Archive for the ‘Idealism’ Category
ERE’S a thought, Dearie, that I give to you because I haven’t a very firm grasp upon it myself. In order to clarify my mind I explain to you. And thus, probably, do I give you something which is already yours. Grateful? Of course you are — there!
The thought is this — but before I explain it let me tell of what a man saw in a certain cottage in Denmark. And it was such a little white-washed cottage, too, with a single, solitary rosebush clambering over the door! An Artist, his Wife and their Little Girl lived there. There were four rooms, only, in this cottage — a kitchen, a bedroom, a workroom and the Other Room. The kitchen was for cooking, the bedroom for sleeping, the workroom for work, and the Other Room was where the occupants of the cottage received their few visitors. When the visitors remained for tea or lunch, the table was spread in the Other Room, but usually the Artist, his Wife and their Little Girl ate their meals in the kitchen, or in summer on the porch at the back of the house.
Now the Artist painted pictures, and his Wife carved beautiful shapes in wood; but they didn’t make much money — in fact, no one seemed to know them at all. They didn’t have funds to accumulate a library, and perhaps would not if they had. But still they owned all the books written by Georg Brandes. These books were kept in a curious little case, which the Artist and his Wife, themselves, had made.And before the case of books was an ancient Roman lamp, suspended from the ceiling by a chain. And the lamp was kept always lighted, night and day. Each morning before they tasted food, the man & his Wife read from Georg Brandes, and then they silently refilled, trimmed & made the lamp all clean and tidy.Oho! why, your eyes are filling with tears — how absurd! — & you want to hear more about the Artist and his Wife and the Little Girl! But, bless me! that is all I know about them.
However, I do know that Georg Brandes is one of the Apostles of the Better Day. His message is a plea for beauty — that is to say, harmony. He would have us live lives of simplicity, truth, honesty and gentleness. He would have us work for harmony and love, instead of for place and power. Georg Brandes is an individualist and a symbolist. He thinks all of our belongings should mean much to us, and that great care should be exercised in selection. We need only a few things, but each of these things should suggest utility, strength, harmony and truth. All of our actions must be suggestive of peace and right. Not only must we speak truth, but we must live it. Our lives should be consecrated to the good — lives consecrated to Truth and Beauty. Consecrated Lives!
And so this Artist and his Wife I told you of were priests of Beauty, and their Little Girl was a neophyte; and the room where the Roman lamp burned was filled with the holiness of beauty, and no unkind thought or wrong intent could exist there.
Consecrated Lives! that is the subject. There is a brotherhood of such, and you can reach out and touch fingertips with the members the round world over.
Beauty is an Unseen Reality — an attempt to reveal a spiritual condition. Members of this Brotherhood of Consecrated Lives do not take much interest in Political Policies; and all the blatant blowing of brass horns that are used on ‘Change, in pulpits, or by Fourth of July speakers are to them trivial and childish. They distinguish at once the note of affectation, hypocrisy
and pretense in it all. They know its shallowness, its selfishness and its extremely transient quality.
Yet your man of the Consecrated Life may mix with the world, and do the world’s business, but for him it is not the true world, for hidden away in his heart he keeps burning a lamp before a shrine dedicated to Love and Beauty.
The Adept only converses at his best with an Adept, and he does this through self-protection. To hear the world’s coarse laugh in his Holy of Holies — no! and so around him is a sacred circle, and within it only the Elect are allowed to enter.
To join this brotherhood of Consecrated Lives requires no particular rites of initiation — no ceremonial — no recommendations. You belong when you are worthy.
But do not for a moment imagine you have solved the difficulty when you have once entered. To pride yourself on your entrance is to run the danger of finding yourself outside the pale with password hopelessly forgotten. Within the esoteric lines are circles and inner circles, and no man yet has entered the inmost circle where the Ark of the Covenant is secreted. All is relative.
But you know you belong to the Brotherhood when you feel the absolute nothingness of this world of society, churches, fashion, politics and business; and realize strongly the consciousness of the Unseen World of Truth, Love and Beauty.
