What if the “Little Platoons” Are AWOL?

 

What if we were to have created all the ingredients, pre-requisites, and conditions for a strong, vibrant social order but nobody wanted one? What if people all realized they had to freedom to do and build great things but said no thanks. Conservatives tend to focus on formal, structural assaults on the Constitution, but maybe we don’t spend enough time wondering whether we are still a people who can and want to make use of its protections and how to be such a people.

Roger Scruton in How to be a Conservative (2004), makes a number of points that will be familiar to Ricochetti but expressed so brilliantly they often seem almost new. In Chapters 10 and 11, for example, he explains why to be a conservative is to want to preserve free association and the conversations (“conversations” used in an artful way incorporating Aristotelian concepts) that promote virtue and value. Law and governance are supposed to be about protecting the freedom to act and flourish in fully human ways and not about imposing preferred outcomes or mandated displays of select virtues.

But what if our “conversations” simply suck? What if we do not flourish in that way and instead buy into the lazy idea that virtues, innovation, compassion can be artificially generated by adopting an ideological assault on intellect or a government program (or an AI)? What if Burke’s “little platoons” simply dissolve by choice or indifference?

Some people have opined that the American political and legal order has some intrinsic, structural reliance on the Christian religion and will perish without it. I think it is perhaps more accurate to say that our system depends heavily on the prevalence of the kinds of virtues fostered by Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices. Whether a comparable source of moral inspiration and personal formation can also be effected in a purely secular form is an open question.

What can be done to stem moral rot and the enfeeblement of the social order once it has begun to set in? (Has it begun or I am viewing things through an unduly dark lens?)

Some years back, I read a brilliant defense of the family as an institution by a fellow I have known for a long time.  Replete with statistics and citations,  it was a wonderful piece of work.  My obnoxious response was that it requires some specific virtues to read, understand, and be cognitively changed by such quality written works.  If the lack of formation, the triumph of brain-dead ideology, habitual Orwellian verbal obfuscation, indifference to truth, and sheer mandated sheer stupidity are regnant, how would such a work of discursive reason help?  In other words, how would people without the personal formation that the paper seeks to foster (and the sort of people they would vote for) ever be affected by the truths it provides?   Doesn’t the battle for family values also have to be fought on a plane other than the ethereal levels of reason, rhetoric, and science?

Can the “little platoons” still be a source of common sense, basic values, historical perspective, and human connections if they become just echo chambers of social media garbage or merely the locus of our cable TV boxes?

The Great Society erred by inadvertently damaging family structures and thus breaking up needed little platoons but did not intend for that to happen.  The modern left wants a more complete destruction and on purpose.  And much in our entertainment, our media-mediated discourse, and even our consumer culture aid that project of dissolution.

Or, again, I am just unduly pessimistic at the moment?  Probably so.  Maybe I should go hug some grandkids.

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  1. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Old Bathos: But what if our “conversations” simply suck?

    I couldn’t disagree more, sir. :)

    If we’re talking about converting youngsters, I think the goal has to be to peel them away one at a time. Once “kids” are one on one with adults, their misguided over-confidence falls and they can be reached. Perhaps the hard part is identifying which ones to target and then how to lure them in by not bringing up politics. If they trust you, they’ll gladly defer to your judgement.

    Old Bathos: Maybe I should go hug some grandkids.

    Yes.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I like Burke but wasn’t familiar with his “little platoons.” I found this on the American Conservative website and found it helpful (assuming it is accurate):

    ‘To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.’

    That’s the full quote from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. As popularly understood, it refers to the links between our local communities (or platoons) and the larger state or culture. Though “little platoons” never appears therein, Robert Nisbet’s 1953 classic The Quest for Community helped popularize this line of thinking among conservatives. More recently, Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic uses the quote as a guiding principle.

    • #2
  3. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Old Bathos: The Great Society erred by inadvertently damaging family structures and thus breaking up needed little platoons but did not intend for that to happen.  The modern left wants a more complete destruction and on purpose.  And much in our entertainment, our media-mediated discourse, and even our consumer culture aid that project of dissolution.   

    Your pessimism may be justified. The last 15 months provided a glorious opportunity for the modern left to carry out its war on the little platoons of family and even more so small local formal and informal social associations. “You have nothing to contribute to your local society, so stay home.” “A visit with your grandmother will kill your grandmother.” “If you try to serve your neighbor your neighbor will die.” “If you get together with your neighbors to address a neighborhood concern the entire town will die” And a disturbingly large portion of the population went along with it. I am hoping that people are beginning to see how much we lost in our communities over that time, and will work hard to restore as much as we can where we can. 

    Last Sunday for the first time since March 2020 we used the previously standard practice of members of the congregation walking to the front of the sanctuary to receive communion. We had since in person worship resumed in September been using sealed cup and wafer packages that were distributed upon entering the sanctuary, and taken while seated by yourself. On Sunday I heard many, many comments after worship about the value of participating in communion as a community – the act of walking to the front of the sanctuary, and of seeing others of the community walking to the front of the sanctuary, and of being handed the individual communion elements by a community leader (one of the lay leaders of the church). 

    Vibrant little platoons of families and local communities are the bulwark against government control. The modern left has been able to inflict enormous damage on those little platoons. But, I don’t think the war is yet lost. 

    • #3
  4. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled.  They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.  

    • #4
  5. Kelly B Member
    Kelly B
    @KellyB

    Old Bathos: Can the “little platoons” still be a source of common sense, basic values, historical perspective, and human connections if they become just echo chambers of social media garbage or merely the locus of our cable TV boxes?

    I’m starting to think that the bit in bold above is, if not the root cause, one of the major ones. Actually, I’ve been thinking that for years (and yet, we still have TVs in our house and keep watching them). Why interact with the family if a sitcom or sporting event or talent show is more entertaining? It’s much less effort. And never mind leaving home to interact with members of the community (especially after a year of huddling indoors becoming a habit). I’m quite pessimistic – and yet my husband and I are currently in search of a small town to move to, in hopes of having more interaction with neighbors than we do in our sprawling, air-conditioned, sidewalk-free Houston suburb. 

    I have a lot of admiration of families that turn off the electronics in order to have things like family game night. It takes a lot of will power to make that happen repeatedly.

    • #5
  6. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Old Bathos: the conversations (“conversations” used in an artful way incorporating Aristotelian concepts) that promote virtue and value

    One problem is that we seem to be losing the ability to have civil conversations about politics, religion, or anything else important without devolving into a screaming match that ends in hurt feelings and damaged relationships.

    • #6
  7. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    I have been reminded more and more lately of the quote by John Adams:

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

     

    • #7
  8. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Great piece.

    I worry about this a lot, too. I’d like to invest more in civil society, but it often seems like civil society itself, to the degree it exists nowadays, is corrupted and a part of the problem. So why support it?

    There’s still hope for some churches, but churches can only do so much. The rest of the “little platoons” are brimming with nonsense. This is because the left is simply better at building institutions than the right is. All the right can do is beg for donations.

    Conquest’s law is as much a law as the law of gravity. In an ideal world, most institutions would be apolitical and nonpartisan. But in this world, as we all know, every institution not explicitly right-wing will, in time, become left-wing — and has. The only way to avoid this is to create explicitly right-wing institutions. But politicize what ought to be non-political, and you end up destroying it. There is no winning, it seems.

    • #8
  9. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled. They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.

    Those are primarily single women and children raised without dads and college educated ideologues who think they will be the ruling class. Strong families would significantly decrease the former. 

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled. They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.

    Those are primarily single women and children raised without dads and college educated ideologues who think they will be the ruling class. Strong families would significantly decrease the former.

    My wife and I have eight children. We have lots of extended family. Lots of grandkids already. May the little platoon become a battalion in a couple of generations! 

    • #10
  11. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled. They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.

    Those are primarily single women and children raised without dads and college educated ideologues who think they will be the ruling class. Strong families would significantly decrease the former.

    My wife and I have eight children. We have lots of extended family. Lots of grandkids already. May the little platoon become a battalion in a couple of generations!

    But you don’t have the one kid that you wish hadn’t existed? I know that sounds mean but with eight there’s gotta be one that’s kind of a ne’er do well? I am kind of iffy whether or not I should have been born.

    • #11
  12. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    “Personnel is policy”

    • #12
  13. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The only kinds of “platoons”…and they are really divisions, or larger…that the Left recognizes favorably are:

    –racial/ethnic groups
    –sexual-practices groups
    –departments of the federal government
    –labor unions

    All others…families, churches, charitable organizations…are look on with suspicion.

     

     

     

     

    • #13
  14. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    My new thing that I haven’t been proved wrong on yet, is everybody needs to get on board with the Judge Learned Hand “Spirit of Liberty” speech.

    I also think much of the GOPe isn’t very thoughtful about what anybody is  saying, here.

    • #14
  15. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled. They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.

    Those are primarily single women and children raised without dads and college educated ideologues who think they will be the ruling class. Strong families would significantly decrease the former.

    My wife and I have eight children. We have lots of extended family. Lots of grandkids already. May the little platoon become a battalion in a couple of generations!

    But you don’t have the one kid that you wish hadn’t existed? I know that sounds mean but with eight there’s gotta be one that’s kind of a ne’er do well? I am kind of iffy whether or not I should have been born.

    Dark. Kinda down on yourself there, big guy.  Somebody needs a hug!

    • #15
  16. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    Old Bathos: What can be done to stem moral rot and the enfeeblement of the social order once it has begun to set in? (Has it begun or I am viewing things through an unduly dark lens?)

    Anyone who might have seen my recent post “A Stranger in a Strange Land” will already know, probably in much-too-painful detail, how I feel about the moral rot to which you refer and I want to make the following statement but preceded with this qualification–there is no way to describe the revulsion I feel at the condescension of the elitists now in charge of our government and the last thing in the world I would want to do is sound like any one of them but I still must say the following. If you have been out in public anytime lately, to the grocery store, a restaurant, anywhere where the people (“We the people….”) congregate, you must, sadly, come away with the lingering suspicion that there is really a lot of rot in our society these days. I recall a long-ago talk by Earl Nightingale-yes, I am that old–in which he related walking down the street and noticing that most of the people he saw were walking along with faces almost devoid of expression or any kind of spirit and with what seemed to be dead eyes. Is it just me, or are others having this same experience when out in public? And I say that with full appreciation that we live in the Florida Panhandle (relocated 3 years ago-Hallelujah!) which is a place full of natural beauty, lovely beaches, gorgeous turquoise water, great places to go and restaurants second to none (sorry, New Orleans..) and a state with the absolute best governor in the Union who opened the state back on September 25. But I still see much evidence of an apparent lack of interest, lack of curiosity, seeming attitudes of “nothing I can do about it anyway so who cares?”. How I do hate to say these words as I have said and written the quote by John Adams by @willowspring so many times over the past few years and also the one by Mr. Jefferson to the effect that “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  I say all of the above as a card-carrying “deplorable” who is as disgusted with the Harris-Jarrett-Rice “administration”, if not more so, than anyone, but as one trained in the discernment of and proper use of evidence, I cannot help but see that evidence all around me. 

    Old Bathos: lazy

    That one word jumped out at me as very likely the key to the entire problem of what we are calling “rot.” Not to excuse the attitude, but based on our experience, it may well be that people are quite simply “worn out” by the unspeakable events of the last year. 

    Thanks for a great post. Jim. 

     

    • #16
  17. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    I think about half of the population wants to be ruled. They are uncomfortable with freedom, choice, and consequences.

    Those are primarily single women and children raised without dads and college educated ideologues who think they will be the ruling class. Strong families would significantly decrease the former.

    My wife and I have eight children. We have lots of extended family. Lots of grandkids already. May the little platoon become a battalion in a couple of generations!

    But you don’t have the one kid that you wish hadn’t existed? I know that sounds mean but with eight there’s gotta be one that’s kind of a ne’er do well? I am kind of iffy whether or not I should have been born.

    Dark. Kinda down on yourself there, big guy. Somebody needs a hug!

    Please don’t touch me. I’m sure you have great hygiene but touching people isn’t my thing.

    • #17
  18. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Was it Burke or Toqueville who mentioned the Little Platoons?

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Was it Burke or Toqueville who mentioned the Little Platoons?

    See my comment #2.

    • #19
  20. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    This is an excellent question posed in an excellent post. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but haven’t reached any solid conclusion. And I’ll spare you my tendency to blather on about such things in your comments. But I read Tim Carney’s Alienated America which looks at this extensively in the wake of the 2016 elections. He gets close to a good conclusion, but like many in DC and NYC, misses a big cultural and socioeconomic shift in middle America, that I think was more or less pushed by an ever powerful government-elitist mutual understanding. Ugh. There I go rambling again. Thanks again for a thoughtful post!!

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos: What if the “Little Platoons” Are AWOL?

    If so, that means the progressive movement has done its work well.  

    • #21