Tag Archives: reason

July 2020 – Issue 15(2)

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains the refined version of the papers presented at the conference on  reason and passion in politics, held in a period of two days at the University of Bergen in November 2019. The conference was organised as a joint effort by the Department of Philosophy of the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway, and the Department of Antiquity, Philosophy and History (DAFIST) of the University of Genoa, Italy.

The purpose of this conference was to approach the topic of the relations between rationality and emotions, wondering which part do they actually play in politics. In many ways, politics is the art of persuasion and often people are indeed persuaded to position  themselves on a given subject by emotional appeals rather than reasonable arguments. Within the political sphere, both past and present, one can actually find a complex mixture of rational arguments and emotional discourses.

In the dominant Western philosophical tradition, the relationship between reason and emotions has been marked by a conflict between various contrasting models of rationality and emotions. The sphere of rationality and that of passions have been often categorized according to a fundamental dichotomy: either the triumph of reason against the weakness of sentiments or, in the popular interpretation of Hume, the triumph of passions over reason. This dichotomy has also served as a starting base for conceptualizing politics, where already early-modern political theorists defined political autonomy as reason dominating the emotions and passions.

In The Passions and the Interests (1977), Albert Hirschman described how, in the process of modernization, the “passions”, motivating social and political behavior were transformed into modern “interests” and they were thereby assigned the role of containing the social and political destructive passions.

Until recent times, theorists have described both political movements and political affiliation as based on beliefs, ethics, and sentiments. In the last years, though, an “Affective Turn” has taken place both in analytic and continental philosophy, and in contemporary political studies. Emotions and affects are now becoming the object of extensive, multidisciplinary studies that challenge political liberalism’s idea that the emotions must be relegated to the private sphere. This “turn” highlights that the political cannot be understood without reference to human feelings.

However, the fundamental dichotomy between emotions and reason has not at all been overcome in the forms of current politics. While it is true that, today, emotions and passions are returning to the centre of the political scene, they often do so in a passive form. Contemporary politics consists more and more in an abuse and manipulation of the passions. Social media, for instance, has redefined the public sphere in ways that allow charismatic, intimidating and even hateful rhetoric to stand unchecked by editorial control. The space of public discussion has also increased to the point where quick “instinctive reactions” replace careful reasoning. One could ask if the “affective” political change consists in an increasingly oppressive use of the passions as forms of domination. The active function of passions and the way they can contribute to the processes of political democratisation and the conscious involvement of citizens need to be duly analysed; albeit always keeping in mind that  passions are ambiguous, for any feeling within a given political context, even the noblest – compassion and love, inter alia –, holds its limits and presupposes dangers.

This motivates the following questions: Do emotions, of any kind, pose a dangerous threat to rationality and political life? What, for instance, becomes of democracy when a rigorous and rational language in political debates is replaced by one that focuses on emotions, like hope or fear? Is it possible to build  up a democratic society with no recourse to passions, mutual trust and a belief in the right of every individual to participate in the social and political debates? If so, what kind of emotions are positive and what kind of emotions do hinder this development?

A key aim of the conference was seeking to define the possible paths of reflection on this topic and study the relationships between reason and emotions, concepts of rationality and “structures of feelings” as a marker of the political arena.

The European research team that has long been engaged in social and ethical reflection about cultural changes in the modern and contemporary epoch chose to address these questions by a variety of approaches.

(Paola De Cuzzani & Mirella Pasini)

A Short Introduction to the Proceedings of the Conference “The Reason of Passions: Emotion and Rationality in the Landscape of (Contemporary) Politics”

We are well aware that political life has always dealt with passions. But today it seems, in fact, that the liberal, rationalistic approach to politics has been almost completely replaced by its emotional dimension. Therefore, it seems necessary to explore the changing ways in which thought and feeling, rationality and passion, reason and sentiments, have been understood both in practice and in theoretical discussions, focusing on their public standing.

This issue contains the refined version of the papers presented at the conference on this topic, held in a period of two days at the University of Bergen in November 2019. The conference was organised as a joint effort by the Department of Philosophy of the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway, and the Department of Antiquity, Philosophy and History (DAFIST) of the University of Genoa, Italy.

The purpose of this conference was to approach the topic of the relations between rationality and emotions, wondering which part do they actually play in politics. In many ways, politics is the art of persuasion and often people are indeed persuaded to position  themselves on a given subject by emotional appeals rather than reasonable arguments. Within the political sphere, both past and present, one can actually find a complex mixture of rational arguments and emotional discourses.

