The Moralist – Allen Wheelis

Chapter I
Nihilism

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Life is the referent of value. What enlarges and enriches life is good; what diminishes and endangers life is evil. We put aside the question of whose life, for upon that reef the ships of Christ himself break asunder. Let us for the moment, our only moment of agreement perhaps, regard life inclusively, and agree that value refers to life. To poison the air is bad; to preserve an atmosphere we can breathe is good; and good and bad here refer only to the effect upon life. For if we conceive a lifeless planet we find no reason to prefer oxygen to methane; there is no better or worse, any old atmosphere will do, or none at all.

Those most concerned with good seek after certainty. More than others they know that designations of good may be arbitrary, may therefore be mistaken, and that mistaken good may prove to be evil, may generate monstrous consequences. And not only certainty do they seek, those persons in quest of the good, but some particularly ultimate and unchallengeable certainty; for they know that arbitrary and mistaken good may appear as self-evident truth, that many such truths have entered unexamined into our convictions, have in time been hallowed by tradition, have woven their patterns through our lives, have become sacraments, have dominated conduct from within, needing no enforcement, and so have held sway over human affairs for age after age of what we now call evil.

Needing such certainty every age achieves it, and every certainty is eventually discredited. Throughout the Middle Ages God vouched for designations of good and evil. With the Modern Age, in a great burst of optimism, we came upon a new method of arriving at certainty, the scientific method, believed that the truths so achieved would endure forever. Newton’s laws became the archetype of such sureness, and we hoped to apply the method which had yielded these presumably immutable laws to the behavior of men and of nations. Gradually this vision has faded, now is lost. The methods of physics do not encompass life, and the behavior of men cannot be reduced to causal formulations. Physical science itself, delving ever more deeply into the finest structure of matter, reaching in our times the tiniest jewels of the great clock, finds not predictability but indeterminacy; and the law of the inverse square, that very model of lawfulness, has had itself to be revised. We live now on the far and ragged edge of the Modern Age. The market for absolute truths, scientific or social, is in shambles. No one buys, not at any price; and moralists, knowing this but believing it nonetheless necessary that designations of good be certain, be derived from principles of unchallengeable and immutable truth, turn away in despair, sail white boats in blue bays, sniff out the clean air, become connoisseurs of wine, cultivate their gardens.

Meanwhile weapons of demonic and upward-leaping potency proliferate everywhere on the blue sphere. The holders of power act, and, without conviction in the principles which once shaped ends, their actions proceed toward whatever ends the means at hand are suited to, and the only value is the efficiency with which we do whatever it is that we do. We have gained systems analysis, lost the knowledge of good and evil.

Remembering our six thousand years of diary-keeping and all the evil therein recorded, all wrought in the name of goodness, we try to console ourselves, to think it better this way, better even that we drift into evil than march resolutely toward some good which as we reach it may transform itself into evil. But we are not consoled. We are lost.

We cannot again believe in certainty, will find no absolute, must indeed make sure we find no absolute, yet must somehow find heart to take up again a concern with what is good, with what is right and what is wrong. We must accept that the most careful designation of good will yet have in it something arbitrary, that the most basic principle we ever utter will yet be fallible, may prove in time false -including this very principle here stated, that we must try, that trying may make a difference.
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Chapter II
Antithesis of Morality
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Freedom is not one moral value among many, but the necessary condition for all morality. Without the possibility of acting other than one did or does or might act there is no responsibility, and without responsibility no morality. Freedom derives from choice, and choice in turn from awareness-from a steadily growing consciousness of the world which, reaching eventually a certain extent and intensity, turns back upon itself to include the knower with the known, and in that awareness creates the possibility of acting this way or that. For the existence of options of which we have no awareness confers no freedom. It is only in having the choice, in knowing we can do this or that, that we begin to ask which is better, which is good, which is evil? The genealogy of morals, therefore, goes back to that evolutionary process of gradually extending awareness which reaches, in man, that reflexive intensity which creates the condition for freedom, which freedom in turn then creates the condition for morality.

Chapter III
Goodness and Morality
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“There is only one thing,” writes Joseph Fletcher, “that is always good and right, intrinsically good regardless of the context, and that one thing is love….Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else.”

