Sonntag, 8. Mai 2011

Megalothymia, Amour-Propre and the Need for Political Institutions

Unfortunately, the innate moral sense and moral learning are not enough to ensure social integration and cooperation. Of course, there is Plato who speaks of thymos, which can be translated as spiritedness, heart or heartiness. In Plato’s Republic Socrates describes thymos as that it is associated with courage and with the emotion of anger or indignation on behalf of one’s own. Thymos builds together with desire and reason the third part of the soul. Socrates suggests a relationship between anger and self-esteem by explaining that the nobler a man is - that is, the more highly he evaluates his own worth - the more angry he will become when he has been dealt with unjustly: his spirit „boils and becomes harsh“ forming an „alliance for battle with what seems just“ even if he „suffers in hunger, cold and everything of the sort...“. Like this thymos is linked to an innate human sense of justice. Thymos provides an allpowerful emotional support to the process of valuing and evaluating, and allows human beings to overcome their most powerful natural instincts for the sake of what they believe is right or just. Another example for how strong the desire for recognition is, is the passion of feminist or gay rights activists who demand that members of their group be treated with equal respect by the larger society.When other people see that we are not living up to our own sense of self-esteem, we feel shame; and when we are evaluated justly (i.e., in proportion to our true worth), we feel pride (Fukuyama, for precise quotation see below).
The desire for recognition rather than rational utility maximisation lays at the centre of human motivation. Modern motivational psychology assumes that, besides such primary instincts like hunger or sexuality, man has an important urge for recognition, social contact and curiosity. Natural wants and needs are few in number and rather easily satisfied, particularly in the context of a modern industrial economy. Our motivation in working and earning money is much more closely related to the recognition that such activity affords us, where money becomes a symbol not for the material good but for social status or recognition. This universal goal of social approval was also to Adam Smith quiet clear when he explained in the ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’:

„Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original aversion to offend his brethren. She thought him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavourable regard.“ (Smith, 1759/1976: 116).

„It is the vanity, not the ease or the pleasure, which interests us.“ (Smith, 1759/1976: 50) (quoted in Reisman, 1998).

But there is a dark side to the desire for recognition as well. The existence of a moral dimension in the human personality doesn’t mean that there will be always an agreement on the substantive content of morality. And the moral sense and moral learning is much less developed in some people than in others. There is no reason to think that all people will evaluate themselves as the equals of other people. Rather, they may seek to be recognised as superior to other people. Possibly on the basis of true inner worth, but more likely out of an inflated vain estimate of themselves. This desire to be recognised as superior to other people is megalothymia
(Fukuyama, 1993: 181, 182, Fukuyama, 1995: 162-171, 358, 359) or in Rousseau’s word ‘amour-propre’ (‘selfishness’). Rousseau distinguishes the natural, healthy ‘amour-de-soi’ (‘self-interest’) from ‘amour-propre (‘selfishness’) and vanity. This ‘amour-propre’ emerged only with the development of civilisation and the invention of private property. It goes together with a Hobbsian claim to posses everything. Our desire for recognition by others leads to competition and domination. Rousseau cites the example of Hobbs that there are so many candidates which go for the same race (Rousseau, 1755/1997: 256).

„Je montrerois que c’est à cette ardeur de faire parler de soi, à cette fureur de se distinguer qui nous tient presque toujours hors de nous mêmes, que nous devons ce qu’il y a de meilleur et de pire parmi les hommes, nos vertus et nos vices, nos Sciences et nos erreurs, nos Conquérans et nos Philosophes, c’est-à-dire, une multitude de mauvaise choses sur un petit nombre de bonnes (Rousseau, 1755/1997: 256)

Unlike Adam Smith Rousseau doesn’t see the benefits of outside attention for moral development. For him ‘amour-propre’ and vanity are the seed of all evil.

„Le sauvage vit en lui-même; l’homme sociable toujours hors de lui ne fait vivre que dans l’opinion des autres. [...] D’une telle disposition naît tant d’indifférence pour le bien et le mal.“ (Rousseau, 1755/1997: 268).

Therefore the mirror of group attention is not a source of moral excellence. He overstresses the negative side of outside attention and goes even so fare as to locate here the seeds of our civilisational disease. It might increase scientific knowledge and refinement of arts and letters, but not help to improve morals. Natural man (the noble ‘homme sauvage’) left alone in his natural environment is self-sufficient and peaceable and follows his ‘amour de soi’, a simple healthy concern for one’s own well-being, restricted by ‘pitié’.

“La pitié est un sentiment naturel, qui modérant dans chaque individu l’activité de l’amour de soi même, concourt à la conservation mutuelle de toute l’espéce. [...] C’est elle qui, au lieu de cette maxime sublime de justice raisonnée; Fais à autrui comme tu veux qu’on to fasse [‘golden rule’], inspire à tous les Hommes cette
autre maxime de bonté naturelle bien moins parfaite, mais plus utile peut-être que la précedente. Fais ton bien avec le moindre mal d’autrui qu’il est possible.” (Rousseau, 1755/1997: 150).

But as man joins together with others to make up states he degenerates and becomes corrupt. ‘Amour-propre’, an anxious concern for tribute to be paid to one’s status becomes the only concern. Sexual jealousy, the desire for domination and resentment grow up as men come to demand esteem and deference. As a consequence men begin to compete for precedence and life is tainted by aggression and spite. Those who have acquired dominance then conspire together to consolidate their position. They argue that everyone needs a more peaceable and stable society, which can only be achieved through the apparatus of government. Thus it is that they consolidate the status quo, but without right or justice and acting only to perpetuate unfair privilege and the oppression of the weak. Led by the effect of exacerbated ‘amour-propre’ people seek individual ascendancy by doing others down. That is his explanation for the observation that ‘L’homme est né libre, mais partout il est enchaîné’.
Rousseau presents an alternative approach to how we might achieve a just and legitimate civil order with his ‘Le Contract Social’ (1762). (In the same year he also writes a book on education (‘Émile’, 1762) where he tries to show how a child could be brought up free of the aggressive desire to dominate others. Instead that child can be caused to want to cooperate with others on a footing of mutual respect. How important mutual respect is and how domination and to much inequality can lead to sickness shows a medical scientist like Wilkinson (1999) (cf. pp. 151).) Everyone should have an equal political standing regardless of birth or wealth. This work will later have a profound influence on the French Revolution.
Prior to modern liberal democracy, the struggle for recognition was carried on by ambitious princes who sought primacy over each other through war and conquest. Indeed, Hegel’s account of the human historical process began with a primordial ‘bloody battle’ in which two combatants sought to be recognised by the other, leading one ultimately to enslave the other. Political institutions allow now to stop the Hobbsian ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’.
The struggle for recognition that formerly had been carried by military means is now pursued by economic means. Where formerly princes sought to vanquish each other by risking their lives in bloody battles, they now risk their capital through the building of industrial empires. Entrepreneurship has replaced the art of war. The underlying psychological need is the same, only the desire for recognition is satisfied through the production of wealth rather than the destruction of material values. Early political economist of the Scottish Enlightenment like Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and James Stuart all hoped that the destructive energies of a warrior culture would be channelled into the safer pursuit of a commercial society, with a corresponding softening of manners (Fukuyama, 1995: 358-360). This is a more optimistic account than given by Rousseau of how to transform the desire for recognition into something socially appreciable.
To summarise we can recall our view of man which is maybe best described by Pascal when he said that the angle and the beast coexist in us together with potential humanity (Marc, 1990: 10). Or as Buddha said, wherever there is shadow, there is light. Aristotle nicely links this view to politics. He begins the ‘Politics’ (I 2 1253 a 31-34) by asserting that man is a political animal by nature, somewhere between a beast and a god.

„A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first found the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and excellence, which he may use for the worst ends. That is why, if he has not excellence, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states; for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.“ (This position is similar to what Kant concludes in his ‘Zum Ewigen Frieden’ (1795: 8.366-368)).

We can conclude that a state is needed to ensure an orderly living together when man neither follows his moral sense nor rationally founded moral rules on the one side. State institutions are a check to man’s magalothymia, his ‘amour-propre’ and potential gluttony. On the other side can the state foster moral learning and a fruitful and collaborative living together through a fair administration of justice. Having understood the need for a state, the next question is how it should be structured and of which size it should be. Therefore we will develop next the principles of federalism. We are convinced that a federal European polity will build a cornerstone of a reformed European societal model and help best the accumulation of social capital. (Leicht, 2000: 43-47)

Wem dieses Kapitel gefallen hat, dem kann ich auch noch meine ganze Dissertation "A Reformed European Model - Social Capital as Competitive Advantage" (Grin Verlag, 2000) empfehlen.

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