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Their syncretistic view of freedom is simply based on a semantic confusion. Today freedom and constraint pivot more and more on legislation. People generally realize fully the extraordinary importance of technology in the changes that are taking place in contemporary society. On the other hand, they do not seem to realize to the same extent the parallel changes brought about by legislation, often without any necessary connection with technology. What they appear to realize even less is that the importance of the latter changes in contemporary society depends in its turn on a silent revolution in present-day ideas about the actual function of legislation.
In fact, the increasing significance of legislation in almost all the legal systems of the world is probably the most striking feature of our era, besides technological and scientific progress. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries common law and ordinary courts of judicature are constantly losing ground to statutory law and administrative authorities, in the Continental countries civil law is undergoing a parallel process of submersion as a result of the thousands of laws that fill the statute books each year.
Legislation appears today to be a quick, rational, and far-reaching remedy against every kind of evil or inconvenience, as compared with, say, judicial decisions, the settlement of disputes by private arbiters, conventions, customs, and similar kinds of spontaneous adjustments on the part of individuals. A fact that almost always goes unnoticed is that a remedy by way of legislation may be too quick to be efficacious, too unpredictably far-reaching to be wholly beneficial, and too directly connected with the contingent views and interests of a handful of people the legislators , whoever they may be, to be, in fact, a remedy for all concerned.
The advocates of legislation—or rather, of the notion of legislation as a panacea—justify this way of fully identifying it with law in contemporary society by pointing to the changes continually being brought about by technology. Industrial development, so we are told, brings with it a great many problems that older societies were not equipped to solve with their ideas of law.
I submit that we still lack proof that the many new problems referred to by these advocates of inflated legislation are really brought about by technology 1 or that contemporary society, with its notion of legislation as a panacea, is better equipped to solve them than older societies that never so blatantly identified law with legislation. The attention of all the advocates of inflated legislation as an allegedly necessary counterpart of scientific and technological progress in contemporary society needs to be drawn to the fact that the development of science and technology, on the one hand, and that of legislation, on the other, are based respectively on two completely different and even contradictory ideas.
In fact, the development of science and technology at the beginning of our modern era was made possible precisely because procedures Edition: Scientific and technical research needed and still needs individual initiative and individual freedom to allow the conclusions and results reached by individuals, possibly against contrary authority, to prevail. Legislation, on the other hand, is the terminal point of a process in which authority always prevails, possibly against individual initiative and freedom. Whereas scientific and technological results are always due to relatively small minorities or particular individuals, often, if not always, in opposition to ignorant or indifferent majorities, legislation, especially today, always reflects the will of a contingent majority within a committee of legislators who are not necessarily more learned or enlightened than the dissenters.
Where authorities and majorities prevail, as in legislation, individuals must yield, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. Another characteristic feature of legislation in contemporary society apart from a few instances of direct democracy in small political communities like the Swiss Landsgemeinde is that the legislators are assumed to represent their citizens in the legislative process.
Whatever this may mean—and this is what we shall try to discover in the following pages—it is obvious that representation, like legislation, is something altogether extraneous to the procedures adopted for scientific and technological progress. Nonetheless, a way of reaching decisions that would be rejected out of hand in scientific and technological fields is coming to be adopted more and more as far as law is concerned.
The resulting situation in contemporary society is a kind of schizophrenia, which, far from being denounced, has been hardly noticed so far. People behave as if their need for individual initiative and individual decision were almost completely satisfied by the fact of their personal access to the benefits of scientific and technological Edition: True, individuals still have, at least in the Western world, the possibility of deciding and acting as individuals in many respects: However, they seem also to have accepted in principle once and for all a system whereby a handful of people whom they rarely know personally are able to decide what everybody must do, and this within very vaguely defined limits or practically without limits at all.
But other countries, while already offering a completely different kind of picture, reveal at the same time how much farther the legislators can go in this respect. On the other hand, fewer and fewer people now seem to realize that just as language and fashion are the products of the convergence of spontaneous actions and decisions on the part of a vast number of individuals, so the law too can, in theory, just as well be a product of a similar convergence in other fields. Today the fact that we do not need to entrust to other people the task of deciding, for instance, how we have to speak or how we should spend our leisure time fails to make us realize that the same should be true of a great many other actions and decisions that we take in the sphere of law.
Our present notion of the law is definitely affected by the overwhelming importance that we attach to the function of legislation, that is, to the will of other people whoever they may be relating to our daily behavior. I try to make clear in the following pages one of the chief consequences of our ideas in this respect. We are actually far from attaining through legislation the ideal certainty of the law, in the practical sense that this ideal should have for anybody who must plan for Edition: The legal system centered on legislation, while involving the possibility that other people the legislators may interfere with our actions every day, also involves the possibility that they may change their way of interfering every day.
As a result, people are prevented not only from freely deciding what to do, but from foreseeing the legal effects of their daily behavior. It is undeniable that today this result is due both to inflated legislation and to the enormous increase of a quasi-legislative or pseudo-legislative activity on the part of the government, and one cannot help agreeing with writers and scholars like James Burnham in the United States, Professor G. Keeton in England, and Professor F.
However, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the ever-growing power of governmental officials may always be referred to some statutory enactment enabling them to behave, in their turn, as legislators and to interfere in that way, almost at will, with every kind of private interest and activity. The paradoxical situation of our times is that we are governed by men, not, as the classical Aristotelian theory would contend, because we are not governed by laws, but because we are.
In this situation it would be of very little use to invoke the law against such men. Machiavelli himself would not have been able to contrive a more ingenious device to dignify the will of a tyrant who pretends to be a simple official acting within the framework of a perfectly legal system. If one values individual freedom of action and decision, one cannot avoid the conclusion that there must be something wrong with the whole system. I do not maintain that legislation should be entirely discarded. Probably this has never happened in any country at any time.
I do maintain, however, that legislation is actually incompatible Edition: My earnest suggestion is that those who value individual freedom should reassess the place of the individual within the legal system as a whole. It is no longer a question of defending this or that particular freedom—to trade, to speak, to associate with other people, etc. It is a question of deciding whether individual freedom is compatible in principle with the present system centered on and almost completely identified with legislation.
This may seem like a radical view. I do not deny that it is. But radical views are sometimes more fruitful than syncretistic theories that serve to conceal the problems more than they solve them. Fortunately we do not need to take refuge in Utopia in order to find legal systems different from the present ones. Both Roman and English history teach us, for instance, a completely different lesson from that of the advocates of inflated legislation in the present age.
Everybody today pays lip service to the Romans no less than to the English for their legal wisdom. Very few realize, however, what this wisdom consisted in, that is, how independent of legislation those systems were in so far as the ordinary life of the people was concerned, and consequently how great the sphere of individual freedom was both in Rome and in England during the very centuries when their respective legal systems were most flourishing and successful.
One even wonders why anyone still studies the history of Roman or of English law if this essential fact about both is to remain largely forgotten or simply ignored. Both the Romans and the English shared the idea that the law is something to be discovered more than to be enacted and that nobody is so powerful in his society as to be in a position to identify his own will with the law of the land.
This fact appears the more striking when we consider that Roman magistrates, on the one hand, and the British Parliament, on the other, had, and the latter still has, in principle, almost despotic powers over the citizens. For centuries, even on the Continent, legal tradition was far from gravitating around legislation.
Legislation was intended chiefly as a compilation of past rulings, and its advocates used to stress precisely its advantages as an unequivocal and clear-cut abridgment as compared with the rather chaotic mass of individual legal works on the part of the lawyers. As a parallel phenomenon, written constitutions were adopted on the Continent primarily as a way of putting into black and white the series of principles already laid down piece-meal by English judges as far as the English constitution had been concerned.
In the nineteenth-century Continental countries both codes and constitutions were conceived as means of expressing the law as something that was by no means identical with the contingent will of the people who were enacting these codes and constitutions. In the meanwhile, the increasing importance of legislation in the Anglo-Saxon countries had chiefly the same function and corresponded to the same idea, namely, that of restating and epitomizing the existing law as it had been elaborated by the courts down through the centuries. Today, both in the Anglo-Saxon and in the Continental countries, the picture has almost completely changed.
Ordinary legislation and even constitutions and codes are more and more presented as the direct expression of the contingent will of the people who enact them, while often the underlying idea is that their function is to state, not what the law is as a result of a secular process, but what the law should be as a result of a completely new approach and of unprecedented decisions.
While the man on the street is becoming accustomed to this Edition: In this way, legislation has undergone a very peculiar development. It has come to resemble more and more a sort of diktat that the winning majorities in the legislative assemblies impose upon the minorities, often with the result of overturning long-established individual expectations and creating completely unprecedented ones.
The succumbing minorities, in their turn, adjust themselves to their defeat only because they hope to become sooner or later a winning majority and be in the position of treating in a similar way the people belonging to the contingent majority of today. Unfortunately, this is not the only grave disadvantage of the inflation of the legislative process today. Legislation always involves a kind of coercion and unavoidable constraint of the individuals who are subject to it.
