TEMPLETON AWARD


ETHICS AND LIBERTY


Armando Ribas, December 2010.



The history of mankind has been dramatic or even tragic. War was always the reason of states. In such a world, ignorance and lack of information was the natural character of societies. So poverty, sloth and barbarism prevailed for more than five thousand years. The very idea of freedom was alien to humanity where work was slavery and trade was despicable until very recently. Our own world as perceived from the past could not be more than a utopia, however we seem to have a romantic perception while we disqualify the present in ethical terms.

It is this ethical approach to the past while pretending in a rousseunian way that: ”Our souls have been corrupted in proportion as our sciences and arts have advanced toward perfection” hinders any possibility to understand the world we live in. Notwithstanding that romantic view of the past we are accepting an image of the so called Western Civilization as a coalition of Christian virtue and the reason of the Enlightenment. Consequently we are ignoring the deep ethical antagonism prevailing within our own Western society, regardless the antagonism with the Moslem world.

It was Karl Popper who in his essay:” The History of Our Time; An Optimist View” wrote: “I assert that our own free world is by far the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history”: There is no doubt that in spite of the present difficulties the world has improved since relatively recent time. But it is not only important to recognize the wonders of the present world, but it is even more important to understand the actual causes of this historical achievement.

The first thing that we have to recognize is that there was not a secular historical advance of the world. The history of mankind shows fairly clear that there was a turning point in time, and from then on the economy and the population started to grow. Let me remind the simple analysis of Simon Kuznets on this subject. In his “Modern Economic Growth” he wrote: “if per capita product had grown 15% per decade for three centuries before the 1960s, per capita product in the 1660s would have been 1//66th of the present level. But a per capita income at even a twenthieth of the present levels could not have sustained the population of even the most developed countries; and the assumed rates of growth in per capita product could not have been maintained in most countries for more than two centuries”.

One hundred years before, Karl Marx agreed with the above conclusion, and so he said in “The Communist Manifesto” :published in 1848 : “The bourgeoisie , during its rule of scarcely one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together”. Hence we may conclude that economic growth or the perfection of arts and sciences did not start before 1750.

Evidently the causes which determined this advance were not economic as such, but economic growth was the consequence of deep changes in ethical and political ideas. We may say then that the so called Industrial Revolution, actually was a philosophical and ethical revolution, which took into account man frailty as the starting point to organize political society. If was John Locke who for the first time took into account man frailty as a precondition for the organization of goverment. So he said that monarchs were also men in order to limit the prerrogatives of the kings. He also stated that men had natural rights which were: life, liberty, property and the pursuance of happiness. It was on such assertions that took place The Glorious Revolution in England in 1688. Later on David Hume said, “it is impossible to change or correct anything material in our nature, the utmost that we can do our circumstances and situation”. And that new circumstance was the political system of the Rule of Law. That is the limitation of political power and the protection of individual rigths.

Those principles were carried out even further by the Americans, sometime later, and in that sense allow me to quote Ira Glasser in that respect who wrote: “The early Americans did indeed invent a new form of government. But they did more than that: they declared a new purpose for government. That new purpose was the protection of individual rights. No government had ever before been created primarily for that purpose. Before 1787, the role of government was assumed to be the enforcement of community consensus aimed at making citizen virtuous and moral”. In other words Americans learnt Locke and Hume approach to human nature in order to organize government accordingly, under the Rule of Law.

Then with respect to individual rigths it is important to recognize the ethical meaning of the rigth to the pursuance of happiness. That rigth is the actual recognition that private interest is not contrary to general interest. That is why we consider that the concept of individual rigths is the opposite to human rigths. Human rigths are supposed to be that the people should have the rigth that government provides them the happiness. So it was in the United States where for the first time the written constitution, along with the role of the Justice Department, determined the limitation of political power and the respect for individual rigths.


