The “Regime” of the Global Callipolis and its relation to Justice(Commentary and Critique of Prof Smith’s Yale lecture series on”Political Science”): Lecture 25: A defense of Politics?

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Professor Smith began this lecture series with the thesis that Political Philosophy is about “Regimes” and he then proceeded to support his position via lengthy accounts of the Political Philosophies of Plato and Aristotle both of whom would have denied his thesis. Both Philosophers would have maintained that Political Philosophy is about “The Good”, “Epistémé and self-understanding”. Aristotle may have added that knowledge of the good requires an adventure of reflection into the realm of the divine and the holy. Smith appears to regard the political realm as having more to do with technai, a realm in which straightforward questions are posed which have straightforward solutions. This, of course, is a different world to the metaphysical realm that Aristotle is referring to when he argues that the philosopher’s task is to pose aporetic questions. In the realm of technai practical reasoning takes the form of firstly, calculating particular means to achieve particular given ends and secondly it uses judgment to determine something general about the particular.

The faculties of understanding and reason, on the other hand, are used in reasoning about the good, in general, and formal terms. These faculties do not function in the straightforward manner in which the faculty of judgment does.

In the use of judgment, the mind submits to the world like a student of nature in contrast to the use of understanding and reason where the mind is more actively thinking like a judge, reflectively, about the laws that will be imposed upon the world. When a political judge or a statesman considers the phenomena of reality as he must do when people act either in accordance with or in contravention of the law he does not waver for a moment in the cases of contravention of the law and consider the abandonment of the law as would a student of nature exploring the world tentatively with his tentative concepts. The political judge or statesman is not a student, he is not building a theory but rather using a conceptual system to make judgments from the point of view of a political theory: If all promises ought to be kept and Jack promised Jill to pay the money back that was lent to him, then Jack ought to pay the money back. The ought in these statements are categorical and signify the necessity that follows from the objective and universal law that All promises ought to be kept. A student confronted with the phenomenon of Jack breaking his promise might be led to the conclusion that the law is illegitimate or false because it is not universal but this would be to misunderstand the peculiar universality and necessity of the ought in the sphere of “the good” and ethics. The field of human conduct is manifold and varied but when it is concerned with answering the Kantian question “What ought I to do?” in the sense Kant intended, we will find that both the political and moral realm has a law like structure. The political judge on the grounds of this structure will steadfastly question the transgressor Jack with a view to obtaining a full understanding of the situation. Once that understanding is reached, i.e. once it is clear that Jack never intended to keep the promise he made the judge then uses his knowledge of the law to judge that Jack’s intention and reasoning is flawed and that he ought to pay the money back in accordance with the law (that all promises ought to be kept). The judge or statesman(who is in the business of making and keeping promises) will not be impressed with the argument “But people do not always keep their promises”. His response to this argument will be simply to insist that he knows that it might be the case that people sometimes do not keep their promises but that it nevertheless ought not to be the case.: they ought to keep promises. The law here, in other words, is a standard that is being used much like the standard metre bar in Paris. The bar itself cannot be said to be one metre long since it is that which we use to determine the length of a metre. Similarly, we cannot ask sensibly whether the law which itself is used to determine what is right and wrong is right or wrong in itself. We can, however, as Kant did point out the logical consequences of abandoning the law which in practical terms would mean abandoning the institution of promising in our communities.

Life in a community is living in a field of desires. Both Kant and Aristotle in their different ways believed that desires need to be shaped and organized in accordance with the telos of “the ought” and in accordance with the principles and value of areté(virtue):i.e. doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. This requires a stable organized soul which Aristotle characterizes in terms of “character” Wisdom is a virtue requiring the understanding of oneself and one’s world. Wisdom is manifested in the wise man being able to reason both theoretically and practically about the nature of man and the nature of his community. In Aristotle’s terms, the wise man will reason well about the good, the true, the beautiful, prime matter and prime form(the Philosophers god). Included in his practical reasoning will be reasoning about the laws of the city. The wise man’s reasoning will precede the judgments he makes and deductively supports the judgments that have been made. Aristotle also distinguishes between substantive justice and procedural or formal justice. Substantive justice requires a general understanding of metaphysics, epistémé and ethics and procedural justice will fall into the realm of technai(particular cases must be handled in accordance with the rule: similar cases have to be treated similarly). For Aristotle, Political Philosophy is substantially ethical and contains the wise law-like statements of the statesman and the judge but it is also technical, i.e. composed of particular judgments which follow from both the law like structures and the particular facts of the particular cases that are being judged. When one is in the realm of the law one is, in Aristotle’s eyes, in the realm of the divine or the sacred. One must take the law seriously and respect its wisdom. Furthermore if one organizes the field of one’s desires in accordance with the principles of areté, one can look forward personally to a flourishing life. This is a judgment about a particular life based on the law-like structure of the virtues in one’s soul.

