The Dangers of National ‘Purpose’
We have a lot of crises in this country, but maybe the foundational one is the Telos Crisis, a crisis of purpose. Many people don’t know what this country is here for, and what we are here for.
I am skeptical that America has ever had a single purpose or reason for being, and I don’t know how everyone (or even most people) in any country as large or diverse as ours could have the same purpose. It is difficult to read Brooks’ complaint about the lack of a national telos without recalling his decades-long obsession with so-called “national greatness” and America’s mission in the world, his enthusiasm for big national projects, and his related horror at the prospect of being “just another nation” in the world. Our country doesn’t have to be here “for” something, and the lack of national “purpose” is not a crisis to be averted or ended.
I am quite sure that we don’t want the kind of politics that seeks to pursue a particular end through the government, which Michael Oakeshott derided as telocracy and contrasted with nomocracy:
[F]or the believer in nomocracy, how a government acts is a more important consideration than what it does; while for the believer in telocracy it does not matter how a government acts so long as what it does promotes the chosen ‘end’ in view.
Insisting on having a grand national purpose is what leads to destructive and abusive policies carried out in the name of realizing that end. It is not something that people in a free country need to have, nor is it something that we should want.