In the dominant Western philosophical tradition, the relationship between reason and emotions has been marked by a conflict between various contrasting models of rationality and emotions. The sphere of rationality and that of passions have been often categorized according to a fundamental dichotomy: either the triumph of reason against the weakness of sentiments or, in the popular interpretation of Hume, the triumph of passions over reason. This dichotomy has also served as a starting base for conceptualizing politics, where already early-modern political theorists defined political autonomy as reason dominating the emotions and passions.

In The Passions and the Interests (1977), Albert Hirschman described how, in the process of modernization, the “passions”, motivating social and political behavior were transformed into modern “interests” and they were thereby assigned the role of containing the social and political destructive passions.

Until recent times, theorists have described both political movements and political affiliation as based on beliefs, ethics, and sentiments. In the last years, though, an “Affective Turn” has taken place both in analytic and continental philosophy, and in contemporary political studies. Emotions and affects are now becoming the object of extensive, multidisciplinary studies that challenge political liberalism’s idea that the emotions must be relegated to the private sphere. This “turn” highlights that the political cannot be understood without reference to human feelings.

However, the fundamental dichotomy between emotions and reason has not at all been overcome in the forms of current politics. While it is true that, today, emotions and passions are returning to the centre of the political scene, they often do so in a passive form. Contemporary politics consists more and more in an abuse and manipulation of the passions. Social media, for instance, has redefined the public sphere in ways that allow charismatic, intimidating and even hateful rhetoric to stand unchecked by editorial control. The space of public discussion has also increased to the point where quick “instinctive reactions” replace careful reasoning. One could ask if the “affective” political change consists in an increasingly oppressive use of the passions as forms of domination. The active function of passions and the way they can contribute to the processes of political democratisation and the conscious involvement of citizens need to be duly analysed; albeit always keeping in mind that  passions are ambiguous, for any feeling within a given political context, even the noblest – compassion and love, inter alia –, holds its limits and presupposes dangers.

This motivates the following questions: Do emotions, of any kind, pose a dangerous threat to rationality and political life? What, for instance, becomes of democracy when a rigorous and rational language in political debates is replaced by one that focuses on emotions, like hope or fear? Is it possible to build  up a democratic society with no recourse to passions, mutual trust and a belief in the right of every individual to participate in the social and political debates? If so, what kind of emotions are positive and what kind of emotions do hinder this development?

A key aim of the conference was seeking to define the possible paths of reflection on this topic and study the relationships between reason and emotions, concepts of rationality and “structures of feelings” as a marker of the political arena.

The European research team that has long been engaged in social and ethical reflection about cultural changes in the modern and contemporary epoch chose to address these questions by a variety of approaches.

At the opening of the conference Anat Biletzki questions populism in the light of the relationship between reasons and passions, and wonders if it is an ideology or a tool. Retracing different definitions given by political scholars, Biletzki notes how some such as Kazin and Urbinati define populism as an instrument while others, such as Mudde, Kaltwasser and Pappas, consider it as an ideology. Through an in-depth analysis of the different forms of populism, the article highlights how, understood as a rhetorical tool, it can be used for the most different and contrasting ideologies of the right or left. If populism is an ideology, that is to say, a vision of the world that has people as the highest value, it implies a form of politics that combines reason and passion. And although on the right it can deteriorate into fascism, it can work on the left to extend democracy, as it requires to overcome a purely rationalist idea of ​​politics.

Some of articles have a common starting point in our time politics, that sees the advance of populism even in democratic countries; a populism characterized and also empowered by an emotional rhetoric, focused on what we could call negative passions such as hatred and anger.

Many papers try to understand this phenomenon and propose politically positive emotions, not without critical remarks. As Anne Granberg does: faced with Marta Nussbaum’s proposal to encourage socially positive emotions including compassion, she detects the limits of this suggestion and takes up Hanna Arendt’s observation that compassion is essentially an apolitical emotion.

After recalling several scholars, from Walter Lippmann to Edward Bernays and, closer to us, William Davies, according to whom politics was increasingly connected and based on both individual and collective emotions, Alberto Giordano highlights how post-truth and polarization threaten liberal democracy, since they persuade people to rely more on feelings rather than facts, in such a way as to manipulate collective decision-making. Recent suggestions to limit the influence of political emotions, such as epistocracy and e-democracy, seem not sufficiently sound both theoretically and practically. Giordano thus proposes an intergenerational republican compact as a possible and provisional solution to post-truth dilemmas.

More oriented towards overcoming the rigid dualism of reason and passions, Juliette Grange tries to define the “reasoned feeling”. After highlighting the convergence of the “affective sciences”, and the philosophical attention to emotions delivered by populism, Grange argues that the “reasoned feeling” is embodied by the republican passion for certain political ideals. Enthusiasm for an idea or an ideal, altruism and a culture based on knowledge and science, are basic traits of this feeling. The reasoned feeling is the founder of a civilization and a social morality proper to scientific and technical modernity. In order to be realized, this feeling must be combined with political rationality understood as a form of rationalism that allows “a plurality of axiological and social choices and the public space of their confrontation”.

The solution to the emotional dangers inherent in political options, regimes, opinions given by classical utopias is analysed by Jean Christophe Merle and compared with the imaginary dystopias of the 20th century. The utopias of the early modern times were proposed as a solution to the absolute political evil, namely discord, rivalry, desire to possess, domination and glory; and as an alternative to the classical theories of social contract. Dystopias, in so far as they constitute the opposite of the democratic and liberal rule of law, are based on the eradication of its members’ ability to think and act rationally. The failure of both shows the human inability to live without confronting the evil and the extreme difficulty in which attempts to resist the dystopian order often occur.

New signs of kindness and politeness to follow in social relations can help counteract the increase in passions and violent reaction in our democratic societies: here is Mirella Pasini’s proposal. After going over the old Galateo of Monsignor Della Casa and the new one by Melchiorre Gioia, she wonders if Gioia’s prescriptive goal of spreading civil education as part of the process of training citizens of a democratic nation could be a suggestion for our time. Almost the same proposal is virtually opposed by the agonistic and competitive rhetoric of the Norwegian public intellectual and author Georg Johannesen (1931-2005), illustrated by Hans Marius Hansteen, and proposed as a way to promote peace.

The speeches by Giorgio Baruchello and Pascal Nouvel, respectively, open to the epistemological dimension and the positive and negative role of emotions in the construction of knowledge, with its obvious ethical and political consequences.

Baruchello addresses the prejudice issue, whose area ranges from the cognitive sphere to the social dimension, according to a plurality and multiplicity of meanings that cannot be reduced to a single negative level. Faced with the inevitability of prejudice or the not-so-argued need to overcome it as a “poorly formed opinion, an unreasonable belief, an unjustified false assumption, a negative feeling”, Baruchello affirms the need to investigate its polysemy, also in the history of philosophical thought. By following this path, we could overcome prejudice as a source of error and bad behaviour.

Pascal Nouvel, on his side, questions the nature of political errors; because, if emotions and affects play a key role in politics, they can also play a role in political errors. A better knowledge of what is specific in political errors could therefore help to understand the relationships between reason and emotions, between rationality and “structures of feelings”. His starting point is the modern distinction – laid down by Machiavelli – between political errors and other fashions, with which they have long been mixed. In a brief “history of error”, Nouvel distinguishes four types, that is: perceptual error, conceptual error, moral error and, finally, political error, still not well defined. A key point is the distinction between moral error and political error, which appears to be speculative rather than factual. Understanding the nature of the political error can be useful in order to modify the affects: this is the basic thesis. As for the method, the narrative approach is in Nouvel’s intention a powerful way to manage political issues and, in some cases, avoid political errors.

The importance of political affections in contemporary European society is underlined by Paola de Cuzzani, who remembers at the beginning of her paper the rapid spread of growing xenophobic and racist sentiments, anti-Semitism, discrimination and violence against migrants, blacks and Muslims. For de Cuzzani the implications of these sentiments for the stability of our liberal democratic societies are evident. Spinoza’s theory of imitation of affects can help us in our attempt to understand the ease with which negative feelings come to be diffused even in the most civilized and democratic societies. It also clarifies the dangers that these negative feelings pose for the stability of the body politic.

It remains to be asked whether Spinoza’s lesson can also be useful in a positive way, in order to provide us with tools to fight negative affects, while not running the risk to erase affectivity but rather promoting a positive one.

Such is the legacy that this rich selection of papers offers for future studies and meetings of the research group.

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.

Freedom of the Press – Two Concepts

 

 

Within Western democracies there exists a well-established agreement on the importance of a free press, which figures prominently in their constitutions since the nineteenth century. However, disagreement emerged as soon as the limits of this freedom had to be defined. As much as everyone agreed on the necessity of having limits, there seemed to be no accord on where these limits should be. The history of freedom of the press is a history of the debates on the limits and borders of a free press.[1]

There is no “original meaning of freedom of the press,”[2] a formula which is often used in order to give weight to an argument. Our modern understanding of freedom of the press is the result of different historic developments and philosophical ideas from the nineteenth century, which explain the different limits for a free press in the twenty-first century.

In the western world, the two main reasons for limiting freedom of the press are defending state interests and/or personal rights. There is a stronger emphasis in the Anglo-American world towards limiting the free press for reasons of state security than in the Federal Republic of Germany and vice versa when personal rights where are involved. In the first decades after the war, these differences did not play an important role as long the Cold War had a unifying impact on western societies, but with the end of the Cold War differences became apparent. The different perceptions on the limits of a free press were the result of two arguments used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for justifying a free press combined with a different historical context. By tracing the debate in the English-speaking world and in Germany, these two different arguments will become visible.

In 1644 the debate for freedom of expression started in modern times thanks to John Milton’s Areopagitica, where he still argued about God in order to justify his quest for freedom. With the enlightenment God lost his unifying role for society and could no longer serve as justification. Two arguments were brought then forward to justify freedom of the press: One by the continental movement of the enlightenment; the other from within the movement of utilitarianism, and most influentially by John Stuart Mill. Both underlined the importance of truth; however, they differed in their understanding on what truth was good for. This difference in their arguments had a lasting impact on the debate of the limits of freedom of the press. 

 

 

Freedom of speech and its limits

Formally the argument for free speech or free press[3] has been the same since John Milton’s time. Freedom was seen as a necessary means of realizing an aim for which wide social acceptance existed.  Milton needed to justify his quest for freedom of expression with an argument understandable to his contemporaries and for a man of the seventeenth century only God provided the basis for this argument. It was Milton´s challenge to connect freedom of expression to God. He did it in two ways. Firstly, in a purely rhetorical way, he linked censorship to the Catholic Church, reminding his reader that it was their invention and therefore unworthy of a country such as England.[4] This argument sounded convincing in a society where he could be sure that the Catholic Church was seen as an enemy. In his second more sophisticated argument, he linked truth to God: “Truth is strong, next to the Almighty”[5] and argued that it is our duty to God to seek truth.[6]

A large part of his argument was dedicated to demonstrating that freedom of expression was necessary to searching for truth. The role of freedom as a means for reaching a higher aim became evident when he set its limits. Freedom, he pointed out, was not intended for “popery, and open superstition”[7]. In other words, as the Catholic Church could not, for Milton, contribute towards truth-finding, they had no right to publicity. For him, the Catholic Church, described as the most “anti-Christian”[8] institution, was by definition excluded from enjoying any freedom of expression.

More broadly, however, Milton outlined with this text the construction of the argument for a free press. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the argument was the same; only God needed to be replaced with something else.

 

 

The English way

When Milton wrote Areopagitica, the newspaper had just been invented and it was not so much the journalist – a profession which did not exist in his time – whose freedom he had in mind, but more the righteous intellectual like himself. It was only in the nineteenth century that the newspaper became mass media and the debate on freedom of expression was led under the headline of freedom of the press. The newspaper could hardly be linked to the promotion of God’s truth and, due to the enlightenment, God as an ultimate justification could no more be taken for granted. The argument that Milton had brought forward needed therefore to be adapted to the changing times.

James Mill is a good example on how to do so, by replacing God with the social goals of utilitarianism. As a good friend of Jeremy Bentham, he believed utilitarianism would provide the ultimate fundament for society. In his 1823 essay Liberty of the Press he appealed first of all to common sense, such that everyone must be convinced that a society based on moral principles would achieve the highest happiness for all, which is the crucial criterion of utilitarian ethics. He needed to emphasize this since, unlike Milton, he had to justify the aim that he was striving for, whereas Milton, as a religious man of his time, was able to take God for granted.

However, just like Milton, he had to connect freedom of the press to the best possible society:  

We may then ask, if there are any possible means by which the people can make a good choice, besides the liberty of the press? The very foundation of a good choice is knowledge. The fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice. How can the people receive the most perfect knowledge relative to the characters of those who present themselves to their choice, but by information conveyed freely, and without reserve, from one to another? There is another use of the freedom of the press, no less deserving the most profound attention, that of making known the conduct of the individuals who have been chosen. This latter service is of so much importance, that upon it the whole value of the former depends.[9]

 

James Mill – like Milton before him – saw a link between knowledge and freedom. The results of the last Pisa survey seemed not to suggest this, though. The difference vis-à-vis Milton consists in knowledge no longer serving God but allowing the creation of the ideal society.[10] An ideal society being for him a moral society and the freedom of the press promoting morality, since the individual would be scared that his sinful ways could be exposed to the public[11]

Everybody believes and proclaims, that the universal practice of the moral virtues would ensure the highest measure of human happiness; no one doubts that the misery which, to so deplorable a degree, overspreads the globe, while men injure men, and instead of helping and benefiting, supplant, defraud, mislead, pillage, and oppress, one another, would thus be nearly exterminated, and something better than the dreams of the golden age would be realized upon earth. Toward the attainment of this most desirable state of things, nothing in the world is capable of contributing so much as the full exercise of truth upon all immoral actions.[12]

 

In his argument he could no longer refer to religious authority; he had to refer instead to the intellectual authorities of his time in order to strengthen his position.[13] Like Milton, the aim he strived for defined the limits of the freedom:  

It will be said, however, that though all opinions may be delivered, and the grounds of them stated, it must be done in calm and gentle language. Vehement expressions, all words and phrases calculated to inflame, may justly be regarded as indecent, because they have a tendency rather to pervert than rectify the judgment.[14]

 

His argument sounds in the twenty-first century rather weak since it might provide reason for censorship instead for a free press. Any front-page of the yellow press might fail James Mill’s criteria for decency. 

It was left to his son John Stuart Mill to provide the argument with the biggest impact to the debate. Without the moral tone of his father argued for the necessity of a free press in order to create the best possible society. And his text On Liberty provided the printing press with the argument against “stamp duty” and censorship:

If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

 

The printing press in England got with Mill a moral justification for their business. And they needed it, since the reputation of the journalist in the beginning of the nineteenth century was rather low seen as a “greedy adventurer”. With Mill they could claim an important social role in the society. By promoting the idea that the media was the fourth estate, a watchdog for the public interest and a speaker of public opinion a remarkable change occurred in the nineteenth century in England – the once distrusted media became an important and recognized player in society. Of course Mill himself was interested in it, since he saw the media also as a tool to promote his ideas as George Boyce concluded: “Like many political philosophers, the Utilitarians directed their ideas to a practical aim; and not only did they provide the press with an ideology but they also had contacts with the press which enabled them to advance their principles.”[15]

Even when it was obvious that the development and use of the freedom was not conducted in “calm and gentle language” as his father James had thought “the myth of the Forth estate continued to prosper” [16].

 

 

The struggle in Germany

The debate in Germany differed for a number of reasons: first of all Utilitarianism was never a strong philosophical or political movement in Germany. Mill wanted to reform English society with his liberal ideas, while Hegel left this to the Weltgeist. Nietzsche made it clear what he thought of a philosophy striving for happiness: “Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does.”[17]

Also early German contributions to the debate of press freedom were emerging from the Romantic Movement, and as in the case of Ludwig Börne, had little practical impact:

Public opinion is not the friend of the established order of the bourgeois society, and that makes the freedom of speech all the more necessary. Public opinion is a lake, which, if you curb him and put stays as long rises until he falls foaming over his place, flooded the land and sweeps everything away by itself. But where he is given an unimpeded run because it breaks up into a thousand streams varied speech and writing, which, peaceful flowing through the land, irrigate and fertilize it . The governments that suppress freedom of speech, because the truths they spread, they are annoying, make it as little children, which shut the eyes to be seen. Fruitless efforts! Where the Living Word is feared, since the death of the troubled soul will not bring peace. The ghost of the murdered thoughts frighten the suspicious prosecutor who slew them, no less than this even done in life. The free flow of public opinion, whose waves are the days writings , is the German Rubicon on which bore the lust for power and might ponder whether they pass him and take the expensive country and the world with him in bloody mess , or whether they themselves to defeat and stick out.[18] 

 

Even if it is beautifully written, the Weltgeist didn’t think Germany ready for it. When social reformers such as Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle, in the middle of the nineteenth century, had finally an impact on society, it was not possible to integrate their ideas into a common struggle for freedom of the press as was the case in England.

In England Mill’s ideas could be integrated and taken up by the media as the Utilitarians provided the press with the arguments needed for claiming their role as the fourth estate. In Germany social reformers positioned themselves in opposition to the press and provided the press with arguments to reject their ideas. Ferdinand Lassalle, one of the founders of the workers’ movement in Germany, claimed: “Our main enemy, the main enemy of the healthy development of the German spirit and the German people, is the press nowadays. (…) Its mendacity, their depravity, their immorality is only outbid by nothing other than perhaps by its ignorance. “[19]

Calling the work of the journalist “prostitution of the spirit”[20] might not have helped improve his standing in the media world. So when Lassalle like Mill called for a free press, the publishing houses were as much on the alert as the government, since he saw not only state interference as a problem, but he questioned also the impact of business interests on freedom of the press: “If someone wants to make money, he may fabricate cotton or cloth or play on the stock market. But that for the sake of filthy gain one is ready to poisoning all the fountains of the spirit of the people and serves the people their spiritual death daily from a thousand tubes – it is the highest crime I can imagine.” [21]

He wished to free the press from advertisements, since he saw in the economic strength of the media an obstacle to its freedom. Lassalle was therefore in line with Karl Marx, who defended freedom of the press in his early writings, underlying that “that the first freedom of the press is not being a business. The writer which degrades it to a material mean deserves as a punishment for this inner lack of freedom also the outer lack of freedom, the censor.”[22] The publisher of the nineteenth century who turned printing into an enterprise could not have taken Börne, Marx or Lassalle on board in their struggle for a free press.

