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Our Manifesto: A Deeper Look

Foundationism, like any good political movement, has a manifesto. Ours, however, doesn't read like most manifestoes.

There is no call to dismantle the military-industrial complex; no injunction to recognize or correct historical injustices; nothing on raising or lowering taxes; nothing about domestic or foreign policy; no command to cleanse the human heart of negative emotion or fix anything that's wrong in society. 

Our manifesto is ten simple sentences. Ten calls to personal, self-directed action; that is to say, action that begins and ends in oneself. 


See deeply

Listen closely

Reason honestly

Speak clearly

Deny the self

Defend the individual

Respect tradition

Face the present

Cultivate the future


--and that's it.


As political creatures and members of society, there's a legitimate question whether it's more important to focus on these things than it is to clean up a corrupt government, or roll back a dangerous and shortsighted foreign policy, or fix any of the myriad problems besetting American, and by extension Western, civilization. As builders, however, we see things a bit differently. One can debate what materials and methods you should use to construct the walls and the roof of a building, or what materials and methods you should use to lay its foundation. But when it comes to doing the work, there is no question which problem you have to solve first.

In a sense, the Foundationist manifesto is a design pattern (to borrow a term from the architect Christopher Alexander). It's a way of orienting the personal world so that one can take on universal problems -- but always with a focus on what is near, what is local. Distance is in many ways the enemy of coherence. The farther away a problem is in conceptual space, the more careful we have to be in our problem-solving; the more difficult work we have to do beforehand to narrow the distance, to observe the problem up close.

So we come to the first call to action in the Foundationist manifesto: to see deeply.

This is at the top of our manifesto because it's the most important. Because all political movements require unity of some kind, they all require us to see past superficial differences in order to get to core similarities. People are all unique beings on the surface -- even identical twins have different fingerprints -- but they almost always have deep interests in common with other people; and to find out what those interests are and act on them, we have to be willing to wade through the shallows and get to the deep water.

This is harder than it sounds, because finding out what people have in common is not a scientific or mathematical problem (and history has taken very bad turns when people decided that it was). Instead, radical seeing, when it comes to other human beings, is a moral problem. More to the point, you start down the path of radical seeing by making a choice. You decide that this thing deserves your attention and this other thing does not; that is to say, you decide that certain things have more meaning than others. Two men work in the construction trades; they have different habits of speech, different amusements, different family lives; they teach their children different things; they may worship differently. But if they both decide that what they do for a living is more important than any of these things, they can organize themselves and others around that fact; and now they have a union. 

Now this decision is not inevitable or even obvious. Is what a person does for a living more "important" than how he raises his family, or where he goes to church, or if he goes to church at all? It's not clear that it is. If you were to ask him, he might say that it isn't. But under the right set of circumstances, millions of people have at one time or another decided that their deep interests outweighed superficial ones, and those decisions, taken as a group, helped shape the modern history of organized labor in the West. 

But if seeing deeply is the beginning of concerted civic and political action, then the question is: what is the "correct" level of depth? How do we know what to look past, and what to focus on? There is no simple answer. It may depend, for example, on what social and political outcomes you're trying to achieve -- and even having agreed on those, how do you know if the differences between you and someone else are just window dressing, or deeply irreconcilable? 

These questions go right to the heart of what is called "identity politics", and here we may find some clues, because when people complain about a group having embraced identity politics, they're not usually talking about labor unions, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or the early civil rights movement in the US -- even though the adherents of those movements obviously "identified" with each other in some way. When we question the validity of identity politics, what we are really doing is questioning how people define their identities in the political realm.

Perhaps the only way to find out if we are seeing deeply enough is to ask those kinds of questions -- but then if we are willing to pose the question, we must be willing to hear the answer; and that brings us to the next point in our manifesto: to listen closely

Right away it should be evident that to be a Foundationist is to be a free speech absolutist. If we are called to listen closely to each other, it follows that this is only useful to the extent that those who we are listening to can say what they like. This, by the way, includes so-called "hate speech". If someone hates women, or men, or black people, or Asians, or the Irish, they must be free to say so, barring only a clear and direct incitement to physical violence. If Person A hates women, or men, or Black people, or Asians, or the Irish, it is regrettable -- but it is also something that Person B must know when deciding whether or not A and B can form a coalition. If Person B is emotionally harmed by hearing A's sentiments, that is also regrettable  -- but it is also beside the point. Every citizen of a free society has the right to judge whether an idea is good or bad -- but no citizen has the right to judge an idea on someone else's behalf.

Because seeing deeply is a moral undertaking, requiring us to judge what is meaningful, it follows that hearing what is meaningful to others -- and deciding based on what one hears -- is also a moral and deeply private undertaking in which the state must never have a say, but only those individuals who we choose to allow into our thoughts and our lives.

Listening closely does not require us to agree with what is said -- only to accept that it has been said. Having heard it, we need to then reason honestly about it, which is the third point in our manifesto. We need to hear an idea spoken and measure it in the light of what is known or knowable; we need to ask ourselves whether its logic is sound or fallacious, self-consistent or self-serving; we need to wrestle in good faith with its flaws and contradictions.

