MULTICULTURALISM’S SILENT PARTNER
By David Rieff (Harper’s Magazine, Aug 1993)
The debate over multiculturalism continues, seemingly unstanchable, with Gerald Graff’s Beyond the Culture Wars, Charles Sykes’s A Nation of Victims, and, most valuably, Robert Hughes’s Culture of Complain adding, respectively, to the left, right, and center of an already crowded shelf: Eagleton, Gates, Bromwich, Schlesinger, Paglia, Lehman, D’Souza, Kimball, Bloom, and more. The ongoing arguments about race and gender, the canon and deconstruction, values, victims, and sensitivities represent a growth industry, unlikely to face a downturn anytime soon. Campus life would be emptied of excitement, if not of subject matter, without these debates. For, it seems, there is nothing more bracing, more thrilling, more bedazzling to an academic intellectual–be she or he a neo-conservative, a feminist, or a new historicist–than a struggle that seems to exist, at present anyway, almost purely in the realm of ideas. Here, for once, there,is no competition from the “real world.” Ideas clang against one another like unbuffered neurons, and when the din momentarily subsides, those who deploy them have risked nothing, at least if they’ve achieved tenure.
But what if multiculturalism were not simply an idea, sprung from the minds of intellectuals, but rather a byproduct or corollary of a specific material integument? If intellectual history teaches anything, it is that few theoretical debates, from Aquinas to Foucault, have been simply theoretical. Even allowing for its heightened esotericism, there is no reason to suppose that the advent of multiculturalism is any more separable from the society in which it has arisen than, say, the philosophy of the Enlightenment was from the rapidly secularizing and industrializing world that gave birth to it. The shards of many systems of belief litter every era; it is into an era’s deeper structures that we have to look in order to explain why one set of ideas and mores triumphs and another fades.
Intellectuals, of course, beg to differ, and the attraction of the multiculturalist debate for both the Right and the Left is the way it has been framed–the assumption that what arguments about the canon prove is that here (yes!) we matter. In this legend it is a good thing that intellectuals Right to Left are able to agree that Marxism along with Soviet state Communism died in 1989. For an application if not of the methods of “vulgar” Marxism then at least of those (related) models of understanding that are to be found on the business pages of the better newspapers might produce a rather more grounded sense of what we are talking about when we talk and talk about multiculturalism. Despite the denials and mystifications of the intelligentsia, multiculturalism is a phenomenon with a silent partner: the broad and radical change now taking place within world capitalism.
Self-evidently, it is in the interest of all those who labor in the culture industry to insist that ideas either count more than economic structures or, indeed, are the agents out of which these structures are fashioned. But it is a very American habit as well. There is a sense in which the intellectuals now immersed in the multiculturalism debate are actually returning to the country’s oldest spiritual assumptions embodied by those first cultural critics, the preachers and ministers. It was, after all, the Protestant contention that words really were things: millennial expectations might just bring on the millennium. This is the basis for the assertion of multiculturalism: words define reality. And the neo-conservatives accede to the point, which is why they are so fierce in their opposition to what is going on on campuses these days.
It is an astonishing situation. On the eve of this, the real, not the figurative, millennium, with the Soviet Union a receding memory and the Cuban revolution, that last repository of political romanticism, in its end game, we find the seemingly radical-minded taking refuge not simply in the English and anthropology depart meets but in a deep, pre-Marxist current of interpretation. Behind them the conservatives come capering. And in this rarefied stratosphere the multiculturalist debate, which is without question the central intellectual argument of our moment, is joined–a folie a deux in which one side could not survive without the other.
Those offering seminars in, say, queer studies together with those lambasting such programs in the pages of The New Criterion both overstate and misstate their cases. All insist that the advent of multiculturalism is a critical watershed in American history. And all agree that the debate is a zero-sum game in which either the status quo (call it Western civilization or white male hegemony, according to your taste) will be maintained or some radical new understanding (describe it as justice or barbarism, as you will) will be established. What faith in the power of ideas! As if ours were a culture in which historical memory stretched all the way back to Periclean Athens or the marauding Hyksos. That academics can find crucial the question, posed by Martin Bernal in his book Black Athena, of whether the roots of classical Greek culture were or were not African is almost touching in a society in which most high-school students could not be counted on to name the principal belligerents of World War II.
Reality is elsewhere. For better or worse (probably both), ours is a culture of consumerism and spectacle, of things and not ideas. Most Americans understand this on some level and are comfortable, even happy, with the fact. Which makes the assumptions embraced by our intellectuals debating multiculturalism–particularly the assumption that words define reality–all the stranger. In a country of Kmarts and “material girls,” what is all this anguish about the canon?
Can conservatives really believe that a few curriculum changes will undermine a system that could not be weakened by the Comintern or the Soviet Black Sea fleet? As for our campus revolutionaries: How can they insist on the emancipatory power of multiculturalism when during the 1980s–the very decade in which multiculturalism became the dominant intellectual current in elite sectors of academia–the conditions of the poor, of working-class women, and of America’s non-white citizens deteriorated dramatically? If multiculturalism is what its proponents claim it is, why has its moment seen the richest 1 percent of Americans grow richer and the deunionization of the American workplace? There is something wrong with this picture.
This is not to say that multiculturalism is unimportant; it is enormously important, just not in the way either its champions or its detractors suppose. Indeed, the curiousness of the situation is that both sides have misconstrued the power of multiculturalism in precisely the same way: as a threat to the capitalist system. In reality, it is nothing of the sort, as becomes clear the moment one stops looking at multiculturalism in ideologized, millenarian terms–as if it were some kind of pure, homegrown manifestation of the Zeitgeist–and instead sees it as perhaps the most salient cultural epiphenomenon of an increasingly globalized capitalist system.
If multiculturalism is understood in such a way, some rather puzzling aspects of the debate begin to make sense. Take the readiness of administrators of Ivy League colleges to accept what is, by any standard, a sweeping overhaul of history, philosophy, and literature curricula. Conservatives tend to deploy their Spengler and attribute this to a failure of will, or to the success of the campus radicals from the Sixties in burrowing their way into academia and imposing their agenda. While it would be naive to imagine that there are not some academics who think they have “infiltrated the Establishment” (and who have retroactively persuaded themselves that that is what they had been doing from graduate school on), one would be credulous indeed to think that the men and women who run universities–many of which are, for all intents and purposes, enormous companies complete with vast real-estate holdings and stock portfolios–do not know a real threat when they see one. The equanimity these university bureaucrats display in the face of multiculturalism is not some cowardly attempt to avoid student demonstrations–let students call for universities to divest themselves of all stocks and bonds rather than of interests in companies doing business in South Africa and they will discover that their deans and trustees are not nearly as conciliatory as they may have seemed. Nor are trustees and provosts reluctantly accepting some radical agenda they lack the will, or ideas, to thwart.
Behind the embrace of multiculturalism among college administrators is the belief that there is no incongruity in simultaneously subsidizing an English department made up of feminists and poststructuralists, a physics department that is up to its eye balls in research grants from the federal government, and an enormous (and enormously profitable) quasi-professional sports establishment, complete with athletes who are students only in the technical sense. Once administrators have decided that the university will be a kind of department store, then each new course offering becomes little more than another product line, and department chairpersons begin to act like the store’s buyers. Why should it matter to the provost if his professional advisers think the institution should start recruiting Chicano-studies experts and let Chaucerians gradually go out of stock? People make decisions like this in corporate America every day; indeed, these are the decisions CEOs are paid to make. There are cultural consequences, to be sure, but the redicals on campus are no more dangerous than a display of Mao caps and jackets would be at Bloomingdale’s.
Besides, there is a caustic sense in which multiculturalism is only the most recent manifestation of the diversification and specialization of academic work. About this, administrators and radical professors are of one mind. As a firmly multiculturalist pamphlet, “Speaking for the Humanities,” put the matter a few years ago, “Professionalization makes thought possible.” And since the multiculturalists are firmly convinced that what they are doing is the virtuous empowerment of all the marginalized constituencies in the United States, or some such, they can believe in the syllogism implicit in their enterprise just as easily–namely, that professionalization makes virtue possible.
Virtue, sure … okay. But, more important to global economics, multiculturalism helps to legitimize whole new areas of consumerism. Frankly, culture was always a problem for the marketplace. For one thing, despite the fact that one art form, painting, became extremely valuable as a commodity over the course of the twentieth century, there was always a latent antagonism between an economic system ever more dependent on maximizing growth through increased consumption and a high culture in which the old, the long-cherished, and the irreplaceable were held in higher esteem than the new. Most of the great examples of high culture are, quite literally, artifacts. They can be packaged profitably (the success of the modern museum testifies to this), but they cannot be manufactured to meet rising demand.
Multiculturalism is one way of changing all this. One of its central tenets is to undermine the idea of the masterpiece–of the criterion of quality–as anti-democratic. For the multiculturalist, notions such as “quality” are tainted; their real purpose is to preserve the privileges of a dominant group: in the American context, dead white males. And the multiculturalists are in command–sort of–of a couple of truths: Western culture has excluded many things; art in the traditional sense is anti egalitarian, in that it demands that people judge a given work to be not only subjectively but objectively superior to another. It is the innately hierarchical nature of art, or even, as they used to say, art appreciation, that sets the multiculturalists’ teeth on edge–they are suspicious of hierarchy. For, as they rightly surmise, if there is hierarchy how can there be liberation?
So far, so good, radically speaking. The mistake the multiculturalists make is in imagining that their efforts are in some crucial way bound to undermine the fundamental interests of capitalism. The contrary is surely closer to the truth: the multiculturalist mode is what any smart businessman would prefer. For if all art is,deemed as good as all other art, and, for that matter, if the point of art is not greatness but the production of works of art that reflect the culture and aspirations of various ethnic, sexual, or racial subgroups within a society, then one is in a position to increase supply almost at will in order to meet increases in demand.
Instead of being a rare and costly thing, culture becomes simultaneously a product, like a car–something that can be made new every few years–and an abundant resource, like, well, people. The result is-that the consumption of culture can increasingly come to resemble the consumption of goods. After all, just as one cannot say that a preference for Pepsi is superior to a preference for Dr Pepper, what is euphemistically known as “cultural pluralism” permits a similar abdication of judgment in matters of artistic taste. The rules of the market are soon in full control. If students want to read Alice Walker in a literature class instead of the Iliad, fine. The publishing industry certainly has no qualms. It knows it can market Walker more savvily than it can market the Greeks. At any rate, it is not a case, as conservatives allege, of the student as barbarian. Rather, it is a case of the student as customer. And in our society–and, increasingly, most societies–the customer is always right.
Universities do not exist in a vacuum. In a society like our own, where the images of popular culture are far more widespread and easily grasped than those of high art, it should come as no surprise that these images have made their way onto the campus as well. To be sure, the academic study of a pop star like Madonna comes kitted out in the arcane rhetoric of academic feminism and under the rubric of some new university subspecialty like “cultural studies.” But the underlying reality is that the professors who teach this stuff, however much they have convinced themselves that they are using popular culture for their own emancipatory ends, have fallen just as completely under its sway as any other citizen. Camille Paglia is, in this instance anyway, more honest than most when she claims to be like Madonna. She’s a professor who would prefer to be a pop star. Her colleagues like to imagine that they are revolutionaries who can harness the energies of pop music to their own political ends, but deep down they want to be stars, too.
For all their writings on power, hegemony, and oppression, the campus multiculturalists seem indifferent to the question of where they fit into the material scheme of things. Perhaps it’s tenure, with its way of shielding the senior staff from the rigors of someone else’s bottom-line thinking. Working for an institution in which neither pay nor promotion is connected to performance, job security is guaranteed (after tenure is attained), and pension arrangements are probably the finest in any industry in the country–no wonder a poststructuralist can easily believe that words are deeds. She or he can afford to. Still, this unwillingness to face up to the connections between multiculturalism and the liberal capitalist world order is strange, considering that so much of the multiculturalists’ intellectual effort has concerned language. It is precisely in words that the most obvious similarities between the capitalist and the multiculturalist enterprises are readily observable.
Are the multiculturalists truly unaware of how closely their treasured catchphrases–“cultural diversity,” “difference,” the need to “do away with boundaries”–resemble the stock phrases of the modern corporation: “product diversification,” “the global marketplace,” and “the boundary-less company”? In a 1990 issue of the new historicists’ most important journal, Representations, the University of Toronto law professor Jennifer Nedelsky wrote of the need to do away with the idea of boundaries, an idea that implies “a separation and opposition that does not capture the complex, fertile, and tension-laden interconnection between self and others.” This is rather typical multicultural theorizing. But how different is it from Larry Hirschhorn and Thomas Gilmore alluding matter-of-factly last year in the Harvard Business Review to the tendency among corporations to replace traditional “vertical hierarchies with horizontal networks”? For many executives, they wrote, “a single metaphor has come to embody this managerial challenge and to capture the kind of organization they want to create: the `corporation without boundaries.'” Now, why is Nedelsky radical? Or, perhaps, why aren’t Hirschhorn and Gilmore?
Obviously, the two pieces had quite different purposes. Nedelsky, a feminist legal scholar, was making a critique of property, whereas Hirschhorn and Gilmore were attempting to describe the problems and potential of this new style of corporate thinking. Nonetheless, the rhetorical similarity between the two visions is astonishing. The more one reads in academic multiculturalist journals and in business publications, and the more one contrasts the speeches of CEOs and the speeches of noted multiculturalist academics, the more one is struck by the similarities in the way they view the world. Far from standing in implacable intellectual opposition to each other, both groups see the same racial and gender transformations in the demographic makeup of the United States and of the American work force. That non-white workers will be the key to the twenty-first-century American labor market is a given in most sensible long-range corporate plans. Like the multiculturalists, the business elite is similarly aware of the crucial role of women, and of the need to change the workplace in such a way as to make it more hospitable to them. More generally, both CEOs and Ph.D.’s insist more and more that it is no longer possible to speak in terms of the United States as some fixed, sovereign entity. The world has moved on; capital and labor are mobile; and with each passing year national borders, not to speak of national identities, become less relevant either to consciousness or to commerce.
As usual, it is the business community rather than the multiculturalists who have taken the most radical steps toward acknowledging these new conditions. Surely the academic emphasis on the need to stop dividing the world according to antinomies of self and other is far less daring, for all its millenarian posturing, than the decision of Ted Turner some years ago to ban the use of the word “foreign” from the broadcasts of his Cable,News Network. Businessmen certainly need no lessons from academia on the pitfalls of nationalist feeling. In Hoover’s Handbook of World Business 1993, a reference guide to the 191 most important non U.S. companies, “foreign production” is described as a “quaint term … used for the Toyota plant down the street, or Sony’s ownership of Columbia Pictures.” “At the cash register,” the management consultant Kenichi Ohmae goes on to say, “you don’t care about country of origin or country of residence.”
And, of course, the more astute capitalists and careful observers of them understand perfectly well what the consequences of an assertion like Ohmae’s really are. As the management guru Peter Drucker put it in a recent interview, “Most of what we assume axiomatically no longer kits our reality, lending a surreal air to our work and lives. The world seems to have dissolved into a series of media events that appear either bigger than reality or totally formless.” These are sentences that, without attribution, a reader might well assume were the product of a radical culture critic, some neo-Marcusian, or else a colleague of Professor Nedelsky’s. Instead, of course, they represent the thinking of a man who believes himself to be formulating the rules for the success of capitalism in the twenty-first century.
It is probably true that the phrase “think globally, act locally” began as a slogan of the environmental move meet. But its adoption, by companies ranging from Time Warner to AT&T, should tell us something about what the real ideological applications are. The products based on a version of this new global paradigm are already being introduced. AT&T recently unveiled a foreign-language phone service within the United States that enables visitors to prepay for international news, weather reports, and currency exchange information in a number of languages.
The multiculturalists may pride themselves on posing a fundamental threat to what Professor Henry Giroux has called “the hegemonic notion that Eurocentric culture is superior to other cultures and traditions by virtue of its canonical status as a universal measure of Western civilization.” But the reality is that no serious player in the business world has anything but the most vestigial or sentimental interest in Western civilization, as it is roughly understood by campus radicals and conservatives alike. What each side’s argument fails to take into account is that capitalism is the bull in the china shop of human history. The market economy, now global in scale, is by its nature corrosive of all established hierarchies and certainties, up to arid including–in a world now more than 50 percent non-white and in which the most promising markets lie in Asia–white racism and male domination. If any group has embraced the rallying cry “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture’s got to go,” it is the world business elite. One can go further. Just as the late Irving Howe, taxed by a radical heckler during the late Sixties, could reply confidently that he would be a radical long after his interlocutor had become a dentist, the chances are that the business world will be multicultural long after some new fad has gripped academia. Because, for businessmen, something more is at stake than ideas. Eurocentrism makes no economic sense in a world where, within twenty-five years, the combined gross national product of East Asia will likely be larger than Europe’s and twice that of the United States. In such a world, the notion of the primacy of Western culture will only be an impediment to the chief goal of every company: the maximization of profits.
Obviously, business leaders have become multiculturalists out of these perceived necessities: they are hardly motivated by the altruism or righteous anger that informs the views of the academic multiculturalists. But this does not make their commitment to multiculturalism any less complete. What the campus radicals–and the neo-cons too, for that matter–have failed to recognize is how cold a place the market is, and how radically it has changed over the past thirty years. In the days when a globalized economy largely meant an economy of plantations, as it did in the nineteenth century, or later, when companies set up subsidiaries abroad but had no interest in globally integrating their operations, identifying with the nation-state made sense most of the time–the consumers were Western in taste and locale. But now there are few industries in which long term planning on the basis of national identity makes sense. Indeed, only multinational, which is to say multicultural, approaches seem sound.
There is no business establishment anymore that is committed, in Giroux’s simpleminded phrase, to hegemonic notions of European superiority. In an era when the greatest single financial power to have emerged on the globe is non-white Japan, such a stance would be folly. Our corporate masters are reaming to eat sushi like everyone else. This does not mean that Tokyo will replace New York as the center of capitalism in the same way that New York replaced London or London replaced Amsterdam. To the contrary, the model of center versus periphery becomes ever more outmoded in our multicentered world economy. It was valid only as long as the difficulty in communications made one single center necessary. Now, with fiber optics and the rest of the communications revolution, it is hard to say just where the center is anymore, or if we even need one. Moreover, the increasing interpenetration of various national capitalisms, and the fact that it is perfectly possible now to have a multinational with headquarters in San Francisco, strategic partners in Dortmund and Osaka, factories in Baja California Norte and the Dominican Republic, and a back office in the west of Ireland, means that all notions of definable borders give way to notions of flow and reciprocity.
At the same time, the decline of the good-paying working-class job and the consequent estrangement of the rich from the poor, after a century of the two groups having grown culturally (because economically) closer together, means that it is just as likely that, say, a financial broker from New York would feel more commonality with a broker from Tokyo than he or she would with someone from Harlem or the South Bronx. The collapse of borders, far from being the liberating event that the academic multiculturalists have envisaged, has brought about the multiculturalism of the market, not the multiculturalism of justice. And if there is a mystery about all this, it is that so many people could have expected a different, more “enlightened” outcome.
There is no question that the kinds of change multiculturalism entails will transform the relationships between whites and non-whites and between men and women. The point, however, is that such changes, far from being a threat to capitalism, are, given the demographic facts of our age, an economic necessity. To insist upon this point is neither to underestimate the effects this renegotiation of so many of our basic assumptions will have nor to dismiss the benefits that will accrue to many women and non-whites able to participate fully in the world capitalist economy in positions of power for the first time. In this, the rise of multicultural capitalism is comparable to abolitionism: the slaves were freed when the abolitionists could count on the support of economic interests in the North, for which an economy based on slavery was an impediment to the future economic well-being of the United States. It was industrial civilization, not justice, that the hardheaded plutocrats of New York and New England were interested in furthering. And until they were convinced that their own interests were at stake, all the oratory of Frederick Douglass, Henry Ward Beecher, and their colleagues was for naught. After they were convinced, this same oratory seemed to sweep all before it. Marxists used to call such interactions “base” and “superstructure,” but like so much of what is valuable about Marxist theory, this idea–which is sardonic and clear-eyed, not sentimental and uplifting–seems out of favor with academic multiculturalists, for all their professed respect for the Marxist “tradition.”
But then campus radicalism is awfully selective anyway. Its talk is long on race and gender, short on class. And that is probably just as well, since the market economy, ready though it may be to admit blacks and women, is hardly likely to sign its own death warrant by accepting a radical revision of class relations. Were such proposals to be seriously advanced, on campus or elsewhere, the multiculturalists would soon discover just how tough capitalism can be when its real, as opposed to its sentimental, interests are threatened. But that is the beauty of the academic multiculturalists’ approach: they can appear to be radical and can feel themselves to be radical, but they can advance a program that, stripped of its adorning rhetoric, is little more than a demand for inclusion, for a piece of the capitalist pie. And capitalism is not only increasingly willing but increasingly eager to let in women, blacks, gays, and any other marginalized group. Eureka, more customers!
One can respect the multiculturalist project from a capitalist or a reformist point of view, just as long as one does not confuse it with the attack on power that so many of its proponents claim it to be. Were women and blacks represented proportionately at the top of corporate America, this would not change the nature of class distinctions one iota–which is precisely why capitalism is in no sense seriously opposed to the multicultural “project” in American cultural and intellectual life. Conservatives who imagine otherwise should spend less time reading Commentary and the rest and more time reading Barron’s and Fortune. It was, in fact, a 1991 cover story in Fortune that summed up what is really going on in American business these days. The featured story was called “Gay in Corporate America: What It’s Like and How Business Attitudes Are Changing,” and was a sympathetic account of gay executives. Another story in the same issue, less glossily packaged, told the other side of capitalism’s new politics of inclusion. It was titled “The Battle over Benefits,” and concerned the need to cut back, in the name of corporate health and wealth, the medical and pension plans of employees (You won’t find that article on any reading list in “cultural studies.”)
In the last twenty-five years, it has become possible to discover just how supple capitalism has become) Everything is commodifiable, even Afrocentrism (there is money being made on all the Kinte cloths and Kwanza paraphernalia that are the rage among certain segments of the black community, and not only the black community), bilingualism (currently the hottest growth market in publishing is Spanish-language children’s books), and the other “multicultural” tendencies in American society that conservatives fear so desperately. It turns out that when Hollywood signs up black directors such as Spike Lee, John Singleton, or Mario Van Peebles to make movies, those movies make money–not as much as exploitation films like Terminator 3, perhaps, but money just the same. Meanwhile, economic relationships go on as they have always gone on. And if the inclusion of new voices and constituencies signifies anything, it is not that capitalism is coming to an end but that it is getting its (latest) second wind.
This is not to say that multiculturalism is to blame for these economic trends. That would be as gross a mystification as the idea that its teachings will transform the world for the better. But there is less to the doctrine than meets the eye. Multiculturalism is many things, but the one thing it is not is the idea that will save us or bring justice to the world. Such hopes can only confuse in this time when, far from standing on the point of its redemption, our society–this multicultural, global, increasingly nonwhite and non-European society–is steadily becoming less democratic, less just, and more impoverished.
“Chains and executioners, those are the crude instruments formerly used by tyranny; but today civilization has perfected even despotism itself, which seemed however to have nothing more to learn. Princes had, so to speak, materialized violence; the democratic republics of today have made violence as entirely intellectual as the human will that it wants to constrain. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism, to reach the soul, crudely struck the body; and the soul, escaping from these blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics, tyranny does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul. The master no longer says: You will think like me or die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains with you; but from this day on you are a stranger among us….Go in peace; I spare your life, but I leave you a life worse than death.”
Whose Country is America?
NOWHERE at present is there such a measureless loathing of educated people for their country as in America. An excellent historian thinks Americans are “the most frightening people in the world,” and our foremost philologist sees America as “the most aggressive power in the world, the greatest threat to peace and to international cooperation.” Others call America a “pig heaven,” “a monster with 200 million heads,” “a cancer on the body of mankind.”
Novelists, playwrights, poets, essayists and philosophers depict America as the land of the dead—a country where sensitive souls are starved and flayed, where nothing nourishes and everything hurts. Nowhere, they say, is there such a boring monotony: monotony Of talk, monotony of ideas, monotony of aim, monotony of outlook on the world. One American writer says: “America is no place for an artist. A corn‐fed hog enjoys a better life than a creative artist.” One she‐intellectual maintains that “the quality of American life is an insult to the possibilities of human growth.”
It is hard to believe that this savage revulsion derives from specific experiences with persons and places. What is there in America that prevents an educated person from shaping his life, from making the most of his inborn endowments? With all its faults and blemishes, this country gives a man elbowroom to do what is nearest to his heart. It is incredible how easy it is here to cut oneself off from vulgarity, conformity. speciousness. and other corrupting influences and infections. For those who want to be left alone to realize their capacities and talents, this is an ideal country.
The trouble is, of course, that the alienated intellectual does not want to be left alone. He wants to be listened to and be taken seriously. He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important. He is free to speak and write as he pleases, and can probably make himself heard and read more easily than one who would defend America. But he can neither sway elections nor shape policy. Even when his excellence as a writer, artist, scholar, scientist or educator is generally recognized and rewarded he does not feel himself part of the power structure. In no other country has there been so little liaison between men of words and the men of action who exercise power. The body of intellectuals in America has never been integrated with or congenial to the politicians and business men who make things happen. Indeed, the uniqueness of modem America derives in no small part from the fact that America has kept intellectuals away from power and paid little attention to their political [opinions].
The nineteen‐sixties have made it patent that much of the intellectual’s dissent is fueled by a hunger for power. The appearance of potent allies—militant blacks and students —has emboldened the intellectual to come out into the open. He still feels homeless in America, but the spectacle of proud authority, in cities and on campuses, always surrendering before threats of violence, is to him a clear indication that middle‐class society is about to fall apart, and he is all set to pick up the pieces.
There is no doubt that in our permissive society the intellectual has far more liberty than he can use; and the more his liberty and the less his capacity to make use of it, the louder his clamor for power—power to deprive other people of liberty.
THE intellectual’s allergy to America shows itself with particular clarity in what has happened to many foreign intellectuals who found asylum here during the Hitler decade. It is legitimate to assume that they had no anti‐American preconceptions when they arrived. They were, on the contrary, predisposed to see what was best in their host country. Though no one has recorded what Herbert Marcuse said when he landed in New York in 1934, it is safe to assume that he did not see Americans as one‐dimensional men, and did not equate our tolerance with oppression, our freedom with slavery, and our good nature with simple‐minded‐ness.
We have a record of what some other foreign intellectuals said when they arrived in the nineteen‐thirties. It is worth quoting in full the words of Olga Schnitzler, the widow of Arthur Schnitzler: “So much is here to learn and to see. Everyone has been given an opportunity. Everyone who has not been completely wornout experiences here a kind of rebirth. Everyone feels what a grandiose, complex and broad‐minded country America is, how well and free one can live among these people without perfidy and malice. Yes, we have lost a homeland, but we have found a world.”
Once they had settled down and found their place, many of these intellectuals began to feel constrained and stifled by the forwardness and the mores of the plebeian masses. They missed the aristocratic climate of the Old World. Inevitably, too, they became disdainful of our lowbrow, practical intelligence. They began to doubt whether Americans had the high‐caliber intelligence to solve the problems of a complex, difficult age. Hardly one of them bethought himself that in Europe, when intellectuals of their kind had a hand in shaping and managing affairs, things had not gone too well. There was something that prevented them from sensing the unprecedented nature of the American experiment; that the rejected of Europe have come here together, tamed a savage continent in an incredibly short time and, unguided by intellectuals, fashioned the finest society on a large scale the world has so far seen.
SCRATCH an intellectual and you find a would‐be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk. Professor Marcuse has lived among us for more than 30 years and now, in old age, his disenchantment with this country is spilling over into book after book. He is offended by the intrusion of the vulgar, by the failure of egalitarian America to keep common people in their place. He is frightened by “the degree to which the population is allowed to break the peace where there is still peace and silence, to be ugly and uglify things, to ooze familiarity and to offend against good form.” The vulgar invade “the small reserved sphere of existence” and compel exquisite Marcusian souls to partake of their and smells.
To a shabby would‐be aristocrat like Professor Marcuse there something fundamentally wrong with a society in which the master and the worker, the typist and the boss’s laughter do not live totally disparate Ives. Everything good in America seems to him a sham and a fraud.
AN interesting peculiarity of present‐day dissenting intellectuals is their lack of animus toward the rich. They are against the Government, the Congress, the Army and the police, and against corporations and unions, but hardly anything is being said or written against “the money changers in the temple,” “the economic royalists,” “the malefactors of great wealth” and “the maniacs wild for gold” who were the butt of vituperation in the past. Indeed, there is nowadays a certain rapport between the rich and the would‐be revolutionaries. The outlandish role the rich are playing in the affluent society is one of the surprises of our time. Though the logic of it seems now fairly evident, I doubt whether anyone had foreseen that affluence would radicalize the upper rich and the lowest poor and nudge them toward an alliance against those in the middle. What ever we have of revolution just now is financed the rich.
In order to feel rich, you have to have poor people around you. In an affluent society, riches lose their uniqueness—people no longer find fulfillment in being rich. And when the rich cannot feel rich they begin to have misgivings about success—not enough to give up the fruits of success, but enough to feel guilty, and emote soulfully about the grievances of the disadvantaged, and the sins of the status quo. It seems that every time a millionaire opens his mouth nowadays he confesses the sins of our society in public.
Now, it so happens that the rich do indeed have a lot to feel guilty about. They live in exclusive neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and use every loophole to avoid paying taxes. But what they confess in public are not their private sins, but the sins of society, the sins of the rest of us, and it is our breasts they are beating into a pulp. They feel guilty and ashamed, they say, because the mass of people, who do most of the work and pay much of the taxes, are against integrated schools and housing, and do not tax themselves to the utmost to fight the evils that beset our cities. We are discovering that in an affluent society the rich have a monopoly of righteousness.
Moreover, the radicalized rich have radical children. There is no generation gap here. The most violent cliques of the New Left are made up of the children of the rich. The Weathermen…have not a member with a workingman’s back ground. The behavior of the extremist young makes sense when seen as the behavior of spoiled brats used to instant fulfillment who expect the solutions to life’s problems to be there on demand. And just as in former days aristocratic sprigs horse whipped peasants, so at present the children of the rich are riding rough shod over community sensibilities. The rich parents applaud and subsidize their revolutionary children, and probably brag about them at dinner parties.
As I said, the alienated rich are one of the surprises of our time. It is not surprising to be told that America is a country where intellectuals are least at home. But it is startling to realize that the rich are not, and probably never have been, wholly at ease in this country. The fact that it is easy to get rich in America has not made it a rich man’s country. The rich have always had it better elsewhere—better service, more deference, and more leisure and fun. In America, the rich have not known how to savor their riches, and many of them have not known how to behave and have come to a bad end.
There is a story about a British intellectual who traveled through this country toward the end of the last century. He was appalled by the monotony and unimaginativeness of the names of the towns he saw through the train window: Thomas ville, Richardsville, Harrysville, Mar ysville and so on. He had not an inkling of the import of what he was seeing: namely, that for the first time in history common people—any Tom, Dick and Harry—could build a town and name it after his own or his wife’s name. At one station, an old Irishwoman got on the train and sat next to him. When she heard his muttering and hissing she said: “This is a blessed country, sir. I think God made it for the poor.” Crevecceur, in the 18th century, saw America as an asylum where “the poor of Europe have by some means met together.” The poor everywhere have looked on America as their El Dorado. They voted for it with their legs by coming over in their
Yet during the nineteen‐sixties, poverty became one of the chief problems that plague this country: one of several nagging problems—like race relations, violence, drugs, inflation—which defy solution. From being a land of opportunity for the poor, America has become a dead end street for some 15 million unemployables‐80 per cent of them white, and most of them trapped in the cores of big cities. Money, better housing, and special schooling have little effect. Our society is showing itself unduly awkward in the attempt to turn the chronically poor into productive, useful citizens. Whereas, in the not too distant past, it was axiomatic that society lived at the expense of the poor, the present‐day poor, like the Roman proletariat, live at the expense of society.
WE have been transferred by affluence to a psychological age. Impersonal factors, including money, no longer play a decisive role in human affairs. It seems that, by mastering things, we have drained things of their potency to shape men’s lives. It is remarkable that common people are aware of this fact. They know that at present money cannot cure crime, poverty, etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.
In the earliest cities, suburbs made their appearance as a refuge for dropouts who could not make the grade in the city. When eventually the cities decayed, the suburbs continued as the earliest villages. In our cities, the process has been reversed. The dropouts are stagnating in the cores of the cities, while people who are ideally suited for city life seek refuge in the suburbs. The indications are that we shall not have viable cities until we lure the chronically poor out of the cities and induce the exiled urbanites to return.
The diffusion of affluence has accelerated the absorption of the majority of workingmen into the middle class. The unemployable poor, left behind, feel isolated and ex posed, and it is becoming evident that a middle‐class society, which hugs the conviction that everyone can take care of himself, is singularly inept in helping those who cannot help themselves. If the rich cannot feel rich in an affluent society, the poor have never felt poorer.
WHOSE country, then, is America? It is the country of the common — the common men and women, a good 70 per cent of the population — who do most of the work, pay much of the taxes, crave neither power nor importance, and want to be left alone to live pleasurable humdrum lives. “The founders of the United States,” said Lord Charnwood, “did deliberately aspire to found a commonwealth in which common men and women should count for more than elsewhere.”
Again and again, you come up against the mystery of what happens to common folk when they land on our shores. It is like a homecoming. They find here their natural habitat, their ideal milieu that brings their energies and capacities into full play.
Tasks that in other countries are reserved for a select minority, for a specially trained elite, are in this country performed by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Not only did common Americans build and name towns, but they also founded states, propagated new faiths, commanded armies, wrote books, and ran for the highest office. It is this that has made America unprecedentedly new.
IT tickled me no end that the astronauts who landed on the moon were not elite‐conscious intellectuals but lowbrow ordinary Americans. It has been the genius of common Americans to achieve the momentous in an unmomentous matter‐of-fact way. If space exploration re mains in their keeping, they will soon make of it an everyday routine accessible to all.
Prof. Victor C. Ferkiss, author of “Technological Man,” sees the astronauts as “thoroughly conventional and middle‐class and essentially dull people who would make such nice neighbors and such unlikely friends.” Could these, he wonders, “be the supermen whom the race had struggled for a million years to produce?”
The intellectuals call this giving access to the vulgar—vulgarization. The intellectuals’ inclination is to complicate things, to make them so abstruse and difficult that they are accessible only to the initiated few. Where the intellectuals are in power, prosaic tasks become Promethean undertakings. I have yet to meet an intellectual who truly believes that common people can govern themselves and run things without outstanding leaders. In the longshore men’s union the intellectuals have a nervous breakdown anytime a common, barely literate longshoreman runs for office and gets elected.
TO me it seems axiomatic that the common people everywhere are our natural allies, and that our chief contribution to the advancement of mankind should be the energizing and activation of common folk. We must learn how to impart to common people everywhere the technological, political and social skills that would enable them to dispense with the tutorship of the upper classes and the intellectuals. We must deflate the pretensions of self‐appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dust bin of history.
Our foreign aid to backward countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America should be tailored to the needs of common people rather than of the elites. The elites hanker for the trappings of the 20th century. They want steel mills, airlines, skyscrapers, etc. Let them get these trappings from elitist Russia. Our gift to the people in backward countries should be the capacity for self‐help. We must show them how to get bread, human dignity and strength by their own efforts. We must know how to stiffen their backbone so that they will insist on getting their full share of the good life and not allow them selves to be sacrificed to the Moloch of a mythical future.
There is an America hidden in the soil of every country and in the soul of every people. It is our task to help common people everywhere discover their America at home.
“It is important that a man should feel himself to be, not merely a citizen of a particular nation, but a citizen of a particular part of his country, with local loyalties. These, like loyalty to class, arise out of loyalty to the family. Certainly, an individual may develop the warmest devotion to a place in which he was not born, and to a community with which he has no ancestral ties. But I think we should agree that there would be something artificial, something a little too conscious, about a community of people with strong local feeling, all of whom had come from somewhere else. I think we should say that we must wait for a generation or two for a loyalty which the inhabitants had inherited, and which was not the result of a conscious choice. On the whole, it would appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beings should go on living in the place in which they were born. Family, class and local loyalty all support each other; and if one of these decays, the others will suffer also.”
From “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture,” in Christianity and Culture, pg. 125.
Discussions on the relationship between freedom and authority in American public and academic discourse often neglect the necessary role of embodied social rules in making freedom and rational action possible. Following John Stuart Mill, many think of the history of politics as one of liberty struggling against authority. Freedom and order are understood as zero sum: the increase of the one decreases the other. In important ways, however, the freedom of the individual is made possible by public order sustained by a form of social authority, an authority that transcends the individual. Simply put, individual freedom requires a socially enforced order, and when this enforcement is absent, the resulting disorder severely limits freedom. The common commitment not to harm another (i.e., the no-harm principle) is not sufficient for the maximization of individual freedom. The individual has freedom not despite the presence of others, but on account there being others. The individual finds freedom in society.
I argue here that sharing a common life in community is necessary for freedom of action in public. The various places of public activity—the parks, streets (including crosswalks), markets, libraries, theaters, etc.—each have rules of behavior and conventions that make such places possible to use, participate in, or attend. What constitutes these places includes a set of activities—a set of human ends, and the rules of these places are ancillary to the ends of these places. The absence, neglect, or flouting of these rules undermines the freedom to achieve these ends. Only when the people of any society have mutual commitment to rules and the order of places and follow a principle of conformity can one achieve the ends constituting those places. Further, any rational action to achieve the ends of these places must include a reasonable anticipation that others will follow the rules.
Places and their rules
The moment we step out into the public sphere we assume the social rules of behavior for the place in which we stepped; and as we go from place to place, we unconsciously assume each place’s rules of behavior. Driving to the grocery store, for instance, requires multiple transitions to different sets of rules as we move from place to place. We prepared to begin travel by clothing ourselves appropriately; we drive according to traffic laws (and various courtesies); we park between the lines in the parking lot and yield to pedestrians; we avoid hindering others’ activity in the store; and we wait in line and follow all sorts of rules at the cash register. Many more rules could be listed, including many that overlap between these places. Throughout this process we are unconsciously following rules and adopting new rules as we go from place to place, and the rules are brought to our attention usually only when someone violates them. Without such interruptions, we transition without conscious decision or deliberation.
These rules are so often concealed by habit that they escape our immediate attention and, for that reason, it might be difficult to recognize exactly what I’m referring to. But consider parenting. Much of parenting is the disciplining and training of children in the various rules of places. Children are a blank slate with regard to rules of behavior in different settings and places. Something as obvious as waiting in line must be taught. Waiting in line is, however natural it might seem, a convention, and children must be trained into it. We let them scream and run around at the park, but not in the library or church or in the classroom. There are rules for each room of the house and different rules for the front and back yards. There are rules for the street, crosswalk, and sidewalk. This training is done by pure parent/child authority. That is, parents do not reason with their children; they simply tell them how they are to behave in these places. Parenting is bringing children into a way of life—into a shared common life. It socializes them. Socialization is, in large part, accustoming children to the social rules, behavior, manners, and customs of public places and to unconsciously transition to a different set of rules when moving into a different place.
These rules make the various ends of public life practically possible. One end of a library, for instance, is facilitating space for quiet study. Hence, libraries have rules on talking and often have separate meeting rooms for louder activities. Condoning loud continuous loud activity undermines at least one end of libraries. Upon walking into a library (or a church with reverent architecture) we assume a quieter tone. To buy groceries (or any other product) we must wait in line. If there were no social convention of line-waiting, purchasing when among fellow purchasers would be impossible. Everyone would rush to the counter to achieve their end. Only after agreeing to “first-come-first-serve” could the end be achieved. Public parks, including playgrounds for children, are for safe recreation and have various rules, written and unwritten, conducive to that end. Some social rules apply to many different ends. For example, a child cannot ride a scooter in a library or a grocery store.
Now, rational action includes (with few possible exceptions, such as valorous actions) the reasonable anticipation that one can achieve any action’s end. Hence, any rational action in the public realm requires such reasonable anticipations. And since the presence of others makes possible the hindrance or impossibility of the achievement of one’s public end, one must take into account whether others will follow the rules conducive to that end. Not only must one know that there are rules and that others know the rules, but also know that others will likely follow those rules. If there are no rules or if one knows that others will not follow them, attempting the action is irrational, since one cannot achieve his end. For example, if a society collectively and completely flouts traffic laws, one will likely avoid driving. Achieving the end—travelling to another place—is likely difficult, dangerous, or impossible. The failure to follow the rules not only undermines the freedom to drive. It also could both undermine rapid transit and the possibility of doing certain activities requiring significant travel. A more likely example is the situation where teenagers take over a children’s playground, making it dangerous or impossible for younger children to play there. Anticipating this, parents would either go to another park or choose another activity. If all available parks are taken over by teenagers (or by drug dealers), then the freedom for parents to take their children to playgrounds is undermined.
This shows that the freedom to do any given public activity requires a mutual commitment from the society at large to the rules conducive to the activity’s end. It is not simply the lack of constraint, but the positive commitment to rules that makes achieving public activity possible. Further, rational action necessarily must include the anticipation of mutual commitment to these rules. Freedom cannot exist in anarchy. Freedom, then, requires public order and social discipline.
Human being as being-with-one-another
For most of our lives, however, we do not intentionally deliberate on whether others will follow the rules for the place of our desired end. We do not approach the cash register wondering whether others will wait in line. We do not even consciously assume that they will. As we encountered and experienced our community and the world, discovering what sort of actions have worked out for us and facilitated the achievement of our ends, we adopt pre-reflective habits of action that make deliberation unnecessary. It permits a sort of thoughtless anticipation, allowing us to conduct business through corridors made familiar by past experience and successes in achieving the same or similar ends. And since there is no need to constantly deliberate over others’ potential actions and their effects on the achievement of our own, our everyday mode of being is a being-with others. In other words, we are pre-reflectively always already going about our business in light of and on account of others. Without reflection, we assume and anticipate what others will do. And, for this reason, our life is usually in a state of confidence. Normalcy is the uninterrupted pre-reflective assumption that others are acting in accordance with the rules of the community.
Further, the “others” in the everyday mode of being are not a concrete set of separated beings as if it were a sum of individuals. It is a type of localized, particularized and collectivized being—what Hubert Dreyfus calls “the one”—and one in which we are integrated and into which we are absorbed—into what one might call the life-world. The people of the community are not a “they” (third-person, plural), but a “we” (first-person plural). Though in the pre-reflective mode of being one has a sense of individuality, there is no conscious distinction between me and them. Hence, most of what we do, we do because that is what one does. Our world in this mode of being is not the universe and its great expanse; it is, rather, the way of life of a particular people—a type of shared world. The ‘I’ does not stand out from ‘they.’ Man is not an ‘I’-thing, some independent thinking thing. Certainly, there is an awareness that I am in the grocery store shopping, but the predication already assumes the facilitation, the lack of hindrance, and the mutually embodied rules of collective action for the activity of shopping. It assumes being with others. The human being is fundamentally a for-others being, one that absorbs the way of life of a culture for the sake of the various activities of a people. Hence, human beings are rule-following and rules-embodying creatures because they and their activity are inextricably bound up with others.
Humans are made for civil community; they are made to share in a common life. If I’m correct about the relationship of freedom and order, freedom can exist only in a community. Freedom is possible only among others sharing a common life. Humans are capable of embodying and absorbing this common life by experiencing the life of the community. Indeed, being human means conducting oneself on account of and in light of others, forming a pre-reflective sense of ‘we,’ not ‘I’ or ‘they’. Life in a community fundamentally involves a communicatio—a sharing and making common—which forms a consociation among men. The 17th century political theorist Johannes Althusius argued that this requires a tacit “pledge” among “symbiotes” (i.e., those living together) to bring together “whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life.” They then become “participants or partners in a common life” (Politica I.2, 6).
Maximizing freedom in a community is not as simple as rigorously tearing down the obstacles in the way of action, for freedom requires some degree of order. The possibility of any freedom necessitates the conditions for that freedom, which includes others following the rules. And in the performance of a public action, one is already tacitly pledging themselves to (or acting in light of and on account of) others. The attempt to shatter social rules can, depending on the rules, shatter freedom. The most disorderly places in the world are also the least free: people are unable to anticipate the actions of others. Their set of possible actions are diminished on account of a disintegration of unity between the ‘I’ and the ‘they.’
Individualism is inimical to human community. It struggles against that structure of human being that seeks a ‘world’ with others, that which constitutes a shared sense of ‘we’ in the everyday. Though natural to human being, we ought to deliberately emphasis the principle of conformity. I do not mean a conformity to evil, but a recognition that freedom necessitates the mutual conformity to rules of behavior and manners. Our desire should be to conform, not to distinguish ourselves or neglect and reject the patterns of others. Nor is it sufficient to merely pledge ourselves to the tolerance of any and all behaviors or manners. Rather, we must seek, each of us, to the formation and cultivation of shared rules, manners, and behavior for the sake of a common life and freedom.
Given that this social phenomena of symbiosis is somewhat concealed by everyday life and remains only partially understood, the task for the reader is to take up a reflective stance towards his or her pre-reflective experiences. One must seek to see things anew and be called out of one’s everyday mode of existence, to see oneself as always already with others and acting for and on account of others. Begin by recognizing the various rules we unconsciously assume as we move from place to place—in other words, notice how we treat our world not as a series of homogenous sites, but as one of variegated places, each having its own roles, conventions, rules, equipment, and ends.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because political/social philosophy must start with a philosophical anthropology, some answer to the question, what is man? The argument above provides an answer in part: man is a social being that achieves freedom in order, not despite it, and absorbs or embodies the habits of his community people such that he can unconsciously take on and assume roles and rules as he moves from place to place. Additionally, this is the beginning of or at least calls for a phenomenology of place, something that conservatives must consider. (See, for example, Jeff Malpas’ Place and Experience.) It is, most importantly, an alternative to the more individualist approaches that dominate much American conservative political theory.
In How to be a Conservative, the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton briefly describes the important conservative distinction between duties of justice and duties of charity. He writes (pg. 49),
“Duties of charity are not duties of justice; if we fail to perform a duty of justice we commit an injustice — in other words, we wrong someone. The concept of justice is mediated by those of right and desert: the duty of justice is explicitly targeted at the other person, and takes account of his rights, his deserts and his valid claims. The concept of charity is not so explicitly targeted, and duties of charity have an open-ended character. If you extend charitable help to one person, and thereby exhaust your resources so that you cannot help another who is just as much in need of them, you do not wrong that second person. You have fulfilled your duty by offering help to the one who received it. To a certain extent the egalitarian outlook in politics stems from a suspicion of charity and a desire to construe all duties as duties of justice, which cannot make arbitrary distinctions between those with an equal claim, when the only basis for that claim is need. As subsequent arguments will imply, that narrow conception of the realm of duty has proved to be fundamentally subversive of civic institutions.”
It should not surprise us, then, that left-liberals and socialists, whose governing principle and pursuit is political, social, and economic egalitarianism, will see an extensive role of the state in justice. All or most goods, for these people, are matters of justice, not charity. Charity, then, is held in suspicion, since it is not coordinated and is exhausted on a few, not on all.
Conservatives, while preferring a limited and non-goal-oriented government (i.e., it is not the principal instrument in social progress), still want a robust and powerful civil society, apart from state action, that has extensive room for the fulfillment of the duties of charity. It is one aspect of Disraeli’s “feudal principle”: the right of property is also a duty. The state, of course, could enforce this principle with taxes and redistribution, but that would produce an impersonal, bureaucratic, technocratic, and managerial society (as we have today). The feudal principle as feudal recognizes something essential to civil society: that it is best when it is personal. An impersonal society, one in which egalitarianism is the goal of the state and accomplished through taxes and bureaucratic action, breeds nothing but resentment, since extractions and redistribution is masked. The beneficiaries do not meet the taxed. And when the first principle of the state is equality, the ‘have-nots’ see the ‘haves’ as enemies, as those standing in the way of progress.
It is better, I think, to leave much to charity, as Burke wrote, “It is better to cherish virtue and humanity by leaving much [charity] to free will, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt to make men mere machines and instruments of a political benevolence. The world on the whole will gain by a liberty without which virtue cannot exist.” (from Reflections)
One of Hegel’s most important contributions to philosophy was his philosophy of recognition. To put it very simply, Hegel thought that humans seek to be recognized as an end, not as mere means or instruments to another’s end. Kant would call this a recognition of another’s dignity and membership in the Kingdom of Ends. It is staking a claim on our right to be treated as more than instruments. Of course, we must treat people as instruments. We use the cashier at the checkout counter to purchase our groceries. But this relationship is based on consent, and as such we are treating each other as ends, even though this isn’t immediately obvious or part of any formal agreement.
The recognition for Hegel is more thorough than Kant. Kant, at least Hegel claimed, failed to reconcile the universal with the particular. To put it crudely, Hegel synthesized the dignity of the subject with the object. Our dignity as a subjective person is only abstract apart from the embodiment of personality into objects. Hence, Hegel claimed that “property is the embodiment of personality.” Recognizing the dignity of another, then, does not occur by shedding ‘appearances’ and getting down to the subjective ‘I’ — the bare first-person or the subjective ‘pole’ of another. This is to reduce the other to a mere abstraction, which is arguably exactly what Kant’s moral philosophy does.
Our modern age is obsessed with recognition of the Kantian sort. Christians, including both Protestant and Roman Catholics, use the “imago dei” as a synonym for Kantian-like dignity. Non-believers constantly call others to recognize the dignity of this or that person, regardless of his or her behavior. The public realm has become a place for this ‘I’ to externalize or particularize in all sorts of strange and deviant behaviors and manners. All value is placed in the ‘I’ and the value of the particulars flow from this. In other words, recognition of another is not on the basis of their behavior. Rather, because we must recognize that abstract ‘I’ as having supreme value, we must in turn recognize, even celebrate their behavior.
To my mind, this a retreat from meaning, because meaning produces insecurity. The demand to live up to something produces anxiety, and to prevent this anxiety, so people think, we must undermine the demand. Hence, we place all meaning in the abstract ‘I’ and derive from it the meaning of our external actions.
Yet what has become apparent is that this retreat from the ‘they’ or the popular standards of behavior, dress, manners, etc. is indeed a flight — it is always ‘from’ something. It defines itself against, and it will perpetually. Hence, the call to ‘be-yourself’ is a call not to be like the crowd. And yet the attempt not to be like the ‘crowd’ or Heidegger’s das man (sometimes translated as the ‘they’) is an attempt to achieve recognition from the very crowd you’re fleeing from. You yearn for their rejection. You seek recognition through rejection. You are just as tied with the ‘they’ or the crowd as before, yet now you crave negativity. It’s pathological. That’s what deviancy usually is.
Now, I say all that to say this: we ought to seek a positive recognition from others through appearances–through the particulars. We ought to seek recognition not by our ‘I’, but by our ‘I am.’ So our dress style, home and yard, our manners, etc. all these should be done and be the basis of our recognition before men. It is through their judgment that we are recognized, and we should crave a positive judgment. One ought to recognize us as worthy of being treated as ends through our manifestations of dignity, not in the abstract dignity of the ‘I’.
Now to labor. Since we seek recognition through the particulars and since the self of the producer can be embodied, in a phenomenological sense, in the product of their labor (see my posts here and here), then we have an interest in seeking recognition of our selves by the judgment of our products. Of course, this is risky, since we are subjecting our-selves to judgment. But it is necessary for a fully realized life. Marx himself said that labor results in the worker losing “realization.” My contention is that the affirmation of one’s labor as an end in itself — that it is/was worth doing for its own sake — comes through the positive judgment of others (usually the consumer). This judgment satisfies the producer and therefore restores the loss of realization.
The absurdity of our age is in our thinking that recognition must be apart from judgment and apart from appearances. And yet we are starved by a lack of completion in life. We are risk-adverse, insecure, and cannot tolerate the judgment of others. We continue to define ourselves as someone against others rather than for others. We are walking negations — pure inauthenticity.
Authentic living is understanding ourselves as in a nexus of subjects and objects — a lifeworld. As Husserl stated, “all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together'” (Crisis, 1936). To be, is to be part of, in, and enmeshed in a world: Heidegger’s being-in-the-world. It is through being with others, interacting, sharing with them, laboring with then, sharing concerns, etc. that we support and contribute to a way of life. We shape a heritage. It is not through being walking negations.
We should seek to be for others, which means seeking their recognition through our activity and appearance. We can and must be authentic, but authenticity is being constructive with our world, not deconstructive and fleeing from it.
There is something intuitive about Locke’s account of property in his Second Treatice of Government. Man after “he hath mixed his labour with” the land and “joined it to something that is his own,…[he] thereby makes it his property.” The product is the laborer’s product, because “the labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” In other words, since you own your own labor, then by “mixing” this labor with raw material, you own the product of the labor. Your ownership of your labor-power, transfers in some way to the product of labor.
This explains the tendency among even those philosophers who attack private property to stamp their name on their product, namely, their books and articles. There is some connection between one’s labor and one’s product. Or, to put it differently, there is some connection between you and the product. Locke, however, while providing insight that there is a connection, does not adequately explain it. Some element is missing from his theory. What is it about labor and the labor’s product that forges a connection? What is it about the relationship that naturally brings about calls for legal protections and even the risking of bodily harm to defend one’s property? Something about the relationship takes the land in “common” and makes it personal.
I want to briefly argue here that what is missing is a phenomenological description of labor. It is better to view labor not as mixing ownership into material but the embodying personality. Hegel wrote, “A person’s putting his will into an object is the conception of property, and the next step is the realizing of it. The inner act of my will, which says that something is mine, must be made recognizable for others” (Phil of Right 51 add). He calls property an “embodiment of my will.” I won’t attempt to explain Hegel’s point in detail, but I will work with his statement on property as being the embodiment one’s will or personality. For Hegel, this embodiment can be any type of acquisition, including those not acquired directly by mixing with the earth or raw material. But for our purposes we will stick with labor as productive activity.
The stamp of personality is most evident, as mentioned above, on the placing of one’s name on an essay, blog post, article or book. It is declaration that this product of labor is my product of labor. And when one publishes a book, they place the book on their shelf. They keep it close. They identify with its contents. A book contains its author in a strange, phenomenological way. It is not merely a book among books, but my book among other books. It is my presence among the literary world. Similarly your chapter among a compilation is not just a chapter among chapters.
There is a type self-referential relationship here. The product of labor, having embodied one’s will/personality/life becomes an extension of self — it represents, though vaguely, the self-hood of the producer. One’s interest in the product is at some important level an interest in oneself — one’s public self.
There is labor, of course, that does not result in one’s name on the product. Here there is a distinction between embodying personality and merely the expenditure of energy. Some work is mindless and lacking in creativity, making some quasi self-referential relationship with a product difficult. But if we stick with small-scale and creative production, this ‘stamp’ of personality is possible. Examples range from welding to artisanal sandwich-makers and from furniture makers to electricians. The resulting product is yours and you can identify with it.
We should notice that this phenomenological connection as extending self-hood to the product of labor does imply that if we have ownership of our-selves, then we have some ownership of the products of our labor. To abuse embodied personality, is to abuse the person. But the nature of this ownership of products depends on the nature of the ownership of ourselves. So if we see ourselves as having obligations to others, then it seems that our products do not escape these obligations as well. But the crucial distinction here is between duties of justice and duties of charity, and fulfilling the latter is more conducive to the giving of self, friendship and brotherly affection. But I’ll leave this for another time. My point is that property rights extend absolutely only within the limits of obligations, whatever those might be.
Since this type of productive labor embodies your personality — it is an extension of your self — you have a stake in others’ judgment of it. What I mean is that products of our labor, including both objects we plan to bring to exchange or property for our own use, are public property not in the sense that they are legally owned by the public, but that they are available for public view and judgment. Our items at exchange and the yards of our homes are both products of judgment. It is my view, as I argued here, that much of our economic production today alienates producers from the possibility of their work being an end in itself through some type of feedback loop informing the producer that his work was good work — work worth doing in itself.
And, to my mind, this makes legal ownership second to the affirmation of labor as an end in itself. Locke is correct in connecting the mixing of labor and acquiring ownership, but what makes productive labor worth doing for its own sake is another’s affirmation that the labor was good labor The primary interest one ought to have is not a pay check (which makes labor a mere means) or legal ownership, but in making labor an end in itself. So while I do not deny that ownership is created through labor, what matters most is public recognition of the labor. It takes a community to make labor fully worth doing.
There is much more I could say, but I’ll leave it here. What Locke was missing is a certain phenomenological description of man and his products of labor. These objects disclose themselves to us not merely in matter and form, but also, and most importantly, as our personality. They disclose a sort of yearning we have for public recognition, not merely in the fact that we produced, but that we produced something good.
Person, Place, and State
In the course of my discussion, I have described each regime in terms of the appearance of equality or inequality and the actual equality or inequality. The question I want to raise, which to my knowledge is not something Aristotle raises, is whether there can be a legitimate show of virtue without the same underlying virtue. In other words, can there be a legitimate regime in which the show of superiority exceeds the actual superiority in virtue? Can a monarch present himself with dignity above his actual dignity and still rightfully be called a king? I ask this because it might seem that this is impossible, given my discussion above. Of course, a crafty monarch might be a good deceiver, but the question is, can a political theorist interested in political legitimacy justify the appearance of virtue when the substance is lacking?
I suggest that we can find legitimacy in the show itself. We cannot view the pageantry of the rule-by-one and the rule-by-few as merely isolated acts in history separated from a history, constitution and political tradition. The expression of power that the world saw in the great monarchs of the past and those we see in the present represent an intergenerational power that transcends the here-and-now. Philosopher Roger Scruton insightfully writes,
For the legitimacy of monarchical rule arises ‘transcendentally,’ in the manner of the duties and obligations of family life. The monarch is not chose for her personal attributes, nor does she have obligations and expectations which are the subject-matters of any ‘social contract’. She is simply the representations of sovereignty, and its ceremonial presence. Her will as monarch is not her individual will, but the will of the state. The monarch forms part of that surface of concepts and symbols whereby citizens can perceive their social identity, and perceive society not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. Attachment to the monarch is therefore patriotism in a pure form, a form that could not be translated into a policy or choice of mean.
The British monarchy, for Scruton, serves as the symbolic identity-marker for social solidarity. Its display of dignity, power and sovereignty is a “surface” concept and visual rallying point for the people. And by its very nature the affections associated with this “decent drapery of life,” as Burke called it, connects the living with the dead and unborn in a transcendent bond. The ground of the legitimacy of the regal pageantry, ceremonies, customs and traditions say less about the virtue of the current reigning monarchy than about the virtues of the monarchy itself throughout all time immemorial. As Scruton writes,
If the monarch has a voice at all, it is understood precisely in the cross-generational way that is required by the political process. Monarchs are, in a very real sense, the voice of history, and the very accidental way in which they gain office emphasizes the grounds of their legitimacy, in the history of a people, a place and a culture. This is not to say that monarchs cannot be mad, irrational, self-interested or unwise. It is to say, rather, that they owe their authority and their influence precisely to the fact that they speak for something other than the present desires of present voters, something vital to the continuity and community which the act of voting assumes.
Following Scruton and Burke and in development of Aristotle, it is appropriate to justify the “drapery of life” when viewing the regime cross-generationally. To force liberal conceptions here would be question begging. The present king need not have the degree of private dignity as his public show of dignity. For the public dignity is less about him than it is about the state and the cross-generational social identification that comes with it. It serves more than the securing of authority here-and-now, but also securing the social relations conducive to mutual trust and solidarity, and to a commitment to the dead and yet to be born.
The places of power in monarchy and aristocracy do not suddenly become ostentatious because the present occupant fails to live up to the standard handed to him at birth. If we were to demand some type of authenticity from these occupants and, when failed, demand that he tear down what become ostentatious, it would undermine all sort of functions, some of which Scruton identifies, but also the type of public display that reflects back from the people to the ruler. If one is being raised to rule in these regimes, he ought to be raised in a place that demands the highest of him. The gaze of the people looking up, though being one of submission, has a demand just as phenomenologically penetrating as his look down. The insistent on “authenticity” and, hence, tearing down this drapery, renders inert the upward gaze of the people.
How Useful is this Framework?
As I mentioned in the introduction, my intent in this brief discussion on the places of power in the various political regimes found in the work of Aristotle is to construct a framework to understand ideal cases. When thinking through the landscape of United States, one might find landscapes quite different from what one would expect given my discussion. Problems then arise, which leads us to ask: Do we determine the de facto regime-type of the United States first, using other indicators, and then see if our framework on places of power are consistent with it? Or do we start with the framework and use it to determine the regime type? I cannot answer these questions here with any satisfaction. But I think that there is good reason, following Aristotle and my development of his thought, to think that the regime-type makes an imprint upon the landscape. There certainly are other factors in the development of a landscape and the selection, function, and adornment of places of power, but we cannot neglect the regime’s imprint. And if we agree on a general principle that regimes make an imprint on the landscape, then we can infer back from the landscape the actual regime. Put differently, we can use the landscape to determine the actual, de facto political regime-type.
Indeed, it would be strange that the regime-types, each of which Aristotle identifies as determining or symbiotic with different sets of ethics, would not have a unique effect on the landscape. Why ethics but not landscapes? People relate to one another differently in terms of affection and in terms of equality and inequality depending on the regime. Why would that not be reflected in the landscape? To argue that it has no effect is to radically separate human relations from how, where, and why humans cultivate and develop a landscape. There seems to be no prima facie reason to reject such an effect, and there are good reasons to affirm it.
The Aristotelian framework in this paper serves to understand the relationship of the regime-type to the landscape, especially to the place(s), functionality, and adornment of places of power. It has the potential to assist in explaining why man has developed his landscape in various ways in history and it can provide an additional or competing means of determining the true regime-type of a state. It is likely that there is a regime/landscape relationship similar to the regime/ethics relationship.
 Roger Scruton The Meaning of Conservatism 3rd Ed. (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002), 29-30.
 Ibid 48-49.
 Similarly, this is why many want schools, libraries, courthouses, and other such buildings to have an architecture that calls those entering to strive for their best. Even if the good, true, and beautiful are not one, it is certainly false to completely disconnect them from each other. An ugly courthouse does not provide one much confidence that justice is served there.