Chapter 6 - Justice — Equal and Exact


People :

Author : Murray Bookchin

Text :

6. Justice — Equal and Exact

The notion of "freedom" does not seem to exist in organic society. As we saw earlier, the word is simply meaningless to many preliterate peoples. Lacking any institutionalized structure of domination, they have no way of defining a condition that is still intrinsically part of their social lives — a condition into which they grow without the elaborate hierarchical and later class structures of the late Neolithic and of "civilization." As "freedom" and "domination" are not in tension with each other, they lack contrast and definition.

But the very lack of distinction between "freedom" and "domination" leaves organic society unguarded against hierarchy and class rule. Innocence exposes the community to manipulation on the most elementary levels of social experience. The elders, shamans, later the patriarchs, priestly corporations, and warrior chieftains, who are to corrode organic society, need only produce shifts in emphasis from the particular to the general — from specific animals to their spirits; from zoomorphic to anthropomorphic deities; from usufruct to communal property; from demonic treasure to kingly storehouses; from gifts to commodities; finally, from mere barter to elaborate marketplaces.

History may have been bloody and its destiny may be a universal tragedy with heroic efforts and lost possibilities punctuating its long career. But a body of hopeless ideals and a meaningless movement of events it was not. With the loss of innocence appeared new concepts that were to have a highly equivocal effect on social development, a certain ideological armoring, a growth of intellectual powers, an increasing degree of individuality, personal autonomy, and a sense of a universal humanitas as distinguished from folk parochialism. To be expelled from the Garden of Eden can be regarded, as Hegel was to say, as an important condition for its return — but on a level that is informed with a sophistication that can resolve the paradoxes of paradise.

The universalization of ideas acquires its most beguiling intellectual form in the ever-expansive meaning people give to freedom. Once unfreedom emerges to yield the notion of freedom, the notion acquires a remarkable logic of its own that produces, in its various byways and differentia, a richly articulated body of issues and formulations — a veritable garden from which we can learn and from which we can pluck what we want to make an attractive bouquet. From the loss of a society that was once free comes the vision of an admittedly embellished, often extravagantly fanciful golden age — one that may contain norms even more liberatory in their universality than those which existed in organic society. From a "backward-looking" utopianism, commonly based on the image of a bountiful nature and unfettered consumption arises a "forward-looking" utopianism based on the image of a bountiful economy and unfettered production. Between these two extremes, religious and anarchic movements develop a more balanced, although equally generous, vision of utopia that combines sharing with self-discipline, freedom with coordination, and joy with responsibility.

Almost concomitantly with this utopian development, largely "underground" in nature, we witness the open emergence of justice — first, as a surrogate for the freedom that is lost with the decline of organic society, later as the ineffable protagonist of new conceptions of freedom. With justice, we hear the claims of the individual and the ideal of a universal humanity voice their opposition to the limits imposed on personality and society by the folk collective. But freedom, too, will divide and oppose itself as mere "happiness" (Marx) and extravagant "pleasure" (Fourier) — as we shall see in the chapters that follow. So, too, will labor — conceived as the indispensable toil in which every society is anchored or as the free release of human powers and consociation even in the realm of demanding work.

Coherence requires that we try to bring these various components of the legacy of freedom together. Coherence also requires that we try to interlink our project with nature to impart rationality not only to social but also to natural history. We must explore the values, sensibilities, and technics that harmonize our relationship with nature as well as ourselves. Coherence finally requires that we try to bring together the threads of these shared histories — natural and social — into a whole that unites differentia into a meaningful ensemble, one that also removes hierarchy from our sense of meaning and releases spontaneity as an informed and creative nisus.

But a strong caveat must here be raised: ideas, values, and institutions are not mere commodities on the shelves of an ideological supermarket; we cannot promiscuously drop them into shopping carts like processed goods. The context we form from ideas, the ways we relate them, and the meanings we impart to them are as important as the components and sources from which our "whole" is composed. Perhaps it is true, as the world of Schiller seemed to believe, that the Greeks said everything. But if so, each thinker and practitioner said it in very specific ways, often rooted in very limited social conditions and for very different purposes. We can never return to the setting in which these ideas were formed — nor should we try. It is enough that we understand the differences between earlier times and our own, earlier ideas and our own. Ultimately, we must create our own context for ideas, if they are to become relevant to the present and future. And we must discern the older contexts from which they emerged — all the more not to repeat them. To put it quite bluntly, freedom has no "founding fathers," only free thinkers and practitioners. If it had such "fathers," it would also be direly in need of morticians to inter it, for that which is "founded" must always answer to the claims of mortality.

Freedom, conceived as a cluster of ideals and practices, has a very convoluted history, and a large part of this history has simply been unconscious. It has consisted of unstated customs and humanistic impulses that were not articulated in any systematic fashion until they were violated by unfreedom. When the word freedom did come into common usage, its meaning was often consciously confused. For centuries, freedom was identified with justice, morality, and the various perquisites of rule like "free time," or else it was associated with "liberty" as a body of individual, often egoistic, rights. It acquired the traits of property and duties, and was variously cast in negative or positive terms such as "freedom from . . ." or "freedom for . . . ."

Not until the Middle Ages did this Teutonic word (as we know it) begin to include such metaphysical niceties as freedom from the realm of necessity or freedom from the fortunes of fate, the Ananke and Moira that the Greeks added to its elucidation. The twentieth century has made a mockery of the word and divested it of much of its idealistic content by attaching it to totalitarian ideologies and countries. Thus, to merely "define" so maimed and tortured a word would be utterly naive. To a large extent, freedom can best be explicated as part of a voyage of discovery that begins with its early practice — and limits — in organic society, its negation by hierarchical and class "civilizations," and its partial realization in early notions of justice.

Freedom, an unstated reality in many preliterate cultures, was still burdened by constraints, but these constraints were closely related to the early community's material conditions of life. It is impossible to quarrel with famine, with the need for coordinating the hunt of large game, with seasonal requirements for food cultivation, and later, with warfare. To violate the Crow hunting regulations was to endanger every hunter and possibly place the welfare of the entire community in jeopardy. If the violations were serious enough, the violator would be beaten so severely that he might very well not survive. The mild-mannered Eskimo would grimly but collectively select an assassin to kill an unmanageable individual who gravely threatened the well-being of the band. But the virtually unbridled "individualism" so characteristic of power brokers in modern society was simply unthinkable in preliterate societies. Were it even conceivable, it would have been totally unacceptable to the community. Constraint, normally guided by public opinion, custom, and shame, was inevitable in the early social development of humanity — not as a matter of will, authority, or the exercise of power, but because H was unavoidable.

Personal freedom is thus clearly restricted from a modern viewpoint. Choice, will, and individual proclivities could be exercised or expressed within confines permitted by the environment. Under benign circumstances, behavior might enjoy an extraordinary degree of latitude until it was restricted by the emergence of blatant social domination. But where domination did appear, it was a thankless phenomenon which, more often than not, yielded very little of that much-revered western shibboleth, "dynamism," in the social development of a community. Polynesia, with its superb climate and rich natural largesse of produce, was never the better for the emergence of hierarchy, and its way of life was brought to the edge of sheer catastrophe by European colonizers. "Where nature is too lavish, she keeps [man] in hand, like a child in leading strings," Marx was to disdainfully observe of cultures in benign environments that were often more devoted to internal elaboration than "social progress." "It is not the tropics with their luxuriant vegetation, but the temperate zone, that is the mother country of capital."

