Manent, The City of Man, Ch. 4, pp. 137-155, Parts 15-23

15

 

Locke does not deny that man has an essence or a substance but claims, in fact, that it is unknowable. Man’s being is enclosed in the opaque tautology: “X = X.” Man is the being who defines himself by the fact of having rights, but man is not defined and rights are not defined, other than to say they are “human rights” (which brings us back to our first difficulty). Before “the great instauration” or the establishment of the liberal regime, anthropology was necessarily ontological or ontocentric, while ontology was necessarily anthropocentric. Locke and other moderns separate thought about being from thought about man. Manent remarks that the pure ontology that was conceived was nothing other than modern science. Manent wishes to show in what follows how anthropology emancipated itself from ontology.

 

16

 

Locke is “the most explicit and formal witness to the formal decision to declare man’s being unknowable,” leaving us with “X = X.” The presupposition of the being of man and its simultaneous dismissal as an object of thought led the way to a second tautology: the whole of man’s humanity is contained in his rights and in the fact that he has rights and that these rights are exhaustively defined by the fact that they are human rights. This is a “pure anthropology.” By it, man forgets Being.

 

17

 

Severed from being, the notion of human rights lacks ontological density. There is nothing under the moon that is not capable of becoming the occasion and matter of a human right. The man who has rights is like a pure, self-contained activity, having no need of an end outside of him, and containing all rights, including the yet unconceived (eg. the right of a biological man to go into a women’s bathroom unmolested). At the same time, the man is pure passivity, having nothing to do, no arete to pursue, already being the entitled holder of the totality of rights.

 

18

 

The most serious philosophic critique ever directed against the modern idea of human rights was that by David Hume. But Hume continues and radicalizes Locke’s critique of substance by offering an internal critique of human consciousness. Hume contends that Locke confuses the idea of property and the idea of the right to property by assigning them the same origin. Property in general is founded on urgent and evident necessity in society, but the right to property is often based on frivolous foundations. Though basing property on the interest of society, Hume does not, like Aristotle, make property depend on political justice. Hume observes that one cannot attach the individual’s right to property to one idea, as Locke attempts to do with the idea of labor, because every idea necessarily entails other ideas, and ideas take form as a society does.

Locke’s idea of power confuses two ideas: the idea of unknown qualities and the idea of the necessary connection between an antecedent and a consequent idea. These two ideas are distinct, the first being insignificant but the later having meaning.

For Hume, moral notions were in no way founded upon the nature of things or of man, but their cause cannot be discerned, leaving them as absurd as the ideas of superstition, albeit useful superstitions. There is thus no meaning at all in wanting to attach a “natural” right to the individual. Both Locke and the modern attitude say that there is no essence or substance, that man has no nature or ends. Hume’s critique requires us to acknowledge an unbridgeable gap between the idiom of rights and the idiom of ideas. Locke’s mistake is in assuming that the idea of human rights was not an idea like other ideas. The entire domain of ideas and moral valuation, indeed, the properly human world as a whole, is suspended by the philosophers.

In Locke, the skepticism of ideas is combined with the dogmatism of rights, but in Hume there is an even more radical skepticism which does not spare the notion of rights but leads to a dogmatism of the common occurrences of life. In Hume’s view, reason cannot condemn or approve anything morally.

The source of the moral sentiment is within the frame of our human nature, which is unknown to us.

The language of rights is the only reflexive principle of a man who has no ends. Does the “moral sentiment” provide a satisfactory principle of action when the imperious sentiment dictates action but the observer sees there is no justification for it in reason? An abyss stretches between practical sentiment and theoretical reason. There is no common ground between the viewpoint of the observer and the agent. The philosopher must forget the fatal secret that annihilates good and evil before he returns to the world of action. Hume embodies the precocious twilight of the Enlightenment which, in critiquing superstition, finally falls under its own critique, “admitting” that all ideas are equally superstitious.

