Jul 5, 2008

What is a movement?

In the late 1100s in Paris, various educators were inspired by a new idea, the unity of knowledge: A fully educated man is not only an accomplished specialist in a particular career (the lucrative arts of Law, Medicine, and Theology), but he also has fundamental knowledge applicable to everyone's life (the liberal arts). This idea of the unity of knowledge became an ideal--that is, a goal worthy of action, including advocacy to others.[1]

Individually each Parisian educator, in his own manner, was taking steps toward ensuring that his students benefited from this new approach to education, and he was advocating that others do likewise. Considered together, these educators were a movement, that is, they were individuals taking action (including advocacy) toward a common goal of changing certain conditions in which they lived. By contrast, if one thousand people separately and coincidentally decide to paint their houses white, out of personal preference, they would not be a movement. To create a movement for painting houses white, the individuals would need to be motivated by a desire to change their society or culture, and they would need to advocate that idea to others.

The individuals in a movement need not know each other personally or even be aware of each other as individuals. A "movement" is thus a mental grouping of physically dispersed, socially unconnected individuals. Often, however, in a particular society when individuals realize they can achieve a common goal faster through cooperation, these individuals form actual groups, that is, sets of individuals who interact with each other in one way or another for a common purpose. Groups within a movement can take various forms.

In a network, Mr. Adams knows Ms. Beaumont, who knows Mr. Carter, who knows Mr. Daniels; but Mr. Daniels need not know Mr. Adams or Ms. Beaumont. A modern example is a network of neighbors who want to reduce crime in their neighborhood by watching out for each other. In an ad-hoc organization, individuals structure their relationship to achieve a particular, but short-term goal. An example would be a group of individuals who select a chairman and a treasurer for a political campaign to support a mayoral candidate who will fight to reduce crime. When the election is over, the group disbands. In an institution, which is a second kind of organization, individuals structure their relationships to achieve a goal that might require an effort longer than the lives of the founders. An example would be a group of individuals who want to make their neighborhood safe for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren, so they form The Institute for Safety in the Southside.

In Paris in the late 1100s, the advocates of unity of knowledge in education were a successful movement. They networked in the city that was the hub of the kingdom of France. They formed particular organizations to express their views. They eventually founded an institution: a guild of all members of the faculties of liberal arts, theology, law, and medicine. This guild fought for its members' goals. The Latin word for guild was universitas. The institution they created was the University of Paris, the world's first university, a unique invention of Western Civilization, the civilization whose foundation is a philosophy of reason.

In the United States, in our own time, an example of a movement is the conservative legal movement, a group of conservatives who want to see conservative views of the law presented in the top universities, in competition with leftist views of the law. The conservatives have rapidly achieved partial success.[2]

In conclusion I would say that a movement, as a group of individuals in a certain time and place, has two essential, defining characteristics: (1) a common goal of changing social conditions through (2) advocacy and other individual actions.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] See Stephen C. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215, Stanford University Press, 1985, especially the Introduction. [2] See Larry Salzman's book review of Steven M. Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law, in the Summer 2008 issue of The Objective Standard (http://www.theobjectivestandard.com).

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