The following was inspired in the first instance by arguments culled from Michael Luntley’s The Meaning of Socialism (1990).
First Assumption: “There is more to the achievement of the good life than the satisfaction of individuals’ actual preferences.” Call this “The Good Principle.” We might recall in this regard Mahatma Gandhi’s definition of “civilization” as that which points to the performance of duty and the observance of morality. As Raghavan Iyer notes, “Mirabeau, who was the first person in the West to employ the word, similarly gave a moral criterion: ‘Civilization does nothing for society unless it is able to give form and substance to virtue.’” Civilization involves an education in the performance of duty and a formal and informal training in the arts of virtuous living.
Second Assumption: Eudaimonistic individualism is committed to understanding the means and ends of self-discovery for progressive individual and collective instantiation of the Good Principle, for giving form and substance to virtue. The good life is not about the frenzied madness that comes with a capitalist economy geared to the satisfaction of the compensatory needs it has helped generate as a result of society’s failure to adequately address the emancipatory interests inherent in the growth, differentiation, and self-realization or self-actualization of the individual. The distorted and artificial needs and the individually and socially harmful desires generated by hyper-industrialized casino capitalism finds the masses in a state in which they feel an overwhelming need to be psychologically indemnified by the possession and consumption of as many goods and services as possible, in a socio-economic world in which conspicuous consumption exists side-by-side with absolute and relative poverty. In such a system capitalists are thus, at least psychologically speaking, every much victims as are the workers and the unemployed.
First Proposition: Reference groups, that is, families, associations, communities, and so forth, mediate the socialization of moral values and principles. In other words, they are the means through which we learn and in which we ground our moral traditions. They are also the primary vehicles through which we express our moral concerns. As it stands, existing reference groups are often reduced to a shell of their former selves, becoming little more than social circles wherein we competitively struggle to fix our identity, position, and status through emulative striving to be like those above us in the socio-economic hierarchy, exploiting our membership in such groups as a means to studiously avoid meaningful social contact with those “below” us in a hierarchical consumption code indelibly marked by competitive social status and insecure social esteem.
Second Proposition: Religious and philosophical worldviews and traditions are passed down through “reference groups” and thus are the primary source of our conceptions of “the Good,” of our most important moral values and principles. Call these worldviews and traditions “Repositories of the Good.” In a capitalist society we must be ever-vigilant about the insidious entrenchment of the economization of all social relations, about the likelihood of commodification of traditions, about the concomitant ideological contortions and distortions of commodity fetishism and reification of both secular and religious worldviews.
Third Proposition: Historically, capitalism has been the principle cause of the breakdown, fragmentation or fragility of our reference groups and thus has served, in turn, to displace the normativity of “the Good.” Consider, for example, the following:
“The emergence of the market in labour power required the dissolution of the reference groups, so that one subject came to face another no longer within the web of norms presented by the sharing of various reference groups. Instead one subject came to face another solely as competitor in the market to supply Capital with labour power necessary for the maximisation of profit. Capital needs labour power to be freed from the normative bonds of our actual traditions, or else its supply will be economically inefficient. And of course, for Capital, the only measure of the adequacy of its supply is the economic efficiency in terms of profit maximisation.”
“Capitalism cannot abide the construction of relationships other than those economic ones in which it places one labourer in relation with another. [….] It is this total economisation of human relationships under capitalism that stands in the way of the repair to the good life….” Put differently,
“For capitalism to flourish, moral agency must be replaced by economic agency and therefore it is no good trying to put a ‘human’ face upon capitalism. As long as the underlying economic arrangement is a capitalist one, there is no room for the construction of the reference groups required to make that face more than a shallow mask.”—Michael Luntley
This is why Gandhi said many of the problems of British colonialism in India could be addressed by keeping in mind that “money is their [i.e., the colonialists’] God.” Indeed, it is why the British, like the colonialists of yesteryear and the capitalists of today “pounce upon new territories like crows upon a piece of meat.” While capitalism itself may be, as Gandhi thought, a product of the “materialist” view of man, it’s beyond argument that it comes to have a vested interest in this crude materialist conception of the individual possessed by unceasing desires and insatiable appetites that serve as an endless supply of fuel for the fires that stoke the engines of capitalism. And it is this state of affairs which leaves the modern State with a default if not vital role to play in the promotion of social and economic justice.