The attempt made in recent times by some scholars to consider the choices made by individuals in their capacity as members of a decision-making group such as a constituency or a legislature as equivalent to choices made in other fields of human action e. True enough, both the individual choice in the market and the Edition: For instance, nobody can buy if there is nobody to sell.
Individuals making choices in the market, however, are always free to repudiate their choice, in part or as a whole, whenever they do not like the possible results of it. Poor as it may seem, even this possibility is denied to individuals trying to make their choices as members of a group, whether a constituency or a legislature or other. What the winning part of the group decides is deemed to be decided by the group itself; and unless they leave the group, the losing members are not even free to reject the result of a choice when they do not like it.
It may be held by the advocates of inflated legislation that this is an unavoidable evil if groups are to decide at all and their decisions are to be effective. The alternative would be to split the groups into an increasing number of smaller factions and finally into individuals. In that event the groups could no longer work as units.
What I wish to point out is that group decisions actually are worth that cost much less frequently than it would appear to a superficial observer. Substituting legislation for the spontaneous application of nonlegislated rules of behavior is indefensible unless it is proved that the latter are uncertain or insufficient or that they generate some evil that legislation could avoid while maintaining the advantages of the previous system.
This preliminary assessment is simply unthought of by contemporary legislators. On the contrary, they seem to think that legislation is always good in itself and that the burden of the proof is upon the people who do not agree. My humble suggestion is that their implication that a law even a bad law is better than nothing should be much more supported by evidence than it is. On the other hand, only if we fully realize how much constraint is implied by the very process of legislation are we in a position to decide how far we should go in introducing any legislative Edition: It seems to be unquestionable that we should, on this basis, reject the resort to legislation whenever it is used merely as a means of subjecting minorities in order to treat them as losers in the field.
It seems also unquestionable that we should reject the legislative process whenever it is possible for the individuals involved to attain their objectives without depending upon the decision of a group and without actually constraining any other people to do what they would never do without constraint. Finally, it seems simply obvious that whenever any doubt arises about the advisability of the legislative process as compared with some other kind of process having for its object the determination of the rules of our behavior, the adoption of the legislative process ought to be the result of a very accurate assessment.
If we were to submit existing legislation to the kind of trial I am here proposing, I wonder how much of it would survive. A completely different question is to ascertain how such a trial could be carried out. I do not contend that it could be easily accomplished. Too many vested interests and too many prejudices are obviously ready to defend the inflation of the legislative process in contemporary society. However, unless I am wrong, everybody will be confronted sooner or later with the problem of a resulting situation that seems to promise nothing but perpetual unrest and general oppression.
A very old principle appears to have been violated in contemporary society—a principle already enunciated in the Gospel and, much earlier, in the Confucian philosophy: It may seem dull in comparison with the sophisticated formulae sometimes clothed in obscure mathematical symbols that people seem to like so much today in economics as well as in political science. Nevertheless, the Confucian principle would appear to be still applicable for the restoration and the preservation of individual freedom at the present time. To be sure, the task of finding out what people would not want others to do to them is not easy.
However, it seems to be comparatively easier than the task of determining what people would Edition: Nobody would contest the fact that an inquiry among any group whatsoever conducted with the object of ascertaining what its members do not want to suffer as a result of the direct action of other people on them would give clearer and more precise results than any inquiry relating to their wishes in other respects.
It is for all of them to define what is harmful, and this is, in fact, what any one of them would not want others to do to him. Pointing out this simple truth is not the same as saying that there is no difference between one group or one society and another in this respect, still less that any group or society always retains the same feelings and convictions throughout its history. But no historism and no relativism could prevent us from recognizing that in any society feelings and convictions relating to actions that should not be done are much more homogeneous and easily identifiable than any other kind of feelings and convictions.
If other means fail, this is no reason to infer that legislation does not. The suitability or even the necessity of the alternative i. It seems to be only a question of enacting a statute—and that is all. The advocates of inflated legislation at the present time have Edition: In this way, legislation is conceived as an assured means of introducing homogeneity where there was none and rules where there were none.
For legislation may also deliberately or accidentally disrupt homogeneity by destroying established rules and by nullifying existing conventions and agreements that have hitherto been voluntarily accepted and kept. Even more disruptive is the fact that the very possibility of nullifying agreements and conventions through supervening legislation tends in the long run to induce people to fail to rely on any existing conventions or to keep any accepted agreements.
On the other hand, the continual change of rules brought about by inflated legislation prevents it from replacing successfully and enduringly the set of nonlegislative rules usages, conventions, agreements that happen to be destroyed in the process. The demonstration—already adduced in the early twenties by economists like Max Weber, B. Brutzkus, and, more completely, Professor Ludwig von Mises—that a centralized economy run by a committee of directors suppressing market prices and proceeding without them does not work because the directors cannot know, without the continuous revelation of the market, what the demand or the supply would be has remained so far unchallenged by any acceptable argument advanced by its adversaries, such as Oskar Lange, Fred M.
Dickinson, and other supporters of a pseudo-competitive solution of the problem. Indeed, this demonstration may be deemed the most important Edition: However, its conclusions may be considered only as a special case of a more general realization that no legislator would be able to establish by himself, without some kind of continuous collaboration on the part of all the people concerned, the rules governing the actual behavior of everybody in the endless relationships that each has with everybody else.
No public opinion polls, no referenda, no consultations would really put the legislators in a position to determine these rules, any more than a similar procedure could put the directors of a planned economy in a position to discover the total demand and supply of all commodities and services. The actual behavior of people is continuously adapting itself to changing conditions. It is difficult to admit, however, that a reduction in the number of those represented would be compatible with individual freedom if we assume that they are entitled to express their own will at least as electors.
The latter reduction thus seems to be the only path left for individual freedom to take at the present time. I do not deny that those who are accustomed to taking advantage of the process of representation, either as representatives or as members of represented groups, have something to lose by such a reduction. The result should be, in the end, as favorable for the cause of individual freedom as, according to Edition: In fact, what we are often confronted with today is nothing less than a potential legal war of all against all , carried on by way of legislation and representation.
The alternative can only be a state of affairs in which such a legal war cannot any longer take place, or at least not so widely or so dangerously as it now threatens to do. Of course, a mere reduction in the area covered by legislation today could not completely solve the problem of the legal organization of our society for the preservation of individual freedom, any more than legislation now solves that problem by actually suppressing that freedom step by step. Usages, tacit rules, the implications of conventions, general criteria relating to the suitable solutions of particular legal problems also with reference to possible changes in the opinions of people at any given time and in the material background of those opinions—all these are yet to be discovered.
One may well say that this is an undeniably difficult, sometimes painful, and very often long process. According to the experience of our ancestors, the usual way of meeting this difficulty—as we have already pointed out—not only in Anglo-Saxon countries but everywhere in the West, was to entrust the process to specially trained persons like lawyers or judges. The very nature of the activity of such people and the extent of their personal initiative in finding legal solutions are still open questions.
It cannot be denied that lawyers and judges are men like any others and that their resources are limited; neither can it be denied that they may be subject to the temptation to substitute their own personal will for the impartial attitude of a scientist whenever the case is obscure and their own deeply rooted convictions are concerned. However, the position of lawyers and judges in the countries of the West as well as that of other honoratiores in similar societies Edition: First, judges or lawyers or others in a similar position are to intervene only when they are asked to do so by the people concerned, and their decision is to be reached and become effective, at least in civil matters, only through a continuous collaboration of the parties themselves and within its limits.
Second, the decision of judges is to be effective mainly in regard to the parties to the dispute, only occasionally in regard to third persons, and practically never in regard to people who have no connection with the parties concerned. Third, such decisions on the part of judges and lawyers are very rarely to be reached without reference to the decisions of other judges and lawyers in similar cases and are therefore to be in indirect collaboration with all other parties concerned, both past and present.
All this means that the authors of these decisions have no real power over other citizens beyond what those citizens themselves are prepared to give them by virtue of requesting a decision in a particular case. It means also that this very power is further limited by the unavoidable reference of every decision to decisions issued in similar cases by other judges.
No solemn titles, no pompous ceremonies, no enthusiasm on the part of applauding masses can conceal the crude fact that both the legislators and the directors of a centralized economy are only particular individuals like you and me, ignorant of 99 percent of what is going on around them as far as the real transactions, agreements, attitudes, feelings, and convictions of people are concerned.
One of the paradoxes of our era is the continual retreat of traditional religious faith before the advance of science and technology, under the implied exigency of a cool and matter-of-fact attitude and dispassionate reasoning, accompanied by a no less continual retreat from the same attitude and reasoning in regard to legal and political questions.
It is also paradoxical that the very economists who support the free market at the present time do not seem to care to consider whether a free market could really last within a legal system centered on legislation. The fact is that economists are very rarely lawyers, and vice versa, and this probably explains why economic systems, on the one hand, and legal systems, on the other, are usually analyzed separately and seldom put into relation to each other. It is well known that people sometimes prefer to have any rule whatsoever rather than none at all.
