‘The Re-Enchantment of the World’ as Social Theory and Critique

Introduction

‘The re-enchantment of the world’ emerged as a concept in the 1980s in the work of Maurice Berman, in a work on the philosophy and psychology of science of that name, and became adopted as a tellingly evocative motif among certain environmental writers and theologians. Ironically, until now it has not featured much within the social sciences; ironically, that is, because the expression was a challenge to the sociologist Max Weber’s characterisation of the predicament of post-Enlightenment societies through a phrase he had borrowed from the poet Schiller, ‘The Disenchantment of the World’. Through ‘disenchantment’ Weber had in mind, the distancing from the immediate experience of nature – and, indeed, the experience of the sacred in nature that had predominated in the medieval mind – through the emergence of the modern scientific viewpoint, and the increasing rationalisation and bureaucratisation of society enabled by the technological and economic advances of the age, which together created a sense of alienation of the individual, from the natural environment and the social other.

We may ponder the extent to which Weber’s characterisation of his own day has, in fact, become more pronounced over the intervening century, with the rise of consumerism, digital technologies, managerialism, big data and the threats to the environment. The aim in this essay is to begin a discussion about the sociological dimensions of re-enchantment as a critique and alternative to the disenchanted state of modernity. This is not a call for a return to a prescientific, magical or mythical view of the natural and social worlds. Rather, it attempts to undergird theoretically the idea that progress is only measured by advances in the empowerment of the individual, spiritually and materially, against those forces that attempt to block or suppress it. It begins with an exposition and critique of the theory of orthogenesis proposed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1890-1955). Teilhard was not a sociologist, but a Jesuit priest and anthropologist. Nevertheless, his fusion of the religious and scientific insights gained through his life experience is a good point of departure for grappling with the idea of re-enchantment.

This essay explores and critiques another theme fundamental to the Western outlook and literary canon, which is the transformative moment in human history. This is biblical in origin, in the narrative of a divine providence, from the myth of the expulsion from Eden to the final judgement of the world. However, this narrative also finds expression in secular eschatologies, such as the Marxist conviction in the appearance of (or return to) a perfect communist society, driven by inherent contradictions in the economic structures and relationships in every hitherto existing form of society, or those social philosophies inspired by Hegel, such as that of Fukuyama, who believe that an ‘End of History’ will be achieved when the social form matches closely that in which the restless desires of humanity can be achieved. Teilhard himself foresaw such a moment, in which the material and divine will be fused, which he referred to as the ‘Omega Point’. I will contrast these perspectives with another, that of the evolution of both nature and society as stochastic, that is, open and random.

I have chosen to focus on these two thinkers – Teilhard de Chardin and Fukuyama – for another reason. Teilhard represents what could be called the enchanted view of the world, one of nature suffused by divinity, one of predestination and essential goodness. However, Teilhard’s vision was marred by his political naivety and his inability within his thought of dealing with the reality of human evil, a just criticism of his Catholic superiors in an otherwise unjustifiable suppression of his teaching and writing. Fukuyama, if anything, presents the completely opposite view: a disenchanted world in which the culmination of historical progress is a disinterested political state, which facilitates its citizens to pursue their individual means to alleviate their ennui. Fukuyama was heavily influenced by the Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojève, who saw in the establishment of the European Union, that epitome of a faceless and unaccountable bureaucracy, a political terminus, and so renounced philosophy to join its ranks. In addition, a discussion of re-enchantment would be incomplete without a consideration of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas constitute an important precursor. Therefore, finally, I will examine four tenets of his doctrine of the will-to-power, a critique of whose principal motifs will help characterise the scope of re-enchantment.

Differentiation and Integration in Nature and Society

Teilhard proposed the idea, known as orthogenesis, that the evolution of the cosmos, life, consciousness and human history were all linked and guided by the immanent presence of the divine in nature and the human mind. He saw evidence for this in the appearance of increasingly complex forms of life, in the appearance of increasingly human-like forms in the fossil record, and in the appearance of increasingly large brains and resultant rise in intelligence, processes which he referred to, respectively, as complexification, hominisation and encephalisation. Teilhard theorised that evolution had passed through three qualitative stages, that of existence, life and consciousness, and proposed that this foreshadowed a fourth and final stage, that of super-consciousness, in which the divine and human become fused, in what he termed the Omega Point. Powering these developments he asserted the agency of two types of energy, which he termed radial and tangential. Radial energy he surmised was responsible for the radiation of the complex variety of life from a single point of origin, while tangential energy bound matter into more complex arrangements that allowed the emergence of higher order

Teilhard considered that he was advancing a scientific account of evolution, albeit one that incorporated a theological perspective, and at the time he wrote The Phenomenon of Man, his ideas were considered an important contribution to the debate on science and religion and sufficiently influential that the prominent evolutionist Julian Huxley wrote an effusive introduction to the book, perhaps despite reservations. Today, Teilhard’s ideas on evolution are largely discredited, and almost universally so by evolutionary biologists. Evolution is asserted to be a stochastic process, guided only by the principle of differential survival through adaptability to changing environmental conditions, underlain by natural, random variation. I would add two caveats to this. While natural selection explains in a very satisfactory manner the adaptability of nature, it does not explain – without a great deal of apparent fudging and speculating – the appearance of new forms of life and the transition between forms, for example reptiles to birds, or the appearance of bipedalism. That is not to argue for creationism or a form of guided evolution, only to point out that our understanding of these processes is still incomplete.

However, while Teilhard may not have succeeded in adding to our scientific knowledge of the evolutionary process, there is a case that he has contributed to an understanding of human nature. In the concept of the emergence of the human mind/brain as ‘evolution understanding itself’, Teilhard has distilled the idea of humans as quintessentially and uniquely spiritual beings, even as we are continuous with the rest of nature. This brings me to the second caveat; even those who maintain a strict agnosticism and reductive interpretation of human biology – even those who advocate a forthright atheism – fail to be unmoved by the sacredness (their terminology) of nature and of the highest human cultural achievements. This does not constitute evidence for the existence and intervention of a divinity; it is, however, an argument that human nature represents a qualitative discontinuity with the rest of nature.

Furthermore, while the concepts of radial and tangential energies owe more to the ideas of vitalism and the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer than to empirical science, they are a useful tool for thinking about human social change, particularly in the more generic and less loaded terminology of differentiation and integration. These are widely observable tendencies in all societies throughout history; moreover, they are principles which tend to stay in balance. If differentiating tendencies, for example the desire for freedom, independence and personal glory, become too strong they result in social fracture, but tend to provoke moves towards greater integration, such as solidarity or cooperation. On the other hand, if integration becomes over-dominant, as it does in authoritarian and totalitarian states, this tends to provoke moves towards liberation and secession. However, differentiation and integration should be seen as analytical categories, not as predictive ones.

Freedom and Belonging as Interdependent Values

Shortly after communist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe were tumbling, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama produced a seminal essay entitled ‘The End of History’ in which he declared that the cold war had been won and the victor was liberal democracy. This seemed prescient at the time as dictatorships of the left continued to fall and to transform into at least nominal democracies. This declaration was in essence an update of a thesis advanced by Hegel that the liberal state of Prussia represented the terminus of historical development. Over the next decade, developments were to prove that Fukuyama’s assertions were just as premature as Hegel’s had been, with the rise of political Islam, a newly assertive Russia and the persistence in China of a one-party communist state, despite its growing affluence.

Despite these predictive failures, there is a core of powerful reasoning behind this school of thought. Hegel saw the liberal state of Prussia as resolving the inherent dialectical struggle between the spirit and the material. Perhaps more pertinently, Fukuyama saw in liberal democracy the system in which the eternal struggle for freedom and recognition could be realised most fully. Quite rightly, he saw that human historical destiny is driven by fundamental values that define our human nature, and that any system that thwarts these desires is bound to fail.

Fukuyama asserted that in fact liberal democratic societies manifested the necessary conditions for the realisation of freedom and recognition and that while history, as the unfolding of human events, would continue, ‘History’ as the struggle for a just and equitable society was basically over. This did not mean that he saw liberal democracy as a perfectly good society in which everyone achieved happiness. On the contrary, he saw it as a spiritual wilderness in which we are all responsible for instituting the activities which contribute meaning to our otherwise meaningless lives. While some criticise Fukuyama for being overly optimistic about the prospect for the triumph of liberal and democratic values, I find his view of the destiny of humanity to be deeply pessimistic. Although I accept the premise that social evolution is driven by deep-seated values, I believe that Fukuyama identified the wrong values, and that contributed to his vision of the end of history as disenchanted.

The ideal of freedom has been central to almost all discourses on the nature of our social being, but particularly those that have championed individualism. This has, of course, been primarily a discourse that has occurred in the tradition of Western thought, stretching from the ancient Greeks, through Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus and Luther, the Enlightenment philosophers to the modernists and post-modernists of our contemporary world. Yet even in those cultures that have not traditionally emphasised freedom, the desire for freedom and the yearning to express individuality and to break out of oppressive social constraints or hidebound customs lies dormant or quietly seethes below the surface. Therefore, freedom is arguably more than just a western idea, but a universal value for all cultures and a prime differentia from all other mammals.

But Fukuyama, like others in the rationalist and individualist tradition, committed the error of ignoring the other prime value of humanity, which is the need to belong. Belonging is something that we share with animals, because we are also animals, in our origins and in our instincts. Belonging, to return to the socio-political motifs explored earlier, is the most fundamental way in which the integrating factor manifests itself in human society. Unlike animals, though, our sense of belonging is not limited to an immediate family or troupe, but ranges over a far more extended span of groupings, including imaginary, abstract and mythic associations and constructs, such as organisations, nations, religions and concepts such as humanity.