Would that it were true, but the long record of crime in the name of love, all those holy crusades, indicates that love is a poor criterion of justice. Nor has any other good a better claim-not equality, not brotherhood, not even liberty. We must realize, writes F. A. Hayek, that rules of justice are in the nature of prohibitions. “Injustice is really the primary concept and the aim of rules of just conduct is to prevent unjust action. . . . Free men who are allowed to use their own means and their own knowledge for their own purposes must therefore not be subject to rules which tell them what they must positively do, but only to rules which tell them what they must not do. . . . The rules of just conduct thus merely delimit the range of permissible action but do not determine the particular actions a man must take at a particular moment.”

The field of ethical thought is so divided: on the one side love of others, on the other respect for the rights of others. Positive morality is revolutionary, negative morality is judicial; the one is embodied in Rousseau, the other in Hume. Positive morality dictates our purposes; negative morality leaves purposes for us to determine, but sets limits which guard the freedom of others to pursue their purposes, limits which our purposes, whether selfish or unselfish, are not permitted to exceed. The one asserts love and tends to be religious, the other asserts justice and tends to be secular. The one appeals to compassion, the other to fair play. Positive morality is proud, believes great things may be achieved, raises banners, sets out on crusades; negative morality is modest, believes some things may be achieved but never a radical cure, is unmoved by banners, declines crusades. One is a striving to achieve, one a taking pains to avoid. We have a spontaneous preference for the positive, and the greater our generosity and warmheartedness the stronger this preference; the negative settles on us as a dismal fog. The one appeals to our creativity, our trust in the heart, our willingness to risk, our hope to transcend ourselves and merge with others; the other appeals to our cautiousness, our trust in law, our separateness.

The illusion in this dilemma is that these two good things, love and justice, contend for the same prize, the supreme right to guide our lives; and the key to the conflict is the recognition that they serve different goals, are complementary, depend upon each other, are equally necessary. We are confused by using one word, morality, ‘for both; for clearly we cannot have two moralities. Pious Sundays followed by rapacious weekdays, soldiers who are good boys at home but murderers of unarmed civilians in foreign jungles-this is just what morality is meant to prevent. The two good things need different names: positive morality is simply goodness, negative morality is simply morality.

Goodness and morality are equally necessary to human life. Goodness without morality is dangerous in the extreme; morality without goodness is sterile. Both derive
from our ability to see ourselves in others; but from this primary identification they develop along different lines: one leads to love and thence to goodness, one to respect and thence to morality. Goodness is spontaneous, generous, outgoing, is marked by compassion, empathy, unselfishness, at times by self-sacrifice, is symbolized by Christ who said: “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Morality is reflective, judicial, marked by the recognition of limits which define our freedom. This freedom is limited and precious, has been hard won, and we will not give it up, would die to uphold it. A free man is not a slave who has escaped his master; such a man is but a runaway slave who may be caught and returned to servitude. A free man, though he may be overpowered, may be killed, cannot be reduced to servitude; something in him asserts freedom as an inviolable right. It is not negotiable. He does not ask that others respect this right, he requires it; and it is ultimately his willingness to die for this freedom which forms the basis of his demand that others respect it.

Mankind enters history as free men and as slaves. As far back as we can see, this division has never been absent, remains with us today. There was a time we cannot remember when manlike creatures wandered the earth in a state of nature. They did not live alone but in groups, and unlike other animals who fought each other and parted, they fought each other and killed. Those who were weak, or were unwilling to kill, perished; those who were both strong and willing to kill survived, and spared some of the weak who would accept servitude, and so began the condition of master and the condition of slave.

It is not to those ancient masters that we owe the beginnings of morality, but to those ancient slaves. Masters then as now are content with the way things are; it is slaves who make for change. Nietzsche was right, Christianity is a slave morality; but there is no other kind. All morality goes back to that rebellion with which the condition of servitude is refused. The runaway slave simply escapes, but rebellion asserts a value with which morality begins.

It is in rebellion we see most clearly that primary ability to recognize ourselves in others which is the common source of both goodness and morality. The slave who runs away runs for himself alone, but the slave who stands up against his master rebels for all. The rebel has recognized a brotherhood with those beside him who bear the same chains, suffer the same lash. He knows he will die but finds courage to rebel because he acts in the name of all. He attacks the privilege of a few by authority of a right he ascribes to all. So the beginnings of goodness lead to that solidarity with others which makes possible the rebellion which creates the beginnings of morality, which in turn supports goodness, which provides then the basis for further rebellion. Behind us millions have hung from crosses, died in dungeons; our bones must ache for those whose bones were broken on the wheel.

A good man may be immoral. We must gram that those missionaries who sanctioned the murder of savages, those bishops who decreed the burning of witches, were good men, wanting to save those about to be damned, to bestow true faith, to give great gifts. Many of them, like Christ, gave up their own lives to such unselfish ends. They were nevertheless immoral in that they did not respect the rights of those who believed otherwise. An immoral man, likewise, may be good. The essence of the rights protected by morality is that they are rights, not privilege, that they may not therefore be either bestowed or withheld. Robin Hood is immoral in not acknowledging for the rich those rights which belong to all, yet good in the generosity and selflessness with which he distributes spoils to the poor. There is no motive, not even the most selfish, with which morality necessarily conflicts; and there is no motive, not even the most holy, with which conflict is not possible.

Morality is not a motivation but a limit; not endeavor or process or purpose, but a wall. It is not meant to make anything happen, but to prevent certain kinds of things from ever happening. To inquire of a person, “Is his life determined by selfishness or by morality?” makes no sense; for it ascribes alternativity to traits which, though either may be present without the other, may yet both be present or both absent. When we know of a person that he is selfish we still do not know whether he is moral. He is moral if, in those circumstances in which his selfish impulses conflict with the rights of others, those rights, installed in his own conscience as prohibitions, constitute a barrier which confines the behavior to which selfishness impels him within limits which protect others. Of such a person we may say, “He is moral” without diminishing the force with which we may say, also, “. . . and utterly selfish.” We need not admire him, would not have him as a friend, yet must respect his morality; it protects us from his unfortunate nature.

Likewise, when we know of a person that he is of loving and generous disposition, one who though himself hungry gives us his last bit of food, who would lose his life to save ours, we still do not know whether he is moral. He is moral if his loving impulses are reliably confined within limits which protect the rights of others, immoral if he believes that the goodness of his goals, the sincerity and the selflessness with which he pursues them, gives him license to violate those limits. A pure heart guarantees nothing, may sorrowfully send legions of heretics to the stake. To know the good is a dangerous thing; to know it for sure is usually fatal for somebody.

Morality is designed to secure the greatest possible freedom for everyone compatible with the restraints necessary for group life. It is not enthusiastic about human nature: although it knows the nobility and generosity of which we are capable, it knows even better our capacity for evil, addresses itself to that evil, builds a structure to contain it. It is concerned but indirectly with good, holds that if evil is controlled, goodness will have its best chance to flourish. A moral man is he who observes those rules of just conduct which have been defined by the traditions and the laws of the society to which he belongs. When we are so fortunate as to see a man risk his life to save a stranger, we do him and his gallantry a disservice to call it moral. It is an act of nobility and goodness, whereas morality is a structure of restraint.

These considerations apply in exact parallel to the behavior of nations. A nation may follow a policy of self-interest and yet, by virtue of respecting the rights of other nations, be moral; and a nation may sacrifice self-interest to help other nations and yet, if it does not respect those rights, be immoral.
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Chapter V
Force and Authority
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Authority derives from principle, force issues from the muzzle of a gun.
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In one decade the crime rate in America has doubled. Not because the force available to prevent it has been reduced; for such force has everywhere been increased. Force prevents crime when the police car cruises within sight, whereas authority, when it is present in the social order, installs itself in some measure in the heart of each individual. All of us, potentially, are criminals; we do not become actual criminals because this social authority operates within us. As this authority, embodied in political leaders and in social and governmental institutions, diminishes, the balance within us is upset; and some of us, who required that external reinforcement of internal prohibition for moral restraint, begin to act on impulse, to serve our own interest, to be accountable to no one.

As we have lost authority more rapidly than we have been willing to increase force, crime increases and order is progressively lost. If we greatly increase force-engage more police, suspend civil rights, execute felons on sight -we may regain Order, perhaps such order as prevailed in Germany in 1938, even as the erosion of authority continues. Is this the way we must go?

