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2 - (text) Public Order - Robert Bellah - Habits of the Heart CH10 - The National Society

2 - (text) Public Order - Robert Bellah - Habits of the Heart CH10 - The National Society

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1 O The National Society Conceptions of the Order _ far we have examined some of the ways in which middle-class people in our society understand and live out their involvements in personal and domestic life, in work, in religion, and in politics. We now need to examine the connection" between what we have learned from our interviews and observations and thelarger conception of American society more closely. -Since a conversation cut off from past and future necessarily loses its bearings, we seek to reconnect the personal stories we have "narrated with the enduring national conversation and the public voices that still continue it. In our intervievvs, it became clear that for niost of those with whom We spoke, the touchstoncs oftruth and goodness lie in individual experience and intimate relationships. Both the social situations of middleclass life and the vocabularies of everyday language predispose toward private sources ofmeaning. We also found a widespread and strong identification with the United States as a national community. Yet, though the nation was viewed as good, “government” and “politics” often had negative connotations. Americans, it would seem, are genuinely ambivalent about public life, and this ambivalence makes it difficult to address the problems confronting us as a whole.
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A difficulty so pervasive must involve fundamental aspects of how people understand themselves and their society. As we have seen, "ours is :1 society in which the language of individualism allows people to develop loyalties to others in the context of families, small communities, religious congregations, and what we have termed lifestyle enclaves. Even in these relatively narrow contexts, reciprocal loyalty and understanding are frequently precarious and hard to maintain. It is thus natural that the larger interdependencies in which people live, geographically, occupationally, and politically, are neither clearly understood nor 2.50 V 1 The Natiorxal Society 2.5 I easily encompassed by an effective sympathy. As we saw in chapter 8, the enormous complexity of our society remains to most of us elusive and almost invisible. When people do express 2 general concern for their fellow citizens as members of the national society; it is usually inspired by a hope that their more personal moral understanding can be extended to the scale ofa’ genuinely public good. The problem of articulating the public good in the contemporary United States was evident in the two preceding chapters on citizenship and religion. In this respect, religious life seems strikingly similar to political life. Many with whom we spoke prized their civic and religious activities as vital to their lives, providing ways to share the joy of love and caring that the utilitarian World of work often seemed to inhibit. Yet, as we have seen, pursuit of the joys of involvement is always a pre-' carious venture, subject derailment from frustration or “burnout” because of the fragility of voluntary expressive community.
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