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Imagination has been introduced as a term of art in discussion of the social and political world. Some years ago James Boyd White turned to it in The Legal Imagination, his monumental work on the foundations of secular law and legal practice. A prominent example of its use today is Charles Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries, tracing changes in the common mind leading to what we now call modernity. The term can have a large scope and at the same time a rather definite meaning. "Imagination" is at the center of Mark Massa's comments on the contrarian position of the Catholic Church in American life, contrasting David Tracy's well-known and distinctively Catholic "analogical imagination" with imagination that is "dialectical." American culture, it is said, is skeptical and even dismissive of tradition and authority. The "dialectical imagination" is allied with "individualism" and an "instrumental" approach to the world. A similar picture of what lies at the roots of American social and political thought appears in the report of the American Catholics in the Public Square Project, referring repeatedly to the "individualist core" of American culture, which is a "culture of choice," the very terms of debate being "set by radical individualism."


Pages 3-20, "Authority and Reality" by Joseph Vining. In Civilizing Authority: Society, State and Church edited by P. M. Brennan, 2007, reproduced by permission of Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute or reprint.