Human belonging, therefore, is not primarily instinctual – even if it is instinctual in origin and basis – but deontological. That is to say, the forms of life to which we belong are structured by laws, rules, traditions, customs and beliefs, which are ultimately the expression of shared values; values to which we ascribe through willing association. This is as true for those forms of life which we may consider to be instinctive, such as family and tribe, as it is for the more abstract forms. Belonging, therefore, partakes of the freedom which we have already asserted to be a principal value; there is no belonging where this belonging is not fundamentally voluntary. I say ‘fundamentally’ because we are not normally in the habit of reminding ourselves of this on a moment by moment basis, bound as we are by other considerations of belonging, such as love and friendship, respect, duty, dependence, and so on. But any association (between adults, who are morally autonomous) which is not at its basis voluntary, is a form of servitude.

A moment’s reflection will suggest that this relationship between freedom and belonging is not one way. As our spirituality emerges from and matures based on our animal instincts, so freedom, as the basic expression of our spirituality, is given shape and density through our forms of belonging. Freedom without belonging, to the extent that it could exist, would be an evanescent quality, for the nature of our freedom is that we willingly sacrifice a degree of our moral autonomy as free beings for belonging, so that our freedom can find expression in forms of belonging, which might include such transcendent forms as belonging to a loved one, a deity or a country, and will almost certainly include such mundane forms as a profession and leisure pursuits.

Progress and Empowerment

Progress is an idea that comes in and goes out of fashion. It defined the Victorian era, both in terms of technological advance and in social welfare. For much of the past fifty years it is a term that has been associated with the Left, particularly in the areas of social justice. Still the question remains whether there is such a thing as progress, or is there simply change, as one set of ideas, concerns, technologies and problems gives rise to another. That would be compatible with the idea of social evolution, like biological evolution, being open, random and purposeless, in contradistinction to the ideas considered earlier – those of Teilhard and Fukuyama – who see an underlying teleology in human affairs.

Progress is a creed adopted by optimists and by optimistic ages, whereas one would probably characterise our times as pessimistic, despite the huge advances in technology. This pessimism is perhaps a manifestation of the ‘revenge effect’, whereby every advance seems only to create new problems; indeed, much of our pessimism arises precisely because of advances in technology and their arguably deleterious effects: on our health or safety, on our environment, or on our social being. There is a view, championed, for example, by James Lovelock, the proponent of the Gaia hypothesis, that as an evolved species we are constrained by the self-regulating system of the biosphere of which we are a part, and that being out of kilter with nature will only hasten our own demise or, certainly, diminution. In such a view, all our pretence to progress amounts to nothing; we in the developed world have not advanced in evolutionary terms beyond the tribes of the Amazon.

Failing a catastrophic failure of human civilisation, in which case Lovelock’s hypothesis would be vindicated in a world which would no longer comprehend it, I propose a more optimistic view, based on a phenomenological account of the reality of the accomplishments of the human spirit in science, art, religion, politics, economics and technology, one in which our experience of progress can at least be put to the test, rather than simply dismissed. That test would be the extent to which change actually empowers us as individuals. I see this as the single vector by which progress can be judged to have occurred or not. Looking at the scope of historical development, societies emerged in which the role of the individual came to play a greater role and in which, from an objective viewpoint, individuals became more equal and thus more empowered. Clearly, this remains an unfinished task, not only on a global level, but even within developed societies. In fact, I believe this will forever remain unfinished, as it is intrinsically impossible for human beings to be equal by any measure that we care to apply. However, inequalities and the conditions for disempowerment continually arise as society changes, whether that be in life chances, longevity, suffrage, wealth and poverty, health, education and skills, social status and wellbeing that need to be challenged at the individual and the societal levels.

Re-enchantment at this societal level can be understood as the recovery of the heroic and mythic views of human nature, from literature and religion, for example, and their reinterpretation into modernity. However, rather than a Nietzschean interpretation of mythic heroism as the will to power based upon pure physicality and warrior virtues, re-enchantment constitutes a counterpoint in terms of human spirituality and individual empowerment. It is explicitly an anti-Nietzschean stance.

Re-enchantment as an anti-Nietzschean programme

Nietzsche is notoriously difficult to pin down, as his most influential work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which developed some of his earlier themes, and presaged some of his later ones, was written in dramatic aphorisms, which are open to multiple interpretations. There is no denying Nietzsche’s influence on the twentieth century, as different aspects of his ideas contributed directly or indirectly to eugenics, National Socialism, the sexual revolution, liberal theology and postmodern philosophy. The four ideas to be considered are the Übermensch, the transvaluation of values, the death of God, and the eternal recurrence. Briefly, each will be contrasted with what I understand the implications of re-enchantment to be.

The Übermensch is Nietzsche’s anthropological prototype, a heroic figure, nominally based on the pagan gods of German folklore, who rejects the values of the contemporary society to live entirely by their own chosen values. The Übermensch – talented, ruthless, aristocratic and this-worldly – is the opposite of the stereotypical bourgeoise middle class person that Nietzsche despised. The middle classes are always a target for elitist figures, despite embodying many of the virtues of stable societies and their cultural values, and the mentality of the Übermensch has undoubtedly seeped into the attitude of the totalitarian ideologues of left and right of the past century and their intellectual apologists. Re-enchantment, by contrast, is the empowering of Everyman, the individuals who inhabit real societies, through addressing the symptoms and causes of disempowerment as they occur under existing conditions.

Surveying the conditions of his day, Nietzsche called for a transvaluation of all values, particularly those derived from Christianity, such as meekness, humility, love and forgiveness. It was not that he necessarily saw these values as wrong in themselves, but that he perceived European civilisation as weakening through the predominance of these values, and a belief in the afterlife, and in danger of sliding into nihilism. Christianity was effectively emasculating the will to power of the populace. The anti-Christian rhetoric of Nietzsche has been effectively transmitted into today’s western liberal societies, particularly through postmodern thought, which has come to dominate leftist academia and politics. This ignores the significant cultural inheritance of Christian beliefs and history to the development of the ideas of freedom and belonging, referred to earlier, along with the contributions of humanism, which belong to Everyman, not exclusively to the West. Through undermining the foundations of belief in freedom and authentic belonging, the modern Nietzscheans are disempowering Everyman, in preparation for becoming a vassal of the elites and the state.

As part of his critique of Christianity, Nietzsche, through the mouthpiece of Zarathustra, spoke of the death of God, meaning that belief in God and in an afterlife no longer had any power to motivate European civilisation to greatness. Ironically, though, Nietzsche invoked the pantheon of ancient deities in the mythical Übermensch in an attempt to re-enchant the world. This is also notable in the existential philosophy of Heidegger, a disciple of Nietzsche, who in his late works came to deify the concept of Being. It is in the nature of Everyman, as a spiritual being, that we seek the transcendent, whether that be in the religion of our civilisation and forefathers, in a new religious, philosophical or political movement, in great art, literature and music, in the experience and contemplation of nature, in creative pursuit or in surpassing human achievement in sport and adventure. Seeking transcendence is not only an expression of our freedom but also our desire to belong to the community of our peers.

Nietzsche despised the Christian morality founded on the idea of sin, the apologia for life as lived and the abasement of the self before God, as a fatal weakness. His riposte was the doctrine of the eternal recurrence that is best understood as a thought experiment: imagine that if we had to live each moment of our life over and over again eternally, would it be possible to live without a single regret? Nietzsche was not advocating living a blameless life in a conventional sense, but a Dionysian existence of indulgence, and one without shame. There are several things to say about this. First, there is an implicit fatalism in the idea of eternal recurrence, which hearkens back to pre-Christian paganism, although if my interpretation is correct it was probably postulated as an ironic rhetorical device. Secondly, it advocates a form of life entirely without thought of the consequences of one’s choices on others, except inasmuch as the other is the object of the will to power. Thirdly, the recognition of fault, apology and remorse, punishment, mercy and forgiveness are among the intricate processes that have evolved in all human societies to mend breaches in the state of belonging.

By contrast, re-enchantment posits an eternal resistance to the forces of disenchantment in a world which is constantly changing in a manner beyond anybody’s control. Specifically, it is a state of permanent resistance to the forces of disenchantment that are embedded in those institutional structures which suppress human freedom and interpose ersatz forms of association in place of authentic belonging. However, resistance is a subtle stance, in which benefits and risks have to be carefully considered, as do the consequences for oneself and the greater whole. There are selfish rebellions that seek to assuage an immediate discomfort or satisfy a pressing desire, but do not result in long-term benefit to the individual and may add to the bureaucratic burden borne by others if pursued in law. There are revolutions in the name of the liberation of the people, which strip all freedoms from the people and deliver them into penury and totalitarian nightmare. It is impossible to know the exact outcome of our actions, and this should be the first principle of resistance.

Not all institutions are disenchanted, and our resistance may take the form of testing a moral community before immersing ourselves within it. In other cases, we may seek to empower ourselves by evading the reach of certain oppressive powers. In yet other cases, we may seek to challenge those powers by agitating for fundamental change in vested interests, seeking to empower larger swathes of society. In all cases, though, it is the empowerment of the individual in the balance of freedom and belonging which is sought; this should be the second principle of resistance.

Conclusion

The re-enchantment of the world is rooted in a cultural hermeneutics: the reinterpretation of the enchanted myths of origins and heroic figures of the distant or the recent past, for clues to the transcendental meaning and purpose of our lives and the disenchanted state in which we often find ourselves. By way of a detour through a critique of evolutionary determinism (natural and historical) and the Nietzschean will-to-power it has also taken on social theoretical dimensions.