 

19

 

“Not leaving a single stone unturned when it comes to obtaining the recognition and guarantee of his rights at home, Western man is often marvelously complacent when he views societies whose ways are foreign to his lifestyle and he even rejects the right to judge them…Thus liberal dogmatism and sociological or anthropological relativism divide our souls between themselves.” The doctrine of human rights faces the least obstacles in the United States, where Hume’s argument has the smallest chance of spreading. “On the tabula rasa of the continent, the appeal to rights gets carried away and loses patience, bursts of strident indignation disperse the already thin topsoil of human tradition; and from one side to the other, all the elements of the human world are attacked in the name of human rights.”

 

20

 

The one-sided assertion of rights in the United States in a sense represents the victory of Locke over Hume. Rights and ideas make up the twofold determination resulting from the rejection of human essence and produced by the analysis of human substance. But human rights take the place of human nature. The state of nature concept is important because it posits that man has no “innate ideas.” If man had ideas which he did not author, he would first have to bring to light what they contain or imply about himself and his condition. Man would have rights, but they would be subordinated to the recognition of the objective order of his ideas.

 

21

 

There is a contrast in the spirit of modern democracies between reforming activism under the banner of universal human rights and scientific passivity in the name of cultural diversity. An example is the denouncing of the lot given to the women in the West in the name of human rights while simultaneously accepting the lot of women in the Islamic world in the name of the sovereign particularity of each culture.

The doctrine of rights and the theory of culture both issue from the rejection of the “substantial” definition of man. The two propositions that man is the being who has rights and a cultural being both compress the same movement of thought, though specified in different ways. Man is presupposed in his indetermination, his idealess reflexivity. Then, on his own, he comes out of the indetermination and defines himself and explicitly fashions himself under a particular law which eventually shows little concern for his rights.

 

22

 

The two propositions that man is a being who has rights and a being of culture are born of the dissolution of the notion of substance. Both propositions are part of a movement of thought for which the notion of human nature appears cumbersome and sterile, and appears to denote an arbitrary halt in the movement of thought.

Human nature is a synthesis between the particular and the general, being only real when it is particular. With the dissolution of substance these two aspects come to be viewed as two moments that cannot coexist, necessarily successive. [Manent is describing a deep schizophrenia in modern man]. The separation of the two moments has major effects on the perception of the human world. Bringing in human nature as a foundation and an explanation short circuits the coming and going from indetermination to determination. It is a style which paralyses analytical thought by placing it before a reality that is always too and too little determined  [infinite (but really finite) evasion of the real?].

 

23

 

Early modern philosophy replaced the real simultaneous presence of the particular and the universal in substance with the two successive moments of presupposition and determination. Existentialism begins by confirming the duality and tension between presupposition and determination, between implicit and explicit humanity. Man is enjoined to understand that the process between presupposition and determination makes him what he is, and that he truly exists when he is conscious of this process. “The modern scheme presupposes man’s humanity; but this presupposed humanity is never present to itself…In order to be free and powerful and wise, modern humanity is organized on the active forgetting of itself.” Modern man is the parasite of his hidden double, the one who makes culture and the diversity of rights.

Self-affirmation of the presupposed self consists of the dormant double taking a hold of himself and, freed of past, present, motives, projecting the self toward the future. The precedent of early modern thought prevents self-reflection, as there is an equivocal lack of clarity whether it has posited the nonexistence or only the unknowability of human nature.

“Modern consciousness – it seems to me that I have written this book only to make this point – comes into itself in the two moments of the presupposition of ‘X’ and the objectification of ‘X.'” Existentialism is the resolute affirmation of X but X is a hidden person or thing. Dasein, or liberty, takes the place of “man.” Modern consciousness makes its most heroic efforts in overcoming its own duplicity in moderns like Martin Heidegger.

Manent, The City of Man, Ch. 4, pp. 126-137, Parts 8 – 14

8

 John Locke agrees that man is different from the animals, distinguished by his power of abstracting. It is only that we do not know what his substance is and only know that for certain that he is an animal. We assume that man is man, but that simply means for us that “X = X.” Locke is neutralizing the effects of uncertainty over human essence in order to proceed. He does this by drawing a line between the perfectly clear, such as that man is an animal, and the decidedly obscure. We then proceed with the assumption that we do not know X and we never will. The way is cleared to construct a human order that is beyond criticism. This is not at all like ancient skepticism in that we are not invited or constrained to refrain from judgment and action as the ancient skeptic was, but on the contrary, we are urged to forge a just society that is founded on demonstrative moral theory.