Here again we see the importance of free speech: we cannot reason about an idea or an opinion we have not heard. Having heard an idea repulsive to us, and dismissed it, we must allow other people the right to do the same; having heard an idea we like, we should remember that we only heard it because no one else was able to prevent us from doing so.

Our manifesto then calls on us to speak clearly, because language that is obscure is almost always the enemy of reason and clear thinking. It's obvious even from a glance at history that reason and clear thinking are not the only ways to persuade people to do things; tribal affiliations, assertions of religious doctrine, and appeals to raw emotion can all be persuasive.  But it should also be obvious that in a modern, pluralistic society such as ours, those methods only go so far. Since many of the problems we face cut across lines of ethnicity, religion, and personality type, the coalitions we build to solve those problems will be doomed to ineffectiveness and irrelevance if they stay within those narrow categories.

Hannah Arendt said that there is no such thing as a dangerous thought, because thinking itself is dangerous. We agree. There is no guarantee that, for example, racist ideas freely spoken will not spread through a society and inflict real harm. The great man-made tragedies of the 20th century all had their genesis in ideas and speech -- but we nonetheless insist on the absolute freedom to formulate and speak ideas into being. It is impossible to reconcile these two assertions without courage -- which brings us to our manifesto's call to act bravely. The writer Maya Angelou said that courage is the most important virtue, because without it one cannot practice any other virtue well. One cannot love another, or be honest with oneself, or take responsibility for one's actions, without courage. One cannot trust the stranger to come into one's life -- bearing, as all strangers do, a cargo of unfamiliar ideas -- without courage. In a free society, to acquire facts may require only diligence; but to follow those facts where they lead requires us to master our instinctive fear of the unknown.

The ability to look at things radically; to hear and reason about ideas; the freedom to speak one's own ideas into being; and the courage to trust our fellow citizens,  are all necessary tools to build social and political structures that we can live with. But how do we know whether we're going in the right direction? How do we know that an idea or a belief system is worth anything? There is no easy answer, and maybe no single answer either. But one test of whether we we're choosing a viable path is: does our belief system demand anything of us? Does it cost us anything? 

Again, given that we live in a pluralistic society, we can be certain that some of our interests will be at odds with the interests of at least some of our fellow citizens, and this requires compromise, which is the point of the next call to action: deny the self. This is not the same as self-negation. It is not a call to erase the individual, but rather a plea for the individual to understand that no livable social order is cost-free; that no one has the absolute right to see every one of their ideas enacted or all of their wants satisfied; that out of liberty, society, and absolute self-indulgence, we only get to choose two.

The call to deny the self is seemingly contradicted by its successor: the call to defend the individual. But we believe the two actually go hand in hand, because only a virtuous citizen -- a person who can effectively govern his or her passions, which is to say, a person who can deny the self -- can be effectively ruled by a limited government, and only a strictly limited government is capable of ruling over a society in such a way as to protect the rights of the individual.

To live in civil society -- or more accurately, to live in a civilization -- is to inhabit a structure, which is to say, something with a definite form. Because the structure is itself a part of a changing world, it must adapt to its environment; but because the structure houses and safeguards the people within it, it must be continuous. So that all social structures built by humans must strike a balance between adaptability and continuity. Human habits and rituals provide much of the necessary continuity, and this is why our manifesto calls on us to respect tradition

Note that this is not a call to agree with or to maintain any given tradition. Some traditions are contrary to reason; some may have arisen in response to conditions which no longer exist; some may have been fashioned to serve one segment of society at the expense of another; and some may draw from ancient wellsprings of belief or inspiration which have since run dry. 

To respect tradition -- not any one tradition, but tradition as such -- is simply to understand the importance of tradition as a key structural element in any viable society. It to understand that first, dismantling tradition as such is impossible, and second, altering or dismantling a given tradition is a serious and consequential act, and should be approached with the same care one would use in altering or dismantling the structural elements of bridges, or skyscrapers, or oceangoing vessels, or one's own home.

Like the previous two calls to action, the call to respect tradition and its successor, the call to face the present, complement each other. It is respect for tradition that cautions us to treat established structures and norms with the proper humility and care. It is facing the present that moves us to update the structures and norms that are in need of it. George Orwell said that to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle, and we agree. But it is a necessary struggle, and one we can only hope to win if we love the truth enough to look directly at it; if we are brave enough to deal forthrightly with what we see.

Finally the Foundationist manifesto calls on us to cultivate the future. The particular wording of this call comes from a deep conviction that the future is not a destination at which we arrive all at once, nor is it a cipher whose secrets we approach blindly until they unfold all at once. Rather, we see the future as an organic entity; a living thing which grows continuously out of the present. We do not simply await the future; we interact with it. We estimate and plant seeds; we nurture the present with care; we sacrifice, we bargain, we trade off, we husband away. Foundationism calls on us to live in the present, but into the future, in a condition of spirit that rises above mere optimism or pessimism -- which after all is only the anticipation of outcomes -- and begins to resemble something like faith.










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