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The lesson of William Faulkner’s “Gold Medal” speech is both in the teaching it offers and in the method we must employ to grasp that meaning. It is a work of political imagination, drawing its rhetoric from the same fountainhead as poetry.
(The Imaginative Conservative) – The Summer of 1971, we Americans were removed by only half a decade from our country’s bicentennial of separate existence. As a whole people we approach therefore a season requiring the ritual of reflection and reassessment. Mere accidents of calendar time do not, however, provide the principal impetus for the forthcoming exercises in cooperative introspection. For at no previous instance in our (for a modern society) long history have the tensions built into our institutional beginnings been so close to the surface of the common life. Internecine conflict, greater than any we have known since the War Between the States, threatens our continuance as a genuine polity. Moreover, as is most ominous, on this occasion the conflict cuts across all the boundaries which have historically distinguished one American from another: This time the struggle touches all our self-definitions, in the process embodying serious doubts as to the viability of our past as precedent and of the forms for reasonable interaction, which are our richest inheritance from that depository.
There are, of course, many methods for formulating a diagnosis of what has brought the Republic to this hard pass: many explanatory strategies, most of them topical and pragmatic in both source and implication. This bill, that custom, or the other court decision is made a villain. But among the better professors of political philosophy and intellectual history, a preliminary consensus appears to be emerging. Their opinion is, in brief, that our teetering…