On Alasdair MacIntyre

On Facebook, I posted a bit of my musings on the "secular confession," and a FB 'friend" wondered if my Morality of Everyday Life, which he had ordered, was much like Alasdair MacIntyre.  I posted the following answer..

MacIntyre did a useful service to intellectual history in emphasizing the significance of particular traditions within which people make moral judgment. When it came out, I reviewed "Whose Justice" for National Review, when there was still an actual magazine that went by that name.

He was a very thoughtful man, and, when I had lunch with him, he took so long to answer questions, I thought perhaps I was boring him or his mind was drifting, but, quite the contrary, he was deeply engaged in formulating a precise answer. His academic caution, I believe, prevented him from going much beyond a critical analysis of the Liberal tradition that flowed into both socialism and libertarianism. When I asked him if he planned to develop a more positive line of argument, he referred me to a lecture he had given, "Is Patriotism a Virtue?"

Now, I had read the lecture or essay and rejoiced that he was turning more sharply in what I saw as the right direction, but a question--however daring--is not really a challenge to centuries of the Liberal/Leftist tradition. MacIntyre was an ex-communist recovering Liberal academic with scruples. I was and am an extremist for moderation, a fugitive from the academy, a classical philologist brought up in a tradition that encourages both intellectual clarity and a certain detachment from the way things happen to be since the lamentable events of 476. As a devotee of every lost cause from the fall of Constantinople to the defeat of the Southern Confederacy, I have never come close to acquiring Professor MacIntyre's caution. Anyone hoping for an academic exercise in intellectual history--though that is how the publisher preferred to bill the book--will be sorely disappointed.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. Frank DeRienzo says:

    I recommend you “unfriend” the person who made that inquiry. Even though he has not yet read _The Morality of Everyday Life_ he has followed your articles since the days of “Chronicles of Culture” and should have perceived the differences you sited without need for inquiry. What you describe about MacIntyre’s work is well illustrated in chapter 15 of _After Virtue_, ‘Virtues, Unity of Life and Concept of a Tradition’ wherein his worthy goal of defending the need for a recognition of the unity of narrative context to define the meaning of speech-acts is backed up by some tedious illustrations that that betray either his respect for the boarders of the liberal academic plantation or his unwitting acceptance of some of the its propaganda; he seems as careful in his writing as he was with you in conversation. When studying his work, I always find excellent research eloquently articulated albeit blunted by a seeming lack of imperative – vasectomized ethical theorizing. Some of my peers have described the problem as rooted in a focus on metaethics verses normative ethics, but that never rang true as I recall (in the 80s) finding Michael Sandel in _Liberalism and the Limits of Justice_ much more helpful and direct in confronting the deontology of John Rawls _Theory of Justice_ than MacIntyre even though the latter takes Rawls on directly in After Virtue.

  2. Robert Reavis says:

    I really don’t think Rawls or Sandel are anything in a list of serious philosophers and possibly through no fault of their own.
    I always liked the type of former communist or leftist who actually saw blood spilled before their conversion. Types who actually fought in the Spanish civil war on the wrong side before their conversion or the honest Fulbright scholars who actually lived in Spain and taught in the Universities under Franco.
    They were serious men. I never knew McIntyre and trust Toms judgement but I do know that academia after WWII and the draft dodgers who replaced many of them were of entirely different types.