But organic society, despite the physical limitations it faced (from a modern viewpoint), nevertheless functioned unconsciously with an implicit commitment to freedom that social theorists were not to attain until fairly recent times. Radin's concept of the irreducible minimum rests on an unarticulated principle of freedom. To be assured of the material means of life irrespective of one's productive contribution to the community implies that, wherever possible, society will compensate for the infirmities of the ill, handicapped, and old, just as it will for the limited powers of the very young and their dependency on adults. Even though their productive powers are limited or failing, people will not be denied the means of life that are available to individuals who are well-endowed physically and mentally. Indeed, even individuals who are perfectly capable of meeting all their material needs cannot be denied access to the community's common produce, although deliberate shirkers in organic society are virtually unknown. The principle of the irreducible minimum thus affirms the existence of inequality within the group — inequality of physical and mental powers, of skills and virtuosity, of psyches and proclivities. It does so not to ignore these inequalities or denigrate them, but on the contrary, to compensate for them. Equity, here, is the recognition of inequities that are not the fault of anyone and that must be adjusted as a matter of unspoken social responsibility. To assume that everyone is "equal" is patently preposterous if they are regarded as "equal" in strength, intellect, training, experience, talent, disposition, and opportunities. Such "equality" scoffs at reality and denies the commonality and solidarity of the community by subverting its responsibilities to compensate for differences between individuals. It is a heartless "equality," a mean-spirited one that is simply alien to the very nature of organic society. As long as the means exist, they must be shared as much as possible according to needs — and needs are unequal insofar as they are gauged according to individual abilities and responsibilities.

Hence, organic society tends to operate unconsciously according to the equality of unequals — that is, a freely given, unreflective form of social behavior and distribution that compensates inequalities and does not yield to the fictive claim, yet to be articulated, that everyone is equal. Marx was to put this well when, in opposition to "bourgeois right" with its claim of the "equality of all," freedom abandons the very notion of "right" as such and "inscribes on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Equality is inextricably tied to freedom as the recognition of inequality and transcends necessity by establishing a culture and distributive system based on compensation for the stigma of natural "privilege."

The subversion of organic society drastically undermined this principle of authentic freedom. Compensation was restructured into rewards, just as gifts were replaced by commodities. Cuneiform writing, the basis of our alphabetic script, had its origins in the meticulous records the temple clerks kept of products received and products dispersed, in short, the precise accounting of goods, possibly even when the land was "communally owned" and worked in Mesopotamia. Only afterwards were these ticks on clay tablets to become narrative forms of script. The early cuneiform accounting records of the Near East prefigure the moral literature of a less giving and more despotic world in which the equality of unequals was to give way to mere charity. Thereafter "right" was to supplant freedom. No longer was it the primary responsibility for society to care for its young, elderly, infirm, or unfortunates; their care became a "private matter" for family and friends — albeit very slowly and through various subtly shaded phases. On the village level, to be sure, the old customs still lingered on in their own shadowy world, but this world was not part of "civilization" — merely an indispensable but concealed archaism.

With the corning of the warriors and their manorial economy, a new social disposition arose: the warrior code of might. But mere coercion alone could not have created the relatively stable society, largely feudal in structure and values, that is described for us in such detail by the Homeric poets. Rather, it was the ethos of coercion — the mystification of courage, physical prowess, and a "healthy" lust for combat and adventure. It was not might as such but the belief in the status, indeed, the mana, that might conferred on the individual that led to an ideology of coercion, which the victor and his victim mutually acknowledged and celebrated. Accordingly, fortune itself — a derivative of the goddess of chance Tyche (Greek), or Fortuna (Latin) — acquired the form of a metaphysical principle. Very few expressions, possibly incantations, are older than the "casting of the die" and the "fortunes of war." Tyche and Fortuna now emerged as the distinct correlates of bronze-age warrior athleticism.

These bronze-age societies were clearly class societies, and wealth in the form of booty garnered by raids abroad and surpluses at home figured profoundly in their notions of fortune. "The world of Agamemnon and Achilles and Odysseus was one of petty kings and nobles," observes M. I. Finley, "who possessed the best land and considerable flocks, and lived a seignorial existence, in which raids and local wars were frequent." Power and social activity centered around the noble's household, which was in fact a fortress. Power in this society "depended upon wealth, personal prowess, connections by marriage and alliance, and retainers." Wealth was indeed a crucial factor: its accumulation and acquisition determined the capacity of a noble to acquire retainers, who were often little less than mercenaries, to acquire arms, and to wage war. Marriage was less an instrument of clan alliances than of dynastic power; the Homeric noble acquired land and wealth, not merely kinsmen, with a favorable match. In fact, the "alliances" he established were marked by a great deal of treachery and faithlessness, features that are characteristic of a political society rather than a tribal one. Tribal society was clearly waning:

There is no role assigned to tribes or other large kinship groups. In the twenty years Odysseus was away from Ithaca, the nobles [suitors of Penelope, Odysseus' wife] behaved scandalously toward his family and his possessions; yet his son Telemachus had no body of kinsmen to whom to turn for help, nor was the community fully integrated. Telemachus' claims as Odysseus' heir were acknowledged in principle, but he lacked the [material and physical] power to enforce them. The assassination of Agamemnon by his wife Clytaemnestra and her paramour Egis thus placed an obligation of vengeance on his son Orestes, but otherwise life in Mycenae went on unchanged, except that Aegisthus ruled in Agamemnon's place.

Apparently, these dynastic quarrels, assassinations, and usurpations were not of special concern to the "masses," who lived an unchronicled inner life in their obscure communities. They simply went about their own business, working their own parcels of land or the "best land" explicitly owned by the nobles. They herded the nobles' "considerable flocks." As a class apart, theirs was also an interest apart. Nowhere in the Homeric narratives do they seem to have intervened in the conflicts of the heroes. So considerably weakened were the powers of the democratic tribal institutions and so extensively had kinship ties been replaced by territorial ties and class relationships that when Telemachus pleaded his case against the suitors to the assembly of Ithaca, the assembly "took no action, which is what the assembly always did in the two [Homeric] poems." Homer's nobles, to be sure, still lived by an aristocratic code of honor, "including table fellowship, gift-exchange, sacrifice to the gods and appropriate burial rites," but this aristocratic code and its obvious roots in early society were now continually violated by greed, acquisitiveness, and egotism.

The nobles of the Odyssey were an exploitative class — not only materially but psychologically, not only objectively but subjectively. The analysis of Odysseus (developed by Horkheimer and Adorno) as the nascent bourgeois man is unerring in its ruthless clarity and dialectical insight. Artifice, trickery, cunning, deception, debasement in the pursuit of gain — all marked the new "discipline" that the emerging rulers imposed on themselves to discipline and rule their anonymous underlings. "To be called a merchant was a grave insult to Odysseus," Finley observes; "men of his class exchanged goods ceremoniously or they took it by plunder." Thus was the primordial code of behavior honored formally. But "valor" became the excuse for plunder, which turned into the aristocratic mode of "trade." Honor had in fact acquired its commodity equivalent. Preceding the prosaic merchant with goods and gold in hand was the colorful hero with shield and sword.