Conclusion: “It is the fragmentation of the reference groups grounding our moral traditions that characterises the modern world and the spirit of anomie present.” Today, the primary reference group is me! Capitalism requires the economisation of social relationships, and this requirement has led to the demise of the sharing of those reference groups which alone assure the continuation of moral life under the Authority of the Good. Capitalism is committed to the Aristocracy of Capital.
Clarification and elaboration of assumptions and propositions with regard to The Good Principle:
“[M]oral development leads to self-identification and autonomous, self-directed living, but is associative as an interdependence based in a division of labor with respect to the realization of values. The self-fulfilling life of each person requires more values than he or she personally realizes and is dependent upon others for these values. The principle of this form of association is the complementarity of perfected differences. Accordingly this meaning of ‘autonomy,’ if the term is to be applicable, must be consistent with interdependence. [This] means, not total self-sufficiency, but determining for oneself what one’s contributions to others should be and what use to make of the values provided by the self-fulfilling lives of others. To follow the lead of another person in a matter he or she understands better than we is not a lapse from autonomy into heteronomy but a mark of wisdom. [….] [T]he self here is conceived of as a task, a piece of work, namely the work of self-actualization. And self-actualization is the progressive objectivizing of subjectivity, ex-pressing it into the world. This recognition exposes as a fallacy the modern use of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ as mutually exclusive categories. Every human impulse in subjective in its origin and objective in its intentional outcome, and because its outcome is within it implicitly from its inception, there is nothing in personhood that is ‘merely subjective,’ that is, subjective in the exclusive sense. Narcissism (with which individualism is sometimes charged) is a pathology that tries to amputate from subjectivity its objective issue. It is real enough, and was a propensity of some romantic individualisms that judged experience by the occasions it affords for the refinement of the individual’s sensibilities. But the supposition that individualism is narcissistic subjectivism represents (again) a failure to recognize divergent kinds of individualism. For eudaimonistic individualism, it is the responsibility of persons to actualize objective value in the world.” From David L. Norton’s Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue (1991)
The mature, self-responsible, self-actualizing individual is first and foremost self-governing. The art and science of self-government is for virtue ethical theory and eudaimonistic individualism the paradigm of good government (or governance). We might imagine, therefore, that the primary task of good government is to assure that the opportunities and occasions of such self-governance are generalized throughout society and in principle universally applicable (a basic tenet of cosmopolitan ethics). Owing to the human condition and reflective of our natural sociability, not all of the preconditions of self-directed individuality can be self-supplied by individuals. It follows that if we are to hold individuals morally accountable for self-discovery and self-actualization, they are entitled to the necessary conditions of same. In short, some of the necessary (yet not sufficient) conditions of eudaimonistic moral aspiration are best thought of as social and political conditions, and the responsibility for which is everyone’s, that is, collective:
“To say that all are responsible is not necessarily to say that each is responsible, though. Still less is it to say that each is necessarily responsible for attempting to do whatever must be done himself. [….] [W]e typically—and rightly—suppose that, when responsibilities have not been allocated to anyone in particular within a group, the most that can be said is that each of them has an imperfect duty to perform at least some (but not necessarily all) of the acts that we might ideally wish be performed. The same general principle gives rise to much stronger implications at the level of the group as a whole, however. When no one in particular bears responsibility for performing some morally desirable actions, everyone collectively has a strong, perfect duty to see to that those things are done, within the limits of the capacities of the group as a whole to do so without undue sacrifice. [….] [The requirements of strong collective responsibility are, from the perspective of individual action, a coordination problem.] [T]he solution to such coordination problems is, of necessity, a responsibility peculiar to the group as a whole.” From Robert E. Goodin’s Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (1995)
While in the past it was the polis or city-state that provided (through its ‘constitution’) a solution to the coordination problem represented by the generalization of the opportunities and occasions for human flourishing, today that solution is provided by the State. The State bears “ultimate responsibility for providing the coordination that is required in order for people to be able do the right thing” (Goodin). For eudaimonistic individualism, individual moral responsibilities give rise to collective moral responsibilities that cannot be self-supplied by individuals:
“Where shared collective responsibilities are concerned, it is—by definition—everyone’s business what everyone else does. And this tautology is far from an empty one. It is everyone’s business, first and most simply, because it is a responsibility that everyone shares with everyone else. It is everyone’s business, second and more importantly, because, for anyone else’s contribution to be efficacious, each agent must usually play his part under the scheme that has been collectively instituted for discharging that shared responsibility. [….] Failure to discharge shared, collective responsibilities… undermin[es] in certain crucial respects other people’s moral agency itself. [….] That is what justifies us, pace libertarian principles, in forcing people to play their part in collective moral enterprises—so that others may play their part in them too [….] All of this is simply to say that, where there is a collective responsibility to coordinate individual behavior in pursuit of some morally important goal, it is legitimate for the collectivity to impose sanctions upon individuals in pursuit of that goal. Of course, it is perfectly true that not all coordination schemes require such enforcement…[for] people are sometimes prepared to play their assigned roles without any external sanctions whatsoever. So my argument here is not that we should necessarily always enforce coordination schemes. It is, rather, that we should always be prepared to enforce them as necessary.”—Robert E. Goodin
David Norton arrives at this conclusion from an argument based on eudaimonistic individualist premises:
“[A]s a developmental outcome, self-directed individuality has pre-conditions, some of which cannot be self-supplied by individuals. If persons are morally responsible for self-discovery and self-actualization, then by the logic that ‘ought’ implies ‘ought to be able to,’ they are entitled to these necessary preconditions. Here are persons’ primary moral rights. Where the conditions are such that as cannot be self-supplied by individuals, responsibility for provision is…social. In cases of universal entitlement to necessary, non-self-suppliable conditions (e.g., children to an appropriate education), responsibility for supply is not a community option and requires to be institutionalized by the state.”
The problem of moral development is the problem of discovering the conditions necessary and sufficient for the manifestation of the virtues and the actualization of value(s). Each person is morally obligated, from the perspective of virtue ethics, to sincerely and persistently endeavor to actualize, conserve and defend those values he or she identifies with as the product of self-examination and the prerequisite of self-direction and self-realization. The specific cluster of values so identified may (and usually does) vary from person to person and no one individual is capable of realizing all such values, although one might nonetheless recognize and appreciate all values (or value as such), especially insofar as these values have become identified with other individuals. Individual values identification brings in its wake the intrinsic and intangible rewards of personal fulfillment and flourishing. We are all alike with regard to values-potentialities by virtue of our human nature, but we differ, owing to genetic inheritance, upbringing, circumstance and so forth in the manner of values-identification and actualization. We might see this as the interdependence of value-actualizers, serving to confirm our inherently social nature as human beings. Such interdependence, furthermore, is capable of (has implications for) filling out the meaning of true community:
“It is in the problem of generalizing self-actualizing living with its inner requirement for continuous moral growth that the need for conducive social context arises. If, as eudaimonism contends, all persons possess innate incentive toward worthy living, a ‘conducive social context’ becomes one that provides opportunity to all associates to discover and live by their innate moral incentive. John Dewey speaks on these lines when he says that, ‘Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning, it is found in resolving that the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-around growth of every member of society.’ But given that the contributions to growth that Dewey speaks of refer to the growth of individuals that is dependent upon their own initiatives, the first concern of eudaimonistic society must be to afford individuals the types of experience that will engage these initiatives. This is self-discovery….”—David L. Norton
Reference groups provide the primary fora for self-discovery, including religious and philosophical worldviews that offer indispensable cognitive, affective and motivational resources necessary to nourishing and sustaining one on a path of self-discovery, including the supply of exemplary predecessors, as guides or gurus, as well as friends and associates in support of, when not collaboratively participating in, one’s endeavors.
Identification with the myriad and complementary values and virtues found in particular worldviews is a sign of moral integrity and entails “living in truth to oneself,” where “the self” is fulfilled in the actualization, conservation and defense of these value(s). Such identification is of a piece with self-knowledge and simultaneously a “knowledge of the Good.”
Eudaimonistic individualism supports and strengthens the sense of community provided by reference groups and traditions, these being both “received” and then “chosen.” Individual moral autonomy has here a necessary connection to the identification and appreciation of the “right” tradition and the “right” community as David Norton has argued. Recall that the individual self-realization of eudaimonistic ethics is inherently a social enterprise, as virtuous individuals are the vehicles for manifesting objective worth in the world. Being objective, the worth of such values actualization and expression is incomplete without the recognition, appreciation and utilization by appropriate others; that is to say, by those individuals who comprise an individual’s “natural community.” The obligation of the individual to relate to this community is one with the moral obligation of self-actualization, an inherently non-egoistic enterprise. In the same way, and as explained by Norton, there is a “natural tradition” and “meta-tradition” for every person, for we have predecessors in the general endeavor of self-directed living (the ‘meta-tradition’ or the various worldviews in toto), as well as predecessors in a particular chosen course of life (the ‘natural tradition’). Thus to “choose oneself” inevitably and invariably entails a deliberative choice from the meta-tradition and the commitment to a tradition. One’s meta-tradition and tradition are central to what Jürgen Habermas has called the “lifeworld,” the individuated (if not idiosyncratic) backdrop of personal and collective identity that symbolize one’s share of the cultural inheritance, and about which one may be only dimly (less than fully consciously) aware, yet with which (through its language, concepts and categories, etc.) one makes one’s way about in the world. With the age of reason, as it were, one’s involuntary affiliations are subject to reasoned choice, to deliberate commitment and self-imposed obligations, as one identifies with that tradition that becomes the backbone of one’s worldview (while one’s worldview may contain elements from more than one tradition, the nature of philosophical and spiritual discipline or praxis, including the student-teacher relationship, and the sheer depth and scope of major religious and philosophical traditions suggests it may be neither prudent nor wise to identify with more than one tradition).
The “choice” and commitment to community and tradition assume a developmental period of inquiry and exploration, experimentation and uncertainty, the eudaimonistic equivalent of moral adolescence. Moral maturity is evidenced when one comes to identify with one’s freely chosen community(ies) and tradition, when one comes to appreciate the absolutely fundamental pride of place one’s tradition plays in providing propitious conditions for individual and collective flourishing. The eudaimonistic approach to community and tradition hopes to avoid the pitfalls of New Age dilettantism, the follies of faddish eclecticism, and the vices of rootless cosmopolitanism while not succumbing to a Burkean-like veneration of traditions that fails to subject their contents to a rational or reasonable scrutiny (‘critique’). Eudaimonistic communities are self-defining because predicated on the individual’s moral autonomy and her unique articulation and realization of values for herself and others (hence the common good). In such a community, individuals interact with one another as “whole persons,” their social interactions characterized by a conspicuous exemplification of caring and compassionate relations understood as individualized expressions of universalizable forms of erōs (in the Platonic sense) and philia (in both Platonic and Aristotelian senses).
- A capitalist society is one in which the economy is primarily arranged for the benefit of Capital.
- A capitalist society is one in which the economy is primarily arranged for the benefit of capitalists.
- A capitalist is one who is committed to pursuing the interests of Capital, even when those interests interfere with, contradict, or trump the efforts of individuals and groups to live their lives under the authority of the Good.
- A capitalist is one who believes that the free market, driven by the profit motive, is the most appropriate way of organizing the distribution of goods and services in society.
“Under capitalism the subject is alienated from the normative bonds that would otherwise hold her in place within the community. If this is not done the ‘labour market’ cannot be established as a commodity market. If it is done, the possibility that human life will be structured by moral norms is shattered.” [….] Under capitalism the subject is alienated from the norms that alone can provide a human social life framed by moral values, the subject is alienated from the good.”
In short, “Under capitalism life is lived not under the Authority of the Good, but under the aristocracy of capital.”
Consider, by way of further illustration, the capitalist conception of private property, which Gandhi rightly understood to be
“subversive of the social order because it conflicted with the fundamental principles underlying and sustaining it. The customs, values, traditions, ways of life and thought, habits, language and educational, political and other institutions constituting a social order were created by the quiet co-operation and the anonymous sacrifices of countless men and women over several generations, none of whom asked for or could ever receive rewards for all their efforts. And their integrity was preserved by every citizen using them in a morally responsible manner. Every social order was thus of necessity a co-operative enterprise created and sustained by the spirit of sharing, mutual concern, self-sacrifice and yajna [sacred sacrifice or spiritual offering in general]. And its moral and cultural capital, available by its very nature to all members of society as freely as the air they breathed, constituted their collective and common heritage to be lovingly cherished and enriched. The institution of private property rested on the opposite principles and breathed a very different spirit. It stressed selfishness, aggression, exclusive ownership, narrow individualism, a reward for every effort made, possessiveness and a right to do what one liked with one’s property. It was hardly surprising, Gandhi argued, that its domination in the modern age should have atomized and culturally impoverished society and undermined the basic conditions of human development.” From Bhikhu Parekh’s Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (1989)
Of course the dehumanization of workers in capitalism is inadequately compensated for by the promises of conspicuous consumption and affluence in which the lack of joy and fulfillment often intrinsic to the working life is notoriously compensated by the pursuit of “happiness” in one’s leisure time, after work, on the weekends, in which one “forgets” about the work week with the help of recreational drugs and alcohol as part of complete indemnification by possession and consumption. This is the price paid for workers in the form of commodified labor subject to the whims and caprices of labor markets. This is the price paid for exploitation, alienation, and degradation of human beings, the price paid for identities forged by dehumanizing economic relations in an ethos of envy, fear, suspicion and cynicism. Not a few individuals bear the scars of barely concealed or improperly sublimated anger and hatred that are the inevitable spillover and by-product effects of this exploitation and alienation.
Capitalists no less than workers are victims of the economic system insofar as they convince themselves “that the poor and the underprivileged [belong] to a different, inferior or congenitally flawed species to which they [are] in no way related and [bear] no obligations.” Their minds and hearts are no less plagued by the darker emotions and deadly sins, their lives no less empty and banal.
Work can and should be the locus of “such basic qualities as a sense of self-respect, dignity, self-discipline, self-confidence” and so on. Dependence on welfare state provisions for the unemployed becomes unavoidable and is experienced by many as degrading and demeaning, particularly when one blames oneself for the lack of (or insufficient) employment. As Gandhi thought—in the words of Parekh—the unemployed are “involuntarily reduced to the demeaning status of a social parasite.”
What must be done?
“We must rearticulate the criteria, the goals, that define our agency in the social world and which provide the reference groups which alone can carry the traditions necessary for moral life to proceed. We must rearticulate the authority of the Good. In doing this we must articulate the more specific goals and standards for variety of human institutions we find in modern society and stand these goals in opposition to the market criteria of capitalist success.”
Or, as Gandhi might have put it, “economic life should be subordinated to and regulated by man’s moral and spiritual needs.”
One of the many obstacles to rearticulating the authority of the Good involves countering ideological beliefs that prevent workers from appreciating what is in their “best interests,” that is, what is truly good for them and for the society of which they are a part. As Jon Elster has argued with regard to one set of such beliefs:
“Marx’s most original contribution to the theory of belief formation was...his idea that economic agents tend to generalize locally valid views into invalid global statements, because of a failure to perceive that causal relations that obtain ceteris paribus may not hold unrestrictedly. For instance, although any worker may be seen as the marginal worker, not all workers can be at the margin. This is a local-global fallacy that leads to cognitive failures, different from yet related to the local-global confusions that lead to failures of action. This is perhaps the most powerful part of the Marxist methodology: the demonstration that in a decentralized economy there spontaneously arises a fallacy of composition with consequences for theory as well as for practice. [….] Outside the factory gate, no one can tell the worker what to do. He can purchase the goods he wants to, within the limits of his wage. He can change employer, within the limits of alternative employment. He may even try to become self-employed or an employer himself, and sometimes succeed. That freedom, while ultimately a danger to capitalism, has useful short-term ideological consequences, since it creates an appearance of independence not only from any particular capitalist, but from capital itself. [….]
Both the freedom to change employer and the freedom to become an employer oneself give rise to ideological illusions that embody the fallacy of composition. The first is the inference from the fact that a given worker is independent of any specific employer to the conclusion that he is free from all employers, that is independent of capital as such, to the conclusion that all workers can achieve such independence. It might look as if the conclusion of the first inference follows validly from the premise of the second, but this is due merely to the word ‘can’ being employed in two different senses. The freedom of the worker to change employer depends, for its realization, mainly on his decision to do so. He ‘can’ do it, having the real ability to do so should he want to. The freedom to move into the capitalist class, by contrast, only can be realized by the worker who is [to quote Marx] an ‘exceedingly clever and shrewd fellow.’ Any worker ‘can’ do it, in the sense of having the formal freedom to do so, but only a few are really able to. Hence the worker possesses the least important of the two freedoms—namely the freedom to change employer—in the strongest sense of these two senses of freedom. He can actually use it should he decide to. Conversely, the more important freedom to move into the capitalist class obtains only in the weaker, more conditional sense: ‘every workman, if he is an exceedingly clever fellow…can possibly be converted into an exploiteur du travail d’autrui.’ Correlatively, the ideological implications of the two freedoms differ. With respect to the first, the ideologically attractive aspect is that the worker is free in the strong sense, while the second has the attraction of making him free with respect to an important freedom. If the two are confused, as they might easily be, the idea could emerge that the worker remains in the working class by choice rather than necessity.” From Jon Elster’s Making Sense of Marx (1985): 208 and 211 respectively.
In addition, as Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers have explained, the nature of “capitalist democracy” places structural constraints on both the articulation and satisfaction of interests within the system. With regard to the latter, for instance, and owing to their control of investment, “the satisfaction of the interests of capitalists is a necessary condition for the satisfaction of all other interests in the system,” which means “the welfare of workers remains structurally secondary to the welfare of capitalists,” a fact we conveniently forget in times of economic abundance and low unemployment but is resurrected in the wake of the cycles, crashes, and panics endemic to capitalism. The decisions of capitalists are directly responsible for the well-being of workers, and thus we see the “interests of capitalists appear as general interests of the society as a whole, [while] the interests of everyone else appear as merely particular, or ‘special.’” As for the articulation of those interests inextricably tied to basic human and political rights:
“In a capitalist democracy the exercise of political rights is constrained in two important ways. In the first place, the political rights granted to all citizens, workers among others, are formal or procedural, and not substantive. That is, they do not take into account in their own form and application the inequalities in the distribution of resources, characteristic of capitalism, which decisively affect the exercise of political rights and importantly limit their power of expression. [….] Capitalist democracy also tends to direct the exercise of political rights toward the satisfaction of certain interests. The structuring of political demand, or what we call the ‘demand constraint,’ is crucial to the process of consent. [….] [C]apitalist democracy is in some measure capable of satisfying the interests encouraged by capitalist democracy itself, namely, interests in short-term material gain.”
This “demand constraint” canalizes the articulation of the interests of working people into the exclusive pursuit of economic advantage, in part owing to the ubiquitous conditions of “material uncertainty” for all but the wealthy classes: “There is a characteristic economic rationality to the actions of workers encouraged by capitalism. In the face of material uncertainties arising from continual dependence on the labor market under conditions of the private control of investment, it makes sense for workers to struggle to increase their wages.” See Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, On Democracy: Toward a Transformation of American Society (1983).
How do we transcend the aforementioned ideological beliefs and overcome the above structural constraints intrinsic to a capitalist democracy by way of helping workers come to an understanding of what is in their best interests? How do we enable individuals in general to fully appreciate what it means to live life under Authority of the Good rather than the Aristocracy of Capital? How might socialism recover and accord deference to the authority of the Good?
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