Paternalism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sat Apr 15 21:24:48 MDT 1995


This is not interlinear, but in the format suggested by Lisa, front-ended
loaded. Rahul's arguments are quoted at the end.'

Rahul asks:

1. Doesn't the long term stability of regimes of domination like the
Indian caste system show the falsity of my hypothesis that such regimes
will in the long term be destabilized by resistance to domination?

This is obviously a real problem for my account and in my paper, from
which the arguments we've been discussing are taken, I consider it at
length. My reply in short is twofold:

a. I can't speak to India, but European regimes of domination have faced
continual rebellions and lesser resistance which have forced modification
of their justices, in the long term towards emancipation, and
occasionally the abolition of forms of domination, such as slavery or serfdom.

b. Where regimes of domination have been stable the explanation of this
matters. If the stability is due to coercion, brute force, ideological
error, or other things than a genuine reconciliation of interests, then
this does not count in favor of the justice of those regimes. That is why
dominant groups like to claim that their regimes are just, because if
they admitted that their rule was based on exploitation and domination,
they would face destabilizing resistance.

2. R asks whether, since a less technologically innovative regime is
likely to be more stable than a more innovative regime, such a regime is
ipso facto more just.

I reply

a. The premise is false. The USSR was less stable partly because it was
less innovative than capitalism.

b. But in any case lack of innovation is not evidence of a reconciliation
of interests, thus justice. If a regime of domination is in fact more
stable because it is less innovative, that is on par with explaining its
stability in terms of coercion or ideology.

3. Rahul claims that elites do not really believe in the justice of their
own rule, but only avow it cynically to dupe the masses.

I reply

a> Even if that is true I cannot see how this harms my argument, since
nothing in what I say depends on the dominant groups being sincere about
their own right to rule.

b. Even if that is true, their cynical avowal, or the fact that they feel
obliged to make such an avowal to stay in power, supports my case.

c. But in fact I do not believe this is true. Cynicism is very hard to
maintain as an attitude and is easily seen through, which is
destabilizing. Elites that no longer believe their own noble lies (Plato)
are on the way out. Think of the late Communist bureaucracy. From personal
experience with the upper classes (undergrad: Princeton; grad school:
Cambridge, Michigan) I can testify that those of them I've met really
believe that they rule by right.

d. The universal disregard for the Geneva convention is not a
counter-example. The capitalists, etc. do not believe that they are acting
immorally in, for instance, engaging in bombardment from air, prohibited
by the convention. They think there is always some moral justification for
doing what they do. These justifications are spelled our quite openly.
While often thin and transparent, they suffice to quell doubts in the
minds of elites, as justifications of whatever happens to be in one's
group interests generally do.

4. Rahul objects that while refutations of the dominant group's claims to
rulke by right on their own terms are very nice, the only refutations that
count are practical, i.e., overthrowing them.

I do not neglect this point. It is the core of my destabilizationn
argument. I say in the paper (paraphrasing here). They may not agree that
domination is unjust, but the destabilization produced by resistance to
domination proves them wrong on their own terms. The struggle for
eamncipation refutes the justice of domination.

5. Rahul says that moral philosophy has gotten nowhere but avows a crude
utilitarianism, saying that "The Good of the many outweights the good of
the few."

a. Obviously if he accepts the utilitarian principle he thinks that moral
philosophy has gotten somewhere.

b. The principle is subject to a lot of powerful objections, not least the
relativist one which started my project. Even if we accept some such
principle, the dominant groups won't, so how to adjudicate the dispute? My
story at least offers a non-question-begging way to do this, which is more
than a mere assertion of utilitarianism can do.

c. The principle is unacceptable on other grounds--but to know why, you
have to have a little patience with moral philosophy, which has made some
progress after all, at least negatively, in showing why certaion claims
won't do. Do people want to discuss the adequacy of utilitarianism as a
moral view? Those who don't, but would like a brief clear survey of some
reasons a lot of people think it won't do, might look, e.g., at David
Lyon's discusstion of Justice, Welfare, and Distribution in Ethics and the
Rule of Law, which is short, clear, and nontechnical. It doesn't settle
the matter, but it sets forth problewms that all utilitarians have found
it necessary to address.

I set aside some disputes about disagreement in biology.

--Justin Schwartz

On Sat, 15 Apr 1995, Rahul Mahajan wrote:

(Numbers are keyed to the arguments above)

1.

> Mighty hard to get down to cases when there have been so few historical
> examples of emancipatory orders, and any that one might care to put forward
> were generally beaten down by imperialist intervention. But, if you want to
> talk about stability, how about the example of India? Largely because of
> the complex, intricate structure of domination that was (and is) the caste
> system, India achieved for 2000 years an incredible level of stability in
> basic social organization, even though during that time it had to absorb
> literally hundreds of waves of invasion. Obviously, no structure in the
> modern world can be held up to that standard, nor would it make sense to do
> so. Still, impressive, no?
>     A tightly, organically organized hierarchical structure can be
> incredibly stable, whereas even small political activist groups find it
> difficult to keep to a nonhierarchical structure if they want to keep from
> splitting apart.

2.

>     Another point: it should be self-evident that lack of technological
> advancement is a strong factor tending toward stability, as you claim an
> emancipatory social order is. Would you agree with the claim that this
> helpos to show that lack of innovation is necessarily more just than its
> presence?

3.
>
>
> In fact, the claim of the elite that their rule is just, while it is
> believed by many of the, is simply a cloak for exploitation and
> manipulation. Justice, as you define it, is in fact not part of their moral
> code. To get straight to the point, the only way to refute them on their
> own terms is to remove them from power, because that's truly the only
> principle they're protecting, despite the false consciousness of some about
> the matter. No need for fancy analysis -- look at the Geneva Convention,
> which set the "rules" for waging war. It clearly forbids the bombing of
> civilian populations, which the U.S. indulged in in every war since the
> convention. However, no one (of substance) ever called for the prosecution
> of any for war crimes, because they won, and the real moral basis of war is
> that might makes right. I realize I'm not saying anything new here, but you
> seem to be ignoring this.

4.
>
>
> It's always nice to refute them on their own (stated) terms, and it's easy
> to do case by case -- take neoliberal economics as an especially easy one.
> But how are you going to refute someone who doesn't believe in
> emancipation, whether it's because God said it's wrong or because it'll
> mean that the great unwashed will be just as human as they are?

5
>
> I agree completely that we want to have some assurance, and that we can't
> ever have an incontrovertible assurance. But an objective reason? How about
> "The good of the many outweighs the good of the few." Why cast around for
> something that the elite will agree with (or would have to agree with if
> they were honest)
>
> > Moral
> >philosophy is just thinking about ethics, as biology is thinking about
> >life. It's no different in principle and no more pointless or off-bounds.
> >--Justin Schwartz

R> Biology is not just thinking about life. If it were, it would have gotten
> nowhere, which is about where moral philosophy has gotten.





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