This may happen in several contingent cases. The problem of our time, however, seems to be just the contrary: Something of this kind seems to have occurred during the postclassical period of the Roman law when the emperors conferred on certain jurisconsults the power to issue legal opinions jus respondendi which became ultimately binding on judges in given circumstances. But, as I try to stress in Chapter 8 of this book, this possibility, far from being necessarily implied in the nature of lawyers.
But this deviation can be avoided and is therefore not an insurmountable obstacle to the satisfactory performance of the judicial function of determining what the will of the people is. After all, checks and balances may Edition: One final remark needs to be made. What I am dealing with here are mainly general principles. I do not offer particular solutions for particular problems. I am convinced, however, that such solutions can be found much more easily in accordance with the general principles I have proposed than by applying others.
On the other hand, no abstract principle will work effectively by itself; people must always do something to make it work. This applies to the principles that I have advanced in this book no less than it does to any others. I do not seek to change the world, but merely to submit some modest ideas that should be, unless I am wrong, carefully and fairly considered before concluding, as do the advocates of inflated legislation, that things are unchangeable and, although not the best, are the inevitable response to our needs in contemporary society.
In using the same word, we do not mean the same thing. As a matter of fact, when Lord Acton, at Bridgenorth in , delivered his famous lectures on the history of freedom, the respect accorded to religious minorities by the English authorities Edition: With the abrogation of such discriminatory laws as the Corporation Act of and the Test Act of , and with the admission, in , of the Protestant Dissenters and of the Catholics the Papists, as they were called to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the so-called Free Churches had just won a battle that had lasted two centuries.
Previously these universities had been open only to students belonging to the Reformed Church of England. Lord Acton, as is known, was himself a Catholic and for this reason had been prevented, much against his will, from attending Cambridge.
This happens quite frequently. The history of political ideas evinces a series of definitions such as the one given by Lord Acton. I would not go so far as to say that it is only a word, as several representatives of the contemporary analytical school, in their self-styled philosophical revolution, might maintain. Thinkers who begin by asserting that something is simply a word and conclude that it is nothing but a word remind me of the saying that one must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Linguistic analysis has received increasing attention in certain Edition: Many people do not like it or do not bother about it.
Learned men not devoted to philosophical or philological matters are more or less inclined to think of it as an idle occupation. Neither can we receive much encouragement from the example of the contemporary analytical school of philosophers. After having focused their attention on linguistic problems and made the latter the center of their research, they seem more inclined, instead of analyzing, to destroy altogether the very meaning of the words belonging to the vocabulary of politics.
Moreover, linguistic analysis is not easy. But I would suggest that it is particularly necessary in these times of semantic confusion. Should uncertainty arise about the meaning of our words, it would be sufficient, in order to eliminate the misunderstanding, simply to point to the thing we are naming or defining. Thus, two different words referring to the same thing and used respectively by us and by our listener would prove equivalent.
We could substitute one word for the other, whether we speak the same language as our listener as we do in the case of synonyms or different languages as we do in the case of translations. It was this that made it possible for early European explorers to make themselves understood by the inhabitants of other parts of the world and that still makes it possible for thousands of contemporary American tourists to spend their holidays, say, in Italy without knowing a word of Italian. In spite of this ignorance on their part they are understood perfectly for many practical purposes by Italian waiters, taxi drivers, and porters.
The common factor in conversation is the possibility of pointing to material things like food, luggage, and so on. Of course, it is not always possible to point out the material things we refer to by our words. But whenever two different words refer to material things, they prove easily interchangeable. Natural scientists agree quite easily about the use of words designating Edition: Usually they choose Greek or Latin words, and their method is successful, since uncertainty can be avoided by pointing out which phenomena are designated by these words.
This calls to mind the wisdom of the reply made by an old Confucian pedagogue to his heavenly disciple, a very young Chinese emperor who had been asked by his teacher the name of some animals they met while taking a walk through the countryside. Unfortunately, much greater difficulty arises if we try to define things that are not material and if our listener does not know the meaning of the word we are using. In such a case we cannot point out to him any material object. Our way of understanding each other is completely different and it is necessary to resort to altogether different ways of discovering a common factor, if any, between our language and his.
Banal and self-evident as it appears, this fact is probably not noticed, or at least it is not emphasized sufficiently, when we consider the use of our language. We are so accustomed to our vocabularies that we forget the importance we attached to pointing out things at the beginning of our learning process. We are inclined to think of our linguistic achievements mainly in terms of definitions simply read in a book. This explains certain metaphysical trends among those ancient Greek philosophers who treated nonmaterial things—justice, for example—as if they were similar to visible, material things.
Thus, we feel that something has been lost in passing from one language to the other. As a matter of fact, nothing has been lost. It is this fact that still renders it practically impossible to translate an English or American legal book into German or Italian. Many words could not be translated into corresponding words because the latter are simply nonexistent. Instead of a translation, it would be necessary to supply a long, cumbrous, and complicated explanation of the historical origin of many institutions, their present way of working in Anglo-Saxon countries, and the analogous working of similar institutions, if any, in Continental Europe.
These words are often so firmly rooted in one definite historical environment that we cannot find corresponding words in the language of other environments. Of course, students of comparative law have attempted on several Edition: Thus, reciprocal ignorance is the result of different institutions in different countries, and historical ignorance is the result of changing institutions within the same country.
Unfortunately, this is not the only difficulty of being unable to point to material things in the definition of legal concepts. Words that have apparently the same sound may have completely different meanings relating to different times and places. This is often the case with nontechnical words or with words originally having a technical use, but which were introduced into everyday language rather carelessly without paying heed to their technical sense or without even recognizing it.
If it is unfortunate that strictly technical words, such as those belonging, for instance, to legal language, cannot be translated at all into corresponding words in other languages, it is even more unfortunate that nontechnical or half-technical words can be translated only too easily into other words in the same language or into cognate words of other languages that have a similar sound.
In the first case a confusion is created between words that actually are not synonyms, while in the latter case people speaking a different language think that the meaning they attach to a word in their language corresponds to the different meaning you attach to an apparently similar word in yours. Many terms belonging both to the language of economics and to the language of politics are typical in this respect.
The German philosopher Hegel once said that anyone can determine the suitability of a legal institution without being a lawyer, just as Edition: This does not seem to apply to all legal institutions. Few people actually are suspicious and inquisitive about the framework of such legal institutions as contracts, evidence, etc. But many people think that political and economic institutions are just their business.
They suggest, for instance, that governments must adopt or reject this or that policy in order to redress, say, the economic situation of a country or to modify the terms of international trade or both. These languages use terms in a definite and unambiguous way. Thus, the semantic confusion that can arise from the ambiguous use of this originally technical word is bitterly regretted by those economists who, like Professor Ludwig von Mises, hold that the increase in prices is the consequence of the increase in the quantity of money circulating in the country.
This word belongs to the language of politics and of the history of political institutions. Now it belongs also to ordinary language, and this is the reason why a great deal of misunderstanding arises at present among people using the same word with completely different meanings—say, the man in the street in America and the political rulers in Russia.
I would suggest that a special reason why the meanings of half-technical words tend to be confused is that within technical languages such as that of politics the meaning of these words was originally connected with other technical words that often have not been introduced into ordinary language for the simple reason that they could not be translated easily or at all. Thus, applications that gave an unequivocal meaning to the original use of a word have been lost. We notice that words like ecclesia, polis, Landsgemeinde , and referendum are usually quoted in other languages without being translated because there are no satisfactory words for that purpose.
Lacking their original connection with technical words, half-technical or nontechnical terms often go adrift in ordinary language. Their meaning can change according to the people using them, although their sound is always the same. To make matters worse, several meanings of the same word may prove mutually incompatible in some respects, and this is a continual source not only of misunderstandings, but also of verbal disputes or worse.
Political and economic affairs are the main victims of this semantic confusion, when, for instance, several types of behavior implied by different meanings of the same word prove to be mutually incompatible and attempts are made to grant them all a place in the same legal and political system. I do not say that this confusion, which is one of the most obvious characteristics of the history of the countries of the West at the present time, is semantic only, but it is also semantic. Men such as Ludwig von Mises and F.
Hayek have pointed out on several occasions the necessity of removing semantic confusions, not only for economists but for political scientists as well. It is a very important task for learned people to collaborate in the elimination of semantic confusion in the language of politics no less than in that of economics.
Of course, this confusion, as Professor Edition: I am reminded of what Leibniz once said about the way our civilization is threatened by the fact that after the invention of the printing press too many books might be written and diffused and too few would be actually read by each individual, with the probable result that the world could be plunged into a new era of barbarism. As a matter of fact, many writers, chiefly philosophers, have contributed much to semantic confusion. Some of them have used words taken from ordinary language and given them odd meanings.
