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Fr. 754

January 23, 2017

Upon completing a survey of Jeffrey Stout’s account of political discourse and justification, consensus- and legitimacy-building, one may come away wondering whether the tactics revealed therein may be carried out equally on all levels of political discourse. Can the time-consuming  appeal to intensely individual storytelling and reason-giving, as the individual standpoint seems to suggest, shape the legislative or executive discourse in the same way as it does face-to-face encounters, discussion in associations or broad-based organizing? Indeed, Stout’s examination of the latter in Blessed are the Organized could lead one to believe that such practices taper out as one ascends the levels of political discourse from the individual and nonpublic to the governmental. Certainly, the discourse which builds up to a grassroots organization’s taking a stance on a given matter is arrived at via such tactics, and in just such a way are consensus thereon and legitimacy thereof secured. Yet one may harbor doubts that legislators could likewise engage in the earnest personal narration and exchange of individual perspectives, despite the relatively limited number of participants, whether that be from such exchange coming across as unseemly on their part or merely impracticable in view of legislative terms. If Stout were contend that recourse to such tactics is not required at all levels or in all instances, in that such tactics come up for application, as an additional means or resource, when faced with difficult discourse situations, one could reasonable question to what point the individual standpoint remains a corollary of political justification. After all, in just such situations, it would seem neither sufficient nor necessary. Relegating it to implicit necessity or a precondition would similarly amount to positing the individual standpoint as a transcendental prerequisite of precisely the formal-pragmatic kind which Stout denounces in Habermas’ work. Does the individual standpoint then include a self-limiting scope? This question does not seem unrelated to the worry which clouds the end of Blessed are the Organized: is broad-based organizing viable at a state, national or international level? In the end, their fates seem intertwined for better or worse.

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