Indeed, the commodity continued to make its pedestrian way against all codes. In Homeric times there is "seafaring and a vital concern for trade, more exactly for the import of copper, iron, gold and silver, fine cloths and other luxuries," notes Finley. "Even chieftains are permitted to go on expeditions for such purposes, but generally trade and merchandizing seem to be the business of foreigners." Thus is status adorned, affirmed, and its appetite for accouterments and luxuries (the material substance of privilege) satisfied by the statusless.

Here, we witness a radically new social dispensation. When chieftains, however few in number, are prepared to intermingle with foreigners, indeed pedestrian traders, and truck with them, even the warrior code is in the balance. Might as right can no longer enjoy its high prestige in society's distribution of goods. A new ethos had to emerge if the integrity of trade and the security of traders was to be preserved and port cities were to become viable commercial centers. Piracy and looting could only be episodic: their rewards were indeed the mere bounty and spoils of war. And the nobles of bronze-age Greece were by no means ossified creatures of custom and tradition. Like their peers in England, millennia later (as the enclosure movements of the fifteenth century onward were to show), they were governed by naked self-interest and by an increasing desire for the better things of life.

The new code that was now to supplant valor and coercion also had a very old pedigree, notably in a reciprocity that had become standardized and lost its "accidental form" (to use Marx's terminology) as a mode of exchange; indeed, one that was built on a clear and codifiable notion of equivalents. The notion of equivalence, as distinguished from usufruct, the irreducible minimum, and the equality of unequals, was not without its cosmic grandeur in the literal sense of a formal, quantifiable, even geometric order. Tyche and Fortuna are too irascible to support the spirit of calculation, foresight, and rationality required by systematic commerce. Chance is in the "lap of the gods," and in Homeric Greece, these deities were hardly the most stable and predictable of cosmic agents. Until capitalism completed its hold on social life, merchants were the pariahs of society. Their insecurities were the most conspicuous neuroses of antiquity and the medieval world, hence their need for power was not merely a lust but a compelling necessity. Despised by all, disdained even by the ancient lowly, they had to find firm and stable coordinates by which to fix their destinies in a precarious world. Whether as chieftain or as statusless trader, he who would venture on the stormy waves of commerce needed more than Tyche or Fortuna by which to navigate.

The new code that edged its way into those preceding it picked up the principle of an exact, quantifiable equivalence from advanced forms of reciprocity, but without absorbing their sense of service and solidarity. Might was brought to the support of fair-dealings and contract, not merely to violent acquisition and plunder. The cosmic nature of equivalence could be validated by the most dramatic features of life. "Heaven and hell . . . hang together," declare Horkheimer and Adorno — and not merely in the commerce of the Olympian gods with the chtonic deities, of good with evil, of salvation with disaster, of subject with object. Indeed, equivalence is as ancient as the very notions of heaven and hell, and is to have its own involuted dialectic as the substitution of Dike for Tyche and Justitia for Fortuna.

In the heroic age that celebrated Odysseus' long journey from Troy to Ithaca, men still traced equivalence back to its "natural" origins:

Just as the Gemini — the constellation of Caster and Pollux — and all other symbols of duality refer to the inevitable cycle of nature, which itself has its ancient sign in the symbol of the egg from which they came, so the balance held by Zeus, which symbolizes the justice of the entire patriarchal world, refers back to mere nature. The step from chaos to civilization, in which natural conditions exert their power no longer directly but through the medium of human consciousness, has not changed the principle of equivalence. Indeed, men paid for this very step by worshiping what they were once in thrall to only in the same way as all other creatures. Before, the fetishes were subject to the law of equivalence. Now equivalence has itself become a fetish. The blindfold over Justitia's eyes does not only mean that there should be no assault upon justice, but that justice does not result in freedom."[34]

Justitia, in fact, presides over a new ideological dispensation of equality. Not only is she blindfolded; she also holds a scale by which to measure exchange fairly — "equal and exact." Guilt and innocence are juridical surrogates for the equitable allotments of things that appear in the marketplace. Indeed, all scales can ever do is to reduce qualitative differences to quantitative ones. Accordingly, everyone must be equal before Justitia; her blindfold prevents her from drawing any distinctions between her supplicants. But persons are very different indeed, as the primordial equality of unequals had recognized. Justitia's rule of equality — of equivalence — thus completely reverses the old principle. Inasmuch as all are theoretically "equal" in her unseeing eyes, although often grossly unequal in fact, she turns the equality of unequals into the inequality of equals. The ancient words are all there, but like the many changes in emphasis that placed the imprint of domination on traditional values and sensibilities, they undergo a seemingly minor shift.

Accordingly, the rule of equivalence, as symbolized by the scales in Justitia's hand, calls for balance, not compensation. The blindfold prevents her from making any changes of measure due to differences among her supplicants. Her specious "equality" thus yields a very real inequality. To be right is to be "just" or "straight," and both, in turn, negate equality on its own terms. Her "just" or "straight" judgment yields a very unbalanced and crooked disposition that will remain concealed to much of humanity for thousands of years — even as the oppressed invoke her name as their guardian and guide.

Rarely has it been possible to distinguish the cry for Justice with its inequality of equals from the cry for Freedom with its equality of unequals. Every ideal of emancipation has been tainted by this confusion, which still lives oh in the literature of the oppressed. Usufruct has been confused with public property, direct democracy with representative democracy, individual competence with populist elites, the irreducible minimum with equal opportunity. The demand of the oppressed for equality acquires, as Engels put it, "a double meaning." In one instance, it is the "spontaneous reaction against the social inequalities, against the contrast of rich and poor . . . surfeit and starvation; as such it is the expression of the revolutionary instinct and finds its justification in that, and indeed only in that." In the other instance, the demand for equality becomes a reaction against justice as the rule of "equivalence" (which Engels sees simply as the "bourgeois demand for equality"), and "in this case it stands and falls with bourgeois equality itself." Engels goes on to emphasize that the demand of the oppressed for equality ("the proletarian demand for equality") is "the demand for the abolition of classes." But more than the abolition of classes is involved in freedom. In more general terms, "the proletarian demand for equality" is a demand for the "injustice" of an egalitarian society. It rejects the rule of equivalence for the irreducible minimum, the equalization by compensation of inescapable inequalities, in short, the equality of unequals. This demand has been repeatedly thrown out of focus, often for centuries at a time, by stormy battles for Justice, for the rule of equivalence.

