2.6 — Social Construction Without Positive Value Construction


Among the existing methods of wooing social progress that have accounted both for some enlightenment and much seduction, fraud and confusion is that of describing Utopias.

These beguiling stories are generally imaginative and interesting, but also vague on basic principles and often quite unreal in assumptions. Uniformly, from Plato to Marx, Comte or Wells, the moral values fall short of being explicit, or, if explicit, the support for them is not stated. Thought on social progress has clearly been much affected by the utopias of Plato, St. Augustine, More, Bacon, Campanella, Harrington, the Abbe Sainte Pierre, Butler, Morris, Jefferson (in a sense of practical projects), Bellamy, Comte, Wells or Marx, but few of them indeed state the sources of their fundamental values. Even the grand logic of the rationalists is largely absent from these creations, though some, as in Marx's leaning on a philosophy of history, Comte on a philosophy of science, and Wells on a view of continuous material progress, begin to approach general principles. In the main, however, they substitute only the purely personal predilections of the authors, or large fragments of existing moral values from inspired religions, for any explicit derivation of values.

Mostly they are concoctions put together by cooks rather than chemists. But though they also lack the real test of history which the politician (who is an experienced cook) faces, the check "Does it work?" has at least been carried out in imagination. (Though scarcely by an unbiased judge!) Whereas exponents of revealed religion, like Buddha or St. Paul, rationalists like Diderot, Proudhon or Voltaire, have simply taught values to men and left men and history to generate societies, the reformer who constructs utopias has worked out the actual detailed blueprints for the social machine. In a few cases, like Owen and Marx, he has even been able to set it up in action.

To see what values can typically be extracted from this kind of construction, it would be best to take an example, say, Marxian Communism, Butler's Erewhon, or Wells' Modern Utopia and (as has classically been done with Plato's Republic) pursue an analysis. With space only for one — and that all too brief — let us consider the Utopia of Marxian Communism because of its current importance. However, in order not to put it at the disadvantage of all the travesties that men make when they reify ideal models (Marx's temperament would almost certainly have caused him to disown existing Communist governments), as well as to avoid current political emotionalities, let us consider rather what was drawn up in the blueprint Das Kapital.

It will probably be objected at the outset, by enthusiastic Marxians, that it is questionable if he should be classified among armchair Utopians, because he drew his Utopia from the "grand logic" of historical empiricism combined with deductive rationalism. Believing in inherent economic laws, he claimed that the creator of Communist societies had only to be a mid-wife to history. The Jehovah of historical process had somehow given Marx this assurance. As is well known, he nevertheless rejected the metaphysics of Hegel and the idea of history as a transcendental process of unfolding mind ("the philosophy of history is the history of philosophy"). He thus may seem to have accepted what was in conception, if not in method, a position close to our own; that the laws of natural science suffice. However, much of this appeal to science is shop-window dressing, as shown by his willingness completely to neglect the biological sciences, psychology and any social science but economics, as well as by the neatness with which his conclusions fitted his own emotional viewpoint. For example, his acceptance of socio-economic classes as the only true human groupings, neglecting those culturally-different, organically self-sustaining groups (of which nations and religions could be examples) which are at least equally important in history, betrays an extreme bias. Classes, nations, occupational and religious groups all have claims to being organic communities, and modern social psychology has something to say (Borgatta and Meyer, 1956; Merton, 1957; Davis, 1949) about their relative structures, dimensions and interactions (Darlington, 1969).

The fact that Marx chose classes was determined partly by personal frustrations[5] and partly by a real historical upswing in their importance at the time he wrote. Moreover, if one accepted the central theme of the economic determination of history which Marx borrowed from Saint Simon, classes offered the best illustration. For the then galloping industrial revolution expressed itself most dramatically in class changes. The machinery by which the overthrow by the proletariat was supposed to take place is well known and needs only brief reference as far as present interests are concerned. The able and enterprising (as he admitted them to be) would produce and command the means of production, using the proletariat as a commodity. But technical advance would put the "small man" — the lesser entrepreneur — out of business, increasing the dispossessed proletariat, until property belonged only to the few. At that point the proletariat would take over, substituting control by a few politicians (elected, of course, to express the dictatorship of the proletariat) for that of a few great non-political managers. The assumption is that when state and big-business finally become one, the worker will be better off. In Communism, in practice as we know, the bulk (semi-skilled and unskilled) of workers has not become better off in the sense intended. The differentials in pay, privileges, leisure and status between workers and managers are now not significantly different in communist and capitalist countries. The main difference remains that the passing on of capital from generation to generation is in one case under a monopoly — a responsible and probably sociologically well-informed state organization but still an authoritarian monopoly — and in the other in the hands of freely endowing individuals, trusts, and independently endowed institutions. It may be objected that power in the hands of authoritarian "party officials" is not pure Marx (who talked of workers running their own factories and sailors their own ships) but a Leninist addition. If so, one can only say that Lenin was more perceptive of the inescapable practical conditions for navigating the ship of state.

Scrutinizing for implicit values one finds Marx proposing to remedy "the degradation of the working class," "economic slavery," the dehumanization of social relations produced by the industrial revolution and the growth of commerce, the exploitation and parasitism of one class in relation to another, and so on. There is no serious attempt to define what parasitism means[6]. There is probably the implication that the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" is desirable (but never spelt out or credited to the liberal circle which begot Bentham or Mill), and that individuals should have the maximum freedom compatible with the good of the state. Nowhere does one find arguments clearly referred to basic ethical principles, or an attempt explicitly to define the values of conscience that would require the political action indicated. A major biographer has simply said that the value judgments most widespread in Marx's writings rest an "on acute almost paranoid sense of injustice." But injustice has meaning only against a definition of justice. Is the positive statement of values avoided mainly because it would appear only as the uninspiring and banal conclusion: "All men should work, and for the same salary"? Certainly there is no detectable originality in the implied moral values, which for all one can discern in this ethical twilight could be just those of Christianity, or Judaism, or tribal authority, or Humanism, or even anarchy.

A political scientist might object that Marx saw as inherent in the historico-economic processes he is implicitly dealing with — even if he never brings it out — a moral system more permanent and independent than that of a particular terminal utopia. But although Marx was much concerned with the class struggle as a process, and with revolution, emotionally, there is no extraction of basic moral laws therefrom. The French Revolution, for example, he saw as an encouraging historical precedent rather than an ideational growth — it was mainly a practical rehearsal and forerunner for the final revolution. With the downfall of bourgeois society the class conflict would disappear forever. A "rational" society would follow in which there would be neither rich nor poor, master nor slave, and in which the free man would "develop his capacities [for what?] to the fullest extent."

Thus as we look at this most popular of the modern Utopias we are compelled to recognize that it contains no profound moral system for the guidance of humanity in its long adventurous pilgrimage. And the long term values, so grievously missing from the concept of the "Final Revolution," are surely what we need; for whether we start with modern history or the trivially longer perspective of ancient history, we have to recognize that the human cultural pilgrimage has barely begun. Instead of seeking the basic necessary values for the journey, Marx makes us the illusory offer of a "terminal Utopia."

As indicated above, an extensive examination of Marxian Communism is not intended here, and its particular technical weaknesses are not important. The intention is to make sufficient examination of some important typical Utopia to ask whether this kind of writing on social reform contributes to advance or to false goals. Our conclusion is that much the same defects disqualify most of these approaches, whether from the "left” or the "right"[7] variety of reformer; namely: (1) that they proceed to detailed social construction without any clear value construction; (2) there is no empirical, scientific examination of behavior genetics, learning theory and social psychology necessary to understanding group adjustment[8]; (3) they essentially involve the belief, from the infant period of social idealism, that we can seek a purely static "heaven" to be realized on earth. (Concerning the essentially static quality even of Comte's Positivist Church, Anatole France felt compelled to say "It assumes science to be [already] definitely constituted and [disapproves] of further prosecution of researches" (1920, page 103).) And Dickson (1969) appraising the imaginative and scientifically informed utopias of H. G. Wells is moved to conclude, "the heaven Wells dreamed of in 1900 bears a distinct resemblance to the hell imagined half a century later by George Orwell."

So it is from More's or Campanella's purportedly Christian utopias to the latest of note, Marxianism, of which one of the greatest Marxian students (Berlin, 1963) well says, there is "no new ethical ideal in the system." Thus, in the last resort, both this lack of a method for seeking moral values and the denial of the boundlessness of the human adventure forbid enthusiasm for this approach. Utopianism remains essentially an attempt at social construction without research and more disablingly, without ethical value construction.















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