The Moral Imagination -  Michael Matheson Miller
The Moral Imagination
Ep. 49 Flagg Taylor, Ph.D: The Parallel Polis

Ep. 49 Flagg Taylor, Ph.D: The Parallel Polis

In this episode I speak with Flagg Taylor about the life and writing of Vaclav Benda, and his idea of the parallel polis, decentralization, and creating space in society for culture, the family, charity, education, and human flourishing. Though he was writing under communist regimes, Benda’s writings are very relevant today in light democratic pressures to conformity, de-platforming, and especially as a new ontology of the person is being written into law — and dignity is used as weapon against religious and cultural liberty. Benda’s idea of the parallel polis was not a siege mentality, nor so much a reform existing structures that had ossified or were corrupted, but a call to build new, innovative, and better structures and social institutions that would activate people’s participation in civil, cultural, and commercial life, and give people a sense of purpose and agency. Examples today include decentralized technologies or classical education - which is not running away, but creating better alternatives to mediocre state run schools.

We discuss Benda’s ideas in the context of Czech communism and also in contemporary America, especially the overlap with Alexis de Tocqueville’s warnings about individualism, centralization, and soft-despotism. We examine his engagement with various thinkers including Roger Scruton and J.R.R. Tolkien, and talk about contemporary movements towards decentralization including The Network State by Balaji Srinivasan and its relation to the idea of a parallel polis. We discuss the need for social and commercial alternatives built on a rich understanding of the human person and the family including healthcare, mutual aid societies, banking, payment, insurance and more. Benda’s idea of the parallel polis demonstrates that the solution to totalitarianism and centralization is not more centralization or another totalitarianism, but de-centralization and humanization. We discuss a number of Benda essays including: The Parallel Polis, The Meaning Context Legacy of the Parallel Polis, The Family and Totalitarianism, A Critique of the Idea of a Christian State, and his personal reflections that illustrate the constant social pressure of living under communist totalitarianism.

Themes and Topics include

Albert Hirshman: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Peter Berger on Plausibility Structures

Vaclav Havel: Power of the Powerless

Greengrocers of the World Unite!

Aristotle’s Moral and Intellectual Virtues

Vaclav Havel Living in Truth

Benda focus on resisting the lies of totalitarianism by inhabiting a social spaces and plausibility structures that make living in truth possible.

MMM Lecture How to Build a Moral Imagination — new and better ways of live are actually plausible

Provide space for dissidents and their children who were excluded by the official social spaces

Balaji - The Network State - Network Union - Network Archipelago — cloud first, then land

  • Catholic Variation: Land - Cloud -Land

New Ontology of the Person Totalitarian redefinition of biology and sociological reality

Dignity as a weapon against religious liberty

Testing the Limits in Communism vs Testing the Limits in Modern Democracy


Cancel Culture

Underground Seminars led by Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton and Jan Hus Foundation

Ortega y Gassett: The Spoiled Child of History

Second Culture

Charter 77 Essay at Foreign Policy Magazine

VONS Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted

Religious practice in Slovakia vs Czech Republic vs. Poland

Church Persecution by Communists in the 40s - 70s

Communist infiltration of Church and official Church collaboration with Communists 70s and 80s.

Critique of the Christian idea of a state

How politicalization of religion can lead to unbelief

Benda compared to contemporary Catholic integralists / post liberal thinkers

Secularism is not neutral

J.R.R Tolkien —Benda on the Lord of the Rings as as an analysis of totalitarianism

The Scouring of the Shire — See Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt The Hobbit Party link in Resources

The family is always a thorn to totalitarian states

Marriage and family as essential

The Family as the source of 3 fundamental gifts that a person can receive

  • Fruitful fellowship of love

  • Freedom

  • Dignity and unique role of the individual

Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) and George Orwell on tenderness as a resistance to totalitarianism

Family as a space for freedom, failures, learning

How rebellion against parents is modern fashion that the totalitarian or centralizing state desires

Authority and Hierarchy

Hannah Arendt on Authority and Education (see link in resources)


Dr. F. Flagg Taylor IV is an Associate Professor of government at Skidmore College serves on the Academic Council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in political science from Fordham University and a B.A. from Kenyon College. Taylor’s specialty is in the history of political thought and American government, especially the question of executive power. He is the co-author of The Contested Removal Power, 1789-2010, author of numerous articles, and editor of The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism and The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda, 1977-1989.

Resources Flagg Taylor Website

Vaclav Benda Biography

The Enduring Interest Podcast on Apple Flagg Taylor Podcast at Podbean

MMM talk at Catholic Crypto Conference: Building a Parallel Polis: Social and Technological Decentralization

Peter Fiala

Flagg Taylor podcast interview on Hannah Arendt

Key Quotes

From “The Meaning Context Legacy of the Parallel Polis”

There is, however, a fundamental difference between the natural resistance of life to totalitarianism and the deliberate expansion of the space in which the parallel polis can exist. 

The former is a cluster of flowers that has grown into place accidentally sheltered from the killing winds of totalitarianism and easily destroyed when those winds change direction. The latter is a trench whose elimination depends strictly on a calculated move by the state power to destroy it. 

Given the time and means available only a certain number of trenches can be eliminated. If, at the same time, the parallel polis is able to produce more such trenches than it loses ,a situation arises that is morally dangerous for the regime; it is a blow at the very heart of its power — that is, the possibility of intervening anywhere without limitation.  The mission of the parallel polis is to constantly conquer new territory to make its parallelness constantly more substantial and more present. Benda p. 233

From “The Family and Totalitarianism”

I consider marriage and the family to be so essential that I am unwilling to accept the regular clichés about liberation from these obligations. So, in the Christian version as we know it, which for centuries dominated the western world, the family was, as well as many other good things, a visible embodiment of the three most fundamental gifts or dignity is that a person could receive…

Benda lists three gifts:

  1. “Fruitful fellowship of love in which we are bound together with our neighbor without pardon by virtue simply of our closeness; not on the basis of merit rights and entitlements, but by virtue of mutual need and its affectionate reciprocation”

  2. “Freedom and the ability to make permanent, eternal decisions … and acts of fidelity…that stand in radical defiance of our finitude”

  3. “Dignity and the unique role of the individual

The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Vaclav Benda, 1977-1989

St. Augustines Press

The Network State: How To Start a New Country

By Srinivasan, Balaji

Democracy in America

By Alexis de Tocqueville

The Soul of the World

By Scruton, Roger

How to Be a Conservative

By Roger Scruton

The Gulag Archipelago Abridged: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (P.S.)

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Buy on Amazon

The Lord of the Rings 3-Book Paperback Box Set

By Tolkien, J.R.R.

High Noon

Starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley

The Power of the Powerless

By Havel, Vaclav

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States

By Hirschman, Albert O.

The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge

By Peter L. Berger, Thomas Luckmann

Notes from Underground

By Scruton, Roger

The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom (Background: Essential Texts for the Conservative Mind)

By Nisbet, Robert

The Revolt of the Masses

By Ortega y Gasset, José

Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot

By Witt, Jonathan, Richards, Jay

The Moral Imagination -  Michael Matheson Miller
The Moral Imagination
Welcome to the Moral Imagination Podcast.
The overarching theme of my podcast is what it means to be a human person and what makes for a meaningful and good life.
We will discuss philosophy of the human person, culture, religion, social philosophy, and many other related topics, like education, learning, economics, food, technology, artificial intelligence, and intellectual history. My goal is to interact with ideas and people whose work I find challenging, and intellectually and socially important.