The first emotion on coming into the Brotherhood is one of loneliness and isolation. You pray for comradeship, and empty arms reach out into the darkness. But gradually you awaken to the thought that you are one of many who hope and pray alike; and that slowly this oneness of thought and feeling is making its impress felt.
Then occasionally you meet one of your own. This one may be socially high or low, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman — but you recognize each other on sight and hold sweet converse. Then you part, mayhap, never to meet again, but you are each better, stronger, nobler for the meeting.
Consecrated Lives! You meet and you part, but you each feel a firmer impulse to keep the light burning — the altar light to Truth, Simplicity and Beauty. No other bond is required than that of devotion to Truth, the passion of listening in the Silence, the prayer for Wholeness and Harmony, the earnest desire to have your life reflect the Good.
All man-made organization would be fatal to the sweet, subtle and spiritual qualities of the Brotherhood. For organization means officers, judicial robes, livery, arbitrary differentiation, and all the vile and foolish claptrap of place and power. It means the wish to dictate, select and exclude, and this means jealousy, prejudice and bitterness — fifteen candidates for a vacant bishopric with heartaches to match! No organization ever contained within its ranks the best. Organization is arbitrary and artificial; it is born of selfishness; and at the best is a mere matter of expediency. The Brotherhood of Consecrated Lives admits all who are worthy, and all who are excluded, exclude themselves.
If your Life is to be a genuine consecration, you must be free. Only the free man is truthful; only the heart that is free is pure. How many compose this Brotherhood — who shall say? There are no braggart statisticians, no paid proselytes with their noisy boastings. Two constitute a congregation, and where they commune is a temple. Many belong who do not know it; others there be who think they belong, and are so sure of it that they do not.
But the Brotherhood is extending its lines;
and what think you the earth will be like
when the majority of men and women
in it learn that to be simple and
honest and true is the part of
wisdom, & that to work
for Love & Beauty is
the highest good?
AM an Anarchist.
All good men are Anarchists.
All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists.
Jesus was an Anarchist.
A monarchist is one who believes a monarch should govern. A Plutocrat believes in the rule of the rich. A Democrat holds that the majority should dictate. An Aristocrat thinks only the wise should decide; while an Anarchist does not believe in government at all.
Richard Croker is a Monarchist; Mark Hanna a Plutocrat; Cleveland a Democrat; Cabot Lodge an Aristocrat; William Penn, Henry D. Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Walt Whitman were Anarchists.
An Anarchist is one who minds his own business. An Anarchist does not believe in sending warships across wide oceans to kill brown men, and lay waste rice fields, and burn the homes of people fighting for liberty. An Anarchist does not drive women with babes at their breasts and other women with babes unborn, children and old men into the jungle to be devoured by beasts or fever or fear, or die of hunger, homeless, unhoused and undone.
Destruction, violence, ravages, murder, are perpetuated by statute law. Without law there would be no infernal machines, no war ships, no dynamite guns, no flat-nosed bullets, no pointed cartridges, no bayonets, no policeman’s billies, no night sticks, no come-alongs, no handcuffs, no strait-jackets, no dark cells, no gallows, no prison walls to conceal the infamies therein inflicted. Without law no little souls fresh from God would be branded “illegitimate”, indelibly, as soon as they reach Earth. Without law there would be less liars, no lawyers, fewer hypocrites, and no Devil’s Island.
“The Cry of the Little Peoples goes up to God in vain,
For the world is given over to the cruel sons of Cain;
The hand that would bless us is weak, and the hand that would break us is strong,
And the power of pity is naught but the power of a song.
The dreams that our fathers dreamed today are laughter and dust,
And nothing at all in the world is left for a man to trust.
Let us hope no more, nor dream, nor prophesy, nor pray,
For the iron world no less will crash on its iron way;
And nothing is left but to watch, with a helpless pitying eye,
The kind old aims for the world, and the kind old fashions die.”
~ Richard Le Galienne, ‘The Cry of the Little Peoples’
I do not go quite so far as that — I’m a pessimistic-optimist, Dearie, — I believe that brutality tends to defeat itself. Prize fighters die young, gourmands get the gout, hate hurts worse the man who nurses it, and all selfishness robs the mind of its divine insight, and cheats the soul that would know. Mind alone is eternal! He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps. My faith is great: out of the transient darkness of the present the shadows will flee away, and Day will yet dawn.
