Front Page Titles (by Subject) III: Political and Social Philosophy - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4
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III: Political and Social Philosophy - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Political and Social Philosophy
The following set of summaries ranges from ancient Greek political and social philosophy to modern analyses of class and ideology. The themes dealt with cover constitutionalism, political myth, republican ideology, civic virtue, contract theory, the nature of state and ‘people,’ liberalism, and individualism.
Such diverse themes gain focus by seeing the underlying attempt to reconcile a sense of community with the protection of individual rights. The temptation is to conflate the individual into the state in the name of the ‘Volk,’ social utility, or civic virtue. Through reification and idealization we can often lose sight of the living individual, his rights and dreams, and blindly turn to larger collectives to bring meaning and salvation. Turning to such power, however, is to forsake personal responsibility and to unleash deadly and impersonal forces that war on the individual and his voluntary choices. Another way to approach these diverse summaries is to read each of them from the perspective of individual freedom. In each case this framework of personal and social liberty raises pertinent questions and insights.
Plato and Constitutions
“Plato and the Anatomy of Constitutions.” Social Theory and Practice 5(Fall 1978):95–130.
Amid systems, statistics, and voting studies, modern social sciences have little room left for “political theory.” Professor Spencer argues that ignoring philosophy is a major error for any science of politics. Using Plato as an illustration, he attempts to show how an integration of the empirical and philosophical realms might proceed.
To demonstrate the generative relationship that exists between ideas and institutions, Professor Spencer scrutinizes two hypothetical constitutions conceived by Plato: the one projected in the Republic; the other in the Laws.
Spencer first divides the philosophical content of all constitutions into two categories: (1) the constitutive principles, and (2) the formative principles (or ideological elements derived from moral ideals), which determine a constitution's legitimate institutions.
In general, the Republic reflects a much more optimistic view of human potential than is evidenced in the Laws, a much later work. The constitution of the Republic rests upon the notion of the almost infinite plasticity of human nature, which can be carefully molded and refined through education.
Plato's guardians work toward the ideal of the balanced soul, in which spirit and appetite submit to the voice of reason. This particular hierarchy produces the virtue of justice in individual souls. The same hierarchy prevails in the organization of the ideal state. The submission of guardians and people to the rule of the philosopher-king engenders a harmonious public justice conspicuously absent from the democratic polity.
The more sublime education of the Republic's philosopher-king cultivates perception of the good, of absolute truth and beauty. The state is organized so as to provide a setting in which the philosopher may more easily pierce the cloud of illusion to achieve true vision.
Insofar as institutions are concerned, detailed written laws are not at all necessary in the constitution of the Republic. The philosopher-king rules by the formative principle of charisma; his enlightened vision ensures the righteousness of his sovereignty. His individual soul, thus, underwrites the legitimacy of the state.
In the Laws, on the contrary, a less buoyant view of human perfectibility prevails. Here, Plato retains only the ideal of spiritual balance, of justice. Nothing higher or deeper can be expected of recalcitrant human material.
This significant change of constitutive principle radically alters the character of the constitution proposed in the Laws. The perfecting role of education vanishes in favor of propaganda which molds public opinion toward justice. Distributing honorific positions also goads men toward greater virtue. In addition, since no one can arrive at a full vision of the good, charisma no longer serves as a legitimizing political principle. Plato's “second-best polity” must necessarily be “a government of laws, not of men.” Elaborate legislation promulgated by just men as a group replaces the vision of the individual philosopher-king as this commonwealth's operational mode. Thus, a change in ideals effects change in political institutions.
This type of analysis, Professor Spencer claims, may be applied to actual governmental documents such as the U.S. Constitution. Pursued rigorously, Spencer believes that the study of political anatomy will elucidate, in the face of behaviorist scepticism, the contribution of moral values to political order.
The Uses of a Political Myth
“Comment s'élabore un myth politique: Solon, ‘père fondateur’ de la démocratie athenienne.” (“The Development of a Political Myth: Solon, Founding Father of Athenian Democracy”). Annales (May- June 1979): 425–437.
Historians and social scientists have paid increasing attention to the image which past societies have held of themselves, to the various ways in which they have reconstructed their own history, and to how this self-concept affected their subsequent development. In this vein, Prof. Mossé attempts to reconstruct the image which ancient Greeks held of Solon, archon of Athens during the first years of the sixth century B.C. Revered as the founder of democracy in the Athenian city-state, Solon was invoked by Greeks in succeeding centuries as an exemplor and authority to legitimize existing institutions or to bolster reforms. The figure of Solon looms particularly large in the fourth century B.C., the age of democracy's full flowering in Athens.
Fourth-century orators honored Solon as the author of the mikté politeia, the mixed aristocratic/popular constitution which respected the sovereignty of the demos, but contained it within strict limits. Indeed, Solon praises himself for his wisely balanced policies in the fragments of his poetry which still survive. He abolished the horoi (property markers) without indiscriminately parcelling out land to the demos, and he established one written law for all citizens of Athens regardless of rank. These stand (even in Solon's eyes) as his major achievements. However, later political thinkers and orators of the fourth century, including Aristotle in his Constitution of Athens, attributed to him a series of measures which comprised the hallowed patrios politeia, the ancestral Athenian political tradition. Those who, like Aristotle, feared the rise of unbridled democracy appealed to the authority of the patrios politeia to strengthen their defense of aristocratic power, the power of the “best” in Athens. Since Solon's democratic credentials were revered, use of his memory lent an aura of historical sanctity to opposing the further extension of democracy.
Aristotle attributed three essential achievements to Solon: the establishment of the four enfranchised classes, the organization of the city's judiciary, and the creation of boulè (the assembly of the 400). In a later century, Plutarch ascribed to Solon such measures as the first official coinage of money and the founding of the Areopagus court triband. Prof. Mossé scrutinizes each of these attributions and finds them either to be later extrapolations of prototype policies of Solon or totally unconnected with Solon's achievements.