My contention then, is that the Anglo American political philosophy is not the product of any particular religious belief or any race. If Webber theories respecting the protestant capitalist ethics were right, then the industrial revolution should have taken place originally in Germany which was the cradle of Protestantism, and not England, where the break up with the Pope had sexual and economic connotation rather than theological. It was not either the result of a racial component, because even after Anglicanism prevailed during the Tudors, Great Britain continued being a poor country, where there was no freedom. David Hume in his History of England describes the situation in the following way: “The English in that age were so thoroughly subdued that like the Eastern slaves, they were inclined to admire those acts of violence and tyranny, that were exercised over themselves and at their own expense”. And with respect to the Cromwel revolution he said :”England had never known a more severe and arbitrary government than was generally exercised by the patrons of liberty”.


Most unfortunately I can say that the true antagonism in the world is not cultural or religious, but ideological. Socialist values are accepted as such, both by religious beliefs as well as by the romantic rationalism. In order to understand the reality that we are facing in the world today, it is necessary to understand this historical ethical and philosophical antagonism, and to achieve that understanding has been and still is my quest.

Hence there is a great confusion in the world and even more in that part of the world that considers itself as representing the Western Civilization. This confusion arises in two realms: the semantics and the conceptual. The first of these confusions is the result of ignoring the ethical and the political philosophy antithesis between the Anglo-American philosophy and the Franco-German one. As Balint Vazzony once wrote, they are as different as day and night. That confusion arices from the Enlightment and the French Revolution. This fact has been recently recognized by Peter Drucker when he said: “It cannot be denied that the Enlightment and the French Revolution contributed to liberty in the XIX century. But its contribution was totally negative”. Actually what he was saying is that totalitarianism was the result of the Enlightment and so he says: “There is a direct line from Rousseau up to Hitler, a line that incuded Robespierre, Marx and Stalin”. And I would add Kant, Hegel Fichte and Herder. More recently Jean François Revel in his last book “Last Exit to Utopia” agrees with that conception and says: “Totalitarianism is Europe great modern innovation, its gift to the political thought”.


At the same time, that philosophical confusion to which I refer as the syncretism of Western philosophy, is the pretentious nirvana of democracy in the West. Conceptually, democracy may be divided in two antithetical systems: the rule of law and the majority rule. Majority rule is the opposite of the protection of individual rights. The apparent rights of the majorities is no more than the absolute power of governments in the name of the people, that is the new deity. That is in Aristotelian terms demagoguery and that is why democracy fail in Latin America, and so it was in Europe where Hitler and Mussolini represented majority rule at its most common name: reason of the state.


In that respect we should remenber Thomas Jefferson words: “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for”. And James Madison added: “in a society under the form of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker anarchy may as truly be said to rein as in state of nature where the weaker individual is no secured against the violence of the stronger”. In those words we have the asserted ethics of the Rule of Law which is that majority cannot violate the rigths of the minorities.


In Europe, since the times of Montesquieu and with the decided influence of Rousseau, democracy has been confused with socialism under the aegis of equality. Equality under the law is the opposite of that sort of equality which in socialism leads to the arbitrariness of government, which appear to be representing the ethics of the society against private interests. Unfortunately the left has monopolized the ethics of the society against the materialism of private interest. That is, the assumption that private interests are against the general interests becomes the excuse of socialism to violate the rule of law, that is the limit of political power.


The acceptance that democracy is the result of universal suffrage and capitalism the materialism of the private interest is the cause that the left has done what Rush Limbaugh have called “political cleansing” and monopolize the ethics of society in the name of equality. So the system of the rule of law had been called by Marx, capitalism. In that sense, the systems becomes the realm of materialism through the two Marxist approaches: the alienation and the theory of exploitation. Hence, the left appears to be the moral defensor of the people violating individual rights.