I am an Anarchist.
No man who believes in force and violence is an Anarchist. The true Anarchist decries all influences save those of love and reason. Ideas are his only arms.
Being an Anarchist I am also a socialist. Socialism [note: i.e., as a political party] is the antithesis of Anarchy. One is the North Pole of Truth, the other the South. The socialist believes in working for the good of all, while Anarchy is pure Individualism. I believe in every man working for the good of self; and in working for the good of self, he works for the good of all. To think, to see, to feel, to know; to deal justly; to bear all patiently; to act quietly; to speak cheerfully; to moderate one’s voice — these things will bring you the highest good. They will bring you the love of the best, and the esteem of that Sacred Few, whose good opinion alone is worth cultivating. And further than this, it is the best way you can serve Society — live your life. The wise way to benefit humanity is to attend to your own affairs, and thus give other people an opportunity to look after theirs.
If there is any better way to teach virtue than by practicing it, I do not know it.
Would you make men better — set them an example.
The Millennium will never come until governments cease from governing, and the meddler is at rest. Politicians are men who volunteer the task of governing us, for a consideration. The political boss is intent on living off your labor. A man may seek an office in order to do away with the rascal who now occupies it, but for the most part office seekers are rank rogues. Shakespeare uses the word politician five times, and each time it is synonymous with knave. That is to say, a politician is one who sacrifices truth and honor for policy. The highest motive of his life is expediency — policy. In King Lear it is the “scurvy politician,” who through tattered clothes beholds small vices, while robes and furred gowns, for him, cover all.
Europe is divided up between eight great governments, and in time of peace over three million men are taken from the ranks of industry and are under arms, not to protect the people, but to protect one government from another.
Mankind is governed by the worst — the strongest example of this is to be seen in American municipalities but it is true of every government. We are governed by rogues who hold their grip upon us by and thru statute law. Were it not for law the people could protect themselves against these thieves, but now we are powerless and are robbed legally. One mild form of coercion these rogues resort to is to call us unpatriotic when we speak the truth about them. Not long ago they would have cut off our heads. The world moves.
Government cannot be done away with instantaneously, but progress will come, as it has in the past by lessening the number of laws. We want less governing, and the Ideal Government will arrive when there is no government at all.
So long as governments set the example of killing their enemies, private individuals will occasionally kill theirs. So long as men are clubbed, robbed, imprisoned, disgraced, hanged by the governing class, just so long will the idea of violence and brutality be born in the souls of men.
Governments imprison men, and then hound them when they are released.
Hate springs eternal in the human breast.
And hate will never die so long as men are taken from useful production on the specious plea of patriotism, and bayonets gleam in God’s pure sunshine.
And the worst part about making a soldier of a man is, not that the soldier kills brown men or black men or white men, but it is that the soldier loses his own soul.
I am an Anarchist.
I do not believe in bolts or bars or brutality. I make my appeal to the Divinity in men, and they, in some mysterious way, feeling this, do not fail me. I send valuable books without question, on a postal card request, to every part of the Earth where the mail can carry them, and my confidence is never abused. The Roycroft Shop is never locked, employees and visitors come and go at pleasure, and nothing is molested. My library is for anyone who cares to use it.
I fix my thought on the good that is in every soul and make my appeal to that. And the plan is a wise one, judged by results. It secures you loyal helpers, worthy friends, gets the work done, aids digestion and tends to sleep o’nights. And I say to you, that if you have never known the love, loyalty and integrity of a proscribed person, you have never known what love, loyalty and integrity are.I do not believe in governing by force, or threat, or any other form of coercion. I would not arouse in the heart of any of God’s creatures a thought of fear, or discord, or hate or revenge. I will influence men, if I can, but it shall be only by aiding them to think for themselves; and so mayhap, they, of their own accord choose the better part — the ways that lead to life and light.
Source: Elbert Hubbard (aka Fra Elbertus), ‘The Better Part’, in A Message to Garcia, and Thirteen Other Things, East Aurora, NY: Roycrafters, 1901. Republished in 1910 and 1939 under the title, ‘Jesus Was an Anarchist’.
Written by John Uebersax
March 9, 2017 at 2:05 am
Posted in American Transcendentalism, Americana, Anti-war, Idealism, Land Reform, Libertarian, Literature, Love, Militarism, modernism, Occupy Movement, Occupy Wall Street, Peace, Political parties, Politics, Renewing America, Social philosophy, Statism, Transcendentalism, Values, War
ONE definition of Yoga is the integration of the spiritual and material realms in the human being, making a union of Heaven and Earth.
Given this definition, it is possible to approach politics as a form of Yoga. This would of course be very different from the usual practice of politics today. Rather, it would try bring into social affairs and institutions of government divine and eternal principles of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
While we’ve grown accustomed to think of politics as selfish and egoistic, in truth it is something that can glorify the Divine. Among the animals only human beings have devised such things as governments and elections — methods with which, if used rightly, we can greatly improve our lives and planet.
Today the world is in great peril, with a dangerous combination of growing populations, militarism and materialism, combined with threats to the environment and climate. But since we believe in a benevolent and superintending Spirit, we remain confident that solutions will reveal themselves in due time.
Putting these two thoughts together, we may see that political institutions like elections and voting, if approached rightly, give us a means of shaping a positive future.
What does it mean to approach politics rightly? Some basic guidelines are evident. First we know that our choices should be governed by unselfish rather than selfish or egoistic aims. Our goal as ‘yogic voters’ should be to better the condition of all, not only of some. Further, it follows from the principles of Yoga, that our actions should seek to unify, not divide members of society. In addition, right politics and voting should leave our mind more calm and peaceful, not agitated and angry. These principles alone would exclude perhaps 90% of usual politics.
Today we are faced with one great need above all, which is to end the terrible program of constant war that our country (that is, the government and corporations) has pursued. To help you exert a countering and correcting force of Love, I have placed my name on the ballot in the June 7 primary as an independent peace candidate for US Congress in our district. A vote for me will be recognized as a vote for peace. In this way the ordinary process of an election is turned into a referendum against war and for peace. Since we do not have direct referendums on war, this means of producing one appears promising and I hope others will follow the example in future elections.
Every vote for peace will have a positive karmic effect, helping to improve our country and world. It is to enable you to gain positive karma for yourself and others that I am running. The direct goal is not to win the present election, but to begin the journey to peace.
I may add that the alternative — to vote for a Democrat or Republican politician — would, in my opinion, have little effect, as both represent materialistic values and the differences between them are negligible; I also believe they habitually promote divisive issues with the aim of diverting public attention from more fundamental needs for change, such as ending war.
Therefore please let me ask that you visit my campaign website and consider voting for peace.
If you should like to share this information, that would also be appreciated as I am relying on grassroots means of reaching voters.
Written by John Uebersax
May 20, 2016 at 3:50 pm
Posted in 2016 election, Culture, Culture of peace, Drone strikes, Gandhi, Humanism, Idealism, Imperialism, International Affairs, Love, Materialism, Middle East, Militarism, MLK, Moral philosophy, News, Occupy Movement, Peace, Philosophy, Politics, Prayer, Reform in government, religion, Social philosophy, Values, Voting, Yoga
This excerpt from Emerson describes so well the ascent to love and knowledge of God by of Beauty in Plato’s Symposium, or Diotima’s Ladder, that I thought I should share it:
In like manner, personal beauty is then first charming and itself when it dissatisfies us with any end; when it becomes a story without an end; when it suggests gleams and visions and not earthly satisfactions; when it makes the beholder feel his unworthiness; when he cannot feel his right to it, though he were Caesar; he cannot feel more right to it than to the firmament and the splendors of a sunset.
Hence arose the saying, “If I love you, what is that to you?” We say so because we feel that what we love is not in your will, but above it. It is not you, but your radiance. It is that which you know not in yourself and can never know.
This agrees well with that high philosophy of Beauty which the ancient writers delighted in; for they said that the soul of man, embodied here on earth, went roaming up and down in quest of that other world of its own out of which it came into this, but was soon stupefied by the light of the natural sun, and unable to see any other objects than those of this world, which are but shadows of real things. Therefore the Deity sends the glory of youth before the soul, that it may avail itself of beautiful bodies as aids to its recollection of the celestial good and fair; and the man beholding such a person in the female sex runs to her and finds the highest joy in contemplating the form, movement and intelligence of this person, because it suggests to him the presence of that which indeed is within the beauty, and the cause of the beauty.
If however, from too much conversing with material objects, the soul was gross, and misplaced its satisfaction in the body, it reaped nothing but sorrow; body being unable to fulfil the promise which beauty holds out; but if, accepting the hint of these visions and suggestions which beauty makes to his mind, the soul passes through the body and falls to admire strokes of character, and the lovers contemplate one another in their discourses and their actions, then they pass to the true palace of beauty, more and more inflame their love of it, and by this love extinguishing the base affection, as the sun puts out fire by shining on the hearth, they become pure and hallowed. By conversation with that which is in itself excellent, magnanimous, lowly, and just, the lover comes to a warmer love of these nobilities, and a quicker apprehension of them. Then he passes from loving them in one to loving them in all, and so is the one beautiful soul only the door through which he enters to the society of all true and pure souls. In the particular society of his mate he attains a clearer sight of any spot, any taint which her beauty has contracted from this world, and is able to point it out, and this with mutual joy that they are now able, without offence, to indicate blemishes and hindrances in each other, and give to each all help and comfort in curing the same. And beholding in many souls the traits of the divine beauty, and separating in each soul that which is divine from the taint which it has contracted in the world, the lover ascends to the highest beauty, to the love and knowledge of the Divinity, by steps on this ladder of created souls.
Somewhat like this have the truly wise told us of love in all ages. The doctrine is not old, nor is it new. If Plato, Plutarch and Apuleius taught it, so have Petrarch, Angelo and Milton.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (‘Love‘; Essays, 1st Series)
EADERS of this blog may download a free copy of my new book, a collection of religious and metaphysical essays by Joseph Addison which appeared in the The Spectator in 1711 and 1712. These are certain to delight and edify. Addison is well known as one of the most skilled prose stylists in the English language; but few today are aware of the sublime quality of his religious essays.
Addison’s influence on both the English and American minds is considerable, yet largely unacknowledged today.
Download the ebook in pdf format here.
Written by John Uebersax
September 30, 2015 at 1:16 am
IT SEEMS I’m always trying to get people to read Emerson. Why? Because I’m convinced his writings contain solutions to many of today’s urgent social problems.
Perhaps Emerson’s most important contribution is a concept that he refers to throughout his works, calling various names, but most often Universal Mind. This term invites a number of unintended meanings, tending to obscure Emerson’s important message.
Universal Mind may at first glance seem a vague, new-agey reference to some cosmic super-intelligence, but that’s not what Emerson means.. The concept is more commonplace, down-to-earth and practical. It could perhaps better be called the Human Nature, Universal Human Nature, or Man. For now, though, I’ll stick with Emerson’s term, but put it in italics instead of capital letters to demystify it. What, then, does Emerson mean by the universal mind of humanity?
It is, basically, all human beings share a common repertoire of mental abilities. Just as insects or lizards of a particular species share a common natural endowment of behavioral instincts, so all humans have a common natural set of mental skills, aptitudes, and concepts. (In fact, sometimes uses the word Instinct instead of universal mind.)
For example, consider a basic axiom of plane geometry: that two parallel lines never intersect. Once this was explained to you in high school, at which point you said, “Oh, I see that. It’s common sense.” This is the Emersonian universal mind in action. Every other geometry student has the same response. The ability to ‘see’ this is or ‘get it’ part of our common mental ability as human beings.
And the same can be said of hundreds, thousands, or more particular elements of human knowledge. These cover many different domains, including basic principles of mathematics and logic, artistic and aesthetic judgments (all human beings admire a beautiful sunset, all see the Taj Mahal as sublime and beautiful), moral principles (what is just or fair?), and religion (e.g., that God exists and deserves our thanks and praise.)
By the universal mind, then, Emerson merely means that plain fact that all or virtually all members of the human race share a vast repertoire of common mental abilities, concepts, judgments, and so on. This is not wild metaphysical speculation. It is an empirically obvious fact. Without this implied assumption of universal mind, for example, criminal laws and courts would be pointless. The mere fact that we hold people accountable for criminal misdeeds implies a shared set of assumptions about right and wrong, accountability for ones actions, etc.
Now it is true that one may, if one wants, elaborate the principle of a universal human mind and add all sorts of metaphysical speculations. Some do. They see this universal mind as deriving from the principle of all men being made in God’s image and likeness. These are important considerations, but they are, in a sense, secondary ones. More important is that is, it is important that all people — theists and atheists, metaphysicians and empiricists alike — can agree on the existence of the universal human character. Said another way, it is vital that we not let disagreements over metaphysics obscure or distract us from this more important consensus that there is a universal man or universal mind.
Why? Because this concept — something we all assume implicitly — has been insufficiently examined and developed at a collective level. It needs to become a topic of public discourse and scientific study, because its implications are enormous. We’ve only just begun this work as a species, as evidenced by the fact that we as yet haven’t even agreed even on a term! It’s always been with us, but only lately have be become fully aware of it. This realization is a milestone in the evolution of human consciousness and society.
Maybe I’ll write a followup that discusses the specific ways in which this concept, fully developed, may advantageously affect our current social conditions. For now I’ll simply list a few relevant categories where it applies:
Human Dignity. Each person has vast potential and therefore vast dignity. Each carries, as it were, the wisdom and the sum of potential scientific, artistic, moral, and religious capabilities of the entire species. Any person has the innate hardware, and with just a little training could learn to discern the technical and aesthetic difference between a Botticelli painting from a Raphael, a Rembrandt from a Rubens. Each human being is sensitive to the difference between a Mozart piano sonata and one by Beethoven. And so in Science. Any person could understand the Theory of Relativity suitably explained. Or differential equations. Or the physics of black holes.
Consider this thought experiment. If the human race made itself extinct, but aliens rescued one survivor, that one person could be taught, almost by reading alone, to recover the sum of all scientific, moral, and artistic insights of the species! The entirety of our collective abilities would live on in one person. And, more, that would be true regardless of which person were the survivor. So much is the vast ability and dignity of each human being.
Education. It exceeds what we currently know to assert that all possible concepts already exist fully developed, though latent, in each person. But we can assert that all human beings are hard-wired in certain ways to enable to form these concepts when supplied with suitable data. In either case, the implication is that education does not instill knowledge, so much as elicits the pre-existing aptitudes. Further, in keeping with the preceding point, the universal mind means that no person is limited in their ability to learn. Each person is a Genius. We should do our utmost to make this potentiality a fact for as many as possible. Education should be lifelong, not something relegated to the first 18 years of life.
Arts are not the peculiar luxury of the elite upper class. Shakespeare, Mozart, and Raphael are the common heritage of all. We need to take much more seriously the basic human right to have each ones divine artistic nature flower.
Economics. Today economics has become the main frame of reference for conceptualizing all human progress. We must rethink this, and give greater allowance for seeing the flourishing of the universal man as our goal. Nobody can be happy with vast potentials unfulfilled. It is not the way of nature. We must get it clear in our thinking, individually and collectively, that the business of society is to empower the individual.
Social discourse. All solutions to social ills already exist latent in Man’s heart. The phrase ‘common dreams’ is more than a euphemism. We do have common ideals, great ones. Our social discourse should aim for mutual insight and self-discovery. Answers are within: one’s within oneself; but also, because of the universal mind, ones within the other as well. Instead of argument and debate we should aim for dialectic: a joint uncovering of ideals and guiding principles and raising of consciousness.
Government. To much of modern political philosophy assumes the principle of nanny government. People are wiser than governments. We should insist that the first priority of government is to make itself unnecessary. Liberate the universal man — the ultimate moral force on earth — and see how much things improve without government intervention!
Foreign policy. All men are at the core alike. All respond to the same appeals to Reason and Morals. All have equal worth and dignity. All are designed for cooperation, friendship, and love. Any foreign policy which denies these realities does not conform with nature and cannot succeed.
As noted, Emerson’s discussion of the universal mind is found scattered throughout his works. Emerson was not systematic, but nevertheless his message comes across very clear. Some of his works most relevant this theme are Self Reliance, Intellect and Art (Essays, First Series), The Poet and Politics (Essays, Second Series), and Genius and Religion (Early Lectures).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary Edition. Ed. Edward Waldo Emerson. Boston, 1903–1904.
Online edition (UMich): http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/emerson/
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 2. Ed. Stephen E. Whicher and Robert E. Spiller. Cambridge, MA, 1964.
Written by John Uebersax
June 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm
Posted in American Transcendentalism, Cognitive psychology, Cultivation of the Intellect, Cultural psychology, Culture, Economics, Education, Education reform, Globalization, Higher Education, History, Humanities, Idealism, Law, Libertarian, Literature, Love, Materialism, Media brainwashing, Militarism, modernism, Moral philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Reading, Reform in government, Renewing America, Scholarship, Self-culture, Social philosophy, spirituality, Transcendentalism
ONE of Kant’s great contributions to ethics is his statement of the principle known as the categorical imperative. This asserts that, for an act to be moral, one must be able to wish that its “maxim could be made a universal law of nature,” or, in ordinary terms, one must do only what one believes nature (meaning here the entire universe) would want everyone to do in similar circumstances. The categorical imperative is not without difficulties in practice — there are exceptions and questionable cases — but these notwithstanding it is a remarkably powerful principle.
How might it apply to voting in an American presidential election? Consider two alternative strategies, which we’ll call (1) voting the lesser evil, and (2) voting on principle.
Voting the lesser evil has become virtually the norm today. The Democratic and Republican parties nominate horrible candidates. The task is therefore not to vote for the candidate you like, but against the worse of the two, to prevent that candidate from winning. Since both of these candidates are bad, why don’t people simply vote for a third-party (e.g., Libertarian or Green) candidate? Because the races are so close: each voter figures that his or her vote may be decisive in preventing the more feared candidate from winning, so that opting for a third party might tip the balance unfavorably. If one is terrified of a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton winning, then this strategy has a certain utilitarian logic. But is it moral as judged by the categorical imperative?
Let’s see. If everybody did this, then the two big parties would have a perfect way to keep the public in perpetual slavery: keep nominating wretched candidates, and select issues that split the public down the middle, 50/50. That way in every election 99% of voters will continue to cast their votes for the Democratic (or Republican) candidate, to keep the Republican (or Democrat) from winning. If we suppose, not unrealistically, that both parties front the same Wall Street power elite, then this is a perfect racket by the ruling interests. There is no end in sight, and little hope for improvement in our lives. We’ll remain serfs in a gradually worsening economy, with continually eroding quality of life. Therefore voting the lesser evil cannot be moral according to Kant’s categorical imperative.
What about voting on principle? That would mean voting for the candidate whose platform best conforms to ones authentic beliefs and values, without worrying about who will actually win. If only you vote this way, granted, it may have little practical effect, except, perhaps, to register as dissent to the power elite and your fellow citizens (although these things aren’t trivial). But consider the categorical imperative: what if *everybody* voted this way? Then we would break the Republican-Democrat hegemony. We could end US military imperialism, environmental exploitation, a life of perpetual debt, and so on. In short, we could achieve or collective hopes and aspirations to produce a truly just, wise, and happy society. Without question, voting on principle does satisfy the categorical imperative, and therefore is moral.
The argument seems pretty clear. A further consideration is that voting itself ought to be regarded as a deeply important and inherently moral duty — something sacred. Our democracy is only as good as the moral conscientiousness of voters. Presidents and parties come and go, but a moral action is forever.
Written by John Uebersax
May 12, 2015 at 12:38 am