Tag Archives: rationality

Post-Truth, Polarization and Other Emotional Threats to Democracy

On a cold pre-winter evening in London, November 23, 2019, the celebrated comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was awarded a prize by the Anti-Diffamation League. During the ceremony, he delivered a passionate speech focused on the threats posed by fake news, new media and their intensive stimulation of the emotive sphere of individual citizens, linking it all to the crisis presently hitting Western democracies:

Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat; and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Today, around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. Hate crimes are surging as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history (Baron Cohen 2019).

As long as it goes, the speech raises many questions which deserve to be dealt with in academic debates as well. Why do emotions shape the arena of contemporary politics? Are post-truth and polarization the most powerful tools of the populist approach to politics? Do they pose a challenge to liberal democracy? How can we bring back rationality in public deliberation and political discourse?

In this short paper I will try to show how intellectuals are treating these issues, at first sketching briefly the role of emotions both in classical propaganda and contemporary analyses; secondly, I will focus on the dispute regarding post-truth and polarization by connecting these issues to the spread of populism. Additionally I will offer a critical survey of some up-to-date theoretical solutions to those dilemmas and finally try to assess a partial and provisional proposal, hopefully useful to build a working paradigm to take hold of passions and bind politics to a more rational and prospective approach.

 

Propaganda and Emotions

There is nothing new in the attempt to get rid of rationality and strike the emotional side of our perceptions. Walter Lippmann, in his classical study on public opinion, insisted on the gnoseological weakness of mankind and the persistence of stereotypes which, for a great number of individuals, were nothing but «an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves» (Lippmann 1991 [1922]: 95). This is why war propaganda, in the years of WWI, had revealed so effective, since it was targeted to stimulate an emotional answer through a more or less overt appeal to stereotypes and prejudices.

But it was Edward Bernays to make clear, in some astonishingly explicit statements, that commercial and political communication was increasingly connected and grounded on both individual and collective emotions, shaped by a bunch of professionals:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. […] Trotter and Le Bon concluded that the group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits and emotions. […] By playing upon an old cliché, or manipulating a new one, the propagandist can sometimes swing a whole mass of group emotions. […] Men are rarely aware of the main reasons which motivate their actions. A man may believe that he buys a motor car because, after careful study of the technical features of all makes on the market, he has concluded that this is the best. He is almost certainly fooling himself (Bernays 1928: 9, 50, 51).

Bernays had learned much from his participation to the celebrated Committee on Public Information, created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to persuade American public opinion of the necessity to enter the war. The head himself of the Committee, the journalist George Creel, described its proceedings in terms of an attempt to convey public emotions in an effort to sell a product: the American commitment in WWI (Creel 1920). In fact it was precisely the industry of advertising, both commercial and political, to benefit more and more from the growing challenge to bypass the threshold of rationality.

It was precisely this phenomenon to be denounced by Vance Packard in his well-known book The Hidden Persuaders, where he spoke with the loudest voice against «the large-scale efforts being made, often with impressive success, to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions and our thought processes» (Packard 1957: 1). The pattern is still valid; something more needs to be added, though.

In the last decades, according to William Davies, the building blocks of modernity have fallen apart. And what we see is a widespread decline of reason in favour of a concrete state of public and private phrenzy:

The modern world was founded upon two fundamental distinctions, both inaugurated in the mid-seventeenth century: between mind and body and between war and peace. These two distinctions appear to have lost credibility altogether, with the result that we now experience conflict intruding into everyday life [] As society has been flooded by digital technology, it has grown harder to specify what belongs to the mind and what to the body, what is peaceful dialogue and what is conflict. In the murky space between body and mind, between war and peace, lie nervous states: individuals and governments living in a state of constant and heightened alertness, relying increasingly on feelings rather than facts (Davies 2019: xi-xii).

But if emotions rule the world, the political impact of this very fact cannot but be huge. Davies explicitly states that «feelings of nostalgia, resentment, anger and fear» were involved in «populist uprisings, as manifest in the victories of Donald Trump, the Brexit campaign and a wave of nationalist surges across Europe» (Davies 2019: xiv). And even though he is prudent and honest in admitting that these are mere symptoms, not the cause of nervous states, he nonetheless depicts a scenario which deserves to be fully appreciated:

Since the late nineteenth century, nationalists have sought to manufacture popular mobilizations by conjuring up memories of past wars and enthusiasm for future ones. But something else has happened more recently, which has quietly fed the spirit of warfare into civilian life, making us increasingly combative. The emphasis on “real time” knowledge that was originally privileged in war has become a feature of the business world, of Silicon Valley in particular. The speed of knowledge and decision making becomes crucial, and consensus is sidelined in the process. Rather than trusting experts, on the basis that they are neutral and outside the fray, we have come to rely on services that are fast, but whose public status is unclear (Davies 2019: xvi).

Therefore, we should address the following question: are post-truth and polarization somehow connected with contemporary populism and fostered by new media?

 

Post-truth, Populism and Polarization  

The phenomenon called ‘post-truth’ has been defined as «relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief» (Oxford Dictionaries 2016). Quite a controversial definition, indeed, since contemporary philosophy has been teaching us that “facts” and “truth” are very contested concepts (Schantz [ed.] 2002). Aside from the epistemological quarrels, however, Lee McIntyre has correctly suggested that «what is striking about the idea of post-truth is not just that truth is been challenged, but that it is being challenged as a mechanism for asserting political dominance». But it’s not just that: «what seems new in the post-truth era is a challenge just not to the idea of knowing reality but to the existence of reality itself» (McIntyre 2018: xiv, 10).

Both points are essential in order to understand why the most relevant political events of the last 5 years are somehow connected to the post-truth paradigm. Quoting again from McIntyre’s brilliant research:

With the largely fact-free campaign over Brexit in Great Britain – where hundreds of buses advertised the bogus statistic that the UK was sending 350 millions euros a week to the EU – and the growing use of disinformation campaigns by politicians against their own people in Hungary, Russia, and Turkey, many see post-truth as part of a growing international trend where some feel emboldened to try to bend reality to fit their opinions, rather than the other way around. This is not a campaign to say that facts do not matter, but instead a conviction that facts can always be shaded, selected and presented within a political context that favors one interpretation of truth over another (McIntyre 2018: 5-6).

No surprise that Donald Trump revealed himself a champion of this trend. The day after his inaugural address the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, told journalists that «this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe» (Spicer 2017). What’s the reason behind such a harsh statement? The fact that many international newspapers published a photograph which portrayed the not-so-exciting popular attendance to Trump’s inaugural compared to Obama’s 2009 (the most attended inaugural so far). The press reacted with both irony and dismay, criticizing the White House’s improbable strategy; so that the senior aide to the President, Kellyanne Conway, felt compelled to address the astonished NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd with a sentence that soon became considerably popular: «don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood…Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that» (Conway 2017).

It is common knowledge that populism plays with a wide range of emotions, in order to flatter ‘the people’: anger, pride, loyalty, hate, mistrust, insecurity and so many more. Populists, though, deal especially with fear: Ruth Wodak correctly wrote, in her most relevant book, that «currently we observe a normalization of nationalistic, xenophobic, racist and antisemitic rhetoric, which primarily works with fear» (Wodak 2015: x). And yet something new happened in the last few years: populism dances systematically with the denial of facts and dismiss the search for truth as a shared social goal. Why? The Australian scholar Silvio Waisbord recently offered a persuading response:

Populism rejects the possibility of truth as a common normative horizon and collective endeavour in democratic life. […] The root of populism’s opposition to truth is its binary vision of politics. For populism, ‘the people’ and ‘the elites’ hold their own version of truth. All truths are necessarily partial and anchored social interests. Truth does not exist as collective, common goal. A common truth is impossible given the essential nature of agonistic, conflict-centred politics. Instead, truth-seeking politics entails the reaffirmation of ‘popular’ truths against ‘elite’ lies. […] Facts never change the unfalsifiable premise of populism – the eternal division of ‘pure people’ and ‘evil elites’. This conception of politics turns into a political fantasy that cannot ever be proven wrong. Populism dismisses facts that challenge overriding narratives. No matter what happens, populism obstinately clings to the notion that elites are always in power and continue to distort the truth through their institutions. Populism can never be corrected by its critics. […] Preserving a populist, fact-proof narrative is necessary to safeguard the vision that truth is always on one the side and that lies are inevitably on the other side. Facts belong to one or other camp. Facts are not neutral, but they are political owned and produced. Post-truth communication is exactly where populism wants politics to be – the realm of divided truth, binary thinking, and broken-up communication (Waisbord 2018: 25-26, 30).

This being true, we’d find it easier to understand why populists foster polarization, mostly by means of social media. According to Cass Sunstein, polarization occurs «when members of a deliberating group move toward a more extreme point in whatever direction is indicated by the members’ pre-deliberation tendency» (Sunstein 1999: 3-4). Because of polarization a free and fair public debate becomes virtually impossible since citizens are trapped inside the so-called ‘echo-chambers’. This is particularly valid when applied to many political communities online, most notably belonging to the alt-right (Neiwert 2017: 213-261). Polarization, of course, shouldn’t be confused with partisanship, which Jonathan White and Lea Ypi defined as «a practice that involves citizens acting to promote certain shared normative commitments according to a distinctive interpretation of the public good» and whose goal «is to make their concerns heard in the public sphere so that they may be brought to bear on the course of collective decision making» (White and Ypi 2011: 382). What is more, social media play a significant role in a wide series of collateral phenomena connected with polarization and the poisoning of public debate itself:

How might social media, the explosion of communication options, machine learning, and artificial intelligence alter the capacity of citizens to govern themselves? To the extent that social media allow us to create our very own feeds, and essentially live in them, they create serious problems. Self-insulation and personalization are solutions to some genuine problems, but they also spread falsehood, and promote polarization and fragmentation (Sunstein 2017: 5).

A recent report produced by the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS 2019) set forth a distinction between two types of polarization:

1) polarization by design;

2) polarization by manipulation.

The first is focused on the inner structure of social media and suggest that they «could be driving citizens apart by encouraging the dissemination of increasingly partisan and emotionally-charged content». But the second is even worse, since social media not only «have proven susceptible to amplifying the reach of polarising and conspiratorial content and spreading it into the public mainstream» but they host «influence campaigns designed to sow division and manipulate the public thrive» by means of «bots, junk news and propaganda». The result is that «these tactics have become entrenched in political discourse where foreign and domestic actors rely on them to influence political life» (EPRS 2019: 17, 24).

Post-truth and polarization, in sum, threaten democracy in so far as they emphasize disruptive emotions in order to manipulate procedures of collective (as well as individual) opinion and decision-making. The question thus now being: how can we anchor politics to a more rational pattern and minimize both the explosion of manipulated emotiveness and the dangers of authoritarian populism?

 

Two Alleged Remedies: A Critical Survey

Aside from ‘technical’ interventions (social media self-regulation, anti-fake news/hate speech laws, digital literacy etc.) we can find on the marketplace of ideas a bunch of normative approaches which aim to bring back rationality by means of two principles: knowledge and participation. In this paragraph I will offer a quick but (hopefully) consistent critical survey of the most relevant two: epistocracy and e-democracy.

In his ground-breaking book Against Democracy, the American philosopher Jason Brennan argues that we should give epistocracy a try given the (low) epistemic skills of the citizenry. In fact, he distinguishes between three categories of citizens, conceived as ideal types in Max Weber’s terms:

1) Hobbits: individuals who do not care about politics nor know anything about it. They may sometimes vote but their behaviour is irrational, and their ignorance certified.

2) Hooligans: deeply polarized and biased voters. They seek information only in so far as it confirms their political beliefs and «tend to despise people who disagree with them, holding that people with alternative worldviews are stupid, evil, selfish, or at best, deeply misguided».

3) Vulcans: a restricted minority of citizens who «think scientifically and rationally about politics. Their opinions are strongly grounded in social science and philosophy. They are interested in politics, but at the same time, dispassionate, in part because they actively try to avoid being biased and irrational» (Brennan 2016a: 4-5).

Though admitting that the majority of democratic citizens belong to the first two groups, Brennan points out that the final destination of a political regime shouldn’t consist in investing Vulcans with power, given the fact that «no one manages to be a true vulcan; everyone is at least a little biased». But he is pretty sure that democratic participation doesn’t make us better: quite the reverse, the «most common forms of political engagements are more likely to corrupt and stultify than to ennoble and educate people» (Brennan 2016a: 6, 55), turning most citizens into hooligans. Therefore, we could and should put a strict limit to the damages caused by polarization, the rule of emotions and incompetence:

Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence. The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent (Brennan 2016b).

Epistocracy, then, would put a brake to the disruptiveness of emotions by giving priority, in the participation to decision-making processes, to those individuals deemed rational and competent. Practical solutions may vary – restricted suffrage, plural voting, enfranchisement lottery, epistocratic veto or weighted voting (Brennan 2016a: 15) – but the inner logic is always the same.

On the opposite side of the political and theoretical spectrum, e-democracy theorists clam that digital technologies, and most notably the internet, may help us in re-shaping democracy as a shared practice grounded on the participation of any citizen to debate and decision-making. These beliefs have been cherished since the first days of the digital revolution; so that, for instance, Nicholas Negroponte claimed that «the change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable» and that «computing is not about computers anymore. It is about living» (Negroponte 1995: 4, 6). Besides, being digital would have changed the face of politics like never before:

As we interconnect ourselves, many of the values of a nation-state will give way to those of both larger and smaller electronic communities. We will socialize in digital neighbourhoods in which digital space will be irrelevant and time will play a different role. […] While the politicians struggle with the baggage of history, a new generation is emerging from the digital landscape free of many of the old prejudices. These kids are released from the limitation of geographic proximity as the sole basis of friendship, collaboration, play and neighbourhood. Digital technology can be a natural force drawing people into greater world harmony (Negroponte 1995: 7, 230).

The last fifteen years have witnessed a strong and unprecedented «deployment of online decision-making platforms» that «has a clear utopian element» since it is «presented as the means of making politics more democratic and direct» (Gerbaudo 2018: 5). Of course we may find more technical and neutral approaches that focus on a new type of citizen, «surrounded by public administration digital services» and «the transition from his traditional role and behaviour to the new ones» (Ronchi 2019: 2). But the most relevant contributions to the e-democracy paradigm come from the recognition of the highly positive role of «the flexible organizational affordances and mass outreach potential of social media» (Gerbaudo 2018: 6) and digital technology in fostering popular participation both at a party level (such is the case of the platforms provided by Podemos, the Five Star Movement or the German Pirates) and, more broadly, in the realm of direct democracy, all over the world and particularly in Europe (Hennen et al. [ed.], 2020). Online participatory procedures, it is thought, not only will reduce the distance between the people and the establishment, but contribute to the attempt of neutering the emotion-led propaganda practices and bring the voice of public opinion inside the most sacred palaces of power – a reason very close to the one shared by those who support sortition as a means of selecting representatives (Van Reybrouck 2016).

Unfortunately enough, both epistocracy and e-democracy seem marked by a number of contradictions which would render them unable to stand as useful solutions to the dilemmas above mentioned. As to epistocracy, there is no serious guarantee – like many critics of Brennan’s account have duly noted (Christiano 2018: 68-72) – that superior knowledge necessarily imply more rational and less biased decisions, particularly if we forget to consider socio-economic cleavages and their effect on public opinion. What is more, granting every citizen equal political rights might help institutions to ‘sterilize’ emotions: that’s why Hans Kelsen classically praised proceduralism and mutual recognition between majority and minorities as the basis for constitutional democracy (Kelsen 2013 [1920]).

When it comes to e-democracy, we cannot but put forward the obvious reflection that, in absence of any instrument to lead individuals avoiding post-truth communication and polarization fuelled by social media, political participation by means of online platforms will not likely reduce personal and collective biases. This is why some authors have warned that «despite the promise to allow for a more bottom-up involvement in the political process, with authentic engagement from the base of participants in important decisions», it is «more top-down forms of democracy of the representative and plebiscitary kind that have ultimately prevailed in terms of the participation they have attracted and of the political impact they have produced» (Gerbaudo 2018: 127).

What do we need, then, to minimize the influence of post-truth, polarization and any other threat posed to liberal democracy by the predominance of unchecked emotions? In my view, we should try to implement a threefold strategy:

  • a long-term perspective embodied in an intergenerational constitutional compact;
  • the spread of informed and reasoned participation to decision-making;
  • the right to rational and discursive dissent within a democratic institutional arrangement.

