Beyond Scientism and Towards Political Community
Scruton and Walsh, through an examination of scientism in relation to the person, have argued for the irreplaceable dignity of the person. In contrast to the reductionist reconstitution of the person in scientism, Scruton and Walsh present the person as the center of the political community that must be understood through inter-personal conduct founded on personal responsibility. In this manner, individuals develop their understanding of personhood, not from an objective vantage point as in scientism, but in view of one another in the public sphere. The scientistic practitioners, as Scruton and Walsh have illustrated, misrepresents the person in the expressly non-personal scientistic framework; the person is recognized, developed and actualized in the action of the political community.
Political communities are forged through cooperation. A foundational order of conduct must be established and understood between persons a priori to the promotion of said order to other communities. Politics of the person ensures that members of the community are not constricted within the framework of ideological thinking that ultimately subsumes them, as in scientism, rather, the person is recognized and verified in the view of others through cooperation. Practically, persons discover the opportunities for cooperation with those closest to them. Scruton and Walsh elucidate that politics is practiced best when the person is understood and engaged with as both the purpose and end of conduct.
Scruton and Walsh’s political understanding of the person is drawn from How to be a Conservative and The Growth of the Liberal Soul and Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being respectively. Scruton utilizes a direct writing style that treats the reader as a friend invited into a communal gathering. In this manner, Scruton’s writing reflects his discussion of persons by prioritizing the reader as worthy of participating in and contributing to Scruton’s understanding of politics, community and rights. Scruton illustrates that the person must be recognized as a unique being capable of responsible conduct with others to serve the common good, with the support of an inherited community that is worthy of defense: “He [Scruton] appreciates that the free and responsible individual is unthinkable without a political community that grounds the reciprocal obligations of free men and women…. Scruton articulates a liberal conservatism that balances commitment to territorial democracy, the self-governing nation-state, and support for those mediating institutions between the state and the individual that give life to active citizenship.”
In turn, Walsh presents the reader with a comprehensive investigation of liberalism in a tutelary manner that respects the reader as one who is willing and able to tackle challenging material. The complexity of the person, in concept and in the reality of the reader, is respected by Walsh’s style and content as his dense philosophical, historical and spiritual reviews do justice to the notion of personhood. Daniel Choi states, in reference to Growth, that Walsh guides the reader in confronting the problems of modern liberalism through understanding the origins of the liberal tradition. The reader is asked to take Walsh’s pedagogic hand in his exploration of liberalism and the person: “Walsh calls on us to immerse ourselves in this tradition and to learn from it. It differs from the liberal thought of our century, which liberty, having lost most of its intrinsic and constitutive appeal, serves mainly to promote economic growth, shield us from fearsome dictators, and free us to our various conceptions of the good…. Walsh argues that the current notion of liberal freedom . . . is really a case of liberal amnesia that has been worsening over time.” Walsh’s work in Growth and Politics of the Person embrace the reader as a person capable of understanding the complexity of persons. The form of Scruton and Walsh’s writings reinforces the content, i.e. the person.
Scruton and Walsh discuss the rights of persons, particularly what Scruton describes as “freedom” and “claim rights,” to illuminate how the person is actualized within the community. Following this, Scruton and Walsh’s understanding of liberal culture and the notion of “progress” elucidates the missteps persons commit in liberal democracies. Finally, the person is recognized as the center of political life in the inter-personal, associational, national and universal community. Walsh and Scruton demonstrate that the person must be recognized and understood “bottom up,” beginning with person-to-person conduct and culminating in the universal community of persons.
The Written Person in Scruton and Walsh
Scruton’s presentation and style prioritizes the person through direct simple prose, compact length and friendly tone. In turn, Walsh’s work engages the reader in a pedagogical manner that prioritizes his/her philosophical understand of complex materials such as crises facing modern liberalism, the spiritual foundations of liberal democracies and the person in politics. Attention to the form of Scruton and Walsh’s writing assists the reader in understanding their political thought on the person, community and rights by illuminating the prioritization of the person formally through prose thus unifying the discussion practically and theoretically. Analyzing both authors’ work in tandem, particularly in their discussions of art, allows one to better understand how to prioritize the person in the communication of ideas through written work and direct interaction. The person must be prioritized in the act of communication itself just as he/she is recognized as the end of communication.
Scruton’s intent is to treat the reader as a person capable of recognizing and understanding his/her personhood, with the help of a more experienced friend, i.e. Scruton. He frequently identifies the reader with the pronoun “we,” uniting himself with the reader in discussion. In doing so, Scruton forges an intentional bond with the reader that strengthens the reader’s investment in the material. In this manner, Scruton is not merely speaking with the implied “we” of the author-reader communication inherent in reading, he is expressly acknowledging an inter-personal relation with the reader him/herself that easily allows for the understanding of the topics and their applicability to the person. This is exemplified in Scruton’s discussion of the intentionality of human action as compared to animals. Scruton states: “When we ascribe intentional states to a dog, it is by way of explaining its behavior. But of course, it is we who formulate the explanations, and who contribute the concepts used in framing them . . .Whatever computational framework we develop, by way of explaining the passage from input to output in the mind of a dog, it is in terms of the physical world . . . The dog’s beliefs are beliefs de re [about the thing] not de dicto [about what is said]: we identify them in terms of the things we notice . . .” Persons seeking to understand the intentionality of dogs make the mistake of applying a framework that is exclusively understandable to them, de dicto, while the dog’s intentions and beliefs are exclusive to the dog de re.
Scruton does not commit this error when speaking to the reader as a person de re through the use of collective terms and direct prose. Note the usage of “we” in the passage. It is not a group of persons, or Scruton himself that make these observations about humans ascribing intentionality, it is the italicized “we” who engage in ascribing our states of intentionality to creatures such as dogs. Scruton does not displace himself, nor the reader from the mistakes that persons commit, rather, he unifies himself and the reader with the universal community of persons in understanding intentionality. Furthermore, the use of “we” illustrates Scruton’s argument that personalizing animals concurrently misapplies personhood to animals, and disservices the authenticity of animal intentionality as its own entity. Persons are uniquely identified in the passage with the communal “we” while the dog is identified with the singular colloquial term for its species. This efficiently elucidates the notion of recognizing persons as worthy of dignity distinct from animals and prepares the reader for Scruton’s discussion of first-person awareness.
Scruton elucidates, through the use an example utilizing the first person “I,” that persons engage in intentional action with the assumption that others persons recognize their personhood through acknowledgement of “I.” Scruton’s direct prose and simple examples effectively clarifies what could be misconstrued as a complex understanding of intentionality and perception: “I do not look on the other, still less on myself, as an organism, whose behavior is to be explained by some hypothesis concerning the nature of its intentional states. I look on the other as I look on myself – as an “I,” whom I address in the second person, and whose self-attribution of reasons takes precedence, for me, over any third-person vision of what makes him tick.”
First, Scruton utilizes himself in the example, reinforcing an easy empathic connection to the reader previously established with his earlier use of the communal “we.” Second, Scruton’s use of person to person address, conversation, as an example of a mode of understanding between people practiced intentionally, mirrors Scruton’s intentional address of the reader. The reader, having placed him/herself in conversation with Scruton metaphorically through the reading of the text, is placed into conversation by Scruton identifying himself in the example of address with the other. The other represents a stand-in for the reader, as he/she has already been placed in pseudo-conversation with Scruton by reading the text. The reader easily understands Scruton’s notion of recognizing other persons after one has understood him/herself as a person worthy of the first-person “I.” Third and finally, Scruton’s prose directly establishes a foundation for conduct between persons that is distinct from the scientistic third-person understanding and this is solidified with the use of a simple pedestrian example of conversation. Scruton’s discussion of the first person is immediately identifiable to the reader even if he/she lacks nuanced epistemological knowledge due to the simple nature of Scruton’s language. Scruton, from a position of authority as the author, states that he does not view other persons in a first person manner, then clarifies that he views himself as an “I,” just as all persons do. He then states that this perspective equates himself to all other persons in stark contrast to the third-person perspective of scientism that necessarily places the observer above the other. By establishing an equal level between himself and the reader early in the text, Scruton invites persons to engage with him in thought as a friend, rather than as a banal lecturer whose concern is the material he/she presents, rather than the audience before him/her.
Scruton’s pseudo-friendship with the reader in writing expressly relates to the content that is the person in politics. The reader establishes a relationship with Scruton that mirrors the relationships forged through responsible conduct with persons in the communal setting. The reader places his/her trust and attention in Scruton as he articulates his position, thus treating him as a dignified individual. In this manner, the reader recognizes the place of the person in the community as one who listens and communicates and as a dignified individual reflected in Scruton’s discussion of rights. Walsh engages the reader in a similar but distinctly pedagogic manner. This form establishes a pseudo reader-teacher relationship that allows the reader to be guided in their understanding of the person in a manner that mirrors the guidance that a community provides to its members. Walsh elucidates that the political community should, through individual, associational and universal relations, facilitate the understanding of the person by guiding its newer members through conduct. Walsh’s form reflects the content, as demonstrated in his comprehensive, rigorous argumentation that necessitates a teacher to guide the reader.
Walsh’s texts, considerably longer and more comprehensive than Scruton’s, engage the reader as an eager student willing and ready to learn from an experienced mentor. At the outset of each chapter of Politics of the Person Walsh provides an outline that details the following pages to allow the reader to understand the purpose of the chapter in relation to the person. This short outline does not subsume the chapter by over explaining Walsh’s arguments, rather, Walsh’s outline prepares the reader for dense argumentation utilizing multiple notions. In this manner, Walsh has the reader’s best interest in mind from the perspective of an instructor who does not wish to overwhelm his students with too much information but still desires to challenge them to absorb and understand intensive material. Consider the outline Walsh presents for the second chapter entitled “Persons as beyond Good and Evil.” His outline explains the broad strokes of chapter, without revealing the nuance of his argumentation:
” . . . the whole moral tradition… has been rooted in the recognition of life as an unending struggle . . . We simply have not made that acknowledgement integral to moral discourse. The present chapter attempts a beginning in this task. Nietzsche, we will discover, is not so bewildering . . . [W]e will examine Kant’s evocation of this dynamic as a mysterious unfathomability that has not been well served . . . This will, third, provide us with a way of enlarging the moral conception of moral language . . . Persons, we finally see, are more than the categories applied to them . . . Beyond the moral categories there is the more fundamental decision for or against being enacted by every one of us.”
Walsh’s use of the communal “we” unites the reader with Walsh in the journey into the person. However, instead of traveling as friends as with Scruton, Walsh acts as a guide to the reader so that they may arrive at the destination of the person. By tracing the path of the arguments he is about to lay before the reader, Walsh ensures that his message, that could be lost in unguided hands, is successfully delivered to the reader. The person seeking to understand others is directed towards his/her goal by a person who has sought and arrived at this goal. Walsh succeeds at presenting personhood with the complexity it deserves and can now present personhood to others through his written work.
Walsh’s style and prose are not as easily grasped as Scruton’s. Walsh strings multiple complicated notions together in single sentences in order to elucidate the complexity of his ideas. However, the complexity of Walsh’s texts should not be viewed as a hill that is too steep to climb, rather, the complexity should be perceived as a testament to the complexity of the persons that can never be fully captured. Walsh does not purport to deliver a full account of the person in his works, rather, he encourages readers to recognize the dignity persons deserve through his presentation of the person as an irreplaceable bearer of dignity. This approach is in direct contrast to the scientistic goal of representing and defining the person in his/her totality simply from a theoretical framework. Walsh explains that the only action that can accurately encompass the irreplaceable dignity of the person is the sacrifice of the whole person him/herself: “It is only those losses to which a person has wholly submitted that can be regarded as retaining the dignity of a human being. The whole person must be given in the action . . . The person always communicates by going beyond all that is said. By contrast, exchange is what can be reduced to terms of a contract . . .The dignity of the immeasurable cannot be measured.”
Walsh’s writing style breaks down incalculable human dignity in a manner that respects the subject matter by refusing to downplay or minimalizes its importance. Walsh first states that it is only through the action of self-sacrifice that the dignity of the person is respected; he/she cannot be reduced to bartering chips for political or financial gain. Dignity, as Walsh then states, is not equivalent to matter that be exchanged between persons; it must be embodied and practiced through conduct. Ultimately, dignity, exemplified authentically only in self-sacrifice, cannot be quantified. Walsh’s written work does justice to dignity through acknowledgement of its complexity and irreducibility. Scruton and Walsh’s work, when analyzed together, allows one to gain a superior understanding of the person than either thinker has achieved alone, as demonstrated in their discussions of art.
Scruton discusses various works of art in relation to the face of the person as the first stage of desecration or objectification through the removal of personhood. In turn, Walsh’s discussion of art is more comprehensive, considering the whole medium in relation to the person. Scruton’s work utilizes the example of art to assist the reader in grasping the importance of engaging in person to person interactions directly; persons understand the conduct of one another primarily through reading each other’s faces. From Scruton’s work, the person is readily prepared to tackle Walsh’s argument that encompasses the totality of art in relation to the person him/herself.
Scruton discusses Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” to illustrate the sacredness of the face. The face is not merely the sensory hub of the person in the way of the scientistic homunculus, rather, it is the foremost gateway to the person found in conduct: “Botticelli’s great picture reminds us that the human face is to be understood in quite another way from the body-parts of an animal. Animals do not see faces, since they cannot see that which organizes eyes, nose, mouth . . . namely the self, whose residence those features are. The face is therefore not just an object among objects, and when people invite us to perceive it as such… they succeed only in defacing the human form . . . We can desecrate only what is sacred.” Once again, Scruton’s contrast between animals and humans, emphasized in importance with the use of “we,” drives home his comments on Botticelli’s work. Venus’s face is not covered in the painting while she covers her genitalia and breasts. Her face is not an object to be appreciated and should not be defamed in exploitative manners. Persons who understand the importance of the face can better engage in moral conduct that avoids desecration.
Consider Walsh’s comments on art in relation to Scruton’s. Walsh describes beauty in art in relation to the person in totality, and, while not as easily grasped as Scruton’s face-to-face emphasis, more accurately articulates the depth of the person: “Through art beauty stands apart from the person who apprehends it, as a permanence available to all other persons. Art provides therefore a unique avenue on the person who stands outside of all saying and yet is disclosed within the very saying. Through art we see that persons are not simply marked by the evanescence of their presence in time but that they also aspire to the permanence of truth that radiates beyond the persons who glimpse it.” Walsh’s words elevate art beyond Scruton’s usage of art as a tool to better understand the relations between persons. Art in Walsh’s conception is the first step towards truth that acts as a beacon toward persons to discover others. Walsh’s employs several contrasting statements to articulate the incompressible totality of the person. Persons are marked by evanescence and yet they aspire to truth beyond them. Art provides an avenue to the person who is outside of said art but still can be captured in the creation of art. These paradoxical statements require a guiding voice to navigate that Walsh expertly provides. In this manner, Walsh’s comments complement Scruton’s direct articulation of the person by presenting the person in accurate complexity.
Taken together, Scruton and Walsh’s works present the person as the central political entity. The reader utilizes Scruton’s texts as his/her first stepping stone to the person, engaging with the text in the friendly manner Scruton’s prose intends. Following this, the reader approaches Walsh’s more challenging texts with the confidence developed in understanding Scruton’s work. Scruton’s texts point persons towards Walsh so that they may continue to develop their understanding of personhood while Walsh’s texts further that development. In this manner, the reader gains a nuanced understanding of the person that allows a recognition of the political importance of the person. Scruton and Walsh’s discussions of human rights exemplifies this notion in a manner that prioritizes the dignity of the person.
Human Rights and Dignity
The irreplaceable dignity of the person must be safeguarded by members of the community in the public sphere. It is not sufficient for persons to practice conduct between each other privately; the person must be actualized in the community. In the liberal philosophical tradition, notably in the works of John Locke, the person is affirmed and embodied in the notion of legalized human rights that are inalienable and granted to every person in the community. However, as Scruton notes, rights should not be utilized as a substitute for the understanding of the person as this reduces the person to a simple list to tenets. Furthermore, this is exemplified in the over-proliferation of rights into what Scruton characterizes as “claim rights,” rights imposed on persons as duties to their fellow community members. In this manner, persons are not treated as irreplaceable individuals, as they are burdened by excessive rights that benefit others. Walsh characterizes the rapid increase in rights in modern liberal democracies as a fundamental misunderstanding that must be rectified before liberal states propagate the notion of human rights. To solve this crisis, Walsh proposes a return to the foundational notions of personhood, and necessary limitations, found in the philosophical liberal tradition. In this manner, the public sphere propagates the person though notions of responsible conduct, dignity and personal limitation. Finally, Scruton and Walsh’s understanding of rights illuminate that the scientistic understanding of the person as a unique biological being does not act as a substitute for foundational human rights that prioritize the moral action of persons in the community.
Scruton elucidates that human rights are best perceived as an avenue toward freedom understood as a “sphere of personal sovereignty,” wherein persons are guaranteed personal boundaries so that they may freely engage in consensual relations. Rights do establish limitations on the conduct of persons, one cannot infringe on the boundaries of another without express invitation, but allow for the practical exercise of substantially more free actions than if one had no rights: “The primary function of the idea of a right . . . is to identify something as within the boundary of me and mine . . . Without those fixed points negation and free agreement are unlikely to occur . . . my sphere of action is liable to constant invasion by others, and there is nothing that I can do . . . Rights, then, enable us to establish a society in which consensual relations are the norm, and they do this by defining for us the sphere of personal sovereignty from which others are excluded.” Rights that establish boundaries that enable freedom in consensual action, termed “freedom rights,” are therefore understood as justifying universal acceptance by all persons since they enable persons to engage in meaningful conduct. In contrast, “claim rights” imposed on persons do not enable conduct, rather, they add additional punitive duties to offending persons. Thus, “claim rights” do not practically exist as safeguards, they hinder rather than foster persons. This is exemplified in Scruton’s discussion of education, health, work and standard living conditions as human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR).
Extending the universality of human rights to “claim rights” without a firm grounding as the UDHR does imposes duties on states and persons within them. Article 14 states that every person has the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries, effectively placing duty on all communities to foster all communities. Article 22 states that all persons possess the right to social security, without specifying the necessary effectiveness or source of guarantee that would enable the realization of the person’s “. . . social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and free development of his personality.” Dignity cannot be realized through an external imposition of its importance, rather, it must be understood through practical conduct. Scruton notes that the libertarian would object to “claim rights” due the necessity of their external imposition by a state or inter-state governing body. In this manner, persons do not develop their understanding of dignity through the recognition of the person, instead, dignity is an imposed duty enforced on persons: “. . . large, vague claims require a massive expansion of state power, a surrender to the state of all kinds of responsibilities that previously vested in individuals, and the centralization of social life in the government machine. In other words, claim rights push us inevitably in a direction that, for many people, is morally and politically dangerous.”
The notion of enforced “claim rights” is thus malleable to the whims of the persons who enforce them, and these persons, lacking the understanding of personhood, lack the crucial universal moral component of freedom rights. Additionally, Scruton explains that these “claim rights” do not encompasses the totality of the person as they do not account for the possible violation of the person: “Persons can be harmed in ways that are not adequately summarized in the idea of a violation of rights. They can be polluted, desecrated, defiled – and in many cases this disaster takes a bodily form.” “Claim rights” are not a substitute for the understanding of the person grounded in conduct and solidified in responsibility.
Walsh characterizes the reliance on rights, as self-justifying, as an effective but insufficient manner of justifying moral conduct in liberal democracies. The challenge for liberal democracies is to find a manner of conduct that reinforces the irreplaceable dignity of the person, without attempting to enforce that understanding upon persons: “The language of that public debate can be refined to appeal only to arguments that pertain to the exercise of rights, or to the common good defined in material or secular terms… It is an arrangement that works remarkably well, eliminating a whole range of difficult and unnecessary disputes from the public arena… The great challenge is to find a means of bridging the gap between such personal growth of the soul and the common ethos… What I am suggesting is a growth of the liberal soul.” The growth of the liberal soul can only occur once the person has solidified him/herself on a foundation of liberal principles justifiable through personal responsibility and inter-personal conduct in the public sphere.
Persons attempting to justify the propagation of the liberal order, without relying on the existence of the order itself or the notions of rights, must look to personhood itself for their answer. The person precedes the political order that is comprised of persons, as such, liberal democracies must strive to authentically represent the person by allowing all persons the capacity to discover their personhood. In this manner, liberal democracies, if they prioritize the foundation of individual freedom as described in Scruton’s freedom rights, enable persons to practice responsibility for themselves and others as bearers of dignity: “At its best, the liberal construction evokes the realization that the highest purpose of human existence is served through the actualization of an order that has no purpose beyond itself than the full emergence of the practice of self-government . . . The culminating expression of political order is that in which the human good as human is served, and that involves the unfolding of the specifically human capacity for free intelligent donation of self in responsibility and love.”
Freedom to engage in consensual relations, as Scruton elucidates, grounds the importance of the person in individuals as the success of their conduct depends on both parties treating the other with dignity. If one party forgoes the dignity of the other, he/she betrays both the other practically and the foundational notion of dignity as it is the foundation of the relation itself. Therefore, individuals must articulate a set of symbolic representations of the person that facilitate conduct in the public sphere. Walsh complements and furthers Scruton’s freedom rights by elucidating that the recognition of these rights both enables the understanding of dignity between persons and illuminates dignity as the source of the justification of the universality of freedom rights. Persons develop their understanding of dignity through meaningful conduct with others who are grounded by universal rights thus engaging in a self-supporting practice that renews the liberal order. The person is a priori to the notion of rights, allowing rights to stand as an affirmation of the person: “What cannot be alienated cannot be fully named. Rights are not the same as dignity, for dignity requires us to go beyond the mere acknowledgement of rights, but rights are the epiphany of the dignity of the persons . . . It is the affirmation of the incalculability of each one that is the primary legal affirmation of dignity . . . Rights are our refusal to trade in the untradeable. It is in the defense of rights that dignity is resplendent.”
Walsh and Scruton’s work concerning rights allows the person to understand that he/she must prioritize the dignity of the other in the public sphere to reinforce him/herself and his/her polity. In the same manner that dignity is understood by assigning it as a blind duty to persons with no foundation, the empirical foundation provided by scientistic biology and mathematical physics does not provide persons with an avenue towards dignity. Walsh clarifies that although biological processes can justify the worldview that each person is an irreplaceable being due to unique markers in DNA, the moral person is not born fully formed. The scientistic conception of the person reduces the person to his/her components, as discussed by Scruton previously, but also minimizes the personal growth of the person that is forged in conduct. Walsh states: “What makes a human being a human being is more than the sum total of the chemical organization of its elemental molecular body. The ingredients do not constitute the whole . . . Whence arises this concrete whole that is a unique, irreplaceable human being whose trajectory points beyond the whole world? It cannot arise as an afterthought . . . ” Biological knowledge of genetics may allow one to understand the chemical processes of reproduction, but it does not allow one to understand how a newborn becomes a full-fledged person.
Human rights, not extended as “claim rights,” allow communities to uphold dignity through symbolic representations. Liberal democratic communities that preserve the capacity to freely engage with others allow their citizens to develop an understanding of dignity and personhood, grounded in freedom rights. The person is prioritized, resulting in a stronger understanding of dignity and the rights that uphold it: “Rights, by which the other takes precedence over me and over all others in the moment, are merely the external expression of what has already occurred in the mutuality of persons to one another. This is the secret of the appeal of the language of rights that has superseded over all other political formations. In the application of rights there flashes the recognition that this how persons are in relation to another.” However, persons are not apt to sit content with their lot. In the most altruistic cases, they hope to improve their standing for the purposes of the common good. Persons “progress” rather than perfect. Walsh and Scruton suggest that “progression” is not an apt goal for persons, rather, they should face their deficiencies head on in cooperation with others.
Culture, Progress and the Person
Walsh, in Growth of the Liberal Soul, postulates that liberal democratic citizens are faced with a number of problems, including the demand for economic growth and rampant narcotic use for escapism, but possess the ability to solve them. The true challenge is to solve the problem of convincing persons to solve the problem. Responses to this crisis emerge from two facets. The first, described by Scruton, is a reactionary “culture of repudiation” that deconstructs the foundational tenets of liberal democracy to account for the modern callousness of liberal democracies. If liberal democracies were never great, as the deconstructionists suggest, it makes sense that persons are unsatisfied with them. Both Scruton and Walsh discuss the works of Richard Rorty to demonstrate that western liberal cultural is not merely a set of “pragmatic” cultural conventions but is instead the source of said conventions that enables virtue amongst persons. The second, more optimistic response, arises as the notion of “progress.” The foundational notions of liberalism are good for persons, but citizens must ensure that all peoples are equal in receiving the positive benefits. Walsh criticizes the notion of “progress” as an illusory idea that relies on self-justification and the need to consistently “perfect” the current version of liberalism for one that better reflects the tenets of liberal democracy. Finally, Walsh and Scruton demonstrate this to be a hollow goal through a critique of John Rawls’ account of fairness provided in A Theory of Justice.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberal democracies emerged as the de facto regime for the remainder of the 20th, the 21st, and possibly all future centuries. Walsh suggests that liberal democracies face a challenging crisis, not in the form of an external threat by competing regimes, but from within. Liberal democratic citizens lack the will to truly face the internal problems that plague them: “A peculiar ambivalence, a conflict of inclinations grips us, and we are unable to shake free of the desuetude that overwhelms us. We cannot take action because we are not yet willing to undergo the painful reorientation.” Walsh illuminates three factors to which citizens must orient themselves: the loss of confidence in the effectiveness of liberal democratic principles arising from a lack of shared trust in liberalism, the corrosion of the liberal ethos through the propagation of neutrality, and a growing awareness of these factors paired with no concrete solutions. Walsh characterizes the crisis as a “collapse of the center” of liberalism initiated within its own foundations. Persons are struggling to solve this crisis through different political paradigms, particularly exemplified in welfare-state liberalism:
“We recognize that it is specifically a crisis of liberal order itself, not attributable to any extraneous factors . . . The search for new political paradigms . . . testifies to nothing so much as the defunctness of the old orientations . . . The extension of liberal principles into welfare-state liberalism… has reached its limits. The welfare state ceases to serve the welfare of its beneficiaries when it has transformed them into its wards . . . An order of liberty presupposes some limits that lie beyond even benevolent control.”
Walsh utilizes the example of welfare-state liberalism to solidify his discussion of the crisis. The goal of ensuring welfare for all persons, through taxation on all persons, to primarily support those who are the least able, ironically does not enable persons to stand by themselves and actualize their potential. Rather, as Walsh suggests, enforced support of the few has stunted the growth of persons by reconstituting them as beneficiaries. Liberal democracies presume that persons must have freedom to succeed in their ventures, but concurrently allow persons to exercise their freedom to fail, thus incorporating a self-defeating enterprise within its principles. Benevolent control, as Walsh illuminates, exemplifies the liberal crisis of recovering the “liberal center” through verification of foundational liberal tenets, only to face the paradoxical recognition that justification cannot avoid returning to the tenets themselves: “The parallel intellectual straining of the limits of liberal principles has reached an equivalent transparency, collapsing in the recognition that the quest for foundations impregnable to skeptical critique is an impossible enterprise. There are no foundations beyond foundation.”
Scruton, in turn, suggests that a response to the “impossible enterprise” of justifying foundational liberal tenets, such as equality and liberty, emerges in the form of the deconstructionist “culture of repudiation,” whose members attack and reveal the notions of liberalism to be, at best, fundamentally flawed. Scruton states: “If you look at the organs of opinion in Britain and Europe . . . such as the universities . . . you find . . . a culture of repudiation. Take any aspect of the Western inheritance of which our ancestors were proud, and you will find university courses devoted to deconstructing it. Take any positive feature of our political and cultural inheritance, and you will find concentrated efforts in both the media and the academy to place it in quotations marks and make it look like an imposture or a deceit.” They espouse that the solution to Walsh’s identified crisis is not to correct the problem, but instead to illuminate that the foundations of liberal democracy are not worth saving in their current form and must be reconstituted through repudiation.
Scruton discusses the example of political correctness, specifically the self-condemning character of inclusionary politics to illustrate the actions of the “culture of repudiation.” Despite the proposition that political correctness entails nondiscrimination in language, thought and action, Scruton notes that a concurrent trend of condemnation of western cultural identity and values also emerges as a component. The inclusion of others is only possible with the exclusion of the old, ironically suggesting that repudiation of the old liberal order necessarily entails practices that run contrary to the goal of inclusive policies: “. . . The Director-General of the BBC recently condemned his organization and its programmes as obnoxiously white and middle-class. Academics sneer at the curriculum established ‘Dead White European Males’. . . All such abusive utterances express the code of political correctness. For although they involve the condemnation of people on grounds of class, race, sex or colour, the purpose is not to exclude the Other but to condemn Ourselves.” The “feel-good” ask for inclusion entails the sinister ask for exclusion of those who established the liberal tenets the deconstructionists claim to rectify. The exclusion of persons necessitates the exclusion of ideas held by persons.
Scruton identifies the repudiation of reason itself as the most destructive aspect of the “culture of repudiation,” most notably found in the works of Richard Rorty. Rorty and his contemporaries, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, suggest that reason itself is simply an appeal for Western culture over the culture of other groups, thereby concealing claims of superiority inside purportedly contextual logical precepts. Truth is not verifiable through rational discourse, at best, knowledge is actualized as useful beliefs from a foundationless, culturally contextual source, defined by Rorty as “pragmatism:” “. . . they [pragmatists] view truth as… what is good for us to believe. They see the gap between truth and justification not as something to be bridged by isolating a natural and transcultural sort of rationality which can be used to criticize certain cultures, but simply as the gap between the actual good and the possible better . . . For pragmatists, the desire of objectivity is… the desire for as much intersubjective agreement as possible, the desire to extend the reference of “us” as far as we can.
Truth is thus defined only by the identification of membership in a “us” that can include everyone, if they agree with Rorty’s initial proposition that truth is only useful knowledge to benefit said “us.” The validating factor of truth is agreement that what is true is true by virtue of agreement on said truth. The membership in the group “us” defines truth as it interprets it, while concurrently rejecting the notion of a verifiable universal truth altogether. Therefore, as Scruton concludes, the pragmatist engages in contradictory argumentation: “Hence we have gone around in a circle, defining truth by utility and utility by truth. Indeed, it is hard to find a plausible pragmatism that does not come down to this: that a true proposition is one that is useful in the way that true propositions are useful . . . There is no constraint on us, beyond the community to which we have chosen to belong. And because there is no objective truth but only our own self-engendered consensus, our position is unassailable from any point of view outside of it.”
Walsh characterizes Rorty’s position as the epitome of ironic commentary on liberalism, and extends Scruton’s understanding by suggesting that Rorty’s works are best viewed as an example of the self-awareness of the liberal crisis. Walsh, quoting Rorty, explains that Rorty’s promotion of a “we” is founded on the solidarity between members who extend their sympathy to one another. Rorty advocates for an enlargement of this solidarity to secure liberal order without generating the moral fortitude required for that growth: “The solidarity that is required to treat all others with dignity and respect can be promoted only though the enlargement of our existing feelings of solidarity. ‘The wrong way is to think of it as urging us to recognize such a solidarity exists antecedently to our recognition of it . . . ’ Rather than argument, he proposes the existential enlargement of our sympathy with the suffering of others as a means of securing a liberal order.” Walsh’s comments point to another paradoxical problem in Rorty’s thinking. Rorty claims to reject the foundations of liberal order as exclusively culturally contextual for pragmatic utility, but in its place suggests another foundation laid by persons extending sympathy to one another. Skeptical persons question Rorty’s substitution of the enlargement of sympathy in the same manner that Rorty questions the foundations of liberal order. A foundation has been suggested in place of foundations, but without the historical inheritance that constitutes the liberal order.
Scruton illuminates that Rorty promotes a community through liberal tenets while rejecting those tenets to achieve membership in the community of the “culture of repudiation.” He explains that those who are dissatisfied with their inherited liberal order search for a new community that better reflects their understanding of truth. However, Scruton points out that the new community of the “culture of repudiation” necessities the destruction, not the integration, of the previous liberal order:
“In short, the vast changes in the cultural life of Western societies have their origin in the search for community, among people for whom the old loyalties have lost their appeal . . . young people are given new beliefs based on equality and inclusion, and are told that the judgement of other lifestyles is a crime. If the purpose were merely to substitute one belief system for another it would be open to rational debate. But the purpose is to substitute one community for another. The project, however, is a purely negative one . . . there is no such thing as a community based in repudiation. The assault on the old cultural inheritance leads to no new form of membership, but only to a kind of alienation.”
Scruton’s characterization of the lack of membership in the new community proposed by the “culture of repudiation” is noted by Walsh as the fundamental mistake of forgetting the person, and the personal perspective he/she operates under. In this manner, the challenge of justifying liberal tenets, or not justifying them in the case of Rorty, commits the scientistic mistake of attempting to stand outside of the person to gain a more objective viewpoint on the whole enterprise of liberalism. Walsh states: “We cannot avoid the inclinations and pulls that already draw us in particular directions even if we believe, like contemporary deconstructionist liberals, that they are utterly groundless . . .We cannot step outside the perspective of human beings to gain any more objective viewpoint on the whole. We cannot penetrate beyond the mystery of the process within which we find ourselves, nor reach any more definitive account of the inescapable structures of order that compel us.” Those who wish to reconstitute the community of persons from the outside in engage in the same fallacious thinking as the scientistic investigator pursuing the “Archimedean point” in search of an objective vantage point. To correct this mistake, the second response to the liberal crisis emerges; the notion of “progress” beyond the current liberal order to a more accurate representation that will reaffirm the foundational tenets in the minds of the persons who embody them.
Scruton elucidates, in his explanation of the historical emergence of conservatism, that the success of the Enlightenment depended upon confidence and maintenance of institutions. Without faith in the foundational tenets of liberalism and their embodiment in citizenship, civic association and good government, the pursuit of “progress” would not flourish: “Liberal individualism offered a new and in many ways inspiring vision of the human condition; but it depended upon traditions and institutions that bound people together… The Enlightenment proposed a universal human nature, governed by a universal law, from which the state emerges through consent of the government. The political was henceforth shaped by the free choices of individuals . . . it made no sense without the cultural inheritance of the nation state.” If the confidence in the cultural inheritance is removed, the prospects of the project are jeopardized, as the secure foundations of liberalism are cast in doubt. Walsh furthers this by suggesting that the lack of confidence does indeed compromise the project of the Enlightenment and reveals the hollowness of “progress.”
Walsh explains that a significant factor that prevents liberal democratic citizens from recognizing the need to reorient themselves to their foundations is the “illusion of progress.” He states that as the liberal order has evolved throughout history, persons have come to expect renewed “progress” in their moral quality as they seek to correct their mistakes through conduct. However, this faith in continued “progress” was shattered with the unspeakable malevolence committed by persons during 20th century global conflicts, leaving those alive with their faith in liberal foundations shaken and reminded of the seeming invariance in their capacity for barbarism: “. . . the experience of three global conflicts in the twentieth century . . . has worn of the luster of progress . . . Yet the dream of progress dies hard . . . The very notion of history suggests something progressive . . . But liberalism, like the ideological movements it opposed, extrapolated its own limited progress into an infinite future. It forgot that no historical advance escapes the fate of the history that brought it forth, in which nothing remains forever . . .”
“Progress,” as Walsh elucidates, cannot be pursued indefinitely as this presupposes that liberalism stands outside the historical framework from which it evolved, thus contradicting the notion of progression from a foundational starting point. Similarly, “progress,” like science, cannot be subsumed and accounted for in an aspect of liberal society, as Walsh explains: “It is also not simply progress within the fairly narrow range of science and its technological applications. The most significant aspect of history is the history of the emergence of order, fragile and reversible as each advance is.” The advancement of technology, discussed in the previous chapter, does not substitute for the understanding of the person. “Progress” is thus meant to reaffirm the liberal democratic citizen’s faith in their foundational tenets, but the actualization of this reaffirmation proves more difficult than expected.
Scruton and Walsh turn their attention to the writings of John Rawls in A Theory of Justice to elucidate how the mere extension of liberal principles in the name of “progressive justice” does not equate to their fulfillment by persons. Scruton lays out Rawls’ argument for the redistribution of resources based on his “veil of ignorance” thought experiment. Rawls asks the reader to imagine he/she can perceive the world before he/she is born. From this vantage point, Rawls suggests that one would desire to be born in the best possible circumstances with the most resources. Therefore, it is the duty of governing bodies to ensure that all are given equally desirable opportunities, including persons yet to come. This is achieved through the redistribution of wealth to those less fortunate to reach unanimity in society: “A conception of justice based on unanimity in these circumstances would indeed be weak and trivial. But once knowledge is excluded, the requirement of unanimity is not out of place and the fact that it can be satisfied is of great importance. It enables us to say of the preferred conception of justice that it represents a genuine reconciliation of interests.”
Scruton criticizes the practical fulfillment of Rawls’ conception of justice, suggesting that said redistribution would inevitably have to be carried out through the state, effectively removing person-to-person sharing of wealth. Rawls’ justice is concerned with the outcomes of redistribution, not the necessary responsibility founded in personal conduct that would motivate persons to redistribute wealth: “. . . if we look at justice in Rawls’ way, we weaken the connection between justice and responsibility, and remove the concept from our ordinary practical reasoning. It is precisely the emphasis on outcomes, rather than actions, obligations, and responsibilities, that has led to the overriding of ordinary contact…” Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” is itself ignorant to the manner in which persons practice justice, subsuming them into a system of redistribution that must be managed by the very persons who let resources become so unequal originally.
Walsh’s consideration of Rawls highlights Scruton’s observation of the practical difficulty of implementation while putting forward deeper criticism of Rawls’ understanding of persons in general. Walsh explains that Rawls’ premise of redistributive justice necessitates the assumption that persons will desire more resources than their neighbor, behaving in greedy or envious ways to attain them, only to have these problems solved with the redistribution of wealth resulting in benevolent social arrangements. Rawls’ theory of justice thus necessitates the institution be able to mold the person through a “top-down” manner: “Rawls is asking us to accept the progressivist premise that human nature is susceptible to . . . institutional determination…. Are not envy and vanity more deeply rooted temptations than Rawlsian liberalism seems to expect?” Rawls’ optimistic portrayal of persons is justified through a scientific argument involving the natural theory of evolution: “In arguing for the great stability of the principles of justice I have assumed that certain psychological laws are true… one might ask how it is that human beings have acquired a nature described by these psychological principles. The theory of evolution would suggest that it is the outcome of natural selection; the capacity for a sense of justice and moral feelings is an adaption of mankind to its place in nature.”
Walsh characterizes progressivist aspirational theories such as Rawls’ as reliant on the mere extension of liberal guarantees and opportunities to persons, including human rights and freedoms, rather than their actualization in the conduct of persons in the form of personal responsibility. Legal codification of liberalism is merely the first to achieve its fulfillment, not the final step that will convince persons to behave according to those codes. Walsh highlights a number of disturbing trends to solidify his point: “As members of a liberal society we are appalled to discover that the cumulative solicitations for the rights and autonomy of individuals have only spawned greater indifference and irresponsibility. A mushrooming of out-of-wedlock births can surely not be blamed on a lack of information . . . Nor can the surge of white-collar crime and socially condoned cheating of all types be attributed to a lack of material and psychic privileges.” The mere expansion of liberal tenets does not teach persons to maximize themselves; persons must practice these liberal activities in conduct with one another to solidify their understanding of them.
Scruton and Walsh’s works solidify the importance of persons facing the challenges brought before them without repudiating their culture or attempting to distance themselves from it to reach an unrealizable state through “progress.” Walsh states: “Expanding individual liberty without the correlative moral discipline does not promote autonomy. In most human beings, it only encourages self-serving irresponsibility . . . it is only the dream of progress that has allowed the liberal philosophy to overlook its own deficiency altogether by reassuring us that the evolution of humanity itself will take care of our moral improvement.” It is through the practice of communal conduct that persons do take care of their moral improvement, as emphasized in Scruton and Walsh’s discussion of the person in community.
The Community of Persons
The person maximizes his/her potential when he/she participates with others in a communal setting that is conducive to moral development. As Walsh illuminates, the person cannot simply be expected to “progress” with the extension of liberal tenets, they must practice moral conduct to actualize them. Scruton and Walsh emphasize the importance of face-to-face interaction between persons, illuminating the importance of friendship in communal conduct. On the foundation of friendship, persons create and join in civil associations that stand as actualizations of their liberty. Scruton and Walsh discuss the writing of Alexis de Tocqueville to elucidate the importance of maintaining civil associations, specifically volunteer associations. Scruton and Walsh then elucidate the importance of the nation-state for the person, with Scruton emphasizing the significance of territory for what he terms a “society of strangers” that characterizes liberal democracies. Finally, Walsh solidifies the person within the universal timeless community of all persons that is grounded in the self-sacrifice of its members. In this manner, communities are never truly extinguished or forgotten, as sacrifices of its individual members echo beyond temporary failures to stand as a universal representation of the person.
Scruton, as discussed, places supreme importance on the capacity of persons to form friendships with one another in the sharing of each other in conduct and art. He furthers his discussion by contextualizing friendship in the city or polis. Aristotle describes three distinct types of friendship: utility based on usefulness, pleasure based on capacity for fun or sexual pleasure, and virtue based on moral constitution. Scruton explains that the successful polis makes fostering virtue friendship between citizens and the city itself its purpose and that cities can fall short of this ideal by binding their citizens by utility, or seducing them with pleasure. In this manner, the individual relations between persons are reflected in the form of their city: “The citizen is the friend of the state, which reciprocates his friendship. Only the virtuous polis can be based in friendship of this kind [virtue], and the virtuous polis is the one that encourages virtue in its citizens . . . [M]odern states offer their citizens a deal, and they require nothing of the citizens beyond respect for the terms of the deal . . . [A] political order [based on pleasure] is founded neither on duty nor contact but on fun. The citizens are all part of a single fun machine . . .”
Walsh complements Scruton’s description of Aristotelian friendship by illuminating that persons actualize their moral knowledge in pursuit of realizing it in concrete forms. Persons, as Walsh explains, are free to engage in any number of pursuits, not unlike Scruton’s discussion of the three kinds of friendship. However, once persons engage in virtuous action, they recognize the emergence of moral knowledge as a beacon of their success and pursue it further: “The more we respond to the glimmerings that at first attract us faintly, the more they become beacons of light irradiating the path before us with unanticipated intensity . . . Development has largely occurred within ourselves, in the way that we view the world and the measure we apply to it . . . Moral knowledge is inherently concrete knowledge. It emerges only to the extent that we participate in following it. Conversation, as Scruton explains, is the primary activity within which this emergence occurs.
Scruton explains that friendship is established through conduct between persons, primarily in conversation. He illuminates that persons must purposefully decide on how and what to converse about, lest they reduce their conduct to mere scientistic utilitarian technology or the overly sexualized flirtation found in the conversations in Huxley’s Brave New World. Scruton states: “If we are to propose conversation as our model of political order . . . we need to answer the questions: conversation in what circumstances, between whom and of what kind? . . . when all forms of community are regarded as equally worthwhile, provided only that the participants consent to them, we lose sight of the distinction between associations in which people make no demands of each other, and associations in which moral discipline grows between the participants . . .” Conversation must be undertaken with consideration for the virtue of one’s partner, best practiced in person-to-person interactions.
Scruton explains that virtue friendship is best forged in an atmosphere of leisure, where persons interact with one another in a face-to-face manner that necessitates awareness of one’s appearance in the eyes of the other. Both participants freely forfeit an amount of control to the other, allowing conversation to dynamically unfold. In this manner, persons learn as much about themselves as they learn about their conversation partner. Scruton cautions that this process does not occur when face-to-face is forgone, as exemplified in digital friendships conducted over the internet. Scruton explains that these friendships do not necessitate that persons forfeit control, as persons swipe through potential interactions on their command exclusively. In this manner, person are fundamentally withdrawn, not given to the other: “At any moment I can turn the image off, or flick to some new encounter. The other is free in his own space, but his is not really free in mine, since he is entirely dependent on my decision to keep him there. I retain ultimate control . . . All interaction is at a distance, and can affect me only if I choose to be affected . . . There grows between us a reduced-risk encounter, in which each is aware that the other is fundamentally withheld, sovereign within his impregnable cyber-castle.” The process of friendship is flippantly given to persons, without any of the components that allow for the development of virtue that proper friendship enables.
Walsh and Scruton’s discussion of persons engaging freely in friendships highlights that conduct must be practiced knowledgeably, with recognized responsibility for the other: “It is a process that depends upon real conflicts and real resolutions, in a shared public space . . . Anything that interferes with that process, by undermining the growth of inter-personal relations, by confiscating responsibility . . . is an evil . . . and one we should resist if we can.” Resistance is demonstrated in the practice of genuine conduct; the formation of civic associations in one’s community.
Scruton points out that the same freedom that allows people to engage in friendship also allows them to retreat into isolation. However, the entire community of persons does not fall prey to similar destructive tendencies due to the proliferation of civil associations. Scruton draws his understanding of civil associations from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America stating: “Of course, if people turn their backs on one another, live behind closed doors in suburban isolation, then . . . [the] sense of neighborliness dwindles. But it can also be restored through ‘little platoons’ . . . By joining clubs and societies . . . by acquiring sociable hobbies and outgoing modes of entertainment, people come to feel that they and their neighbors belong together, and this ‘belonging’ has more importance, in times of emergency, that any private difference . . . ” Persons who engage in civil associations with others inspire those who have retreated into isolation to emerge from their self-imposed caves and engage with others, fostering responsibility between all persons.
Walsh characterizes this goal of retrieving person from the darkness of isolation as fanning the “scared flame” of association in order to provide light to those encapsulated in blackness. This can be challenging for liberal democratic citizens, as the tenet of equality does not provide a hierarchy for those unfamiliar with associations to readily engage. Persons, all equal in both their capacity to slip into isolation and to engage with one another, find the foundation for their cooperation through association, specifically, association engaged in on a voluntary basis: “. . . .individual powerlessness must be the occasion for prompting the exercise of liberty in schemes of voluntary cooperation within . . . local communities. Individually they can do nothing so they are compelled to act together . . . It is the very circumstance of their equal isolation and impotence that calls forth the necessity of a free conjunction of wills.”
These associations must be engaged in voluntarily with the maintenance of virtuous relationships as a priority. If they are undertaken on the basis of utility, persons merely need to respect the initial terms of agreement and will only contribute the minimum amount of voluntary effort to retain membership. If it is based on pleasure, persons quickly grow bored and desire different associations. Walsh concludes that Tocqueville’s observations of American associations exemplify the capacity of liberal democratic citizens to prioritize the person in voluntary conduct, thus growing their sense of personal responsibility through virtuous friendship: “The result, Tocqueville observed, is . . . [the] invisible, although more crucial, avenue of the inner growth of the citizens in self-responsibility . . . Through exercising the art of association they acquire a taste for cooperation and develop the virtues indispensable to the maintenance of the order in which they live . . . The value of permitting and encouraging people to take the initiative themselves, for all of its untidiness, was incalculable.” The person is understood and encouraged to facilitate that understanding with others in communal civil associations.
Scruton and Walsh prioritize the importance of civil associations for liberal democratic citizens through the works of Georg Hegel, specifically, The Philosophy of Right. The growth of persons’ sense of personal responsibility compels them to stay in these associations and eventually settle in a common area that becomes a community. Scruton elucidates that, after the establishment of a common space, persons are animated by a spirit of oikophilia, the love of oikos, one’s home, the people who comprise it, and the surrounding territory they occupy. In this manner, persons acquire a distinct sense of “we,” not based on membership defined by self-defined concepts of truth, as in Rorty’s writings, but on a mutual love of a shared community with defined parameters: “The oikos is the place that is not just mine and yours but ours. It is the stage-set for the first-person plural of politics… We must vest our love and desire in things to which we assign an intrinsic, rather than an instrumental value, so that the pursuit of means can come to rest, for us, in a place of ends. People settle by acquiring a first-person plural – a place, a community and a way of life that is ‘ours’.” Persons invest themselves in their communities as dignified institutions comprising of intrinsic value, as they are comprised of persons who have intrinsic value. In this manner, the first-person plural that allows for communication between dignified persons is developed in the community.
Scruton explains that oikos on a national level is the necessary component that allows democratic nation-states to function, as liberty enables citizens to disassociate with the fundamental first-person plural “we” that embodies accepting liberal tenets. An animating national oikos allows for the formation of compromises across time enabled by the persons’ equal opportunity to engage and argue with one another. In this manner, one is trapped in a “society of strangers,” he/she is placed within a group of people at birth that he/she does not know intimately and must find a place for him/herself, through compromise with others. From this, as Scruton elucidates, persons necessarily are given an “inherited community” from which their communal “we” identity emerges as citizenship. This citizenship is verified in times of crisis or conflict, as Scruton states: “The community of strangers cannot really be understood without reference to other generations. It is an inherited community . . . In any crisis this becomes immediately clear. A threat of war or invasion, an economic collapse, or some unprecedented damage to the social fabric all turn our attention to the historical community. It is we who now must fight, must put our backs against the wheel, must mend our ways . . . ” Scruton illustrates that one’s oikos in the form of an inherited community facilities a pre-political loyalty rooted in the notion of a territorial home. Citizens of this inherited community are therefore imbued with a sense of purpose specifically tied to their nation-state that is particularly pertinent for democratic states, as Scruton illustrates: “Of course, the nation-state is not the only possible form of pre-political membership. But the alternatives – tribes, creed communities, or customary communities united by an imperial power – are no longer available to us, and in any case are hostile . . . to democratic politics. Nationhood is the best we can offer by way of pre-political loyalty that delivers territorial jurisdiction and individual citizenship as its natural political expressions.”
Walsh, in turn, elucidates the importance of recognizing the binding force of oikos from the person to the “we” of the nation-state in a manner distinct from Scruton’s conception of pre-political nationhood. The state stands as the actualization of the “we” arising from the exercise of liberty. In this manner, the nation stands wider and stronger than any civil association ever could, in terms of both practical realization and intention. While the civil association is founded on inter-personal conduct, the nation-state interrelates the goals of the individual with the larger communal goals of the national identity: “The modern state is in this sense ‘the actuality of concrete freedom’ and derives its ‘prodigious strength’ from its ability to interrelate the individual and the political. It is not only that individuals see their interests protected by the state but also . . . their individual interests in service to the state . . . It [the state] points towards a more stable expression of the universal order shared by human beings, which is so recognized precisely because it is the order that arises from their own free subjectivity.” The “universal order” is elucidated by Walsh as reachable by persons, through action in their political community.
Walsh explains that persons only necessarily exist communally through participation in the public good and that this ability to participate communally is shared by all human beings. Although the universal community has no physical manifestation, persons recognize their mutuality in the sacrifices they have made for their community: “We might say that the political community is the concretization of . . . [the] universal community, the point at which the eschatological intersects with time . . . Composed of those who are ready to give all in its defense, it cannot be defeated by any inner rupture. Dissension cannot occur when every member has already put every other member ahead of himself or herself.” The person may die, the civil association may disband and the nation-state may fall, but the universal community of persons will remain as long as it pursues the common good.
Walsh concludes Politics of the Person with a resounding remark that solidifies the person as the possibility, the driving force and purpose of politics; an encompassing being that cannot be reduced or entirely destroyed. The person stands as the purpose of politics when politics operates as politics of the person: “Persons cannot be sacrificed for the common good, not only because it is not right, but also because it is impossible. They have already expended themselves on its behalf and, even if they wanted to give more that they can give, they cannot do so. They remain a community of persons, a community of those who know another as uncontainable in any of their enactments. The only fitting community of persons is the community that mutually embraces one another as persons.” This statement is echoed by Scruton in this propagation of conduct between persons as the forge for the understanding personhood: “Human beings find their fulfillment in mutual love and self-giving, but they get to this point via long path of self-development, in which intimation, obedience and self-control are necessary moments. This is not a hard thing to understand once we see the development of personality… But it is a hard thing to practice. Nevertheless, when we understand things rightly, we will be motivated to put virtue and good habits back where they belong, at the center of personal life.”
Walsh and Scruton’s combined work concerning human rights, liberal culture, progress and the community of persons allows one to understand the notion of personhood so they may engage in conduct with others. The best way to improve one’s community is to begin with oneself and then turn one’s gaze to the other. Scruton and Walsh’s presentation of the person, in contrast to the presentation of scientism, stands as a testament to the irreplaceable dignity of the person. The person is only understood in view of another.
F.A Hayek characterized and popularized the notion of scientism as a type of prejudice, removed from proper scientific inquiry as a misshaped understanding of how to investigate the world. Hayek states: “The scientistic as distinguished from the scientific view is not an unprejudiced view but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it.” By judging the material he/she seeks to investigate, the scientistic practitioner pre-emptively judges the material he/she is attempting to understand objectively.
Scruton and Walsh comprehend and masterfully articulate Hayek’s foundational notion of scientism while expanding beyond his conceptualization with their combined understanding of the person. Scruton illuminates the reductionist fallacy found in the scientistic practices of biology, evolutionary psychology and “neuro-philosophy” to reveal the foundational fault in the scientistic search for the “Archimedean point” that cannot be verified. Scruton provides an alternative mode for investigating the world in his description of the person, discussed in reference to works of art and the transcendental perspective. In this manner, the reader is not left in the lurch with no alternative to the scientistic framework, rather, he/she is imbued with the understanding of the person that allows them to successfully engage in conduct with others.
In turn, Walsh contextualizes his discussion of scientism in relation to the person at the outset of his argument, revealing that the place of the person is not found within the framework of scientism as a reconstituted master of mature. Rather, the place of the person is discovered in relation to others. Walsh’s person-centered philosophy establishes parameters for his understanding of the person in science properly practiced and art. Science properly practiced illustrates that the motivation of the individual scientist is illuminated as the discovery of new material in cooperation with others that can supersede established framework. Art allows persons an alternative representation of truth through the use of metaphor as well as an avenue toward the person in the appreciation of created works.
Taken together, Scruton and Walsh’s understanding of the person is reflected in the form of their writings thus unifying the presentation with the content that is the person. In their understanding, the person forms the center of political life and is not to be subsumed within the notions of rights or cultural “progress.” Rather, the person is recognized and actualized in cooperation “bottom up,” beginning with the self, initiating in friendships, developing into civil associations, extended into the nation and recognized in the universal community of persons.
Scruton’s work serves as an invitation of friendship to the reader, while Walsh’s texts tutor the reader with comprehensive guiding argumentation. In this manner, Scruton’s work on scientism and the person should be perceived as a stepping-stone to Walsh’s more thorough discussions. While Scruton’s work is more direct and quickly elucidates complex ideas in a readily understandable manner, Walsh’s work demonstrates a more complete understanding of the person given a greater attention and detail showcased in argumentation. In this manner, Walsh’s texts are a better reflection of the person him/herself by approaching, but never truly reaching the impossible totality of, the complexity, depth and impact of personhood.
Scruton and Walsh’s texts stand as an impressive testament to the political importance of the person and the mistakes of engaging in scientistic thought. Persons are understood best in the view of the other; the person is recognized and ratified as the center of political life in conduct with others.
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