The evolved mythology reflected in the writings of Aristotle and Plutarch places Solon in the company of other legendary legislators whose variegated images have been passed down to us by Antiquity: Hammurabi, Moses, Servius Tullius, Lycurgus. The legends surrounding these men served the vital purpose of fortifying great legal and political traditions.
The myth of Solon exhibited enormous vitality, surving, as it did, down to Plutarch and beyond. Today, we find the elements of the myth in writings admittedly intended for an elite. Nevertheless, these same elements fired imaginations for centuries in the popular assemblies of Athens and in the courts of law. The longevity of the Solonian tradition testifies to the richness with which Athenians endowed it during the two centuries in which they were masters of their own destiny.
Florentine Guilds and Republicanism
“Guild Republicanism in Trecento Florence: The Success and Ultimate Failure of Corporate Politics.” The American Historical Review 84 (February 1979): 53–71.
Florentine republicanism has generally been viewed by historians according to the fifteenth-century analysis of Leonardo Bruni. In this approach, civic virtue rested upon the existence of a powerful centralized state. Within the confines of the state, individuals' self-responsibility and development of political virtue was emphasized. This influential paradigm ignores the role of the guilds as social institutions of a more personalistic or corporate nature in the development of Florentine republicanism.
Throughout the Middle Ages, there were many forms of corporate organization, all of which were subsumed under the general term universitates. Among the most important of these were the guilds. These economic groups began to function as corporate personalities, decisions in them being taken by vote of the members. These came to play an important role in the government of Florence during the 1290s. Because of their fairly large numbers (there were 21 major guilds with 7,000–8,000 members) and political power, their consent was deemed essential in making political decisions. They became, in effect, the voice of the people. Their power continued to accelerate as the guilds federated, forming alliances for joint action.
The influence of the guilds in Florence was especially marked during the 1340s, when they settled several banking crises, In 1378, a detailed plan of government gave the guilds a major role in the city's government.
The aristocracy did not accept the guilds, viewing them as a threat to their own position. Aristocrats such as the chronicler Stefani argued that virtue could best be promoted by the patrician class. It is to this class that the government of the city belongs, he claimed, not to the guilds.
The guilds continued to stress the fact that decisions were to be taken by their members, and their rules called for frequent meetings. They proved in the longrun, however, unable to withstand the power of the aristocracy. The guilds, though moving in a democratic direction, excluded lower class non-guild subjects from vital political participation.
Machiavelli, Corruption, and America
“Machiavelli: Republican Politics and its Corruption.” Political Theory 7 (February 1979):5–34.
Professor Shumer focuses primarily on the thought of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), especially on his theory of republican politics and its decay as outlined in the Discourses. Indirectly, however, she is also concerned with contemporary American politics and the conditions required for truly humanistic politics.
In current usage, the term “corruption” denotes one of two realities: either personal dishonesty or practices which incorporate an improper mixture of money and politics. Machiavelli, however, employs the term in the older sense, in which a whole polity may be “corrupt.” In the Discourses, for example, he develops an elaborate comparison between ancient Rome, the healthy republic of virtu, and Florence, the republic of corruption. Professor Shumer scrutinizes the critique of Florence and detects many parallels with contemporary American conditions.
For Machiavelli, the essential dimension of the corrupt commonwealth is a pervasive privatization of both the average citizen and those who hold public office. In such a polity, citizens view the public sphere as merely a wider field in which to pursue private interests. As a result, leaders easily play on the cupidity of the populace with promises and flattery; worth slowly becomes irrelevant in electing public officials.
This profile of a corrupt people disturbingly resembles modern political scientists' descriptions of normal, healthy, political activity in contemporary America. As a typical example, Robert Dahl observes that “in a rough sense, the essence of all competitive politics is bribery of the electorate by politicians.” Unlike Machiavelli, Dahl assumes that men are “by nature” privatized and that they will pursue only their own interests in the public sphere, power being just one more weapon in the personal struggle to dominate.
As a further consequence of privatization, Machiavelli observes that a people who abandon the task of working out a meaningful collective life lose the capacity for long-term judgment. Since supreme public values do not exist, all is consumed by the confused passions of the moment. No shared ideals oppose the ruthless use of power. Thus a privately-oriented people must, of necessity, fear conflict, since it lacks the means to control the excesses of political competition.
On the other hand, Machiavelli views boisterous conflict as the hallmark of a healthy political race. The ancient Romans often engaged in frenzied political contention. Yet, since they possessed a solid public sense, the conflicts ended in debate and engendered new laws. Among the decadent Florentines, however, political rivalries could only lead to violence, exile, and death, and to a new tyranny to end those ills.
For Machiavelli, the most critical task of every people is to evolve coherence, purposes, and meaning in public life. The task is difficult, since as insightful minds realize, we are faced with an essentially empty world, a world devoid of absolute values. Through politics, men can create finite, solid reality out of this infinite possibility, either through the Prince, who alone knows the fragility of his creation, or through a community of citizens willing to face their situation without illusion. As they do this, they lay the foundations for an enduring political tradition.
In contrast to the living stuff of tradition, open to conflict and fundamental questioning, modern polities have substituted bureaucratic order and complex legislation—superficial foundations for a free and vigorous commonwealth. By shirking the hard quest for public values, today's peoples have, in Professor Shumer's view, chosen moral and spiritual liberty and long-term survival.
Hume and Contract Theory
“David Hume, Contractarian.” Philosophical Review 88 (April 1979): 3–38.
David Hume's theories of property, justice, and government are best understood by regarding them as species of contractarianism. Specifically, his views of property and justice (but not of moral virtue) were Hobbesian. Although often portrayed as an opponent of contractarianism, Hume opposed only the prevalent Whig doctrines of his time. His views were in fact based on a form of hypothetical contractarianism leading to conservative conclusions.
Justice, in Hume's account, is a system of rules concerned with rights to physical objects, or property. Why should the obligations of justice be observed? One answer, sometimes used in interpreting Hume, is that to do so increases the total utility of society. This utilitarian answer, however, does not explain why an individual should support rules which may not be to his interest. Hume's position avoids this difficulty by claiming that it is in everyone's interest that rules of justice be instituted.
The question of which rules should be adopted is of lesser importance. It is much more important that some set of rules be established than that any particular set be accepted. Thus, the rules adopted should be the set most people in a particular society are likely to agree on. In most cases, this means that the existing rules of society should be accepted, since everyone knows them and expects them to be followed.
It may, however, be to someone's advantage to have everyone else obey the rules of justice while he himself does not. To avoid this, one can consider following the rules of justice as a moral obligation. That is, since for everyone to follow the rules is to each person's interest, the sense of sympathy will induce a feeling of obligation which inhibits the purely selfish reasoning prescribed above.
If everyone followed his self-interest, as supplemented by moral obligation, government would be unnecessary. Passion, however, often blinds people to what is necessary to their interests. A mechanism of enforcement is therefore necessary, although the tendency of government to expand its sphere of authority makes it dangerous. Like the rules of justice, it is more important to have a government than to have one of a particular form. Since people are used to the existing government, revolutionary change should be avoided. Prescriptive right, not democractic consent, provides the proper foundation for government. Accordingly, Hume was sympathetic to the royalist position in the English Civil War.
Corporations: A Contractual Paradigm
“A New Concept of Corporations: A Contractual and Private Property Model.” Hastings Law Journal 30 (May 1979): 1327–1350.
Current thinking about corporations rests upon dubious assumptions that are inconsistent with the principles of a free society. Specifically, it is often argued that corporations are created by the state and hence are fit subjects for state regulation. This contention in practice is associated with the view that large corporations lack legitimacy and should be dissolved. Known as the “concession theory,” this contention is explicitly advanced in the Supreme Court's dictum in Hale v. Henkel (1906): “The corporation is a creature of the State.”
The claim that a corporation rests upon state privilege and does not arise naturally in the free market rests upon its status as an entity, its perpetual character, and its limited liability. The first of these, however, is simply a legal convenience, and the law recognizes other types of organization, such as partnerships, as entities. Its existence in perpetuity means only that the articles defining its form of organization need not be renewed at stated intervals. Limited liability, furthermore, may simply be regarded as an implicit contract between the corporation as debtor and its creditors.
To this some might object that this cannot apply to tort liability, since the victim may recognize no contract implicitly limiting the liability of the tortfeasor. In answer to this, liability of a master for his agent's actions rests upon the doctrine of respondeat superior. The extent to which this doctrine applies in a particular case is a matter of convenience, and limited liability in this regard cannot be taken simply as a special privilege for corporations alone.
Supporters of government regulation such as Ralph Nader point to the fact that a corporation must be chartered by the state in order to function legally. In the United States, however, the custom beginning in the nineteenth century was for automatic incorporation, turning the process into one in which the state had no independent role for action. Legal theory has not caught up yet with this development.
The claim that modern corporations separate ownership and control (the famous Berle-Means thesis) reverses cause and effect. It is because corporations can be legally organized in a fashion which allows the executive officers scope for independent action that the separation can occur. But there is nothing inevitable about this, and corporations can be organized so that this separation does not take place. In any case, the stockholders' power to sell their shares is an effective means of control.
Smith, America, and Utilitarianism
“Adam Smith and the American Revolutionists.” History of Political Economy 11 (January 1979): 179–191.
Adam Smith influenced the principal figures of the American Revolution in two respects in which they appear to deviate from classical economics. The first of these was the contention that the power of a nation was more important than its economic prosperity. The second was the utilitarian point that freedom was a means to other desirable ends. Smith's advocacy of both of these points gives strong reason to think that the American revolutionists did not depart from the classical tradition.
Smith did not believe in unlimited free trade, and in The Wealth of Nations supported the navigation Acts. His defense of free trade was predicated upon the assumption that this policy was the best means to encourage the accumulation of capital domestically, which he regarded as a praiseworthy end. Even the most noted defender of free trade among the supporters of classical economics, Richard Cobden, at one point opposed allowing Russia to float a loan in England. He stated that a free trade policy should not be used to cut one's throat. Similarly, the American revolutionaries did not believe in unlimited free trade. Hamilton's advocacy of protection is probably the most notable instance of this trend. Even Thomas Paine, once a supporter of absolutely free trade, had by 1800 come to recognize that exceptions were justifiable for the purposes of defense.
Most of the American revolutionists saw freedom in utilitarian terms, as a means to an end, rather than as an absolute principle to be pursued in its own right. Jefferson is the most important example of this approach, which was also advocated by Smith and David Hume. Jefferson believed that the task of government was to promote character, which could best be done by encouraging the growth of self-sufficient agricultural communities. While it may seem strange to treat this anti-free trade position as one deriving in part from Smith, in its utilitarian analysis of the task of government it did just that.
People, Freedom, and State in Hegel
“State and History in Hegel's Concept of People.” Journal of the History of Ideas 40(July-September 1979):369–384.