In many cases they never bothered to state what they actually meant by using a word, or they gave rather arbitrary definitions that were at variance with those in the dictionaries, but that were accepted by readers and disciples. This practice has contributed, at least to some extent, to the confusion of the meanings accepted in ordinary language. Because of the connections between ethical and political subjects, on the one hand, and between economic and ethical subjects, on the other, some philosophers contributed, consciously or not, to an increase in the huge stock of semantic confusion and to the contradictions between the meanings of words in the ordinary language of today.
Moreover, this word has different meanings according to the historical environments in which it has been used in both ordinary language and the technical languages of politics and of economics. We cannot understand, for example, the meaning of the Latin term libertas without making reference to such technical terms of the Roman language of politics as res publica or jus civitatis or to some other technical terms like manus which designated the power of the patres familias over their wives, children, slaves, land, chattels, and so on or manumissio , which designated the legal act—or rather the legal ceremony—by which a slave changed his status and became libertus.
This implied sooner or later a disconnection of the word itself from several technical terms belonging to the legal or to the political language of these countries. Semantic changes have been introduced at will by a number of different people in different places. Many new meanings have been proposed by philosophers that are at variance with the meanings already accepted in the ordinary languages of the West.
Shrewd people have tried to exploit the favorable connotations of this word in order to persuade others to change their corresponding ways of behaving into new and even contrary ones. The very word free , to take a trivial example, in its use in ordinary English, may or may not correspond to the French word libre or to the Italian libero. Of course, the Italians and the French attach to this word several meanings that correspond to the English and the American ones, such as when it is said that Edition: It has become usual, especially in modern times, to speak of freedom as one of the basic principles of good political systems.
Not all Americans are inclined to recognize this fact. The English and American political systems have been imitated to a certain extent, and are imitated still in many respects, by all the peoples of the world. European nations have contrived some very good-looking imitations of these systems, and this is also due to the fact that their history and their civilization were somewhat similar to those of the English-speaking peoples.
The rules may seem to be almost the same, but they do not work in the same way. Neither the citizens nor the officials interpret them as the English or the Americans do, the resulting practice being rather different in many respects. In other countries, including Italy, notwithstanding laws such as certain special articles e. When at last he is found guilty and condemned, he perhaps must be set free immediately since he has already spent in prison all the time of his sentence.
Of course, if he is proved not guilty, no one can restore to him the years lost in jail. One is sometimes told that in Italy the judges are not sufficiently numerous and that the organization of the trials probably is not so efficient as it could be, but public opinion is obviously not alert or active enough to denounce these defects of the judiciary system, which do not appear so clearly incompatible with the principle of political freedom as they would to public opinion in England or the United States. It must be pointed out also that this word may have different meanings and different implications at different times in the history of the same legal system, and, what is even more striking, it may have different meanings at the same time in the same system under different circumstances and for different people.
An example of the first case is provided by the history of military conscription in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Until comparatively recent times, military conscription, at least in time of peace, was considered both by the English and by the American people as incompatible with political freedom. On the other Edition: He always received the same proud reply: Because of these changes, connections which were taken for granted before are now lost, and contradictions appear which are strange enough to the technicians, but which other people accept unconsciously or even willingly as natural ingredients of their political or economic system.
As Lord MacDermott points out, this is a broad provision and can be used to cover acts which are done outside the trade or employment involved and which must inevitably cause loss or hardship to interests having no part in the Edition: Another statute, the Trade Union Act of , repealed by another Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act in , but fully restored by the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act of when the Labour Party had returned to office, gave British trade unions an enormous political power over their members and also over the whole political life of that country by authorizing the unions to spend the money of their members for purposes not directly related to trade and without even consulting the members themselves about what they actually wanted done with their money.
Since the enactment of these statutes in Great Britain there is no longer protection against everyone in this respect, and there is no doubt that this fact has introduced a striking contradiction in the system so far as freedom and its meaning are concerned. Injunctions in American and English law are court orders that certain people shall not do certain things which would cause a loss that could not be remedied later by a damage suit. They merely apply principles of laws already on the statute books, and labor unions often use them for this purpose against employers and against rival unions.
American courts used to behave in a way similar to that of the English courts before At first sight one might think that both the American and the English courts were prejudiced against the unions. Many people said so both in the United States and in England.
As a matter of fact, the courts adopted against the unions only the same principles that they still apply against all other people who conspire, for instance, to damage property. Judges could not admit that the same principles that worked to protect people from constraint by others could be disregarded when those others were union officials or union members. But, as Watts points out Edition: Both are descriptive of the meaning attached to a word; but the former refers to a meaning that the author of the definition proposes to adopt for the word in question, whereas the latter refers to the meaning that ordinary people give to the word in common usage.
Since the Second World War a new trend in linguistic philosophy has emerged. It recognizes the existence of languages whose purpose is not only descriptive or even not descriptive at all—languages that the school of the so-called Vienna Circle would have condemned as altogether wrong or useless. The aim of persuasive definitions is not to describe things, but to modify the traditional meaning of words with favorable connotations in order to induce people to adopt certain beliefs or certain forms of behavior.
The formulation of such persuasive definitions would not be a proper task for the scholar. Stipulative definitions may appear to be, on the surface, a solution to the problem. Stipulating seems to depend entirely on us or at most also on a partner who agrees with us about what we want to define. When the adherents of the linguistic school speak of stipulative definitions, they emphasize the arbitrariness of such formulations. This is evidenced, for instance, by the enthusiasm with which the advocates of stipulative definitions quote an authority who is not properly a philosopher—at least not an official one.
This oft-quoted gentleman is Lewis Carroll, the brilliant author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass , who describes the impossible and sophisticated characters met by Alice during her travels. One of these, Humpty Dumpty, made words say what he wanted them to say and also paid them a sort of salary for their service. When they speak of stipulative definitions, the analytical philosophers have in mind chiefly those of logic or of mathematics, where everybody seems to be free to start when and where he wants provided that he defines precisely the terms he employs in his reasoning.
I do not think that people would fight for triangles. Perhaps a few mathematicians would do so. But many people say that they are prepared to fight for freedom just as they are prepared to fight for a piece of land or to protect the lives of their loved ones. This is not intended to be a panegyric on behalf of freedom.
The facts referred to here can easily be verified in the historical records of many countries or observed in everyday life. This means that it is not conceived of by ordinary people simply as a word, as a nominal entity the meaning of which it is only necessary to agree on by means of a stipulation similar to those of mathematics or logic. Of course, every definition is to some extent stipulative, since it implies a certain agreement about how a word is to be used.
Even lexicographic definitions do not exclude stipulations concerning the way of describing, say, what people mean by a certain word of ordinary usage in France or in England or in both countries or all over the world. For instance, we can make stipulations about the languages to be taken into consideration in elaborating a lexicographic definition or about the choice to be made among the meanings of the same word when dictionaries give several.
But in all such cases we Edition: Stipulations are simply instrumental devices to convey to others something we want them to know. In other words, they are a means of communicating or transmitting information, but the information itself cannot be stipulated. This common factor may be an intuition in mathematics or a sensorial experience in physics, but it is never itself a subject of stipulation in its turn. Whenever a stipulation seems to be based on another stipulation, the problem of finding a common factor that permits the stipulation to function is simply postponed; it cannot be eliminated.
It is doubtful whether information knowable only by the author of the definition would be of any interest whatever to other people who have no share in the content of that information. Being completely personal, it would be of little concern to others. Indeed, it would be impossible to reveal it to other people. These experiences are different at different times and in different places and are also connected with abstract concepts and technical words, but they cannot merely be identified with abstract concepts or reduced to a mere word.
Aristotle made a penetrating remark when he said at the beginning of his treatise on politics that people are divided into two broad categories, those who were born to rule and those who were born to obey rulers. All this is not merely a play on words. It is a very abridged description of the meaning of words in the ordinary language of political societies Edition: A free market is rooted in a situation in which those engaged in market transactions have some power to constrain the enemies of a free market.
Economists do not deny, but also do not take into direct consideration, the fact that every economic act, as a rule, is also a legal act the consequences of which may be enforced by the authorities Edition: As Professor Lionel Robbins pointed out in his The Nature and Significance of Economics , studies of the connection between economics and the law are still rather unusual on the part of the economists, and the connection itself, although indisputable, is rather neglected.
In this way economists recognize that the utilities that they usually take into consideration are only those compatible with the existing law of most countries. Thus, the connection between economics and the law is implied, but it is rarely regarded by economists as a special object worthy of their research. They consider, for instance, the exchange of goods, but not the behavioral exchange that makes possible an exchange of goods, regulated and occasionally enforced for that purpose by the law of all countries.
People who ignore this fact ought to take seriously a couplet once sung in a cabaret in Montmartre:. To be sure, economic theory has not ignored the fact that it is the government that gives people the practical power to avoid constraint on the part of other people on the market. Liberalism cannot be understood unless it is seen to possess an emotional unity of something like this kind.
And on this question, it is extremely hard to maintain objectivity. For it is difficult to analyze the dogmatism and crudity of the stereotype, without simultaneously seeming to imply that liberals were misguided in attacking suffering wherever they thought they saw it. Clearly they were not. The same problem recurs if we attempt to discuss the motives which led liberalism in this direction. Yet we cannot understand either the political role of liberalism, or its consequences, unless we do consider its motives.
For motives in men are movements in society. We cannot therefore simply accept the view that liberalism arises out of an uncomplicated passion for good. All we need keep in mind at this point is the testimony of the foes of liberalism. Its conservative enemies often like to attribute its power to the fact that Edition: From the Marxist side, the attack on motives takes the form of attributing liberalism to middle-class guilt. Marxists see liberalism as the desperate attempt of the more intelligent among the privileged classes to paper over the gaping contradictions of capitalism in order to preserve that system.
Both agree, for example, in deploring the condition of the proletariat. But while Marxists argue for the complete overthrow of the system which has produced proletarian degradation, liberals can only offer steady doses of welfare, insufficient to cure the sickness but enough to discourage the proletariat from drastic remedies. Neither of these views would affect the intellectual validity of liberal doctrine. But the Marxist view is interesting in explaining some features of the liberal attempt to involve everyone in the campaign for reforms, along with its insistence that all citizens share responsibility for any evil which exists in the community.
People at any given time are likely to adopt liberal opinions, or liberal habits of thought, for a great variety of reasons. But we may at least distinguish between those who, like the French intellectuals of the eighteenth century, believed that all men are born free and equal out of a consciousness that they were not being freely and equally treated; and those modern liberals who adhere to the same belief simply because they consider others are not being so treated. The former group is very likely to change the moment they attain power, and their analogues will be found today in the leaders of various colonial liberation movements.
The latter group consists of those who consider themselves morally bound to become involved in any suffering situation of which they are aware. These people are the product of secure societies in which notions like decency and fair play are deeply rooted; and in them, liberalism takes on something like the heroic stature of a frequently defiant moral integrity.
It is precisely these people who are most clearly aware of what we may call the liberal paradox of freedom. It may be stated thus: The road to freedom therefore lies in the destruction of all hierarchies and the arrival of a society which is, in a certain sense, equal. Yet in the modern world, the steady erosion of traditional hierarchies has not produced States which are noticeably freer than those of the past.
This paradox has provoked only a half-realization from liberals themselves. They have evaded it by the use of two propositions. The first is that we live in an era of transition—in other words, that we cannot yet judge what are the consequences of the disappearance of feudal and class hierarchies. And the other proposition is that the modern world has opened up a vast potential, whose use depends upon us.
The modern world is not, of course, the sole product of liberal policies and attitudes; the growths of industrial techniques and modern nationalism are both at least as important as liberalism. But liberalism has, of all movements, opened its arms widest and most promiscuously to modern developments, going so far as to regard whatever it dislikes in the modern world as being atavistic or unmodern. The domestic dragons have now almost become superannuated; and if we have not yet freed the princess, we are held back by barriers of a different kind—ones which cannot be understood in terms of suffering situations.
In discussing liberalism, we must at least initially assume that it is a single entity. In many respects, we may immediately say that liberalism is not a single entity. In order to talk at all of liberalism as one movement we must relegate socialism to the technical area of means and devices, and include it within liberalism as part of a continuing debate about the utilitarian political objectives of improving society and maximizing the happiness of individuals.
There are indeed some people for whom socialism is itself a dogma, held with a tenacity that no political event or moral experience could possibly shake; but this kind of feeling is not common among English and American socialists, most of whom would support a more experimental attitude to social reform. Part of the fascination exerted by the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill arises from the fact that the tension between these two positions is unusually explicit in his work.
Since his time, classical liberalism, distinguished by its uncompromising hostility to governmental regulation, has steadily declined. But it remains wherever such questions as freedom of speech or bureaucratic iniquity arise, and also in a lingering suspicion of governments aroused whenever the State is called into new areas of regulations. The unity which allows us to discuss liberalism over the last few centuries as a single and continuing entity is intellectual; we are confronted with a single tradition of thought, whose method is intermittently empirical, whose reality is found in the concept of the individual, and whose ethics are consistently utilitarian.
This tradition of thought has its own vocabulary and can generate its own enthusiasm. In dealing with such a tradition of thought, we are dealing with an abstraction; there is no single person of whom it can be said: Liberal intellectuals draw upon other traditions; and liberal politicians, simply because they are politicians, cannot be consistently liberal. This necessary inconsistency results from the fact that liberalism is an ideology, and all ideologies are incoherent. The description of a set of interrelated ideas as an ideology consequently carries the aggressive implication that the ideology is a rationalization of various political interests; for which reason there is a strong prima facie suggestion that many of the assertions of an ideology are false.
The conception was first extensively developed by Marx and Engels. Of what intellectual use is the theory? The value it had for Marx and Engels is perfectly clear. It was a superb debunking tactic. A long and impressive line of moralists, philosophers, theologians, legal theorists, thinkers of all kinds, were summarily dragged from their pedestals and attached to the ideological lanterne.
Their subtle arguments were revealed as elaborate rationalizations of the social forms in which they lived. The majestic pronouncements of abstract reason turned out to be the flowery rhetoric which concealed the demands of the exploiting class. If liberalism is an ideology in this sense, then we ought to be able to supply it with a social location.
What then is its social base? It might mean either that all liberals are bourgeois, or that all bourgeois are liberals, or that liberalism consistently supports the interests of the bourgeois social class. Yet each of these propositions, however much one may try to reduce its vagueness, is false. One of the difficulties lies in trying to discover exactly who constitute the middle class. People with inherited wealth? Those whose earnings are within a certain income range?
Many definitions are possible, but none will pull off the trick of demonstrating an empirical connection between liberalism and the bourgeoisie, for liberalism has, over the centuries, provoked both support and opposition from a great variety of kinds of people—aristocrats, country gentry, merchants, radicals, intellectuals, trade unionists and so on.
Given that there is no consistent relation between social class and the holding of liberal or any other doctrine, the sociological concept of ideology may be salvaged in one of two ways, neither very satisfactory. One way is a retreat into metaphysics: Alternatively, one may have recourse to the democratic technique of statistics, and attempt to discover the correlation between being a bourgeois and holding liberal opinions. Those who reject these alternatives may go scurrying off in the other direction and create a sociology of knowledge. Having firmly grasped the principle that all doctrines have social circumstances and must rub shoulders with economic conditions, they may conclude that all thinking is ideological.
This refurbished pragmatism, resting upon the concept of ideology, manages only to destroy the usefulness of the concept. So far as the social relations of doctrines are concerned, it is the notion of activity rather than that of class which may help to explain some of the features of an ideology. For the idea of social class never quite manages to purge itself of reliance upon the relationship of possession; and knowing how much individuals possess tells us very little about their feelings and opinions.
A few commonsense maxims—the rich are conservative, the poor radical—are sometimes serviceable, but they have been known to bring disaster even where they are most at home—that is, in politics. Intellectually, they are next to valueless. What can, however, be said of an ideology such as liberalism is that it has grown up within a particular cultural tradition, and that it has borrowed characteristics from some of the activities carried on within that tradition.
It has been especially associated with the development of science, and with the politics of reform which have grown in the Anglo-Saxon world. But as far as political and economic interests are concerned, we may think of liberalism as a train, likely to transpose its carriages at any moment, and stopping periodically to allow people to get on and get off. An ideology may therefore be defined as a set of ideas whose primary coherence results not from their truth and consistency, as in science and philosophy, but from some external cause; most immediately, this external cause will be some mood, vision, or emotion.
The psychological mark of ideological entrapment is the feeling of despair which accompanies the prospect of defeat in argument. Ideologies seek to avoid such painful experiences by framing their key utterances in a vague or tautological form, in order to make these propositions impregnable. The intellectual mark of ideology is the presence of dogma, beliefs which have been dug deep into the ground and surrounded Edition: In addition, ideologies incorporate some kind of general instructions about behavior—ideals or value-judgments, as they would commonly be called.
In this sense, liberalism is clearly an ideology, and one whose examination might be expected to be particularly useful. For at the present time most of us are, in some degree or other, liberal. It is only the very cynical, the unassailably religious, or the consistently nostalgic who have remained unaffected. Many liberal opinions therefore seem so obvious as to be unquestionable: Nevertheless, its ideological roots are buried very deep, in an understanding of the world of whose bias we are hardly aware.
Our concern, then, is to investigate liberalism as an ideology. It is neither to praise nor bury it, but to consider what might be called its intellectual and emotional dynamics. If we wish to explain Hitlerism in Germany, do we look to the childhood and psychological character of those who participated in the movement?
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To the megalomania of Hitler, the inferiority feelings of Goebbels, the insecurities of the people who lost their savings in the German inflations of the twenties? Or do we consider the ideas of German nationalism, or the class relations obtaining in Germany at the time? To take another example, do we explain Napoleon as an ambitious army officer who seized his opportunities and developed a passion to rule all of Europe?
Or do we see him as a product of French nationalism, a man who represents forces of which he was hardly aware? In a generalized form, this problem is at the center of any kind of political philosophy. It has many formulations. Do men make society? Or does society make men? Aristotle asserted that the state was prior to the individual, while Bentham believed that society was an abstract fiction standing for nothing else but a collection of individuals. Both were engaged in the philosophical exercise of seeking the nature of political reality.
But even if we cast aside terms which now have an unfashionably metaphysical ring, the same problem pursues us. For we cannot explain the character of John Smith without talking of Edition: In understanding the development of liberalism, we may change the formulation of the question. We may begin with the obvious-seeming statement that politics is about people standing in certain relationships with each other; it is about king, ministers and subjects, rulers and ruled. There are two general terms to this definition: Now if we are philosophically minded, we will soon be tempted to reduce this duality to a single conception.
We might, for example, come to believe that the relationships are more real or significant than the people. For people are born and die, but the relationships continue. States survive the death of their kings, and regiments retain a single identity despite incessant changes of personnel.
Further, the office of kingship retains a certain identity in spite of the idiosyncrasies of individual kings. Men of very different individual characters will yet as kings act in very similar ways. Now this view of political life seemed especially obvious in the middle ages, when neither the generic character of Man, nor the particular foibles of individual men seemed of much political importance beside the political roles which birth determined. Nothing seemed more clear than that politics was about the functions of officials and of classes of people: Emperor and Pope, lord and serf, bishop and priest.
And each of these classes of people could be ranked in a fairly precise hierarchical order. Political reality lay in the relationships, not in the individuals related. But this view of affairs is only plausible if a political order has existed long enough for political relationships to seem just as natural as the stars in their courses. Without the solid backing of habit, they will lose their claim on reality. For no one can see them, or measure them; they are as insubstantial as the air. All the world may be a stage, but it need not continue to perform the same play; everything depends upon the decisions of individual men and women.
For it is only individual men and women, after all, who can think and feel, and enter into political relationships. If one is looking for a political certainty, what could be more certain than that? Liberalism developed out of a shift of interest, away from medieval relationships towards the character of the men who were related. The idea of a natural and theologically supported hierarchy gradually came to be less impressive than the power of a sovereign ruler holding together a great number Edition: Such a change of attention was not entirely comfortable; it brought with it fears of political breakdown.
For when the social structure and the movements that men participate in are unstable, they become obsessively self-conscious about their individuality.
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They begin to lament because each man seems locked up, incommunicably, inside his own skull. Speech and emotion may no doubt pass between people, but all are subject to distortion and misunderstanding. Reality begins to seem no more than the cooperative fantasies of discrete individuals. If politics depends upon the behavior of men, then political philosophy must begin, deductively or inductively, from an account of the nature of man.
This account must exclude all social relationships as derivative, and it will therefore be cast in psychological terms. Early thinkers whom we may regard as contributing to liberalism created for the purposes of this kind of thinking a social laboratory in which the pure nature of man might be studied independently of social influence. They called this laboratory the state of nature. In this political vacuum, the conception of man could be studied in such a way as to explain past evils, and point the way towards the future construction of a more satisfactory political dwelling.
This conception of political man, together with the allied notions of humanity, human nature and the individual, is a rationalist idea with a strong attraction for the empirically minded. It arises from the notion that behind the acts and follies of living men there is a single essence or model capable of explaining all human variety.
In terms of Aristotelian classification, Man is the genus of which Frenchman, Protestant, rogue, or serf might be the species. It is an abstract essence with general defining characteristics. For Aristotelians, rationality is the crucial defining characteristic. For theological purposes, man must include an immortal soul, and the consequences of original sin. And in order to give an individualist account of social life, the definition of Man must include the preceding activity of self-preservation. What then was this conception of man upon which all political explanation rested?
There was considerable agreement on the broad outline to be followed. Man was a creature capable of feeling, thought, and action, but the greatest of these was action. Sensibility was left to poets. It appears in the system primarily as passion, impelling men to action. And reason, in the English empirical tradition, is similarly instrumental. Man is simply a desiring creature. Whenever he wills an act, then we must assume that the act is produced by the push of a motion or motive in the mind; and these motives can only be described and classified according to the goals or ends at which they are directed.
This is a simple scheme and, if it explains anything, it will explain everything. Yet commonsense explanations of human behavior consist largely of opposed pairs of moral and psychological characteristics: Commonsense enters into the matter because, in this kind of philosophizing, the aim is to account for all complex experiences in terms of their simple components. And besides, political philosophers generally seek to persuade us into following some particular course of action.
Liberal thinkers, therefore, had good reason to build what we may call a preference duality into their systems right at the beginning. And they attempted to do so by distinguishing between desire and aversion. This is extremely difficult to sustain, and Hobbes particularly shows signs of hesitation about it. The distinction depends upon the attitude of the observer to the material; but this manner of intruding preferences into the formulation of questions has remained a standing liberal habit. Man is seen as a creature of desires. And each desire creates a policy, which has its own logical structure and characteristic vocabulary.
A policy is determined by its end, whether we seek to attain or avoid that end. Reason, working with our past experience of the world, supplies us with means by which the end may be realized. The discovery of means may be a difficult matter, requiring judgment and the sifting of evidence; it therefore poses problems to which we seek the solution.
But the solving of problems, indeed, the very posing of them, requires that we should have a selective understanding of the world, discarding what is irrelevant to our policies, and concentrating upon what is basic, essential, or real. Our understanding of the world in terms of desires creates wholes which we may understand by breaking them down into parts or aspects.
All of the italicized words are commonly used in describing the formal structure of any policy; indeed outside the context of a policy they are meaningless. The point of liberal individualism was the belief that wherever a policy existed, there must also be the desire of an individual to sustain it. We might indeed talk of the policies of states and of many kinds of institutions; but these descriptions were regarded as metaphorical, always reducible to the desires of one or more individuals.
Each individual man is thus the proprietor of a great number of policies. The particular acts of one day may be described in policy terms; but these short-term policies may themselves fit into other larger structures. Thus it is from the logic of policies itself that we get the distinction between short-term particular policies and long-term guiding ones.
I desire to eat and drink this day; and some of my acts will be means to this end. But this particular policy can also be viewed as a component in a larger general policy of preserving myself; alternatively, it might be seen as no more than a means towards doing things in which I am more interested—painting a picture, or conversing with friends. Each man will have his own particular and unique structure of desires—at any given moment.
But this structure is likely to change over any period of time. It is not the logic of policies but our experience of men and the world which tells us that policies come into conflict with each other. I am hungry and wish to eat; but at the same time, I am too lazy to go and cook something. Or I wish to win the hand of the prettiest girl in my village; but so, too, do most of my contemporaries. Sometimes our desires lead us to co-operate with other men; sometimes they lead to quarrels.
The early liberal philosophers thought it Edition: Men desire the support and co-operation of their fellows in order to preserve themselves and enjoy the comforts of civilization. Such desires dispose them to co-operate with each other, for one of the principles which arises from the logic of policies is that ends and means are linked by necessity; we cannot have the end without also willing the means.
Therefore if we seek the co-operation of others, we must also renounce those desires which lead to conflict. The latter are both powerful and varied. They include the desire to be superior in dignity or possessions to other men, and the desire to enjoy things quickly and effortlessly. If all men are equal, and if they have no political organization to preserve order and facilitate cooperation, then no man can be secure and all men will distrust and fear each other. All philosophers agreed that order and harmony were essential to any kind of human life; and they therefore sought to establish some harmony-producing agency.
The problem as they saw it was both political and psychological. The political problem arose from conflicts of desire between men, and it was to be solved by the establishment of a harmonizing agency usually called the Sovereign. The psychological problem was intimately related to the political; it arose from conflict within men between the various desires they experienced.
The outcome of these internal conflicts would clearly affect the work of the Sovereign. Psychological order would solve many political problems. The internal harmonizer was therefore just as important as the external one. It was called reason. Reason is one of the totems of the liberal movement. Yet the difficulty is to discover just what reason is and stands for. Nor again can it stand for the presiding faculty of that critical tradition of intellectual curiosity which has produced science, philosophy, Edition: For many people who are attacked as rejecting reason undoubtedly belong to this tradition, carry on arguments and seek to discover truths.
In that sense, all who argue are using the power of reason, but they are not doing so to the satisfaction of liberals, because they do not all come to the conclusions which appear to constitute rationality. The reason with which we are concerned is by definition an agency or power in the mind, one which asks and answers questions like: What do I want? By which kind of behavior can I attain the greatest number of my ends? How can I attain them most efficiently, that is, with least danger to other ends which I also pursue?
Reason explores the logic of policies, and supplies knowledge derived from experience relevant to attaining the ends desired. Rational behavior excludes habitual action, impulsive action, or acts done in slavish imitation of ossified traditions. Rational individualism assumes that all behavior can be explained in terms of desiring policies, and that we are in a position to discover and rationalize the ends which arise in our striving. But reason has a more ambitious role to play than this would suggest.
For, as it occurs in liberal thinking, reason appears capable not only of exploring the logic of policies, but also of supplying us with guiding policies which act as criteria to discriminate between our ends. It tells us, for example, that the life-preservation policy which we all at times follow is to be preferred to the murderous policy arising out of hatred. And it yields us this judgment on the strictly limited ground that our satisfaction will not be maximized if we follow the murderous policy.
The problem is strictly insoluble, and there is no consistent course of behavior which does not benefit, and harm, various groups of people.
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Therefore such bundles of prescriptions may be regarded as ideologies—outgrowths of some way of life in the society from which they spring. In so far as it is expected to produce general rules of behavior, reason can only produce an ideology. What is the ideology of reason? Therefore it places a very high value on Edition: The formulation approved by Locke softens the rigors of the Hobbesian version. To have anything offered them repugnant to this desire must needs in all respects grieve them as much as me, so that, if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measures of love to me than they have by me showed unto them.
In order to get X, it says, I must do and as the rule develops, feel X towards others. The rule is in fact psychological but it is claimed as ethical to the extent that it derives from a moral recognition of other individuals. Nor would so charming a rule of reciprocity have the same effects in a despotic society.
Here, as so often in abstract rules of behavior, a society is being assumed to underwrite and fill up the gaps in the abstractions. Partly, Locke is relying on English society as he knows it—a society long composed of free men who will tend to have a civil respect for each other—and partly he is jumping ahead to the kind of society for which he solicits our support. Respect for human life is thus at the center of liberal thinking even in these early formulations. Heroism can only be admitted through the rational back door.
Of course, any nation involved in war does value heroism—but that is only to say that liberal countries, in a crisis, forsake parts of their liberalism. There are moods, and there are doctrines, in which human life is regarded as simply serving some higher cause—the nation, the race, the creed.
There is the circumstance of martyrdom, in which the continuation of desiring is subordinated to spiritual integrity. But such circumstances have no place in the way of life which, liberalism asserts, is recommended to us by reason. Reason is thus pacifist in its conclusions. War is only justifiable in the clear extremity where national survival is at stake, though limited or colonial wars—the kind which widely prevailed in the eighteenth century—may serve as outlets for surviving irrationalities. The nature of military life also changes; the element of honor, so prominent where defense is the task of an aristocratic class, is put aside as irrational, and military virtues are only admitted into the rational way of life in so far as they can be explained as serving individual desires.
This is the strictest effect of liberal attitudes in the field of international relations. Projects for peace, the establishment of peaceful leagues of nations—these are by-products of liberal sentiment, and have seldom been taken seriously by governments when the national interest is imperilled. The rational man is, further, a moderate man. Excess as a general principle can only lead to disaster—too much food to ill-health, too much drinking to cyrrhosis and a muddled head, too much.
The rational mood is a mood of caution and moderation, one in which the traps of the short run and the safety of the long run are vividly before the mind. Habits of moderation arise from calculation and give rise to further calculation—and calculation is obviously the presiding activity of the man who, conscious of many Edition: Part of the calculation is how to increase the goodwill of others, and this leads the rational man to appreciate gratitude, accommodation to others, and a refusal to grab at benefits from which others are excluded.
Whatever acts arouse the resentment of others endanger the performer materially or morally. The policy of the rational individualist bent on preserving himself carries the rational ethic to its limits. Pressed in this direction, rational behavior is determined by fear, and amounts to the search for a policy which can infallibly keep the individual alive.
No such policy exists, and the man who consistently attempts to follow it is an impossibility. Yet this is at least the direction in which a self-consciously individualist ethic would lead. As with any abstract moral principle, it can lead to various kinds of behavior. In a despotic social system, being the apotheosis of self-preservation, it would lead to a kind of servility.
Indeed, in most social situations, men are unequal—that is to say, there are always some who may be treated with indifference, and some whom it pays to placate. Subservience is the obvious policy which a rationally desiring man will follow in a society of unequals. He will wish to please those who can harm or benefit him. Again, this policy of self-preservation may lead to the self-righteousness of one who knows he has conscientiously refrained from giving offense to others.
A similar moral mechanism at times operates in international relations, for liberal states, confronted with the aggressive demands of dictatorships, have a disposition to find moral ambiguities, and to retreat rather than fight, since fighting always presents moral problems requiring rationalization.
The self-sacrifice involved in such personal and national situations is of an empty kind, implying no love for or involvement with the beneficiaries of the sacrifice. Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall like a tragic hero if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him.
Hobbes, the uncompromising ratio-nalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out Edition: The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.
Rational flexibility involves an overriding concern with what will happen in the future. Such a concern is far from universal. For clansmen, priests, aristocrats, scholars, the past is seen as the source of a heritage which must be conserved and continued. For the artist, the past is a spiritual backdrop which deepens our apprehension of the immediate. But for the rational man, the world begins anew each moment.
As the patterns of present environment change, so the rational man must adjust himself to what happens and to what, on the basis of his knowledge, seems about to happen. The single criterion of this adjustment is the satisfaction of desires and the conservation of a desiring self. Contracts and promises—where clear benefits are exchanged—are the only instruments by which a rational man can consider himself bound.
This then is a general and simplified account of the ideology of reason as it developed during the seventeenth century. It is an indispensable component of liberalism. It has about it the look of a philosophy of old men—the kind of advice that gout-ridden fathers write off to their bibulous sons.
It stands as a solemn check on everything that is spontaneous, wild, enthusiastic, uncaring, disinterested, honorable or heroic—in a word, irrational. One of the early presentations of this kind of rational man, softened by a romantic situation, is Robinson Crusoe. And rational man soon turned into economic man, a suitably dismal hero for a dismal science.
We begin to enter a world of functions in which religion is for consolation, art for decoration and distraction, and armies for defense. We have already noted that abstract formulations of the rational way of life recommended as laws of nature rely upon the details and circumstances of a society that actually exists.
But rational man is a curious plant to have grown in any soil. Whence, then, does the rational ideology derive? One might perhaps derive rational ideology not from the behavior of any particular man or groups of men but from the moods of self-conscious deliberation which we all experience. Our actions are sometimes deliberate, sometimes impulsive. As a matter of experience, it appears that disaster follows more frequently from the impulsive than from the prudently calculated act. If prudent forethought cannot help us avoid disaster, then success is entirely beyond our control.
The laws of nature would thus arise out of linking together these moods and constructing an ideal man behaving in an ideal way. In other words, what they really recommend to us is less a collection of rules than a mood, an emotion, a way of looking at things. The Marxist answer is clear and unequivocal. The seventeenth-century philosophers are said to be expressing the outlook and defending the privileges of the rising bourgeois class whose advance had already broken the shell of medieval society and was now in the process of constructing one more fitted to its demands. This in fact is a double answer.
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The emphasis on calculation would be appropriate to these activities. The interest that, say, Locke has in proving a natural right to property would support an interpretation of rational behavior in terms of bourgeois class privileges. The Marxist explanation might at least explain why the rational ethic crystallized at one particular point of time.
The mention of Machiavelli highlights a point which might even give us a third answer to this question. Machiavelli created a technology appropriate to the requirements of politicians working within a certain system. Now inspection makes it clear that the laws of nature are useful to politicians in two ways. Firstly, in so far as the citizens behave in accordance with them, the work of the politician will be made easier.
And secondly, they describe a highly politic manner of behavior. The rational preference for peace, and the reasons for it, is one which any ruler will be foolish to disregard. Rational man has the single fixed objective of his own preservation; how much more true this is of states, Edition: States equally are unwise to cultivate enemies and irritate other states.
Nor should revenge ever be a motive of their behavior. And pacts and alliances are of small value in the field of international relations, where no state can possibly pursue any loyalty or obligation in a direction which leads to its own ruin. Pursuing this line of thought, a logical similarity forces itself upon us. The state, on this rational view, is an artificial whole composed of a multitude of individuals; but then, so also is a human being.
He is a whole—also perhaps artificial and certainly unstable—whose art of living must consist in the accommodation of a multitude of desires.
Rational living is a prescription for the governance of desires. The form of government, furthermore, is democratic; each legitimate desire may have its day, but no more than its day. Impulsive desires are despots whom reason must control, and a democratic majority of desires can best facilitate the long-term interests of the whole. And that is, that throughout the modern history of political thought, the mind of man and the field of society have been the two competing structures in terms of which human behavior has been explained.
Given a convincing and effective social structure, such as medieval Christendom or the modern nation state, philosophers will explain man in terms of social conceptions. A man has such and such a character because he is serf or aristocrat, French or German, proletarian or bourgeois. A man will be described as rational or passionate, enlightened or ill-instructed, sane or neurotic, mature or immature.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were times when this retreat into psychology took place, and all social arrangements were regarded as utilitarian and artificial. The progress of knowledge, instead of being a co-operative social activity, was regarded as the work of the faculty of reason. All of this finds its most general formulation in the philosophical distinction between subject and object, between the inner and the external world. Description of social activities, by a process of abstraction, as arrangements entered into between independent and rational minds was an altogether typical seventeenth-century manoeuvre.
It has been widely observed. There was indeed a good deal of intellectual co-operation in seventeenth-century philosophy and science; but it was a thin era for the universities. The best men worked on their own. It is as though, in fright, men had gathered all their possessions inside the house and pulled down the shutters. Then they peered out through the slats and turned to the epistemological question of how accurate a view of the countryside the slats gave them. But, while many forms of authority gave way to some sort of psychological conception, nothing was found to replace government.
There were of course reasons for political obedience, and in Spinoza we find the view that a society of rational men would have no need of a political authority: But while other social institutions decayed, government, strong, centralizing, sovereign government, prospered. The seventeenth century is the century in which the theory of sovereignty, the heavy weight of political order holding together a mass of centrifugal individuals, came into its own.
The political intricacies of the medieval order were stripped down to the dualism of Sovereign and subjects, of State and individuals. Philosophers reacted to this in different ways. Hobbes clearly gave most to the Sovereign power, a compound of king, judge, high priest, university rector, censor and father.
For Hobbes, all authority is political and can have only one source. The people are never allowed any real existence; at the very moment they emerge from the state of nature, their common identity resides in the sovereign and thenceforth he acts in their name. And while everything he says about the State purports to show its utter dependence on the wishes of the people, the very fact that it is a separate and complicated institution is a recognition of the importance of authority—and the starting point for many liberal developments.
The laws of nature as prescriptions of reason may be seen not as the uniquely wise way of life which they purport to be, but as a set of abstractions arising out of the intellectual and social milieu of the seventeenth century. They provide not so much an ethic as a set of prudent manners, and were to be extensively developed as time went on.
But they remain the core of liberal thinking. If man be taken as fundamentally a desiring animal, morality is likely to be a criterion which distinguishes those desires which may be pursued from those which may not. The moralist may direct his attention either to human actions or to the desires which are their presumed causes; but in each case, the problem of choice will be his primary concern. His main difficulty will be to reach any point which is recognizably moral at all. His first problem will be to free himself from the notion that all men are consistently selfish, for in one sense at least this is built into his assumptions.
Every act which any human being performs must, on the assumption of rational individualism, be an act which he desires to perform. A number of thinkers have been tempted to conclude from this definition that every act is a selfish act. The martyr going to the stake, the warrior plunging into the thick of the fray, the patriarch defending his clan—all alike are deflated by this theoretical pinprick; the good and the shabby are both following their own desires.
The only difference is that the desires of the one happen to be admired whilst those of the other are not. Our rational moralist has little trouble here, or so it seems. The view that all men are selfish can be exhibited as a facile tautology. But it points to a Edition: The main problem involved in creating a morality out of the conception of man as a desiring animal is that of showing that anything distinctively moral can emerge from desires.
If I want various of my desires satisfied, then no doubt I must live in society; and social life collapses unless most people follow the rules. But the restraints which a desiring individual accepts in society can only be shown as the means whereby he attains the satisfaction of his desires. Restraints are part of a technology of desire-satisfaction; there is nothing that can be called moral about them.
The usual solution to this problem is to present morality as the conquest of solipsism.
Morality is the recognition of the autonomous existence of other selves. The individual is not a cunning desirer locked up inside a body from which there is no escape; he is and must see himself as part of a field of desires. He must be concerned in the outcome of all of the desires within the field that he inhabits. Such a concern will not come to him merely as the result of rational calculation; he must be equipped with special desires which make it natural to him. In the early stages of liberal morality, these desires were seen as arising from a feeling called sympathy.
Sympathy is a composite conception. It is one of the concessions that individualism makes to ordinary experience, for we all experience sympathetic involvement in the affairs of others. But sympathy, as it functions in individualist moral philosophers, is generally used to do the same work as reason does; the main difference is that sympathy moralizes the acts it inspires, whereas reason remains no more than a technological calculation.
Further, reason is still necessary if we are in pursuit of a science of morals. Charmed as people were by the idea of sympathy, few were prepared to rely upon it as the sole foundation of civil harmony. They preferred to show that social life was to the advantage of each individual. If, then, legitimate desiring is taken as the beginning of ethics, then duties which are, after all, the practical core of this kind of moral philosophy admit of a more precise determination. I legitimately desire to live healthily and without undue restraint, and sympathetically admit this as a legitimate desire of my neighbors.
Very well, I must treat their legitimate desires as I would have them treat mine. I have a duty not to threaten the lives of others, not to impair their health, not to obstruct their use of their own property. Duties may be logically deduced from the policies constituting any given situation, and the dream of a determinate solution to moral problems becomes, as Locke thought, a possibility.
If the entities with which we calculate are precise enough, then we indeed have a kind of mathematics, something which might attain the two objectives of a moral science: A duty is in these terms a compulsory desire, rationally generated from the desires we naturally have. It has to be a desire, or the implication of a desire, because in terms of this kind of psychology, only a desire can provide a spring of action. Further, in so far as we are rational, we will want to do everything we ought to do, for our duties have been shown to be in our interest. And again, here, we have the familiar process of internalization: The seventeenth-century individualists laid the groundwork of later liberal ethical, political and social thinking.
Hobbes had demonstrated, in the times of greatest doubt, that society was viable even on the most extreme hypothesis of individual selfishness, so long as the selfishness were rational. Yet consistent egocentricity seemed to later thinkers a less and less necessary assumption.
One might not be able to rely upon human gregariousness and co-operativeness, but experience suggested that it existed. To the extent that it existed, political authority might diminish in importance. Indeed—dizziest dream of all—political authority might even, with the help of reason, be made to disappear.
This may be explained in terms of a road transport system. Everyone driving a car knows he must obey certain rules and drivers mostly do. Over long stretches of road, no policemen are needed to maintain the system; but at peak traffic times they are needed to direct drivers and enforce rules. The driver must become his own policeman. A truly virtuous man will be one who follows the rule: If in doubt, give way to others. Also, he will always understand the long-term objectives of the system—keeping himself and his car undamaged and moving—and will resist those moments when he might be carried away by impulse into showing off, getting there a little quicker or flaunting the speed of his engine.
A community of perfectly rational drivers would have no need of policemen. There might be times when the drivers would have to have a rally and decide to agree on new rules to meet a new situation. But being rational men, and understanding that the good working of the system is far more important than any individual advantage, they would have no difficulty about this. A natural harmony would reign, for the best communal policy would also be the best one for each individual driver. But, one might say, men are not rational all the time. That, however, need not matter, for in this system, a driver might well get off the road, and in the freedom of privacy amuse himself just as he liked.
So long as he never mixed up his private indulgences with his public conduct, all would work smoothly. What is more, it would work smoothly and democratically without any need of political authority. We must abandon this metaphor, which although cherished by those who believe in a common good, obviously cannot be pressed too far. Government, said Paine, is a badge of our lost innocence, and at the moment before the French Revolution and Romanticism came to complicate matters, the idea of self-regulation was in many minds. Most liberal thinkers cultivated some part of this idea.
It is clearly an individualist picture of social life. Each individual is essentially complete, and social relations cannot change his nature; they can merely determine the satisfactions he may experience. But this picture of the human individual offers a number of divergent possibilities. These possibilities can be seen clearly in Locke. In the Second Treatise, individuals are found complete in nature; they Edition: Society and the State are created by them in the full knowledge of what each institution will involve.
No fundamental change can occur in such individuals, though they can be taught to reason better and to be less impulsive. In the Essay, however, we find a different picture of the individual. Beginning with a blank mind, he is determined by the impressions he receives. If the evils of society arise from the receipt of bad impressions, the road to a good society is opened up by way of education. Liberalism arises from combining these two accounts of the individual. The contradiction is resolved by dividing society into two groups of people, the enlightened and the unenlightened. The enlightened are the rational who have understood the truth.
Their goodness, their command of truth, comes from within; it is not dependent upon any social agency. These are the liberals themselves. And the liberals are the reformers. They seek to reform the unenlightened, both the very rich and the very poor—that non-liberal majority whose development has been stunted by the impact of false impressions, and the weight of superstition and prejudice.
The liberal concern with liberty is the fight for the conditions of a certain way of life. Certainly all manner of moral virtues are associated with liberty— happiness, strength, independence—but the place of liberty is often instrumental to something else. It is usually the means to an end arising out of the liberal conception of man as a desiring, a satisfaction-seeking animal. In Hobbes, there are three terms of this relationship. The desire in man moves towards the object or away from the aversion and on attaining it, experiences pleasure or satisfaction.