Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Discourse on the Sciences and Arts" in The First and Second Dicourses, Masters, ed.

Tensions and paradoxes everywhere.

Rousseau characterizes learning and eloquence as vices which hide true feelings and meanings, but his essay is stylized and erudite.  He introduces the essay with an artful and polite appeal to his judges in the Academy.  He relies on historical examples to make his case which have only been preserved by dint of learning.

The essay itself has an air of deliberate exaggeration.  Rousseau's approach, as he suggests in his introductory appeal to the judges, is that of an advocate whose judges are themselves the opposing party in the case. (34) In keeping with this proviso, Rousseau is not even-handed.  The historical examples often seem bent to his purpose.  He makes out the Macedonian conquerors of Persia, for instance, to be rustic farmers rather than subjects of an already significant empire. At times, his examples are also inconsistent.  We often see Rousseau using success at war and military conquest as a standard by which to measure the health of societies (which itself is strange, since war is a bane to humankind), yet the primitive American Indian tribes he holds out as a supreme example of virtue have themselves been subdued by supposedly corrupted Europeans.  There is a hint of Jonathan Swift about it all.
There are two abrupt turns in the tone of the essay.  The first comes when, in the midst of an opening encomium to the advancement of learning, Rousseau.drops the hammer on the arts and sciences:

While government and laws provide for the safety and well-being of assembled men, the sciences, letters, and arts, less despotic and perhaps more powerful, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which men are burdened, stifle in them that sense of original liberty for which they seemed to have been born, make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized peoples. (36)

The second comes when Rousseau jumps directly from bemoaning the miseries brought by the development of learning to his closing passage praising the creation of academies and suggesting truly learned men should have a place in government.

Besides the bookend passages, there is a delicate balance and symmetry between the two parts of the essay.  In the first part, Rousseau's main target is the arts, with his ire aimed especially at philosophers, poets, and orators. This is balanced by a greater focus on criticizing the sciences and scientists in the second part.  At the center of each part, Rousseau produces a series of historical examples to show how states are damaged by the development of arts and sciences.

After the turn towards a critical view of culture, Rousseau takes up three themes in succession in the remainder of the first part of the essay. First, he contends that cultivated manners conceal dishonesty and wrongdoing under a pleasant facade. Next, he cites historical examples of more highly civilized peoples whose states had collapsed or been conquered by more primitive ones (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, China) or backward peoples who had been praised for their simple virtues.  Finally, he claims the authority of Socrates and Cato for his case, taking them as critics of sophisticated culture on the grounds that it undermined traditional virtues.

Rousseau develops his indictment the sciences in the second part by starting from their most direct and immediate flaws and building to the more complex and remote issues. He begins with a sort of genealogy of the sciences: vices have provided the motive for founding and pursuing sciences, and the objects of their studies can also be vices. On top of this, he portrays science as a kind of useless idleness that we could do just s well without  From arguing that science is bad in itself, Rousseau progresses to arraigning it for its bad effects.  After briefly noting that science destroys faith and the belief in simple verities which form the basis for virtuous conduct, Rousseau turns to the main theme of the second part: an attack on luxury.  The arts and sciences produce luxuries, but the pursuit of luxuries, he insists in one of his most expansive passages, destroys virtuous conduct -- it makes us lose sight of man as a citizen and a human being, and not just a factor of production and consumption.

I know that our philosophy, always rich in peculiar maxims, holds contrary to the experience of all centuries that luxury produces the splendor of States; but having forgot the necessity for sumptuary laws, will our philosophy still dare deny that good morals are essential to the stability of empires, and that luxury is diametrically opposed to good morals?  Granted that luxury is a sure sign of wealth; that it even serves, if you like, to increase wealth.  What conclusion must be drawn from the paradox so worthy of our time; and what will become of virtue when one must get rich at any price? Ancient politicians incessantly talked about morals and virtue, those of our time talk only about business and money.  One will tell you that in a given country a man is worth the price he would fetch in Algiers; another, following this calculation, will discover some countries where a man is worth nothing and others where he is worth less than nothing.  They evaluate men like herds of cattle.  According to them a man is worth no more to the State than the value of his domestic consumption. (50-51)

