Friday, January 18, 2013

Progressivism: Individuals don't inherently have this thing called "liberty"

In "Liberalism and Social Action" (Excerpts only), John Dewey explains the following:
The idealistic philosophy taught that men are held together by the relations that proceed from and that manifest an ultimate cosmic mind. It followed that the basis of society and the state is shared intelligence and purpose, not force nor yet self-interest. The state is a moral organism, of which government is one organ. Only by participating in the common purpose as it works for the common good can individual human beings realize their true individualities and become truly free. The state is but one organ among many of the Spirit and Will that holds all things together and that makes human beings members of one another. It does not originate the moral claim of individuals to the full realization of their potentialities as vehicles of objective thought and purpose. Moreover, the motives it can directly appeal to are not of the highest kind. But it is the business of the state to protect all forms and to promote all modes of human association in which the moral claims of the members of society are embodied and which serve as the means of voluntary self-realization. Its business is negatively to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of individuals coming to consciousness of themselves for what they are, and positively to promote the cause of public education. Unless the state does this work it is no state. These philosophical liberals pointed out the restrictions, economic and political, which prevent many, probably majority, of individuals from the voluntary intelligent action by which they may become what they are capable of becoming. The teachings of this new liberal school affected the thoughts and actions of multitudes who did not trouble themselves to understand the philosophical doctrine that underlay it. They served to break down the idea that freedom is something that individuals have as a ready-made possession, and to instill the idea that it is something to be achieved, while the possibility of the achievement was shown to be conditioned by the institutional medium in which an individual lives. These new liberals fostered the idea that the state has the responsibility for creating institutions under which individuals can effectively realize the potentialities that are theirs.

This explains what I posted just the other day: "When progressives use the word "liberty", they mean setting the government free"

Yes, but why? I always ask myself that question. "When progressives use the word "liberty", they mean setting the government free", and here is why: "the basis of society and the state is shared intelligence and purpose" and "Only by participating in the common purpose as it works for the common good can individual human beings realize their true individualities and become truly free". He means working through the state. He says quite plainly, that the new liberal school served to break down the idea that freedom is something that individuals inherently have.

Which means that the "liberals" didn't like that idea. They didn't want individuals to believe they were inherently free. (I put liberals in quotes, because by the time Liberalism and Social Action was written, the progressives had re-made themselves and stopped calling themselves progressive)

And you can see this in the writings of my earlier posting, which I linked to. Wilson, Croly, and FDR all make it pretty clear that government must be set free from the original constraints. They don't approach it as philosophically as Dewey does, but they clearly agree. Individuals aren't free. So the state must be set free.

Now, I don't want to just rest my thoughts upon only one of Dewey's writings. From "Reconstruction in Philosophy", Dewey writes the following: (Page 193/194)

Consider the conception of the individual self. The individualistic school of England and France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was empirical in intent. It based its individualism, philosophically speaking, upon the belief that individuals are alone real, that classes and organizations are secondary and derived. They are artificial, while individuals are natural. In what way then can individualism be said to come under the animadversions that have been passed? To say the defect was that this school overlooked those connections with other persons which are a part of the constitution of every individual is true as far as it goes ; but unfortunately it rarely goes beyond the point of just that wholesale justification of institutions which has been criticized.

The real difficulty is that the individual is regarded as something given, something already there. Consequently, he can only be something to be catered to, something whose pleasures are to be magnified and possessions multiplied. When the individual is taken as something given already, anything that can be done to him or for him it can only be by way of external impressions and belongings: sensations of pleasure and pain, comforts, securities.

Animadversion means 'strong criticism'.

So here we see that Dewey does fully and accurately grasp the "old conceptions" of individualism.(and thus by extension, individual liberty) And he is rejecting it. He sees that it's individuals that create institutions. And then he flips it on it's head: (still in pages 193/194)

Now it is true that social arrangements, laws, institutions are made for man, rather than that man is made for them; that they are means and agencies of human welfare and progress. But they are not means for obtaining something for individuals, not even happiness. They are means of creating individuals. Only in the physical sense of physical bodies that to the senses are separate is individuality an original datum. Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out. It means initiative, inventiveness, varied resourcefulness, assumption of responsibility in choice of belief and conduct. These are not gifts, but achievements. As achievements, they are not absolute but relative to the use that is to be made of them. And this use varies with the environment.

Creating individuals. That's the true role of government. Without the state, you and I are nothing. Without the state, you and I are destined to make the wrong choices. Note where Dewey uses the phrase "possessions multiplied", that is his real point of contention. We as individuals spend our lives accumulating wealth, and progressives really have a problem with that. In "The Future of Liberalism", (Full text on John Dewey explains the following:

In the first place, such liberalism knows that an individual is nothing fixed, given ready-made. It is something achieved, and achieved not in isolation but with the aid and support of conditions, cultural and physical: including in “cultural,” economic, legal and political institutions as well as science and art. Liberalism knows that social conditions may restrict, distort and almost prevent the development of individuality. It therefore takes an active interest in the working of social institutions that have a bearing, positive or negative, upon the growth of individuals who shall be rugged in fact and not merely in abstract theory. It is as much interested in the positive construction of favorable institutions, legal, political and economic as it is in removing abuses and overt oppressions.

And to end my post, I'll leave you with the words of Drs. Ronald J. Pestritto and Thomas G. West, who explain this last quote from Dewey exactly as I would:

Because individuals are not spontaneously free, the absence of social conditions providing "aid and support" for the development of spiritual potential will inevitably constrain and/or distort individual growth. For this reason, Dewey engaged in a wide-ranging survey of the character of the relations making up American society in order to determine whether they were conductive to spiritual growth. While concluding that many aspects of American life were in need of significant reform(or social reorganization), Dewey believed that no relation posed so great an impediment to spiritual growth as did the free market economic system arising from the protection of the natural right to acquire property.

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