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SOROSIAN FILE: Moral Constructivism
By David Arthur Walters
Last edited: Friday, September 05, 2008
Posted: Thursday, September 04, 2008



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• Vituperative Recriminations
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Towards the Realm of Sweetness and Light

 

And yet, futile as are many bookmen, and helpless as books and reading often prove for bringing near the perfection those who use them, one must, I think, be struck more and more, the longer one lives, to find how much, in our present society, a man’s life of each day, depends for its solidity and value on whether he reads during that day, and, far more still, on what he reads during it.” Matthew Arnold

  

 

 

Moral constructivism proffers man-made moralism for our consumption, as if moral truths, facts and properties were human inventions rather than found objects or conceptions corresponding to objective reality. These inventions may differ between respective groups, or may be absolutely agreed upon by the members of all groups under ideal conditions; that is, conditions conducive to social harmony. Yet even constructivism’s most fervent adherents among subjective idealists, although they may maintain that knowledge and morality are human constructs and may insist like free-will idealists that “the world is my idea,” pretend for the sake of commonsensical  argument that the truth is out there somewhere, although it cannot be known, as if truths matching objective reality do exist independently of subjective whims, and that a universal moral code of absolute rights and wrongs is embedded in nature or innate to human nature.

We understand the subjective constructivist’s inconsistency given our native hypocrisy, our underlying crisis: we are not all we make ourselves out to be nor are we all that we want to be – we see not the log in our own eyes, and have even founded world religions on calling our brothers hypocrites. In any case, the fact that we may criticize the principles or ideals of constructivism, or any other worldview for that matter, does not necessarily lead to dogmatic skepticism, but may indeed lead the inquirer to believe that there must be some objective moral truth corresponding to the real world out there, or in the ideal world within, a realm universally ruled, whether we like it or not, by innate ideas, thanks to an objective God and/or natural law, independently of our wishes and devices, despite the naïve moral constructivist’s claim to the contrary.

If all crimes are political offenses only because they are prohibited by human legislation, if crime is simply a human invention, then crimes defined and prohibited by one group may not be the same as those defined and prohibited by another. We must not believe that constructivists are liberal and tolerant because of their insistence that human perception is hypothetical hence subject to error; after all, constructive perception is a top-down process: the brain makes a guess based on past experience and imposes it on current experience; therefore constructivism has its conservative tendency. Notwithstanding constructivism’s relativistic implications, many self-styled constructivists will tell us that certain actions, whether prohibited by legislation or not, such as torture, murder, abortion, sodomy, smoking, drinking, drug abuse, gambling, and so on are absolutely wrong because they are destructive acts, antithetical to the productive thesis of constructivism. Of course, having set itself up as judge, constructivism is entitled, by reference to its claim that truth corresponding to reality cannot be known therefore human perception and judgment are fallible, to excuse its own self-contradictions.  To make true love is all right; making war is dead wrong unless it is a truly loving service in defense of our way of life, our high civilization. We must no doubt fight for peace, killing millions of enemies if need be. Our way of life is best as far as we are concerned, and the highest civilization is, of course, our Western civilization, a progressive construction manufactured by the self-chosen people with their great political tool, democratic republicanism.

Man is a maker and everyone is a constructivist to some extent, or may call himself a constructivist even if other constructivists insist he is not one, and we shall find no two constructivists exactly alike although each one might lay claim to a monopoly on constructivism. Nonetheless, liberal academic constructivists have certain constructive concepts in common; they try to be consistent; they take pains to get on the same page and smooth over doctrinal inconsistencies by generally eschewing dogma. Popular constructivists, on the other hand, construe constructivism as they like it; loosely, so that it suits their prepossessions. They seem blind to blatant ambiguities and antinomies. We have found an example of popular constructivism on the Internet: Hugh S. Hunt, President of the Constructivist Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hunt finds fault with conservatives and liberals in their extremities, and wants to place his constructivist philosophy somewhere in between. Conservatives blindly adhere to old ways; they resist even beneficial changes, impeding the progress of constructive projects. So much for the conservatives; he really heaps it on the liberals, for the main goal of constructivists is to discover and communicate the truth, particularly the truth about the decadence of those degenerates who call themselves liberals and sicken the society with permissive tolerance; they become dictators themselves if tyrants do not take over the weakened society. Anything goes with liberals, in the name of liberty, including social diseases like pornography. They tolerate those who would destroy liberty, including the violent totalitarians that Dr. Karl Popper warned us about in The Open Society and its Enemies. “The insidious danger of Liberalism,” writes Mr. Hunt, “is its aspect of not being evil or wicked in itself.” He does not refer us to universal or original sin; we may presume that liberals are devils in disguise. “Liberalism is often the vanguard of anarchy, which in turn causes a reaction of authoritarianism.” We find that “Liberals tend to succumb to relativism with its fatal loss of absolute values. They excuse the most illiberal tendencies….” He insistently states, as if he knew them as facts: “Absolute truths do exist.”