 

 

Kant’s heritage

There is however one German philosopher who has had a lasting impact on the debate and on the perception of freedom of the press in Germany: Immanuel Kant. Kant’s argument differs fundamentally from John Stuart Mill’s. Mill is interested in negative freedom, which means absence of regulation to ensure the best possible society; while Kant’s concern is positive freedom,[23] having an enlightened individual able to accept laws made through rational choice. Therefore Kant called for the Enlightenment so that “Man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity” could occur[24]. For Kant this immaturity kept man unfree. In order to achieve enlightenment, Kant asked for the free use of reason: “And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters.”[25] However, Kant’s practical suggestion to allow “public use of one’s reason” is a means; the liberated self is the aim. The debate in the Mittwochsgesellschaft  one of the most important German societies in the eighteenth century that promoted enlightenment – showed this when one of the members concluded: “I believe completely unlimited press freedom would surely be misused, most by the unenlightened, and it cannot therefore be a means of enlightenment.”[26] The members of the society wanted to promote enlightenment and the debate about freedom of the press centered on the question of the extent to which freedom of press might be a means to achieve it.

When, after the first World War, the Weimar republic created its first democratic constitution, freedom of the press was included; however, as Jürgen Wilke remarked:  “In this respect, one can say that although the idea of freedom of expression as a human right entered the Weimar Constitution, but not its traditional utilitarian justification.”[27] 

After the Second World War and its dramatic experiences, the Kantian categorical imperative to treat man “never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end” did materialize by having the “dignity of man” as the first article of the German Basic Law. In a study by Katja Stamm concerning the judgments of the highest courts in Germany, she pointed out that of course press freedom was recognized as a necessity for a functional democratic society, but it also emphasized this Kantian heritage in seeing the value “freedom of expression for the individual development of the personality.”[28]

There is the explanation for German judges limiting freedom of the press when it threatened dignity e.g. as in the case of hate-speech, while for example in the English-speaking world David Irving with his denying of the Holocaust was described as a “free speech martyr”.[29]

It also explains the different reactions to the latest National Security Agencies revelations. Living in a Benthamite panopticum might be safe and happy and, as the British tabloid journalist Paul McMullan expressed it, “Privacy is for peados,”[30] but it signals equally the end of the Kantian autonomous individual.

 

 

Conclusion

The discussion of free press in the English-speaking world is about the correct interpretation of John Stuart Mill. In the recently published Free speech. A very short introduction, by Oxford University Press, Mill figures prominently and his ideas are getting a whole chapter in it, while Kant is never mentioned. Contrary to a recently published Eine Ideengeschichte der Freiheit, where Mill is mentioned 23 times, compared to Kant’s 457.

The Kantian link between negative freedom as one’s use of reason in public to the idea of the autonomous individual, which is always an end to itself and cannot be a just a means for a utilitarian better society, allows German journalists and editors to have a self-regulation in place where they underline this Kantian idea of “preservation of human dignity”. The first article of the German journalist code of ethics reads therefore: “Respect for the truth, preservation of human dignity and accurate informing of the public are the overriding principles of the press.”[31] 

In the US, the Hutchins Commission concluded already in 1947 that “Freedom of the press for the coming period can only continue as an accountable freedom. Its moral right will be conditioned on its acceptance of this accountability. Its legal right will stand unaltered as its moral duty is performed.”[32] However, instead of following the findings of the commission, twenty years later freedom of expression was the winning argument for Larry Flint in the legal battle for publications of pornography.

State security, however, seemed to be to a much wider extent an acceptable reason for interfering with press freedom in Britain than in Germany. In 2007 the prosecutors dropped all charges against 17 journalists in Germany for disclosing state secrets, while in England in the same year David Keogh and Leo O’Connor were “jailed under the Official Secret Act 1989 for leaking a secret memo detailing discussions between Tony Blair and George Bush in August 2004 about an alleged American proposal to bomb the Arabic television channel al-Jazeere.”[33]

The differences between the German- and the English-speaking will increase as freedom versus security and privacy continue to be seen under either a Kantian or Millian view.

  

[1] This was pointed out by Friedrich von Gentz already in 1838: “Die große Spaltung der Meinung hebt erst an, wenn die Frage aufgeworfen wird, welche Art gesetzlicher Schranken die beste und zweckmäßigste sei, um in Rücksicht auf den Gebrauch der Presse, das Interesse der Gesamtheit zu sichern, ohne die Freiheit der Einzelnen zu zerstören.“ Friedrich von Gentz, Die Pre?freiheit in England, 1838, in: Pressefreiheit, p. 144.

[2]  A formula which gives you thousands of search results on google.

[3] I do not distinguish in this paper between freedom of press and freedom of expression as it is not valid for the argument made in this paper.

[4] After which time the Popes of Rome, engrossing what they pleased of political rule into their own hands, extended their dominion over men’s eyes, as they had before over their judgments, burning and prohibiting to be read what they fancied not;(…) And thus ye have the inventors and the original of book-licensing ripped up and drawn as lineally as any pedigree. We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient state, or polity or church; nor by any statute left us by our ancestors elder or later; nor from the modern custom of any reformed city or church abroad, but from the most anti-christian council and the most tyrannous inquisition that ever inquired. John Milton. Areopagitica, The Harvard Classics. http://www.bartleby.com/3/3/3.html last visited 25 April 2014.

[5] Milton. Areopagitica.

[6] “Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity, forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint.” Milton, Areopagitica.

[7] “Yet if all cannot be of one mind–as who looks they should be?–this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which, as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or manners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself:” Milton, Areopagitica.

[8] Milton, Areopagitica.

[9] James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/25/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_88

[10] Also this link can be doubted, see for example Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985).

[11] His argument does not sound very convincing in a world where Paris Hilton and her like are heroes.

[12] James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/26/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_52

[13] There is, indeed, hardly any law of human nature more generally recognized, wherever there is not a motive to deny its existence. “To the position of Tully, that if Virtue could be seen, she must be loved, may be added,” says Dr. Johnson, “that if Truth could be heard, she must be obeyed.” (Rambler, No. 87.)—“Je vous plains, mes Péres,” says Mons. Pascal to the Jesuits, “d’avoir recours à de tels remèdes. Vous croyez avoir la force et l’impunité: mais je crois avoir la verité, et l’innocence. C’est une etrange et longue guerre que celle ou la violence essaie d’opprimer la verité. Tous les efforts de la violence ne peuvent affoiblir la verité, et ne servent qu’à la relever davantage: toutes les lumières de la verité ne peuvent rien pour arrêter la violence, et ne font que l’irriter encore plus. Quand la force combat la force, la plus puissante detruit la moindre: quand l’on expose les discours aux discours, ceux qui sont veritables et convainquants confondent et dissipent ceux qui n’ont que la vanité et le mensonge.” (Lett. Provinc. [23] 12.)—“Reason,” says Burke, “clearly and manfully delivered, has in itself a mighty force; but reason, in the mouth of legal authority, is, I may fairly say, irresistible.” (Lett. on Regicide Peace.) James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/31/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_108 .

[14] The text can be found here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_151

[15] “W.T. Stead, (…): A newspaperman must have good copy, and a good copy was ‘oftener to be found among the outcast and the disinherited of the earth than among the fat and well fed citizens.’ Hence, ‘selfishness makes the editor more concerned about the vagabond, the landless man, and the deserted child. (…) It was, for example the sensationalism of the ‘Bitter cry of outcast London’, (…) that led to the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Housing of the poor.”George Boyce, The Fourth Estate: the reappraisal of a concept, in: Newspaper History from the 17th century to the present day, edited by George Boyce, Thomas Curan and Pauline Wingate, Constable, 1978

[16] Boyce, The Fourth Estate, p. 25.

[17] Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Götzen-Dämmerung – Twilight of the Idols 1895, http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html, last visited at 25 April 2014.

[18] „Die öffentliche Meinung ist der bestehenden Ordnung der bürgerlichen Dinge nicht hold, und das macht die Freiheit der Rede um so nötiger. Die öffentliche Meinung ist ein See, der, wenn man ihn dämmt und aufhält, so lange steigt, bis er schäumend über seine Schranken stürzt, das Land überschwemmt und alles mit sich fortreißt. Wo ihm aber ein ungehinderter Lauf gegeben ist, da zerteilt er sich in tausend Bäche mannigfaltiger Rede und Schrift, die, friedlich durch das Land strömend, es bewässern und befruchten. Die Regierungen, welche die Freiheit der Rede unterdrücken, weil die Wahrheiten, die sie verbreiten, ihnen lästig sind, machen es wie die Kinder, welche die Augen zuschließen, um nicht gesehen zu werden. Fruchtloses Bemühen! Wo das lebendige Wort gefürchtet wird, da bringt auch dessen Tod der unruhigen Seele keinen Frieden. Die Geister der ermordeten Gedanken ängstigen den argwöhnischen Verfolger, der sie erschlug, nicht minder, als diese selbst im Leben es getan. Der freie Strom der öffentlichen Meinung, dessen Wellen die Tagesschriften sind, ist der deutsche Rubikon, an welchem die Herrschsucht weilen und sinnen mag, ob sie ihn überschreiten und das teure Vaterland und mit ihm die Welt in blutige Verwirrung bringen, oder ob sie sich selbst besiegen und abstehen soll.“ Ludwig Börne, Die Freiheit der Presse in Bayern, 1818, http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/B%C3%B6rne,+Ludwig/Schriften/Aufs%C3%A4tze+und+Erz%C3%A4hlungen/Die+Freiheit+der+Presse+in+Bayern.

[19] Unser Hauptfeind, der Hauptfeind aller gesunden Entwicklung des deutschen Geistes und des deutschen Volkstums, das ist heutzutage die Presse. (…) Ihre Lügenhaftigkeit, ihre Verkommenheit, ihre Unsittlichkeit werden von nichts anderen überboten als vielleicht von ihrer Unwissenheit.“ Ferdinand Lassalle, Die Presse. Ein Symptom des öffentlichen Geistes, 1863, hier zitiert nch Pressefreiheit, S. 222.

[20] P. 232.

[21] „Wenn jemand Geld verdienen will, so mag er Cotton fabrizieren oder Tuche oder auf der Börse spielen. Aber dass man um schnöden Gewinstes willen alle Brunnen des Volksgeistes vergifte und dem Volk den geistigen Tod täglich aus tausend Röhren kredenze – – es ist das höchste Verbrechen, das ich fassen kann.“ Ferdinand LASAALLE, Die Presse, 1863, hier zotiert nach, Pressefreiheit, S. 232.

[22] „Die erste Freiheit der Presse besteht darin, kein Gewerbe zu sien. Dem Schriftsteller, der sie zum materiallen Mittel herabsetzt, gebuehrt als Strafe dieser inneren Unfreiheit die aeussere, die Zensur.“, Karl Max, Die Verhandlungen des 6. Rheinischen Landtags, in Rheinische Zeitung, Nr. 139, 19 May 1842, hier zitiert nach Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Pressefreiheit und Zensur, edited by Iring Fetcher, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt am Main 1969, p. 92

[23] For the defintitions of negative and positive freedom, see: Isaiah Berlin, Two concepts of freedom.

[24] Immanuel Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?, in: Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1784, pp. 484-485.

[25] Immanuel Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?, in: Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1784, p. 484.

[26] Eckart Hellmuth, Enlightement and Freedom of the Press: The Debate in the Berlin Mittwochsgesellschaft, 1783-1784, p. 431.

[27] „Insofern kann man sagen, dass zwar die Vorstellung von Meinungsfreiheit als Menschenrecht, nicht aber ihre überlieferte utilitaristische  Begründung in die Weimarer Reichsverfassung einging.“ Pressefreiheit, hrsg. Jürgen Wilke, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 1984.  P. 34.

[28] „Hohen Wert der Meinungsfreiheit für die individuelle Entfaltung der Persönlichkeit anerkannt.” Katja Stamm, Das Bundesverfassungs-Gericht und die Meinungsfreiheit, AUS POLITIK UND ZEITGESCHICHTE (B 37-38/2001), http://www.bpb.de/apuz/26023/bundesverfassungs-gericht

[29] David Irving two pages  after dealing with Mill as “from discredited historian to free speech martyr.” Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. By Nigel Warburton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 36.

[30] Paul McMullan lays bare newspaper dark arts at Leveson inquiry, The Guardian 29 November 2011,  http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/nov/29/paul-mcmullan-leveson-inquiry-phone-hacking, retrieved the 7 April 2014

[31] See German press code, first article: http://ethicnet.uta.fi/germany/german_press_code, last visited 29 April 2014.

[32] THE COMMISSION ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS,  A FREE  AND RESPONSIBLE PRESS, A General Report on Mass Communication: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books https://archive.org/details/freeandresponsib029216mbp. Last visited 29 April 2014.

[33] Juilian Petley, Censorship and Freedom of Speech, in: The Media. An Introduction, edited by Daniele Albertazzi and Paul Cobley, Third edition, Pearson Essex, 2010, p. 322.