Locke holds that moral notions are arbitrary creations of man and that right, first and foremost the right to property, is a creation of the individual who is strictly isolated from his fellows. The human “X” is the tacit companion of this deduction of rights. The superiority of “X” is not denied, but is considered in his animal locus. Rather than reducing the higher to the lower, Locke acknowledges that everything that is part of man, including the animal in him, is nothing but man. Locke and the Moderns do not reduce the higher to the lower, but envelope the lower in the higher and absorb it.

“Modern thought despairs that men will ever agree on what is proper to man, on human substance and ends, and thus it wants to bracket the question of what is proper to man.” Locke conceptualizes a way for man to take his bearings from what is not human but animal, in order to make a human world that is independent of human opinions where man can affirm himself without knowing himself. 

9

Although Locke would thus dispense with human essence, it is difficult to pursue this line of reasoning to the very end as it irresistibly gives rise to propositions about substance despite itself. Hence, labor becomes for Locke, modern philosophy, and modern man generally the “essential” characteristic of man. One cannot completely dispense with giving an account of human motives, even if refraining from advancing such propositions. What incites man to labor? We want an answer. Locke cannot escape the necessity of at least sketching a description of action, an analysis of human motives.

The fundamental formula of Locke’s “anthropology” is that “desire is always moved by evil, to fly from it.” For Locke, the primary question raised by the tradition, what is the supreme good of man?, by which the tradition was divided according to the various answers given by the schools, sects, and religions, is a perfectly idle question. For Locke, the question of the good is inseparable from the question of human essence and both are unanswerable. These two questions are two expressions of a sterile vanity. Once  moral choice comes to be regarded as intrinsically arbitrary, classing it as a matter of animal taste is nothing to take exception to.

10

 Hobbes had already denied the fact that there is a summum bonum and had said that good and evil only have meaning with reference to the person involved. Locke is distinct from Hobbes by what is encapsulated in his writing that “the greatest present uneasiness is the spur to action.” Man according to Locke does not have great desire or magnanimity. He is neither Christian nor Greek, but the tireless laborer and consumer, the man with no ambition who moves and stirs modern society. He takes it as a truism that man flees first and foremost the evil he experiences in the present and present ill being is always stronger than a future good. According to the tradition, man always seeks the good through a thousand obstacles and illusions but according to Locke, man always flees from evil in spite of a thousand inclinations to the good.

11

 Locke’s though takes him a long way from Christianity, but he openly preserves the basic tenet of Christian doctrine that God is the supremely desirable supreme good. Man is motivated in his schema by evil and threat, not the good and promise.

12

 Locke’s analysis, however, does not contradict his need to bracket human nature and suspend any analysis of it. He is confined to a hazy presupposition of it. If man is always moved by the most urgent ill-being, the first principle of his action will be the uneasiness of the animal in him, which he strives to appease by labor. Rational organization of labor takes the place and function of “the policeman God.” The fear of God is retained as a fallback for those incapable of conducting themselves by reason.

13

 Locke’s fundamental propositions are that man fashions his moral notions, that he has rights, and that he labors. Historically, these three propositions became separated and were even sometimes opposed to each other. However, at the present time, they show themselves to be quite compatible elements of the moral atmosphere of democracies. These groups of notions have a common fount in Locke, and they are three ways of saying that the question of human essence has no solution or meaning, or that man has no ends. They are ultimate propositions which cannot be ranked and cannot be deduced from one another.

 Labor does not determine the human organization that would correspond to it, nor does “culture” or “values” help in this role. It is only by defining himself as the one who has rights that man can finally embrace the tautology by which he wants to affirm himself: “X = X.” In this tautology, man already has and is since it is his right to have it or be it.