Following up this philippic, Rousseau excavates history for examples of sophisticated civilizations overthrown or defeated by simple peoples.  He  takes a curious detour to argue that luxury, by elevating fashion, and thus the opinion of youth and women, corrupts taste and turns artists away from creating great works.  Perhaps this misogyny isn't really a note in a different key than his focus on military, and thus presumably manly, virtues.  For he turns right back to that topic, contending that luxury makes men soft and unfit for war, again with a slew of examples from history.  He contends next that knowledge of the arts and sciences corrupts the education of youth, by making education about useless and frivolous intellectual adornment rather than training in virtues.  Finally, just before his abrupt turn towards praising the academies, Rousseau argues that the inequalities introduced by distinction in arts and sciences undermine virtue.
The wise man does not chase after riches, but he is not insensitive to glory, and when he sees it so poorly distributed, his virtue, which a little emulation would have animated and made useful to society, languishes and dies out in misery and oblivion. In the long run, this is what must everywhere be the result of the preference given to pleasing talents rather than useful ones, and what experience since the revival of the sciences and arts has only too well confirmed. We have physicists, geometers, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians, painters; we no longer have citizens; or if a few of them are left, dispersed in our abandoned countryside, they perish there indigent and despised. (58-59)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" in Kant's Political Writings, Hans Reiss, ed.

Enlightenment defined:
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.  Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without guidance of another.   This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another.  The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! (54)

Kant holds that only a few individuals will be able to overcome the obstacles to their own enlightenment by themselves.  An entire public can become enlightened, however, if they are free to discuss their views, because then the self-enlightened few "will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and the duty of all men to think for themselves." (55)  (It is notable that Kant thinks of this as a duty, and not just a right.)   However, in the circumstances of open public discussion, opinion leaders who are not themselves enlightened can also gain influence.  From this, Kant concludes the public can only be enlightened slowly, and that revolution may overthrow autocratic government, but only at the cost of compelling adherence to a new set of dogmas.

I think an implied premise is that it takes time for rational criticism, rather than prejudice, to win the public struggle of ideas.  Revolution, however, cuts debate short before it reaches its natural equilibrium of enlightenment.

The bulk of the remainder of the essay if given over to distinguishing what Kant calls the public  and private uses of reason.  By the private use of reason he means what people say while working in an official capacity -- as a judge, a bureaucrat, a military officer, or (and I can imagine this was very important in Kant's Prussia) a minister of the established church.  By public use of reason he means what people say to a general public outside of any official capacity.  He argues that a ruler should expect people to act accordance with state policy with respect to the private use of reason.  But he appeals to rulers to allow free debate outside of official capacities -- free public use of reason.  He captures this distinction (more than once) with the slogan "Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!" (55, 59).

There are a couple of wrinkles to this.  Kant urges rulers to allow congregations to adjust their doctrines to the development of their adherents understanding if the existing doctrines are found wanting after public debate.  Kant also holds that a public official who not only disagrees with their orders, but finds them absolutely contrary to reason, has the option to resign.

Kant concludes with a paragraph charting a relationship between intellectual and civil freedom.  By intellectual freedom I take it that he means the freedom of public discussion, and by civil freedom I take it that he means the freedom to actually participate in the process of making laws and governing.  Kant argues that intellectual freedom should come before civil freedom.  He says that permitting civil freedom too early may even endanger intellectual freedom.  However, intellectual freedom gradually prepares the public for widespread civil freedom.

How does intellectual freedom supposed to prepare the public for civic participation?  I don't think it is simply that people know more.  Enlightenment, for Kant, is not primarily a matter of knowing more.  To put it in terms of virtues, which is a language Kant eschews here, enlightenment is about developing the temperament and character needed to judge claims fairly.  It is by developing this temperament and character that intellectual freedom makes people ready for civil freedom.

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 17 and 18, "'My Mission Is to Pacify Ireland'" and "A Commanding Prime Minister"

Gladstone recovered his balance in the opposition against Disraeli's minority Conservative government by late 1867 .  His foothold was Ireland.  Although he had never visited Ireland (and was not unusual in that respect among British politicians), its predicament had vexed him for many years.  This vexation issued primarily from his concern that the Irish situation damaged Britain's reputation abroad.  Gladstone considered himself very much a man of Europe, and it pained him when foreign leaders pointed out this illiberality in British policy (especially when he was calling them out for some transgression).  At the same time Gladstone was suspicious of Ireland as a potential drain on the Treasury.  So he was in need of a means of addressing the injustices of British rule in Ireland which didn't require spending money.  The disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland fit his need.

In December, 1867, he delivered a speech at Southport declaring the urgency of addressing Irish church and land reform. Although its endorsement of disestablishing the Anglican Church in Ireland completely reversed Glasdstone's views on church and state from early in his parliamentary career, this was not, Jenkins argues, a sudden change.  Over the succeeding three decades, he had grown wary of the corrupting effects of political interference in church affairs.  He had needed to be circumspect in his public opinions, however, as a representative of the parson-heavy electorate of Oxford University.  Once he had changed to his Lancashire constituency in 1865, he was freed from this constraint.

Shortly after the Stockport speech, Lord Russell retired, thus elevating Gladstone to leader of the opposition.

In the Spring of 1868, Gladstone introduced three resolutions on Irish reform.  They carried either by handsome majorities or unopposed; Ireland was an issue which united rather than split (like electoral reform) the Liberal majority.  He followed this up with a bill to end new appointments to Irish benefices, which carried easily in the Commons though it was later rejected by the Lords.  Disraeli was forced to face the reality that his party was unable to govern. Being in no hurry to dissolve parliament just two months into his premiership, however, he announced the dissolution but delayed it for half a year on the basis that a new election should only be contested after the previous year's Reform Act had been implemented.

Gladstone conducted a vigorous campaign for his Lancashire seat, marked by some of his most noted campaign oratory.  Jenkins reprises, with humor, one of his effective riffs:

[H]e responded to the accusation that his Irish proposals would destroy the constitution by mockingly recalling that he had already known it wholly ruined  and destroyed seven times, starting in 1828 with the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts and ending (for the moment) with the Russell government's attempt at suffrage reform.  Understandably in the circumstances, he omitted to mention that he had himself been violently opposed to the first three of the seven measures. (287)
In the event, Gladstone led the Liberals to a smashing 112 seat majority while embarrassingly coming up short in his own constituency, which turned out to be singularly resistant to the merits of Irish reform.  This was not too inconvenient for Gladstone, who had already won election from the London seat of Greenwich a week earlier.

Gladstone spent the winter recess putting together his cabinet and preparing the Irish reform legislation.  He also propitiated the queen, who had objections on matters of personnel (she didn't want Clarendon as foreign minister) and policy (Ireland) -- successfully on the former, but, characteristically, less fully than he thought on the latter.

Gladstone's Irish reform bill passed by crushing majorities of over a hundred on each of its readings in the Commons, and even passed the Lords comfortably on second reading.  The decisiveness of the votes reflected in part the increasing clarity of the division in British politics after the muddled and fluid mid-century period. But it was also a testament to Gladstone.  Throughout, Gladstone's powerful oratory, mastery of detail, skillful management of debate, and not least his attentive wooing of allies (starting with his full and careful consultation with his cabinet) and opponents (including the bishops), steered the bill to success.  The bill was threatened when the Lords backtracked on disendowment (though not disestablishment).  In the end, however, the Lords and the church hierarchy were cognizant (or made so) of the dangers entailed by standing athwart a bill so overwhelmingly supported by the Commons, and in the end Gladstone only had to accept some small concessions to win approval.

In the rest of the chapter, Jenkins surveys Gladstone's passion for rearranging his books, his delight in dispensing patronage (especially church appointments, but also grants of nobility), and his infatuation with Laura Thistlethwayte.