Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A repeat, from June, 2003. A little rough.
If we assume that economic relations are the primary means and end of social activity it makes sense to regulate such activity. And when we regulate the private sphere, when we say that private social organizations must be nondiscriminatory if they have some impact on the public, the effect is to weaken, in the name of economic liberty and forced civility, the ideal of the private sphere itself. What begins with a critique of economic relations as based on the inequality of specific non economically defined subgroups becomes a defense of the economic relations as a determinant of social function.

I'll do this quickly, since what I am going to say is something I've been writing about for 20 years, and I'm not in the mood to go into it much. One of the mistakes in the academic left critique of culture is to confuse the result of an activity with its justification. Southern slave holders did not maintain their economy in order to keep slaves, they maintained a culture and a social order by means of slavery. The rich and powerful do not exist in order to keep the poor at the bottom of the heap, poverty is merely the result. The rich mostly think about money and golf. Men are not sexist because the spend all day finding ways to maintain sexual and political superiority over women, though that is the result of their actions. In all these cases the interest is in social, and in some but not all cases financial, continuity. The reaction as such of the powerful, in the form of conscious attempts to maintain the status quo, comes only as a result of pressure from below.

So what should become the defining logic of that pressure? What form does its argument take? For the victims of a social order, or more specifically the intellectuals who flock to their cause, it's logical to see what they want as what the powerful take for granted; it's logical to see economics as the prime mover. Marx saw that, but saw also that economics per se was the means to an end, even for the powerful. Marx had the advantage of being a 19th century humanist, and he understood that economics and culture were, or had been, two different things, but that capitalism was in the process of making them one and the same. He hoped that in the long run, after a revolutionary transformation, economic considerations would fade in importance. That hasn't happened, and liberals and economic conservatives are continuing the process of consolidation of all social activity under the rule of 'competition' and the public market.

As the market expands and inner life, both private and collective, becomes assimilated to it, regional and folk traditions, from Sam Heldman's fiddle music to the small town provincialism that created and supported it, are being ground to dust. Any attempt to create a justification for existence that is not bound by the market is redefined as mere metaphysical indulgence useful only as entertainment and of no philosophical importance. And those who fight against this reduction of life to mechanical processes as often as not fall into the trap, and end up defending 'spirituality' or some other such absurd or shallow construct as an alternative, as if religion were ever more than a metonym for society itself, for rules of collective activity, of language and community. Gods in fact serve only one purpose, that of rhetorical devices used to hold communities together. To use myths to defend against the logic of the market is to use magic to defend yourself from bullets. The only defense against instrumental reason is the argument for of and about democracy itself. The defense of democracy, as a defense of indecision and therefore of curiosity, is a defense of the ability to choose one's fate. My defense of the rule of law is a defense of process as opposed to outcomes. To say that the market should precede all, as Posner apparently does, is to limit both curiosity and freedom in the name of greed.

My defense of the rule of law as a self sustaining rhetoric, as an epistemology of doubt, has all the hallmarks of those things which the religious defend, without the requirement of metaphysics. It's logical and rational and yet is not, in fact can never be, programmatic. After all, it's a defense of argument not victory. It's simple: any practicing lawyer who enjoys his job will understand its basis. And it's the description of an order built not on greed but on its opposite. If you move the notion of economic freedom from the central position to the periphery, as many societies have found ways to do, it's amazing how easy it is to resolve many of the conflicts that arise. But modern liberalism, no less than modern conservatism, puts economic man at the center of the universe, and yet claims to speak for something else, without explaining what it is. The least I can do is ask once again for someone who believes in this something to tell us what it is.

This post will go the way of all the others, which is fine. They all began with an article on anti-narrative and modernist esthetics. "Modernism Parody and the Denial of Narrative," retitled "Parody and Privacy" and mangled by the editor, was published in ARTS in 1987. A longer piece, "Modern Esthetics and Social Ideology" has never seen the light of day. Be that as it may, I'm not humble. These last few posts on law and ideology, together with a few others I've put up over the past year, notwithstanding grammatical errors and mistakes in terminology, are among the best things that any of you have ever read on the subjects. 

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