 

A Modest Proposal: The Road Towards Intergenerational Republican Democracy

It is not my aim, in this brief, final section of the paper, to outline a plan able to translate into a comprehensive normative theory, but also to put into practice, the three aforementioned pillars. Rather, I will try to submit some modest suggestions for future attempts to sketch such a model, that I would provisionally label Intergenerational Republican Democracy.

As to the first point, it seems to me that the first step towards a more rational approach to politics must include the implementation of an intergenerational perspective in any field of the decision-making process. Intergenerational justice, we should recall, has made a significant comeback in the last decade (Gosseries and Meyer [eds.] 2012; Thompson 2013), substantially driven by the urgency to address environmental issues; but its scope goes even beyond this fundamental concern.

Even though we cannot accept the easy justification submitted by James Madison, according to whom «there seems then to be a foundation in the nature of things, in the relation which one generation bears to another, for the descent of obligations from one to another» since «equity requires it» and «mutual good is promoted by it» (Madison 2006 [1790]: 191), it wouldn’t be so hard to agree that an intergenerational, long-term view would suit the scope of rendering collective decisions less subject to manipulation, irrationality and haste. How? For instance, introducing into democratic constitutions the requirement for an intergenerational political compact, granting an equitable share to each generation’s future expectations in drafting the guidelines of public policy and law-making (even at a constitutional level) while binding every actor to the respect of fundamental human rights already enacted.

But how can each generation contribute to this complex procedure? By means, I would suggest, of a mechanism inspired by the so-called ‘deliberative opinion poll’ envisaged by James Fishkin (Fishkin 1991 and 1995), which consists in «exposing random samples to balanced information, encouraging them to weigh opposite arguments in discussions with heterogeneous interlocutors, and then harvesting their more considered opinions» (Fishkin and Luskin 2005: 287). The system would bear the advantages of rational deliberation – that is, being informed, balanced, conscientious, substantive and comprehensive – and political equality, since «every citizen has an equal chance of being chosen to participate» (Fishkin and Luskin 2005: 285, 286). This tool was conceived precisely in order to overcome polarization, misinformation and any other propaganda device, and seems particularly useful to supply policymakers with reasonable (in the Rawlsian sense) contributions, even from an intergenerational standpoint.

This all should be accompanied, in my view, by a series of special provisions which would grant a right to dissent very close to the model of ‘democratic contestability’ sketched by Philip Pettit, who maintained that «if a constitutionalist system of law is necessary for the promotion of freedom, then it should be clear that something else is needed too». This component may be represented by «the ideal of a democracy based, not on the alleged consent of the people, but rather on the contestability by the people of everything that government does», which practically means providing «systematic possibilities for ordinary people to contest the doings of government», in order «to ensure…that governmental doings are fit to survive popular contestation» (Pettit 1997: 183, 277). Institutionalizing dissent could possibly lead to freeze opposition conceived as a spread of polarized and biased hostility and foster constructive criticism within constitutional boundaries.

Are these approaches theoretically compatible? And will they suffice in establishing a working paradigm? I must confess I have no clear answers – not yet, at least. Likewise, it seems rather hard to make any serious forecast on the possible practical outcomes of the project, nor is this my main purpose right now. I just wanted to shed light on some troublesome challenges for each scholar in the realm of political sciences and start to add another little piece to the intricated puzzle of the long-debated connections between constitutional democracy, public opinion, populism and emotions in contemporary politics.

 

References

Baron Cohen, S. (2019), ‘They would have let Hitler buy ads’: Sacha Baron Cohen’s scathing attack on Facebook, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2019/nov/23/they-would-have-let-hitler-buy-ads-sacha-baron-cohens-scathing-attack-on-facebook-video.

Bernays, E. (1928), Propaganda, New York: Horace Liveright.

Brennan, J. (2016a), Against Democracy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Brennan, J. (2016b), The Right to Vote Should be Restricted to Those with Knowledge, https://aeon.co/ideas/the-right-to-vote-should-be-restricted-to-those-with-knowledge.

Christiano, T. (2018), Democracy Defended and Challenged, in M. Ignatieff and S. Roch (eds.)(2018): 65-78.

Conway, K. (2017), Donald Trump’s presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway says Sean Spicer gave ‘alternative facts’ at first press briefing, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kellyanne-conway-sean-spicer-alternative-facts-lies-press-briefing-donald-trump-administration-a7540441.html.

Creel, G. (1920), How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe, New York and London: Harper & Brothers.

Davies, W. (2019), Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

European Parliament Research Service (2019), Polarisation and the Use of Technology in Political Campaigns and Communication, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2019/634414/EPRS_STU(2019)634414_EN.pdf.

Fishkin, J.S. (1991), Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform, New Haven CT: Yale University Press.

Fishkin, J.S. (1995), The Voice of the People. Public Opinion and Democracy, New Haven CT: Yale University Press.

Fishkin, J.S. and Luskin, R.C. (2005), Experimenting with a Democratic ideal: Deliberative Polling and Public Opinion, Acta Politica, 40: 284-298.

Gerbaudo, P. (2018), The Digital Party. Political Organisation and Online Democracy, London: Pluto Press.

Gosseries, A.P. and Meyer, L.H. (eds.)(2012), Intergenerational Justice, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Hennen, L. (et al. eds.)(2020), European E-Democracy in Practice, Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland.

Ignatieff, M. and. Roch, S. (eds.)(2018), Rethinking Open Society: New Adversaries and New Opportunities, Budapest and New York: Central European University Press.

Kelsen, H. (2013 [1920]), The Essence and Value of Democracy, edited by N. Urbinati, New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Lippmann, W. (1991 [1922]), Public Opinion, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Madison, J. (2006), Selected Writings of James Madison, edited by R. Ketcham, Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company.

McIntyre, L. (2018), Post-Truth, Cambridge MS and London: The MIT Press.

Negroponte, N. (1995), Being digital, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Neiwert, D. (2017), Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, London and New York: Verso Books.

Oxford Dictionaries (2016), Post-Truth, https://www.lexico.com/definition/post-truth.

Packard, V. (1957), The Hidden Persuaders, New York: Random House Inc.

Pettit, P. (1997), Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Ronchi, A.M. (2019), e-Democracy: Toward a New Model of (Inter)active Society, Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland.

Schantz, R. (ed.)(2002), What is Truth?, Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Spicer, S. (2017), This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period!’ – White House Press Secretary, https://www.independent.ie/videos/world-news/article35387946.ece.

Sunstein, C. (1999), The Law of Group Polarization, John M. Olin Program in L. & Econ. Working Paper, 91, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13030952.

Sunstein, C. (2017), #republic. Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thompson, J. (2013), Intergenerational Justice. Rights and Responsibilities in an Intergenerational Polity, New York and London: Routledge.

Waisbord, S. (2018), The Elective Affinity Between Post-Truth Communication and Populist Politics, Communication Research and Practice, 4 (1): 17-34.

White, J. and Ypi, L. (2011), On Partisan Political Justification, American Political Science Review, 105 (2): 381-396.

Wodak, R. (2015), The Politics of Fear. What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean, Los Angeles-London: Sage Publications.

Passions and Society: Do we need a new Galateo?

In this paper I will try to define a possible way to respond to the increase of violent passions and violent reactions in our societies. It might well work in everyday life, but perhaps mostly at a political level.

In the first part, the focus will be devoted to the idea (and practice) of Galateo, that is kindness or politeness. We will later wonder if and how a new Galateo (etiquette) could be an effective tool for social action, in view of overcoming the current violence of language and political passions.

Our main character, author and source is Melchiorre Gioia. Between the Revolutionary age and the Restoration period, between the 18th and 19th centuries, Melchiorre Gioia, an Italian economist who was at first a Jacobin thinker and would later become a civil servant during the Cisalpine Republic and the Napoleonic Regno d’Italia (Kingdom of Italy), published a first, then a second reviewed edition of his Nuovo Galateo (New Etiquette).

His aim was to spread civil education among the citizens of a democratic nation. Perhaps, the connection between a civil ethics and the developing (or the survival?) of democratic and liberal societies could also be a topic for moral and political philosophy in our contemporary age.

 

The old Galateo

As is well known, Gioia recalled the older Galateo, the work by Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa (1558), a treatise able to define socially acceptable behaviours in the town milieu during the early modern age.

In the Galateo the advice of the master, un vecchio idiota (an old illiterate man), is addressed in a friendly way to a young man of a very noble family: some critics have said that Della Casa’s audience could only be noble, that is, the courtesan elite of the Renaissance age. But it is precisely Della Casa to affirm that his teachings are valid for all, to arouse la benivolenza di coloro co’ i quali viviamo  (the benevolence in those with whom we live; Della Casa 2013 [1558]: 4), a benevolence that is earned by eliminating any ugliness or any nastiness from the body, from speech and behaviour.

It is the space of the city and not the court where the giovanetto (young man), to whom these teachings are directed, must behave cleanly together with the members of the same brigata[1].

For those who live nelle città e tra gli uomini  (in cities among other human beings, ibid.: 5) Della Casa offers not simply cleanliness, but a sensitive aesthetic, a set of behaviours that will also be inettie (trifles) compared to great moral values, but which can make life more beautiful. They are virtù o cosa molto a virtù somigliante (virtue or something very similar, ibid.: 3). This applies if we consider the frequency with which “the sweetness of customs and the pleasantness of manners and words” are practiced, “since everyone must many times each day deal with others and converse with them daily” (ibid.: 4). Instead, virtues such as Justice and Fortitude are much more noble but they are practiced more rarely: the world that Della Casa outlines does not seem to need heroes or saints.

Not cleanliness, therefore, in the sense of physical and moral hygiene, but beauty and pleasure in sight, in the sense of smell, in touch, in each of the five senses. Pleasure of living in civitas compared to the savagery of living wild.

If we wished to give a political reading, we could say that it is the praise of the civil urban community (Scarpati 2005), a civitas whose regulating principle should be grace, measure, sobriety and ultimately order. After all, this too could be a form of utopia, if we think about what the level of violence in sixteenth-century cities actually was. Let us think of Rome from the years in which Benvenuto Cellini armed with a knife killed an opponent in a fight (c. 1530) or half a century later that saw Caravaggio equally commit a knife assassination (1606).

The (Aristotelian?) measure seems to become the basic theme of this aesthetic morality and good manners as declined by Della Casa.

It is not the case here to follow his path up to praise of discretion and, according to some, of conformism and hypocrisy. When we read “a man must try to adapt himself as much as he can to the wardrobe of other citizens and let custom guide him” (Della Casa 2013: 15) we can consider it a tribute to conformity and certainly not to eccentricity. We can read a transcription at the level of daily life of the (religious and political) practice of dissimulation. In my opinion, what matters most is the connection between pleasure, aesthetics and behavioural rules, the praise of beauty, the emphasis on measure and against excesses and not least the importance of the word. The word must be clear, perspicuous, but also beautiful:

Le parole sì nel favellare disteso come negli altri ragionamenti, vogliono essere chiare, sì che ciascuno della brigata le possa agevolmente intendere, ed oltre acciò belle in quanto al suono ed in quanto al significato (Both in polite conversation and in other types of speech, words must be clear enough that everyone listening can easily understand them, and equally beautiful in sound and in sense; Della Casa 2013: 49).

So, even for the words as for all the other acts of everyday life, good manners are also beautiful manners. Making yourself understood without risking any misunderstanding, not by means of rough or slang words, but with beautiful sentences is once again a way not to offend the senses and minds of others.

Della Casa wrote for a young man with high hopes, who lived in the city during the early modern age. He himself consciously uses the word modern: moderna usanza, uso e costume moderno (modern usage and custom). With the acquisition of beautiful and polite manners, we therefore fully enter into modern society.

The sixteenth-century treatises on behaviour, to which Della Casa’s work gave the starting point, have long been the subject of study by social historians and sociologists as well as scholars of literature and linguistics[2]. But we are not interested in following these developments or studies: our topic is the connection between everyday behaviour and the public and political sphere. We therefore prefer to take into consideration the reinterpretation, if we may say so, of the Galateo by Melchiorre Gioia, according to some critics, a not very original epigone of Monsignor Della Casa.

 

The Nuovo Galateo

Two and a half centuries pass from the drafting and publication of Giovanni Della Casa’s Galateo to the Nuovo Galateo of Melchiorre Gioia: the age of revolution and of “great fears” have finally arrived, the theorisation and the establishment of democratic republics. Therefore, the audience of a thinker and a publicist of the revolutionary age, as Gioia was, is a free citizen of a more or less democratic republic: a new system, new values, new behaviours?

But overall, we can say that, also according to Gioia, the so-called “small virtues” are the way to remove everything disgusting from the social milieu. Even the way to establish rules of conduct in public, based on the aesthetics of the five senses, not on great values. Indeed, Melchiorre Gioia sometimes seems to take up certain passages from Della Casa’s Galateo word for word (even though he openly mentions it only two or three times). For example, talking about “common eating rules”, about a toothpick, Gioia takes up the effective image of Della Casa: “It is not a polite habit to carry a stick in one’s mouth, when getting up from the table, like a bird making her nest” (Gioia 1827: 146 and Della Casa 2013: 73).

The problem arises when one wants to understand how the relationship between the small and the great virtues is articulated for Gioia. An answer can be inferred considering the different editions of the Nuovo Galateo, which involve not only formal but also conceptual changes. Indeed, the treatise was published in many editions during Melchiorre Gioia’s lifetime: a first in 1802, when Northern Italy suffered the Napoleonic influence, a second in 1820, when the pre-revolutionary European political status quo had been established again, and finally in 1822 in the middle of the Restoration period[3]. The different political climates influenced the author’s perspective; a relevant factor that leads us to affirm that the Nuovo Galateo is not simply a treatise on politeness but also a book for civil education.

It could be interesting to analyse the slippages and conceptual shifts from the first to the last edition. We find ourselves faced with the passage from an idea of secular and sensualistic politeness to emphasising politeness as a tool and at same time a product of civilizzazione, which is civilisation in both English and French. Finally, we would discover in the Nuovo Galateo the forms of an ethics capable of guaranteeing happiness and social peace.

 

Senses, civilisation and social reason 

The transition takes place from an aesthetically natural policy, which responds to the pleasure of the senses, to a process of controlling nature by social reason. Hence there seems to be a shift from the purely sensitive plane of the refusal of the repulsive (disgusting) – which we have already read in Della Casa – to the dimension of reason.

This can also be understood from the articulation of the matter of the treatise. In the first edition the target is a single man in the world; so we can read the “Politeness of the private man”, the “Politeness of the man as citizen” and the “Politeness of the man of the world”.  Instead, from the second (1820) the point of view is social. The three parts of the treatise are entitled “General Politeness”, “Particular Politeness” and “Special Politeness”: in which subjects of collective importance are discussed, from the education of children to the relationship between officials and citizens, to the relationship between the sexes up to the comparison with other nations or cultures – as we would say now.

So, the Nuovo Galateo became a treatise in two volumes – more than 600 pages – in the last edition and we will focus our analysis on this edition. Text analysis is made easy by the author himself: in the last version of the work he indicates with an asterisk the additions in the text and accompanies it with a very wide range of notes. Thus, we are faced with a hypertext ante litteram.

The proposal for a new Galateo implies the mixing of senses, passions and reason, a reason that moves from sensitivity, cleansed of all roughness. The senses are therefore the first measure of civilisation or the rudeness of behaviour and social relations.

Some acts that produce nausea, schifo, disgusto (nausea, loathing and disgust) have an immediate action on the senses; in other cases, the cause of disgust is imagination, produced by some act by others. Indeed, “the human disposition is like a mirror: it reproduces in itself those sensations it supposes in others” (Gioia 1827: 24). In this simple sentence we could even read a sort of mirror neuron theory. More modestly we see a happy metaphor of the psychology of imitation.

Therefore, in this relational framework between human beings, all “urban or harassing acts to other people’s sensibilities”, but also those harassing to others’ memory, to other people’s desires and to self-love of others, are to be avoided[4].

The degrees of urbanity correspond to the degrees of pain combined with the excited remembrances (Gioia 1827: 37)

We must know the feelings of the people with whom we converse, in order not to expose ourselves to the danger of offending or embittering them even unwillingly (Gioia 1827: 38).

So far, we have not moved away from a sensory psychology based on the principle of avoiding pain and increasing pleasure, for oneself and others. It is not only about physical pleasures and pains, but also about psychic ones. Hence attention to desires, but above all to self-love, that is, to the desire for the esteem of others and to the fear of their contempt. There is therefore an uninterrupted continuity from the physical to the psychic to the social plane. Contempt may mean being harmed for a physical or intellectual or moral defect, but also seeing your abilities diminished. The action proposed as an example of social contempt will not be accidental: to offer a gift to an honoured public official (Gioia 1827: 65). The case is also re-discussed with regard to the politeness of the subjects towards magistrates. Acts of servility degrade human nature, offend the honest magistrate and do not guarantee abuse of authority. If they were habitual in a servile regime, they cannot be admitted to a society of citizens. The statement comes from a civil servant of the Napoleonic era (Gioia himself), but it is certainly valid in the 21st century as well.

The picture becomes more complicated when the author introduces the time factor. These behavioural rules, although based on human nature[5], which tends to pleasure and shuns pain, are not natural but are the result of a process. Gioia calls it civilizzazione (civilisation), not unlike Norbert Elias in his famous Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation (Elias 1939). Gioia speaks at length in the preface and in many “additions” to the third edition of the Nuovo Galateo. As has been observed, much of Special Politeness is a historical reconstruction of this process (Gipper 2011: 30).

Civilisation: Man, naturally crude, personal, semi-barbarian, changes himself, humanises, softens, under the influence of social reason, as metal abandons rust under the action of cleaning (Gioia 1827: 3)

Civilisation therefore consists of the victories that the principles of social reason obtain over the disordered impulses of nature (emphasis in original, Gioia 1827: 4).

Politeness is a branch of civilisation; it consists of the art of modelling a person and his actions, feelings and speech in order to make others happy with us and themselves, that is, acquiring the esteem and affection of others, within the limits of the just and honest, that is, of the social reason (Gioia 1827: 5).

This is if we take into consideration the Preface. In the concluding parts of the treatise, interest in the social and historical dimension of civilisation is even more evident, and is expressed well in the adoption of the term incivilimento (civilizing process). Gioia’s contemporary age is an age of civilisation as opposed to the barbarity[6] of the previous ages.

Incivilimento, considered from his point of view, is the triumph of politeness over dirt, of science over ignorance, of industriousness over indolence, of peace over war, of solid and durable public interest over frivolous and momentary private interests (Gioia 1827: 501).

In this series of juxtapositions of individual and social conditions which become norms and values lies the whole meaning of the process of civilisation: the philosophies of history, during the 19th century (but already Condorcet did it) will call it progress. Politeness, knowledge, labour, peace: in short, public interest before the private one.

In the barbarian condition, all passions are usually at the highest level. Not only negative passions such as envy, ambition, hatred, resentment or indolence, but also love of one’s country, love between the sexes, filial love and religious sentiment are expressed in violent and ignorance-based forms. They find expression in the emphasis of the body over the mind, in the passion for body ornaments, in the abuse of strength and pleasures. Instead, “civilisation represses and directs the excess and irregular ways of natural barbarism, and opens the field to virtue” (Gioia1827: 506).

But for Gioia civilisation does not destroy nature; therefore, Rousseau’s contrast between nature and civilisation, between nature and artifice does not apply. A civilised society is a society of men (and women) who have abandoned rough and violent customs for “polite” and thereby virtuous behaviour. Social virtues are increasingly artificial even if based on the natural human disposition.

Not all societies have reached the pinnacle of civilisation. Indeed, it cannot be said that it is a spontaneous process. Against Smith’s and Say’s theses, Gioia (who is an economist and knows theories well) believes that the process must be aware: there is no invisible hand.

What is certain is that the past was worse than the present: it is not identifiable with the mythical golden age, but rather with the age of savagery. In those fierce times, even religious sentiment was so wild: a philosophy that defends the rights of tolerance has broken the daggers of religious fanaticism. And fanaticism is the shortest way to prejudicially identify an enemy to destroy. Because “at all times it is always easier to apply a hateful name to a person than to prove facts” (Gioia 1827: 593).

In a sort of arithmetic balance of pleasures, man’s sensitivity is considered a constant quantity, divided between physical, intellectual and moral pleasures. Hence, the growth in the number of affections, which occurs in civilised societies, corresponds to a decrease in their intensity.

So the society of its time can overcome the “excess of social unhappiness of the past centuries” (Gioia 1827: 573ff.), where civil pleasures were scarce, few objects of convenience or luxury, minimum the sum of intellectual pleasures.

Among the tools for the growth of social happiness it is easy for Gioia to place the development of publishing, the spread of books and literacy. They are all ways of growing arts and education and decreasing roughness and ignorance, ultimately corruption.

The civilising function of fashion is analogous, of which Gioia wrote an apology: economic (fashion develops industry) social (increases work, therefore overcoming pauperism), even moral (fashion does not corrupt but reduces corruption). Comments on fashion fluctuations that seem to anticipate the pages of Georg Simmel, but instead brought him harsh criticisms from the young catholic philosopher Antonio Rosmini[7].

 

Social reason[8]

In civilised society social reason is expressed and increased. What is social reason?

From the dynamic of affections (perhaps it would be better from the dynamic of senses) a social equilibrium can derive, a pleasant society. This idea of society is based on pleasure and utility and not on decency; or rather decency derives from pleasure.

But, in the summary of the principles of social reason there are:

  1. Exercise your rights with the least displeasure of others;
  2. Respect their rights even if harmful to ourselves;
  3. Recognise their merit, even though they were our enemies;
  4. Do not harm them without just reason and legitimate authorisation;
  5. Promote their good also with the sacrifice of ours;
  6. Give up momentary resentments that would yield greater future sorrows;
  7. Sacrifice personal affections in the public interest;
  8. Achieve maximum public benefit with the least harm to members of society (Gioia 1827: 3-4).

In this secular “decalogue”, social reason has the task of expressing the principles of public ethics as universal as possible, according to which everyone respects the rights of others, recognises their merits and promotes their good. The aim of everyone will be public interest: the maximum of public benefit with the minimum of damage to every member of society. It is not even appropriate to point out the utilitarian imprint of this formulation of private and public ethics, almost a utilitarian translation of the golden rule.

It is not negligible to recall that Gioia is also the author of a treatise Del merito e delle ricompense (Gioia 1818-19). But above all that he was a theorist of the use of statistical investigation for the knowledge of the real conditions of a nation and its inhabitants. The description of a State provides the scientific tools to define collective interest. This is what we read in Filosofia della statistica (Gioia 1826)[9].

It matters little if in the nineteen-twenties a political Age of Restoration opened, for Gioia his times and future times are those in which a new form of civil coexistence can develop, “distinct from monarchical servility as from democratic roughness”. Neither the ceremonial distinctions and the distance between servants and masters, nor the ways of the good savage or the mountaineer of Rousseau are acceptable models for Gioia. Roughness is not synonymous with sincerity and virtue.

A social perspective is built on the politeness and civilisation of customs, strongly marked by utilitarianism, therefore by the senses but also by reason, social reason. Up to the rational self-regulation of rights and esteem between equal individuals that we have just described (Sofia 2000).

 

Politeness and virtues

This process is possible because, in the new (by Gioia) as well as in the old Galateo (by Della Casa), the well-being, the not offending lifestyle is a lower grade of morality. Here we have the answer to the initial question. The cleanliness considered in its purpose and in its means does not differ from morality except in gradation. All human actions, even the most minute ones, aim at the cessation of pain and the satisfaction of a need, to “spare uncomfortable sensations and afflictive memories” (Gioia 1827: 6).

Avoiding the offences of others’ sensitivities is a healthy, virtuous way of living corporeality, because cleanliness derives from physical and perhaps even moral health. With almost the same words of Della Casa, Gioia affirms: “virtues win in size and, so to speak, in cleanliness; but this wins those in the frequency of its acts” (Gioia 1827: 9).

Virtue, according to Gioia, is nothing else than living well, pleasantly and usefully for oneself and for others. If the goal, as we have already read, is “to acquire the esteem and affection of others, within the limits of the just and honest” (Gioia 1827: 5), perhaps the great virtues that civilised contemporary society and its members do not even need.

Yet with the idea of politeness combined with the idea of health, the soul is prepared for the exercise of virtues. To a fair and honest action, according to the canons of classicism revisited in a utilitarian key.

Nonetheless a problem persists in this progressive vision of the fate of humanity. In our contemporary societies we are not so sure that the same feelings are hosted by human hearts everywhere and across time. Is that of Gioia an ethnocentric proposal even if it is portrayed as universalistic?

As we read in the Preface, Gioia’s attitude seems much more open than that of many of our contemporaries. One of the objectives that is proposed is “Knowing the various uses and customs of peoples” (Gioia 1827: 22) in order to adapt to social relations different from our native habits.

 

The kindness rebellion

Anyway, the rule of this Galateo is not to offend, not to harass others from the senses to the memory, desires, self-love of others. In other words, be polite, respectful and kind. Why, in our democratic societies, should we think of kindness as taboo or only as a display of hypocrisy?

Now, after two centuries, when the Jacobin revolutionary wave and the nineteenth-century restoration are very far from the common conscience and the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary waves of the twentieth century seem equally distant – and forgettable – with their tragic events, we are faced with languages media and politicians based on violence and abuse, on the basis of new Revanchism. Could the “small virtues” of good education act as a barrier not in large political scenarios but in the modest dimension of daily interpersonal relationships, such as good practices of tolerance and respect?

We might think that face to the rhetoric of fear and violence the arts of kindness and courtesy are very blunt and ineffective weapons. We can be persuaded of the need of equally strong passions. What could be the passions or rather the feelings to be opposed to fear and resentment? Surely hope, confidence, compassion, but they are not characterised by strong colours; it is not easy to think of a rhetoric of winning trust over the communication of hatred and fear.

If it is difficult to implement a rhetoric of good feelings, perhaps it is possible instead to apply an ethic of small virtues, to rediscover a Galateo of small virtues. One that would allow us to live in a kinder and more respectful social environment. Perhaps kindness, in word and deed, is not enough to win the battle against populist rhetoric, which sees in roughness the expression of the veracity of popular sentiment. But it is a mystification – as Gioia said.

So, we should not consider Galateo as an ensemble of etiquette rules for an elite society. We have to consider it as education and habit to kindness, that is to the respect for the sensitivity of others. Hence, we can understand that it could be just a way to start from the bottom, from respectful practices, at micro or meso level, in social relations to make a revolution, the kindness revolution.

And one could also demand, as the Sardine’s youth movement in Italy or some pop stars on the Internet did, a more respectful and perspicuous language by politicians, media and social networks.

 

An unwanted conclusion

In the early months of 2020, a shock event struck all over the world: the spread of Covid-19, a very contagious disease with deadly effects on the most fragile components of the population. It has reversed habits, lifestyles and habitual behaviours, especially in large cities. Governments have introduced several (more or less) strict confinement measures with the aim of limiting contagion.

Humanity almost in its entirety has been faced with the awareness of the risk of death even more than the risk itself. How did you react? How did we react?

Although there have been cases of hunting for the plague spreader, the most widespread reaction has been that of species solidarity. For some time, habitual haters have been silent.

At the time I write, the exit from confinement seems (and I say seems) to be lived in respect of one’s own and others’ needs, in the awareness that only an attitude of respect for the rules and health of others is the way to safeguard one’s own.

Is fear always necessary to establish a public ethics of respect?

Endnotes

[1]The use of the word brigata (brigade) is, at least for the Italian reader, an obvious reference to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Together with numerous other literary allusions, it shows that ignorance of the protagonist pedagogue is also a literary fiction.

[2] Among contemporary cleanliness scholars Douglas Biow, American scholar in Italian Renaissance, in the wake of some well-known statements by Burckhardt, proposes the treatises on cleanliness by extending to literary and visual sources. Cf. Biow 2006.

[3] Precisely there were four editions of the Nuovo Galateo from 1802 to 1827 (1802, 1820, 1822, 1827), without including the counterfeits. The book had more than 40 editions during the 19th century.

[4] This is the sequence of titles of the chapters of the first part of the work, General Politeness.

[5] “It is not a ceremonial convention […] its precepts are not obtained from the whims of the use and fashion, but from the feelings of the human heart, which belong to all times and places” (Gioia 1827: 5).

[6] It would be interesting to subject the text to a systematic quantitative lexical analysis. It is sufficient to note here that in the Nuovo Galateo 1827 the term incivilimento (civilizing process) appears seven times; while we record 11 occurrences of civilizzazione (civilisation)  and 6 of  civiltà (civility) as opposed to 7 of  barbarie (barbarity).

[7]  Cf. Gioia (1827, I: 161-179) and Rosmini (1828, II: 107-168).

[8] The topic of social reason was discussed in depth from the point of view of linguistic pragmatics by Salmacchia – Rocci 2019: the two authors note the presence of the lemma “reason” in the different editions of the Nuovo Galateo and discuss its function in the argumentative structure of the text.

[9] Cf. Gioia 1826 and Pasini 1975.

References

Berger, H. (2000), Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Renaissance Courtesy Books, Stanford UP, Stanford.

Biow, D. (2006), The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy, Cornell UP, Ithaca-London.

Brown, P. – Levinson S. C. (1987), Politeness: Some universals in language usage, Cambridge UP, Cambridge.

Della Casa, G. 1994, Trattato nel quale, sotto la persona d’un vecchio idiota ammaestrante un suo giovanetto, si ragiona de’ modi che si debbono o tenere o schifare nella comune conversazione, cognominato Galateo overo de’ costumi [1558], a cura di S. Prandi, Einaudi, Torino.

Della Casa, G. 2010, Galateo…. Or rather, A treatise of the ma[n]ners and behaviours, it behoveth a man to use and eschewe, in his familiar conversation A worke very necessary & profitable for all gentlemen, or other. First written in the Italian tongue, and now done into English by Robert Peterson, [Imprinted at London, for Raufe Newbery, 1576] Eebo editions Proquest, Ann Arbor.

Della Casa, G. (2013), Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behavior, edited and translated by M. F. Rusnak, Chicago UP, Chicago.

Elias, N. (1969),The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners, Blackwell, Oxford.

Gioia, M. (1802), Nuovo Galateo, Pirotta, Milano.

Gioia, M. (1818-1819), Del merito e delle ricompense, Pirotta, Milano.

Gioia, M. (1820), Nuovo Galateo, con aggiunte e correzioni, Pirotta, Milano.

Gioia, M. (1827), Nuovo galateo di Melchiorre Gioja, autore del Trattato Del merito e delle ricompense, Pirotta, Milano, 4th ed.

Gioia, M. (1837), Primo Galateo e Nuovo Galateo, in Opere Minori, voll. 16-17, Ruggia, Lugano.

Gioia, M. (1826), Filosofia della statistica, 2 vols., Pirotta, Milano.

Gipper, A. (2011), Dal giovin signore al cittadino borghese. Melchiorre Gioja, il Nuovo Galateo e la filosofia francese, in H. Meter-F. Brugnolo, eds, Vie lombarde e venete. Circolazione e trasformazione dei saperi letterari nel Sette-Ottocento tra l’Italia settentrionale e l’Europa transalpina, 27-40, Gruyter, Berlin.

Ossola, C. (2012), Civilizzazione e ragione sociale, in C. Ossola-G. Jori (eds.), Letteratura italiana e canone dei classici (L’età romantica), Utet, Torino.

Pasini, M. (1975), La filosofia della statistica di Melchiorre Gioia, Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica, V, 473-532.

Romagnosi, G. D. (1835), Dell’indole e  dei fattori dell’incivilimento, Stamperia Giusti, Prato.

Rosmini A. (1828), Argomento di Melchiorre Gioia in favore della moda  risguardo alle classi popolari, in Opuscoli filosofici, Pogliani, Milano, II, 107-168.

Saccone, E.  (1987),  Monsignor Della Casa Tra Galateo e Bosco, Modern Language Notes, vol. 102, n. 1, 96–127.

Saltamacchia F.-Rocci A. (2019), The Nuovo Galateo (‘New Galateo’, 1802) by Melchiorre Gioja, politeness (pulitezza) and reason, in Politeness in Nineteenth-Century Europe, A. Paternoster-S. Fitzmaurice (eds.), J. Benjamins Publishin Company, Asterdam, 75-106: https://www.academia.edu/39299492/The_Nuovo_Galateo_New_Galateo_1802_by_Melchiorre_Gioja_politeness_pulitezza_and_reason

Santosuosso, A.  (1977), Books, Readers, and Critics. The Case of Giovanni Della Casa, 1537-1975, La Bibliofilía, vol. 79, n. 2, 101–186.

Santosuosso, A. (1975), Giovanni Della Casa and the Galateo On Life and Success in the Late Italian Renaissance”, Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance Et Réforme, vol. 11, n. 1,  1–13.

Scarpati, C. (2005), Il sistema del «Galateo», in Invenzione e scrittura saggi di letteratura italiana,  Vita e pensiero, Milano.

Sofia, F. (2000) Gioia Melchiorre, in Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, vol. 55, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Roma, ad vocem.

Tasca, L. (2004), Galatei: buone maniere e cultura borghese nell’Italia dell’Ottocento, Le Lettere, Firenze.

Vanni, L. (2006), Verso un nuovo galateo: le buone maniere in Italia tra antico e nuovo regime, Unicopli, Milano.

Errors in Politics: An analysis of the concept of political error

What is a political error? How can we distinguish a political error from other kinds of error? Is there any specificity of the kind of errors that can be made in politics? More precisely, if emotions and affects play a key role in politics, one shall suspect that they may also play a role in political errors. Is it possible to define more clearly the nature of this role and, hence, the nature of political error? Is it possible to depict phenomenologically the way through which rational arguments interfere with emotional motives and, conversely, the way through which emotions shape rationality in politics? A better knowledge of what is specific in political errors might thus help to understand the relationships between reason and emotions, concepts of rationality and “structures of feelings”.

Although political errors are likely to be as old as politics itself, it is only in modern times – and I will suggest that it is only with Machiavelli – that the notion of political error clearly emerged on the background of other kinds of errors with which it has long been mingled. In an article entitled Morality and the social sciences, Albert Hirschman analysed the connection between morality and politics[1]. He shows that there is a durable tension between the two. He writes: “modern political science owes a great deal to Machiavelli’s shocking claim that ordinary notions of moral behaviour for individual may not be suitable as rules for conduct for states.” Such an analysis invites to go back to the distinction between the different kinds of errors that can be done by humans with the goal of identifying the nature of those that can be specifically called “political errors”.

 

Outline of the article

I will proceed as follow: I will first make a brief “history of error”, if one can say so. More precisely, I will try to identify a few steps that have been gone through in the thinking about what an error can be in general. I will show that one can distinguish four kinds of error. Namely the perceptual error, the conceptual error, the moral error and, finally, the political error. The distinction is not controversial for the three first groups. The fourth kind of errors, however, is a controversial issue. Indeed, when it comes to political error, some commentators claim that it does not has to be confused with moral errors; others claim right the opposite, thus that political errors are only a certain variety of moral error. This is showing, at least, that the notion of political error is still not well characterized.

In a second moment, and in order to shed some light on the question, I will assume that the distinction between moral and political error is relevant and I will thus try to define more precisely what a political error is as opposed to other varieties of errors and, more specifically, as opposed to moral errors. Thus, I will try to assess the nature of political errors. I will exhibit a few distinctive features of political errors showing that their difference with other kinds of errors is not of a speculative sort but that it actually corresponds to facts.

Finally, I will turn to the question of why assessing the nature of political error can be helpful if one wonder to find ways of modifying affects. Narrating stories is, I will show, a powerful way of intervening into political issues. This is where phenomenology comes about: it will show how narratives matter when it comes to political passions. I will thus try to analyse how narratives and, more generally, history, can change the shape of affects of political significance and, in some cases, avoid political errors.

 

A history of error

So let me with the history of the notion of error. I speak here of notion of error as it has been conceptualized which I distinguish from the fact of simply making an error, the latter being probably as old as humanity itself. Identifying and expressing what is at stake in the making of an error is something different than making an error. It supposes to conceptualize accurately what an error is.

As far back as the fourth century BC, Heraclitus of Ephesus, the Ionian Greek philosopher, would claim that “those who are awake have a world one and common, but those who are asleep each turn aside into their private world”[2]. He seems to mean that humans can live either in illusion or in truth. Here, thus, error is taken as an equivalent of illusion; an interpretation that is confirmed by other fragments from Heraclitus. Under every error, one should be able to identify a corresponding illusion. Illusion, in turn, is conceived in a way that is very similar to what happens when one perceive something and interpret as something that does not correspond to what is actually perceived. The square tower that is perceived as a round tower from a distance would later become the canonical example that encapsulates this notion of perceptual error. Perceptual errors, however, are not be confused with conceptual errors, as Plato would show, a few decades after Heraclitus.

Indeed, the distinction between perceptual and conceptual errors can be traced back at least to Plato. In the Socratic dialogue entitled Meno, Socrates famously show how a young slave can be led to correct by himself his own errors by being guided only by questions[3]. When the young slave says that a square the side of which has been doubled will also have its surface doubled, he makes an error that is clearly not of a perceptual kind. One can thus distinguish at least two kinds of errors which can be called perceptual errors and conceptual errors. If a distinction has to be made between these two kinds of errors, other kinds of errors might have to be recognized as well.

Aristotle, in Nicomachean ethics and in the Politics would precisely identify a third kind of error which deals specifically, he would explain, with the consequence of having incorrectly anticipated the future. Someone who, by his attitude, provoke consequences that he was not expecting is making an error which cannot be qualified as perceptual. It cannot be qualified as a conceptual error either. Rather, it is again a new sort of error that is to be found both in moral and in politics, Aristotle would claim.

When I do something that I later regret, I make a moral error. When a politician or group of people decide something that would later lead to a catastrophe (a war for instance), one can call it a “political error”. At a first sight, such an error does not have a structure that differ from the moral error since it results from the failure to foresee the consequences of our actions. And that will be what Aristotle would conclude. In moral error, as well as in political error, the failure lie in the fact that the future has been incorrectly foreseen. In other terms, from Aristotle on, moral error and political will be characterised as being of the same sort.

Aristotle would, for instance write, in the Politics, that “governing is being able to see what the future will be”[4]. Therefore, not being able to see correctly what the future will be is making a political error. By the same token, not being able to anticipate the consequence of an act would constitute the basis of the moral error as it is analysed in the Nicomachean ethics. Thus, political and moral errors are here analysed in the same way. In fact, the two categories are considered as only one category.

This link between moral and political errors will have an enduring life. It will be reaffirmed from century to century up to Machiavelli who would disentangle the two notions, probably because he is more concerned with practical thinking (which he famously call verità effettuale de la cosa) than by conceptual analysis. In so doing, he is introducing a distinction into the third category of errors which would thus have, at least for those who accept the notions provided by Machiavelli, to be now split into moral errors and political errors instead of being grouped into a single category.

Although the nature of the difference between the two remains obscure at this stage, it appears clearly that the two notions of moral and political should be distinguished when Machiavelli exhorts, for instance, the Prince to keep giving the impression that he is acting with equanimity while he shall, occasionally, have to act otherwise[5]. Equanimity is thus, for Machiavelli, a moral notion that should not be confused with the political usefulness of having the reputation of being so. Being unjust could be a moral mistake, but it can also, sometimes, help to avoid a political mistake.

It is not before the twentieth century that what is at stake under the distinction between moral and political error will begin to be clarified. Hence the fact that from its first publication in 1532, The Prince has been considered as a sulphurous reading. Even Leo Strauss, in its Thoughts on Machiavelli, first published in 1958, considers that reading Machiavelli exposes to dangerous drawbacks. He would write, for instance: “We do not hesitate to assert, as very many have asserted before us, and we shall later on try to prove, that Machiavelli’s teaching is immoral and irreligious”[6]. By this he means that, at the end of the Middle Ages, claiming that moral and politics can be disentangled is, in itself, a moral error. This might be the reason that make the issue so controversial. Let’s turn back, for a minute, to the arguments that lead Machiavelli to separate the two notions.

The Prince is composed as advices to Lorenzo de Medici the second and is supposed to help him stay in power. The advises provided by Machiavelli are mainly, if not exclusively, oriented through one goal which is to answer a question that could be summed up as follow: “how should the Prince, the sovereign, act in order to avoid that his former friends turn into enemies?” Therefore, turning friend into enemies is also what would characterize a political error according to Machiavelli. One discovers that one has made a political mistake when someone who used to be a friend turn to be an enemy. Let us take this as a first definition of the political error.

Such a definition does not apply to moral error since in moral error, one possibly become the enemy of oneself, but one does not necessarily turn someone against oneself. Thus, although, as Aristotle already noticed, both moral and political errors share the failure to foresee the future, they do it in quiet different ways. In political errors, what is at stake is the risk, for any action, to make friends become enemies while in moral error, what is at stake is, so to say, the risk to become its own enemy by having to judge oneself with poor favour. A political error has to deal with the anticipation of how others would react to our initiatives.

From there on, two schools of thought would appear. One of them will stick to the Aristotelian idea that a political error is a kind of moral error. The other one, following Machiavelli, will try to identify more clearly what is specific in a political error.

 

Assessing political errors

By turning to two examples, I will try to define the specificity of political error more clearly, thus assuming that this last opinion makes sense.

The first example will deal with a stunning episode of the recent French political live. The former French president François Hollande, who was then finishing what would turn to be his unique mandate, published a book, that in fact had been written by two journalists, which title was: A president shouldn’t say this[7]. Indeed, the book could not have a better title since it was, as it would be mentioned by many observers as well as by policy makers including a large number of members of its own party, a great political mistake. In this book, he was, quite honestly, explaining what he did all along its mandate. Honesty could hardly be depicted as a moral mistake. But it could easily generate political mistakes. That was what happened in this occasion. The mistake was so great that his own first minister decided to run for presidency and that, finally, he himself, although President, would decide even not to try to run for presidency because, he declared “XXX”. That will open an avenue for his former minister of economy, a person whose name was Emmanuel Macron (who, by the way, did validate, a few years earlier, a degree on political sciences with a memoir on Machiavelli).

So what was the political mistake that François Hollande did with this book? The answer has been anticipated by Machiavelli: he turned many of his former friends into enemies. One should note that the nature of politics entailed by this notion of error is not the same as the one proposed by Carl Schmitt who, as it is well known, focuses on the distinction between friends and enemies[8]. Here, what is at stake is not to distinguish friends from enemies but rather to anticipate what would make the former turn into the latter. It is a different sort of distinction that also opens different perspectives.

Since affects circulate in friends in a way different than they circulate in enemies, turning friends into enemies is the equivalent of turning supporting feelings into destroying feelings. As one can see on the example of François Hollande, the effect that he obtained with his book turned to be right the opposite to what he was looking for. It was supposed to enhance the number of its supporters; it turned out that it decreased this number.

Similar mechanisms operate, although at a much higher rate, in the burst of a revolution. This is what happened, and this is the second example, in Iran a few decades ago leading to the resignation, in 1979, of the King of Iran, the so-called Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Palavhi[9].

A few years before the revolution, the Shah of Iran decided to organize a sumptuous celebration of its regime. The goal was to deepens its power by appearing at the top of an unchallenged legitimacy. He obtained, however, the directly opposite effect: his opponents infuriate while his proponents did not agree with such magnificent and expensive celebrations. The result was that the Islamic revolution, that arose a few years later, would push him away with the help of the citizen of Iran. He had accumulated a vast number of haters by the ways that, he thought, would be appropriate to consolidate his power.

Thus, we can now define more clearly what a political error is: it is an error made on evaluating the consequences of what others think about what one do or say. If I do or say something, I have also to deal with what people think about it. A political error will arise if I fail to anticipate correctly that reaction. Although it can be helpful to provide criteria to distinguish what a political error can be, it is again more helpful to provide some clue that could help to prevent political mistakes.

 

Correcting political error

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his Note on Machiavelli, published in Signes in 1960, did notice rightly that what exposes The Prince to error is that what he does or say is always seen in a plurality of ways[10]. Since the Prince is exposed to the judgment of a variety of persons, his action will also be judged in a variety of ways. Anticipating the reaction of a crowd must thus depend on a specific sense of evaluation which is not the same as the one that one can have in front of a single or of a few well identified persons. The politician is judged by a crowd of ways of seeing instead of by only a few. And each of them is affected differently by what he is doing. How to anticipate the variations that could arise in such a crowd?

To answer this question, Machiavelli uses essentially one a tool. This tool is history. He would provide advises to the Prince by looking back to what happened to others in various situation, as I just did with the example of François Hollande and of the Shah of Iran. This manner of reasoning is pointing to the nature not so much of history than of politics. Machiavelli was not an historian and did not pretend to be one. What he was doing with history is of a different kind.

Indeed, he is attempting to shape the affects of Lorenzo de Medici the second to help him avoiding some mistakes that would lead his reign to a catastrophe. That is the way through which, pragmatically, Machiavelli is seeing history. History, in other word, is, for him, a tool that is efficient to shape politically meaningful affects. And, as such, history can be useful to prevent political errors.

This is suggesting ways of using history to reshape the affects that are significant for politics which are love or, at least, respect and hate or, at least, disrespect. As I tried to show, there are ways to turn someone from respect to disrespect as with the case of Hollande) or, in the opposite way, from disrespect to respect. A political error can thus be analysed in terms of lack of historical culture. The historical culture, as Machiavelli means it, is a tool suitable to avoid political errors.

But is it possible to correct a political mistake with history and how does such a correction work? Most of the time, when one speaks about the use of history for political purposes, one has in mind the way through which one can learn things from the past by avoiding errors that were previously done.

For instance, in the financial crisis, in 2008, many commentators did suggest looking back at the Great Depression crisis of 1929 to avoid the mistakes that were then made. Policy makers claimed that they have “learned the lessons from the past”. Such examples can explain why people would act differently when similar circumstances arise. Of course, the circumstances are never exactly the same. Therefore, the historical relevance of a given reference will generally be subject to a critical evaluation. The American historian of economy Barry Eichengreen has shown convincingly, in a book on use and misuse of history, that although the lessons of 1929 have been taken into account, new errors were also made, presumably because the model of the 1929 crisis served too much as a basis for thinking about what should be decided[11]. This represent a conventional use of history in politics. It represents a part of what Machiavelli suggests when he turns to history. But only a part of it.

Machiavelli would indeed go one step farther in its investigation of the power of history and narration because he is not only concerned by right actions but also by affects. Could turning hatred into more pacific affects be achieved by history and by narration, as it should be expected if the analysis of Machiavelli turned out to be correct? I will give a single example showing how political affects, i.e. mainly hate and disrespect, can be modified through narration. A narration can therefore reshape affects and turn disrespect into respect.

To show this, I would like to narrate a story that took place in the XIXth century in the city of La Rochelle, on the Atlantic seaside in France. It shows the connections between narrating a story and triggering a change in the way affects are circulating. La Rochelle then harboured an important military place which was located right in the middle of the city. As it is usually the case for official buildings, one could find a national flag, thus a blue white and red flag, floating on the roof. A friend of the French historian Edgar Quinet who was living in the neighbourhood had an apartment the windows of which opened right in front of the flag in such a way that he was seeing the flag every time he was looking through its windows. He did not like this view because, he said, the flag has a military flavour he was disliking. Edgar Quinet told him the meaning of the flag, explaining that the French flag has its own history and meaning: his three colours, blue, white and red, were chosen to symbolized the people from Paris surrounding the king. Indeed, the colour of the king’s flag was the white, while the colour of the city of Paris is the blue and the red.

Once Edgar Quinet told the story to his friend, who was of Parisian origins, the feelings of the latter changed dramatically: “how nice, he said, I will love this flag now!” This is showing what narrating a story could do in political affects. Narrating a story is not something neutral which would only give information from the past. It is something that act in a much deeper fashion. It affects the way we are related to things. It should be noticed that it is not achieving this goal by preaching the goal it intends to reach but rather by exposing facts that are, in a sense, much more than simple facts. A story is made by the narration of facts, but it conveys affects (and effects) of political significance since it can turn hate into love.

This phenomenological analysis, provided by an historian, shows what can be achieved with the simple narration of an history. Narrating an history could, at a first sight, seem to be a very neutral process which deals with transmitting facts. But when one looks more phenomenologically at what is it at stake in narration and in the process of hearing a narration, one discovers that the it conveys the power to trigger new regimen of affects that can, in certain cases, make them useful to avoid political errors. Here, arguments and affects interact in such a way that they are tightly intertwined.

 

Conclusion

Since there are ways to shape political affects, it is still more important to distinguish political error from other kind of errors. Political affects can be efficiently changed by the narration of history, as I have tried to show. It means that beside history, there is another topic that deserve a close attention which the usage of history in politics. This should constitute a sub-discipline as such since it is an essential topic when it comes to political errors. In other terms, to investigate more thoroughly what a political error is, one should look carefully at how history is working when one listen to it.

 

References

Aristotle, The Politics, tr. en. T. Sinclair, Penguin classics, London, 1981.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, Fragments, Penguin classics, London, 2003.

Hirschman, Albert, Morality and the social sciences : a durable tension, in The essential Hirschman, ed. J. Adelman, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2013.

Hollande, François, Un président ne devrait pas dire ça…, avec G. Davet and F. Lhomme, Stock, Paris, 2016.

Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Prince, tr. en. T. Parks, Penguin classics, London, 2014.

Milani, Mohsen, The Making Of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: From Monarchy To Islamic Republic, Second Edition, Routledge, London, 2018.

Plato, The collected dialogues of Plato including letters, ed. E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982.

Schmitt, Carl, The concept of the political, tr. en. by G. Schwab, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2007.

Strauss, Leo, Thoughts on Machiavelli, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2014.

 

Endnotes

[1] Albert Hirschman, Morality and the social sciences: a durable tension in The essential Hirschman, ed. J. Adelman, Princeton University Press, 2013.

[2] Heraclitus of Ephesus, Fragments, fragment B89, Penguin classics, London, 2003.

[3] Plato, Meno, in The collected dialogues of Plato including letters, ed. E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982.

[4] Aristotle, The Politics, tr. en. T. Sinclair, Penguin classics, London, 1981.

[5] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, tr. en. T. Parks, Penguin classics, London, 2014.

[6] Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2014.

[7] François Hollande, Un président ne devrait pas dire ça…, avec G. Davet and F. Lhomme, Stock, Paris, 2016.

[8] Carl Schmitt, The concept of the political, tr. en. by G. Schwab, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2007.

[9] Mohsen Milani, The Making Of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: From Monarchy To Islamic Republic, Second Edition, Routledge, London, 2018.

[10] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signes, Gallimard, Paris, 1960.

[11] Barry Eichengreen, Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014.

Ulrike Müßig – Reason and Fairness

Ulrike Müßig (borne Seif), professor at the University of Passau, is one of the leading legal historians in Europe which an be seen and read in her recent book Reason and Fairness. Throughout Europe, the exercise of justice rests on judicial independence by impartiality. In Reason and Fairness Ulrike Müßig reveals the links of ordinary judicial competences and procedural rationality, together with the complementarity of procedural and substantive justice, as the foundation for the ‘rule of law’ in court constitution, far earlier than the advent of liberal constitutionalism.

 

Introduction

  1. Research Issues (pp. 1-11)

Ulrike Müßig’s “Reason and Fairness” deals with the history of judicial competences and especially the functionality of ordinary competences. Judicial competence is rooted in the European idea that law creates order. Thomas Aquinas was the first to forge religious truths into rational arguments. His summa theologiae is said to have laid the foundations for a logos-based Roman Catholicism and the rationale of the medieval canon law. As a result, a legal approach to fairness developed, achieving greater prominence at various turning points in history. However, recent German history has challenged this approach by demonstrating the disjuncture between the letter of the law and its spirit. As such, the “Radbruch Formula”, stating that extremely unjust law is not law, Gustav Radbruch introduced the concept of law being defined by a triad of justice, utility, and certainty.

The monograph covers an extensive time span from medieval canon law to the European Convention on Human Rights (12th -21st  Century), which comprise vastly different judicial positions stemming from their respective legal traditions; yet the theme of judicial justice abounds through the centuries. The medieval canon law’s complementarity of procedural and substantive justness as a legal emanation of the antique suum cuique (to each his own) links back to the Aristotelian demand that equals be treated equally. Today, it states the core element of European procedural laws as well as the initial wording of the Institutes of Justinian: “Justice is the persistent and constant will to give each one his right”.

  1. State of the Arts and Methodological Challenges (pp. 11-27)

Oftentimes, courts are considered mere institutions in a national constitutional structure. Publications based on this understanding are limited to a comparison from an institutional national perspective. The author, however, highlights that in view of European history, since European states and especially their legal systems have not developed autonomously, a transnational comparison is necessary. She therefore asserts an urgent need for “a new comparative understanding of judiciary as constituted power (…).”, necessitating the implementation of a transdisciplinary study on the interface of history, law and legal history. In line with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of language marking the “frontier of its user’s world”; institutions and guarantees must therefor be analysed in abstract manner rather than on the basis of their wording.

  1. Methods (pp. 27-29)

The monograph follows the methodological principle of historic functionality. Thus, institutions and guarantees are not analysed individually but rather compared with respect to conflict situations or concrete problems. This approach is based on the premise that institutions should not be created in isolation, but should serve to provide solutions to concrete problems.

 

  1. Geographical and Temporal Scope (pp. 30-33)

The subjects of investigation are the three countries of origin (England, France and Germany) of the Romanistic, the Anglo-Saxon and the German legal family, representing the European Union’s different legal systems.

  1. Structure and Sources (pp. 33-37)

First, an outline of the history of the legal systems in England, France and Germany as well as the influence of the Church promotes an understanding of the basis of the European legal system. The presentation of the English and French legal systems then characterizes the contemporary European legal system, which is finally related to the European Council and the Convention on Human Rights.

Part 1: Legal History

  1. Church (pp. 41-66)

The papal monarchy was the first absolute monarchy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, providing a considerable impetus in legal development, especially with regard to procedural law. In this respect, the judicial jurisdiction was the focus of the medieval canonists. Thus, a judgment passed in disregard of the jurisdiction of the courts was ineffective. Hence, jurisdiction as a procedural principle was the first procedural rule in which nullity as a legal consequence was expressly provided for by law. Over the course of time, it was extended to all procedural rules. Moreover, medieval canon law was the first to distinguish between procedural and substantive justice complementing one another. Canon law can thus be seen as the forerunner of procedural law. The Pope promoted a centralized development of law and the accompanying unification of substantive law. In this context, emphasis was increasingly placed on learned judges who were endowed with the power of self-decision, laying the groundwork for a centralized jurisdiction.

  1. France (pp. 67-119)

Since the thirteenth century, the French king’s attempts to eliminate estate influence on judicial administration was a constant element in the development of the French judiciary. However, this was opposed by the protective rationale of estate and constitutional formulations, which coincided in the autonomy of the legal judge and the commissioner. During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth century and the parliamentary complaints of the eighteenth century, the notion of the juge naturel increasingly confronted the special commissions and the extraordinary courts until it was clarified in the provisions of the organizational statute in 1790. With the constitutionalized reinvention of the royal judicial sovereignty and the reimposition of the monarchical principle in the Charte Constitutionnelle (1814), the juge naturel was guaranteed by the ban of commissions and extraordinary courts. Disregarding the revolutionary abolition of the feudal privileges, these constitutional guarantees remained unchanged until 1848. Republican ideals of equality (“everybody has the right to the same procedure before the same judge in the same trial”) contradicted the estate-based hierarchy of ordinary competences. All the same, the constitutions’ wordings, legitimized by national or popular sovereignty, did not reflect any changes in the meaning of the idea of the natural judge or the legally assigned judge. In 1848, explicit constitutional guarantees of the legally competent judge disappeared in the constitutions. Neither the Second Empire nor the Third, Fourth and Fifth Republic had specific provision for the legal competence of the judge.

  1. England (pp. 120-176)

Granting justice had been the central duty of medieval ruling. The instumentalization of justice and the judicial concentration in the crown were core factors in the early success of centralization within the English monarchy. The crown held major influence on the outcome of trials in the Star Chamber and interfered even more evidently in the extraordinary Court of High Commission. The control of these prerogative courts by means of extraordinary appeals (prerogative writs) channelled common-law opposition. The prerogative courts were criticized for passing arbitrary judgements and for adhering to royal proclamations as their extra-legal basis beyond common law and statute law. Edward Coke, a common-law judge, justified the precedence of common law over the monarchical prerogative by emphasizing the difference between “natural reason” of human beings (including the monarch) and “artificial reason” of common law judges. His argumentation demonstrates that legal professionalization was a vehicle for the independence of courts. This led to the supremacy of law, in which royal power was subject to law, and in turn demands of the abolition of extraordinary courts, which was enforced by Parliament in 1641. In English legal history, the supremacy of law assured the continuing existence of the ordinary jurisdiction through adherence to the law, whereby royal prerogative became exceptional. Other than in the rulings of the Court of Chancery (equity court), the monarch was banned from exercising judicial power and interfering with common law courts. In 1689, the Bill of Rights affirmed the legal bindings of monarchical power by common law, the idea being that the strictness of common law would guarantee material independence of the common law courts. Personal independene of the judges was later assured in the Act of Settlement. After the Glorious Revolution and the overthrow of James II, the concept of parliamentary sovereignity predominantly led to Parliament´s self-conception as the Highest Court of Justice. Hence, Parliament claimed the supreme power of interpretation of laws. Nevertheless, it did not aim to abolish royal prerogative but rather served to mediate between royal prerogative and the subject’s rights guaranteed under common law.

  1. Germany (pp. 177-281)

In contrast to France and England, in Germany imperial power could never establish effective jurisdictional centralization, continuously contending with emerging territorial jurisdictions. This conflict between territories and the empire was decisive in the origins of the German juge naturel. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 consolidated territorial judicial sovereignty. More and more permanent administrative institutions (like the Privy Council, the Financial Chambers, the Church Council, the Council of War and the manorial court) and a centralized chamber system were introduced, aiming at statal unification. The general state theory of the eighteenth century limited judicial matters to disputes between subjects. In the transition from power dictum criticism to the enlightened absolutist state of statutory law, the sovereign was still the bearer of undivided judicial sovereignty and highest judge, but the supremacy of reason-based normative telos could override his ruling will. So, in the Enlightened Absolutism, a reason-based normative telos emerged. After Napoleon, the goal was to form a new “empire” led by a hereditary monarch who cooperated with the people’s representatives and respected laws. Instead, the great powers, including the “German” states of Austria and Prussia, created the “German Confederation”, following the more traditional, restorative aim to guarantee peace, tranquillity and stability. Under the rule of the “Metternich system” the introduction of constitutions and modernization of their states was prohibited. The 1849 constitution of St. Paul’s Curch changed this political thinking, introducing the idea of a civil society and a liberal state under the rule of law with the guarantee of legally competent judges. The constitution thus laid out a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary orientation and was therefore particularly progressive. However, the appointed monarch Friedrich Wilhelm IV. was an anticonstitutionalist and prevented the constitution from coming into force. Yet, it served as a role model for the Weimar Constitution and the foundation of the federal republic of Germany. In essence, it guaranteed every individual access to the competent judge and court. The competent judge was at the same time considered to be the just judge. However, the reservation of the law also included the primacy of the legislature over the executive, which made a separation of powers necessary. This was maintained in particular by the independence of the judges. As a reaction to National Socialism, which manipulated the law as well as the courts, internal requirements were imposed on judges and the organisation of the courts. Thus, both the judicial outer and inner sphere is now protected against manipulation in order to reflect and offset Germany’s past.

Part 2: Country Reports: The Contemporary French and British Court System

 

  1. Core Patterns of Ordinary Judiciary, Representative throughout the European Union (pp. 285-311)

The core factors in the similar development of the EU member states’ constitutions despite their different origins and contexts are recognizable in different constitutional regulations such as the competences and legalities of the courts. The commonalities transcend geopolitical, geographical and temporal boarders. While the “Old” Constitutions, characterized by a pre-twentieth-century liberal tradition, shaped the concept of the legally competent judge as a constitutional guarantee, the Mid-twentieth-century constitutions replaced an authoritarian or imperial rule with a new, liberal-democratic structure and “fundamental rights” which are subject to the courts. These mut again be distinguished from the post-Cold War constitutions of Eastern European Member States. The distinction between these contemporary European constitutions clarifies the diversity of historical differences throughout the Union. Conversely, it demonstrates a pan-European commitment to certain common principles. In order to analyse the contemporary British and French court systems, it is necessary to differentiate between the protective rationale in the court external and internal sphere.

  1. Protective Rationale of Ordinary Competence: the Court External Sphere (pp. 312-379)

The court’s protective rationale views the court as an organizational unit which is functionally ensured by internal and external judicial independence. In Britain, the fundamental understanding of court organization differentiates between the common law courts (e.g. High Court of Justice) with all-encompassing competence and the courts created by statute (e.g. specific County Courts), whose competence is limited and fixed by statutes. In contrast to continental EU constitutional principles, besides not being codified neither the principle of the rule of law nor the sovereignty of Parliament are a reservation to one another. The small senior judiciary and the interrelation with the bar constitute the two core pillars to the independence of every judge. Numerous precedents demonstrate the court’s outstanding personal and functional independence from the government’s wishes and sensitivities. In the absence of a written constitution, there is no guarantee against Parliament’s intrusion into the judiciary as common law primary legislation cannot be challenged in court, while Parliament maintains the right to reverse a judicial decision by legislation. Yet, disengagement of judicial and political power was achieved by the convention of the UK Supreme Court in 2009 as a separation from the House of Lords, as judges had to decide an increasing number of cases with political implications. The Supreme Court now has the power to overrule laws that violate European Union law or the Convention on Human Rights, which previously fell under the House of Lord’s prerogative. However, this power of intervention is only to be exercised in rare cases of general public interest so as not to undermine the sovereignty of democratically legitimised Parliament.

In France, by comparison, the right to a legally competent judge is a consequence of the general principle of equality before the law, without an explicit mention in the constitution. It prohibits the executive and legislative power from establishing a court on an ad hoc basis for a specific legal issue, but does not prevent the creation of a special jurisdiction for legal field with a different subject matter. For the executive the binding character of this unwritten constitutional guarantee is effected by the statutory reservation as expression of the rule of law. The court organization in France is subdivided into the ordinary jurisdiction and administrative jurisdiction. The judicial review of statutes is realized by the Constitutional Council, which is not designed as a supreme court, hierarchically superior to the other courts and without any individual access. As a common European tradition, extraordinary courts derived from executive powers are rejected unless there is a statute for its creation and the executive acts within its margin of discretion.

  1. Protective Rationale of Objective, General Standards: the Court Internal Sphere (pp. 380-417)

In the court’s internal sphere, the guarantee of the legally competent judge contains the protection against an ad hoc staffing of the adjudicating body and against an ad hoc allocation of pending cases to the adjudicating bodies. The staffing and business distribution has to be predictable and pre-determined by objective, general standards. In the United Kingdom, the participating judges are not determined according to general rules, but specificly chosen by senior judges according to the principle of unitary judicial power rather than a subdivision into separate adjudicating bodies. For instance, the splitting of the High Court into three divisions conflicts with the concept of each judge being an adjucating body bestowed with the entire competence of the High Court. The ad hoc character of business distribution serves the effective use of personal subject knowledge and the strengths of individual judges in a certain case. This corresponds with the procedural governance of the judge and his special position of trust in the Enghlish trial. Inner court preliminary fixations would be deemed complicated rather than guarantors of justice.

On the contrary, in the contemporary French judicial system the internal protective content of the legally competent judge is derived from the general principle of equality. Both the adjudicating body and its business plan are precomposed and determined by statute. Thus, ad hoc creation of an adjucating body with judges chosen solely for certain cases is avoided. The composition of the bench is determined one year in advance by the court president upon the recommendation of the general assembly of judges, maintaining certain extent of flexibility in the judges’ application. The business distribution is organized in a rational, objective and precise manner in order to elimate any risk of arbitrary manipulation. In Germany, this basic law is codified in Art. 101 Section 1 Sentence 2 of the constitution. The statute is applied extensively as it is subject to constitutional protection, which is above all influenced by Germany’s unique historical experience. Therefore, in all European states the court’s internal sphere of the principle of the legally comptent judge is violated if inner court decisions are based on arbitrary considerations.

 

Part 3: The Historic Comparison as Line of Arguments for the European Convention

  1. Legal History ‘in front of Court’ (pp. 421-471)

An analysis of ECHR case law from a legal-historical perspective provides insight to the meaning of a court “established by law” under Art. 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. As explained in the preamble of the Convention, key common constitutional traditions of the legally competent judge raised as a conflict-orientated protective rationale can be used as interpretive guidelines. This interpretation of the rule of law contributed to the direct access of individuals to court and furthermore led to the binding and compulsory character of ECHR judgments. Being established by “law” in the sense of Art. 6 ECHR requires authorization either by the constitution or by statutory law. Within the context of the ECHR, the term “tribunals” encompasses four characteristics. First, they are set up by virtue of statutory or equivalent law, meaning that the court itself – but also the rules concerning the court and the ruling of the judges – have to be based on law. Secondly, they exercise judicial functions independently under the exclusive legal commitment to adhere to the law, guaranteeing impartiality. Moreover, tribunals have to be subject to appellate jurisdiction and they have to be sovereign institutions for the administration of justice.

Regarding the court’s external sphere, the guarantee to be heard by “a tribunal established by law” prohibits court appointments by discretion of the executive power and bans extraordinary courts. Again, this emphasises the right of a fair trial and judicial impartiality. The traditional understanding of the Convention bodies is that there is no protective rationale in the court’s internal sphere as the aspects of the composition of adjudicating bodies and inner court interferences were assigned to the conventional categories of judicial impartiality and fair trial. This changed in 2000, when the verdict in Buscarini/San Marino established the recognition of the court’s internal sphere under Art. 6 ECHR.

  1. Legal History as Mentor of Present and Future (pp. 472-500)

In 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that EU member states could be signatories to the ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights), but not the European Union as a whole. Together with the difficulties arising due to harmonized and uniform European law, this underlines the need for a convincing interpretation of the common European court traditions. In view of the fact that Union law is rooted in the legal systems of the member states it is not surprising that the common constitutional tradition correspond to the settled case law of the court (ECJ). The interpretation of Art. 6 Section 1 ECHR confirms the common European constitutional tradition of the predominance of the law. It is based on the tradition to avoid arbitrary interferences into the legally competent court and establishing legal competence and legitimacy by law. Whilst there is no common European tradition in respect to the internal protective dimension of Art. 6 ECHR, its necessity is undermined by the historical development of French, German and English law and was explicitly acknowledged by the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) as a part of the guarantee of ”the tribunal established by law”. The legally competent judge has been of high importance throughout European legal history and remains an important issue which becomes apparent within the ECHR.

Conclusion (pp. 500-533)

Besides the personal and substantial independence of judges especially the functional independence is a core element of the obedience of judges only to the law. Müßig resumes that throughout the book the development can be seen that the judge´s fairness and impartiality has been freed from extra-legal influence. The rise of the self-adjudicating judge in the medieval clerical courts undermines the significance of ordinary competences. The origin in medieval canon law is remarkable due to the fact that in those days common belief was that law derived its obligation from above. It becomes clear that the heart of the European idea of judicial justice is that certainty can be created by law based on logical rationales. Another aspect in the history of ordinary competences and its impact on Europe´s founding stories is the determination to rationalise the administration of justice and to improve access to courts. The French means of acknowledging the right to the natural judge within the pantheon of human rights had an impact on the constitutionalization of the French legal system. Moreover, the struggle between law and prerogative also occurred in the English court system of the seventeenth century. This was when Edward Coke developed the idea of the supremacy of law, leading to the independence of common law courts. Furthermore, the impact of academic intellectualization has been an aspect in the history of ordinary competences. The German triumph of legal professionalism had its peak in the “Begriffsjurisprudenz”, which set the German path for constitutional positivism. Also Nazi manipulation of the courts had a noticeable impact on the German court organization. Recently the European Union is questioned in light of Brexit. The alleged incompatibility of British judicial independence with the answerability to the ECHR and CFR stands at odds with the European consensus on the idea of justice shown in this book. Müßig comes to the conclusion that legal differences (e.g. in procedures or the precise distinction of legal competence) are just local methods of working towards the application of justice. In the end the ordinary judge functions as the symbol of justice.

As the reader can see in this short review, this sophisticated book is a joy for anyone even the least bit interested in Europes’s legal culture and landmarks. It is a fresh overview of the history of law in Europe, dealing with both civil and common law, from Roman times through to its codification – a stimulating, lucid, and imaginative read. The book belongs definitely on your shelf and in your lap.

After the Financial Crisis: The Ethics and Economics Debate Revisited

 

 

Introduction

In this sense the problem of the relation between ethics and economics in business concerns the concept of economic action and the role of ethical responsibility in economics.[i] The debate about economic rationality and political philosophy depends on the problem whether there can be something like a common good or social justice for all members of society. From the standpoint of mainstream economics we can say that this problem is a problem about how to deal efficiently with limited resources. In this sense we may argue that neoclassical economic theory is a system of thought that seeks to deal  rationally with the problem of sacrifice, that is the problem of who, how or what society should sacrifice in order to seek optimal and efficient use of resources.[ii] With the separation of economics from political philosophy, economics has become the rational use of resources based on the principle of the rational profit maximization of homo œconomics.

Accordingly, the idea of economic rationality depends on the concept of economic action.[iii] This concept is marked by interplay between individualism and altruism and personal responsibility for economic actions. The idea of an ethical correction of economic action implies a critical attitude to the concept of self-interest as the basis for economic action. It is argued that economic calculation should exclusively be based on individual utility maximization but include an altruistic concern for the common good and for other human individuals. In the perspective of such an ethical correction of economics we think of the economic actor as an individual, who makes an economic calculation which is extended to include the responsibility for other human beings and society integrating economic calculation in well-founded moral norms and ethical customs of society. In the following, I want to address this issue in five parts 1) Ethics in economic history 2) The neoliberal concept of economics 3) Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality 4) Ethics within economics 5) Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality. 

1. Ethics in economic history

Looking at the relation between business and ethics in the perspective of economic history, we can see that the idea of the rational profit-maximizing individual based on self-interest is a newcomer for understanding economics.[iv] Although we find preliminaries of the concept in the classical materialist philosophy of Epicurus, it is only with the modern economic thinkers of the 16th and 17th century, in combination with the emergence of an autonomous capitalist economy based on efficiency and utility, that this view of economic actors becomes predominant. The concept of the political and social neutrality of the market has emerged in this context of independent economic markets. In classical political economy market action was conceived in the perspective of political community. Aristotle argued, for example, that wealth and money are not goods that man seeks for their own value but rather as a means to obtain the good life in community.[v] And Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of the “just price” in which economic exchange relations were based on respect for the natural law and political justice in society.[vi]

Even though he was the founder of the modern economic doctrines of self-interests and the invisible hand, a similar conception of economy as science of the good for community can be found in the works of Adam Smith.[vii] In the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) Smith seems to argue that the relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments are the basis for economic action. Self-interest is only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature. Therefore, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[viii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics.

At the same time, with Adam Smith we can perceive the beginning of the emancipation of economics from moral philosophy. With the emergence of the modern individual it has been possible to find a concept of rational action with is totally based on individual self-love and egoism.[ix] Smith was inspired by the provocative work of the Bernard Mandeville who, with his book the Fable of the bees, announced the new foundations of the modern concept of economic rationality, based on the idea of “private vices, public benefits”.[x] Smith integrated this view as the foundation of his concept of economic action in the Wealth of Nations from 1776. With this point of view, we can argue that Smith was very important for the degradation of economic action to personal preferences and self-interests of homo œconomicus. Economics is a private affair and the state has only the very limited function to protect the liberty and rights to exercise personal choices of the individuals in society. Therefore, it is very enigmatic how Smith could combine the belief in self-interest with the analysis of morality and the possible sympathy of human beings with one another in the Theory of our Moral Sentiments.[xi] Smith seems to argue that the broader social relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments can be the basis for economic action. However, we should remember that sympathy in the perspective of Smith is analyzed as a part of the sensibility of the individual.[xii] Sympathy does, however, not come from egoism or selfishness, for the subject feels an inclination towards another. Accordingly, self-interest seems to be only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature.

Therefore, as already stated, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[xiii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than of the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics. However, it may be argued that Smith did not solve the tensions between egoism and altruism implicit with his view of the economic subject. Because of his emphasis on self-interest Smith cannot really integrate the sympathy for the other in his theory and therein remains a tragic tension between homo œconomicus and sympathy for the other. Moral judgment is captured between egoistic economic rationality and the passions and emotions for the other.[xiv] In fact, the idea of the invisible hand shows the heart of the tension because the concern for community is removed from the individual to the mysterious divine force of the invisible hand.[xv] It is only through the sympathy of the others that the individual requires sympathy for his or her self as based on self-interest.

In the perspective of the history of political economy we can argue that economics originally was viewed as a moral science, not as a mechanical natural science, but as a part of the art of “good government”. According to Amartya Sen, among others, this view of economics has been forgotten in modern economics, which is more interested in the engineering problems of economic efficiency than in ethical and political problems of rights and social achievement.[xvi] This tradition includes classical authors like Ricardo and Malthus and is continued by the neoclassical tradition of Leon Walras and Jevons and developed by authors like Alfred Marshall in his Principles of Economics[xvii], which focuses exclusively on individual utility and seems to forget the importance of concerns for the common good in economic theory. Due to this concentration on self-interest, economic theory, the idea of economic rationality is exposed to a strong tension with deontological constraints on economic markets based on protection of rights, interest and freedoms of other human beings.[xviii] According to this view, the concepts of well-being and rationality in neoclassical economic thought must be considered in accordance with ethical principles. We should look more closely on the ethical aspect of human motivation and integrate questions of the good life in economics. Therefore, without disregarding all the important insights of descriptive positive economy, we may argue for a normative view of economic theory in saying that business ethics is providing us with the “missing link” between traditional “political economy” and micro-economic rationality.

In order to provide such a link between ethics and economic rationality, we have to look closer on the foundations of the neoclassical tradition in political economy, its view of economic rationality and its ethical implications. The neoclassical concept of rationality implies an unlimited conception of rationality according to which economic agents have unlimited competencies of decision making in order to maximize personal self-interest within an exogenous space of possibilities.[xix]

2. The neoliberal concept of economics

The conception of political economy within neoliberal thought can be conceived as a generalization of the economic concept of self-interest and economic rationality to be the basis for organizing society and social justice. According to a liberal like Hayek, free competition among individuals in the market within ethical custom is the best argument for human happiness and luck.[xx] It may be argued that economic equality cannot be viewed as important at competitive markets based on economic freedom. Neoclassical economic thought privileges the pursuit of self-interest and implies the view of human beings as competitive natures. Property rights liberalism does not imply any principles of equality as the basis for economic markets because economic freedom is essential to property rights. It is argued to be paternalistic to limit human freedom by rules of justice on economic markets. Radical libertarians and some liberals are indeed somewhat critical to the deontological perspective, because it implies moral restrictions on personal liberty.

Hayek links this argument for the unlimited economic rationality of the market with a criticism of the proposal to use the state actively to establish social justice in modern society. Such justice would be somewhat the same as socialism and Hayek thinks that there is no meaning in the idea of planned social justice.[xxi] Human beings do not have the perspective of the invisible hand but they are always situated in a culture and history where they live by the human capacity of learning by trail error and imitation. Hayek criticizes the idea of a planned social justice from an epistemological point of view. We cannot rationally construct social rules, we can only use our faculty of imitation. We can only follow specific patterns by tacit recognition of meaning and of imitation of others. Freedom is what the individual does with what society has done with him or her.[xxii] It is the freedom of the situated individual to act in a given social condition. Hayek approaches economic and ethics from the point of view of methodological individualism. Human beings are responsible for their society, but they cannot fully know what the result of their actions is and they have no control over the collective level of society, which is much more complex than the level of individual action.

The level of society can in this context be conceived as a complex cybernetic system that human beings cannot control. Society that is created by individuals is more complex than the individuals and we cannot conceive the system in its complexity. Human beings act in society but society goes beyond their reason and they cannot conceive society. Society is more complex and even contradictory. The social order is a spontaneous order that no-one really wanted to be like that. The spontaneous order can be conceived as a kind of reinterpretation of the idea of the invisible hand. Social order is established between a natural order and an artificial order. The abstract order is a result of the increasing complexity of cultural evolution. The social world is a result of a large evolutionary process like the process of evolution of the natural world described by Darwin. There are no general laws of evolution. We are in an open society, the society of individual freedom as proposed by Adam Smith. There is selection of the most efficient rules in evolution. They depend on information and efficiency. Utility and calculation of lives is the instrument of evolution. The market is the essence of the evolution of this spontaneous order. The market is the foundation of social organization, auto-development, division of work and efficiency in evolution. Hayek develops an information theory of price. They are signals not instruments of distribution of wealth. It is not possible to calculate price from the collective point of view. The market is becoming meta-tradition of all economic traditions. It is competition that makes progress in the economic market. Information is the essence of the economic development in the market. Competition makes people act rationally according to efficiency in the market.

We can observe such a utilitarian justification of liberty and justice in Hayek’s economic theory.[xxiii] Externalization and self-transcendence are a liberating alienation of the individual. You have to leave yourself to the forces of the market and to forget social justice, because you cannot control society anyway. The individual is requested to act in conformity with the rules of the spontaneous social order of which it is a part. Justice cannot be planned but it is a concept that is generated by the spontaneous social order. Property rights are the rights of personal freedom. And imitation is the basis for the personal development of individuals and for their social and economic self-regulation. Selection out of path-dependence plays an enormous role in social evolution. The markets results are without ethics. They are blind. Social politics breaks with the connection between individual and the market.[xxiv]

We also find this idea of the ethical consequences of self-interested individual action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative will, in the long run, contribute to social betterment. And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will, in an economic system based on fair competition, contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society. Social orders are spontaneous. No-one can control them. Hayek seems to want to establish the good and just society on the contingency of social spontaneity and social affairs.[xxv] But this is really an argument against any attempt to formulate a rational foundation of the political constraints of actions of individuals and corporations. According to the invisible hand and to the idea of the spontaneous order, the market should have the right to exist as a free human institution, because this is the guarantee of development of society. Thus, economic action should be based on the supremacy of free individual decision making and on open economic markets with as little government intervention as possible. It is the result of the liberal concept of economics that economic rationality should be liberated on its own and ethics should only be introduced as an external limitation of economics when it goes beyond the acceptable requirements of economic rationality, by, for example, not respecting the rules of fair competition on free and open markets. 

The ideal of perfect competition in Hayek’s thought and neoclassical economics presupposes the rights of individuals to make their own rational choices in economic markets. This view of economics can be argued to be based on the presuppositions of perfect competition, rational independent decision-making, a perfect market, a homogenous product, many competing sellers and free possibilities of entry/exit into economic markets. It is presupposed that the firm consists of one rational individual rather than a group or coalition of individuals. The firm is a category of the individual and a production unit in order to provide goods to be exchanged on economic markets.[xxvi]

In the view of neoclassical economy ethics is regarded as external limitations of the market. Ethics is not integrated in economic decision-making but useful to ensure free economic action in the markets. Economics refuses to integrate external values in economic rationality. Therefore I would argue that the only ethics present in this doctrine is the ethics of competition, which is to maximize self-interest and personal preference maximization. A promise of total opportunistic and selfish action is a handshake, as some has characterized this ethics of competition. In this way ethics seems to be an exogenous element of social action at the limits of economic rationality. However, a presupposition is that the conditions of fair competition and perfect markets should be accepted by all participants in economic competition, which is restricted by the rules of the game, for example property rights and contract law. A generous interpretation of the thought of Smith and Hayek may be that the ideas of the invisible hand and spontaneous order are attempts to integrate a concept of the common good in liberalism. From this optimistic perspective, liberalism always goes beyond pure egoism because self-interest is supposed to somehow serve the general interest. Although such an interpretation may be closer to the original moral intent of liberal philosophy, it is a point of view, which seems to have been more or less forgotten in the economic self-understanding of neoclassical economics that isolates the concern for the good from the concept of economic analysis.

Moreover, even though they heavily disagree with neoclassical economic theory, some other paradigms of economics – for example game-theory and agency theory – seem to share the same view of the separation between ethics and economics and the idea of egoistic rational utility-maximizing individuals as the ideal protagonist of economic action. They prioritize the individualistic approach as the basis for economic action rather than considering economics from the point of view of society as a totality in search for a common good.

Game theory contributes to solving an important problem in neoclassical economic theory – the problem about harmonious equilibrium leading to monopoly, which is contradictory to the ideal of perfect competition.[xxvii] In order to avoid static harmony, game theory operates with “non-cooperative games” as the ideal of economic interaction. According to the economic mathematician John Forbes Nash a situation of equilibrium is the case where every participant in the game chooses a strategy, which is the best response to compete with the strategies of the other. Perfect equilibrium in non-cooperative game theory is a combination of strategies, where no player has reasons to choose another strategy to improve pay-off.[xxviii] Indeed, this theory of competition presupposes external limitations on markets and firm behavior. The players have to play within certain rules and they have to share the same concept of rationality considering economic actors as self-interested utility maximizers.

A similar view of the economic man may be said to be present in agency-theory building on rational individual agents acting in firms in order to maximize their own interests. In agency theory corporations are primarily viewed as instruments and devices to maximize profits.[xxix] And we may even mention some views of the economic man in transaction cost economics, arguing that if we look at men “as they really are” we are likely to meet not only self-interested utility maximizers, but potentially opportunistic individuals, who, even though they are not rational in any ideal sense, in their daily actions, with limited knowledge, are likely to follow a non-ideal strategy of personal utility maximization.[xxx] Even though transaction cost theories argue for the importance of governance structures and agree that cooperation, personal honor and integrity matter,[xxxi] this institutional economics regards self-interest as the primary motive for action.

