a contemplative approach to politics

A rejection of Objectivism part 1 “The Paradigm of Justice: A Rejection of Pure Rationality”

Posted by blindspotpolitics on November 6, 2012

The other day I had an argument with a friend about the value of Objectivism. Is it a worthy philosophy that can be implemented in the current world or is it a normative theory that strives for a rational utopia impossible in a world of social and economic inequalities that derive from irrationality–pathos and ethos. I argued for the latter.

The paradigm of Justice: a rejection of pure rationality

I’ve been studying a bit too much Keith Michael Baker recently. His revisionist view on intellectual history focuses on discourse. Using a Kuhnsian lens, he views various historical occurrences as the products of paradigms of language that reveal how people define themselves within the world and most especially define normative goals. For example, he views the French Revolution as the product of the discourse of the “will” disseminating from the sovereign people.

I cannot help but apply the analysis of discourse to the works we have been studying the past several weeks. New Deal Liberalism and the Civil Rights Movement (as eloquently described by Dr. King) are clearly intermingled with the discourse of “justice.” The focus of justice is different for each of these two movements but equally important.

For New Deal Liberalism (and certainly high liberalism that extends to Galbraith and beyond), the concern with justice is a concern with economic justice. Many libertarians critique that so many of the ills that derive from our economic system derive in part from the extension of government into the private sector. While this is certainly true to some extent, the development of the new industrial state—modern capitalism—has created an economic sickness that can only be cured by justice from government; positive rules that aim to combat structural injustices. As Jefferson noted, industry makes man dependent on other men for their wellbeing. This “wage labor” certainly defines the modern economy. Because of the raw capital required to start new businesses or explore new ideas in our modern age, man is intrinsically limited in his economic choices and thus, more often than not, eventually dependent on others for his wellbeing. In this system, not only do wage laborers not own the facilities that produce but they also do not own the value that they produce for society (the wages serve only as a proxy of this value, but do not represent the value in total nor neccesarily the true value of input by the producer, especially in relation to the relative input of the holders of capital). As a result, men must continually aid societies quest for progress instead of developing their personal character–forgoing passion and family to seek a higher profit margin or to develop a better product. In such a system the cream rises to the top but the vast majority of people, who have not either the desire or skills to race in such a competitive world, are subject to dependence and risk exploitation.

Rationality for progress becomes the champion in an inherently irrational world of pathos, ethos, and logos. The economic champions of progress, who see this aim as the ultimate goal of society and see no reason to expend resources on the pawns of life that by nature or Fortuna do not reach their full potential, only view the last element as a matter of concern. Yet, there is more to life than rationality and no way to obtain the objectivity that such rationalists seek in our laws and norms. Surely, the structural inequalities of modern capitalism require the enactment of positive liberty by government (the extent and mode however, is a different discussion).

Social justice is of equal concern in the modern world. Again, given the passions and instincts of man that transcend his rationality, the pluralities of men are prone to live on the initial prejudices that they develop at a young age. Fear is perhaps the best example of this. Was it an explicit and conscious attack against human rights or the motivation of irrational fear that led the first Europeans to imprison and enslave Africans? The former viewed the latter not as men but as beasts, much like children, and thus requiring the protections that even Locke affords to youth. Over time, norms develop from these initial passions and fits of irrationality. Fitzhugh defended slavery because of societal norms that defined his era: Africans, if left to themselves, would be worse off. He lived in this protectionist paradigm. It was the duty of Fitzhugh and others to defend the positive rights of the mendicant Africans. Perhaps earnestly, many slaveholders believed that they were protecting their property from destroying itself. These norms leave intractable holes in society for generations; norms that only socialization from government can hope to fix. Dr. King rightly notes that the civil rights movement must seek social and political means to gain equality. Combining the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, he encapsulates the argument for social justice beyond the realm of negative liberty (so beyond simple protection from the state). To become valued members of society will not entail just creating value, but also being accepted at a deeper level. Positive liberty, which once kept Africans in chains, must but used to ensure social justice.

Many who bemoan positive liberty altogether (so any interference by the state that does not provide security for its citizens based on, we will say here, natural rights) do not think of the structure injustices that occur in the social and economic spheres due to the bound rationality or irrationality of mankind. To combat our tendencies to fear others or to exploit others, we must enact positive laws that seek some form of equality. Montesquieu rightly noted that “attitudes and principles were largely the product of environmental conditioning by social, religious, economic, and geographical factors.” Although globalization has destroyed many such prejudices, our environment still informs our perspective. To say that this would vanish subsequent to the disappearance of positive liberty is to misinterpret man’s nature; it is to place a veil of rationality over your perspective that blinds you from the reality that man is an animal guided by instinct as well as reason. What makes modernity special is our ability, finally, to understand the structural inequalities in economics and society that occur because of pathos and ethos. Government, in many ways, can help fix these injustices. However, we must be equally careful that the search for equality does not a) become a search for equality of outcomes rather than opportunity and b) become a vessel for more gross injustices that travel from good intentions to terrible results.


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