The realm of justice, however, also prepares the ground for freedom by removing the archaisms that linger on from the folk world of equality. Primordial freedom with its rule of the irreducible minimum and its equality of unequals was strikingly parochial. Aside from its lavish code of hospitality, organic society made no real provisions for the rights of the stranger, the outsider, who was not linked by marriage or ritual to the kin group. The larger world beyond the perimeter of "The People" was "inorganic," to use Marx's appropriate term. Loyalties extended in varying degrees of obligation to those who shared the common blood oath of the community and to allies united by material systems of gift reciprocity. The notion of a humanity in which all human beings are considered united by a common genesis was still largely alien. Primordial peoples may be inquisitive, shy, or cordial toward strangers — or they may kill them for the most whimsical reasons. But they owe the stranger no obligation and are bound by no code that requires respect or security for the unpredictable new being that is in their midst — hence, the unpredictability of their own behavior. Even Hellenic society, despite its high claims to rationality, did not advance to a point where the resident alien enjoyed authentic social, much less political, rights beyond the security and protection the polis owed to everyone who lived within its precincts. For much of the ancient world, this dubious status of the stranger was a distinctly widespread condition, despite the crucial services such aliens performed for the community and its citizens.

Breaking the barriers raised by primordial and archaic parochialism was the work of Justitia and the rule of equivalence. And far from constituting an authentic "break," the changes came very slowly. Nor were these changes the work of abstract theorists or the fruits of an intellectual awakening. The agents for the new juridical disposition in the rights of city dwellers were the strangers, who often serviced the city with craft or commercial skills. They were helped by the oppressed generally, who could hope to escape the whimsies and insults of arbitrary rule only by inscribing their rights and duties in an inviolable, codified form. Justitia, Dike, or whatever name she acquires in the "civilizations" of antiquity, is in large part the goddess of the social and ethnic outsider. Her rule of equivalence honors the plea for equity, which must be clearly defined in a written legal code if her scale and sword can redress the inequities that the "outsider" and the oppressed suffer under arbitrary rule. Thus, Justitia must be armed not only with a sword but with the "legal tablets" that unequivocally define rights and duties, security and safety, rewards and punishments.

The earliest of these legal tablets, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1790 B.C.), still contains distinct class biases and the instrumentalities of class oppression. Like the Mosaic lex talionis, the rule of equivalence is enforced with all the fury of class vengeance. The price for social infractions is paid with eyes, ears, limbs, and tongues, not to speak of life itself. But the Code does not try to conceal the "unequal" class nature of this vengeance: nobles get the better of commoners, men of women, and freemen of slaves. Here, the appropriation of primordial society's equality of "unequals," however perverted its form, still claims its penalty. But the Code also weights privilege with a greater burden of social responsibility. Although the nobles of Hammurabi's time "possessed a great many perquisites of rank," as Howard Becker and Harry Elmer Barnes tell us, "including the right to exact heavily disproportionate retaliation for personal injuries . . . [they] could also be more severely punished for their offenses and, guilty or not, had higher fees to pay."

The later codes were to free themselves from most of these inequitable "archaisms." From the eighth century B.C. onward, we can observe in Hebrew Palestine and in Greece a steady unfolding of the dialectic of justice: the slow transformation of organic society's equality of unequals into class society's inequality of equals. The Mosaic lex talionis was fully established as the law of the land, despite such token concessions to the poor in the Deuteronomic Code as mortgage restrictions, the release every seventh year of Hebrew bondsmen from debt slavery, and the hallowing of the fiftieth year as a "jubilee" in which everyone reacquires their possessions. Like the injunction in Leviticus that every debt slave be treated as a "hired servant and as a sojourner," these gestures were largely symbolic. Debt slavery alone, with its humiliating status of craven service, violated the very soul of the ancient desert democracy — the "Bedouin compact" — around which the Hebrew tribes were united during their invasion of Canaan. That it could have entered into the juridical life of the community at all was a cruel acknowledgment of the compact's dissolution.

In Athens, the reforms initiated by Solon opened the way to juridical equality based on political equality, or what has been called Hellenic democracy. Justice now openly functioned as the rule of equivalence, the rule of commodity equivalence, which produced new classes and inequities in personal power and wealth even as it guarded the demos, the people of Athenian ancestry, from the exercise of arbitrary social power. Yet within the framework of a society presumably governed by law instead of persons, it was only the demos that had complete custody of the political system. Perikles' funeral oration may mark a secular and rational ascent in the direction of recognizing the existence of a humanitas, but it provides us with no reason to believe that the "barbarian" world and, by definition, the "outsider," were on a par with the Hellene and, juridically, the ancestral Athenian.

In fact, Athenian alien residents not only lacked the right to participate in assemblies like the Ecclesia and the Boule or in the jury system; they had no explicit juridical rights of their own beyond the security of their property and lives. As we know, they could buy no land in the polis. Even more strikingly, they had no direct recourse to the judicial system. Their cases could only be pleaded by citizens in Athenian courts. That their rights were thoroughly respected by the polis may speak well for its ethical standards, but it also attests to the exclusivity of the ruling elite whose intentions, rather than laws, were the guarantors of the alien's rights.

Aristotle, an alien resident of Athens, does not equivocate on the superiority of the Hellenes over all other peoples. In citing the failure of the highly spirited "barbarians" of the north to organize into poleis that could "rule their neighbors," he reveals the extent to which he, together with Plato, identified the polis with social domination. Moreover, he rooted the capacity of the Hellenes to form poleis, to "be free," and to be "capable of ruling all mankind" in their ethnic origins and their existence as the Hellenic genos.[36] Blood, as well as geography, confers the capacity to rule. Aristotle sees the Hellenes as diversified such that "some have a one-sided nature" and "others are happily blended" in spiritedness and intelligence. But to him the ability to form poleis, to "rule," is a "natural quality" that allows for no social qualifications.

The formal disappearance of the blood group into a universal humanitas that sees a common genesis for every free individual was not to receive juridical recognition until late in antiquity, when the Emperor Caracalla conferred citizenship on the entire nonslave male population of the Roman Empire. It may well be that Caracalla was as eager to enlarge the tax base of the Empire as he was to prop up its sagging sense of commonality. But the act was historically unprecedented. For the first time in humanity's evolution from animality to society, an immense population of highly disparate strangers ranging throughout the Mediterranean basin were brought together under a common political rubric and granted equal access to laws that had once been the privilege of only a small ethnic group of Latins. Juridically, at least, the empire had dissolved the exclusivity of the folk, the kin group, that had already devolved from tribal egalitarianism into an aristocratic fraternity of birth. According to the strictures of late Roman law, genealogy was dissolved into meritocracy and the blood relationship into a territorial one, thereby vastly enlarging the horizons of the human political community.

Caracalla's edict on citizenship was reinforced by a growing, centuries-long evolution of Roman law away from traditional patriarchal absolutism and the legal subordination of married women to their husbands. In theory, at least, the notion of the equality of persons was very much in the air during late imperial times. By the third century A.D., Roman "natural law" — that combined body of jurisprudence variously called the ius naturale and the ius gentium — acknowledged that men were equal in nature even if they fell short of this condition in society. The departure this idea represented from Aristotle's concept of "mankind" was nothing less than monumental. Even slavery, so basic to Roman economic life, had been placed at odds with the Hellenic notion of the slave's inborn inferiority. To Roman jurists of the imperial period, servitude now derived not from the natural inferiority of the slave but, as Henry Maine has observed, "from a supposed agreement between victor and vanquished in which the first stipulated for the perpetual services of his foe; and the other gained in consideration the life which he had legitimately forfeited." Chattel slavery, in effect, was increasingly viewed as contractual slavery. Although Roman society never ceased to view the slave as more than a "talking instrument," its legal machinery for dealing with slaves was to belie this degradation by the restrictions imposed in late imperial times on the appallingly inhuman practices of the republican period.

The notion of a universal humanity would probably not have remained more than a political strategy for fiscal and ideological ends were it not for the emergence of a new credo of individuality. The word humanity is a barren abstraction if it is not given existential reality by self-assertive personalities who enjoy a visible degree of autonomy. Such beings could hardly be created by an imperial edict. To the extent that organic society declined, so too did the intense sense of collectivity it had fostered. A new context had to be created for the individual that would render it functional in an increasingly atomized world. Not that classical antiquity or the medieval world ever produced the random, isolated, socially starved monads who people modern capitalist society. But the waning of primordial society placed a high premium on a new type of individual: a resourceful, comparatively self-sufficient, and self-reliant ego that could readily adapt itself to — if not "command" — a society that was losing its human scale and developing more complex political institutions and commercial ties than any human community had known in the past.

Such individuals had always existed on the margins of the early collective. They were ordinarily given a certain degree of institutional expression if only to provide a safety valve for marked personal idiosyncracies. Tribal society has always made allowances for aberrant sexual behavior, exotic psychological traits, and personal ambition (the "big man" syndrome) — allowances that find expression in a high degree of sexual freedom, shamanistic roles, and an exaltation of courage and skill. From this marginal area, society recruited its priests and warrior-chieftains for commanding positions in later, more hierarchical institutions.

But this development is not simply one of breakdown and recomposition. It occurs on a personal level and a social level — egocentric and sociocentric. Viewed on the personal level, the individual accompanies the emergence of "civilization" like a brash, unruly child whose cries literally pierce the air of history and panic the more composed, tradition-bound collectivity that continues to exist after the decline of organic society. The ego's presence is stridently announced by the warrior, whose own "ego boundaries" are established by transgressing the boundaries of all traditional societies. The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh, for example, befriends the stranger, Enkidu, who shares his various feats as a companion, not a kinsman. Valor, rather than lineage, marks their myth-beclouded personal traits.

But misty, almost stereotyped figures like Gilgamesh seem like metaphors for individuality rather than the real thing. More clearly etched personalities like Achilles, Agamemnon, and the Homeric warriors are often cited as the best candidates for western conceptions of the newly born ego. "The model of the emerging individual is the Greek hero," observes Max Horkheimer in his fascinating discussion of the rise and decline of individuality. "Daring and self-reliant, he triumphs in the struggle for survival and emancipates himself from tradition as well as from the tribe." That these qualities of daring and self-reliance were to be prized in the Greco-Roman world is accurate enough, but it is doubtful if the model is properly placed. In fact, the most striking egos of the archaic world were not the bronze-age heroes celebrated by Homer but the iron-age antiheroes so cynically described by Archilochus. Indeed, Archilochus himself was the embodiment of this highly unique personality. He links a hidden tradition of the ego's self-assertion in organic society with the calculating individual of emerging "civilization."

Unlike a quasi-mythical despot like Gilgamesh or a newly-arrived aristocrat like Achilles, Archilochus speaks for a remarkable breed: the displaced, wandering band of mercenaries who must live by their wits and cunning. He is no Homeric hero but rather something of an armed bohemian of the seventh century B.C. His self-possession and libertarian spirit stand in marked contrast to the disciplined lifeways that are congealing around the manorial society of his day. His very existence almost seems improbable, even an affront to the heroic posture of his era. His occupation as the itinerant soldier reflects the sweeping decomposition of society; his arrogant disdain for tradition exudes the negativity of the menacing rebel. What cares he for the shield he has abandoned in battle? "Myself I saved from death; why should I worry about my shield? Let it be gone: I shall buy another equally good." Such sentiments could never have been expressed by a Homeric hero with his aristocratic code of arms and honor. Nor does Archilochus judge his commanders by their mein and status. He dislikes a "tall general, striding forth on his long legs; who prides himself on his locks, and shaves his chin like a fop. Let him be a small man," he declares, "perhaps even bow-legged, as long as he stands firm on his feet, full of heart."

Archilochus and his wandering band of companions are the earliest record we have of that long line of "masterless men" who surface repeatedly during periods of social decomposition and unrest — men, and later women, who have no roots in any community or tradition, who colonize the world's future rather than its past. Their characters are literally structured to defy custom, to satirize and shatter established mores, to play the game of life by their own rules. Marginal as they may be, they are the harbingers of the intensely individuated rebel who is destined to "turn the world upside down." They have broad shoulders, not puny neuroses, and express themselves in a wild, expletive-riddled poetry or oratory. Society must henceforth always warily step aside when they appear on the horizon and silently pray that they will pass by unnoticed by its restive commoners — or else it must simply destroy them.

But these are the few sharply etched personalities of history, the handful of marginal rebels whose significance varies with the stability of social life. Their fortunes depend upon the reception they receive by much larger, often inert, masses of people. On another, more broadly based level of history, the notion of individuality begins to percolate into these seemingly inert "masses," and their personalities are emancipated not by Archilochus and his type but by society itself, which has a need for autonomous egos who are free to undertake the varied functions of citizenship. The development of the individual on this social level, in short, is not an isolated, idiosyncratic personal phenomenon; it is a change in the temper, outlook, and destiny of millions who are to people "civilization" for centuries to come and initiate the history of the modern ego up to the present day. Just as the contemporary proletariat was first formed by severing a traditional peasantry from an archaic manorial economy, so the relatively free citizen of the classical city-state, the medieval commune, and the modern nation-state was initially formed by severing the young male from an archaic body of kinship relationships.

Like the blood oath, the patriarchal family constituted a highly cohesive moral obstacle to political authority — not because it opposed authority as such (as was the case with organic society) but rather because it formed the nexus for the authority of the father. Ironically, patriarchy represented, in its kinship claims, the most warped traits of organic society in an already distorted and changing social world.[37] Here, to put it simply, gerontocracy is writ large. It answers not to the needs of the organic society's principle of sharing and solidarity but to the needs of the oldest among the elders. No system of age hierarchy has a more overbearing content, a more repressive mode of operation. In the earliest form of the patriarchal family, as we have seen, the patriarch was answerable to no one for the rule he exercised over the members of his family. He was the incarnation, perhaps the historical source, of arbitrary power, of domination that could be sanctioned by no principle, moral or ethical, other than tradition and the ideological tricks provided by the shaman. Like Yahweh, he was the primal "I" in a community based on the "we." To a certain extent, this implosion of individuation into a single being, almost archetypal in nature, is a portent of widespread individuality and egotism, but in a form so warped that it was to become the quasi-magical personification of Will before a multitude of individual wills were to appear.

Justice slowly transformed the patriarch's status, first by turning the feared father into the righteous father, just as it transformed Yahweh from a domineering, jealous God into a just God. Patriarchy, in effect, ceased to be mere arbitrary authority. It became juridical authority that was answerable to certain precepts of right and wrong. By turning the crude, warrior morality of "might is right" into the rule of equivalence and the lex talionis of equity, justice produced the transition from mere arbitrary coercion to coercion that must be justified. Coercion now had to be explained according to concepts of equity and inequity, right and wrong. Justice, in effect, provided the transition from arbitrary and even supernatural power to juridical power. From a tyrant, the patriarch became a judge and relied on guilt, not merely fear, to assert his authority.

