Saturday, March 26, 2016

Politics and Social Philosophy OR: On the Social aspect of the Ethical Realm of Existence

Schopenhauer’s politics is in the half-way point between advocacy of freedom and slavery, between sensibility and insanity, between sober-mindedness and fevered hysteria.  He says in one passage that all men have equal rights (though not equal powers, roughly what Aristotle said) and in another says that the Monarch must be held above the Constitution (any abstract or intellectual conception of justice) and is himself the law maker – or at-least should be considered as such.  Whether he agrees with Hobbes that the King creates what is normatively good and bad, or whether he sides instead with Plato that the Philosopher King with absolute power merely interprets and then decrees with absolute authority what is good and bad is debatable; however, since he supports hereditary monarchy because he believes breeding the most wise men with the cleverest women will produce the best people (something Thomas Paine outright discredits in his political writings) or the wisest (in capacity) of men shows a presumption that there is an external standard or criteria of wisdom that the King can meet or fail to – expressing the sentiment implicitly that the King does not create the standard of the good, and therefore is more akin in this regard to Plato than Hobbes.
It is even more surprising that Schopenhauer has this view of a need for an absolute ruler, given his view of human nature.  He says that most people most of the time are egotistical, vane and have at-best a mediocre intellect.  True, yet it does not follow from this that a ruler is to decide what is to be law and what is not.  If anything, he without acknowledging so expresses why societies should be Constitutional rather than Monarchal.  That is, why they should be ruled by Law not by Law-maker, by societies reasoning and not one man’s desires.  Of course, since the world is a complicated and multi-faceted thing, full of many nuances and conflicting interests and opinions, it serves society to have judges that may have leeway in their rulings based on the particulars of the case.  It is this reasoning that has us have a spectrum of severity for the same punishment, both in terms of length of prison sentence and amount paid to the State and whether even prison time or fines will be place on the citizen or instead there will be community service or other punishments for their alleged crimes that the defendant is to be found guilty of through evidence collected by the State.
Now, it should be expressed here a caveat to my defense of Rule of Law.  Rule of Law is preferable to Autocracy and the derogatory use of the word “Anarchy” (but not legitimate Anarchism) because it pre-supposes an external standard that through either oligarchic or democratic means using whatever standards or criteria for evidence possible one can demonstrate the legitimacy of.  However, Rule of Law does not create the standard, therefore the Law itself should not always be followed.  A bad law, a law that causes more suffering (for if Negative Utilitarianism is true, and what is preferable is to be measured by reduction or prevention of pain, then laws should be seen as merely the guidance and instruction of society to aid the greatest prevention of the greatest pains possible) than it prevents is indefensible normatively and therefore is without bearing or legitimacy.  The only defense of such a law is the argument that to violate an unjust law (or fail to enforce it) is to create more pain than to follow the unjustifiable and unjust decree.
Schopenhauer’s conception of the State falls within the realm of Social Contract Theorists rather than Virtue Ethicists.  That is to say, he believes the State came about and is justified through prevention of domestic and foreign ills, rather than to make people virtuous (improved, or better according to some standard) which is Plato’s and Aristotle’s conception.  For the Negative Utilitarian, if he or she properly views the human condition, both are valid and necessary operations of the State.  The “Libertarian” conception of the State that it exists only to protect us leaves out much of the human condition which without guidance or structure is prone to suffering.  That is, in a State where only physical protection and protection of negative liberty is guaranteed, there will be more suffering than otherwise preventable because the lack of legislation and proper execution of housing codes, say.  Though a central government is not necessary, execution of external standards of existence are, and these are not guaranteed through natural human action or the profit motive.  Instead, a decentralized federation of peoples should guide the functioning of their societies to make sure all children receive what it seems all children do to flourish and become adults that can live lives that are of minimum burden to themselves and to their fellow citizens.
Schopenhauer rightfully is skeptical of the State involving itself in the “spiritual” or existential realm of human existence.  He writes that every man should be free to attempt to find “salvation” through what he finds to be best or most reasonable; and he is right in saying this.  If a State is to exist, it is within its proper realm to legislate the social realm (both “public” and “private” in the sense of private corporations which are social in nature) and not the private of existence.  That is, the exterior and not the interior realm of human existence.  The opinions and attitudes contained within a man’s skull are of no interest fundamentally to the State; instead, only the community in which many men, women and children with many different attitudes, beliefs and conceptions is the State’s proper role to ensure the proper course of actions that are the most likely to prevent the greatest suffering.
Now, one might say that logically then, if Negative Utilitarianism follows, that conceptually there could very-well be a situation where a person’s personal beliefs and thoughts might create more suffering in the world than otherwise; and this is perfectly true.  However, history has shown that State’s create far-more suffering through State censorship and forced uniformity (things which are both painful in themselves, and create more pains by stifling creativity and free expression) than the pains they aim to end but largely fail at doing so.  This is because the State is delving into the interior realm of existence, something far-more immediate and important to Mankind to correct the problems of the exterior – and not correctly either.  The interior realm can be altered to influence the exterior, but through natural molding as through education say, not through force.  So though there are instances in theory where the State could rightly delve intimately with the personal realm of existence with force, as a matter of typical operations the State can serve society better by focusing on social matters and ensuring safe and consensual relations amongst all beings that can give consent, and the “practical” safety of beings that cannot give consent (that is, safety for animals but at a certain point, as long as they’re killed painlessly, I don’t see it unjust to kill them, especially if it is to devour them).
Under Schopenhauer’s State (and Plato’s and Hobbes’) all citizens are treated as if they are children.  And while it is proper that children not be given absolute liberty of mobility and action, for they do not possess the cognition nor the maturity to properly act both for their own welfare and that of society, adults generally speaking, when given the proper resource, though they will almost never do the best course of action will often act in an acceptable course.  That is to say, since it would be worse for all actions to be legislated at all times by the State, it is best that the State respect the feeling of autonomy of every grown man and woman and interfere directly only as exception, not as rule. 
Schopenhauer rightly says that force is necessary to have a just society because justice (the external standard of right and wrong) itself is of little or no sway to some (and to a much smaller degree many) and they must be prevented physically from harming the public.  However, this does not prove rationale for punishment it should be noted and this does not say that force is generally speaking the correct way to go – it is acceptable or permissible in certain cases, but not in every one.
Force can be used in an Anarchist society, what is antithetical to Anarchism is illegitimate (what is deemed legitimate or not will depend on the Anarchist and for many Anarchists, the individual situation described or occurring) force and hierarchy; one could say that the distinction is meaningless since everyone is against what they perceive as illegitimate force, but not necessarily.  Many times people justify force used by the State that wouldn’t otherwise be acceptable – incarcerating people for drug use for example.  The unacceptability of this injustice is what separates the Anarchist from the Liberal who believes in “absolute” Rule of Law – that is that it is proper for the government to make and then enforce all laws whether they are just or not. 
The Anarchists are largely the political consequence (without their realizing it) of the individual and social philosophy of the Ancient Cynics.  They are in the political realm what the Cynics are in the personal.  That is, the Cynics believed that the external standards of individual belief and society conception – what people valued and thought would make them happy or of-value – are in no way legitimate measures of value and that largely these values come from within.  This is much like Anarchism, which also preaches asceticism (anti-consumerism) and says that the merits of God and King are of no consequence to whether an action is right or wrong, nor is it of consequence what the personal preferences of the individual are.  Right and wrong are exterior to the desires of any agent, save in the sense that since what is right and wrong depends on the existence or non-existence of suffering, desires come into play only so far as desires cause or prevent/reduce suffering – they are not the deciders of right and wrong in themselves however.
They not only are alike in this emphasis on rightness outside of the mores of any particular religion or society, they are alike in what they chastise.  Namely the superficial and banal concerns of most people to be well-liked or own things in pathetic attempts at happiness or fame.  Schopenhauer, despite his failings in the political realm, expresses this wisdom of focusing on the internal (personally, not ethically) in his The Wisdom of Life.  However, a major difference for the two is while the Cynics believe the role of the philosopher is in essence political, that is, rabblerousing, Schopenhauer has no such conception and at his most social believes that the philosophy might (if the person is able, though Schopenhauer then would likely say that the person would already be in such a mental state himself and not need a philosopher) be able to help people achieve wisdom and cease striving after the external and meaningless.  The Cynics have a value in promoting the philosophers role, not only in the social but in the political conceptions and values of society.  Though they do not rule the State as in Plato’s Republic, which shows essentially the understanding implicit in Anarchism.  It is the role of wise men to guide mankind not force them into hypothetical wisdom that cannot come through force through the very nature of being and thought.  A blind man must be guided not pushed.
Here Schopenhauer suffers from his geneticism (though he was ignorant of genetics) and his general fatalism.  He holds that people largely (or even entirely) are as they were born and can be molded very-little – it is then clear why he thinks it a waste of time for the State to mold young minds.  The Cynics seem far-more behaviorist in their conceptions of human nature, constantly barraging people with quips and rude remarks, trying to have them alter their conceptions of things that were given to them by their culture which they’ve accepted due-to lack of reflection.  Now for some things Schopenhauer is largely right, people seem at-least partly determined by their genetics and to attempt to alter their steps or being through criticism seems largely futile.  Whether a person is cheerful or melancholy for example seems largely based on a combination of genetics and early life experiences that is impossible to entirely undo.  However, when it comes to conceptions of the social and normative claims, this is where philosophy, discussion and persuasion can come in and one’s life styles, political beliefs and even mode of being (say being more ascetic and less prone to materialistic pleasures) can be altered.  The Cynics believe it is our moral responsibility to be involved with the public conception of morality and what is the “good life.”  Schopenhauer seems to hold that these things are based largely on one’s nature, and so people of different natures (intellectual introverts or stupid party-goers) should be left to their own devices and attempt what they deem to be “salvation” in their own ways.
Schopenhauer rightly equates poverty with slavery and shows the pros and cons of Capitalism (supposed freedom but economic servitude to the Capitalists) with Feudalism or Slavery.  This is a sentiment that many philosophers of varying traditions and viewpoints can get behind, if not stated implicitly or out-right (Aristotle for example defines citizenship as a “free person” with total freedom from labor).  I’ve often been befuddled as how a man who exalts compassion and depicts the wretchedness of most people’s lives could be such a defender of the status quo politically.  But then I remember his fatalism and his presumption that this is simply what life is, that people suffer; and though he is right that people are doomed to suffer through their nature when speaking of the psychological or internal realm of existence (we cannot help but want things and suffer through wanting) he is wrong to make the same remarks about the social or external realm of existence which can be improved and suffering mitigated through proper resources and social structures to provide the foundation of a good life (“a” not “the” because the various forms and needs of humanity expresses that what may be the best life for one may not be for the other, and that people for their own sake should pursue what they have aptitude for which will also provide the greatest benefit for society generally speaking – the doctor doing what the artist would lament in doing) for all who are capable of living it to the extent that they are.
To summarize Schopenhauer is better to be studied for his theory of aesthetics (of which he is one of the greatest minds of – if not the supreme) and ethics and epistemology.  He deserves far-more respect and attention than he currently receives, though you wouldn’t know it if you have only read his short work on politics.  Perhaps his own writings and what he pays attention to is one of the greatest arguments for his claim that every man and woman makes a world after their own image – that is, will naturally make their life suitable to their nature.  Schopenhauer’s was not of a political nature, as opposed to the socially motivated firebrands of the Cynics and Bakunin (and the other Anarchists) who’re compelled by their nature to give every person the foundation necessary (which Schopenhauer’s State ignores) to live their best life and be their best self.

Though Schopenhauer rightly appreciates the aesthetic in the personal realm in existence, something that the Cynics completely ignore; he completely ignores the ethical realm of existence save in writing.  That is, he writes on moral philosophy, but completely ignores the moral potential of every human being to improve the plight of his fellow sufferers.  Though in the personal realm of existence Schopenhauer and the Cynics are largely comparable in their asceticism and individualism (and Schopenhauer even has something to teach them in his appreciation of art) when it comes to the ethical or social realm Schopenhauer is lacking greatly and the Cynics seem to be who we (if the writings above hold weight) along with the Social Anarchists should refer to when asking the questions of the legitimacy of things, proper evaluation of what is in our lives and how society is to be structured as to have the best life based on the correct values.

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