Influencing politics through culture

THE ACADEMY OF PHILOSOPHY AND LETTERS was founded in recognition that the direction of society is set by its most deeply held beliefs and aspirations. These are molded by culture in the broad sense, as represented by universities, the arts, churches, publishing, museums, and entertainment. Acting on the minds, imaginations, and moral-spiritual sensibilities of a society’s members, the culture shapes their general perception of reality and their likes and dislikes—for good or ill. Politics does not operate independently of the culture but reflects it. Though politics can also shape culture, being able to exert educational and other cultural influence is ultimately more important than winning elections. Major and long-range change presupposes a transformation of the culture. Read More

The Academy of Philosophy & Letters

 2017 Annual Conference

June 2-4, 2017 at Villanova University.

“Man as Political Animal: Person, Family, Polis … Empire?”

Modern democratic societies hold themselves up as the singular type of regime that allows human beings to fulfill their political natures.  One representative of this type of thinking is Francis Fukuyama, who argued that with the end of the Cold War “democratic capitalism” would reign triumphant precisely because it fulfilled the human demand for “recognition.”  However, Alexis de Tocqueville observed nearly two centuries ago that the democratic impulse for equality of itself leads to the dissolution of those mediating institutions of civil society necessary to a genuine political community.  This, in turn, leaves individuals’ isolated, weak, and at last compelled by fear to entrust their lives to an ever more expansive and ever more centralized state.Despite its promise to be the truly political society, modern democracy poses threats to each of the dimensions of political life Aristotle first identified in his Politics: to the individual’s dignity as a political animal; to the family and free association; and even to the integrity of political society as such.  In the spirit of Tocqueville, the 2017 APL Annual Meeting will revisit the nature of man as a political animal.

1. Human Nature and Political Life
This panel will revisit Aristotle’s account of personhood as essentially social or political in order to consider its implications for contemporary society.

2. The Family: Cultural Threats to the Cornerstone of Society
The nature and role of marriage and the family has been challenged for a long time.  And yet, it has never been more fiercely called into question than in our own time, and the scope of the attacks upon it as a genuine institution have become more various, from the decline of “familist” customs and habits to the rise of national and international organizations that seek to reshape and reduce the centrality of family life to political life.

3. The Polis and Civil Society
Among the virtues of American democratic society, Tocqueville wrote, was local administration and free association.  The role of citizens in self-government and the role of mediating institutions in building up a civil society apart from the state he deemed central to democratic flourishing.  Such a broad and various scope to public life and the role of self-government have been in steep and continual decline since his writing, however.

4. Appetites of Empire
Critiques of American foreign policy and the liberal and post-liberal world order are often “outwardly” directed, referring to the consequences for the world of a reckless and globe-trotting imperial footprint.  But from the families who lose their sons in war and the rise of the surveillance state to the “secession” of political and economic elites from the common life of their countrymen and the consequent rise of new populist movements, it is clear that our national life has also been transformed by our entanglements abroad.



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Annual APL Conference Took Place May 27-29, 2016

The Annual Meeting of the APL took place in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend of 2016.  This year we examined the theme for dealing with cultural crisis identified as “The Benedict Option,” a controversial proposal that has been written about extensively by our Friday evening keynote speaker, Rod Dreher, who blogs for The American Conservative.  In his dinner lecture, Rod highlighted his justification for a policy of withdrawal from mainstream American culture and an attempt to refocus efforts on rebuilding local communities, a strategy largely inspired by the suggestion of Alasdair MacIntyre in the conclusion to his seminal work, After Virtue.  Throughout the course of the weekend, various aspects of the proposal were challenged and defended on both theoretical and practical grounds.  Alternatives and modifications were also considered on a series of panels that raised the prospect of competing “Options” for dealing with the problem of moral and cultural decline.  Members approached the subject with a wide range of reactions and opinions, and a new guest of the APL has provided his own commentary on the Friday keynote lecture here. See conference pictures here.
June 9, 2016