The Engine of Radical Change, Research Time, 18/09/2015

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History has a very strange intellectual ancestry compared to the others of the modern conservative Big Four. Robert Nozick is a fairly straight analytic philosopher. Friedrich Hayek came from the Austrian School of economics. Rand had her bizarre flavour of intellectual anti-intellectualism.

As I think about it, intellectual anti-intellectualism is a very American type of idea. 

Historical progress is spurred by the creativity we apply to
solving the problems we face as a civilization. Air
pollution and the other destructive side effects of
petroleum-fuelled industry is one problem. An ecological
thinker, like I try to be, has to accept that when one of
these possibly-fatal challenges arrives, victory is not
assured or even sometimes likely.
But Fukuyama explicitly connects himself with the philosophy of Hegel, declaring one purpose of The End of History as rehabilitating Hegel for democratic theory. The main reason he says that mainstream democratic theorists had left Hegel behind was the influence of Karl Marx.

Fukuyama makes Hegel his ancestor through his belief in there being a clear direction of progress in human history, that humanity will (setbacks and stumbles aside) ultimately progress to a state of perfect freedom in society. Hegel saw this perfect freedom in the liberal state. 

But Marx saw the liberal state riddled by class conflict: the people who owned the factories and other capital that produced goods were in tension with the people who didn’t. The owners were masters, and the ones who didn’t own these production engines were practically slaves. At the least, they weren’t free to determine their own destinies to any reasonable degree.

A society couldn’t sustain or create genuinely universal freedom when this class conflict remained. So only a classless society could sustain freedom. But every real-world attempt at creating a classless society ended up in dysfunctional, brutal authoritarianism or totalitarian police state nightmare. 

So Fukuyama declares Marx wrong and Hegel right: The state of perfect, realized freedom is the liberal democracy with a capitalist economy. Liberal culture gives every individual her freedom, democracy empowers people over their government, and capitalism is economic freedom.

The reason underlying why freedom is the highest state of humanity lies in a curious concept in the liberal tradition. I’ve touched on it when I discuss Luc Ferry's critique of romantic environmentalism in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity

It’s the idea that humans can become whatever they want. There's no permanent, essential human nature except that humans can change their essential nature. We can break from what’s come before and create a new way of life.

Now, in my own ecological philosophy that I lay out in that book, I make the case that humans aren’t special in this regard, because everything that exists can change what it essentially is. Humans aren't the only creatures that become, in a world where everything else eternally is. Everything changes.

Hegel was conceptually innovative because he first developed the most radical implication of humanity's power to change, to become. Historicism. The idea that humanity itself transformed through confronting cultural change and material problems. We were so free that we could transform simply with time and activity.

Marx makes an imposing idol. I'd say the main reason
why more people haven't picked up Marx again is
because his ideas were associated with totalitarian
terror states for decades. But many of his insights
about the problems of class conflict involving a
super-wealthy elite are still quite valuable today. If
only so that when we find that he was wrong, his
creativity can inspire our own.
My issues with Hegel are over what's free and what activities are most important to transforming a species. Over what's free, Hegel says only humans; I say everything is free, to varying degrees that we can chart, depending on what's possible for a process or body as it currently exists. 

Over the activity that spurs change, Hegel says it's contradiction, the collision of opposites. Societally, that's master and slave. Conceptually, it's the positive and empty dualism of how we think about the world. From being and nothing, up to the contradiction-less state of absolute knowledge. He thought mapping that process was what philosophy was.

I think the agent of change in the world is a process reacting or adapting to a new challenge in its circumstances. There's no negation, no opposition. Just different ways for different parts of the world to stumble into each other. Conceptually, we just figure out new ideas to make sense of the challenges and possible challenges we could face.

There’s no endpoint to that. No culminations. Just constantly trying to catch up to a world that always challenges you. The challenges aren't all potentially fatal, but some are, and those are pretty serious crises. So they require some creative thinking to find a way out of that mess. I think that conceptual creativity, the practically-minded art of thought, is what philosophy is.

That’s why, even though I work outside the academy, I still read, think about, and write philosophy. I apply it to my work in business and non-profits, as well as write my more creative works like this blog and my books. It’s the creativity to understand our challenges in the world, understand them, and adapt to deal with them. 

The creativity to innovate new thoughts and ways of life. Hopefully, for the survival and prosperity of us all. 

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