Or can we yet find some way to regain authority in social life? Since authority rests on principle, such a quest is moral, places the good above the expedient, may require us to choose a course of action we believe right over one which seems better suited to national security.
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Chapter VI
We and They
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If humanism refers to human nature it is a questionable standard of excellence; for our nature, with all its glories and triumphs of spirit, is marked by viciousness. If, on the other hand, humanism refers selectively to the loving, the creative, and the nurturing aspects of our nature, the doctrine is misnamed; for in that event it looks forward not to the preservation of man but to his evolution into something different from any humanity yet known to this planet.

After us, it is grimly said, come the roaches. Well? And why would that be bad? Because, it might be argued, if we are to have values at all we must make a stand somewhere, and the most logical place to locate the good is in that evolutionary progression toward greater awareness of which man occupies the furthermost point. Yet even so, such a temporary setback to this process as the disappearance of man on earth might conceivably serve a later and greater advance.

Birds, reptiles, insects have come to the end of the road, have achieved such physical specialization that they can no longer make significant change in response to an altered environment, in a changed world would perish. Even the apes have reached such a point, so adapted to tree life that were trees to disappear the apes would go too. The genius of man-which makes him lord and possessor of the universe, we are told-is to have avoided this dead end. So we survived the ice age, the black death, and so we will survive the end of trees, or anything else. Because we think, adapt by thought rather than physical configuration, evolve culturally. But specialization cannot see itself. The special feature of man is indeed the ability to think and to communicate; and one of the things we can think is whence comes the energy of the sun, and one of the things we have learned is how to create it. And another thing we can think is; “Better destroy the Russians because they are preparing to destroy us.” And the ability to think such things and persuasively to communicate them may prove, like the giantism of the dinosaur, the fatal specialization of man.

Where draw the line? Where find a limit for identification that escapes the arbitrary? That’s too much to ask, we’d settle for less: Where find a limit that diminishes even a bit the arbitrariness of the lines we draw, the limits we set? Is there any principle to guide the trajectory of identifications, to bring them to rest at a point which, though still fallibly arrived at, is less arbitrary than any other point?

Though we may never know how far community should extend, we know a limit beyond which it cannot go. In the tenth century there could have been no community of Incas and Europeans, for these peoples were unaware of each other’s existence, had not the possibility of contact, interaction, understanding. Likewise we cannot now, even if we should so wish, act in the interest of unknown forms of life in unknown regions of the universe.

The rational extent of community is the range of cooperation. If a man in a grass hut in Bombay prints a piece of silk with brilliant dyes, and if after many intermediate steps it comes about that I buy that silk and wear it around my neck, then I and that Indian are related by cooperative endeavor, and it must be my concern that he receives something in exchange, and, if he and his family are starving, their fate must lie on my heart, impel me to reach him with help without being halted at a border by considerations of national interest.

The growth of awareness and cooperation and relatedness proceeds ever outward, embraces greater variety, covers greater distance, longer time. This is the line of evolutionary development: knowledge and awareness expand. As the world that we know is larger than that of an earthworm, so the world of creatures yet to come may exceed our own. The limits of identification should correspond to the limits of understanding. They can be no greater; perhaps we should not permit them to be less. The understanding of man need not pause at national boundaries, reaches on to all mankind, and perhaps a bit further-to banyan trees, to the great blue whale, and the wild honking goose.

The organization of mankind into ever larger aggregates is the basis for gains both in goodness and in evil. Wherever we find moral progress, if we reduce it to the conditions from which it developed, we find the coalescence of peoples. And wherever we find growth of evil, an expanding magnitude of cruelty and destruction-and we find it everywhere-and reduce it to the conditions from which it arose, we arrive at the same process.

What kind of Hegelian joke have we concocted? Good and evil comprised of the same ingredients, derived from the same recipe! It’s true. And this is reason neither for despair nor for optimism, means only that the issue is open and uncertain. We may arrive at a world state or at no world at all. We may, if we must, so conceive the world that everything becomes rational. Hegel and Marx so conceived it; indeed all of us in the Modern Age, with our vision of mechanism, have imposed reason on the weather of our days. But we can’t have it for nothing, so had better be honest about the price: make everything rational and lose freedom; or, secure freedom and lose hope of justifying history as the working out of a rational plan.