“There are crucial terms whose common meaning is not at all what Hegel meant: e.g., ‘thought,’ ‘concept,’ ‘idea,’ ‘spirit,’ to name a few.” De Seade undertakes to trace out “One such term . . .‘people’ (Volk), which can be considered a very useful concept in the analysis of Hegel's political works.” In ordinary discussion this term “can have two distinct connotations, depending on the article which precedes it.” Thus, “we refer to a people having cultural unity in mind,” e.g., “the Jews as being one people.” And we can also refer to “the people and imply a political context, as in the aphorism ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’”
The author observes that Hegel inherited two traditions: the first forged by Herder which stressed “the identity of a people as embodied in language, historical and cultural traditions”; the second expressed by Rousseau in which the concept “people” “synthesizes these elements and sees them materialized in political institutions.” In Hegel, the author maintains, one central plan can be detected: namely, the reconciliation of these two traditions. Chronologically considered, Hegel's works may be analyzed for the diverse meanings attached to the concept of people: “(1) people as a community, linked by historical, cultural, and political ties; (2) people as the base of political representation; and (3) people as agents of history.”
The first analysis of ‘people’ focuses on Hegel as represented in the Early Theological Writings (1795–1809). Next Hegel's views as put in his Philosophy of Right (1821) are considered. The third stage of ‘people’ is represented in Hegel's The Philosophy of History (1830–31). Throughout the paper numerous strands of analyses are explored; moreover, some concepts which are vital to an understanding of not only Hegel but of such neo-Hegelians as Marx, Francis Herbert Bradley (1846–1924), Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923), and Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882) are investigated. For example, it is vital to understand Hegel's criticism of freedom in the traditions of Locke and the French revolution (1830) for purposes of appreciating subsequent revisions of this idea in political philosophy. De Seade notes that for Hegel the most important problem of his time was “that the militant elements of the bourgeoisie had adopted as their ideology the ‘abstract’ conception of freedom, equality, and popular sovereignty.” Also important is the realization that in Hegel the “conceptions of ‘spirit of the people’ and ‘state’ become explicity linked.” Hegel's holistic social/political philosophy has much to offer for clarifying a comprehensive understanding of history, in contrast to what Hegel regarded as the atomistic (Hobbesian) framework which had been invoked to bolster political individualism, liberalism, and capitalism.
Freedom and Virtue
“Freedom and Virtue.” Reason Papers #5(Winter 1979):1–12
At the turn of the century, the need for governmental coercive intervention in society had been advocated on grounds of economic necessity, even of science. Increasingly, since then, a different argument has supported such intervention: namely the view that morality itself requires that government act to right the wrongs of society.
Generally, however, it is ancient political theory which stresses the role of government in the promotion of moral virtue, whereas modern political philosophers such as Spinoza, Rousseau, Mill, and (in different senses) Hegel and Marx have argued that the state's purpose is to promote liberty or freedom. Den Uyl accepts that a moral perspective on political life is appropriate and asks whether the basic notions of government as tied either to promoting virtue or to promoting freedom, are mutually exclusive alternatives?”
Den Uyl defends the view that, ultimately, the promotion of virtue is impossible without the maintenance of freedom. The freedom Den Uyl has in mind—the freedom defined by Spinoza, Locke, and Mill—is not freedom from such burdens as poverty, disease, and ignorance. Den Uyl claims that “freedom conceived in terms of the relief of burdens cannot be a primary sense of freedom” because the “mere aspirations to relieve certain burdens implies nothing about the context in which those burdens are to be relieved.” Secondly, this relief-of-burdens sense of freedom already presupposes a concern with virtue, with the right versus wrong ways we can go about relieving them. Thus this sense of freedom is secondary. The freedom at issue is concerned with whether “each person may live his life as he chooses as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others by the initiation of physical force.”
But this form of freedom cannot literally be promoted; it either is a condition of society or it isn't. If it is, it may be maintained; if not, it might be desired. Whereas morally virtuous conduct, which is a positive thing, is open to being furthered, promoted, it appears that the ancient view of the point of politics makes more sense: A government should promote virtue.
But Den Uyl proceeds to examine this idea from the point of view of the nature of morality itself. It is true that the “promotion of virtue is of fundamental importance, because persons stand in need of standards to guide their actions.” But “moral consideration cannot be given to a person's deeds unless that person was responsible for doing those deeds.” The deprivation of the freedom at issue—i.e., if others initiate force against a person—then, renders morality itself impossible. As Den Uyl puts it, “if a man did not do an act or was coerced to do it, moral worthiness or unworthiness cannot be attributed to him.” He also shows that “those who coerce (or advocate coercion of) another do not deserve moral credit for their actions no matter how beneficial the end they seek.” The ancient conception of government, then, necessarily presupposes the significance of freedom and no conflict exists between freedom and moral virtue.
Nineteenth Century Spanish Liberalism
“L'emigrazione liberale spagnola in Inghilterra e in Francia (1823–1834). Un problema storiographico aperto.” [“Liberal Spanish Emigration in England and France (1823–1834): An Open Historical Problem”] Nuova Rivista Storica 62 (January 1978): 133–152.
The tumultuous state of politics in Spain during the nineteenth century drove many into exile. Each change of regime precipitated an emigration both of the leaders and often of the soldiers of the losing party. The importance of this emigration to the evolution of political thought in Spain has long been ignored. Using as his focus the liberal émigrés defeated by Ferdinand VII in 1823, Prof. Stiffoni details the inadequacies of studies which have dealt with this exile group and describes several fruitful questions for future historical analysis.
The Spanish historian Gregorio Marañon has observed that “the Spanish tendency toward isolation has been, to a certain degree, counterbalanced by political emigrations.” The emigrations have been fruitful, in Marañon's view, to the extent that the spirit of revenge makes way for a more open, future-directed stance. This open spirit frees energies from vain dreams of restoring past order and allows for a receptive attitude toward the ideas and mores of the country of exile. Having absorbed these new ideas, returning exiles spur the intellectual and social development of their homeland.