In the last years there has been an increasing concern in the United States for what is now known as the American exceptionalism. The relevant question then is what has been the cause of that exceptionalism. The answer to this question is trascendental because depending on it, it will be possible or not for other countries to achieve freedom. There are some theories, that pretend to explain the American exceptionalism as the result of the inheritance of British freedom. I am going to take into account Hume’s history of England because I do believe that the United States owes to him the main philosophycal principles of the American exceptionalism. So referring to the times of the Tudors he said: "The Brittish in that era were so subdued that like the Eastern slaves, they were inclined to admire the acts of violence and tyranny that was exercised over them and their cost". And continue: "If England had continued being as it was at the time of Elizabeth I, we would be as poor as the Bavarian Cost". And referring to the Cronwell revolution he said: "England had never known a more severe and more arbitrary government, than was generally excercised by patterns of liberty".


Last but not least he wrote about the ancient English society: “Such a state of society was very little advanced beyond the rude state of nature: violence universally prevailed, instead of general and equitable maxisms. The pretended liberty of the times was only an incapacity of submitting to government…” Sorry for the lengths of these quotations, but I consider them of the utmost importance in order to validate or not, the arguments of the authors concerning the origin of American exceptionalism. If in England in that era liberty prevailed, as the authors sustain, then which was the reason for the pilgrims to abandon their home country? We should also remember that during the Tudors and Stuarts kingdoms, there were in England the Court of the Star Chambre and the Court of High Commission which was to fulfill the role of the Inquisition. I can say then, that liberty started in England in 1688 with the Glorius Revolution, but that was very much later than the entrance of the Pilgrims in America. That was the time when the Stuarts were expelled the second time from the throne of England. It was then when for the first time Locke’s liberal principles were applied- Hence given the fact that monarchs were also men it was necessary to limit the King’s prerogatives and respect individual rights.


Now coming to the history of the United States, let us analyse the book of Catherine Drinker Bowen, "The Miracle of Philadelphia".. There the author explains the difficulties faced by the Founding Fathers in order to approve the Constitution of 1787, which actually changed the history of the world. In that respect she shows that the states were unwilling to form a national Government and: “it was more difficult to go from Boston to Philadelphia than going to London”. Then she quotes John Adams, when he said: "that from the beginning I had seen more difficult from our attempts to govern ourselves than from all the fleets and armies of Europe". According to Peter Butler: "The interests of Southern and Eastern States were as different as the interest of Russia and Turkey". By the same token James Madison referred to the State legislatures in such terms that we could even think that he was talking about Latinamerican states. But then let us see what Hamilton thought as expressed in letter 15 of the Federalist: "We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of the national humiliation. There is scarcelly any thing that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation, which we do not experience".


Let me say that it is not my purpose to disquality the American exceptionalism, but on the contrary to recognize the brilliance of the Founding Fathers for being able to create a country of freedom in that difficult environment. And then the American eceptionalism is not in the field of economic, but in the ethical and political order. It is in that sense that I cannot but to recognize the influence of David Hume on the Founding Fathers and mainly on James Madison. It is really surprising the present confusion in the United States between socialism and liberalism, as well as the apparent ignorance of the conservatives of the liberal principles which were philosophical pillars of the exceptional American political system.


It is evident that when Madison was writing letter 51 of The Federalist, he was taking into account and even paraphrasing Hume’ s basic political thought. So Hume said: "It is only from the selfishness and confined generosity of men along with the scanty provision nature has made for his wants that justice derives its origin…. It is evident that the only cause why the extensive generosity of man, and the perfect abundance of everything, would destroy the very idea of justice, is because they render it useless”. Then following Locke’s principles of human nature Madison says: “But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections or human nature. If men were angels no Government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external not internal controls on government would be necessary.” Then I may conclude that the American exceptionalism does not depend on his history, culture or religion, but on the liberal ideology recognized by the Founding Fathers, and stablished as the Rule of Law, that is the limitation of political power and the respect for the individuals rights: life, liberty, property and the pursuance of happiness.