14

 Ends are an indispensable element in the human dynamic of ethos. By pursuing ends which we think fulfill our nature, we seize up our identity in the pursuit, while recognizing we have not attained that which we pursue. “This intermediary character of man opens a space where he can reflect on himself and recognize himself as a man.  But for the one who no longer has ends but rights, how shall this indispensable distance be opened, this interior space that allows man to think and speak for himself?  For him, there is no longer any differential tension between empirical and completed being, between potency and act, between what is fulfilled and what is desired.”

Whether the rights of man are respected or scoffed at changes nothing in the conditions or state of man as a possessor of rights. This contrasts with natural ends and law and grace because right in this new sense does not modify in any way, whether it is violated or guaranteed, the condition of man as a possessor of rights.

Pierre Manent’s City of Man, chapter 4, notes

Notes on Manent’s The City of Man, Chapter IV: The Hidden Man

1

Manent has described thus far the three major spheres in modern man’s self-consciousness: History, Society and Economy. Each of these has two facets, a homogenous set of facts and the science which concerns itself with these facts. These spheres can crisscross in unlimited, kaleidoscopic combinations. The constraints of the science of these spheres are more formal than real. Within these constraints, the scholar is absolute sovereign over his province of “facts.” However, he is formally forbidden to connect these facts to the whole. “How fortunate these scholars are to be spared the sole true difficulty of knowledge!” Manent declaims facetiously. Underlying these modern practices is a despair of philosophy, the science of the Whole. Yet there is nothing that requires one to despair of the cause of unity, for it was philosophy itself which deliberately dismembered the unity, so why would philosophy not be capable of reunifying the whole?

2

Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke implacably destroyed Aristotle’s doctrine of “substance,” which had been adopted by Catholic doctrine. It was in the English line, from Hobbes to Locke to Hume, that this destruction of substance was linked most clearly to the construction of the new body politic. In Aristotle, nature provides the moving force, impulse and ordering of a human world, but the world is described in all its complexity thanks to a dialectical analysis of opinions and to a phenomenology of the passions. In contrast, there is a narrowing and a compression in Hobbes’s concept. Human diversity and complexity is reduced to a single fundamental passion and the political order is deduced entirely from this passion. In Hobbes’s view, once the desire for power is held in check by fear of the absolute sovereign, the exercise of that desire will soon be celebrated as liberty. The homogenization of the diverse human faculties and passions that is exhibited in Hobbes presupposes a prior work of abstraction and denaturation. The philosopher speaks of “power” while normally men speak with natural spontaneity about wealth, science, honor and glory. This supposed quintessence of human desire is next dissolved into the nonhuman homogeneity of power.

3

In John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, power is expelled from the place where in Hobbes it played the most striking role. Power is conceived of as an intermediary stage on the road that leads from the world of substance to that of relation. One of the principle intentions of Locke’s Essay is to discredit the notion of substance. In Hobbes, power had taken the place of substance as the universal idiom capable of giving an account of the world. In Locke, man’s “artistic” character devours his “natural” character. Everything particular to man now appears as an effect produced by man. In this view, man is the result of his own production, but where was he before he resulted? “Thus man is labor.” What is human in man comes to be viewed as the result of labor.

4

Locke goes so far in his treatment of man as man’s artifice that he deems the idea of murder an “arbitrary” idea. Manent writes of this, “One has the feeling that the world of ideas is unraveling, that ideas are being trivialized…We have the feeling as it were of a moral violence at work in this intellectual decomposition of a notion.” Locke’s contention that the idea of killing has no more rapport with the idea of man than with the idea of a sheep is formally “unimpeachable, but is also substantially untenable.” Only by violent abstraction is the idea of killing treated in this fashion. The idiom of ideas which Locke’s Essay develops in European philosophy always gives a serious and plausible air to whatever thesis one may put forth. Locke’s decomposition of the wholes that give meaning to human experience makes diversity without any unity.

5

Hobbes’s emphatic concentration of man’s nature in the desire for power liberated the world of ideas from every natural and ontological bond.” Locke is a continuation of this gulf between ideas and reality. He elaborates moral notions as obeying rules that are governed merely by convenience for the sake of social communication. For Locke, the rules for constituting the human world are fully analogous to the rules for fabricating a table or a chair. Chairs have to be fitted enough to the nature of the man so that they can be comfortable or convenient. However, in the case of Locke’s conception of moral notions, what is fabricated is the constitution itself of the human world. Hence, the convenience of human nature cannot determine this in the same way. Locke rigorously preserves the formalism of “conveniency” against a resort to human nature. Conveniency maintains an equivocation between the universal and the particular and it is a rule without foundation or reference point, able to vary indefinitely.

6

Locke’s analysis of the constitution of the human world is so amorphous that it seems to preclude the establishment of a political philosophy. Moral notions are interpreted as arbitrary constructs regulated by conveniency, whatever way it is understood. However, Locke avers that a political theory as rigorous and demonstrable as mathematics is possible. If man is unknown as a substance, he is known to us by his powers and his relations. In fact, in developing political philosophy, Locke ends up presupposing the nature of man and his substance, avoiding making it the object of investigation. Unfortunately, or inevitably, Locke does not move beyond his general affirmation of the possibility of constructing demonstrative moral doctrine. Locke formulated the requirement of a rigorous moral and political doctrine while at the same time emphatically rejecting inquiry into the nature or substance of man. If he was mistaken, then our regime of modern democracy is devoid of a sure foundation since it was built on his formulation.

7

Locke erected the lofty structure of the liberal and democratic state on the puny base of the solitary animal in search of food.. The only teaching of nature that he does not leave open to question is the injunction of animal necessity, for survival. Locke uses a term, labor, which is proper only to man to designate an activity within reach of and characteristic of an animal because he sees in human consumption the first expression of human rapport to nature. He presupposes man in his quest for the foundations of human right. According to Locke, the human individual has in himself the necessary and sufficient foundation of property, and from that starting point, of law in its entirety. Law is said to not have its primary source in the conditions and consequences of the common life but in the isolated individual’s rapport with nature and with himself. Law according to Locke’s conception of it can only be founded on individual animality in its solitary rapport with external nature and with itself. However, if his reasoning is correct, the animals who exist also as biological individualities would also know about property and law and hence, political order.

Pierre Manent’s City of Man, ch. 3, Notes

Notes on Manent’s The City of Man, Chapter III, “The Economic System”

by David Alexander

1

Where Montesquieu cautiously established the English experience as a new authority, Adam Smith accepted it as an established authority. Smith explains economic growth in England and Scotland in his day as the result of “the desire to better one’s condition.” He universalizes this experience and says that it is human nature to always be striving for “progress,” and hence improvement is the general law of history. His faith in this principle permits him to forego his usual empirical rigor and assume its presence in opaque areas of history. He treats political institutions as only being able to place negative limits on improvement.

2

Thomas Hobbes posits mankind’s fundamental inclination as being a restless desire of power after power. Smith develops and simplifies Hobbes’s simplification, converting the desire for power into the desire for purchasing-power. Smith evinces a belief in the possibility of a dialectical linear deduction of “history” starting from “nature.” The fundamental human desire is reduced first to being the desire to better one’s condition, and then to the desire to increase one’s purchasing-power. Nature and history come together into what is called the “economy.”

3

The desire to better one’s condition is conceived as quite complex in the work of Smith. It changes significantly in his two great works from The Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759 to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations of 1776. In the first, the human desire for betterment is essentially vanity, which is defined in relation to others. In the later, the reference to the social bond is excised.

In the desire to better one’s condition is presupposed a certain image of the better conditions, a phantasm of the imagination. So the imagination is perforce given a central role. Smith indeed puts imagination at the heart of his first book. Smith holds that our interest in money and power, and the arts and sciences, is driven by attraction essentially to beauty. When we pursue utility, it is really vanity we seek, and when we give into vanity, we are attracted by beauty.

The concept of the “invisible hand” remains the same in its definition in the two aforementioned works but it differs greatly between them in content. In Theory, human beings are ruled by their imagination and vanity but in Wealth, the imagination and vanity disappear and human behavior is cast as being motivated only by gain and interest. Between the two is a chasm stretching between the prestige of the imagination in an society of unequal people and the prosaic and rational pursuit of gain in an egalitarian society.

4

Smith’s account of how inegalitarian, feudal society gave way to the egalitarian character of commercial society, for all the breadth and serenity of his masterpiece The Wealth of Nations, and for all its status as received wisdom in liberal societies, appears to rest on the slender, insufficient base of an epigram: The feudal lords bartered away all their power and authority for diamond belt buckles and such.

5

Manent criticizes Smith’s portrayal of the psychology of the feudal landlord as implausible and inconsistent. “When Smith yields to epithets of increasing indignation in characterizing it, he is only trying to mesmerize his own uncertainty and our vigilance.” Smith posited two different human concerns that led to the revolution, childish vanity in the great proprietor, represented in Theory, and interest and gain in the merchant and artisan, represented in Wealth. Smith’s explanation of the childish vanity of the feudal landlords does not explain why they would choose to give up the prestige of their position. Smith so greatly desires to deduce the institution from the economic conditions that he asserts that the proprietor rules over his clients because he feeds him. But this reasoning may be flipped to the conclusion that the proprietor obeys his clients because he feeds them. While some might respond that the two need not be exclusive, Manent drives home his point that, as with the sociological point of view, the language is “shallow and vain!” He rejects Smith’s idea of a feudal lord as preposterous, as a strange phantasm of the mind in which a person inexplicably saddles himself with hundreds of dependents. A tenable explanation must render the appropriation of surplus and the support of dependents intelligible.

6

Smith tells the story of the advance of commercial society without telling a truly human story. Smith, unlike Montesquieu, does not refrain from identifying a fundamental passion in human nature behind progress but presupposes the irresistible desire to better their condition.. But if they know what they want and attain it, why speak of an “invisible hand”? Manent holds that the spirit of commerce so ruled Smith that he equated it with human nature.

Manent returns to his criticism of Smith’s psychology of the feudal landlord as inadequate, something that blinks on just at the point of its dissolution, and then blinks off. He says a more serious look at the landlord’s soul shows that he does not barter away his power and prestige for trinkets, which Smith holds he does, reviling him for it. Rather, it is because he is powerless before the centralized royal power of the sovereign already that his childish “vanity” increases. Because Smith does not look at the landlord from the political angle, the landlord’s action becomes preposterous to him, when really it is Smith’s imputed psychology which is preposterous.

7

Smith’s conception of the imagination is one in which the desire for power, wealth, and the products of technical ingenuity are all rooted in the same aesthetic idea. It is the imagination, not utility, which gives things their value, makes them desirable, and associates them with human nature. But the imagination liberates man from the constraints of his nature in order to subject him to its own nature. The imagination is unaware of its own value as the value giver and, so, unaware of qualitative differences from one regime to another and one epoch to another.

8

To the extent that the idea of utility exercises and satisfies the imagination, it rules over economic man. For the participants in the market, the role of the imagination tends to disappear into the artifacts, but from the spectator’s point of view, the imagination’s role becomes very prominent. There is the perspective of the citizen acquiring the new watch and there is the perspective of Smith, admiring and seeking to make perfect the economic system so that it runs undisturbed, with regularity of motion.

9

In the new society, the imagination becomes formalized and individualized. The observer sees in it, not individuals acting in ways liable to moral judgment, but rather a harmonious system where the natural motives of individuals are as obscured as the inner workings of a watch. The system produces effects corresponding to the idea of utility.

10

The commercial imagination reduces all things to useful things as far as they embody the idea of fitness, but it seems clueless when it comes to establishing their relative value. The imagination cannot appear as a measure of value in the commercial society except as labor, which hence becomes the sole locus of value. (It has left no leisure for contemplation). All value resting on labor, labor becomes of ever greater value.

Once labor is exalted in this way, the imagination, as a universal human faculty capable of embracing the Whole of the cosmos, shrivels into inconsequence. The economic viewpoint, which is in no way a “conception of the world,” then settles in and in effect, the Creation is renounced. All that is left is the vital principle and untiring motor of commercial society. The one great object retained by the imagination is the harmonious system of production and consumption. The splendor of God’s glory bright, in the radiance of the Son, and in the Creation created through the Son, is effectively occluded. “Man as economist is the pure spectator of man become homo oeconomicus.”

11

The Economy writ large is motivated toward homogeneity since only equal values can be exchanged. “Commercial society nurtures and contains the immanent utopia of a powerless society, a depoliticized society.” However, the power of purchasing labor subsists. The economic process, in which labor is embodied in objects and services, is driven by a profit motive. Economic man works to make capital bear fruit. Without profit, the Economy quickly becomes a “valley of industrial dry bones.” Only profits proportionate to capital give life to the Economy. “Profit, not religion, is the spirit of this spiritless world where one must overwork in order to live: the commercial society.”

12

Some object to the notion that surplus is not institutionalized in a capitalist society like it is in earlier societies. Surplus, like profit, is appropriated in private property, the institution par excellence. Yet Manent replies, “The noninstitutionalized, underdetermined, floating character of surplus is most clearly revealed in the choice left to the capitalist to use it for his own consumption or for investment.” The nature of profit revealed itself in the discretionary choice it offered between consumption and investment. The imagination and capital make things felt worldwide. Only the owner of capital can conceive endlessly the new correspondences which constitute the life of the Economy. Authoritarian or planned investment petrify the network of social valences and the movement of the imagination.

13

The freeing and the founding of the economy took place at the same time and, from that time forward, it cannot be properly said that the economy is distinct from society. The body politic itself becomes merged with and indistinguishable from the economic system. Imagination rules over labor, yet labor constrains the imagination to produce only ideas which display the idea of usefulness and that are liable to encourage labor. One now works only to work, to carry out the useful ideas the imagination endlessly conceives. Labor never rests. But there has been a dastardly trade-off: The imagination has lost all sense of glory.

Pierre Manent, City of Man, chapter 2, notes

Notes on Chapter 2 of Manent’s The City of Man

“All literature, all philosophy, all history abounds with incentives to noble action, incentives which would be buried in black darkness were the light of the written word not flashed upon them. How many pictures of high endeavor great authors of Greece and Rome have drawn for our use, and bequeathed to us, not only for our contemplation but for our emulation! These I have held ever before my vision throughout my public career, and have guided the workings of my brain and my soul by meditating upon patterns of excellence.” -Cicero in Pro Archia Poeta

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” -Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

1

For contemporary society, history has become the way, the truth and the life. The feeling of living “within society” is the effective expression of living “within history,” and it has given rise to the novel and to the science of sociology.

2

After the French Revolution, three great schools of political thought, the liberals, the sociologues, and the socialists are unified by a notion of society, as distinct from the state and political institutions, and in the idea that society is the locus of the irreversible and irresistible movement of history. “The sociological viewpoint penetrates and dominates all modern political thought.”

3

Guided by Emile Durkheim, sociology cuts the ties with a praxial, practical focus and sets the parameters of sociology’s ethos by training it on being pure theory and a study of something independent of the will of man called “society.” Sociology depends for its form and existence on a deliberate refusal to take man’s nature as its object of study. [Contrast this with the aforementioned two quotations which provide instances of Ancient and Christian emphasis on emulation].

4

The sociological viewpoint is that of the spectator and its wrests, from the agent, initiative and reason and vests all force and causality in “society.” [The way Manent describes it, it seems like society is made into a kind of idol and we become like the idol by surrendering our humanity to it]. There is a resultant twofold dynamic: a deliberate and forceful distancing from what is real to attain the height of Science- a willful self-alienation-, and an equally deliberate and forceful effort to recover familiarity.

5

Montesquieu and the sociologist start from and emphasize the “infinite diversity” of human things only to then erase it. The affirmation of sociological causality is to be equated with the denial of chance, but one who grants primary causality to human nature can give chance a large role to play. “Is it even possible to stop, once the human world is only comprehensible as a causal chain without a first cause?” When man’s nature is posited only as an effect, or as an epiphenomenon, and not as a cause, a first cause is denied, and the result is that sociological studies constantly offer causes which are not truly causes. However, if they once admit man as a cause, then sociology as a science is called into question. In a sense, only the sociologist believes in the science of sociology, and that only while doing his job. Man understood as an agent by nature is best addressed by a “practical science” or an “art,” not by a science which is motivated to suppress his primal questions and occult his nature.

6

The deliberate ignoring of the real human agent poses problems for the sociological viewpoint. The requirement of scientific neutrality raises difficulties for the researcher which must be scrutinized. The sociologist avoids speaking about the universal, seeks to speak of the particular, and strives to elaborate a new general law, crucially only after the suppression of the pre-theoretical man’s apprehension of universals. All the mind’s focus of attention that the sociologist deems legitimate is trained on relations, but once this happens, even the memory of the most essential questions bearing on the human meaning of each of the elements that it is supposed to connect with begins to be lost. Can the sociologist speak of sociology in good conscience as a science of man?

7

For the Ancients and classical philosophy, man as nature and soul is the cause of the human phenomenon. As soon as this integrating principle is abandoned, the human phenomenon becomes a pure plurality. In their diversity without principle, sociological parameters are necessarily equivalent to each other, or whatever the individual sociologist can make out of them. The sociologist fails to perform the essential Socratic questioning which defines precisely the objects he is trying to relate to each other. The sociologist believes he knows what he is doing because he does not know what he believes. “The scholar’s refinements hang on the faith of the coal miner.”

8

Manent examines Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as a case in point. Weber admits, in one of the last sentences, modern man’s inability to give religious ideas a significance for culture and national character that they deserve.

9

The sociologist who observes diverse societies cannot, as a scholar, evaluate the merits of values and place them in a hierarchical order. Manent asserts that the sociological grasp of the world is “necessarily mutilated and confused.” Sociological man cuts himself off from the great Whole and limits himself to a false Whole. “No effort of methodological refinement will succeed in opening the eyes of an intellectual discipline that seeks to interpret the world by bringing into play one or the other, and one and the other, of two definitions of man.”

10

Manent uses Montesquieu’s listing of climate as one of the things that govern man as an example of the sociological viewpoint. He notes of the sociologist that, whatever his individual nature, he as a sociologist has already prepositioned himself in relation to the question about what is proper to man. He has placed himself in a position of essential superiority by claiming that he knows what is stronger than man’s nature and what determines it. Implicitly, he claims to know more than if he knew man himself. The sociologist as a scholarly spectator “knows” the determinability of the causality of our nature. He affects to have knowledge that is superior to the very nature of man. But is the vaunted superiority in truth a diminishing cage?

11

The refusal to say or know anything about man except where and when he is the effect of a social cause ought to have discredited the science of man that imposes this refusal on itself as a matter of conscience. Instead, sociological language has become “the official vernacular of modern democracy.” This is because social science plays a decisive role in the deathblow to nature that characterizes our regime. Paradoxically, conceiving man as determined is simultaneous with and involved in the ascendency of the conviction that the true nature of man is to be free. “The sociological viewpoint is constituted the moment the notion of liberty becomes the cornerstone of the human world…”

Manent notes how Montesquieu separates the government of mores from the government of laws and says that, in fact, we can only “do sociology” about mores that are “free” in this sense. More and more slips away from the hold of the political actor until the critical moment when religion severs itself from political law or is sundered from it.

12

Montesquieu re-conceptualizes counsels of perfection as something akin to taste that those who love perfection may pursue. For both Christian theology and Greek philosophy, the perfection of being is the raison d’etre of every human being, not just a hobby available for a few who like that kind of thing. Montesquieu’s separation ruptures this continuity.

13

In Europe for the first time, a religion loses strength over a long period of time at the same time that the body politic grows strong, without any new religion appearing to replace the first. In becoming purely political by way of the sociological divisions, the law raises itself irresistibly above the contents of life. How does this happen by reducing the importance of politics to a mere parameter among others? It does so by requiring that all other regimes be considered in another perspective. Because politics is so elevated and so separated in the sociological distillation, all other regimes appear confused. According to Montesquieu, the law extricates itself from confusion with nature by dividing it into two halves. One part emancipates itself from nature and becomes absolute sovereign. The other part reabsorbs itself into human matter which becomes the dense and opaque chain of social causes accessible only to the sociological viewpoint. These two extreme poles can be apprehended in terms of the other.