On the intellectual plane, several cases illustrate this process of the exiles' receptivity to new ideas. For example, Alvaro Flórez Estrada's landmark Curso de Economia Politica (1828) reflects the mature fruits of the author's stay in both France and England. His writing demonstrates a critical assimilation of the thoughts of Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, John Stuart Mill, MacCulloch, and even Owen and Saint-Simon. Joaquín Abreu-Orta, exiled liberal member of the Cortes, became a personal friend of Fourier. He participated in the experiment at Condésur-Vesgres and, upon his return in 1834, became a passionate proponent of Fourier's doctrines in Spain. Also, General Espoz y Mina worked together with Jeremy Bentham on a project to define a democratic constitution for Spain.
Among such academic exiles, contact with the Industrial Revolution revealed the pitiful backwardness of Spanish economic development. It likewise demonstrated the need for Spanish liberals to devise a viable agrarian policy for their primarily agricultural nation.
Future historians must go beyond this sketchy description of intellectual influence to provide in-depth, individual profiles of prominent exile thinkers. Lacking this, scholars will persist in their impoverished understanding of subsequent Spanish liberal movements in the nineteenth century, namely the Biennio (1854–1856) and the Sessennio (1868–1873).
Stiffoni also issues a call to elaborate a historical sociology of the liberal movement in exile. Liberal members of the Spanish aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and soldier-laborer class all fled Ferdinand VII's mounting oppression. Analyses of their assimilation or lack of it into the life of the country of exile would significantly clarify any social impact they may have had on Spain after their return in 1834. Such a sociology could also elucidate an important factor in the liberal movement's failure to win the masses of Spaniards to its cause, i.e., the complicity of liberal politicians with the Spanish propertied classes, which had led time after time to the dilution and abandonment of liberal principles for the sake of expedient “moderation.” Until we explore the neglected areas of Spanish liberalism, we will remain ignorant of a significant portion of Western political tradition.
Victorian England and Laissez-faire
“L'Angleterre victorienne: paradigme du laissezfaire? A propos d'une controverse.” [“Victorian England: Paradigm of Laissez-faire?”] Revue historique 26 (No. 1, 1979): 79–98.
Historians of the past twenty-five years have repeatedly challenged the traditional view of Victorian England as the “age of laissez-faire.” In his article, Prof. Bédarida describes the nature of this revisionist reevaluation and then seeks to assess its accuracy for the period between 1830 and 1870.
First of all, historians such as O. MacDonagh and H. Parris have pointed to growing state concern during the Victorian period with public assistance to the poor, work conditions, railways, mines, public health, and education. They further emphasize that regulatory activities in such widely varying areas of British life engendered an expanding, bureaucratic apparatus, belying the usual picture of a skeletal and largely powerless Victorian government.
Indeed, MacDonagh discerns a “revolution in government” during this period—a governmental expansion brought about by growing urbanization, industrialization, and pauperization in Britain. Exposure of abuses gave rise to Parliamentary studies which, in turn, resulted in elaborate regulatory legislation.
Revisionist historians differ, however, in defining the intellectual base of this revolution in government. MacDonagh, (along with D. Roberts and G. Kiston Clark) sees it as the triumph of British empiricism. Without theories or preconceived notions, lawmakers and administrators sought the most efficient solutions to the problems at hand and gropingly evolved the bureaucratic system which was firmly in place by the end of the nineteenth century. According to this view, the revolution occurred simply by “muddling through.”
On the other hand, historians such as H. Parris and J. Hart view the change as the direct result of the political and social doctrines of Benthamite utilitarianism, which, while distrustful of government, saw its function as that of a rational
organizer—harmonizing divergent interests, propogating the spirit of progress, and promoting the happiness of the greatest number. Prof. Bédarida concurs in this latter view. He adds that Adam Smith and Victorian economists such as John Ramsay McCulloch (1789–1864) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) all admitted interventions by the state in the name of general utility. The door to expanding government had thus been opened by theorists of the limited state.
Furthermore, Bédarida warns against exaggerating the powers of the Victorian central government. While undoubtedly expanding, the growth of bureaucracy was considerably restricted by a budgetary frugality which held sway throughout the nineteenth century. Limited resources, in turn, significantly hampered the implementation of reform legislation. In addition, an individualist ethic undoubtedly pervaded English thinking of the period. Voluntary associations, not government, assumed the larger part of the responsibility for social services, while the aristocratic and upper-middle classes frequently acted out of a sense of duty for the common good.
Thus, Prof. Bédarida warns against substituting one myth for another. While certainly not a laissez-faire skeleton, neither was Victorian government a Welfare State giant. In Bédarida's view, the firm and disciplined Victorian State should be understood according to a simpler model. It was not the benevolent “Etat-Providence” seemingly assumed by revisionists, but instead the resolute “Etat-Gendarme.”
O'Connell, Anti-Slavery, and Freedom
“Daniel O'Connell and American Anti-Slavery” Irish Historical Studies (Ireland), 20(March 1977):3–25.
The crusade to abolish chattel slavery was one of the first transatlantic movements defending human rights. Diverse abolitionists in England, Ireland and America worked together to banish first the slave trade and then slavery itself from the British Empire and America. The complexities of cooperation among very disparate political and social groups form an interesting historical model for contemporary defenders of international human rights.
Daniel O'Connell, the leader of Irish liberalism and champion of Catholic emancipation, subsequently sought to repeal the act of union linking Ireland to Great Britain. O'Connell similarly supported advocates of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the United States. The often conflicting pressures of moral principle and political expediency, however, complicated O'Connell's relations with the abolitionists. He seriously depended on the political, moral, and especially financial support from America in his struggle to accomplish repeal, or home rule for Ireland. Yet the Irish in America were politically allied with the Democratic party, the anti-Abolitionist party in the pre-Civil War period. The Irish-Americans, sensitive to sativist attacks upon them as both foreigners and Catholics, resented O'Connell's urging that they support the abolitionist cause, a cause led by the same Puritan forces hostile to their own political and cultural needs.
