Book of the Week: 'Reclaiming Common Sense'
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this RealClearBooks series, we highlight recent nonfiction books from across the political spectrum. This week’s book is Robert Curry’s 'Reclaiming Common Sense’, published by Encounter Books.
In America today, right is wrong, men are women, 2+2=5, and the truth as we all understood it is over. What happened? In his philosophic survival guide for our postmodern age, Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World, Robert Curry describes a war on reality that spilled from the academy into all corners of American life and scrambled our rational mind in the process.
Though BLM, gender, and environmental activists often dominate our post-truth headlines, the left's war on common sense is not merely intended to advance noisy progressive pet schemes. In fact, Curry reveals, subverting the truth as we know it is central to a far a more insidious plot to erode and eliminate the very conditions that make our Constitution work. For, as Curry writes, a war on reason is a war on the mind itself, and with it our capacities to think clearly and govern ourselves.
In a series of thoughtful vignettes, Curry urges Americans to preserve our fragile republic by restoring the common-sense realism that informed our Founders and grounded our nation as a shared project. These wise passages are essential reading for those who see and feel America drifting into a surreal state. In fact, as Reclaiming Common Sense underscores, those perceptive powers are the very thing that unite us and make our experiment in self-rule possible. Don’t let them go.
Scott Segrest, National Review: Robert Curry’s Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World is a companion volume to his earlier Common Sense Nation. Both books are apologias, defenses against certain attacks by our intellectual and cultural elites on the foundations of American life, which the American Founders understood in terms of “common sense.” As Curry elaborates, “While Common Sense Nation addresses the challenge to the American founding by presenting anew the Founders’ understanding of what they were establishing”—an understanding rooted in Scottish “common sense realism”—“Reclaiming Common Sense takes up . . . the challenge to the foundation of the founding”—commonsense rationality itself. Ultimately, he wants to “restore a trust in common sense and an understanding of its crucial role in our lives” as human beings and as American citizens.
A good catch-all term for the elites’ alternative to common sense is “political correctness,” an ideological party line much akin to the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 that tries to prohibit not only honest questions but even acknowledgement of facts in plain view. Who are you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes? And pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! From denying basic biology in favor of infinitely fluid “gender identity” to condemning commonsense measures against Islamic terrorism as “Islamophobia,” there is no fact so obvious it won’t be discounted whenever it should cross or inhibit whatever agenda du jour elites deem “progressive.” Political correctness is, in short, a “war on common sense.”
But what exactly is common sense? It turns out to be much harder to describe and explain common sense than just to have it. Describing and explaining it, however, becomes necessary when what would be taken for granted in a healthy social situation comes under relentless assault by deconstructionist, fundamentally nihilistic “intellectuals” and ideologues (not to be confused with philosophers) who because of their pedigrees and because of their fearsome passion may intimidate and undermine the confidence of people not prepared to handle the onslaught. In such a context, which we face today, we need a few insightful, bold, and eloquent people to step into the breach and put up a reasoned defense—people like Robert Curry. Read the full review.
Mike Sabo, The Federalist: In Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth In A Post-Truth World, Curry examines and defends the pre-political understanding of reality accessible to all human beings, which he calls common sense. The book’s goal is “to restore a trust in common sense and an understanding of its crucial role in our lives.”
This book is a continuation of Curry’s 2015 work, Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea, where he explored “the thinking of the American Founders” and “the pattern of ideas” connecting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. While the earlier book staved off challenges to the American Founders’ handiwork, Curry’s aim now is to answer the challenge to the “foundation of the founding.”
Drawing from cultural titans such as Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Isiah Berlin, and Albert Einstein, Curry explores the philosophy of common-sense realism that suffuses our founding documents. As Curry argues, common sense is not “the collective opinions of the crowd.” Rather, it is “the shared understanding of the way things really are.” Common sense is “the basis of all human knowledge,” without which human language would be impossible. Read the full review.
David DesRosiers, Claremont Review of Books: A book like Reclaiming Common Sense could have been of great use to me as a graduate student when I tried to rebut premodern utopian thinkers like Plato. The Republic—with its rule by the wise and its shocking communism of women and children—revealed to me the danger that reason without common sense poses to the political community. My professor at the time, Mary Nichols, took an interesting position on the issue in her sterling book, Socrates and the Political Community (1987). She argued that Plato was being ironic in order to show what horrors could be condoned in the name of philosophy. My response was: if Plato intended to be ironic, only a chosen few people got it.
