Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

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Leontiskos
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Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Leontiskos »

This thread flows from an article entitled, "Is Democracy Moral?" It is an excerpt from Zbigniew Stawrowski's book, The Clash of Civilizations or Civil War. Stawrowski's target is Hobbes' political philosophy, but I think the critique will also stick to libertarianism.

I will assume that respondents have read the article, but I can give a quick overview. After making use of Hegel's distinction between the ethical and the moral, Stawrowski's argument takes on a semi-historical form as he considers the axiological foundations of the basic models that states can take. He first considers an ethically homogenous state, such as existed in the ancient world, in which "the political and ethical-religious order constitute one inseparable whole." The second model arose in the time of the Reformation. On this model states must limit themselves to imposing an ethical minimum on account of the ethical diversity in the population. We are told that respect for religious freedom is the foremost principle in such a state. This is the state of classical liberalism, of Locke and Mill.

Using Locke's refusal to tolerate atheists as a point of departure, Stawrowski describes two different conceptions of the "ethically minimum":
Stawrowski wrote:The problem of a state of ethical minimum, therefore, is in the fact that its sense may be understood in two ways, in other words, that it may be penetrated by a dual spirit. Naturally, the main aim of such a state is to guarantee conditions in which people may live in security and peace, in accordance with their conscience, realizing their own idea of a good life. There is, however, a fundamental difference between whether the guaranteed freedom of conscience serves the realization of one or another vision of the common good (which is implicitly contained in the concept of religious freedom), or, whether it supports the emancipation from all ethical obligations. In the case of the latter, the principle of freedom, which lies at the foundations of such a state, is no longer a principle of freedom of conscience—we are dealing rather with the principle of freedom of an outlook on life, which treats as equal diverse ethical outlooks and attitudes (or rather one attitude, which takes on many shapes), radically cutting off interpersonal relations. It is not necessary to add that this last interpretation remains in striking contradiction with the intentions of the above-quoted “founding fathers” of the modern state.

Within the framework of this same state of ethical minimum there can, therefore, exist and co-exist two completely separate societies: the first one, consisting of diverse ethical communities and embracing both religious people of various beliefs as well as irreligious people who are sensitive to the common good; and the second, a society of extreme individualists and egocentrics.
Stawrowski tells us that the modern state tends towards the latter conception of an ethical minimum, and that this conception necessitates a democratic state of law (while the former conception is compatible with a democratic state of law, but does not necessitate it). The third model is of course the Hobbesian state which is premised on the latter conception of an ethical minimum. The article closes:
Stawrowski wrote:When in 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote: “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism,” he did not notice that the real “clash of civilizations,” a truly significant conflict of ideas, goes on within the framework of this same Western civilization. This struggle is about the sense and aim of the liberal democratic state of law, about whether its liberal character should be expressed in the promotion of freedom responsible for the community, or in support for the idea of autonomy understood as liberation from all external (including ethical) limitations; or whether it should be a state of ethical minimum, or of maximum possible freedom; or finally, whether it should be a state of law with a solid framework, in which the appropriate institutions of a democratic political system function and are subordinated, or whether it is to turn into a democracy for which the principles of the state of law will sooner or later appear to be a superfluous limitation.
----------

From this article I infer that Stawrowski favors the classical liberalism of Locke or Mill while rejecting Hobbes. He favors the former conception of an ethical minimum while rejecting the latter. He would prefer a state which sees the human being as a moral and ethical agent, a state which does not deny the ethical nature of man.

In these things I agree with him, and the weaknesses of the Hobbesian state that Stawrowski points to seem to be some of the same basic weaknesses of libertarianism.

Now, it may be obvious that on this website libertarianism is closely associated with @GE Morton. I have seen many critiques of Morton's political philosophy, but few of them stand up under scrutiny. I think that libertarianism is, prima facie, a reasonable attempt at political philosophy. When subjected to scrutiny, however, I believe that it begins to fall apart. I think that the way it falls apart, along with the kernels of truth that can be found in the critiques of Morton's political philosophy, are easily observable in Stawrowski's article.
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Leontiskos
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Re: Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Leontiskos »

Another thinker who tackles the same issue from a slightly different angle is Patrick Deneen, who wrote Why Liberalism Failed. Some of his lectures are available online, such as <this one> which was given at Lafayette.

Deneen gives philosophical and sociological arguments for why liberalism has played a significant role in the smothering of our vital institutions, and argues that without correction this trajectory will lead to even worse outcomes. One of his more interesting arguments claims that the market and the state rise or fall together, and that some forms of liberalism--particularly Mill's--license the state to foster liberal mindsets among its citizens in order to free them from the sort of cultural 'determinism' that institutions give rise to.
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Re: Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Ecurb »

Attempts to return to ethical homogeneity abound. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have defeated the two major world powers, demonstrating the power of ethical homogeneity. China hardly demonstrates the trimph of Liberalism, and neither do many Islamic states.

The problem with promoting ethical homogeneity is that it is impossible, in this information-rich age.

Protestantism, liberalism, democracy and capitalism arose together at the end of the Enlightenment. "The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Hmanity" by Graeber and Wengrow claims that contact with the New World and its less heirarchical and authoritarian societies influenced Locke, Mill, Hobbes, Rousseau and others. They argue their case persuasively (although where it will lead is unclear, since I'm only about 100 pages into the book). A man named Lahontan wrote a series of dialogues with the Wendat sage Kandiaronk. Kandiaronk was highly critical of European society (he may or may not have travelled to Europe). In any event, Lahontan says that Native Americans who have visited France:
"brand us for slaves... whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves by subjecting ourselves to the king."
Lahontan quotes Kondiaronk as saying:
"What kind of human must Europeans be that they have to be forced to do good, and only refrain from evil because of fear of punishment?"
The Wendat sage continues:
"European society is inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case as long as you stick to your distinctions of "mine" and thine"..... Money is the father of lasciviousness, luxury, intrigues, trickery, lies and betrayal...."
Further on:
"the qualities that we Wendat believe ought to define humanity -- wisdom, reason, equity, etc. --(are incompatible with) separate material interests."
Lahontan's book was written in 1703, and influenced Rousseau and others, but similar dialogues were popular earlier, and doubtless were read by Hobbes, Mill and Locke. The Native American critique of European society remained similar in all of them: an objection to the European infatuation with wealth, and an objection to the European reverence for authority, and obedience to the heirarchies. According to Graeber and Wengrow, these objections fueled enlightenment liberalism, although the liberals concentrated on "freedom", and often ignored the other half of the critique: that objecting to property. The question remains: does inequality of material wealth inevitably suggest some sort of MORAL or POLITICAL inequality? Is it reasonable for the rich to wield more political, social, and cultural authority than others, in a democratic society? (Who cares if they have more luxuries?)

I read the article and the abstract you linked, Leontiskas. But I read them quickly and I'm not well grounded in the jargon (I had to look up "axiology"). When I get some time, I'll comment further. The question posed by Native interlocutors, though, is whether the Libertarian infatuation with property is compatible with their promotion of individual liberty and rights. I'd suggest that it is not (although, of course, no political philosophy is perfect).

Sorry for a rambling post. I wanted to see if I could get some discussion started in response to your interesting topic, Leontiskos, but I haven't much time before my golf tournament. I'll be back.
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Leontiskos
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Re: Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Leontiskos »

Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 11:53 amSorry for a rambling post. I wanted to see if I could get some discussion started in response to your interesting topic, Leontiskos, but I haven't much time before my golf tournament. I'll be back.
Oh, not a problem. Thanks for your post. Let me just respond to a few of the points you raise.
Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 11:53 amBut I read them quickly and I'm not well grounded in the jargon (I had to look up "axiology").
Axiology is something like the study of axioms, and is often used to refer to value-axioms. So when Stawrowski speaks of the "axiological foundation" of a particular kind of state, he is thinking of the grounding axioms that inform the entirety of that state's political character, and especially the values it takes to be foundational. As an example, liberty and equality are central pillars of the axiological foundations of modern democratic states.
Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 11:53 amThe problem with promoting ethical homogeneity is that it is impossible, in this information-rich age.
That's true, and I think Stawrowski would agree. He sets up the argument by saying:

"Let us consider for a moment, three model situations: a state embracing an ethically homogenous community, a state of ethical minimum as a correct solution for an ethically diverse community, and the same state of ethical minimum, in which a democratic political constitution has additionally been introduced."

He maps the threefold schema historically:
  1. The ethically homogenous communities of the ancient world
  2. The religiously tolerant states inaugurated by the Reformation
  3. Modern democratic states of today
Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 11:53 amThe Wendat sage continues:
"European society is inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case as long as you stick to your distinctions of "mine" and thine"..... Money is the father of lasciviousness, luxury, intrigues, trickery, lies and betrayal...."
Further on:
"the qualities that we Wendat believe ought to define humanity -- wisdom, reason, equity, etc. --(are incompatible with) separate material interests."
Lahontan's book was written in 1703, and influenced Rousseau and others, but similar dialogues were popular earlier, and doubtless were read by Hobbes, Mill and Locke. The Native American critique of European society remained similar in all of them: an objection to the European infatuation with wealth, and an objection to the European reverence for authority, and obedience to the heirarchies. According to Graeber and Wengrow, these objections fueled enlightenment liberalism, although the liberals concentrated on "freedom", and often ignored the other half of the critique: that objecting to property.
First, would you agree that the Native American is part of an ethically homogenous community? It seems to me that they are, and that the "wisdom" that the Wendat sage promotes would include a very rich ethical tradition. It is also curious to me that you say the enlightenment liberals concentrated on freedom. The values of the sage were, "Wisdom, reason, equity..." I actually didn't see freedom represented, and this makes sense to me since ethically homogenous communities would tend to be less interested in freedom, as freedom is the boon of individualistic societies.
Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 11:53 amLahontan quotes Kondiaronk as saying:
"What kind of human must Europeans be that they have to be forced to do good, and only refrain from evil because of fear of punishment?"
This is a good example of something that, according to Stawrowski, is a strength of ethically rich communities. They are empowered to act on the basis of ethical values, not merely on fear. He says:

"'Lastly, those,' wrote John Locke, 'are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all' (Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration). In order to avoid confusion: the atheist in the understanding of that time was not so much an agnostic of goodwill, but rather today’s nihilist—someone who consciously scorns the customs of his own community or, in other words, a person who is persuaded to observe the binding order exclusively due to fear of punishment. These warnings against rootless people who do not feel bound to any ethical community seem quite prophetic from today’s perspective."

[...]

"A brilliant description of precisely such a 'community of fear' was presented by another 'founding father' of the modern state, a radical representative of the second attitude (not 'ethical', but 'egoistical'), Thomas Hobbes. According to him, 'one must therefore lay it down that origin of large and lasting societies lay not in the mutual human benevolence but in men’s mutual fear' (See: Hobbes, De Cive)."
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Re: Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Ecurb »

According to the book, freedom was valued by Native Americans. In fact. many native philosophers wondered why Europeans were so obsequious to their bosses, kings, captains and other leaders. Graeber and Wengrow do say that the Natives quoted in the European texts may have exaggerated the egalitarian nature of their own societies. Most Indian cultures had leaders, and some laws (although enforcement was less draconian than in Europe) and division of labor between men and women was almost universal.

I've heard this same complaint from other smaller and simpler cultures. One Phillipino culture one of my professors studied had recently transformed from hunting and gathering to slash and burn agriculture. Apparently if a farmer was willing to work one hour (or less) a day in his fields (weeding, tending, watering) he could double production. The Natives hated this, though. They wanted to head off to see their cousins in the next valley. They valued their freedom as much as their food. And they saw "freedom" as not merely freedom from being bossed around by others, but freedom of movement, and not being "tied down".
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Re: Is Democracy Moral? Is Libertarianism Good?

Post by Leontiskos »

Ecurb wrote: January 10th, 2022, 7:37 pm According to the book, freedom was valued by Native Americans. In fact. many native philosophers wondered why Europeans were so obsequious to their bosses, kings, captains and other leaders. Graeber and Wengrow do say that the Natives quoted in the European texts may have exaggerated the egalitarian nature of their own societies. Most Indian cultures had leaders, and some laws (although enforcement was less draconian than in Europe) and division of labor between men and women was almost universal.
Okay, interesting.
I've heard this same complaint from other smaller and simpler cultures. One Phillipino culture one of my professors studied had recently transformed from hunting and gathering to slash and burn agriculture. Apparently if a farmer was willing to work one hour (or less) a day in his fields (weeding, tending, watering) he could double production. The Natives hated this, though. They wanted to head off to see their cousins in the next valley. They valued their freedom as much as their food. And they saw "freedom" as not merely freedom from being bossed around by others, but freedom of movement, and not being "tied down".
Sure, but I see this as freedom within the constraints of a firm ethical tradition, as opposed to freedom from all ethical traditions. According to Stawrowski's model they would probably be in the ethically homogenous category, or perhaps in the ethically diverse, but certainly not the third category which is something like ethically liberated. An ethically homogenous community could have liberty as one of their ethical values. Any nomadic people would certainly value freedom of movement.
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