O'Connell first took up the abolitionist cause in 1824. Following Catholic emancipation in 1829, he concentrated his attacks upon the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies and the United States. In 1832 he championed William Lloyd Garrison's American abolitionist movement and his attack on black colonization as both impractical and unethical. Although O'Connell's attitudes mobilized Irish and British opinion against slavery, it failed to influence the American Irish.
During the early 1840s, in the midst of his international drive to repeal the act of union, O'Connell's antislavery commitment provoked a backlash among the Irish repealers in America. Stung by his embarrassing intervention, the American Irish wished O'Connell to downplay his abolitionist rhetoric. Likewise, many abolitionists in Ireland, especially Irish Quakers, did not reciprocate O'Connell's support of abolition by supporting his repeal movement. The international movement for repeal of the act of union between Ireland and Great Britain suffered severe tensions in their fragile alliance.
Economic conflicts also arose. O'Connell's desire to build up a cotton textile industry in Ireland by reducing British tariffs on American cotton was opposed by abolitionists who felt such a policy strengthened the economy of the slave system in the American South. O'Connell's principled supported of abolition began to cut into the contribution from American supporters of repeal. When O'Connell realized that many abolitionists were identified with prohibition, Sabbath restrictions, nativism, and anti-Catholicism, he dissociated himself from any particular clique of American abolitionists, but maintained his principled support of abolition. O'Connell's opposition to American annexation of Texas, because it would strengthen the slave system, also enraged his American and Irish admirers.
O'Connell stood steadfast in his commitment to abolish human slavery even when it undermined his lifelong ambition to achieve home rule for Ireland. The conflicting interests and ethical imperatives facing a statesman with international constituencies illuminate the difficulties that similar ethical commitments to human liberty present to statesmen of our own time.
Carnegie and Spencer
“Andrew Carnegie and Herbert Spencer: A Special Relationship.” American Studies 13(1979):57–71.
The intimate friendship of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie and philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) provides some insight into the reception of Spencer's theory of social evolution by the American business class of the Gilded Age. Carnegie proclaimed himself a dedicated follower of Spencer: “he was my intellectual and spiritual savior.” The rational theory of progress developed by Spencer was very attractive to Carnegie, even in its early formation. Social evolution provided Carnegie with an intellectual basis for his enduring optimism, his cherished belief in human progress, and a justification for highly competitive business mores.
Though Spencer regarded business survival to be a keen competition of “eat or be eaten,” he did not encourage the proliferation of this commercial cannibalism. His correspondence with Carnegie indicated he was highly critical of American competition, monopolistic practices, and pervasive materialism. At a farewell dinner hosted by Carnegie for Spencer, Spencer expounded on the ills of American “persistent activity” (much to Carnegie's chagrin): “I hear that a great trader among you deliberately endeavoured to crush out everyone whose business competed with his own; makes life harder for all others engaged in it; and excludes from it many who might otherwise gain competencies. We have had somewhat too much of the ‘gospel of work.’ It is time to preach the gospel of relaxation.”
Several times Spencer asked Carnegie to use his great wealth to promote world peace and solve conflicts, since they shared an antipathy of militarism and imperialism. Spencer's personal philanthropy had a tremendous impact on Carnegie, influencing Carnegie to display a social responsibility by employing his wealth for the general welfare during his lifetime—a novel idea in this industrialist period. Between 1887–1907, Carnegie gave $125 million to philanthropic enterprises, but never in terms of direct aid to the poor and underprivileged. His generosity was colored with a shrewd discretion of the Spencerian moral: Carnegie aided only those who he felt could help themselves. Like Spencer, he saw no reason to save the unfit.
Perhaps the more interesting point of their friendship was the deep fondness they felt for one another, particularly Carnegie's warm emotions toward Spencer. At Spencer's death, Carnegie tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade the Dean of Westminster Abbey to place a bust of Spencer in the Abbey. “If Spencer enters the Abbey, it is not to worship, but to be worshipped,” he wrote. In Andrew Carnegie, Herbert Spencer had a good friend and admirer who helped his name and theories reach the American public. In Spencer, Carnegie had an intellectual mentor and inspiring idol. It was a unique relationship that was both spontaneous and useful to two of the most influential men in the nineteenth century.
Republicanism vs. Liberal Individualism
“Republicanism Reconsidered: Some Thoughts on the Foundation and Preservation of the American Republic.” The Review of Politics 41(January 1979):61–95.
Contemporary scholars are beginning to see in the political thought of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison a concerted effort to harmonize liberal democracy with republican political theory. That is, the founding fathers devised a system to join the republican ideals of “civic virtue” and of direct, political participation to the practical need for a representative government and the liberal ideal of economic individualism.
In this mixing of the liberal and the republican traditions, however, the founders lost sight of what it takes socially and politically to promote and sustain civic virtue and a sense of community. Their failure to address this matter weakened the republican tradition and progressively emphasized liberal democracy. The author argues that a representative system not rooted in an activist, virtuous citizenry fails to cultivate a sense of fellow-feeling among citizens who come to ignore concern for problems beyond their own. This type of mutual human concern is what is meant by civic virtue. In the absence of such civic concern, the citizens' government responds only to the narrow interest of individuals and not the broader interests of the community. In the American context, such a government may give itself over to economic liberalism or social liberalism, but it has thereby been transplanted from its republican roots.
Did the founders mean to create a republic? Yes and no. Yes, they saw their art of constitution making as being well within a republican tradition stretching from republican Rome to their own era. Yes, they sought to protect the element of civic virtue and responsibility necessary to republicanism and protect the citizens from governors corrupted by fame and ambition. But no, the founders discouraged the activist citizenry in the structure of government they chose. And no, even so ardent a republican as Jefferson could never clearly state whether the people should lead in governance or merely defend their rights and privileges. Of course, the first policy embraces republicanism; the second policy cultivates liberal democracy.
Some bibliographical items relevant to the issues of republicanism and individualism in the American political experience and history include: Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (1955); J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (1975); Robert Horwitz (ed.), Moral Foundations of the American Republic (1977); H. Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (1965); Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970; Zera Fink, The Classical Republicans (1945); David L. Jacobson (ed.), The English Libertarian Heritage: From the Writings of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon in the Independent Whig and Cato's Letters (1965); and Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth Century Common-wealthman (1959).
Rousseau's Social Contract and Freedom
“La Théorie politique de Rousseau—l'homme et le citoyen.” [“The Political Theory of Rousseau: the Man and the Citizen”] Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 50(October 1978):501–533.
Liberal critics have often attacked Rousseau's Social Contract (1762) for what they consider a flagrant contradiction. How can Rousseau claim to safeguard the freedom of citizens in his ideal commonwealth when the mechanics of his utopian system effectively eliminate all areas of individual activity and dissent? Such criticisms reflect a defective or completely erroneous understanding of Rousseau's view of human nature, freedom, and the problems posed by existence in society.
To begin, Prof. Biou asserts that Rousseau's “natural man” represents the only genuine attempt among seventeenth-and eighteenth-century thinkers to depict the character of presocial man. All other philosophical anthropologists read into the primitive state of nature such socially derived anachronisms as law, justice, and property.
Rousseau's natural man, on the other hand, possesses only self-love, a sense of compassion (both observable in other higher species), and a capacity for self-perfection which is unique in nature. This almost unlimited virtualité serves as a clumsy substitute for animal instinct. Through it, however, men quickly establish a social existence and acquire such communally derived qualities as imagination, reason, love, and shame.
Rousseau posits one last trait as essential to human character in the natural state: liberty, the ability to control one's own destiny. He points out that primitives encountered by European explorers defended their freedom as their most precious treasure. On the other hand, highly civilized Europeans at all levels were characterized by the most abject servility.
As men gradually become social beings, their conflicting personal interests give rise to a ferocious struggle for supremacy, which results in the disparity between the powerful and weak, between the rich and poor. Later, a proposal for equitable laws is promulgated to remove these glaring inequalities and the savage conflict of interests. In actual fact, this proposal represents a subterfuge on the part of the rich, since they are the ones who mete out “justice” and make use of it to secure their position.
At the same time, a deep psychological conflict arises in those naive enough to be deceived by this subterfuge. Individual man is torn between the instinct to pursue his own private interests on the one hand, and his vaunted duty to the common good on the other.
In Prof. Biou's view, the Social Contract constitutes a consistent attempt to heal this split in man, to end the strife of personal interests, and to preserve freedom and equality from the ravages of justice. Rousseau does not entertain idle dreams of restoring some presocial state of nature. Instead, he proposes a radically social solution to the problems posed by life in society. In effect, he abolishes individuality and incorporates persons as cell-units of a total social organism.
Far from abolishing human freedom, the Social Contract, as Biou sees it, outlines a plan for communal living in which freedom in a social context finally becomes a reality. First of all, in Rousseau's utopia, a person's entire interests lie with the community of which he is an integral and inalienable part. Since citizens exist only as members of the one social organism (a kind of secular Mystical Body), the tension between private and social values evaporates. By eliminating this strife, one eliminates at the same time any notion of “winners” and “losers.” Law, rather than the tool of privilege, becomes the true expression of the general will.
As an indispensable part of the general will, each citizen enjoys the precious gift of freedom—effective control over the community's and, thus, his own destiny. After the sense of the general will has been determined by discussion and voting, liberal dissent becomes a contradiction. In Rousseau's scheme, a dissenter would be fighting, in effect, against himself.
Thus, Prof. Biou concludes, Rousseau's reasoning neither contradicts itself nor serves as an apology for oppression. On the contrary, Rousseau wages a valiant battle in the Social Contract against the very contradictions which have plagued life in society throughout human history.
Artistic and Cosmic Harmony
“Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and the Idea of Harmony.” Stanford French Review 2(Fall 1978):209–222.
The moral and aesthetic idea of harmony figures prominently in Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, as well as in Ptolemy's system of cosmology. As such, the notion gained a wide currency in the Middle Ages which it never completely lost in succeeding centuries. It appears clearly in the “pre-established harmony” of Leibniz's Monadologie (1714) and in later eighteenth-century works such as Gresset's curious Discours sur l'Harmonie. Bernardin de Saint Pierre's Harmonies de la Nature (published posthumously in 1815) represents by its sprawling scope perhaps the most ambitious attempt to synthesize a vision of universal organicity.
Bernardin de Saint Pierre's (1737–1814) passionate search for physical and moral harmony in the natural world originated in a realm far more basic than that of intellectual inquiry. His quest stemmed from a deep-seated psychological need. A bitter sense of isolation in a world of seemingly senseless cruelties prompted him to attempt a general integration of absolute values—an obsession equally evident in his numerous projects for ideal republics.
Bernardin's Rousseauist scrutiny of the world through the lens of sensibility reflects a mentality prevalent at the end of the eighteenth century—a mentality which spurned the pretensions of pure reason as an empty shell. Ultimate truth was to be grasped by those who discerned (through feeling) a spontaneous and generative unity in nature, an organic unity independent of artificial syntheses concocted by the human mind. The vision of a universal order permeated by moral values and presided over by a benevolent Providence constituted Bernardin's retort to spokesmen for the teleology of rationalistic “progress.” From his visionary perspective, the organic vitality of the natural world transcended by far this superficial notion of change and development.
Even today, Bernardin's project of universal harmony attracts readers by its novelty and comprehensive scope. Beginning with the sun as the center of the solar system, he traces the all-pervasive inter-relations among air, water, earth, flora, fauna, and human beings with their concepts, social systems, and religions. Subject matter and style in the Harmonies combine to convey the abundant vitality and admirable design of the natural world. This effect is amplified by the variety of genres contained within the work. We know that the completed Harmonies would have included almost everything Bernardin had previously written—the fictional works added to deepen his
readers' comprehension of the moral resonances pervading man and nature.
Despite the luxuriant quality of the work, however, Bernardin's Harmonies exhibit a balanced structure which is clearly intended to reflect the mystic proportions disclosed by nature. In Prof. Guy's words, “the work can easily be cut in two on a mathematical basis between Books 5 and 6, with each part containing twenty-five ‘chapters’; the first group would then be seen to deal with the universe, its flora and fauna, while the second deals with man and his institutions . . .One could easily continue in this vein, showing how there is an almost perfect balancing of the parts . . .a sort of harmony that is nothing short of transcendent.”
Thus, at every level, the Harmonies de la Nature constitute a microcosm, a model intended to reflect the patterns of the larger universe. With characteristic brashness and devotion, Bernardin creates his own universe, a not-so-humble tribute to the cosmos fashioned by the Divine Creator.
Pound and Politics
“Aesthetics and/or Politics: Ezra Pound's Late Critical Prose.” Centennial Review 23(Winter 1979):1–19
The late critical prose of Ezra Pound was not of the same high caliber of his earlier works. In his later years, Pound became obsessed with the pursuit for a political Utopia, which eventually obscured factual reality.
Pound had always esteemed the artist's unique capacity for drawing cohesiveness to a chaotic world. The artist alone had the ability to instigate a new cultural reality that Pound felt was sorely lacking in the post-World War I era. Pound's primary activity in the 1930s was to search for a new cultural synthesis for this modern, rapidly changing period. In his quest, he transferred the responsibility for salvaging the world from the artist to current political figures. Searching history to find models for his ideal, he found two—Confucius and Thomas Jefferson—and then applied their political wisdom to the rising Benito Mussolini.
Pound's fascination with the Confucian system of ethical behavior was rooted in his passion for the creation of order. The sense of appropriateness, cohesiveness, and precision in language were the aesthetic values Pound used in his own art. To realize the essential human relations and behave accordingly would result in finer degrees of aesthetic, personal, and social integration.
He saw other qualities of a paradisiacal civilization in Jeffersonian America (1760–1830). Seen by Pound as the central energizing force in early American culture, Thomas Jefferson commanded his highest respect. Jefferson was a “total” man to Pound—one who appreciated comprehensive order and internal cohesiveness. Inspired by his interpretation of Jeffersonian politics, Pound easily turned to academic totalitarianism to find his political and aesthetical renewal.
Pound felt that Jefferson had constructed early America with the creative energy befitting an artist as he faced the task of “trying to set up a civilization in the wilderness.” He saw an equally demanding task facing Mussolini, whose raw materials were not the elements of wilderness,
but the fragments of history. “The heritage of Jefferson . . .is HERE, NOW in the Italian Peninsula at the beginning of fascist second decennio . . .,” he wrote.
In his attempts to stress resemblances, Pound overlooked the radical differences between the two men. He justified his composite portrait of Jefferson and Mussolini on the grounds that both men were pragmatists who believed the ends justified the means. However, Pound never defined the “ends,” almost as though simply having a main purpose was a sufficient sign of greatness.
That is the fatal flaw of Ezra Pound's later years: he avoided contradictions by retreating from facts or misinterpreting the facts he did encounter. He searched for an ordering principle, which would triumph over the multiplicity of the modern world, by combining various elements of reality into a unified whole. However, by turning order into an end in itself, rather than seeing it as a factor which could benefit humanity, Pound was led into misinterpreting reality. He eventually pledged allegience to Fascist Italy. Soon after, he was indicted for treason by the United States government, and confined to a hospital for twelve years, after being ruled mentally unfit to answer the charges.
Ideology and Classes
“The Dominant Ideology Thesis.” British Journal of Sociology 29(June 1978):149–70.
The ‘dominant ideology thesis’ is the thesis that “suggests that there is in most societies a set of beliefs which dominates all others and which, through its incorporation in the consciousness of subordinate classes, tends to inhibit the development of radical political dissent.” In this paper Abercrombie and Turner attempt to show that the empirical evidence does not bear out this thesis and that the subordinate classes do not necessarily accept the dominant ideology. Rather the evidence appears to show that it is the dominant and not the dominated classes that accept the dominant belief system.
After showing that the original thesis as formulated by Marx and Engels contained two conflicting theories of ideology, the authors challenge the basic assumption of the dominant ideology thesis, which is that the dominant class “is able to force, or at least ensure that the dominated classes think their thoughts within the concepts provided by the belief systems of the dominant class.” This theory assumes that “there is a common culture in which all classes share and that the content and theories of that common culture are dictated by the dominant class.” However, empirical evidence is cited to prove that subordinate classes do not believe, share, or accept the dominant ideology. For example, official Christianity was unsuccessful in securing the rural peasantry “within the precise confines of orthodox belief and practice.” (The attempt to promote Methodism as the dominant ideology in nineteenth century Britain is given short shrift. “It is difficult to see how the churches could efficiently and effectively dispense the ‘opium of the masses’ when the working class was absent from the churches.”)
As an alternative to the dominant ideology thesis the authors argue that the dominant ideology of feudalism and early capitalism was a mechanism by which the coherence of the dominant class itself was assured. Thus the religious and moral core of the dominant ideology attempted to guarantee the family as a mechanism for the conservation of property and to provide a degree of normative coherence within the dominant class. In late capitalism, however, the changing nature of the dominant class in terms of the partial separation of ownership and control has meant that the dominant ideology ceases to be crucial for the coherence of the dominant class. The authors reject the idea of a monistic dominant ideology in late capitalism: “the ideology of owners of small capitalist firms in the private sector is frequently in opposition to the beliefs and interests of large capitalist enterprises, multinational firms, and the state industries.”
The Journal of