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Thursday, February 02, 2012

the full and free development of the personality: a byway

… for the subject of sleep is not the eye, but the common sense, which once asleep, all eyes must be at rest. – Sir Thomas Browne

Philoppovich not only has a sense, as an economist, of the intellectual structure of liberalism, but – and this is rare among economists – a sensibility attuned to the discontent liberalism produces. His survey of the triumph of the policy of free trade, with the ‘consumer’ as the fulcrum of society, does not stop there. He understands why one might question a picture of society that made it simply a vast tangle of transactions between buyers and sellers (even if he did not question the idea that, indeed, economic life had turned into a vast tangle of such exchanges, instead of – as Mauss would suggest – a richer tangle of different forms of exchange – and he understands inequality. Thus, after showing the success of liberal economics, he shows the unexpected result of the creating of vast enterprises and labor markets composed of increasingly de-skilled or monoskilled laborers. Thus, Philoppovich ends his chapter on liberalism on a note of uncertainty:

“ Economic individualism (liberalism) has not only effected changes in external living conditions,  but also changes in life’s ideals, for today more than ever our existence is oriented to the order of its material basis. But does, therefore, the idea of the liberal economic system remain unchanged, when society achieves the best order, that being the unhindered pursuit of their interest by individuals?  Experience teaches us that this is not the case, that other ideas of the state and society become strong, that with the growth of the political power of liberalism grow other interests out of the discarded one and out of newly created interests.”

He proceeds to examine the conservative reaction to the dissolution of what, since Burke, had been called the natural order, and to the socialist reaction that arose as a matter of class interest.

“The exploitation of the worker, that is, the ruthless utilization of his labor power became, through this economic system, an objective necessity. This fact, however, came into contradiction with the two principles, which liberalism itself had pronounced, with the principle, that in the whole domain of life commodities, labor was the producer, the creator, as Smith taught and after him the national economists, and with the principle, that with liberalism from its birth on had struggled for against the privileged, that all men are by nature equal. In the sentiment of this contradiction of their actual situation with the principle of the free and equal personality, which should be recognized in all men, the laborers united, however much they may have differed in their conception of the state, of society, and of life itself.” [53]

Philippovich distinguishes the socialists from the romantics in the former’s resolute farewell to the society of the natural order, of small artisans, of a middle class of independent worker-owners. Indeed, it was only the giant capitalist concerns that could create and disseminate the productive power of innovative technologies; as Fourier pointed out in the 1840s, however, the disjunction between social wealth, which capitalism enormously increased, and the enjoyment of that wealth, which was subject to severe and punishing inequality, called for remedies that would enable all to enjoy the wealth and all to enjoy, as well, more leisure.  Philippovich is sharp eyed enough to see that in the latter, we get to the key of the socialist motivation and its own nostalgia, its own connection to the conservatives.
In this view  the goal that is served by  abolishing private property and transforming it into social property we recognize the ideal of socialism. It is the highest development of the individual personality, which the economy subordinates as a mere means. Today, on the contrary, the higher goal of life is lost in the subordination of all interests to the material goals of the economy, in which art and science itself only serve production.” It is here that Philippovich’s sense of the socialist movement encompasses not only Marx, but Oscar Wilde – which perhaps takes fin de siecle Vienna, the city of the “gay apocalypse”, to see clearly. “To gain for all men the world of spiritual freedom, of beauty, of research, of aesthetic enjoyment , to create for them the opportunity of enjoying their existence through the unfolding of their personal spiritual talents and forces, that is the ideal that hovers before  socialism. It is the last consequence of the recognition of the leveling [gleichwertigkeit] of the human personality.”

The socialist ideal, then, is an existential ideal, which views the economic order as a means, not an end. The idea that the economic order has become an existential end, in modernity, survives in Karl Polanyi’s work, where it is redefined in terms of embedding: the ideal of the capitalist economic order is to embed the social entirely in the economic. By a paradoxical twist, a form of Marxism – associated, now, with Stalin – took up the ideal of the liberal economic order – at least as read by the 19th century socialists – and transposed it from an analysis of capitalism by way of its system of production into a social ideal in which all things exist for social production, thus effectively shutting down, as bourgeois crap, the whole discourse of the full development of the person.



So sorry to inform you but that is most definitely NOT a quotation by Sir Thomas Browne. I am closely familiar with his complete works and nowhere can such a statement be found in his entire oeuvre, unless you can prove otherwise by stating your precise source !

roger said...

The phrase of Browne's comes in the discussion of snail's eyes in the Pseudodoxia epidemica. You'll find the phrase at this link: