political philosophy and French philosophical thought. He has translated and written extensively on modern and contemporary French political philosophers from Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant to Rémi Brague, Chantal Delsol, and Pierre Manent. The Religion of Humanity, a translation of Pierre Manent, was recently published with St. Augustine’s Press.