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In his 1932 The Doctrine of Fascism, Benito Mussolini quotes approvingly historian Ernst Renan for his “pre-fascist intuitions”:
“The maxim that society exists only for the well-being and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to be in conformity with nature’s plans, which care only for the species and seem ready to sacrifice the individual.”
In his 1784 “Review of Herder,” Immanuel Kant wrote: “nature allows us to see nothing else than that it abandons individuals to complete destruction and only maintains the type.” (37/53)
And in “Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” (1784), Kant wrote: “It appears that nature is utterly unconcerned that man live well, only that he bring himself to the point where his conduct makes him worthy of life and well-being.” (31/20)
Also this from Kant’s “Speculative Beginning of Human History” (1786): “this path that for the species leads to progress from the worse to the better does not do so for the individual.” (53/115)
So: A connection from 18th-century philosopher Kant to 19th-century historian Renan to 20th-century politician Mussolini. It’s important to note that between Kant and Mussolini stand Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, all of whom developed the sacrifice-individuals-to-improve-the-species theme.
Further, both Kant and Mussolini state approvingly that nature uses war to improve the species.
Here is Kant: “Man wills concord; but nature better knows what is good for the species: she wills discord.” (”Idea …” 32/21)
Kant again: “At the stage of culture at which the human race still stands, war is an indispensable means for bringing it to a still higher stage.” (”Speculative …” 58/121) Note the “indispensable.”
And again: “Thus, thanks be to nature for the incompatibility, for the distasteful, competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and also to rule. Without them, all of humanity’s excellent natural capacities would have lain eternally dormant.” (”Idea …” 32/21)
Now Mussolini: “Fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. It therefore discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation in contradistinction to self-sacrifice. War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it.”
Again, between Kant and Mussolini were Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, all of whom urged violence and war as necessary steps towards human progress.
The Kant essays are collected in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, translated by Ted Humphrey (Hackett, 1983).
Here is an online version of Mussolini’s The Doctrine of Fascism, which was co-authored with Giovanni Gentile.
For more on the development of German political philosophy from Kant to the early 20th century, see “The Climate of Collectivism” and “The Crisis of Socialism,” which are Chapters 4 and 5 of my Explaining Postmodernism.
Posted 2 months, 2 weeks ago at 1:02 pm. 8 comments
This week in Contemporary European Philosophy we finished our discussion of Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1887 Genealogy of Morals, which is an essentialized and more systematic presentation of themes from his 1886 Beyond Good and Evil.
Here is my digest of the main line of argument of Genealogy’s first essay:
1. Evolution and psycho-biology: Humans are an evolved bundle of inbuilt drives that assert themselves.
2. The most basic drive is the will to power.
3. Humans divide into two basic types: those whose drives are strong, and those whose are weak.
4. Humans also divide into those who drives are focused, and those whose drives are diffuse.
5. The strong/focused types exhibit master psychology. The weak/diffuse type exhibit slave psychology.
6. Masters are energetic, adventurous, fearless, delight in self-expression, etc.
7. Slaves are passive, fearful, envious, etc.
8. Moral codes are conscious formulations of one’s needs and interests.
9. So one’s morality is an expression of one’s psycho-biological type.
10. So there are two basic types of morality.
11. Master morality affirms pride, ambition, independence, assertiveness, danger.
12. Slave morality affirms dependence, safety, passivity, humility.
13. Life is essentially conflict and expropriation.
14. Masters are confident in the face of conflict, so the master morality embraces using others for one’s own ends.
15. The slave morality is fearful of conflict and expropriation, so it condemns them.
16. The battle between the master and slave moral codes is of long genealogy.
17. Historically, the master morality dominated first.
18. But the master morality declined and slave morality ascended.
19. Currently the slave morality is winning.
20. The major symptoms of this are the cultural dominance of socialists, democrats, Judeo-Christian priests, egalitarians, and the like.
21. The slave morality’s dominance is a threat to the advancement of man.
22. So master morality or a new form of it must be rejuvenated.
Journal article: “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand” [pdf] and Professor Lester Hunt’s rejoinder [pdf].
Book: Nietzsche and the Nazis.
Blog post: Nietzsche as public choice theorist.
Posted 2 months, 3 weeks ago at 10:51 am. 11 comments
Aspiring philosopher-queen Sarah O. Conly is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College.
A description of her Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, published by Cambridge University Press in 2012: “Against Autonomy is a defense of paternalistic laws; that is, laws that make you do things, or prevent you from doing things, for your own good. I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.”
Rumor has it that contrarian paternalists disagree violently, arguing that Conly should have been prevented by force from writing the book.
Conly’s faculty page indicates that her next book will be about the goodness of using force to prevent people from having the wrong number of children.
Related: Autonomy as a human need.
(Thanks to R.H., who knows what’s best for me, for sending the Conly link.)
Posted 3 months ago at 8:21 pm. 23 comments
What makes liberal capitalism good?
Here is a flowchart I’ve developed for use in some upcoming talks. The chart diagrams the positive claims about liberal capitalism by its defenders — John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others. Click on the image for full size.
Most advocates of liberal capitalism believe that most or all of the above claims are true. But they differ among themselves about which claims are most significant in morally justifying liberal capitalism. And that is the follow-up topic of my upcoming talks. More to come.
(Thanks to Chris Vaughan for the graphical design of the chart.)
Posted 5 months ago at 3:07 pm. Add a comment
To be fully human is to make one’s own decisions and initiate one’s own actions in life.
In this essay at The Creativity Post, physician Alan Lickerman writes:
“restrictions on our autonomy may lie at the heart of a great deal of our unhappiness. Studies show, for example, that one of the greatest sources of dissatisfaction among doctors isn’t having to deal with insurance companies or paperwork but lack of control over their daily schedules. (I’ve found this to be true: nothing distresses me more in the course of my work day than feeling hurried and unable to control how I spend my time.) I simply hate feeling forced to do things—even things I would want to do if I weren’t being forced to do them.”
The good physician’s self-reflection is squarely within the long tradition of philosophical liberalism:
John Locke, for example: “We naturally, as I said, even from our cradles, love liberty, and have therefore an aversion to many things, for no other reason, but because they are injoined us.”
John Stuart Mill is another: “Many a person remains in the same town, street, or house from January to December, without a wish or thought tending towards removal, who, if confined to that same place by the mandate of authority, would find the imprisonment absolutely intolerable.”
And all three above are deeply, deeply opposed to the illiberal tradition that seeks to deny or crush individual autonomy: Augustine, Sulzer, Kant*, and Fichte.
Sources and note:
 Alan Lickerman, “The Desire For Autonomy”. The Creativity Post, November 30, 2012.
 John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education , Section 148.
 John Stuart Mill, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill: Principles of Political Economy. Robson, J. M., ed. Books I-II. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006, p. 213.
* Yes, Kant is a mixed case.
Posted 5 months, 1 week ago at 7:14 am. Add a comment
Via Classically Liberal, an intriguing connection worth repeating.
In a letter to his former master, Frederick Douglass explains his decision to escape from slavery:
“The morality of the act, I dispose as follows: I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence.”
In Roark’s courtroom speech in The Fountainhead, Rand delivers these individualist lines:
“But the mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act — the process of reason — must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred.”
A striking parallel between two intransigent advocates of individualism and freedom.
 Douglass’s 1848 letter from Frederick Douglas: Selected Speeches and Writings.
 Roark’s courtroom speech from Ayn Rand’s 1943 The Fountainhead.
Posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago at 7:49 pm. Add a comment
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
But what if you’re a masochist? As a masochist, you would have people beat and humiliate you. So …
Or you have a troublesome colleague, and on some days you just wish someone would smack some sense into him. So you go around smacking sense into others’ troublesome colleagues.
A heuristic like the Golden Rule helps to concretize abstract moral principles by personalizing them. But how well the personalizing works depends on whether the person is already morally healthy. And for that, one needs ahead of time principles by which to judge moral health.
The abstract principles are, for example: Deal with others justly. Treat people with civility. It is cognitively helpful to imagine how one would feel if one were dealt with unjustly or uncivilly and, consequently, to understand how others would feel if dealt with that way. Golden rules are useful guides to going through that process. But the validity of the abstract principles depends on their actually being good for you and others, not on how they make you feel.
In philosophy-speak: Moral principles should be based on objective value, not subjective feeling; and while principles should be personalizable, they should not turn on whatever character a person happens to have.
Source: Matthew 7:12.
Posted 7 months, 2 weeks ago at 8:49 am. Add a comment
Mao Zedong on the ethical requirements of communism:
“A Communist should have largeness of mind and he should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests of the revolution as his very life and subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution; always and everywhere he should adhere to principle and wage a tireless struggle against all incorrect ideas and actions, so as to consolidate the collective life of the Party and strengthen the ties between the Party and the masses; he should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about any private person, and more concerned about others than about himself. Only thus can he be considered a Communist.”
Selflessness: “subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution.”
Altruism: “more concerned about others than about himself.”
Collectivism: “struggle … so as to consolidate the collective life of the Party.”
Socialists of all stripes become so and remain so not because they believe that socialism is practical but because they believe it is moral. And their moral theory is anti-egoist and anti-individualist, which is why socialists have so comfortable with squashing egos and sacrificing individuals.
The socialist ethical theory is is why, for example, Friedrich Engels will grant that liberal capitalism has good practical consequences but he will never grant that it is moral.
And this is why apologists such as Eric Hobsbawm can recognize the horrible practical consequences of socialism but still justify it as an ideal.
It’s socialism’s ethic that has to be rooted out. Socialism is not an impractical ideal — it’s an impractical immorality.
 Mao Zedong, “Combat Liberalism” (September 7, 1937), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 33. Online here.
Friedrich Engels against liberal peace.
Eric Hobsbawm is dead.
“The Crisis of Socialism” [pdf]. Chapter 5 of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.
Jane Addams and the progressive mindset.
Posted 7 months, 2 weeks ago at 12:14 pm. Add a comment