We can say that we are confronted with an instrumental concept of economic rationality, which is presupposed in the systems of neoliberal and neoclassical economics rather than explicitly argued for. But why consider self-interest as the only motive for economic action when we know that real people also are motivated by a plurality of values and ethical choices?[xxxii] A plausible answer could be that economics is viewed not as a science applied to a specific realm of being, but rather as a general set of assumptions and tools that can be applied as a fundamental method in all aspects of human life, including ethics, which is only justified insofar as it allows such an economic methodology to work as freely as possible. The foundation of this concept of economics is the anthropology of the individual as maximizing self-interest and individual preferences – even under conditions of bounded rationality and finitude of voluntary reflectivity. The concept of the common good does not play any important role in this concept of economic action where the drivers of economic activities are not social institutions with common values but the interests of individual utility maximers.

3. Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality

In fact, looking closely on the concept of welfare economics we can criticize the focus on a pure economic concept of rationality as foundation of political economy, as it is the case in neoclassical and neoliberal thought. In contrast to the neoclassical liberal model focusing on individual maximization, welfare economics works with macro-economic choices in relation to society as a whole. Welfare economics works with the concept of personal preferences as foundation of economic theories and economic models. This concept of rationality emerged out of the separation of ethics and economics that developed with the emergence of modern economic sciences. Welfare economics constitutes a normative theory of maximizing of personal preferences.[xxxiii] Specifically, the rational theory of welfare economics in macro- and micro-economics is a normative theory of maximization of preferences in conditions of risk and uncertainty rather than a descriptive theory of factual economic conditions. In welfare economics this theory is used as the basis for economic action in order to determine results with the most efficient economic outcome. This economic theory of rationality does not operate with a substantial theory of rationality. We cannot determine the content of each individual preference and their may even be irrational preferences. Therefore economic theory is based on a formal theory of individual actions as basis for determining the outcome of economic action.

Within this context, Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson argue that there is not necessarily an absolute separation between economics and ethics. In fact rational decisions according to preferences are in the end tested according to moral concepts of minimal goodness. When economic actors like the World Bank develops economic plans or proposals like dumping waste from the Western world onto developing countries, such a proposal is in the end not only evaluated according to economic rationality, but also all other things being equal considered from the point of view of minimal goodness or ethical value. We may argue that it is a presupposition of economic theory that it should be a good thing to satisfy personal preferences of an individual. This concept of goodness behind the economic rationality of welfare economics can be illustrated by the concept of Pareto-optimality, which means that an economic situation has achieved Pareto-optimality when it is impossible to improve a condition of one individual without making others worse off. Dumping garbage in the developing countries may improve the situation in the Western world, but it is does not lead to any improvement of the living conditions in the developing world and it therefore does not fulfill the conditions of minimal goodness of ethical actions.

However, welfare economics shares the presuppositions of liberal economics by emphasizing that free competition is an important condition of free economic choices of individual actors. The ideal of free competition as the basis of efficient economic action is shared by most welfare economists. Moreover, welfare economics also shares with liberal economics the idea that satisfaction of rational preferences is the foundation of economic decision-making. Indeed, this is also based on the idea of minimal goodness or ethical evaluation of the economic choices as the basis for decisions in macro economics. This concept of preferences in national economics may be said to imply that individuals are supposed to be rational and well-informed and their preferences are also supposed not to be odd and totally un-ethical.[xxxiv] In this sense the idea of minimal goodness or ethical acceptability may be conceived to be a condition and a minimal presupposition in the welfare economic conception of individual preferences.[xxxv]

We may say that welfare economics must presuppose the ethical awareness of economists in order to be acceptable as an economic theory. The counterargument from neo-liberal or neoclassical points of view is sometimes that economists cannot be ethical because ethical constraints would destroy the requirements of free competition. It is falsely supposed that there is a close relation between free competition and immorality. But this may not be the case and it may even be better for a company or public authorities to be moral than immoral in order to ensure long term sustainability and cost limitation of the institution.[xxxvi] From this point of view the critical skeptics have not really demonstrated that there is a close connection between free competition and immorality. Still welfare economists cannot have their theory of rationality without looking at the possible moral limits and consequences of their actions. In this sense we can argue that ethical evaluation has to be an internal aspect of economic theory in welfare economics.

However, this does not mean that there is a clear relation between economic rationality and ethics. Rational action may in some cases be moral, but in other cases it cannot be said to be acceptable from the point of view of ethics. But, from another point of view, rational preferences in welfare economics may not always be individual preferences. The concept of rationality in welfare economics can be based on altruistic concerns and it is not necessary to exclude altruism a priori from economic models in welfare economics. Indeed, welfare economists have argued that moral norms and virtues have had positive impacts on economic development, for example a code of ethics in business makes economic action more reliable and it contributes to increase economic welfare.[xxxvii] However, there may also be moral norms that are inefficient from an economic point of view and in cases where they are not even justified from an ethical point of view, for example when we perceive discrimination or suppression of employees, it may be justified not to accept these norms within economic theory. So from the point of view of welfare economics moral norms of economic actors may have an impact on economics even though there may be no direct link between conceptions of moral deontology or moral duty and economic efficiency or rationality. This means that although individuals may have meta-preferences which outlaw actual supposed preferences, there is no direct link between economic rationality and ethics.[xxxviii]

 

4. Ethics within economics

Common to the ideas of neo-classical theory and welfare economics is the idea of a close connection between ethical rationality and economic rationality. Some even argue that there is an internal ethical dimension of economics and even that it is possible to define what can be considered as valid ethical behavior out of economic reason.[xxxix] The issue is what economics can help to say about the good life and how economics as a moral science may contribute to a better society. According to the Austrian economists like Karl Menger, Ludwig Von Mises and to some degree Hayek, economics may be considered as a kind of “praxeology”, a normative science of practical reason, based on universal categories of human action and helping to realize the human good.[xl] They proposed a rationalistic and interpretative paradigm of economics in which it was argued that economics could be based on synthetic a priori principles. Also there is much convergence between utilitarian ethics and traditional views of normative economics. Economics is viewed as the science of calculation of efficiency, profit and maximization of personal and common human preferences.

In so far as institutional organization theory is founded on ideas of self-interest and efficiency in maximization of profits it seems to presuppose some kind of utilitarian ethics. But this is utilitarianism with strong emphasis on personal and egoistic interests. Indeed this is the case with neoclassical economics and we have seen how the concept of human beings as self-interested and potentially opportunistic actors has been taken over by theories of economic organization like transaction costs economics and agency theory. Transaction cost economics considers firms as contractual relationships among individuals who seek to maximize self-interest and the fight against opportunism on the basis of lawful behavior within contracts can be considered as a defense of an ethics of good governance and high performance in efficient economizing market institutions.[xli] Agency theory focuses on economic property rights as the basis for economic behavior.[xlii] When we propose an ethics of welfare economics we are not only looking at the firm in the light of micro-economics but we also consider the organization as integrated in larger social and political systems.[xliii] We want to state that individual instrumental economic reason has significance only within the framework of ethics subordinating individual goals to the common interest of a community.

In opposition to this view we have to admit that there may be many important aspects of economic principles of self-interest and rational action that can help to shape ethics. Orthodox economists argue that efficient allocation of scarce resources is based on minimal governmental and legal intervention and that free actors are the best to know how to respect the norms of the market and ethical custom of society.[xliv] As mentioned, major economists like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, but also John Stuart Mill believed that the economic rationality of seeking self-interest and profit maximization in economic markets contained on its own an important form of rationality whereby everyone who  seeks to fulfill his own interest will contribute to the common good. Business ethics cannot ignore this ethics of the market, which can contribute to an original form of ethics, given within the rules of market economy, yet sensitive to the common good of society.

According to what may be called the cost-benefit efficiency view of economic ethics, free economic action in economic markets is the best way to deal with scarce resources.[xlv] This view may have two formulations. The former stresses the role of the state in giving dynamics to economics, whereas the latter stresses that the autonomy of the private sector is the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources. Economic actors are characterized by responsible and conscious use of scarce resources. In essence, economics is about efficiency and the prudent use of resources. Moreover, organizational action should be profitable. According to economic rationality we cannot ignore the bottom-line of income and expenditures for the success of business action. Economics is about creating value and maximization of profits in terms of individual or social wealth and utility.  Economics is the science of efficiency and utility for society and economic action is about ensuring the most efficient way to deal with scarce resources.

Additionally, economics can also be regarded from the perspective of social development. Utility theory is based on Pareto-optimality (that is a situation of economic arrangements where a change of the situation cannot make the situation better for some without making it worse for others). [xlvi] Welfare-economists stress the role of the state in such situations while libertarians consider that the free market gives the best optimality.[xlvii] Thus economics is considered as the science of how to compare and weigh different goods of society and allocate scarce resources most efficiently. Economic action is about how to contribute to creating wealth on markets and thereby create wealth in society. It is advisable to contribute to economic goods within the basic rules and ethical principles of society. And it would not be just not to respect the laws and principles of economics when acting on economic markets. Economic action based on utility contributes to maximization of efficiency within limits of respect for basic rights.

An important aspect of such a concept of economic ethics is the already mentioned idea of the “invisible hand” from Adam Smith, stating that if everyone acts according to his own interest respecting the rules of fair competition on economic markets, society will flourish and individual self-interested action will be a contribution to the common good. As we have described, we also find this idea of the ethical consequences of individual self-interested action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative, will in the long run contribute to social betterment.[xlviii] And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will in an economic system based on fair competition contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society.

If we conceive economics as implying a particular ethical rationality we may therefore consider how economic institutions contribute to ethics. The ethics of economics in institutional arrangements is the promotion of rational self-interest and fair competition as an instrument for economic progress. As John Dienhart acknowledges, according to the institutional view of economics, markets are considered as “ethical engines”.[xlix] The aspect of economizing that we have discussed, may very well be considered as a part of economic institutions as ethical engines. However, the concept of economic rationality is broader and more pluralistic than the view of fair economic markets as exclusively based on the pursuit of self-interest.

Thus, we can distinguish between an internal and an external approach to ethics and economics. According to the external approach economic rationality is based on self-interest and there is complete separation between ethics and economics.[l] Economic engines can help us to attain ethical values, but economics as such is neutral. However, there seems to be an ethics implied in economic rationality. So we can argue for an internal approach according to which ethics is not only considered as external limitations to economics but rather as a part of economics. But the internal approach does not necessarily have to rely on a utilitarian and neo-classical concept of economic ethics. Rather we can have a pluralistic approach to the ethical values that have an impact on economic action. Thus, ethics is to be considered as an internal aspect of economic institutions, for there is an ethical dimension to economic concepts like property, risk-reward structures, information and competition. This implies that we should have an institutional approach to economics emphasizing that institutions determine economic action.[li] The constitutive rules and principles of economic markets based on property, risk-reward structures, information and competition include certain ethical ideas which are the conditions for development of economic systems. Douglass North has for example shown how the act of promising is a condition for good contracts that in turn conditions predictions of future economic action.[lii]

When we deal with the institutional aspects of property rights, risk-reward structures, information and competitive relationships we may say that the internal ethics of the economics of fair markets is about how to organize scarce resources in economic systems in a fair way. To respect property rights is viewed as the foundation of the economic system and a part of fair competition is not to question basic property rights. Adam Smith and after him most libertarian economists have for example always been saying that property rights should be considered as the foundation of the economic order.[liii] We may say that our use and definitions of property rights in the center of corporations are not only based on considerations about self-interest, but rather on a combination between consequentialist and teleological considerations. External intervention is necessary when basic rights are not respected in economic transactions on economic markets. This is the case when we encounter widespread corruption with regard to property rights in economic systems.

Concerning contracts we can emphasize some implicit ethical values that are required to be fulfilled in economic interactions. This is evident when some transaction cost theorists have stated that governance structures to avoid opportunism as well as confidence and promise-keeping matter for economic interaction.[liv] With regard to information we may also encounter certain ethical principles within economic interactions. Correct and reliable information is a condition for trustful relations of economic action on different economic markets. It is a requirement for good contracts that they are based on reliable information. 

The principles of fair and healthy competition may indeed also be an important aspect of the ethical principles of competitive markets.[lv] Norms about monopolistic practices constitute internal limitations of economic interactions. It is a widespread belief that monopolistic action is at the limits of economic systems and possibly of economic behavior as such in liberal economic markets.

If we analyze the ethics of transaction costs economics it may be argued that a contract view of the firm is not sufficient to conceptualize the ethical dimensions of organizations. Organizations are not only universes of micro-contracts but are based on values that function as organizational goals for corporate behavior. Transaction cost economics addresses ethical problems in organizations when it discusses problems of opportunistic behavior with regard to information, agency and liability of individuals, but it cannot explain loyal and altruistic behavior in organizations. It may be true that organizations try to control organizational behavior and ensure efficiency in competition by setting up institutional infrastructures based on contracts.[lvi] But the question is if this really is sufficient to understand cases of lack of opportunistic behavior in organizations?

With Herbert Simon we can argue that transaction cost economics cannot explain why people identify with organizations and feel much more committed that what is required from the perspective of self-interest.[lvii] Authority-employee relationships and motivation cannot be understood as incomplete contracts, but rather as based on the goals and values of the organization as implicit premises for decisions. Employee motivation is therefore not only based on economic incentives but also on loyalty to the goals of the organization. Moreover, organizations should not only be understood as micro-markets of competitive contracts, but rather as instruments for coordination of human action, which facilitate action on economic markets.[lviii] In such a goal-based view, the rationality of utility based on the “economic man” cannot be the only explanation of the function of organizations on economic markets but goal-oriented and community-based behavior is a much more important aspect of organizational action. However, within new institutional theory we can perceive an orientation towards integration of different aspects of rationality when dealing with economic institutions.[lix] Therefore it may be possible to find a sort of convergence between a goal-based and a contract-based view of organizations.

From this initiative to deduce ethics out of economics we may conclude that ethics is not always external but also sometimes implicit in economic rationality. We can say that ethical aspects of economics are based on the values of the basic concepts of economic systems. We can point to organization of market structures and the most important concepts of economic markets: “Property, risk-reward relationships, information and competition”.[lx] The system of these concepts is not neutral but cannot but implies ethical values. These values are not only based on economic efficiency but include a plurality of ethical rationality reflecting individual goals, organizational values and community values. Moreover, economic organizations are not only determined by self-interested individuals acting according to utility values but the ethical values of economic organizations are more complex and they also include personal values of individual members of organizations.[lxi] However, the plurality of values also implies great tension between traditional economic values of utility and self-interest with community values based on an ethical view of the economy.

5. Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality 

The debate about the relation of economics to ethics and politics centers on the view of economic anthropology and on the motives for action of human individuals. With welfare economics, we already were able to propose a more complex view on concepts of preferences and economic rationality.  As mentioned common criticisms of the idea self-interest of economic actors argue that human beings are not egoistic utility maximizes but belong to human communities and social cultures where concerns for the common good cannot be excluded from understanding motives for economic action.[lxii] Moreover, neoclassical presuppositions of ideal situations of economic action are conceived to be very far from the conditions of action in concrete social contexts of economic life.

Arguments for a broader ethical foundation of economic action state that economic anthropology is characterized by a tension between egoism and altruism.[lxiii] Some authors argue that wise economic action implies reciprocity and concern for other human beings.[lxiv] Therefore, self-interest is never the only motive for economic agency. In opposition to such a social view on economic action economists like Gary Becker have defended altruism as an advanced form of individual utility maximization.[lxv] Becker advances the so called “Rotten Kid Theorem” stating that people acting altruistically do so in order to improve their self-interest – like the child who behaves nicely in order to get a great reward from his or her parents.[lxvi] In this perspective strategies of cooperation and sympathy are only forms of advanced self-interest recognizing the importance of truth-telling, promise and contract keeping for future collaboration and exchange. This argument has been fully developed by Axelrod who, in his book The Evolution of Cooperation (1984), states that cooperative behavior can be founded on individual maximization of utility because in cooperative strategies in the long run will benefit individuals more than opportunistic strategies.[lxvii]

As we saw in the discussion of welfare economics fundamental preferences are not always egoistic and maximization does not always have to be based on individual profit maximization. In fact, an important development of welfare economics in the direction of corporate citizenship, business ethics and corporate social responsibility is to show that the economic subject is not exclusively to be conceived as an atomistic preference maximizer, but can be said to have altruistic preferences at the fundamental level of economic anthropology. We may say that the “economic man” should be accomplished by a “social man” or rather that individuals are characterized by a structure of double preferences where individual preferences are also related to other persons. Christian Arnsperger gives us support for this argument by considering the French anthropological tradition coming from Marcel Mauss and the concept of responsibility in the phenomenology of Emmanuel Lévinas as possible criticisms of the liberal and neoliberal restriction of economic subjects to be “atomist monads” of individualist profit maximization.[lxviii]

With this approach we use the French tradition of anthropology to illuminate the concept of economic subjectivity. With his Essai sur le don. Forme et Raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaiques from 1924 Mauss analyzes the anthropological foundations of the concept of exchange.[lxix] The main point is that the reduction of all exchange to economic exchange does not capture the anthropological basis of exchange which really is a condition of social integration. By doing an archeological analysis of the origins of exchange Mauss can help to understand the foundations of modern social institutions. By analyzing the concept of exchange Mauss shows that the original concept of the gift is in sharp contrast with the neoclassical concept of economic exchange. In fact by looking at the triadic structure of giving-receiving and giving back (donner-recevoir-rendre) we can see how exchange is a condition of social interaction indicating exchange as a form of social integration between human beings.[lxx] This is illustrated by the phenomenon of Potlatch that was practiced by Indians in Vancouver and Alaska.[lxxi] Potlatch was a form of aggressive gift leading to a fight of giving (prestations totales de type agonistiques) between adversaries, where the winner was the one who could contribute with the largest gift. In Polynesia, exchanges of gifts were a part of important and symbolic events in society, for example religious ceremonies. In this context the gift had a religious content and to receive something from other persons was to receive parts of a symbolic substance, for example as divine mediation between giver and receiver. Today, in contrast to economic exchange, the gift still has parts of such significance. However, in the metaphysics of the gift exchange is not reduced to an economic calculation of preferences but it is linked to spiritual relations between individuals, and even when we deal with economic transactions this spiritual dimension is a part of the exchange. A gift includes an obligation both from those who receive and give the gift and in some situations this also includes the obligation to return with expression of recognition and gratitude. In the ancient mythology of India, God is defined as divine generosity of giving the world to the human beings and in the archaic Germanic societies the gift was related to intimate social relations, a symbolic and sometimes spiritual instrument of integration between different groups of society

Mauss argues that modern society still contains elements of this original concept of the gift.[lxxii] In economics and trade the interactions are often characterized by expectations of mutual satisfaction between buyer and seller and it is presupposed that the relation of exchange is based on reciprocity and recognition. Moreover, our concepts of generosity are defined as a transgression of the ordinary concepts of exchange.. According to Mauss, the modern idea of the economic subject that has emerged with the neoclassical liberal traditions may be conceived as a sort of alienation of the original concept of the gift. Although we still live by the metaphysics of the gift in modern society, we have developed an economic system where the gift has been forgotten in favor of the concept of methodological individualism of individual profit maximizers.[lxxiii] However, there are many phenomena that show the limits of this concept of social interaction, for example social security in the welfare state, corporate philanthropy, charity movements, and also gift giving for different kinds of ceremonies. Mauss is regretting that the economic concept of exchange as personal maximization is replacing the spiritual and generosity-based aspects of the gift. In neoclassical economics the maxim of mutual exchange that is based on the idea that all give as much as they received, has been replaced by individual preference maximization.

Mauss’ anthropological concept of exchange helps us to question the liberal concept of economic maximization. This economic concept of exchange must be considered in the perspective of our social life and it is limited when we want to understand all relevant aspects of human motivation. Mauss helps us to formulate a more complex concept of economic exchange linking economics to altruistic motives as well as concepts of giving and receiving, thus linking economic markets to social life. From an ethical point of view, human subjects are not only “profit maximizers”, but in their giving and receiving they are always linked to logics of social integration, which is also an important aspect of economic interaction.

The central insight of Mauss is that economic anthropology cannot solely be based on the concept of individual preference maximizer, but that economic interaction presupposes a social concern of mutual social interdependence of economic actors. Moreover, this concept of society presupposes a broader conception of the human self than the one which is proposed by neoclassical economics.  In fact we can say that the mutual relations of giving-receiving-returning is not external to the market, but rather the real truth of the market, because the market presupposes mutual dependence and mutual relations between economic actors.[lxxiv] With Christian Arnsperger we may propose a “methodological altruism” to accomplish methodological individualism of profit maximization.[lxxv] In this context the concepts of altruism of Becker and Axelrod do not take account of what altruism really is.[lxxvi] They are begging the question of altruism because they only want to count for altruism in terms of enlightened egoism. Rather, altruism is based on the essentially social character of the market involving basic conditions for the exchange relation as described by Marcel Mauss. Instead of the foundation in the monadic subject of mathematical, axiomatic economics, we have to acknowledge the relation between economic theories to the moral sciences. Economic theory cannot abstract from the morality of exchange, because exchange after all is a social event. With the focus on anthropology we have learned that it is possible to accomplish methodological individualism with a methodological altruism that also accounts for possible altruistic preferences in the economic subject and furthermore acknowledges the importance of ethical evaluation of economic preferences and of economic motives.

Emmanuel Lévinas helps to enlarge the ethical foundation for this altruistic approach to economic anthropology. Lévinas proposes a phenomenology of the intimate encounter of the other human being as the basis for our view of human motivation.[lxxvii] The encounter of the other human being is an infinite demand of responsibility and self-sacrifice. This concern for the other is the basis for social relations. The reciprocity with the other should not be defined as a relation of “alter ego”, but rather the other is someone fundamentally different from me. In the perspective of Lévinas the fundamental respect for the other as other is the foundation of ethical relations and this concern for “the other as other” precedes the relation of economic egoistic exchange. The ethical relation is more fundamental than economic relations and this ethical ideal of respect for the other as other is the foundation and condition of possibility for economic exchange.[lxxviii] Therefore, Lévinas says that ethics precedes reciprocity as mutual recognition and altruism as enlarged self-interest.

The criticism of the atomistic economic subject that is revealed by the analysis of Mauss is supported by Lévinas’ ethical anthropology, which situates economic action as secondary to the fundamental human responsibility for “the otherness of the other” as revelation of what is the innermost purpose of human action.[lxxix] This implies that economic action is embedded in larger social structures and economic rationality cannot be separated from ethical and political rationality. Christian Arnspenger suggests that Lévinas’ phenomenological description of individual subjectivity as implying a fundamental responsibility for the other shows that the logic of the gift is a possibility of individual choice that precedes “every constitution of subjectivity as purely autonomous”.[lxxx] We may say that this ethics of otherness constitutes the fundamental openness for generosity that precedes the economic account for particular preferences. Lévinas emphasizes that responsibility is the most fundamental constitution of subjectivity and it this sense we may say that ethical subjectivity is more fundamental than the economic subject of neo-classical and neo-liberal economic theory. [lxxxi]

This view on the relation between economics and ethics helps us to understand that individual rational maximization can never be fully isolated from the idea of ethical subjectivity as fundamentally responsible for other human beings. The ontology of economics and the reach of economic method based upon sheer individual maximization cannot be conceived as all-encompassing and absolute, given that economic rationality is secondary to political and ethical reciprocity. From such a point of view economic decision-making should have external restrictions in the laws of political justice and the ethical principles based on fundamental principles of human existence. Economic reason is submitted to responsible subjectivity who, when evaluating economic preferences, cannot avoid asking questions about the ethical ideas of universal moral rules, the search for justice in the political community, and considerations of community welfare.

In the perspective of the philosophy of Lévinas we may say that responsibility for the other human being conditions the legitimacy of economic action.[lxxxii] Moreover, viewed from the ideals of political community, responsibility is not only an intimate relation with the other but should be extended in time and space to society as a whole. This is the argument of the German philosophy Hans Jonas, who thinks that responsibility does not only concern present human activities but should be extended globally in time and space and include the future of humanity.[lxxxiii]

However, such an integration of ethics and politics in economic rationality is not without a price, because basic economic considerations are considered as relative to ethical principles.[lxxxiv] Concepts of efficiency, utility, production, demand, consumption, accumulations of goods, property are not considered as intrinsic values, but as only valid insofar as they do not violate basic ethical principles or contradict our moral values. Ethical and political limitations of economic action propose an ethics of responsibility as the basis for social regulation of economic action.

Conclusion

What we can learn from this analysis of economic rationality as linked to social conditions of exchange and to the responsibilities of ethical subjectivity is not that business decisions are exclusively ethical or economic in any ideal sense, but rather that it is always possible that decision-making will be dependant on a kind of “mixed rationality” including elements from both economic and ethical rationality, as well as other fields like politics and law. But in a deeper sense, we can also conceive business ethics as the foundation of decision-making in corporations, because business ethics is not only about economic means and rationality but also about the social and political goals of economic behavior. Yet how to define this political and ethical rationality as basis for economic action?

We can emphasize the fact that it follows from subjective ethical responsibility that economic rationality can never be justified without good ethical reasons. In fact this is not only supported by economic anthropology, but also within welfare economics, which relies on the concept of individual preference maximization, i.e. the same homo œconomicus of the neoclassical tradition, but does not exclude ethical evaluation of proposals for maximization. Indeed, it is a great advantage of welfare economics, somewhat in contrast to neoclassical economics, that it does not separate ethics from economic rationality but rather recognizes that theory of economic rationality should always be justified from the point of view of ethics. It is very important that economists accept this ethical constraint on economic action even when they do not agree upon what ethical reasons should be used to justify particular economic actions.

We may say that such a kind of normativity implies that we conceive the concepts of wants, utility (pleasure), competition, freedom to consume in neoclassical economics in tension with social values like needs, self-actualization, cooperation, freedom to growth, and self-realization through work as a potential good. These ideas may be considered as what is necessary in order to promote of justice as the basic structure of society. It is, in the perspective of business ethics, the aim of business institutions to be founded on a close link between ethics and economics in the sense that economic rationality is based on good and well-founded ethical reasons and arguments.

Endnotes:


[i] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.

[ii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 39-40.

[iii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987.

[iv] Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 7-91.

[v] Aristotle: Politics, book 1, chap 9.

[vi] Thomas Aquinas : Somme Théologique II. Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 74-75 and p. 83.

[vii] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991.

[viii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[ix] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 77.

[x] Bernard Mandeville: The fable of the bees, Pelican classics, London 1970.

[xi] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991. Werhane formulates the tension between benevolence and egoism in the following way “Rather in the Theory of moral sentiments Smith critizises any moral theory that derives its basis for moral judgments merely from self-interest and equally, questions any moral theory that derives these judgments solely from benevolence. Distinguishing passions from interests, Smith argues that human beings are not motivated merely by selfish passions, but that both prudence and benevolence are virtues of the self-directed and social interests, and the basic virtue is justice” (Werhane, 1991 p. 13).

[xii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84

[xiii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[xiv] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84.

[xv] Ibid. p. 94.

[xvi] Ibid. p. 6.

[xvii] Alfred Marshall: Principles of Economics, 8th ed. MacMillan, 1920.

[xviii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, p.15.

[xix] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995.

[xx] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxi] F.A. Hayek : The Road to Serfdom (1944), Routledge Paperbacks, London 1997, p. 66-69.

[xxii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p 247.

[xxiii] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxiv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 284

[xxv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 291.

[xxvi] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 66. Knudsen refers to David Kreps: A Course in Microeconomic Theory, Harvester Wheatsheaf, London and New York 1990.

[xxvii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 88. Knudsen refers to the article about the theories of cooperative and non-cooperative game theory by Eric van Damme & J.W.: Weibull: “Equlibrium in strategic interaction: The contribution of J.C. Harsanyi, John F. Nash, and Reinhart Selten” in Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 97, pp. 15-40.

[xxviii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, 96.

[xxix] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xxx] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989.

[xxxi] Ibid. p. 63.

[xxxii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 19-20.

[xxxiii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996, Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001.

[xxxiv] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p. 64.

[xxxv]Ibid., p. 66.

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 68.

[xxxvii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: refers to Kenneth Arrow (1974) for this point of view.

[xxxviii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p.  87.

[xxxix] See for example John Broom: Ethics out of Economics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999. Broom even thinks that ethics and politics should learn a lot from economics. However, Broom seems to work within the utilitarian tradition of welfare economics and it is not clear whether he would speak for the neoclassical view of the necessity of a market without legal and political restrictions. Broom’s views seem to impose rather strict limitations on economic markets in comparison with the radical libertarianism of Robert Nozick and also with Milton Friedman, who both argue for an ethics implicit in economic markets.

[xl] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 120.

[xli] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York 1989, p 129.

[xlii] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xliii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995., p. 262.

[xliv] Diane L. Swanson: ”Business Ethics and Economics” in A Companion to Business Ethics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford 2002. (pp. 207-217), p. 210.

[xlv] Ibid. p. 211.

[xlvi] Ibid. p. 210.

[xlvii] I.M.D Little: Ethics, economics and politics. Principles of public policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.

[xlviii] In fact, there are many arguments for corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship that rely on economic concepts of self-interests. These arguments are based on the idea of the invisible hand and strategic action of self-interest as leading to the common good. This approach argues that it is possible to use concepts from game theory in order to justify action for corporate citizenship from a strategic perspective. Accordingly, altruistic action for the common good may be justified in terms of satisfaction of egoistic preferences.

[xlix] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 145.

[l] Ibid. p. 146.

[li] See Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio:The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991., p. 293ff.

[lii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 149.

[liii] Ibid..

[liv] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989, p 63.

[lv] See for example Milton Friedman’s discussions of healty markets in Capitalism and Freedom, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1962.

[lvi] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 177.

[lvii] Herbert Simon: ”Organizations and markets”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 5; 3 (1995), pp. 273-293.

[lviii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 180.

[lix] Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio: The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991.

[lx] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 182.

[lxi] Ibid. p. 182

[lxii] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 299.

[lxiii] Ibid. p. 152.

[lxiv] Amartya Etizioni: The Moral Dimension. Towards a New Economics, Collier Macmillan, New York 1988.

[lxv] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993.

[lxvi] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993. See also François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxvii] Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, New York 1984.

[lxviii] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 99.

[lxix] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxx] Marcel Hénaff: Le prix de la vérité. Le don, l’argent, la philosophie, Le Seuil Paris 2002. In this book we find a very profound development of theme of the gift. The problem is whether it is possible to unite gift and exchange. Since Socrates a particular philosophical tradition has been reluctant to allowing this, arguing that a philosopher could not sell his knowledge without reducing the gift of truth to exchange and thereby making it illegitimate. However, there is also another current accepting a link between gift and exchange, which is for example expressed in the philosophy of Montesquieu, who argued that trade implied unification of nations and Max Weber who in a certain sense can be said to reply to the theme of the gift with his idea of the Protestant ethics. However, from our point of view these discussions emphasize that the economic exchange is not something isolated, but a case of general human exchange based on reciprocity and recognition. Economic exchange, therefore, cannot be isolated from general human practices and economics must indeed be treated and conceived as a social practice. Economics cannot be separated from the social exchange processes of gift and return even though money seems to neutralize the exchange relation.

[lxxi] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000.

[lxxv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 104

[lxxvi] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxxvii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961. François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements ’anthropologique, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 159.

[lxxviii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961.

[lxxix] Christian Arnsperger:  “Homo Oeconomicus, Social Order and the Ethics of Otherness“ in Ethical Perspectives, Vol 9.

[lxxx] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 113.

[lxxxi] The critical reader may insist that Lévinas cannot be used in such a way as to argue for the primacy of ethics over economics. Such an approach would state that the phenomenology of the other implies a negative reaction to the instrumentalism of economic exchange and an ethics of situational ethical demand on the individual that goes beyond economic exchange. I agree with that, but this is indeed also a good argument for the primacy of ethics in the reciprocal relation of social exchange between human beings. Accordingly, ethical responsibility is a primary constitutive element of human existence. See for exemple Emmanuel Lévinas: L’humanisme de l’autre homme, Paris Gallimard 1972, p. 82-83: ”Par cette susceptibilité, le sujet est responsable de sa responsabilité, incapable de s’y soustraire sans garder la trace de sa désertion. Il est responsabilité avant d’être intentionnalité. See Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 114.

[lxxxii] Ibid.

[lxxxiii] Hans Jonas: Das Prinzip Verantwortung,  Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979.

[lxxxiv]François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001., p. 168.