Well, Mr. Hunt might be right: If there were no such thing as righteousness, why should we bother with his proposition not to mention anyone else’s? We would be better off suspending judgment altogether, remaining aloof, like Epicurean gods, at some undisclosed Bohemian nightclub. It might be an opium den with belly dancers, or an after-hours jazz cellar populated by, come to think of it, constructivist potheads who think truth is an improvisation. Mr. Hunt would not get past the bouncers at the door, but George Soros would no doubt be the guest of honor at Club Constructivist, whether he smokes pot or not. We suppose Mr. Soros has been a liberal constructivist if not a deconstructionist since childhood, for his biographer Michael T. Kaufman, in Chapter 14 - ‘Into Philanthropy’ - of SOROS, informs us that George had a constructive attitude at an early age: “As a child,” according to his biography (Soros) by Michael T. Kaufman, “he imagined the world as a peaceful barnyard. In his philosophical quests, he hoped to chart and, implicitly, to harness history. Such dreams lay dormant as he made money, but they gained force with what his second referred to as his midlife crisis. He linked the money to his older ambitions.” Perhaps his barnyard dreams were inspired by a reading of ANIMAL FARM. And now the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is grateful for his financial support of the decriminalization of marijuana laws. Mr. Soros reportedly (Associated Press) believes that cracking down on the marijuana trade should not be a priority of the criminal justice system. We soberly note that the criminalization of the drug trade has made it an extraordinarily lucrative occupation. A war against it is raging on the border, where Mexican drug smugglers, who buy their guns in the United States for pitched battles with rival gangs and the Mexican Army, are being beheaded on the spot as we speak, making the trade even more rewarding for the survivors and their customers in the United States.

Mr. Hunt claims that constructivists commit themselves to realizing the absolute truth. Their ultimate goal is spiritual. Changes, even frivolous ones, says he, are all right as long as they are not destructive. Constructivists would change the world by virtue of “a comprehensive, universal, and unique set of principles that are broad enough to be titled ‘A unified theory of human existence’ … Constructivists see their lives as part of either helping or hurting some part of the universe, whether or not they know or understand the effects.” Constructivists, who purpose to suit the needs of individuals in society, are careful to responsibly balance freedom with security – “freedom and self-discipline require each other.”

Mr. Hunt states that constructivists always look for better ways of doing things; they only resist change temporarily until a better way is found. He does not reveal how we might be certain that the new method is the better one before imposing it, and we could not be certain until we knew and understood the effects. So-called constructivists who agree with his absolute truths must know that the ownership and control of property is one of the most fundamental human rights, without which there would be no economic progress, and that free enterprise “is the most effective method of economic problem solving for constructive living.” Capitalism is not an end in itself but merely a tool of free enterprise. Mind you that Mr. Hunt prefers the label ‘Entrepreneur’ to ‘Capitalist’ – we assume that entrepreneurs are captains of their own ships if not pirates: they are proactive; they approach life constructively; they lead productive lives.

Democracy, he says, is the means of progress, and not a goal in itself – it is apparently not solely a means to freedom, for “People do not exist just for freedom.” Constructivists have “unique solutions” to social issues; for instance, “Welfare would be totally administered by a task force of nonprofit organizations and financed by a National Welfare Loan Association.” And, because half of liquor sales are to alcoholics and other abusers, the free-enterprise solution to Prohibition has not worked; wherefore the government should have a monopoly on liquor sales, issue licenses to purchase booze to consumers, denying licenses to abusers. We think Uncle Sam might also consider being a pot dealer too.

Well, Mr. Hunt is obviously a frustrated conservative constructivist, or a compassionate constructive conservative. Constructivists may also be tolerant liberals; indeed, most of them are, as can be seen by Mr. Hunt’s continued existence despite his wish to impose a unified theory of human existence on constructivist existentialists. In any event, everyone wants to be liberated from something or the other, and the overall goal of human beings seems to be freedom from evils howsoever defined, and so we are all liberals, generally speaking. If only our love were not so often hate-others-based group-self-love, perhaps we could divest ourselves of our differentiations and get down to the absolute truth, whatever that might be, and build a mighty edifice thereon. But there may be no such abstract permanent substance to lay our foundation on, so we are left to find two new swearing stones, upon which we inscribe ten new rules, and then proceed to draw up new plans for Utopia. We do not need a divine architect to build a heavenly city on Earth. Let us assemble, talk things over freely, arrive at a consensus, and set our hands to building a new world order. Of course that man-made, secular order must be, politically speaking, a liberal democratic order if humankind is to live happily ever after or to at least survive on the whole. That much seems self-evident given the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the exemplary West. But if that is the truth, then it is a truth independent of our constructive attitude, and we are no longer, strictly speaking, subjective constructivists. But we shall keep up the pretense anyway, despite our use of the term “should”, which implies that there are objective oughts to comply with!

Yes, we agree that we should talk things over, exchange ideas and trade things, not fight over them and hoard them. Democracies that provide modes for conflict resolution through open debate such as assemblies, courts, and a free press are naturally good institutions as they are founded on independent, self-evident truths.  The Open Society outlined by Karl Popper, who took the cue from Henri Bergson; the Open Society promulgated by Karl Popper’s most prominent living admirer, George Soros; - is inherently good whatever else it is, because it fosters moral discourse; and if we take that intercourse seriously and believe that it resolves conflict productively, then we presume there are right answers to moral questions; that moral goods are, in effect, objective and universal to humankind. Those right answers would, then, outweigh the constructive consideration of subjective constructivism, that morality is only what we make of it.

Yet it seems that a constructivism with such objective pretensions is self-contradictory and is, in a word, false, for subjective constructivism at least holds that moral truths are subjective: the truths of morality are human artifacts rather than objects to be discovered or facts to be found. Hence moral truths and facts depend on our individual attitudes and social agreements. Of course, under ideal conditions, which we may ourselves instantiate in mental space, we may arrive at a universal consensus instead of an ethically relativistic plurality of worldviews. Here we go again: that perspective smacks of objective idealism, the view that nature as it appears to us is not merely a subjective phenomenon but is rather the manifestation of an underlying spiritual reality; hence ideals are the ultimate reality, and idealism may then be called realism, in contrast to the realism associated with sensibly intuited facts.

A constructive synthesis of subjective and objective has been espoused by thinkers who prefer to hedge their prejudices instead being caught with their pants down at the extremities of the continuum. One might examine Professor Ernst von Glasersfeld’s “radical constructivism”, which is based largely on the constructivism of Jean Piaget, or delve into George Soros’ works for liberal allusions such as, “In dealing with nature, the truth is paramount. We need to understand how the forces of nature work in order to exploit nature to our advantage. Knowledge of reality is a precondition of success…. Open society is based on an epistemological argument. If reality were independently given and not subject to human manipulation, then indeed the pursuit of truth would have to take precedence over self-delusion and the deception of others. Plato assigned the task to a philosopher king, and Popper argued that it is best achieved by a critical process because no philosopher is capable of attaining the ultimate truth. That is how he arrived at the open society. But the underlying idea that reality is independent of what people think is inappropriate when reality has thinking participants. That is the point I was trying to make with the concept of reflexivity. Thinking is part of the reality we seek to understand.”

The moral of Mr. Soros’ constructive story, its end in an open or liberal democratic society, may be, as we have seen, be deemed immoral by conservative constructivists such as Mr. Hunt. In any case, at least at the metaphysical level, what is wanted is some sort of compromise or working con-fusion between idealists and realists, a constructive fusion of energy and matter, a synthesis of mind and body, reason and will, as if they had been separated – neither can really survive the other. Strife fosters that unity called love within each warring party; the mutual enmity of the parties determines their identities; in that enmity they are identical, and to that end they love to hate one another. Civil war reunites the divisive states, cementing statehood in blood; the winner proceeds with a grand compensatory plan to reconstruct the loser in its mental image. The reconstruction is compromised, that masters might still have their slaves in one way or another until they are replaced by machines. Even then, although they may have nothing substantial to do, hordes of slaves are retained as “technological niggers,” for the wealth of a master is measured not only in gold but by the number of his retainers, just as a traditional Mongolian herdsman measures his wealth in heads of cattle and is therefore not disposed to send them to Western-style slaughter houses to turn meat into money. So be it. Let them have their cattle, give us the money that says, “In God We Trust.”

George Soros is a billionaire, but he would rather be a philosopher. Not much attention has been paid to George Soros as a philosopher; in fact his lifelong philosophical pursuit, to spread the gospel of fallibility, has been sneered at and called amateurish and pretentious. “Having recognized the importance of money, I may yet come to be recognized as a philosopher,” he has said, “which would give me more satisfaction than the fortune I have made.” The pursuit of money instead of wisdom is all the rage nowadays, and the possession of wealth by the self-made man indicates that the man must be at least wise in the ways of the world: “The prevailing bias in favor of money and wealth is a good example of what I mean by fallibility,” Mr. Soros stated. Despite much evidence to the contrary, people cannot help believing that wealthy men are of better character than the rest of the race. Lester F. Ward wrote well on this controversial subject in his 1895 article, ‘Plutocracy and Paternalism.’

“Justly or unjustly, society has made wealth a measure of worth. It is easy on general principles to prove that it is not such a measure. Everyone is personally cognizant of numerous cases to the contrary. All will admit that, taken in the abstract, the principle is unsound, and yet all act on it. It is ‘human nature’ to respect those who have and to care little for those who have not. There is a sort of feeling that if one is destitute there must be a reason for it. In a word, absence of means is, in one form or another, made to stand for absence of merit. Its cause is looked for in character. This is most clearly seen in the marked contrast between the indisposition to help the unsuccessful and the willingness to help the successful. Aside for the prospect of quid quo pro, no one wants to waste time, energy or money on what is worthless – and possession is the primary test of worth.”

Lester Ward went on to say that “the amassing of colossal fortunes is not in itself an evil, since the very activity which it requires stimulates industry and benefits a large number.” However, “Our society suffers from a lack of government, from under-government, failure to keep up with self-seeking individualism.” Unbridled competition winds up destroying itself by constructing artificial systems: “This system of artificial props, bolsterings, and scaffoldings has grown so perfect as to make exertion needless for the protected clan and hopeless for the neglected mass. In a word, it has become the bulwark of monopoly.” Hence the government fails to protect the weak and devotes its energies to protecting the strong, a “vast array of purely parasitic enterprises, calculated to foster the worst forms of municipal corruption.”

Our American philosopher George Soros is as headstrong as a boar. He is welcomed as a self-styled private statesman in the halls of the power elite throughout the world. He believes the weak have been under-compensated, wherefore he wants justice to be done unto them. Many of them are immigrants, the sort of people who made America strong, working in menial jobs, who came to the United States for the money if not its liberty. Yet they dislike coldhearted, selfish Americanos, many of whom wish they would go back to their own countries. Biographer Michael T. Kaufman informs us that George Soros resented the cold reception he received from the hands of the British when he immigrated to London in his youth, where he worked as a busboy, dishwasher, housepainter, and lifeguard while struggling to get his bachelor’s degree at the London School of Economics. There were plenty of immigrants to keep company with, such as the Italian headwaiter who assured him that he was talented and might work his way up from busboy to assistant headwaiter one day. Despite the fact the fact that he got jobs, received workman’s compensation for luckily breaking a leg, chiseled a Jewish charity out of funds for the same break after being previously turned down, got unsolicited funds from the Quakers, and got his degree, “everything about his existence reinforced his sense of being an unwelcome outsider.” A “downward cycle of brooding despair” he had experience for a year and a half had dogged him for many years, even long after he immigrated to the United States to make more money at his new profession, arbitrage. His visa application had been initially denied on the grounds that arbitrage services were not urgently required in the country, but was approved when a publisher of black market currency rates signed an affidavit claiming that arbitrage was dangerous to the health of its practitioners. And now that he is rich, he would smooth the way for others by funding campaigns for the sort of social justice that would apparently be realized in an open society where everyone can speak freely and otherwise do as they please as long as they play by liberal democratic rules.

Right-wing rumor now has it that George Soros and his organizations are behind a vast left-wing conspiracy to seize the government of the United States, that the Democratic Party has been purchased to that end, that a messiah is sponsored to lead the way. Due to longstanding prejudice, he is not the typical American superhero, the Great White Hope upon whom the descendants and admirers of Northern Europeans can project their sole-superpower longings. They prefer a red, white and blue Superman. A science fiction writer by the name of Phillip Wylie is widely credited with inspiring the Superman comics – Hugo Danner, the protagonist of his novel Gladiator, is the equivalent of Clark Kent. The author is best known for Generation of Vipers, the critical rant he wrote about America’s “cancer of the soul” when he returned home to Miami Beach from Washington.

Mr. Wylie was evidently a frustrated WASP. One malignant symptom of the social cancer he diagnosed was “momworship” or “momism,” the placement of overweight, high-heeled brazen hussies, idle middle-class women and vain Cinderellas on pedestals – the complaint today is of the “feminization” of society. Another symptom was the money grubbing cultivated by vulgar immigrants. “When the eighteenth century ended, and man power was needed for the exploitation of the West, the sole test of a man’s suitability for citizenship in this lofty and intricate republic became, in the case of millions, his ability to swing a pick…. Some headway has been made in instructing them, and their descendents, about democracy; but we should not forget that, while they paid loud lip service to our ideals at Ellis Island, they came here in the first place to get. One reason for the fearsome default of democratic government is to be found in these persons and their descendents, who now must number half the populace, and their identification still with their basic reason for being here.”  Mr. Wylie goes on to explain that one great ideal given lip service is liberty. Liberty, he writes, is subjective, an individual matter for which individuals must be held responsible; it “depends wholly on individual integrity…on insight, foresight, and hindsight also.” It does not depend on a universal education but on the moral part of education that teaches honesty and preaches wisdom. “Where individuals make erroneous or stupid or avaricious choices – as they do in this nation almost universally – liberty dies that much. In its place comes slavery – slavery to instinct, to bosses, to lathes, to generals, to a state, which is then the repository of instincts instead of the church.” We are referred to our hypocrisy: “While we have alternately scorned and dread the physical regimentation of the totalitarian societies around us, we have proceeded with the regimentation of our attitudes, prejudices, feelings and values in a parallel manner, if not to an equal degree. To read the same stories, to see the same movies, to purchase from the save advertisements, and above all to listen to the same radio programs, fifty million oafs at a time, is to accept unwittingly a stringent regimentation.”

But if people unsubscribe to their hackneyed newspapers and insipid glossy magazines, turn off their televisions, stay off the Internet, and read heroic comic books, Barrack Obama would not be able to save the world for the downtrodden and thus fulfill the prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. Surely it would take a superman to lift the power elite off their backs. He is right when he says that he is not the usual kind of candidate for the presidency.  First of all, he is a dark-skinned mulatto who, as one critic put it, is obviously prejudiced because he is familiar with more black people than white people. And he was raised in Hawaii, which is barely a state, and in Indonesia, a Third World country, where he probably ate a lot of rice; hence he barely meets the qualification for the presidency, that he be a natural born citizen, born, bred and corn-fed in this great nation of ours. Never mind that he is also a tough Chicago resident, and a Harvard lawyer with a golden tongue marinated in the Greek and Roman trivium – notwithstanding scientific progress and the suppression of the classical curriculum, the first three of the seven liberal arts –grammar, rhetoric, logic – still rule the world. Never mind that we have had distinguished black WASPs in high government. We must not have Big O in the Oval Office. But ‘O, how sweet that justice would be given the fact that slaves helped build the White House and the Capitol – slave owners were paid $5 per head per week, from which they paid the cost of feed, while German and Irish immigrants were each paid from $4.65 to $10.50 per week.

Conservatives are naturally running scared from this heroic candidate, as if he were their repressed shadow suddenly surfaced by the Unconscious, which is at bottom the collective, the universal mother of all individuals, who in their differences are, presumably, originally evil. It is not really the shadow’s fault that he is running for the presidency: he rightfully declares that the election is not about him, but about “you.” Everybody must have known who President Bush was, and they are responsible for electing and re-electing him, so they must have gotten the leader they deserved. But the Big O is basically an unknown quantity, his true agenda hidden in darkness. But not really, if he speaks truly: he would tax the rich and pay the poor; he would lead the alternate energy crusade, and make American independent of foreign oil producers; everyone who commits to public service shall get a higher education under his regime; the compassionate-conservative public-private alliance of the Republicans will be put to shame by an even more compassionate, Democratic alliance, which will of course include NGOs funded by Mr. Soros, who is made out by fundamentalist preachers to be the Devil incarnate. Unfortunately, the United States will still be the only civilized nation in the world without national health care, but at least the premiums will be cheaper if Mr. Obama is elected. Men and women will get equal pay for the same jobs; gays and lesbians will have the right to visit their significant others in hospitals; women will have control over their bodies. And so on. Family values are briefly mentioned.

Republican or Democrat, it is really all about the money, or rather about who gets it.  Money is a form of power, purchasing power, and is virtually worshipped as God in our peace-prize-winning economic way of life. While religion is the worship of absolute power, politics is its relative distribution. The church has its politics and the state has its religion. The candidates are trying to bribe us with our own money. The rub is in the redistribution. The high priest of the Democratic Party wants a more catholic distribution. The old warrior of the Republican Party is bound to protest the catholic redistribution plan, notorious for its compassion towards the poor, many of whom do not want to work hard for a living. Florida State Representative David Rivera of Miami summed up the Republican attitude towards the good soldier: “McCain might not be the most charismatic candidate, but the prospect of an Obama presidency is scary enough to energize our folks to work very hard for John McCain.” Liberty is wanted to pursue property, in the name of God if need be. The first draft read, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property.” Happiness was substituted as an afterthought. Is there not a higher god or ideal possession than money, or the property it can buy? We think our heroes should strive for perfection, should actually represent perfection. Can we not pool ten percent of our gross incomes and construct a more perfect collective union with the proceeds collected? Surely that is what a moral constructivist would do if he did not believe that nothing is perfect and that nothing fits all because nothing is real. Therefore he would keep his liberty and his property to do as he pleases. After all, liberty and property are the pillars of a free society.

Matthew Arnold criticized the narrow, economic view of life, that the free pursuit of property constitutes its meaning, in his 1869 essay, Culture and Anarchy. He also took freedom of speech to task, the notion that “when every man may say what he likes, our aspirations ought to be satisfied. But the aspirations of culture, which is the study of perfection, are not satisfied, unless what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying.” Freedom, he said, is worshipped regardless of the ends desired. But freedom is so much machinery. The central idea of personal liberty for its own sake fosters anarchy.

“The English ideal is that everyone should be free to do and to look just as he likes. But the culture indefatigably tries, not to draw ever near to a sense of what is indeed beautiful, graceful, and becoming, and to get a raw person to like that.” The culture of which he speaks is obviously a higher culture than what we call the popular or vulgar culture to this very day: the cultivation of saying, doing and getting whatever is liked. Candidates for political influence,” Arnold writes, “caress the self-love of those whose suffrages they desire, knowing quite well that they are not saying the sheer truth as reason sees it, but that they are using a sort of conventional language, or what we call clap-trap, which is essential to the working of representative institutions…. I admit that often, but not always, when our governors say smooth things to the self-love of the class whose political support they want, they know very well that they are overstepping, by a long stride, the bounds of truth and soberness.”

Today free speech in the Democratic and Republican conventions identifies the oil supply as the most important thing in the United States – both presidential candidates would liberate America from its dependence on foreign oil, naturally produced by dangerous nations. In Matthew Arnold’s day, coal was the thing: “Our coal, thousands of people were saying, is the real basis of our national greatness; if our coal runs short, there is an end of the greatness of England. But what is greatness? Culture makes us ask. Greatness is a spiritual condition worthy to excite love, interest and admiration…. What an unsound habit of mind it must be which makes talk of things like coal or iron as constituting the great of England, and how salutary a friend is culture, bent on seeing things as they are, and thus dissipating delusions of this kind and fixing standards of perfection that are real…. Never did people believe anything more firmly, that nine Englishmen out of then at the present day believe that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being so very rich. Now, the use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standards of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery…. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines.” The Philistines are responsible for the “fashion of teaching a man to value himself not on what he is, not on his progress in sweetness and light, but on the number of railroads he has constructed, or the bigness of the tabernacle he has built.”

Matthew Arnold’s high culture, that which cultivated “sweetness and light,” was fostered by the established church. “The great works by which, not only literature, art, and science generally, but in religion itself, the human spirit has manifested its approaches to totality, a full, harmonious perfection, and by which it stimulates and helps forward the world’s general perfection, come, not from nonconformists, but from men who either belong to establishments or have been trained in them.” As for God, Matthew Arnold quotes Luther: “A God is simply that whereon the human heart rests with trust, faith, hope and love. If the resting is right, then God too is right; if the resting is wrong, then God too is illusory.” Arnold explains: “The worth of what a man thinks about God and the objects of religion depends on what man is; and what man is depends upon his having more or least reached the measure of a perfect and total man.” It would seem, then, that if a man is not much to speak of, neither is his god.

It is, then, the people who must enlighten the establishment, not vice versa. “The excellent German historian of the mythology of Rome, Preller, relating the introduction at Rome under the Tarquins of the worship of Apollo, the god of light, healing, and reconciliation, observes that it was not so much the Tarquins who brought to Rome the worship of Apollo, as a current in the mind of the Roman people which set powerfully at that time towards a new worship of this kind, and away from the old run lf Latin and Sabine ideas. In a similar way, culture directs our attention to the current in human affairs, and to its continual working, and will not let us rivet our faith upon any one man and his doings.”

Matthew Arnold’s culture of sweetness and light is a study of perfection, and the realization of neighborly love. “It moves by the force, not merely or primarily of the scientific passion for pure knowledge, but also of the moral and social passion for doing good…. It consists in becoming something rather than in having something…. Religion says: the kingdom of God is within you; and culture, in like manner, places human perfection in an internal condition, in the growth and predominance of our humanity property, as distinguished from our animality, in the ever-increasing efficaciousness and in the general harmonious expansion of those gifts of thought and feeling which make the peculiar dignity, wealth and happiness of human nature.”

“What is alone and always sacred and binding for man is the climbing towards his total perfection, and the machinery by which he does this varies in value according as it helps him to do it…. The great thing, it will be observed, is to find our best self, and to seek to affirm nothing but that…. By our everyday selves, we are separate, personal, at war; we are only safe from one another’s tyranny when no one has any power; and this safety, in its turn, cannot save us from anarchy. And when, therefore, anarchy presents itself as a danger to us, we know not where to turn. But by our best self we are untied, impersonal, at harmony…. This is the very self which culture, or the study of perfection, seeks to develop in us; at the expense of our old untransformed self, taking pleasure only in doing what one likes or is used to do, and exposing us to the risk of clashing with every one else who is doing the same!”

Now we notice that Matthew Arnold spoke not of constructing the best of all possible selves, but of finding the best self and developing it, as if it were a gift of God already accessible to everyone. He was a liberal authoritarian; i.e. he found his liberty in conformity to traditional ideals; his Hebrew religious freedom was in Hellenic cultural order. In any event, he found it convenient to make the most of the given establishment instead of putting his faith in the anarchic trend. His best self or god was within everyone as one god. Strictly speaking, he was not a moral constructivist. He complains that, “Not only do we get no suggestion of right reason, and no rebukes of our ordinary self, from our governors, but a kind of philosophical theory is widely spread among us to the effect that there is no such thing at all as a best self and a right reason having claim to paramount authority.” Wisdom, then, would be to give and take instead of to fight one another, sticking to our choices as best we can. If we would all “follow freely our nature taste for the bathos, we shall, by the mercy of Providence, and by a natural tending of things, come in due time to relish and follow right reason.” Hence, reports the Times, we stand on equal laws and a liberal system of free speech and action.

He calls the faith in Providence to coordinate doing what one likes into an harmonious outcome, Quietism. “What a depth of Quietism, or rather, what an over-bold call on the direct interposition of Providence, to believe that these interesting explorers will discover the true track.” Still, he expects each and every one of us to discover within and cultivate our best respective selves, which reside where sweetness and light prevail, a realm presided over by the Best Self. Somehow our self-spelunking will uncover the treasure. We might need the guidance of experienced explorers and miners of deserts and mountains and professors of the traditional lore of church and university. We may eventually know if they lead us astray, for if the Light at the end of the tunnel is within everyone to begin with, the truth shall eventually be known again, and shall set us free. In the final analysis of constructivism, there is perhaps only one true constructivist, who remains unseen.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

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Reviewed by Willie Maartens 9/5/2008
Beautifully written and very provocative. Well done. I will make a point of reading more of your writings. Very best wishes. Willie
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 9/5/2008
interesting




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