is unfortunate, not the patriotism itself, but the
tendency for the celebration to oversimplify and overlook the many other events
that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this
celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated
and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we
cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the
Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find
the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers
particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was
defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and
momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional
government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we
hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite “The Constitution,”
they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely
began to construct two centuries ago.
We must be careful, when focusing on
the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not
overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense
of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the
bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the
shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives.
If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution's inherent
defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration
of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and
What one means by “the universal” will
vary, and the cultural articulation of the term in its various modalities will
work against precisely the trans-cultural status of the claim. This is not to say that there ought to be no
reference to the universal or that it has become, for us, an impossibility. On
the contrary. All this means is that there are cultural conditions for articulation
which are not always the same, and the term gains its meaning for us precisely
through the decidedly less-than-universal cultural conditions of its
articulation. This is a paradox that any injunction to adopt a universal
attitude will encounter.
It may be that in one culture a set of
rights are considered to be universally endowed, and that in another those very
rights mark the limit to universalizability, i.e., “if we grant those people
those rights we will be undercutting the foundations of the universal as we
know it.” This has become especially clear to me in the field of lesbian and
gay human rights where “the universal” is a contested term, and where various
cultures and various mainstream human rights groups voice doubt over whether
lesbian and gay humans ought properly to be included in “the human” and whether
their putative rights fit within the existing conventions governing the scope
of rights considered universal.
It may be that the universal is only partially
articulated, and that we do not yet know what form it will take. In this sense,
the contingent and cultural character of the existing conventions governing the
scope of universality does not deny the usefulness or importance of the term
“universal.” It simply means that the claim of universality has not yet
received a full or final articulation and that it remains to be seen how and
whether it will be articulated further.
In literary studies in particular, the
last several decades have witnessed the baleful reign of “Theory,” a mash-up of
Derridean deconstruction, Foucauldian social theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis
and other assorted abstrusiosities, the overall tendency of which has been to
cut the field off from society at large and from the main currents of academic
thought, not to mention the common reader and common sense.
I thought gay people were good and deserved marriage licenses!
JD: That's probably because of your
treacherous liberal education. It's brainwashed you into thinking that there is
no right and wrong, that everyone deserves equal rights, and that the fossil
record accurately represents the geological and biological history of the
earth. If our society continues to slide down this slippery slope of moral
relativism, it will mean the end of Western Civilization.
FB: Oh no! Not Western Civilization!
That's where all my friends live!