This transformation of the patriarch's status occurred as a result of genuine tensions in the objective world. The elaboration of hierarchy, the development of incipient classes, and the early appearance of the city and State combined as social forces to invade the family and stake out a secular claim on the role of the patriarch in the socialization and destiny of the young. Organized religions, too, staked out their own claim. Women were largely excluded from this process of secularization and politicization; they remained the chattels of the male community. But the young men were increasingly called upon to take on social responsibilities as soldiers, citizens, bureaucrats, craftsmen, food cultivators — in short, a host of duties that could no longer be restricted by familial forms.

As society shifted still further from kinship to territorial forms, from broadly hierarchical to specifically class and political forms, the nature of patriarchy continued to change. Although patriarchy retained many of its coercive and juridical traits, it became increasingly a mode of rational authority. Young men were granted their birthright as citizens. No longer were they merely sons; the father was obliged to guide his family according to the ways of reason. He was not simply the just father, but also the wise father. In varying degrees, conditions now emerged for devaluing the patriarchal clan-family and for its substitution by the patricentric nuclear family, the realm of a highly privatized monogamous relationship between two parents and their offspring. Under the egis of justice, the State acquired increasing control over the highly insulated domestic world-initially, by dissolving the internal forces that held the patriarchal family together with its own juridical claims. [38]

The dissolution of the all-encompassing patriarchal "I" into fairly sovereign individuals with "egoboundaries" of their own gained greater impetus with the expansion of the polis into the cosmopolis — with the small, self-enclosed "city-state" into the large, open "world city" of the Hellenistic era. With the growing role of the stranger as craftsman, trader, and sea-faring merchant, the notion of the demos united by blood and ethical ties into a supreme collective entity gave way to the claims of the individual. Now, not merely citizenship but the private interests of the wayfaring ego, partly shaped by the problems of economic interest, became the goals of individuality. The cosmopolis is a tremendous commercial emporium and, for its time, a merchant's playground. We can closely trace the individual's fortunes from the kinship group and from the enclave of the patriarch, into the "city-state," particularly the Athenian polis, where individuality assumes richly articulated civic qualities and a vibrant commitment to political competence. From the "brother" or "sister" of organic society, the individual is transformed into the "citizen" of political society, notably the small civic fraternity.[39]

But as the civic fraternity expands in scope beyond a humanly comprehensible scale, the ego does not disappear; it acquires highly privatized, often neurotic, traits that center around the problems of a new inwardness. It retreats into the depths of subjectivity and self-preoccupation. The cosmopolis does not offer the social rewards of the polis — a highly charged civicism, an emphasis on the ethical union of competent. citizens, or firm bonds of solidarity or philia.

Nor does it offer a new sense of community. Hence, the ego must fall back on itself, almost cannibalistically as we shall see in our own era, to find a sense of meaning in the universe. Epicurus, the privatized philosopher of retreat par excellence, offers it a garden in which to cultivate its thoughts and tastes — with a wall, to be sure, to block it off from the bustle of a social world it can no longer control. Indeed, the State itself takes its revenge on the very insolent creature it helps to create: the "world citizen," who is now helpless under the overbearing power of a centralized imperial apparatus and its bureaucratic minions.

Nevertheless, the ego requires more than a place, however well-cultivated, in which to find its bearings. Divested of its niche in the polis, it must find a new niche in the cosmopolis — or, as any cosmopolis literally suggests, in the kosmos. Humanitas now becomes a kosmos, a new principle for ordering experience; and the "city-state," like the folk world before it, becomes an object of ideological derision. Initially, this derisive outlook takes the form of the politically quietistic philosophy of Stoicism that the educated classes embrace in late antiquity.

The Stoics, whose ideas were to nourish the Christian clergy for centuries to come, brought the fruits of justice — the individuated ego and the ideal of "universal citizenship" — into convergence with each other during the age of the cosmopolis and Empire. Epictetus, whose writings appeared during one of the most stable periods of the Imperial Age, radically clears the ground for this new, rather modern, type of ego. From the outset, he harshly derides the polis's sense of exclusivity as atavistic:

Plainly you call yourself Athenian or Corinthian after that more sovereign realm which includes not only the very spot where you were born, and all your household, but also that region from which the race of your forebears has come down to you.

But this is patently absurd, he declares, and shallow:

When a man has learned to understand the government of the universe and has realized that there is nothing so great or sovereign or all-inclusive as this frame of things wherein men and God are united, and that from it comes the seeds from which are sprung not only my father or grandfather, but all things that are begotten and that grow upon the earth, and rational creatures in particular — for these alone are by nature fitted to share in the society of God, being connected with Him by the bond of reason — why should he not call himself a citizen of the universe and a son of God?

In its universality and sweep, this statement voiced nearly two thousand years ago matches the most fervent internationalism of our own era. But here Epictetus was formulating not a program for institutional change but rather an ethical stance. Politically, the Stoics were utterly quietistic. Freedom, to Epictetus, consists exclusively of internal serenity, of a moral insulation from the real world — one that is so all-inclusive that it can reject every material need and social entanglement, including life itself. By the very nature of a "freedom" carried to such quietistic lengths, it is impossible for any being

to be disturbed or hindered by anything but itself. It is a man's own judgment which disturbs him. For when the tyrant says to man, "I will chain your leg," he that values his leg says: "Nay, have mercy," but he that values his will says: "If it seems more profitable to you, chain it."

In his own way, Max Stirner, the so-called individualistic anarchist of the early nineteenth century, was to turn this Stoic notion of the utterly self-contained ego on its feet and infuse it with a militancy — indeed, an arrogance — that would appall the Stoics. But in principle, both Epictetus and Stirner created a utopistic vision of individuality that marked a new point of departure for the affirmation of personality in an increasingly impersonal world.

Had this doctrine of worldly disenchantment and personal withdrawal drifted off into history with the empire that nourished it, later periods might have seen it merely as the passionless voice of a dying era, like the exotic cults and world-weary poems that intoned the end of antiquity. But Christianity was to rework Stoicism's quietistic doctrine of personal will into a new sensibility of heightened subjectivity and personal involvement, inadvertently opening new directions for social change. It is easy — and largely accurate — to say that the Church has been a prop for the State. Certainly Paul's interpretation of Jesus' message to "render unto Cesar what is Cesar's" leaves the troubled world unblemished by any political and social challenges. Early Christianity had no quarrel with slavery, if we interpret Paul's injunctions correctly. Yet when Paul persuades Onesimus, the runaway Christian slave, to return to his Christian master, Onesimus is described as "that dear and faithful brother who is a fellow citizen of yours," for slave, master, and Paul are themselves "slaves" to a higher "Master in heaven." "Citizen" and "slave," here, are used interchangeably. Accordingly, Christianity entered into a deep involvement with the fortunes of the individual slave. Between Christian priest and human chattel there was a confessional bond that was literally sanctified by a personal deity and by the intimate relationship of a sacred congregation.

This existential quality reflects a feature of Christianity that has survived every epoch since its appearance: Universal citizenship is meaningless in the absence of real, unique, concrete citizens. The concept that humanity is a "flock" under a single Shepherd attests to the equality of all persons under a single loving God. They are equal not because they share a political recognition of their commonality but rather a spiritual recognition by their Father. In Jesus, social rank and hierarchy dissolve before the leveling power of faith and love. On this spiritual terrain, worldly masters can be less than their slaves in the eyes of God, the wealthiest less than the poorest, and the greatest of kings less than their lowliest subjects. An all-pervasive egalitarianism liberates the subject from all ranks, hierarchies, and classes that are defined by social norms. Not merely citizenship but the principle of equality of all individuals and the absolute value of every soul unites the citizens of the Heavenly City into a "holy brotherhood."

The worldly implications of this message are stated far more compellingly in the exegetical literature of Augustine than in the holy writ of Paul. Like Epictetus and Paul, Augustine completely dissolves the genos into a "Heavenly City" that invites humanity as a whole to become its citizens. No folk ideology can admit this kind of conceptual framework into its outlook of the world. By contrast, the Heavenly City — for Augustine, its early voice is the universal Church — melds all diversity among peoples, all citizens from all nations and tongues [into] a single pilgrim band. She takes no issue with that diversity of customs, laws, and traditions whereby human peace is sought and maintained. Instead of nullifying or tearing down, she preserves and appropriates whatever in the diversities of diverse races is aimed at one and the same objective of human peace, provided only that they do not stand in the way of faith and worship of the one supreme and true God.

Lest this be dismissed merely as Stoic and Pauline quietism — or worse, clerical opportunism that renders the Church infinitely adaptable — Augustine adds that the

Heavenly City, so long as it is wayfaring on earth, not only makes use of earthly peace but fosters and actively pursues along with other human beings a common platform in regard to all that concerns our pure human life and does not interfere with faith and worship.

The Church does not merely render unto Cesar what is Cesar's; it replaces his claims to dominus by a clerical dominion and his claims to deus by a heavenly deity:

This peace the pilgrim City already possesses by faith and it lives holily and according to this faith as long as, to attain its heavenly competition, it refers every good act done for God or for his fellow man. I say "fellow man" because, of course, any community life must emphasize social relationships.

Augustine's ambiguities are more explosive and implicitly more radical than his certainties. Latent in these remarks is the potential quarrel of Church with State that erupts with Pope Gregory VII and the investiture crisis of the eleventh century. The ecumenicalism of the remarks opens the way to outrageous compromises not only with paganism and its overt naturalistic proclivities but to anarchic tendencies that demand the rights of the individual and the immediate establishment of a Heavenly City on earth. The "peace of the pilgrim City" will be reduced to a chimera by unceasing "heresies," including demands for a return to the communistic precepts and egalitarianism of the apostolic Christian congregation. Finally, Augustine's historicism admits not only of the indefinite postponement of Christ's return to earth (so similar to the unfulfilled promise of communism in the Marxian legacy) but also of the eventual certainty of Christ's return to right the ills of the world in a distant millennia! era. Owing to his ambiguities, Augustine created immense problems that beleaguered western Christianity for centuries and enriched the western conception of the individual with not only a new sense of identity but also a new sense of enchantment.

The secularization of the individual and the disenchantment of personality that came with Machiavelli's emphasis on the amorality of political life and Locke's notion of the proprietary individual divested the self and humanity of their utopian content. Tragically, both were reduced to objects of political and economic manipulation. Christianity had made the self a wayfaring soul, resplendent with the promise of creative faith and infused with the spell of a great ethical adventure. Bourgeois notions of selfhood were now to make it a mean-spirited, egoistic, and neurotic thing, riddled by cunning and insecurity. The new gospel of secular individuality conceived the self in the form homo economicus, a wriggling and struggling monad, literally possessed by egotism and an amoral commitment to survival.

From the sixteenth century onward, western thought cast the relationship between the ego and the external world, notably nature, in largely oppositional terms. Progress was identified not with spiritual redemption but with the technical capacity of humanity to bend nature to the service of the marketplace. Human destiny was conceived not as the realization of its intellectual and spiritual potentialities, but as the mastery of "natural forces" and the redemption of society from a "demonic" natural world. The outlook of organic society toward nature and treasure was completely reversed. It was nature that now became demonic and treasure that now became fecund. The subjugation of human by human, which the Greeks had fatalistically accepted as the basis for a cultivated leisure class, was now celebrated as a common human enterprise to bring nature under human control.

This fascinating reworking of Christian eschatology from a spiritual project into an economic one is fundamental to an understanding of liberal ideology in all its variants — and, as we shall see, to Marxian socialism. So thoroughly does it permeate the "individualistic" philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and the classical economists that it often remains the unspoken assumption for more debatable social issues. With Hobbes, the "state of nature" is a state of disorder, of the "war of all against all." The material stinginess of physical nature reappears as the ethical stinginess of human nature in the isolated ego's ruthless struggle for survival, power, and felicity. The chaotic consequences that the "state of nature" must inevitably yield can only be contained by the ordered universe of the State.

What is more important than Hobbes' notion of the State is the extent to which he divests nature of all ethical content. Even more unerringly than Kepler, who marveled at the mathematical symmetry of the universe, Hobbes is the mechanical materialist par excellence. Nature is mere matter and motion, blind in its restless changes and permutations, without goal or spiritual promise. Society, specifically the State, is the realm of order precisely because it improves the individual's chances to survive and pursue his private aims. It is not far-fetched to say that Hobbes' ruthless denial of all ethical meaning to the universe, including society, creates the intellectual setting for a strictly utilitarian interpretation of justice. To the degree that liberal ideology was influenced by Hobbes' work, it was forced to deal with justice exclusively as a means to secure survival, felicity, and the pragmatics of material achievement.

Locke, who tried to soften this Hobbesian legacy with a benign concept of human nature, deals more explicitly with external nature. But, ironically, he does so only to degrade it further as the mere object of human labor. Nature is the source of proprietorship, the common pool of resources from which labor removes the individual's means of life and wealth. Whatsoever man "removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labor with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property." Lest it be thought that nature and labor join people together, Locke assures us that the very opposite is the case:

It being by him removed from the common state nature placed it in, hath by this labor something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men. For this Labor being the unquestionable Property of the Laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joyned to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.

What raises Locke beyond mere proprietary platitudes is the pronounced function he imparts to labor. The isolated ego, which Hobbes rescued from the hazards of mechanical nature by a political covenant, Locke strikingly rescues by an economic one. So far, Hobbes and Locke are as one in the extent to which they filter any spiritual qualities out of their social philosophies. Where Hobbes is arrested by the problem of human survival in a basically chaotic or meaningless world, Locke advances the higher claims of property and person, and perhaps more strikingly for our age, the crucial role of labor in shaping that most fascinating piece of property — the individual itself. For it is "Labor, in the Beginning, [that] gave a Right of Property, where-ever any one was pleased to imploy it, upon what was common," and it was property "which Labor and industry began" that underpinned the "Compact and Agreement" that created civil society. The individual achieves its identity as the "Proprietor of his own Person, and the actions or Labor of it." Human activity, in effect, is human labor. How profoundly Locke opened a gulf between Greco-Christian thought and liberal ideology can best be seen when we recall that for Aristotle, human activity is basically thinking, and for Christian theology, spirituality.

This reduction of social thought to political economy proceeded almost unabashedly into the late nineteenth century, clearly reflecting the debasement of all social ties to economic ones. Even before modern science denuded nature of all ethical content, the burgeoning market economy of the late Middle Ages had divested it of all sanctity. The division within the medieval guilds between wealthy members and poor ultimately dispelled all sense of solidarity that had united people beyond a commonality of craft. Naked self-interest established its eminence over public interest; indeed, the destiny of the latter was reduced to that of the former. The objectification of people as mere instruments of production fostered the objectification of nature as mere "natural resources."

Work too had lost its sanctity as a redemptive means for rescuing a fallen humanity. It was now reduced to a discipline for bringing external nature under social control and human nature under industrial control. Even the apparent chaos that market society introduced into the guild, village, and family structure that formed the bases of the preindustrial world was seen as the surface effects of a hidden lawfulness in which individual self-interest, by seeking its own ends, served the common good. This "liberal" ideology persisted into the latter part of the twentieth century, where it is celebrated not merely within the confines of church and academy, but by the most sophisticated devices of the mass media.

But what, after all, was this common good in a society that celebrated the claims of self-interest and naked egotism? And what redemption did onerous toil provide for a humanity that had been summoned to surrender its spiritual ideals for material gain? If liberalism could add nothing to the concept of justice other than Locke's hypostatization of proprietorship, and if progress meant nothing more than the right to unlimited acquisition, then most of humanity had to be excluded from the pale of the "good life" by patently self-serving class criteria of justice and progress. By the end of the eighteenth century, liberal theory had not only been debased to political economy, but to a totally asocial doctrine of interest. That human beings acted in society at all could be explained only by the compulsion of needs and the pursuit of personal gain. In a mechanical world of matter and motion, egotism had become for isolated human monads what gravitation was for material bodies.

The most important single effort to provide liberalism with an ethical credo beyond mere proprietorship and acquisition was made in the same year that the French sans culottes toppled the most luminous stronghold of traditional society. In 1789, Jeremy Bentham published his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, advancing the most coherent justification for private interest as an ethical good. In a majestic opening that compares with Rousseau's Social Contract and Marx's Communist Manifesto, Bentham intoned the great law of utilitarian ethics:

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as determine what we should do.

In any case, they "govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think." Thus caught up in the universal principles that predetermine our behavior irrespective of our wishes — a formula that lies at the heart of scientism, whether liberal or socialist — Bentham abandoned "metaphor and declamation" for a calculus of pain and pleasure, a system of moral bookkeeping that identifies evil with the former and good with the latter. This utilitarian calculus is explicitly quantifiable: Social happiness is seen as the greatest good for the greatest number. Here, social good comprises the sum of pleasures derived by the individuals who make up the community. To the sensory atomism of Locke, Bentham added an ethical atomism of his own, both of which seem to form exact fits to a monadic age of free-floating egos in a free-falling marketplace:[40]

Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it is on the side of the pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole and if on the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole.

What applies to the individual, in Bentham's view, can be extended to the community as the sum of all good and bad tendencies to which each of its members is exposed.

Rarely do we encounter in Justitia's checkered career a more unadorned attunement of her scale to ethical quanta. Even acts that yield a calculable predominance of pleasure or pain are atomized and lend themselves, in Bentham's view, to clearly delineable episodes, just like chapters in a Richardson novel. What is striking about Bentham's ethical atomism is the kind of rationality it employs. Aristotle's ethics, too, was built on the idea of happiness. But happiness in the Greek view was a goal we pursued as an "an end in itself," not as a "means to something else." It was derived from the very nature of human beings as distinguished from all other living things, a nature that could never be formulated with the precision of mathematics. If happiness was a rational and virtuous way of life, as Aristotle argued, it attained its full realization in the contemplative mind and in an ethical mean that rose above excess of any kind.

Bentham, by contrast, offered his readers no ethics in any traditional sense of the term but rather a scientistic methodology based on a digital calculation of pleasurable and painful units. The qualitative intangibles of human sentiments were coded into arithmetic values of pleasure and pain that could be canceled or diminished to yield "surpluses" of either happiness or misery. But to dismiss Bentham merely as an ethical bookkeeper is to miss the point of his entire approach. It is not the ethical calculus that comprises the most vulnerable features of utilitarian ethics but the fact that liberalism had denatured reason itself into a mere methodology for calculating sentiments — with the same operational techniques that bankers and industrialists use to administer their enterprises. Nearly two centuries later, this kind of rationality was to horrify a less credulous public as a form of thermonuclear ethics in which varying sums of bomb shelters were to yield more or less casualties in the event of nuclear war.

That a later generation of liberals represented by John Stuart Mill rebelled against the crude reduction of ethics to mere problems of functional utility did not rescue liberalism from a patent loss of normative concepts of justice and progress. Indeed, if interests alone determine social and ethical norms, what could prevent any ideal of justice, individuality, and social progress from gaining public acceptance? The inability of liberal theory to answer this question in any terms other than practical utility left it morally bankrupt. Henceforth, it was to preach a strictly opportunistic message of expediency rather than ethics, of meliorism rather than emancipation, of adaptation rather than change.

But we are concerned, for the moment, with liberalism not as a cause or ideology, but rather as the embodiment of justice. Anarchism and revolutionary socialism profess to be concerned with freedom. Fascism is concerned neither with justice nor freedom but merely with the instrumentalities of naked domination; its various ideologies are purely opportunistic. Hence the fate of justice reposes with the fate of the ideas of such serious thinkers as John Stuart Mill and his followers. Their failure to elicit an ethics from justice that could rest on its rule of equivalence leaves only Bentham's utilitarian ethics — a crude, quantitative theory of pains and pleasures — as justice's denouement.

Let us not deceive ourselves that Bentham's methodology or, for that matter, his ethics have dropped below the current ideological horizon. It still rises at dawn and sets at dusk, resplendent with the multitude of colors produced by its polluted atmosphere. Terms like "pleasure" and "pain" have not disappeared as moral homilies; they merely compete with terms like "benefits" and "risks," "gains" and "losses," the "tragedy of the commons," "triage," and the "lifeboat ethic." The inequality of equals still prevails over the equality of unequals. What is so stunning to the careful observer is that if justice never came to compensate but merely to reward, its spirit has finally become mean and its coinage small. Like every limited ideal, its history has always been greater than its present. But the future of justice threatens to betray even its claims to have upheld the "rights" of the individual and humanity. For as human inequality increases in fact, if not in theory, its ideology of equivalence assails the ideal of freedom with its cynical opportunism and a sleazy meliorism.

From :

Chronology :

November 30, 1981 : Chapter 6 - Justice — Equal and Exact -- Publication.
July 10, 2019 : Chapter 6 - Justice — Equal and Exact -- Added to
February 28, 2020 : Chapter 6 - Justice — Equal and Exact -- Last Updated on

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