Theodicy is theidiocy, and in our time theodicists have become theoddest of us all.

Chapter VII
Jungle and Community

Human society may be seen with equal ease as a jungle or as a community. Those who see a jungle call themselves realists. They observe that our pieties are masks for selfishness, that hard on the heels of the missionary comes the soldier, that as we go about the world proclaiming love and brotherhood we do business as usual, and that the usual business of mankind is exploitation and murder. Ask any U.S. Marine about the proud motto of his Corps, Semper Fidelis, and you will find he understands Latin perfectly: “Fuck you, buddy! I’ve got mine, now you get yours.” Anyone who doesn’t accept this translation is a “sucker.” Such realists see community, also, but see it as a false front, regard those who take it seriously as wishful thinkers. They make a cogent case; for in even the best-ordered society there is so much of dog-eat-dog that over Wall Street, over the Bourse, over the temples and palaces of the world, arises the very smell of jungle.

Those who see community feel that it is they who are the realists, that those who see only jungle are blind to the facts of community, and so inadvertently augment the quality of jungle. They see jungle, too, but see through it, they feel, to the underlying realities of social life. And they, too, make a cogent case; for in even the most disturbed and violent society there is still much of cooperation and mutual concern, and it is a matter of common record that many a Marine has turned back into a rain of Machine-gun fire to pick up a wounded comrade.

Both are true; neither view can exclude the other. In the behavior of ants we may believe we see pure community, and in a pack of wolves crazed by blood and turning upon each other, we may recognize pure jungle; but such unmixed states, if they exist at all, must be rare. Wherever we look at human affairs we see both.

They contend with each other, and either may increase at the expense of the other. In Germany in the first months of 1945 the jungle all but obliterates community. For years it has been a land of murder, of locked trains carrying millions to factories of death. Now as the German armies begin to collapse, as Allied bombing destroys German cities and industries at an ever-increasing pace, a further and more rapid breakdown of community occurs. German people turn upon each other in frenzied destruction. The People’s Court makes a mockery of justice, a circus for the amusement of the masses, as even the relatives and friends of the July 1944 conspirators are strangled in public ceremony. I Soldiers are warned that even the families of deserters will be shot, people who hoard food are shot, people who spread rumors are shot, people found on roadways without papers are shot, those who change address without notifying the proper authorities are shot. Between the shifting boundaries of the two armies bands of slaves who have broken free roam about ravaging deserted townships, taking vengeance on any civilians who remain. The structure of civilization falls away into rubble.

Yet even in this extremity of social disorganization there remained aspects of community: some telephone exchanges still worked, some public utilities provided service, some army units functioned as groups, some factories produced goods.
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No Constitution guarantees freedom, nor Bill of Rights, nor Writ of Habeas Corpus; all may be suspended in time of crisis, as they were for Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Freedom does not rest secure upon law, but requires a living tradition. “Institutions are always ambivalent,” writes Karl Popper, “in the sense that, in the absence of a strong tradition, they also may serve the opposite purpose to the one intended. . . . All laws, being universal principles, have to be interpreted in order to be applied; and an interpretation needs some principles of concrete practice, which can be supplied only by a living tradition. . . . Among the traditions we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ . . . of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity it has reached. This moral framework serves as the basis which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests where this is necessary. It is, of course, itself not unchangeable, but it changes comparatively slowly. Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework.”

Nature is amoral, morality is unnatural. Our lives are meridian to these poles. Love and hate, nurture and murder, they spring from our nature with equal authenticity. But nature no longer leads, authenticates nothing. We say love is right and hate is wrong, and so leave nature, struggle toward a moral order.

We live in a jungle and we live in a community. He who would assert either to the exclusion of the other will find ample evidence for the realm of his choice. We know both, but assert that the way of love, of community, of caring for one’s neighbor is right, and that the way of the jungle is wrong. No one leads us. We stand aside from nature, seek a god in the image of what we arbitrarily designate as our better selves.

Chapter VIII
Hierarchy
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Who is responsible for collective wrongdoing? Who should be punished for My-Lai? Shall we say that the right and wrong of conduct necessarily refer to human beings in their separateness, to persons who are guided, or who decline to be guided, by conscience? If so we will seek out those persons who committed the crime and those persons who had authority to stop it and did not. Or shall we say that responsibility for group action must be borne by the group as a whole, cannot be meted out to individuals in quantities proportional to the directness of their involvement?

We cannot, and need not, choose between these points of view. They do not contend, but refer to entities existing at different levels. The two levels are equally real. The responsibility for My-Lai is not partly individual and partly social; it is altogether individual and altogether social. One does not cease to be an individual, with individual insight and freedom and authority, just because one is engaged in group action. The collective guilt of the army or of the nation does not render innocent the soldier who shoots down unarmed women and children, whether or not he is so ordered. But neither does the guilt of individuals exonerate the group. Collective action depends upon collective effort and collective will; marauding armies abroad depend upon support from home; and responsibility for what these armies do must be borne by the nation.

England judges the actions of Nazi Germany as evil, decides that the right action for England is war. This decision must be judged-if it can be judged at all-in the context of rules of just conduct governing the behavior of nation with nation. If, being so judged, it is found to be just, and if the proper pursuit of this war requires the destruction of cities-including women and children, the aged and the ill, even those who oppose German policy, babes in arm who have neither insight nor freedom then such destruction is right, for the reason that German guilt is collective. England acts as moral entity against Germany as a moral entity: each knows the nature of its action, each has freedom, each is accountable. That the innocent perish is a pity, but is irrelevant to the moral problem, is indeed comparable to the observation that when the murderer is executed, his eye and his ear perish too. Though we may not ascribe guilt to these parts, neither may we ascribe innocence: neither is applicable, both are irrelevant. The moral agent in the case of individual crime is the whole man who plans and executes the murder; the moral agent in the case of war is the whole nation. By this view, England becomes guilty of wrong action in its conduct of a just war only if it destroys cities the destruction of which is unnecessary to the proper pursuit of the war.

But then who is to say, in war, what destruction is necessary? The victor rules. Dresden and Hiroshima were necessary; Rotterdam and Coventry were crimes against humanity.
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Chapter IX
The Meta-Conscious

We are more, than we know. Freud taught’ us this so thoroughly that no one any longer can doubt it. We are only just now, however, beginning to learn, further, that we are more than we can know. More than we can know ever. More both as individuals and as groups. More in principle, and so must live with an ignorance which is irreducible by any gain in knowing. More, not in the sense of unconscious or repressed, of something pushed aside or passed by, but in the opposite sense of something which goes before us, draws us forward, determines the configurations of our awareness but which is itself beyond the reach of awareness.

We have to be something before we can know anything. And when we have become something that can know something, the something we can know is less than the something we have become. When the knower studies knowing, the most he can learn is less than he knows. A rule of mental operation is not to be created by design, is not something that mind does, but something that mind is, one of the processes that constitute mind, and so determines those other things that mind can create. Rules of just conduct are not something we make, but something within us, already made, which we discover.

No computer can design another computer as complex as itself. If we imagine a succession of computers, each generation designed by its precursor, we see a degenerating sequence-electronic circuits becoming mechanical, thinking machines becoming adding machines, tasks assignable becoming ever more simple, keys sounding ever more faintly, then sounding not at all. Yet each generation of mankind creates another generation as complex as itself. And a bit more; for when we take a longer view it is clear that life does more than replace itself: it achieves a progression in complexity, in awareness, in knowing. But we do not achieve this with only what we know. Each generation in creating its successor uses and transmits as best it can what it knows, the accumulated store of a thousand generations, but uses much more, uses meta-conscious patterns which cannot even in principle be encompassed in awareness. For had we to replace ourselves with but what we know and can specify, we could not make a single human being, would leave the earth to a progeny of sophisticated robots which, as they in turn reproduced themselves, would rapidly become less sophisticated, and soon vanish utterly.

No one has seen this more clearly than F. A. Hayek. “We always know,” he writes, “not only more than we can deliberately state but also more than we can be aware of or deliberately test; and . . . much that we successfully do depends on presuppositions which are outside the range of what we can either state or reflect upon.” 1 This vision must alter our concept of man.

Christianity created an image of man as innately bad. For many hundreds of years, to understand man was to recognize his fallen state, to accept original sin, to feel guilt, and under priestly supervision to do penance, trying to be good, failing, confessing, trying again with contrite heart, failing always, until at last, weary and broken, we fall into the arms of our Father who, moved by Christ’s sacrifice, forgives us.

The Enlightenment destroyed this view. Man is innately good and reasonable, becomes bad only through the influence of bad institutions. Our task is to reshape these shaping institutions. This vision of man generated a wave of hope and optimism greater perhaps than the world had ever known. Original sin was replaced by original goodness and with it man began to design a good world by the use of reason. Hebert and Chaumette instituted the worship of reason as a new religion. God was banished and his institutions abolished. A Feast of Reason was celebrated in Notre Dame, a pretty actress taking the role of the Goddess of Reason. But the Revolution brought, not paradise, but Terror-Robespierre suspected treachery, Chaumette to save himself renounced Hebert, Robespierre beheaded them both, was then himself beheaded-and from .the Terror came Napoleon, and all over Europe men were dying on battlefields.

But the ideology of revolution was not spent, was just beginning. In 1848 there was another wave, another attempt to build a good society by the blueprints of reason. Marx mocked the new regime with the slogan of 1789: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity . . . what this republic really means is Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery. . . .” but did not mock as a cynic, was still dreaming Rousseau’s dream, still believing it possible to build the good society by conscious design, still confident he knew the way. And eventually he had his chance: the blueprints were let out and Russia returned the lowest bid; and though the architect didn’t live to see it, master-builder Lenin followed the plan. The world has watched now for fifty years but has seen no good society; and most of us, were we forced to choose, would sooner take our chances in the police state of the Czars than in the police state of the commissars.

In this century, in a mood of deepening disillusionment, we have come to feel that man has no nature, good or bad, but is infinitely plastic. We are what we do, and may do as we choose. We cannot look within for guidance, cannot be true to ourselves because our selves have no fixed design but are shaped by what we do; and there is nothing anywhere, neither God up there nor identity within, that can with authority tell us what to do. Our freedom is more radical and more dangerous than ever before.

This is the age of 1984. Everything is permitted. We may become devils or gods. The heroes of one war are the cowards of the next, and the nation which is friend to its neighbor in one generation may come in the next as conqueror. We are what we do, and those who hold power, who control the ever more sophisticated and effective media, can persuade the rest of us to do whatever they wish us to do, even perhaps to believe it is we who are so wishing. Man has no nature, writes Ortega y Gasset, only history.

Now this vision, too, is fading. Our time of arrogance is coming to an end. We cannot go back, cannot believe again in a fixed human nature, good or bad, but are learning to accept a fundamental ignorance. Not an ignorance to be conquered by more knowing, but one which will recede forever before our ever longer cognitive reach, recede and grow larger, never even in principle to be eliminated. It is true we are what we do, and true we can do as we choose, but always we do and choose more than we know, achieve more than we intend. Luther nails his demands on the door at Wittenberg with a clear sense of choice, of taking a stand; and the freedom is no illusion, is real-for he might have chosen otherwise, and in no sense can his act be necessarily derived from any antecedent state-yet in so choosing he makes reference to more than he can know, and achieves more than he wills. Our lives rest on foundations unknown and unknowable. Our ignorance is structural and necessary.

Those persons most intoxicated by the growth of knowledge, writes Hayek, are those most likely to become the enemies of freedom. For they conceive each gain in knowing as diminishing ignorance in corresponding degree, and imagine that because our gains in knowing have been so enormous in recent decades our ignorance may now be assumed to have shrunk to insignificant size. It must be time then to use our knowledge in the deliberate reorganization of society according to rational plan. Some resistance, they admit, may still be encountered from the uninformed and the reactionary; so an increase in coercion may for a time be necessary, perhaps for a generation or two, but is justified by the greater freedom and equality eventually to be realized.

But ignorance bears no such reciprocal relation to knowledge. The relation is direct, ignorance growing in the same measure as knowledge.
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