Kant, we are told by Hannah Arendt, did not produce a political Philosophy. This is a curious statement to make given the following facts:
1.) that our system of human rights is probably based on Kant’s formulations of the Categorical Imperative and
2. The United Nations was suggested by Kant in one of his essays on Political Philosophy.
Arendt wishes to make the case that we should look to Kant’s remarks on Judgment if we are to apply Kantian ideas to the realm of the political. For Arendt, the understanding and the kind of practical reasoning being used in ethics and the formulation and defense of the categorical imperative are irrelevant to the particularities one encounters in the political realm. This means that Judgment cannot command categorically what one ought and ought not to do. It can, in Kantian terms only ask and hope for an agreement by speaking in a universal voice as one does in our judgments of beauty. The grounds of our judgment then become obscurely the non-conceptual common sensibility(the feelings and emotions) we share with all humans. That is instead of beginning in our reasoning with an ought statement, we begin with an is-statement about common feelings and sensibility and then somehow mysteriously jump to the ought conclusions that are required by political judgments, ignoring logical restraints associated with the naturalistic fallacy. The categorical nature of the understanding is implied by the phrase “Categorical Imperative” and reasoning that about ends in itself rather than means to ends is also what Kant thinks of as “categorical”.
Professor Smith also fixes upon this notion of particularity and transports us into the realm of judgment and away from the law-like structure of the political and ethical realms. Sensibility unregulated by understanding and reason will for both Kant and Aristotle stay forever mired in the swamp of particulars. Although in judgment we are saying something about something the subject of the judgment is always a particular. Looking at man as a particular and excluding understanding and reason will only result in an individual story where individual desires or facts reign. Using such judgments results in a history of particular events which we may find interesting or even beautiful but which we can only tentatively judge with our “universal” voices. The generality is not achieved by recasting our actor’s role in a society for society too can be thought about in the particular, as being a polis situated in a particular place and at a particular time. We begin to think categorically only when the major premise of the argument begins “All Societies are…” or just in case Kant is right in his claim that no society is completely free and completely just the argument rather should begin “All societies ought….”
Smith is cognisant of the fact that Political science or Philosophy is in a considerable state of disarray but he mistakenly thinks that Aristotle and Kant have contributed to the chaotic situation he experiences in the Universities. He refers to Aristotle but fails to pursue Aristotle’s categorical path where the laws of reason shape and organize mans desires. He refers to Kant but fails to pursue the hylomorphic quality of Kant’s theorizing. An individual Man, for Kant, is only potentially rational. Rationality will eventually actualize in the species because man’s desires are so unorganized that they need a master to organize them. Man understands what is right, he understands the virtues and admires them but his self-interested desires are always working to avoid the law-like structure of our political and ethical communities by making an exception of himself. This is why he needs a master. He lives in the field of desires or sensibility where pleasure reigns. Most men, as a matter of fact, argues Kant, have their own self-interest firmly fixed before their eyes. The laws of ethics and the laws of politicians are aimed at regulating the consequences of this pursuit of self-interest. Looking at this situation in one way provokes the description that justice is merely the regulation or distribution of pleasures and pains(benefits and burdens) and that is a correct description from a third person point of view which avoids the first person question of the role of self-understanding in this process: the role, that is of mans awareness of what he ought to do and what he ought to be. It is in the spirit of this self-understanding that Kant claims that a society in which sensibility is unregulated by either understanding or reason gives rise to the judgment that life in such a society is “melancholically haphazard”.
Arendt and Smith are almost on the same page. Both seem to criticize Aristotle for placing bios theoretikos above bios politikos, of placing the contemplative life of the eternal and universal above the political life of the sensible and particular. Arendt, in the context of this debate presents the following quote from Pascal(talking about Plato and Aristotle) in her “Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy”:

“They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they wanted to divert themselves they wrote, “The Laws” or “The Politics” to amuse themselves. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious. The most philosophic was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics it was as if laying down rules for a lunatic asylum: if they presented the appearance of speaking of great matters it was because they knew that the madmen to whom they were speaking thought they were kings or emperors.”

This may not exactly capture the spirit in which both authors wrote about politics but it does point us to the reason my Kant referred to life in society as “melancholically haphazard”. What was there to be melancholic about? We know that Plato thought that the final the final separation of the soul from the body was the moment of death and that the only response to such a state of affairs was to do Philosophy until the inevitable happened. This touches upon the great issue of the value of life. Kant raises 4 questions by way of defining Philosophy thus uniquely defining Philosophy by the questions it asks but all 4 questions raise the Platonic question of the value of life. The 4 questions are “What can I know?, What ought I to do? , What can I hope for?, and What is man?” His answers to two of these questions that one ought to do what is right and if one does so one can hope for a flourishing life raise the question that Aristotle sought to answer, namely “What is the flourishing life?” Aristotle’s answer was the contemplative life but he must have had in mind the Delphic oracles answer to this same question which referred to “taking on the colour of the dead”. Smith avoids according religion a prominent position in his reflections on bios politikos and thus avoids Aristotle’s answer to the question of the value of a flourishing life. He does, however, in his 25th ad final lecture return to Aristotle’s Ethics and asks whether “patriotism” might be a virtue located on a continuum of excess and deficiency the one pole of which would be nationalism and the other pole Kantian Cosmopolitanism: a strange ending given the almost complete absence of Kantian reflections in the rest of his lectures. Smith points out that an important consequence of Cosmopolitanism is that there is no significant difference between human beings because their humanity is the primary normative characteristic of their being. He goes on to suggest:

“This is the Cosmopolitan ethics of humanity which could only hold true of a confederation of Republics overseen or ruled by international law– a league of nations.”

Smith Pursues his Aristotelian discussion of whether patriotism could be a virtue with Carl Smitt’s reflections from “The Concept of the Political” in which it is claimed that bios politikos is the antagonistic life a dangerous animal leads. This antagonistic life is founded upon a Plemarchean theory of justice which claims that one ought to do good to one’s friends inside the polis and harm to one’s enemies outside the polis. Smith comments upon this in the following manner:

“The political life contains the most intense and extreme antagonism. Friend and enemy are the inescapable categories through which we experience the political: Athens versus Sparta. All attempts to rights, free trade etc are attempts to avoid the above fact.”

Smith points out that the “Friend-enemy” schema would be self-contradictory because if it also operated on the domestic front we would be dealing with a divided city. He then goes on to criticize the Kantian position:

“Kant confuses politics with morality. Kant wishes to transcend the sovereign state with known international rules of justice. If Schmitt believed man to be the dangerous animal Kant believed him to be the rule-following animal. Kant’s desire to transcend the state with a kind of international future is both naive and anti-political. If Hobbes was right when he said that covenants without a sword are but words, then on Kant’s view the question becomes, who would enforce these international norms of force. Kant’s conception of global justice is a wish for a world without states…International bodies like the UN have been notoriously ineffective in curbing and restraining the aggressive behaviour of states and International courts of justice have been highly selective in what they choose to condemn”

It is true that Kant deliberately and systematically relates ethics to politics and demands that the latter conform to the norms of the former. Statesmen have to keep treaties. Countries have to honour treaties. Kant would in this context certainly have disagreed with Hobbes on the question of combining covenants with the sword. Violence may be one of the terminal points of instrumental reasoning because this system of reasoning has no moral principle which it can use to judge the morality of the chains of ethically and logically unrelated events which defy the double effect principle. Given the fact that the dignity of man is what provoked Kant’s ethical reflections in the first place and also the fact that freedom and autonomy are central concerns of his theory as is the categorical nature of the ought system of concepts he would have firmly maintained that one ought not to coerce agents to keep their promises. If self-understanding is a part of the ethical adventure then words are the “swords” that one uses in the discourse with oneself over the Socratic issue of whether one can live oneself or not. International organizations such as the UN are Kantian to the core. They expect states to impose norms of justice upon themselves and the Hobbesian sword is sometimes used when all other alternatives are exhausted but the more likely route of persuasion will be sanctions enforced by the world community which send the message “If we cannot live with you how will you live with yourself”. Kant did not necessarily believe as Marx did that the state would necessarily wither away. If he did his concept of a league of nations would have been self-contradictory. States would not be dissolved by a world government because he believed such a government would be necessarily tyrannical. His concept of a kingdom of ends is Aristotelian in the sense that it is a construction of bios theoretikos and the Philosophers conception of God must be included in the summum bonum of a flourishing life. Smith is a secular political Philosopher. He follows Aristotle but only so far and he refuses to follow Kant at all. The kingdom of ends is a humanistic idea and Hobbes’ position is about as far as one can get from Humanism. Kant may have believed that when our ethical and humanistic cares and commitments are no longer operative(in a state of nature or a state of war) politics and legislation can step in to try and regulate matters. Kant was well aware of the fact that the unsocial sociability and antagonism between men can be difficult to regulate with moral laws. Smith’s remarks on the efficacy of the UN flies in the face of the facts. The UN is an incredibly complex structure of organizations and many of these organizations are contributing to world peace and stability on a daily basis by doing work which typically produces long-term results. Popular media likes to focus on the security council and the failures to reach agreements and this often dramatizes conflicts unnecessarily. If the UN is Kantian to the core than we should realize that the media presents the news of the day, politicians think in terms of the duration of government between elections, historians think in terms of centuries, oracles probably thought in terms of millennia, Philosophers like Aristotle and Kant, however, think in terms of hundreds of thousands of years. The kingdom of ends is one hundred thousand years away which conceivably could imply that although progress is being made in straightening out the crooked timber of humanity that progress will be necessarily slow.