Accepting the view of social evolution as open and random and that, therefore, there is no finality and no determined course, nevertheless it is possible to assert that there is a definite telos to human societies, which is that they should be structured in such a way as to facilitate the empowerment of the individual in an incremental sense. Re-enchantment is not a terminal event in human history, except inasmuch as all desirable outcomes are declarative, if not historical, termini; nor is it, in any real sense, a process, for that also implies an inevitability and a course. Rather, it is a state of perpetual resistance to historically sedimented or newly emerging forces of disenchantment, which prohibit or threaten the individual expression of freedom and the free experience of belonging. The position of women and minorities in various societies is an example with a long history; the societal dangers posed by digital technologies is one that we are beginning to be aware of.

The re-enchantment of the world clearly has sociological and political dimensions, as a critique of, and policy for reform of, social institutions, respectively. In highlighting the central role of the empowered individual, it also has a moral dimension, a duty that falls on every person to resist, in however large or small a measure, the obtrusion of the disenchanted world upon our lives.

 

Further Reading

Maurice Berman (1981). The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Francis Fukuyama (1996). The End of history and the Last Man. New York: the Free Press.

Richard Jenkins (2000), Disenchantment, Enchantment and Re-Enchantment: Max Weber at the Millennium. [MWS 1 (2000) 11-32]. http://maxweberstudies.org/kcfinder/upload/files/MWSJournal/1.1pdfs/1.1%2011-32.pdf

Friedrich Nietzsche (2005). Thus Spoke Zarathustra: a book for everybody and nobody (translated by  Graham Parkes). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1961). The Phenomenon of Man. London: Harper & Row, Publishers.

In Defence of the Open Society against its Enemies

No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude (Karl Popper)

It is just over 70 years since the publication in 1945 of Karl Popper’s most widely known and influential book, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Written during the war years while in exile from Austria, Popper considered it to be his contribution to the war effort, as it sought to expose the faulty philosophical foundations of totalitarian ideologies such as fascism and communism. Popper identified, in particular, the tendency to historical prediction or ‘historicism’ that proclaimed the inevitability of the social forms advocated by these ideologies according to supposedly scientific laws of historical development. Thus his criticism can be considered an extension to political philosophy of his earlier and more important work on epistemology, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (published in German in 1934), that is, a critique of the epistemological foundations of these ideologies, and indeed of all ideology. The open society, exemplified by liberal democracies, Popper considered the only form of government able to effect political change without bloodshed and to undergo evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) development through piecemeal change and problem-solving. Notwithstanding the debates within scientific and political philosophy having moved beyond Popper’s contemporaneous concerns, his central epistemological concept of falsifiability, with its entailment of transparency and truth-seeking, has particular relevance to this information age, but is a principle which is markedly absent from interactions within the present political, economic and social fields. Some commentators see in this the demise of liberal democracy. I believe that while open societies have vulnerabilities, they are both more robust than these commentators allow and need to be more strongly advocated than we seem willing to do at present.

To drop the anti-historicist baton for a moment, if history has any point, or purpose, it is the struggle for human freedom. While freedom can be variously defined, all freedoms reside in empowerment, whether that be political, economic or moral freedom. What is certain is that all people, everywhere, desire these freedoms, even if, in some cases, that appears to be the freedom to relinquish their freedom by merging into the collective, the rigid, the backward, the insular, the dysfunctional and of course the criminal. These are the enemies of the open society that must, paradoxically, be tolerated even as they are resisted, even those who utilise the freedom of open societies to proselytise their diatribes against freedom. This paradox nevertheless elevates open societies above all other, for they enable the conditions that – given enough time – expose false theories and beliefs, false promises, false policies and false lifestyles to scrutiny and the unremitting evidence of consequences. Freedom involves risk and risk-taking; open societies can seem chaotic, but it is the chaos of dynamic disequilibrium from which innovation and change emerge. However, to reaffirm the anti-historicist perspective, it would be wrong to assume, pace Fukuyama, that liberal democracies represent the end point of history; they embody, imperfectly, a principle of the growth of knowledge that has had precursors in history that were prematurely extinguished, but appeared fully-fledged in Europe in the eighteenth century: that is the scientific method.

The scientific method is not exclusively about the accumulation of scientific knowledge in a narrow sense that is the specific concern of scientists; it is rather a generalised account of how we learn, which is given specificity in the scientific context. Knowledge as such is the interaction between ideas, in the form of theories, beliefs or opinions, and information, in the form of facts and data about the external world that constitute evidence. This much was practiced by Aristotle and the Arab scholars of the golden era of Islamic civilisation, but it was Francis Bacon who systematised it as a method and laid the groundwork for modern experimental procedures. After Bacon the general assumption was that gathering sufficient data was the basis for sound theorising. Popper however pointed out the logical error in such an inductive approach, in that no number of confirmatory examples was sufficient to verify a theory, but a single counter-example was sufficient to falsify it. Instead, he insisted bold imaginative conjectures should be subject to repeated attempts at falsification. This raised the epistemological threshold considerably for the acceptance of theory, to such an extent that practicing scientists, like the rest of us, largely ignore these strictures in the pursuit of knowledge, and accept the balance of probabilities. Popper’s deductive theory is more like a theory of truth; truth which, according to philosophers like Kuhn, can never be realised, but only approximated more closely. Nevertheless, it remains as a reminder of the standard to which, logically, we should subject our beliefs, opinions and theories.

There are numerous implications of the theory of knowledge for the open society. First, we should be free and educated sufficiently to think boldly and imaginatively about any subject. Secondly, individuals should be free to express any opinion and respect no orthodoxy in the pursuit of truth. Thirdly, beliefs, opinions and theories of whatever kind, whether philosophical, religious, moral or scientific, should be considered tentative, however plausible or implausible, until there is confirmatory or disconfirmatory evidence. Fourthly, while persuasion is a legitimate means of transmission of ideas, coercion never is. Fifth, there should be some presumption of respect for people as individuals as free and rational, though not necessarily for their beliefs. Sixth, society as a whole, and at regional and local levels, should be attempting to manage conflict and be committed to finding solutions to problems. Seventh, there should be transparency and the free flow of information. Eighth, there should be a universal commitment to the recognition of and correction of error. Ninth, open societies should empower their citizens, economically, socially and politically, that they can participate fully in the life and development of their society. Tenth, we as individuals should be committed to the improvement of our lives and our societies. These seem the most obvious corollaries.

Modern liberal democracies are not paragons of the open society; it remains something of an ideal. They are rather experiments, each of which have particular virtues and are grappling with particular vices. Yet they embody enough of the principles to be far preferable to any other social form. This alone explains why millions of people are on the move to escape persecution, war and poverty, or the grinding weight of custom and inequality, and make their way to developed countries. This creates problems for open societies, but by their nature they are solution-generating and self-correcting. It is, of course, on this basis impossible to determine what the solution to any particular problem, for example mass immigration, should be. In the short term I suspect there will be a number of solutions, some more viable than others, and hopefully we will learn from the best and improve our strategies. In the long term, the only solution is to transform all societies into open societies. This, though, can only be accomplished on the basis of the principles outlined in the paragraph above, not through military conquest. We have sufficient problems of our own to address. This naturally gives space to the enemies of the open society, the ideological opponents of freedom, to attack the very idea. They cannot do this, of course, resorting to the principles and strategies outlined above, but rather by misinformation and coercion, and, more subtly, by undermining belief in freedom (and its attendant responsibilities) and restricting opportunities for free speech.

Reason justifies open societies as the only desirable future for mankind and reason is their guiding operative principle. Passionate concern, dogmatism and pessimism are inimical to, and are inevitably generated by ideological opposition to, open societies. Nevertheless, attacks on reason come from some surprising places. Universities, which once were bastions of academic freedom, now incubate extremism on one hand, but on the other, under the influence of anti-rationalist postmodern philosophy, forestall the expression of unpopular or challenging opinions by ‘no-platforming’ certain speakers lest some people feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘uncomfortable’, though more probably lest they be disturbed from their dogmatic slumbers.  The law is another area where decisions taken on purely legalistic technicalities can have far-reaching and chilling consequences for transparency. A law being considered at the moment would effectively end the free press in the UK, at least their ability to investigate potential scandal and corruption, by creating a no-penalty right to sue a newspaper if someone considers their privacy to have been invaded. Welfare is another system that seriously endangers individual empowerment and initiative. Compassion, which is a human virtue, experienced by the strong for the weak, can become a vice when it is institutionalised and merely perpetuates that order of power rather than ending it. Low educational ability, despite universal education, much of it free, is strongly indicative of poor life chances in employment, physical and material well-being, prospects for marriage and social status. In many developed countries we are too tolerant of poor educational outcomes and economically supportive of their attendant lifestyles and the subcultures that perpetuate them.

The aggregate enemy of the open society is collectivism and group-think. The foundation of open societies and our freedom is individualism. If for the moment we strip away all the cultural accretions, we are all fundamentally the same in sharing a human nature, as opposed to an animal nature. The frequent assertion that we are ‘nothing but’ animals, specifically mammals, results in a peculiar type of contradiction: the application of reason to cloak its own phenomenology. For reason is what defines us as human and not as animal. There is a qualitative difference; however much we see a spectrum of intelligence in the animal kingdom, there is, as Marxists would say, a tipping point at which the quantitative becomes the qualitative. Therefore, when talking of individualism, this is not to focus on the individual physical body, which is an adaptive form created by the forces of genetic mapping and environmental pressures, but the mind which is embodied. Reason finds the value of the individual in the unique individual mind and this is the foundation of freedom and equality, which are fundamental to the open society. Cultures and sub-cultures that exhibit the trait of differential evaluation of human worth, whether that is as someone to be controlled, as a possession, as a means to economic or social advance, or a sexualised object, exist still within the sphere of slavery and need to be transformed.

For some, individualism has a bad name. It is associated with selfishness and hedonism, as a denial of spirituality, altruism and collective duty, whether to the family, an institution or the nation. The first thing to say is that these arguments have been used throughout history by powerful individuals and elites to crush the aspirations of people everywhere, and they are also advanced by the ideological enemies of the open society. The second point is that, from a rational perspective, selfishness and hedonism are intrinsically inimical to individual flourishing which is both a pillar of, and a desirable outcome of, the open society. Laziness, greed, addiction, irresponsibility – the besetting sins of all societies – are harmful to the individual and to society, and a rational society should be doing all it can to curtail them. Selfishness, though, should not be confused with self-interest. Our life-long project should be the improvement of our selves. It is the nature of this self, though, that it is of interest, not just to us, individually, but to society as a whole. Society is not more than the sum of its parts, or at least only to the extent that it is an emergent property of social interactions. Therefore, society in the abstract has a vested interest in the flourishing of the individual, which means that as individuals we also have an interest in the advancement of others. This is different to the perspective accepted and encouraged in our present economic culture here in the West, which is implicitly a zero-sum game based on the Darwinian-Spencerian idea of the survival of the fittest, which in reality optimises outcomes for neither the individual nor the society.

Therefore the individualism which is suited to an open society has a transcendent quality, in that the self is continuously engaged in a project to extend its abilities. That transcendence can be counted on at least five major fronts: physical, intellectual, professional, emotional and social, which emerge from aspects of our evolved human nature: survival instinct, sexuality, sociality and spirituality. Each of the fronts  necessitates development centred around a cluster of values, for example – and this is merely a limited selection – ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ for the physical, ‘knowledge’ and ‘reason’ for the intellectual, ‘reliability’ and ‘expertise’ for the professional, ‘resilience’ and ‘warmth’ for the emotional and ‘companionship’ and ‘generosity’ for the social. These fronts are not isolated or competing aspects of the individual, even if in the past they may have been seen as such; they are complementary and collectively reinforcing. As our knowledge grows we are beginning to see a more rounded and more extensive picture of human possibilities. No one ultimately need be excluded from this vision. We already see, through events like the Paralympics, the range of possibilities that are opening up even for the disabled. New technologies promise the eventual elimination or circumvention of blindness and paralysis and the emancipation of their sufferers.

Open societies are not perfect, nor will they ever be; they are imperfect by definition. The difference to other social forms is that this fact is universally acknowledged, and this acceptance sets the stage for a programme of continuous improvement through problem-solving. The defence of open societies is ultimately the defence of a process, not a thing. Some people find this threatening, as they would like to retreat to a closed, unchanging world of certainty. Most of us at some time, if the truth be told, feel like this, but the enemies of the open society experience this as perpetual existential crisis. They should be tolerated but kept on the fringes. The growth of knowledge has enabled us to survive so far in a hostile environment and has succeeded in making human lives better, freer and happier. That is definitely something worth defending.

The role of community in the creation of value: the contribution of Stakeholder Theory

By James Walker

The weakness of traditional business ethics

The raw power of the markets, whether under mercantilism or capitalism, has always tussled with other powerful institutions, be they churches, philanthropic movements or governments, which have attempted to bring another set of values to bear, more human, social and compassionate. Today we talk about business ethics, but this idea, though fine in the abstract, is liable to be itself marketised, in the hierarchical world of corporate life, when the intrinsically spontaneous nature of human communal life is overridden.

Let me share a couple of imaginary workplace scenarios. In the first, a company holds a competition for staff each year in which they are told they must nominate some of their colleagues for a number of awards that have been created to show staff that they are valued. One of the awards is for the employee who best embodies the ethos of the company. The staff resent being forced to nominate colleagues. There is a high turnover of staff which means it is becoming increasingly difficult to build up relationships with each other or know each other on a personal level. Lots of people have had to reapply for their jobs due to the yearly restructuring of departments, and job titles have changed so much that nobody actually knows who does what anymore. The senior management team are insistent that all staff vote and when they don’t, they become angry.

In the second, another company is independently assessed for its ‘green’ values on a yearly basis. These ratings are vital in the sector for attracting new customers. When the auditors come to the company on Monday morning, the workplace has been transformed, much to the shock of the employees. Some ‘locally sourced, fair trade’ coffee has suddenly appeared in the kitchen. Posters appear in the hallway highlighting the importance of switching off computers at the end of the day. Projectors in meeting rooms are switched off. Once the auditing has been done the posters are taken down, the lights go back on, and the ‘locally sourced, fair trade’ coffee is replaced with the more familiar mass produced variety. The company is awarded a gold rating. The bosses are very proud and inform everyone by email.

The above scenarios highlight the kind of problems that arise when staff, who constitute a real community at the heart of every business, and the wider community in which the business thrives, are undervalued. In the first case none of the employees want to vote for a colleague as embodying the ethos of the organisation because they do not believe in the values of the company. These values are deemed duplicitous and the awards feel disingenuous. Senior management feel let down by their staff when there is a poor response and this is made known. In the second case the management are not concerned with living the principles of being a green company or encouraging their employees to do so as a contribution to the wider community. They just want to gain a high ranking so that their customers perceive them to be green. In both cases ethical principles have effectively become subservient to a short-term tactical advantage.

Stakeholder Theory attempts to address these shortcomings in business ethics by recognising the intrinsic communality of human interaction within the business world and incorporating the encouragement of this communality into long-term strategy. I will give a brief overview of Stakeholder Theory and then explain how I am attempting to apply its insights in my own work with large-scale digital literature projects.

An overview of Stakeholder Theory

A stakeholder is anyone with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. Therefore, stakeholders can be individuals, groups or organisations that are affected by the activity of the business. In terms of a traditional business we could define stakeholders as having the following roles or interest:

  • Business owner – concerned about profit and in some cases appeasing shareholders. They are aware of competitors. They are responsible for key decision making.
  • Managers – concerned about salaries and putting in place processes to achieve the owner’s goals.
  • Workers – want job security and good wages.
  • Customers – expect a certain level of service.
  • Suppliers – rely on the success of the business because they need organisations to buy their products.
  • Lenders – need paying on time.
  • Local community – the business could affect them in a variety of ways.

In addition to this we could also classify stakeholders as being internal or external to the organisation.

The key thinker on this subject is R. Edward Freeman of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He argues: “You can’t look at any one stakeholder in isolation. Their interest has to go together and the job of a manager is to figure out how the interests of customers, suppliers, communities, employees and financiers go in the same direction.”

Most importantly, he emphasises that business and ethics need to work in harmony. Whereas old school industrial capitalism had a faceless approach to business whereby ‘stakeholder’ really meant ‘stockholder’, Freeman argues that Stakeholder Theory gives a ‘face’ and ‘name’ to individuals. It brings in the human element that has long been missing from the workplace. He even goes as far as to suggest:  “What makes capitalism work is our desire to create value for each other. Not our desire to compete. Capitalism is the greatest system of social collaboration ever invented. It’s about how we cooperate together to create value for each other.”

This idea of ‘value creation’ is vitally important, particularly in that all stakeholders need to create value through their respective roles. This suggests equality, as well as an interconnectedness in the workplace. Value is not something that can be imposed or, as per my opening examples, fabricated. Through respect for each other and an awareness of how value is created, I believe the insights of Stakeholder Theory have the potential to turn any negative into a positive.

Applying Stakeholder Theory to a digital literature project

I am currently creating an interactive memory theatre (or cabinet of curiosity) that celebrates the life of a controversial writer from Nottingham. It will include artefacts in each drawer that tell the writer’s story. The writer in question lived a nomadic life, travelling the world in search of a community of like-minded people. Therefore, our memory theatre will retrace his journey, stopping off in the same cities and countries he visited. Audiences will be able to engage with the memory theatre through digital screens, adding their own memories and reactions to the selected artefacts, thereby enabling the memory theatre to gain in provenance as it journeys along.

The writer in question was born in a town northwest of Nottingham towards the end of the 19th century. During this period the area was highly prosperous due to growing industries and the development of the Midland Railway Company that enabled goods, such as coal, to be transferred across the country. Many people flocked to the area for work and the population soon began to expand.

Nowadays, local people resent the success of this author because he turned his back on his community and was highly critical of what he perceived to be the dehumanising effects of industrialisation: The mining industries at the time were the main employer. His novels contain many references to real people and real situations, many of which he barely attempts to disguise. This personal betrayal continues to anger generations of those affected.

Despite this, locals cannot escape him. A pub, café, community centre, school and roads bear reference to his name, as does the surrounding area. Given that his birthplace town is now a relatively deprived area, his success is constantly thrust at people and consequently he is resented by many. By applying stakeholder theory we have the opportunity to rectify this.

In October 2016 I got a call from a funding body saying that a local MP was interested in further commemorating the writer by putting a statue up of him in his home town and asking what I thought. I admitted I couldn’t see the point, as there were already two statues of the author located in Nottinghamshire. I am also sceptical of the gesture as the local Council has recently sold off a property associated with the writer. One more statue creates no additional value as far as I am concerned and would most likely involve commissioning a sculptor who does not live in the local area.

Stakeholder Theory positions ‘community’ as having equal say in how meaning is produced and value is created for all. The memory theatre project has the potential to repair damage in the affected community by employing a local joiner to help build the memory theatre as well as sourcing materials from local suppliers. In doing this, we open up the conversation from a different perspective. When we work with trades people we have the opportunity to explain why the memory theatre needs to be built in a particular way. We can discuss elements of the writer’s life that need to be drawn out in the design in a way that is not prescriptive but via consultation. We will put money in their pockets, something I am sure locals will be more pleased about than a random statue imposed on their town. They in turn will talk about the project with friends, in the pub. Culture, as Raymond Williams and many others have shown us, comes from below, not from above.

The writer at the heart of my project lived an incredible life. He suffered persecution and censorship for nearly everything he wrote. He lived large parts of his life in absolute poverty, often being put up by friends. He consistently defied authority and was highly critical of those in power. Post-2008 working conditions have produced a new class of worker – ‘the precariat’ – for whom every area of life lacks security (Standing, 2011), the writer’s message bears even more relevance. Consulting, listening and empowering the local community on my project is one way of getting this message across. Thrusting a static statue on them will only do more damage.

References

R. Edward Freeman (2009), Stakeholder Theory Youtube lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ih5IBe1cnQw

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

 

James Walker is a lecturer in Digital Humanities at Nottingham Trent University. He specialises in digital literary criticism. He is the editor of The Sillitoe Trail, which explores the enduring relevance of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and more recently Dawn of the Unread, a graphic novel serial exploring Nottingham’s literary history. www.dawnoftheunread.com

 

 

The rise of populism considered from the perspective of evolutionary constraints on our moral choices

May you live in interesting times (Confucian curse)

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites (Edmund Burke)

A scholar of impeccable academic credentials once suggested to me that revolutions are spaced about the average lifespan of a human apart, about 70 years. I was sceptical, as this sounded like numerology, but I did some digging and there are indeed some interesting patterns: the French Revolution (1789) to the European uprisings of 1848 is admittedly only 60years, but if the American Revolution (1776) is counted in, that is about 70; from there to the communist revolution in 1917 is roughly 70 years; and from the revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union (1989) is about 70 years. Of course these events are selective, and I am not suggesting there is a grand plan. However, they may point to an underlying truth: that real social change occurs in a highly disruptive manner, not as a result of gradual progress, and that this change is generational, as it takes the space of about two generations for the contradictions implicit in any system to become apparent and momentum for a new direction to grow to a critical point.

The historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn loaned the term ‘paradigm’ from the obscurity of the social sciences and controversially applied it to revolutionary changes in scientific outlook, in the process reinvigorating the concept, redefining and enlarging it and, admittedly, setting it on course to become the de rigeur cliché for any and all sorts of change; it is surely, though, something that corresponds closely to a paradigm shift that we are living through. We are now, in the West, standing about 70 years on from the end of the second world war, from a time when a transnational consensus was established around such institutions as the United Nations, NATO, the beginnings of the EU, the welfare state in Britain, the founding of modern Israel in the Middle East, the demilitarisation of Germany and Japan, the growth of the military-industrial complex in the USA, a period of US economic and political hegemony in general. Within this span many changes have occurred outside the western democratic sphere: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of China as a communist nation and then as an economic superpower, the resurgence of Islam as a powerful political idea in the Middle East and beyond, the stirring of real political and economic progress in parts of Africa and in India. In the West itself cracks are beginning to show in many of the post-war settlements and institutions, while there is a pervasive sense of economic stagnation and the loss of international leadership, manifest in the seeming inability to deal with the crisis of migration and endemic war in the Middle East. It is against such a background that we are seeing the arrival of a new kind of politics, anti-establishment and populist in its appeal.

The spectre of populism seems to alight on its most prominent figures, such as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders, focussing on their oddity, unsavoury characteristics or questionable beliefs. Although in the main it seems to be a manifestation of right wing politics, there are also populists on the left, such as Bernie Sanders, Podemos in Spain, Beppe Grillo and the Five Star movement in Italy and Syriza in Greece, as well as Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour party. It is interesting to note that a significant number of voters in America switched from Bernie Sanders, an anti-establishment left-winger, to Trump, rather than Clinton, an embodiment of the liberal elite. Populism has perhaps less to do with the particular political flavour than its anti-establishment stance and the identification, even if to some extent a fabrication, of grievance and loss within a significant proportion of the national population, a loss – whether of identity, jobs or prestige – caused by the policies of the liberal establishment, an establishment, moreover, that has profited by and large from these same policies. However, I want to propose a hypothesis that even underlying these more obvious political triggers, there is an actuality – not a perception – of moral decline that should be worrying us far more than it actually is.

Since such a hypothesis is going to enrage some people even before it is explained, let me first set out what I am not saying. I am not saying that people now are worse than they were in the past; human nature does not change much over time; however, the general belief is that we are much better, and this is an illusion. We may kill people less, at least in the developed world, but this is because of advances in wealth, technology, political structure, religious belief and law. We may believe we are more generous, and cite increasing donations to various causes, but altruism is a natural human trait which is found across all cultures and has no correlation with money (although self-congratulation may). In this context, it is worth noting the rise in xenophobic attacks with the EU referendum vote and with Trump’s election, which demonstrates how shallow the shackles of self-restraint are. Or the pervasive maliciousness of the online world which exists outside conventional social restraints

The roots of moral life from an evolutionary perspective lie in our sociality, and the natural institutions that both create and emerge out of that sociality. By this I mean those social bonds that are rooted in our biology: physical survival, protection, reproduction, genetic inheritance and genetic closeness. These are the underlying infrastructure – if one can call it that in want of a better term – of our sociality and the institutions of family and community, such as marriage, parenthood, kinship, friendship and economic occupation (which includes any activity to support the family and have standing in the community, whether that be hunting, farming or banking). There is no human society in which these things have not been fundamental, despite whatever other advances or changes have occurred. Societies have always flourished at a time when these institutions have been strong; and no society historically has flourished when these have been weak, neglected or under attack.

Moreover, in evolutionary terms, beyond our mere physicality we have an ‘excess’ in our neurological constitution (which we variously refer to as mind, soul or spirit) in which we entertain beliefs about the world of our experience. Interpretations of what this means for our self-understanding vary enormously – my own view is that in the primal state this is a survival mechanism – but whatever the ontological reality of our beliefs, they must not fatally undermine our natural sociality; if they do they will be eliminated by natural selection (on this point I am closer to Richard Dawkins than to Julian Huxley, Darwin’s ‘bulldog’, who believed that we have transcended natural selection). This selective process eventually manifests through the political process, particularly in times of upheaval.

The crux of my argument is that the liberal establishment has allowed and even facilitated the erosion of this evolutionary infrastructure of sociality, and that this has had a disproportionate effect on the less well-educated, less mobile and less wealthy sections of society, who in any society constitute the majority. Liberalism has not simply allowed the export of blue collar jobs abroad where labour is cheaper (to be often replaced by jobs that pay insufficiently for a person to buy a home, marry and raise a family), but, more seriously, has persistently undermined the foundations of family and community which enable the emergence of social solidarity. Economic hardship alone, while an important contributing factor, is not sufficient to accomplish this. For the past 50 years the liberal establishment, consisting primarily of academics, the media, and the entertainment industry, has moved forward an agenda of undercutting the foundations of social solidarity: marriage as the unique core of family life, the historical narrative of national identity, and also religion as one of the core facilitators of communal life. This agenda has gradually been institutionalised in education, law and politics. Whatever one’s political views, when teaching children gender fluidity becomes a greater priority than ensuring a sound basic education for all, when celebrating diversity becomes more important than celebrating full employment, we are entitled to wonder whether liberalism has reached its hubristic apotheosis.

As much as I am an advocate of maximising human freedom, freedom comes with its own built in constraints, an internal logic that freedom cannot undermine itself, that is, allow actions that result in its own destruction. These constraints are those determined by our evolutionary heritage and the institutional structures that emerge from them that constitute our social being, referred to above. That people choose not to marry or become parents, or choose not to marry but have children, or choose to divorce, or choose an alternative lifestyle, these are individual choices and rights in liberal democracies. Nevertheless, they have social consequences, and if these tendencies become prevalent they have demographic consequences. The influx of immigrants into Europe, for example, is agued by some as a necessity given the population shortfall created by a low native birth rate. This, of course, is not what people want to hear. We have become used to thinking about our sociality in purely individualistic terms, in terms of our freedoms and rights and of the social reality in which we want to live; but just as for all our cleverness and ingenuity we cannot ignore fundamental forces such as gravity, so for all our social experimentation we cannot ignore the evolutionary parameters of our being without consequences.

It is at the interface between individual choice and social necessity that the most interesting political choices are made and the most virulent arguments take place. It is likely that this argument will never be finally settled, as this dynamic of competing views is at the heart of democratic culture and ensures its adaptability to changing circumstances. Excessive liberality is bad for societies, just as excessive authority is, and when pushed to one extreme a counter-force inevitably appears. Populism, therefore, can be seen as a collective, unconscious reaction to the ills that plague modern liberal democracies. If it had not been Trump, Farage or Le Pen, other figures would have arisen with similar grievances and similar policies.

Therefore, to categorically assert that populists represent the doom of democracy is to be entirely enclosed within a dying paradigm and to misunderstand the underlying dynamic of the paradigm shift that they represent. To accuse them of being by definition anti-democratic is to have forgotten that democracy was, in the ancient world, and has been in modernity, a revolutionary force, representing more closely the wishes of the mass of people than any other system of governance that has existed. It is also to be wilfully blind to this system having been gradually hijacked by self-perpetuating elites who have empowered and enriched themselves. As long as people generally felt that they were making progress they were willing to acquiesce to the elites in Washington or in Brussels, but since the financial crisis in particular, and the increasingly widening gap between rich and the poor, or those simply struggling to stay afloat, there has been a growing anger on which populism has capitalised.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal of uncertainty and potential for danger in these developments. In a recent article, the author Robert Harris argued that the political situation today resembles that of the 1930s more closely than any time since. I do not think we are even close yet, but the signs should serve as a warning. Berlin in the 1930’s was not only a time of great social unrest, economic turmoil and political agitation, but a byword for moral turpitude. Lest people think that these factors are unconnected, the National Socialists made great play of their intention to clean up Germany morally, which was one factor in their gaining popular support. The present populists are hardly moral paragons and tend to be morally liberal on the whole, but they advance authoritarian policies which could be a step in allowing more extreme policies to follow.

Karl Marx expected the communist revolution to take place in Britain, the most industrially developed country in the nineteenth century; that it did not may be due in part to great reforms in the Victorian era, in particular on the spiritual, educational and economic conditions of the working classes. The populist platform today could be derailed by centrist parties having the courage to undertake reforms of similar magnitude. Having said this, I have no expectation that people today will willingly change their behaviour, as it is human nature to resist difficult choices, moral or otherwise, unless circumstances force our hand. My hope is that our existing institutions are strong enough to withstand the uncertain times into which we are moving and that we may be able in hindsight to view this period in history as a time of readjustment in the balance of freedom and moral obligation within democratic society rather than the beginning of a civilisational holocaust from which we must build anew.

 

The shadow of value: money theory and the roots of economic anomie

In the West, our ambiguity towards money is expressed deeply in religion, politics and art. We have been beholden to the institutions that provide it as a necessity of life, but desired liberation from the corrupting influence of our dependence on our authentic nature. Through money we have both experienced the possibility of living pleasurably, and recognised its power to lead us astray. That ambiguity, and a measure of hypocrisy, is not merely historic, but pervades our society today: while we expect a decent standard of living, there is anger at gross inequalities of wealth, particularly in developing countries, although we may be ambivalent about their economic advancement; closer to home, our desire for personal wealth is often coupled with disdain for the foibles and vulgarity of the rich. This Janus-like relationship with money seems implicit in the nature of money itself. It may not be resolved, but this ambiguity might be explained and mitigated to some degree by understanding the roots of our economic anomie in the philosophical intertwining of the existential and monetary notions of value.

As with much thinking on any issue, the ancient Greeks thought about the problematic nature of money first, or at least mythologised it in this case, in the story of king Midas. The existence of money as a metal coinage was a relatively new invention, but already both its properties of great convenience and the temptation to excessive accumulation were appreciated. Midas desired that everything he touched be turned to gold and the gods granted him his wish, literally. Realising that he could no longer eat or touch those he loved, Midas begged to have the gift removed. This timeless fable teaches us that there are things that cannot be bought with money or gold, and suggests that the modern belief that everything can be monetised hollows out the very things we find valuable.

It is a feature of the word ‘value’ that it has two distinct meanings, that of moral worth and that of monetary worth, a distinction rooted in a common etymology which runs through most European languages, indicating that at some point they have been considered to be closely related issues. In fact, in two worldviews they have been and still are: Thomistic theology derived from Aquinas, with its notion of the ‘just price’ and the Marxist ‘labour theory of value’. Both theories have been superseded by market economics, in which prices are determined by supply and demand in the marketplace, yet continue to inform areas such as business ethics, the honouring of contracts and the critique of exploitation or capitalist excess.

My intention in this article is to explore the relationship between monetary value and existential value, which underlie, respectively, the prices we assign to goods and services and the values that shape our lives and institutions, and in this way attempt to understand the role of money in institutions and how this might inform economic life and our relationship to money. Clearly, to do this systematically would be a massive undertaking and here I am only developing some of the philosophical framework to underpin this project. In particular, I want to take issue with theories of intrinsic value, particularly Locke’s view of natural value and the labour theory of value, and to present a hypothesis that the moral dimension of monetary value exists at an institutional level rather than at a commodity or service level.

Money and monetary value

For an everyday reality that pervades our lives and our society, money is actually something of an enigma, at one level tangible and obvious, but on closer investigation something whose nature is surprisingly elusive. Clearly money cannot be identified with the notes and coins we carry around with us, firstly for the superficial reason that the currency we identify most readily with is not transnational and can only with some difficulty and cost (and even here the equivalence is not always transparent) be converted into another. Then, although we are not quite there yet, it is possible for us to conceive of a cashless society, in which all financial transaction will take place electronically, through the transfer of information in binary code. However, even more than these reasons, if we stop to consider it, the source of the agency that money confers to enter into economic transactions appears to be wholly mysterious.

The emergence of the digital economy and electronic money has popularised the notion that there has been an evolution in our economic transactions, beginning with barter, passing through the money economy, and now moving into the era of credit largely carried out invisibly. This view is based on what we could call the commonsense view of money, first advocated by philosophers such as Locke and Adam Smith, who drew on Aristotle’s and Homer’s observations in the ancient world two millennia previously, and it is the view still propounded in the majority of textbooks on economics (Graeber, 2011). However, it is demonstrably wrong. There is no evidence that any culture that relied on a barter economy ever existed (Humphrey, 1985). The alternative view, previously at the margins but gathering momentum in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, is that human economic activity has always in its foundations been about credit and debit.

Much of this reassessment is based on the century-old writings of Mitchell Innes (1913) and William Furness (1910). Innes pointed out that the earliest recorded notion of debt, found in the Code of Hammurabi, predates the earliest coinage by 2000 years, and that the repayment of a debt was considered to be a sacred duty. The foundations of economy have always been about the agreements between creditors and debtors, in which the origins and function of money is no more than a marker of that relationship and agreement.  Furness recorded the highly unusual money system on the Indonesian island of Yap, which consisted of stone wheels of various sizes known as fei. He noted that even when transactions were concluded the fei were rarely moved; change of ownership was merely acknowledged. In the most remarkable case a fei which had sunk to the bottom of the sea while being transported was still recognised as valid currency. In other words the currency functioned as markers of credits founded on trust. This view eventually won the approbation of economists as diverse as John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, though is still largely ignored in macroeconomic theory (Martin, 2013).

The reason for this misunderstanding lies in the seventeenth century in the period when the Bank of England was being set up. Prior to the establishment of the bank, the ultimate source of the authority for the English currency was the British sovereign. Coins were stamped with the monarch’s image and minted in silver, theoretically to the value as stated per denomination. In fact, it was long recognised that the face value of coin and the price of silver frequently diverged, silver being more valuable that the actual coinage. This led to huge amounts of money being melted down and sold as bullion and the stock of coinage being vastly depleted as a result. The Bank of England, which had in the meantime emerged as a mercantile counterbalance to the monetary authority of the sovereign, saw the obvious solution to lie in debasing the metal in the coinage, alloying the silver, and thus lowering the actual value of the coins to or below their face value, thereby removing the motive for destroying them. Unfortunately, this pragmatic solution was overruled by Parliament on the advice of John Locke, the pre-eminent philosopher of his age and a hugely influential figure. Locke, a fierce republican, wanted the Bank to break entirely with the notion that the value of the currency was based on authority, such as the authority of the king, and instead base it on the intrinsic value of nature, such as that of silver. Locke’s suggestion was followed and the nation’s supply of silver coins was replenished, with both predictable and unforeseen disastrous consequences.

Locke clearly believed, or at least wished to assert for political reasons, that money has an intrinsic value, and the modern capitalist economy, whatever private reservations people individually may harbour, continues to function on the basis of this belief, using gold as the most common standard rather than silver. It is necessary, though, to analyse what the ‘value’ is that is the object of such a belief. The Lockean argument from nature can be dismissed out of hand. Value is not a property of nature, but of human judgement. Even if our currency were ‘worth its weight in gold’ (which it is not, by a significant margin), this would not constitute its value any more than it were worth its weight in manure, because the value of gold or manure is not ‘intrinsic’, but arises fundamentally from their utility, a distinction Pepper (1970) refers to as ‘value proper’ and ‘utility value’, the latter which we could also refer to as social value. The different social value ascribed to gold and manure arises from their relative rarity, flexibility and aesthetic appeal. Gold is almost universally considered beautiful due to its colour and lustre, and useful due to its malleability and ductility, qualities which obviously cannot be ascribed to manure. However, gold’s social value depends to a large degree on the technological capacity of the culture in which it occurs. Primitive cultures in regions in which it was naturally relatively abundant had little use for it outside decoration, and were happy to trade it for coloured beads. Unlike manure which is a good fertiliser and building material, useful in settled agricultural communities, gold perhaps had only marginal social value. This point does not seem to me to be undermined by any subsequent retrospective reassessment by post-colonialist critics.

One of the functions of money in monetary theory is reckoned to be to store value (Nesiba, 2013), which seems a not unreasonable proposition; that is, until we start to interrogate its exact meaning, whereupon it slips rapidly from our grasp. The way in which money stores value is like the way in which the sun rises, that is, metaphorically. Since money has no intrinsic value, either as a physical or digital currency, it cannot store value either. And since, with the exception of some hobbyists or collectors who may fetishize the physicality of money, we do not value money as such, but only its instrumentality, the idea of storing value is really just shorthand for the ability to exchange it in denominated amounts for the things that we deem actually valuable, or vice-versa, to receive it in denominated amounts for goods or services. What is ultimately valuable is that which makes human life liveable, bearable and pleasant, so it is in the social agency of money that its source of value is found.

To pursue this thought further, value does not inhere in money itself, but nor can it in the goods or services which are exchangeable for money, at a price determined by the market, as the same objection which was raised against the intrinsic value of money can similarly be raised against the intrinsic value of any commodity or service, that is, value does not exist in the state of nature. The question this denial poses, then, concerns the ontological foundations of the economy in which money plays such a crucial role. Marx (1859)advanced an alternative view of value: rather than arising from nature, the intrinsic value of a commodity represented the ‘congealed labour time’ of the industrial proletarian whose sweat and toil had manufactured it. Although this view, referred to as the labour theory of value, is disparaged by mainstream economists, and although I believe it takes too narrow a view, nonetheless, I will develop an important insight which I believe Marx had, which is that value is inherently social and that it is generated in the world of work.

Marx was motivated to blame capitalism for the dreadful conditions of the industrial working class which sprang up in the newly growing cities created by the industrial revolution. He identified the profit generated in the manufacturing process as an ‘excess’ derived from the exploitation of the workers who had created the value of the commodities, that is by paying them insufficiently for their labour. A clear objection to this idea is that the price – even the marketability – of any commodity is a function of its quality and the demand for it. If a manufactured item is shoddy or faulty it cannot demand the same price in the market as one which is made to high standards, regardless of the labour invested in it, while if there is no demand for an item, it will not sell. Price is determined largely by these two factors, quality and demand, and any business in order to be profitable, has to identify a market where a certain demand exists and strive for quality that meets the market’s expectations.

Money, then, neither has value nor stores it. As we discussed, according to Pepper there are two types of value, value proper and utility value. Money has utility, clearly, though it is a very specific type of tool, one whose usefulness is in being exchanged for things that are in turn useful or pleasurable to us, and therefore to that extent valuable. It has neither value nor utility intrinsic to itself, only as a medium of exchange. Money, though, is unique in that it is denominated and acts as a scaled measure of wealth. Unlike value, which is a function of judgement, wealth is a function of a social process; moreover, it is a social process in which existential and social values play a critical role. As already mentioned, economic activity can only take place on the basis of trust, and money itself exists as a place marker for relationships of credit based on trust. For much of history this was the common understanding of how money worked. It is only in the past few hundred years that this seems to have been forgotten.

Institutional wealth hypothesis

Rather than value, a nebulous term at best, I suggest it is wealth which both money measures and that links money to the value-driven activities of institutions.  By ‘institution’ I mean any human grouping that has some sense of a common purpose, some shared values, a degree of organisational structure however informal, perhaps some rules, and a boundary demarking inside from outside. This would include businesses and all manner of organisations and even individual family units. It would not, for example, include neighbourhoods as geographic entities, but would include neighbourhood associations. Wealth is generated by and accumulates around such institutions and their activities. We tend to think of wealth in opposition to poverty, but what I have in mind is relative wealth, wealth that can be an indicator of the relative performance of institutions. Rather than engage in a diatribe against the perception of poverty created in our society by gross inequalities of income, I suggest that wealth be thought of as a neutral term that can employed evaluatively across all cultures and historic periods and that poverty be restricted to its more ethical connotations, by which I mean a culture-dependent term of disparagement for lack of aspiration.

The hypothesis, one that does not seem implausible, is that wealth is generated in successful institutions. To emphasise, by wealth I am not talking about vast wealth, but wealth as a relative quality; some institutions, such as banks, are required to process huge quantities of money (leaving aside for the moment structural anomalies in the banking sector that governments are attempting to address), but others, such as voluntary or community-based organisations, might run on a shoestring but be fully functional in achieving their nominal purpose. All institutions need money to function and this has to be considered integral to the institutional ontology not as an add-on. It is also a necessity in a comprehensive theory of value to be able to offer explanations of economic value and explore any underlying unity between economic value and social value/values.

The great monetary settlement of the seventeenth century never fully resolved the issue of the nature of money, and Locke’s intervention saddled us with an erroneous concept, which has had consequences to this day. According to Martin (2013) the final authority for a currency is the people in democratic society, who invest their authority in the government of the day to make sensible decisions regarding the economy for the benefit of the people as a whole. Money is like language, in some sense, in that it pervades our culture and is ultimately controlled by no one (ibid); it is above all a social phenomenon, and always has been, although this has been forgotten by governments, the banking industry and by most economists, with rare exceptions like Keynes. Nevertheless, the current financial crisis has led to government intervention, some reforms in banking and some reassessment of economic theory in line with Keynesian thinking.

Wealth goes hand in hand with success in any venture, and that success is built by gradually building relations of trust around that venture. Building a successful venture requires a range of skills and the ability to work hard, for example, but the focus here is not on this range of skills but on the fundamental ontological requirements of institutional success, which requires the creation of multidimensional trust, both within an organisation and outside in relation to other relevant organisations and constituencies. As I have argued in a previous essay on values and institutional structure, relationships within any organisation are strengthened and organisational conflicts between different constituencies are ameliorated when shared values are sought and promoted alongside core values and organisational goals; in fact, the discovery of shared values in the context of the organisation is one of the fundamental responsibilities and ‘people skills’ that a leader of any organisation needs to manifest, as it demonstrates attention to the particular and the individual rather than just to the general and the abstract.

Trust is not something that can be established at once, and not necessarily easily, and it is something that can be rapidly destroyed. However, as Fukuyama (1995) has argued, trust is the fundamental value of social capital, one which enabled the growing prosperity of Europe through the early modern period. If this is true I suspect it is because, unlike other values which are (or run the risk of being) etiolated when they are monetised, it has the property of self-replenishment. The building of trust, therefore, should be a fundamental goal of every organisation. First, everyone feels happier when they are in an environment in which they feel trusted. When people feel happy they willingly contribute to the good of the whole and invest themselves, their efforts and time for the success of the whole. There is a common interest that whatever goods or services they provide should be to a high standard of quality, and when they are to a high quality the recipient of those goods or services will naturally be satisfied. Those who fund the activities of the organisation, whether consumers, shareholders, banks, or donors should be treated as extended constituencies of the organisation, common values discovered and a basis for trust and satisfaction established. This is the basis for success and wealth in any organisation. The same reasoning can also be applied to an individual and a basic social institution such as a family.

Potential objections to the hypothesis

An objection to this hypothesis would be that many organisations seem to function, even function well, while not adhering to this strategy. I would say that this is due to the dampening effect of society; changes rarely happen suddenly, but usually there is a cumulative effect before something becomes apparent. The economic crisis was building up and was predicted by some many years in advance, as indeed the recovery is many years in manifesting itself. When any institution fails, whether it be large or small, there are always underlying reasons, and those reasons invariably come down to human problems: the arrogance of a leader, the disaffection and even sabotage of those mistreated, greed and eventually dishonesty undermining trust. Even failure to adapt to a changing environment can be laid at the feet of systemic failure to seek common values, because that is a failure to draw upon the variety of skills, to discover and to exploit those skills, that any group of people bring with them. Edward Freeman (2010), in his writings on stakeholder theory, asserts that any business that is not seeking to keep all its stakeholders – such as investors, shareholders, banks, employees and customers – happy is a failing business. I have used the term ‘constituency’ rather than stakeholder, but the logic is much the same, although I have attempted to give a more theoretical underpinning to what stakeholder happiness actually comprises.

A second objection would be that wealth simply means the accumulation of money or its equivalent in assets. This is a commonly held view and it arises out of the mistaken understanding of the nature of money and economic value. This view justifies the moral view (not that I am saying that everyone who shares this understanding of money shares this view) that gaining money is a justifiable end in itself, and it does not matter the means by which one acquires it. Clearly, such a view underlies criminal acquisition, whether that be corporate crime, gang-related crime or street robbery. I have advocated the view that the acquisition of wealth should be understood as a reward for, or a consequence of, institutional strengthening. Theft short-circuits that process; it does not represent the justly deserved reward for valued activity, which reinforces the values of social institutions, but leaves the basis of social chaos in its wake: mistrust, fear and loss. Moreover, the empowering function of money cannot be fully realised; its power to purchase is always accompanied by fear of exposure, fear of punishment, mistrust of others and the knowledge that one is not truly worthy in that one has not been rewarded. As a society we are left to take effective measures to counter the increasing prevalence of this sort of activity and its social fallout, whereas we should be establishing as a norm the correct understanding of money and of wealth, that people can police themselves more effectively.

Money is a token that represents the wealth which is generated in successful institutions. In some respects it has similarities to Austin’s (1962) idea of the performative speech act, in that an exchange of paper, metal or electronic tokens effects a change in ownership and the conferring of rights. Money is effectively a symbol, which exercises symbolic power throughout society, for all social institutions. Externally it has the nature of a tool that quantifies wealth, which can switch between a physical format (currency and perhaps its bullion equivalent in extremis) and a digital format (as an entry in a ledger or perhaps now even as a digital currency, such as bitcoin). In this sense it is proper to speak of it having utility or use-value rather than value proper, in the same way that all things that can be defined as tools have utility, and only have value proper if they enter the sphere of our personal experience in the sense of evoking a (usually) positive emotional response. But as a symbol money also represents things that we recognise as social universals such as freedom, both freedom from want and freedom to choose, competence in earning a living and supporting oneself, and also things like moral obligation, such as to pay one’s debts, to care for one’s dependents materially and to contribute to the common good through supporting enterprise, inspiration and endeavour, supporting the needy, and paying one’s taxes.

Money has been one of the most powerful tools for liberation, as it has freed the masses from excessive social control and opened up the way for individual decision-making, risk-taking and enterprise, which has contributed to the emergence of economically vibrant and democratic societies. A further step is now needed to correct the social injustices that the wrong understanding of money has perpetuated, by a new consensus on its nature.

References

Austin, J.L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Freeman, E. R., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., Parmar, B. L. and De Colle, S. (2010). Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. London: Penguin.

Furness, W. (1910). The Island of Stone Money: Uap of the Carolines. Philadelphia, PA: Washington Square Press.

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The First 5000 Years. NY: Melville House Publishing.

Humphrey, C. (1985). ‘Barter and Economic Disintegration’. Man, 20(1), pp. 48-72.

Innes, A.M. (1913, May). ‘What is money?’. Banking Law Journal, pp. 377-408.

Martin, F. (2013). Money: The Unauthorised Biography. London: The Bodley Head.

Marx, K (1859). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Nesiba, R. F. (2013). ‘Where did “money” come from?’ Western Social Science Association (WSSA) News, 42(2) (Fall 2013).

Pepper, S. C. (1970). The Sources of Value. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Institutional Structure and Culture in the Transmission of Social Values, Part 3: A Theory of Institutional Value Transmission

Introduction

Part 1 of this essay (posted March 23, 2016) reviewed some of the significant literature and theories emerging from the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology in regard to cultural transmission and intergenerational transmission of values. Part 2 (posted April 30, 2016) explored the sociological literature for theories or partial theories of institutional transmission. Much of the literature of part 2 related to education, as formal education is the primary institutional context (outside of the family) in which values transmission takes place. Part 3 outlines a theory of institutional value transmission based on empirical field research in education and discusses that in relation to the above-mentioned literature. It begins, though, by outlining the basic theory underlying this research, a deductive hypothesis of the nature, function and transmission of values.

In a previous essay (posted August 22 and September 12, 2015) a philosophical analysis of the concept of value from first principles was undertaken, in light of perceived problems both within axiology and the usage of the term within the social sciences. The analysis concluded that, contrary to the mainstream of academic philosophy, values were real and their nature and properties describable. It found that values are semiotically related to symbols in having a structural duality and phenomenologically related to treasured personal items in being an experience of emotional attachment. Outwardly, values are linguistic signs denoting abstract concepts, while inwardly they relate to strong feelings. As part of normal language, value concepts pepper our everyday discourse and communication, either in their primary nominalised form or in lexical variations (verbs, adjectives, etc.) and are able to permeate society through the normal linguistic pathways of communication. Experientially, however, like symbols, a particular value is only truly meaningful within a (theoretically) closed social group for whom the value attains utmost significance, for example faith within a religious group, justice for a campaigning group, safety for a military reconnaissance unit or accuracy for a scientific project team. This idea has resonance with, but is not derived from, Tajfel’s (1974) concept of ‘ingroup’ and ‘outgroup’ as categories of identity through inclusion and exclusion. From either aspect values are inherently social, and this lead to one of the more surprising conclusions: that there are no private values. Values are just words on one level, but at the experiential level they are social and communal, that is they denote a shared experience, not a private experience. I can create a word for an intensely personal experience, but it could only become a value by being shared and finding an appropriate social context in which it can function. The idea of values as shared experience is not the same as, it is the exact opposite of, the idea of intersubjectivity, as that was conceived of by Habermas (1984). For Habermas individual subjectivity emerged from a collective recognition of signs; shared experience presupposes individual subjectivity as the basis for empathetic recognition of others’ interior worlds.

The function of values was not addressed at length in the original theory, which focused on the ontological question of the nature of values; however, the main line of an answer is fairly clear. If values acquire their significance in a communal setting, then a primary focus is to bind social groups together. The primary institution for human lives is the family, and though the family must be considered the cradle for our basic values, it is also an institution which is bound together by common values. Society is a multiplicity of social groupings – familial, tribal, ethnic, religious, professional, vocational, economic, political, leisure and interest – and all of them can be understood as defined by shared values. It is this aspect of values which in some respect renders them problematic. Values not only define the core of the group, they also define the boundary of the group, where the group becomes the non-group because of non-adherence to the particular values of the group (Tajfel, 1974). Values, therefore, are not only a cohesive force in society; many, possibly all, conflicts in society can be understood in terms of competing values. In complex modern societies the quest for common values, embodied in social institutions, is paramount. A second function of values is to embody the essential attributes and goals of the group. Values are not the same as attributes or goals, but they are clearly related. For example, values underlie goals; goals are more specific to a particular event or situation, but values transcend the particular event or situation to give continuity to the group beyond the immediate attainment of goals (Rokeach, 1973). A third function of values is to structure and give purpose to individual lives (Mandler, 1993; Barth, 1993). In modern societies in particular it is common to be multi-valued as a result of multiple belonging, the overlapping of different interests, commitments and loyalties. It is paradoxically both a condition and an outcome of open societies that such multiple belonging occurs; it is one of the guarantees that society does not fracture along narrow monocultural lines, defined by religion or ethnicity (Huntington, 1993, 1996).

The transmission of values is based on the twin concepts of invocation and evocation as a way of understanding the mode of existence and propagation of values in a community and of the genesis and maintenance of the community. Invocation, based on the idea of value as a symbolic type of entity, is the ritualistic utterance of the value sacred to the group, with the purpose of reinforcing their commitment to both. While this may seem too overtly couched in religious terminology, the contention is that values actually take on aspects of the sacred (Eliade, 1957), which is most explicitly demonstrated in religion, but is actually part of all aspects of human life and experienced by everyone. Evocation can be thought of as the effect that invocation has on the listener, that of opening up a realm of experience associated with the value, referred to as the moral universe of the value, but that moral universe most readily conflated with the immanent community and its obligations; for this reason ‘evocation of the moral universe of the value’ and ‘evocation of the moral community’ are essentially identical. Participation in the moral universe of the value is a grounded existential certainty and sense of belonging that Eliade (1957, p.21) refers to as the experience of the sacred, as ‘a fixed point, a centre…equivalent to the creation of the world’.

The theory outlined here is a deductive argument derived from a consideration of the meaning of value as that has been analysed in terms of phenomenological and semiotic categories. Its extension into a consideration of the function of values, and particularly the transmission of values, is only partly developed. In the following section this theoretical picture is filled out and refined by empirical data derived from field research in actual schools, as mentioned above, developing an understanding, in particular, of how values are transmitted in real-world institutional contexts. The deductive theory plays a role in this process: the concept of value informs in particular the analytic methods used, functioning as what Blumer (1954) referred to as a sensitising concept.

Empirical research-based theory of institutional value transmission

The field research was carried out in three secondary schools, with contrasting forms of governance: a faith school, an independent school and a community school (total number of participants 150). A two-tier qualitative approach, having both an inductive, theory-generating phase of data capture and analysis, and a deductive, hypothesis-led evaluative phase, was used. The inductive phase used a multiple case study format and cross-case analysis, providing data for analysis and for testing the hypotheses in the deductive phase. The case studies were each modelled on three structural aspects: an authority hierarchy; an interiority/exteriority duality in the institutional lived-experience; and a system hierarchy. Multiple data collection and analytic methods were employed in each case study, in order to build up a complex snapshot of the transmission of values in each school. Only the findings of the research are reported here. The source for details of the research is given in the references (Trubshaw, 2014).

In any consideration of values transmission in schools the central relationship has to be between teacher and pupil, which is the institutional nexus between the generations in terms of behavioural modelling, socialisation and enculturation, as well as the more mundane and well-understood conduit of information transmission (Parsons, 1961). (The two aspects are not different at one level, as values are, as explained above, in some respects just another form of information). As this theory deals with institutional transmission, rather just interpersonal transmission, though, on one side it must deal with the power relationships within the school, and even beyond the school in the influence of national policy-making and local authority implementation, whereby the values agenda – if, indeed, there is such a coherent entity – is set, and on the other the moral agency and developing moral cognition of the individual pupil subject to any attempts at values education.

The model for institutional value transmission arrived at through this research consists of four conceptual categories – institutional value permeation, institutional authority, resistance to institutional authority and transformative experience – which is best thought of as the interaction between two partial models: a permeation-authority model of institutional inculcation and a resistance-transformation model of moral autonomy. Each of the conceptual categories will be explained over a number of sub-sections, drawing on theoretical concepts derived from the data, illustrative examples from the field, the hypothetical model and the academic literature of values education and social transmission.

The institutional permeation of values

Permeation as the name implies is the extent to which a particular value has been identified throughout an institution, specifically at all identified levels and each demographic sector. In the field research these were identified as the three main levels of each school: the official, the pedagogical and the learner as represented by data from documents and interview (Head), classroom observation and field notes (teacher report/feedback sessions), and pupil survey and focus group, respectively. Permeation, it should be pointed out, is not the same as transmission. First, it would be impossible to establish causality of any sort without a longitudinal study far beyond the scope of the research undertaken. Secondly, institutions like schools are highly permeable to multiple influences and the espousal of a value is not necessarily indicative of its acquisition within its confines. What the analysis attempted to discover is the degree of commonality of experience within the lived world of the institution, the recognition of common semiotic structures which carry the value meanings, and the link between these semiotic structures and the strategies for values education (Downey and Kelly, 1978; Plunkett, 1990) that exist at the official level, however informally those are formulated. Through the cross-case analysis, a core of values that seemed to permeate the institutions investigated had been established. This was only indicative of a snapshot view of the schools, though it was verified in principle in report/feedback meetings. The point is not to argue for absolute veracity, but for theoretical plausibility on the basis of methodological reliability.

In a consideration of the hegemony of ideology in society and schooling in particular, Apple (1979, p.22) makes use of the term ‘permeate’ (in a somewhat pleonastic manner) to describe a state of ‘saturation’. The concept of permeation has been taken up to describe the extent of transmission flow though the institute, the extent to which values are transmitted through the institutional structure and recognised by the erstwhile recipients of values education. That such a flow occurs seems to be taken for granted by the schools: ‘In our mission statement we talk about everyone being treated with dignity and respect…that everyone should be treated as of equal worth…Saying it and doing it at times is difficult…But I think it does permeate through’. It should be pointed out that the use of the term ