PHILOSOPHY & CAPITALISM
We have looked at the genealogy of capitalism. We have looked at its material bases, its mechanics-in-development, at money as sign and species of power, at thermodynamics as a way of studying social systems in a potentially empirical way, and at the peculiar role of the machine in all this. Now we need to understand some of the philosophical questions, assertions, and debates surrounding this whole historical period.
Earlier in the series, we identified two people, John Rawls and Robert Nozick, as key 20th Century philosophers of liberalism, the philosophical tradition that is identified with capitalism. We can begin by showing what they disagreed upon, then show where they are in agreement, as a way of identifying some fundamental liberal premises within which we find liberal liberalism and conservative liberalism as polar tensions.
John Rawls (1921-2002) and Robert Nozick (1938-2002) represent the liberal and conservative aspects of liberalism respectively. The philosopher I will use to unpack Rawls and Nozick is Alasdair MacIntyre, who identifies his own philosophical tradition as Aristotelian-Thomist, and whose two books, After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? serve as a Part 1 and Part 2 examination of the historic genealogy of liberal philosophy.
The explanation from After Virtue (pp. 244-252) begins with two hypothetical people, who MacIntyre creatively named A and B.
A has worked in a respectable job his whole life as a construction worker (liberal ideal-types are always male), bought a modest house, sent his two kids to college, and pays for his ailing mother's medical care. He has not saved a great deal, but he manages to do those things he considers important. There is a threat to raise his taxes; and he considers this an injustice. He earned what he has and what he has the capacity to do for his loved ones by his own hard work. He is fairly entitled to it; and taking any of it away with higher taxes is wrong. He will vote for political candidates who refuse to raise his taxes.
B is a professional, lets say an associate professor; and he has some savings and investments tucked away. He has studied various inequalities in society, and finds that they cannot be explained purely on the basis of merit. He sees extremely rich people and extremely poor people, and finds an element of injustice in this disparity, especially when the poor suffer - not just do without luxuries, but actually suffer - as a result. He realizes that economic growth is necessary, but he believes there ought to be some redistributive mechanism in the tax codes that provides for basic services and prevents suffering. He will vote for political candidates who are willing to employ enough redistributive taxation to ameliorate that suffering.
A and B are both preoccupied with something called "justice," but we can already see that they are somehow defining justice in two different ways. During the 1990s when money was circulating freely from financial bubbles that hadn't yet broken, A was getting all kinds of work, and B found that several non-profits who focused on the amelioration of suffering among the poor were flush with grant money, neither of them was acutely aware of injustice, and they might even have voted for some of the same candidates. After the 2007-8 Wall Street debacle and the subsequent period of low employment and increased poverty, their differences went head-to-head in the political arena. The two conceptions of justice contradict one another.
First of all, scarcity is assumed by both, in large part because money-dependence in a growth-economy creates a permanent condition of scarcity. Let's see how MacIntyre describes this contradiction:
The logical incompatibility is not difficult to identify. A holds that principles of just acquisition and entitlement set limits to redistributive possibilities. If the outcome of the application of the principles of just acquisition and entitlement is gross inequality, the toleration of such inequality is a price that has to be paid for justice. B holds that principles of just distribution set limits to legitimate acquisition and entitlement. If the outcome of the application of the principles of just distribution is interference - by means of taxation or such devices as eminent domain - with what has up till now been regarded in this social order as legitimate acquisition and entitlement, the toleration of such interference is a price that has to be paid for justice.In either case, the price that gets paid for "justice" is paid by one group and the benefits accrue to another. So various social groups, based on their situations, will identify with one or the other notion of justice.
The A position is conservative liberalism; and the B position is liberal liberalism. The A position is that of Robert Nozick; and the B position is that of John Rawls. One thing that unites them as liberals is that they each treat he individual as an abstraction - one that has primacy in law over society/community - and each is a social contractarian. Ones says that rights mean entitlement and one says that individuals bear certain rights to the satisfaction of needs. Each starts with the individual as if that individual existed in a vacuum.
It is, from both standpoints, as though we had been shipwrecked on an uninhabited island with a group of other individuals, each of whom is a stranger to me and to all of the others. What have to be worked ou are rules which will safeguard each one of us maximally in such a situation. Nozick's premise concerning rights introduces a strong set of constraints; we do know that certain types of interference with each other are absolutely prohibited. But there is as limit to the bonds between us, a limit set by our private and competing interests. The individualistic view has of course... a distinguished ancestry: Hobbes, Locke... Machiavelli and others. And it contains within itself a certain note of realism about modern society; modern society is indeed often, at least in surface appearance, nothing but a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under minimal constraints. We still of course, even in modern society, find it difficult to think of families, colleges, and other genuine communities in this way; but even our thinking about those is now invaded by an increasing degree by individualist conceptions, especially in the law courts. Thus Rawls and Nozick articulate with great power a shared view which envisages entry into social life as - at least ideally - the voluntary act of at least potentially rational individuals with prior interests who have to ask the question. "What kind of social contract with others is it reasonable for me to enter into?" Not surprisingly it is a consequence of this that their views exclude any account of human community in which the notion of desert in relations to the contributions to the common tasks of that community in pursuing shared goods could provide the basis for judgements about virtue and injustice. (MacIntyre, p. 251)
I want to jump from MacIntyre here - having surfaced the notion of a social contract - to a deeper look at what this thing - social contract - is, and where it came from. For that, we can turn to feminist historian Carole Pateman, who authored a near-canonical book entitled The Sexual Contract.
Putting Pateman and MacIntyre (and Ivan Illich) into a conversation yields some interesting results, and we will do that. First, an introduction to Pateman's thesis.
Telling stories of all kinds is the major way that human beings have endeavoured to make sense of themselves and their social world. (The Sexual Contract, p. 1)So begins her book. Christians make sense of their world through a story, too. That is why some theologians call us a narrative community. Many non-Christians, especially modern agnostics and atheists, but also many modern putative Christians, consign that story to the category "just a story," and rely more fully for guidance in their lives upon something they might call "objectivity." It's a story, too, that denies it is a story, and we'll get to that.
What Pateman is foreshadowing with her opening sentence is a description of stories that underwrite the idea of social contract, which she shows is itself an outgrowth of something she calls the "sexual contract." There are several stories that are used to describe social contract, and when we look at Rawls and Nozick closely, we find that they have stories behind their liberal apologetics as well.
Rawls has a story entitled "The Original Position." It's a story about a bunch of people who get together to decide on what practices and rules they will need to live together. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo bears an evil magic ring that defines that particular story. In Rawls' story, each of the people in the group that is deciding how to live together is afflicted with the same disability, a weird form of amnesia which Rawls calls "the veil of ignorance." None of the people engaged in this very important deliberation together knows who he is (in Rawls's story, all the people are men, even though they don't know they are men yet). None of the original people in the original position know if they are male or female, they have no social status, no ethnicity, no religion, no nothing. They are, however, grown with children and the "head of a household." It's a funny kind of story.
The characters are so abstract, in a sense, that they can't even have bodies, which might betray one of the realities that must remain concealed behind the veil. In fact, they come to share an attribute of units of value, like dollars. They are music played with only one note. Ding ding ding ding ding.
Robert Nozick has a different story. His is named "The Original Act of Acquisition." In this story, a man is walking on the beach (men again). The beach is covered with pretty shells. The man takes one and carries it home. It is legitimately his, because he picked it up in the open, on no one's property, and it belonged to no one. There were plenty of shells, so he shell is rightly his. If someone takes the shell from him without permission, that is wrongful, but if he sells the shell to someone voluntarily, then the ownership of the shell is rightly transferred.
Obviously, Nozick is preoccupied with property, and so the original rightful act of acquisition is a story he uses to explain where property came from, just as "fictional" as the story of Eve's chat with a snake.
You can see how Rawls' fiction has several disembodied individuals collaborating on rules that can't take any real person into account; and Nozick's fiction has just one disembodied being - a rights-bearing individual like Rawls' - who deals in either acquisition or "rational" exchange with other acquisitive individuals. Both are social contractarians.
Let's read a lengthy quote from Pateman's book:
The pictures of the state of nature and the stories of the social contract found in the classic texts vary widely, but despite their differences on many important issues, the classic social contract theorists have a crucial feature in common. They all tell patriarchal stories.So the story is designed to support a conclusion, generally a state friendly to the theorist himself; and the story then pretends it is the basis of the conclusion. Continuing:
Contract doctrine entails that there is only one, conventional, origin of political right, yet, except in Hobbes' theory where both sexes are pictured as naturally free and equal, the contract theorists also insist that men's right over women has a natural basis. Men alone have the attributes of free and equal 'individuals'. Relations of subordination between men must, if they are to be legitimate, originate in contract. Women are born into subjection. The classic writers were well aware of the significance of the assumptions of contract doctrine for the relation between the sexes. They could take nothing for granted when the premise of their arguments was potentially so subversive of all authority relations, including conjugal relations. The classic pictures of the state of nature take into account that human beings are sexually differentiated. Even in Hobbes radically individualist version of the natural condition the sexes are distinguished. In contemporary discussions of the state of nature, however, this feature of human life is usually disregarded. The fact that 'individuals' are all of the same sex is never mentioned; attention is focused instead on different conceptions of the masculine 'individual'.
The naturally free and equal (masculine) individuals who people the pages of the social contract theorists are a disparate collection indeed. They cover the spectrum from Rousseau's social beings to Hobbes' entities reduced to matter in motion, or, more recently, James Buchanan's reduction of individuals to preference and production functions; John Rawls manages to introduce both ends of the spectrum into his version of the contract story. Rousseau criticized his fellow social contract theorists for presenting individuals in the state of nature as lacking all social characteristics, and his criticism has been repeated many times. The attempt o set out he purely natural assets of individuals is inevitably doomed to fail; all hat is left if the attempt is consistent enough is a merely physiological, biological, or reasoning entity, not a human being. In order to make their natural being recognizable, social contract theorists smuggle social characteristics into the natural condition, or their readers supply what is missing. The form of the state or political association that a theorist wishes to justify also influences the 'natural' chacteristics that he gives to individuals; as Rawls stated... the aim of arguing from an original position., Rawls' equivalent to he state of nature, 'is to get the desired solution'. (pp. 40-42)
What is not often recognized, however, is that the 'desired solution' includes the sexual contract [exchange of sexual and domestic obedience for protection and security -SG] and men's patriarchal right over women.Kant eschews a story about "nature," but he still uses the status quo tail to wag the theoretical dog.
Despite disagreement over what counts as a 'natural' characteristic, features so designated are held to be common to all human beings. Yet almost all the classic writers held that natural capacities and attributes were sexually differentiated. Contemporary contract theorists implicitly follow their example, but this goes unnoticed because the subsume feminine beings under the apparently universal, sexually neuter category of the 'individual'. In the most recent rewriting of the social contract story sexual relations have dropped from view because sexually differentiated individuals have disappeared. In A Theory of Justice, the parties to the original position are purely reasoning entities. Rawls follows Kant on this point, and Kant's view of the original contract differs from that of the other classic contract theorists, although in some other respects his arguments resemble theirs. Kant does not offer s story about the origins of political right or suggest that, even hypothetically, an original agreement was once made. Kant is not dealing in this kind of political fiction. For Kant, the original contract is 'merely an idea of reason', an idea necessary for an understanding of actual political institutions. (p. 42)
Similarly, Rawls writes... that his own argument 'tries to draw solely upon basic intuitive ideas that are embedded in the political institutions of a constitutional democratic regime and the public traditions of their interpretations'. As an idea of reason, rather than a political fiction, the original contract helps 'us work out what we now think'. (p. 42)So, contract theory is an apologetic for liberal society, a point admitted in so many words by philosophers from Kant to Rawls, who take the superiority of their class, their nationality, and their gender as self-evident.
If Rawls is to show how free and equal parties, suitably situated, would agree to principles that are (pretty near to) those implicit in existing institutions, the appropriate idea of reason is required. The problem about political right faced by the classic contract theorists has disappeared. Rawls' task is to find a picture of an original position that will confirm 'our' intuitions about existing institutions, which include patriarchal relations of subordination.At this point, we will ask the reader to recall an earlier installment that showed the relationship between layers of symbolism and abstraction.
Rawls' claims that is parties in their original position are completely ignorant of any 'particular facts' about themselves. The parties are free citizens, and Rawls states that their freedom is a 'moral power to form, to revise, and rationally to pursue a conception of the good', which involves a view of themselves as sources of valid claims and as responsible for their ends. If citizens change their idea of the good, his has no effect on their 'public identity', that is, their juridical standing as civil individuals or citizens. Rawls also states that the original position is a 'device of representation'. But representation is hardly required. As reasoning entities... the parties are indistinguishable from one another. One party can 'represent' all the rest. (pp. 42-43)
In effect, there is only one individual in the original position behind Rawls' 'veil of ignorance'. Rawls can, therefore, state that 'we can view he choice [contract - Pateman's brackets] in the original position from the standpoint of one person selected at random. (p. 43)Here we will remind readers that in Christian thought, each human being is embodied; we are identical with our fleshy and situated selves.
As an historian, never mind as a theologian, you just can't get around the idea that Christianity, faith, the New Testamen, whatever you want to call it, begins with verbum car factum est, or logos sarx egento... sarx quite obviously means flesh. So there is something funny about even having to raise the question, What does the body have to do with Christianity? It's fundamental. But it's not the soma, the whole of the body , that is spoken of, but its fleshiness. The absolutely unique and crazy newness of the New Testament consists in God's word becoming flesh in the womb of... a very young woman...Illich's talk of disenfleshment becomes quite clear in light of Pateman's words:
When Paul speaks about the word being enfleshed, or incarnated, the enfleshment - he speaks about th emptying out of God... kenosis...
When norms are brought into the "ought" through the criminalization of sin, the glorious side of the encounter between the Palestinian and the Jew [a metaphor for the story of the Samaritan - SG] is hidden. What the Lord told the Pharisees with this story [here is an alternative story to hose told by Rawls or Nozick - SG] was this: it is open to anyone who walks down that road to move away from the road and establish a relationship, a fit, a tie, with the man who is beaten up. To do so corresponds to the nature of two human beings and permits this nature its full flowering. The Samaritan has the possibility of establishing a proportion, a relatedness to the other man which is entirely free and conditioned only by his hope that the beaten up Jew will respond to it by accepting this relationship... [T]he Samaritan parable was scandalous to the Pharisees to whom it was presented, because the Master told them who your neighbor is is not determined by your birth, by your condition, by the language which you speak, but by you. You can recognize the other man who is out of bounds, culturally, who is foreign linguistically, who, you can say by Providence, or pure chance, is the one who lies somewhere along your road in the grass, and create the supreme form of relatedness which is not given by creation but created by you. Any attempt to explain this "ought" as corresponding to a norm takes out the mysterious greatness from this free act.
[Y]ou may say, I didn't ask you to go back to the Samaritan but o explain to me what Christianity has to do with the body. And I told you first about he extraordinary words with which the whole story begins: that God didn;t become man, he became flesh. I believe, as I hope you do, in a God who is enfleshed, and who has given the Samaritan, as a being drowned in carnality, the possibility of creating a relationship by which an unknown, chance encounter becomes for him the reason for his existence, as he becomes the reason for the other's survival - not just in a physical sense, but in a deeper sense, as a human being. This is not a spiritual relationship. This is not a fantasy. This is not merely a ritual act that generates a myth. Tisis an act which prolongs the incarnation. Just as God became flesh and in the flesh relates to each one of us, so you are capable of relating in the flesh, as one who says ego, and when he says ego, points to an experience which is entirely sensual, incarnate, and this-worldly, to that other man who has been beaten up. Take away the fleshy, bodily, carnal, dense, humoural experience of self, and therefore of the Thou, from the story of he Samaritan and you have a nice liberal fantasy, which is something horrible. You have the basis on which you might feel responsible for bombing the neighbor for his own good. This use of power is what I call the corruptio optima quae est pessmia. [The corruption of the best is the worst. -SG] What is most glorious but remains, as a possibility of thinking and experiencing, always somewhat in the shadow, somewhat in the clouds, is corrupted into a very clear and powerful idea of democracy.
God's love is in the flesh, and in the relationship between two people, the mystery of the Samaritan, is inevitably a mystery of the flesh. This becomes very difficult to explain, or even to say, in our generation, during which I believe an extraordinary process, and an extraordinary history of disenfleshment of our perceptions, our concepts, and our senses has reached a high point. (Ivan Illich, from Rivers North of the Future, pp. 205-8)
Rawls' parties merely reason and make their choice - or the one party does this as the representative of them all - and so their bodies can be dispensed with. (p. 43)Illich was right. This is counter-intuitive for us, because we are immersed in liberal philosophy, in our own legal and philosophical disembodiment. That's why we need to go this far around the bend to explain disembodiment and its relation to abstraction in liberal philosophy.
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Why this quote? Let's look a liberalism, at liberal abstraction, at the liberal and disembodied "individual," under law. Under liberal law, which begins with the disembodied individual, social inequalities prior to the law are unrecognized. That is why in putatively "democratic" regimes, with abstract legal equality, we can have an upper quintile of the population who owns more than 77% of the wealth, and a lower quintile that owns less than 3%. That is why Monsanto, with $20 billion in assets is equal to a single farmer who they sue in court. That is why, under law, a woman reduced to prostitution is legally equal to the "john" who pays her for sex; and her past has no bearing on the question of "consent."
Pateman explored the gendered aspects of modernity and liberalism, and found that the abstract individual that is disembodied there most resembles men-in-power. Consequently, the only way for women to be counted, or for men who are not in power (e.g., black men in a white-dominated society), was to be like the man-in-power who is concealed behind the veil of ignorance.
Hillary Clinton can run for President and be appointed Secretary of State, but only when her actions and words resemble what a powerful man might do in the same position. Barack Obama can be elected President of the United States, but only if he shows his fealty - a la powerful white men - to Wall Street, the American security state apparatus, and the military-industrial complex (often the same people). In neither case has anything substantial changed for most women or black people with regard to social inequalities that operate prior to law.
There are similar critiques of Nozick, the most salient being against his "original act of acquisition," since simple historical records will show that at some point in time, most acquisitions of land - one example - that are currently entitled by law were not just, but achieved by force or fraud. Applying Nozick strictly is impossible, because we cannot resurrect that dead to give them back their land; and any attempt to give the land to heirs (if we even recognize automatic hereditary inheritance) would be a morass of conflicting claims. So Nozick uses a fiction about a shell on the beach, then uses it to justify any form of property possession that is validated by existing law - the very status quo which he admits is his lodestar in the determination of justice.
In the case of both Rawls and Nozick, their ultimate appeal is to authority, which unsurprisingly turns out to be the liberal state for both of them, because they do not share commensurable premises with regard to what constitutes justice (except that both reject out of hand any notion of desert).
Alasdair MacIntyre traced the genealogy of liberalism through many of the same people as Pateman, with his attention on the questions of morality and ethics, and he arrived at many of the same conclusions, particularly about disembodiment. His own point is that actual people are not only embodied but situated in time, place, and relations.
I may appear before the law as an abstracted ghost in the machine, but I am actually American by birth, male, "white," 61 years old, five feet eight inches tall, with a father (RIP) from Michigan and mother from Arkansas, retired from the army, married with children and grandchildren, a very particular relationships with each of the people in my life, and English as my first language. I have a unique constellation of experiences, desires, preferences, fears, aversions, and education, and these not only define me but circumscribe me; they circumscribe my possibilities. Moreover, I have duties, obligations, and prohibitions built into that specificity. Everyone can say the same about themselves. Each of us can only be where we are when we are there, a body at a particular place in time-space. I will never be an football player, a ballerina, an infant again, a cello player, a Norwegian, an auto mechanic, or a 15th Century rat catcher.
Of those things that I might do that are good or evil or in a mediocre way, they too are situated. I can be a good husband or a bad one. I can be a bad writer, or, hopefully a not so bad one. I am getting better at identifying my birds. The job I did yesterday on some landscaping was pretty decent. My last design for a home hoop-house was for shit. There are actions in my past I have done to others that were evil, either because they were lazy or cruel or dishonest or betrayals of trust (Obviously, I am loathe to list them, and they involved others who may not want to be mentioned).
MacIntyre makes a strong point that good and evil are not floating signifiers. They apply to practices.
Liberalism cannot take account of these, because it cannot recognize the situatedness of people except in the most general way. It can only see me as a possessor or a chooser. What I possess or how I choose has no inhering moral quality in liberal philosophy, because liberal philosophy is what MacIntyre calls "emotivist." That is a term that encapsulates the idea that there are no ultimate means for determining the right or the good - that these are just preferences, like Rawls on the one hand or Nozick on the other - and that ethics becomes a matter of resolving moral quandaries that arise from incommensurable premises.
The origin of this quandary about premises that are, at their root, assertions and counter-assertions, is in the idea and ambition of post-Enlightenment philosophy to come up with a system of determining right and wrong that can be universalized - that can apply to all people at all times equally, which of course was not possible, and therefore led to reducing the definition of people to disembodied individuals.
Attempts to create this universal yardstick all failed because, not surprisingly, the premises of various schools of thought - once communities were understood only as a collection of these stamped-metal "individuals" - were assertion versus counter-assertion. The two main types of assertion-counter-assertion were what are called "deontological" and "consequentialist." Immanuel Kant is seen as emblematic of deontology, or duty-ethics; and Jeremy Bentham is seen as an emblematic consequentialist, or utilitarian.
Duty ethicists say that one rule must apply to all equally. If I have to stop for the stop sign at that intersection, everyone ought to do he same, even if there is no traffic and I am transporting a woman in labor to the hospital. Utilitarians will say that the greatest good for the greatest number (the consequences, or outcomes) determines what was right or wrong. By that standard, an experiment like the Tuskegee syphilis study might be justified. Each contradicts the other by turns.
If you stand before the liberal state nowadays, you encounter the Forrest Gump "box of chocolates" problem, that being, "You never know whatcher gonna get." Bradley Manning released documents showing war crimes - their exposure arguably a good thing - and he is being prosecuted by the letter of the law (deontologically) to secure a harsh prison sentence. Drone strikes for the purposes of assassination are violations of international law; yet the US state does them anyway, arguing that they are preventing attacks (a consequentialist argument).
What MacIntyre notes is that when a society is organized around the principle of emotivism, this mixture of contradictory premises becomes arbitrary in its application by a bureaucratic apparatus that is necessary to decode conflicting claims between residents of a polity, because the residents themselves do not share a community narrative, they do not share ethical premises, and they need not recognize any obligation to one another because they are merely a collection of individuals. As we see above, it is also arbitrarily applied in defense of its own power and prerogatives.
This not only presents a dilemma to Christians in the political sense - we might run the stop sign with the woman in labor and refuse to participate in a Tuskegee experiment, because our guiding principle is neighbor-love - it presents us, as MacIntyre notes, with a "social context...that [obliterates]... the distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relationships."
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.Christians are called to be honest in their dealings, never with an eye to manipulation. (Matthew 5:33-37)
-2 Corinthians 11:14
Yet capitalism is the system for which liberal philosophy, according to Rawls, "is to get the desired solution"; and capitalism, as we can see by turning on our television sets to watch the incessant datastream of ads, is engaged in relentless and shameless manipulation in order to get people to buy, buy, and buy more. Advertising, which the late Christian philosopher Dallas Willard called a form of organized deception, for us is almost like the water surrounding a fish, unremarkable in every way; yet something so ubiquitous and so antithetical to Christian teaching that it could be the subject of rebuke from every Christian pulpit in the world.
More insidiously, the culture of liberalism has erased virtue as an aspect of character (habituation of the person to doing good, which is in turn imbricated with community, the common good, and some constitutive narrative) and created an impression in our minds that equates virtue with following rules. Good boys and good girls follow the rules.
I'm not saying, don't follow rules. If you're playing a game, you oughtn't cheat (again, this is a practice). If you're driving in the US, stay generally on the right side of the road (in the UK, on the left), or you'll cause an accident.
[W]hat sort of person am I to become? This is in a way an inescapable question in that an answer to it is given in practice in each human life. But for characteristically modern moralities it is a question only to be approached by indirection. The primary question... has concerned rules: what rules ought we to follow. And why ought we to obey them? ...[T]hat this has been the primary question is unsurprising when we recall the consequences of the expulsion of Aristotelian teleology from the moral world. Ronald Dworkin has... argued that the central doctrine of modern liberalism is the thesis that questions about the good life for man (sic) or the ends of human life are to be regarded from the public standpoint as systematically unsettlable. On these individuals are free to agree or disagree. The rules of morality and law hence are not to be derived from or justified in terms of some more fundamental conception of the good for man (sic). In arguing thus Dworkin has, I believe, identified a stance characteristic not just of liberalism, but of modernity. Rules become the primary concept of the moral life. Qualities of character then generally come to be prized only because they will lead us to follow the right set of rules. 'The virtues are sentiments, that is, related families of dispositions and propensities regulated by a higher-order desire, in this case a desire to act from corresponding principles,' asserts John Rawls... and elsewhere he defines 'the fundamental moral virtues' as 'strong and normally effective desires to act on the basic principles of right.'Rules are an outside job. Character is an inside job.
Hence on the modern view the justification of the virtues depends upon some prior justification of rules and principles; and if the latter become radically problematic, as they have, so also must the former. (MacIntyre, After Virtue, pp. 118-119)
Life does not present anyone, Christian or not, with a series of circumstances anticipated by a set of rules. Following the rule that causes you to wait at a red light when there is no traffic - when the rule is primary - might habituate you to going through green lights without looking both ways first.
Equating rules with virtue has led to the widespread notion in modern, metropolitan society, that as long as what you are doing is legal, it is right. This attitude has led to a kind of hegemony of lawyers, which began to grow with the European Christian practice of witch persecution, a sordid episode in church history that corresponds in time and cause with the advent of capitalism.
Given that this attitude - if it's legal, it's right - corresponds to a rules-orientation, reinforced by rule-making authorities from cradle to grave, and given that the same system of thought has effaced the difference between manipulative and non-manipulative actions in relations with others, and given that this world-view includes an understanding of a self which is both autonomous and alienable, what we end up with is a society where manipulation and counter-manipulation becomes the capitalist way of life.
Contemporary moral experience... has a paradoxical character. For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by modes of practice, aesthetic and bureaucratic, which involve us in manipulative relationships with others. Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; seeking to incarnate our own principles and standpoint in the world of practice, we find no way open to us to do so except by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case. (MacIntyre, p. 68)My autonomous self will manipulate your autonomous self to prevent your autonomous self from manipulating me. Hobbes' "war of one against all" becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy. As a Christian, I have to ask if this society in any way resembles the Kingdom of God; and the answer is obvious. The greater dilemma for Christians living in this society is that when we require money to live, and when scarcity and competition describe the world of work where we gain access to money, many jobs that are available themselves demand an element of manipulation.
Because liberal philosophers aspired to lay out universalized principles that transcended time and space, part of liberal ideology has become both the possibility of doing that and the implicit claim that it has been accomplished. Neither is true, of course. God may transcend time and space, but God's creation - by everything we can know - is bounded by it.
Liberal philosophy, capitalist philosophy and apologetics, appear then as trans-historical, or ahistorical; but when we look at the actual philosophers, we find that they were responding to the contingencies and controversies and perceived dangers of their own day. Kant was immersed in the republican revolutionary tumult of the latter 18th Century. Hobbes had witnessed a civil war and the execution of a king. John Locke had to flee to Holland to save his own skin. All were still dealing with the fears of war stemming from the Reformation, and each was responding in some way to one another or to popular philosophers who had preceded them. When they are universalized today by apologists, those apologists are committing the error of anachronism, and setting up modern readers and students to both mis-apply and misappropriate the ideas of earlier thinkers by reading them out of context.
In Pateman's work on social contract, for example, she showed how the republican movement that animated the French and American Revolutions was not conceived of as democratization - that is, as a movement for some kind of equality - but as an almost Oedipal rebellion of sons against fathers, sons being the up and coming bourgeoisie who were aiming at the overthrow of the aristocratic patriarchs. In her analysis of gender in that process, she shows how deceptive is the idea that the seeds of women's liberation were already in that movement - based on the idea that the overthrow of patriarchs (aristocratic men) is somehow related to the overthrow (yet to be realized) of patriarchy (the rule of men). Women's position vis-a-vis men changed, but that change was from paternal control over women to fraternal access to women.
In the next installment, we will discuss the invention of the public-private dichotomy in greater detail; but this idea that was born within liberal philosophy, and it consigned women to the private sphere where their treatment by husbands was inoculated from "public" law. Public corresponds to male and to society, whereas private corresponds in early liberal philosophy to women, who are associated with nature - a thing to be dominated by men.
Social contract theory is conventionally presented as a story about freedom. One interpretation of the original contract is that the inhabitants of the state of nature exchange the insecurities of natural freedom for equal, civil freedom which is protected by the state. In civil society freedom is universal; all adults enjoy the same civil standing and can exercise their freedom by, as it were, replicating the original contract when, for example, they enter into the employment contract or the marriage contract. Another interpretation, which takes into account conjectural histories of the state of nature in these classical texts, is that freedom is won by sons who cast off their natural subjection to their fathers and replace paternal rule by civil government. Political right as paternal right is inconsistent with modern civil society. In this version of the story, civil society is created through the original contract after paternal rule - or patriarchy - is overthrown. The new civil order, therefore, appears to be anti-patriarchal or post-patriarchal. Civil society is created through contract so that contract and patriarchy appear to be irrevocably opposed.
These familiar readings of the classic stories fail to mention that a good deal more than freedom is at stake. Men's domination over women, and the right of men to enjoy equal sexual access to women, is at issue in the making of the original pact. The social contract is a story of freedom; the sexual contract is a story of subjection. The original contract constitutes both freedom and domination. Men's freedom and women's subjection are created through the original contract - and the character of civil freedom cannot be understood without the missing half of the story that reveals how men's patriarchal right over women is established through contract. Civil freedom is not universal. Civil freedom is a masculine attribute and depends upon patriarchal right. The sons overturn paternal rule not merely to gain their liberty but to secure women for themselves...
Modern civil society is not structured by kinship and the power of fathers; in the modern world, women are subordinated to men as men, or to men as a fraternity. The original contract takes place after the political defeat of the father and creates modern fraternal patriarchy. (Pateman, pp. 2-3)
The republican battle cry, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," takes on new significance with this insight.
One of my own criticisms of liberal and postmodern feminisms is that the deracinated individual - that same disembodied being - is smuggled into much discourse about "choice," which uncomfortably resembles the "choice" talk of advertisers in consumer society. Pepsi or Coke? Or maybe an edgier brand. The pretense that one can escape history and situatedness makes it less likely that women can do so because it goes unrecognized. Because women are no longer as constrained legally within modern capitalism might give credence to the illusion that women are unconstrained at all; when women's culture in general is strongly motivated by sexual competition (an aspect of fraternal patriarchy) and by constant strategizing about how to attract men. Women have made advances and won important victories within liberal regimes, but it is easy to overstate them or to convince ourselves that women are men's political equals. Empirical data do not support this conclusion. In many respects, this hegemonic, self-policing control over women-as-a-class by men-as-a-class (the fraternity of men) - culturally enforced instead of legally enforced - is simultaneously more invisible and more durable that direct paternal or legal control. Instead, it has led women to treat themselves - in capitalist society - as that central object in capitalism: a commodity.