Smith attempts to extract the truth from his dialectical opposites and claims somewhat surprisingly that America is the embodiment of the Aristotelian golden mean principle:

“Although neither extreme view is complete in itself the question is how can they be combined? These two are very much combined already in the American regime. America is the first truly modern nation– a nation founded upon the principles of modern philosophy….Our founding documents are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

And yet relatively shortly after the founding of this Golden State it was torn apart in a civil war exactly over this issue of equality of master and slave. A war which by the way did not end the subjugation of one race by another. Smith is here committing the naturalistic fallacy, at least as far as his argument relating to Cosmopolitanism is concerned. Kant appeals to Cosmopolitanism as a teleological concept and claims nothing more than that it is the long-term goal that man ought to strive for. There is, he argues, progress toward the fulfillment of this goal but there are no guarantees that we will arrive at the terminus of our striving.

Smith, as part of a discussion of the issue of the universal versus the particular in Politics, appeals to History and the struggle for power:

“it concerns the political uses of power or the two great ends to which power can be put: freedom and empire. Political philosophy is reduced to political history. Both presuppose one another and are in some relation to the universal and particular. The Political Philosopher examines the underlying principles of the regime and the political historian examines the way these principles have been applied in practice. Where the philosopher is concerned with the best regime–that which is best according to underlying principles, the historian is concerned with what is best for a particular people at a particular time and place, Athens, France, America.”

It is not certain that Aristotle or Kant would have appreciated the above account of the distinction between the universal and the particular in relation to Philosophy and History. Certainly, Aristotle in his work on Poetry contrasted History and Poetry in terms of the particular and the universal but he would certainly have appreciated the historians search for the material and efficient causes of the particular events studied and surely some true generalizations could be the result of such investigations. But the question to be asked here is “Are historians relativistic in their judgments about what is best?” This sounds more like poetry. Aristotle would not have subscribed to any view which attempted to relativise the idea of the best.
For Kant, the historian must be concerned withnhistorical truth and this in turn must have some relation to the notion of progress and the postulated telos of Cosmopolitanism, an end state which may or may not be reached and in relation to which the state may or may not “wither away”. The events of history would be susceptible to both causal and teleological explanations and these explanations would not be subject to the criteria of identity one applies to judgments about particular events or particular cases. Indeed for Kant such judgments would require more general universal premises relating to underlying principles, if they were to generate the kind of knowledge we expect from history.

Professor Smith concludes his lecture series by asking where the teahers of these underlying principles are to be found. Not in most Universities he claims because the respect for tradition has been lost:

“Modern Professors of History often appear to teach everything but a proper respect for tradition. In my own field, civic education has been replaced by game theory– a theory that regards politics as a market place where individual preferences are formed and utilities are maximized. Rather than teaching us to be citizens, the new political science teaches us to be rational actors who exercise preferences. By reducing all politics to choice and all choice to preference the new political science is forced to accord legitimacy to every preference, however vile, base or indecent it may be.”

Smith acutely touches upon a major issue in education: the colonization of the humanities by firstly science and then the science of economics. His complaint is somewhat puzzling in the light of the fact that game theory would seem to be a logical consequence of the rejection of the relation of ethicsto politics that Kant proposes. It would also seem to be a logical consequence of the modernism that the very modern USA embraces.