The joy of reading Curry is immediate and long-lasting. To open his book is to enter the company of a philosophically inclined American dedicated to preserving the country’s best intellectual traditions. His compelling prose illuminates what’s at stake when common sense is no longer common. Read the full review.
John Tamny, RealClearMarkets: So how is common sense under attack? There are so many examples, but Curry points out how academics, cultural elites and government officials more and more pay lip service to the idea that “’gender identity’ is more real than biology,” that any desire to protect American citizenry from Islamic terrorists is reduced to “Islamophobia,” plus it’s long been the view of the deep in thought that problems real and imagined require national solutions crafted by allegedly wise minds in Washington.
With the last one, Curry argues that the “war on common sense is an attack on the foundation of the American founding.” He’d plainly prefer a more localized approach to governing whereby legislative power resides in city and state politicians over the members of Congress. Important is that the lack of common sense that Curry senses in the elites speaks to another reason to make policymaking a local matter: if people choose to suffocate their superpower, or for that matter the superpowers of others, it's best to make sure that the inevitable errors of the legislative variety that emerge from an unwillingness to accept reality touch as few of us as possible. In short, let’s limit the externalities from attempts to silence common sense. Read the full review.
John R. Coyne, The Washington Times: “When Thomas Paine appealed to ‘common sense’ to make the case for American independence, it probably never crossed his mind that there would ever be a need to make the case for common sense itself, at least not in America,” writes Robert Curry, author of “Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea” (Encounter Books, 2015), contributor to a variety of journals and a director of The Claremont Institute, in “Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World.”
Today, however, common sense falls under steady attack. “Deep thinkers have discarded it, elites have learned to disdain it,” and leftist politicians reject all manifestations of it as reflections of the deeply flawed nature of our economic system and theory of government.
“Examples of the war on common sense are now everywhere in public life.” Mr. Curry points to the current unhinged national discussions about gender. “Not long ago, a boy in a tutu and a tiara who claimed he was a girl would still be regarded as a boy. Today, academic and cultural elites as well as government officials insist that ‘gender identity’ is more real than biology,” with at least one website claiming there are at least 63 existing genders. Read the full review.
Robert Curry, American Greatness: The Founders claimed they were guided by self-evident truths. To understand the Founders’ thinking, it is important to know that their reliance on self-evident truths shows their reliance on a Scottish philosopher named Thomas Reid.
Reid called his philosophy “common sense realism.” Reid challenged the whole tradition that descended from Plato. His purpose was to put Western philosophy on the firm ground of common sense. In my judgment, he succeeded. The American Founders thought so too. As a result, the Founders’ republic is a far cry from Plato’s Republic.
Self-evident truths are the foundation of common sense realism; for Reid, common sense is the human faculty which enables us to grasp self-evident truths. Therefore, common sense is the power that makes human understanding possible. The Founders relied on self-evident truths to find a new vision of politics, government, and society. Their vision gave us the wonderful country it is our privilege to enjoy each day. Read the full article.
Robert Curry, RealClearPolitics: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
We have heard these words all our lives. But can we still hear the dynamite in them? According to tradition, when the British under Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, their musicians played “The World Turned Upside Down.” The American victory over Britain was more than a military victory; it changed everything.
The world in those days operated on the basis of utter inequality. The self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence contradicted the entire experience of mankind. Whether the ruler was a king who claimed to rule by divine right or an emperor who claimed the mandate of Heaven, it was everywhere the same. Because the Founders’ idea of government by, for, and of the people is so deeply engrained in our imaginations, it is difficult for us to conceive of human life as it then was.
America’s truly incredible social and political success put this older world on the road to extinction. Foreign observers went from confidently predicting that America would fail to living through the collapse of their own regimes, made illegitimate by America’s shining example. Kings and emperors are gone now or reduced to mere ceremonial figures. Today, only peculiar and backward places, like Saudi Arabia, operate according to something like the old way of governance, and everyone knows that this anomaly will last only as long as the Saudi royals can continue to bribe their subjects. Read the full article.
TheDove: We May Now Be Living in a “Post-Truth” Reality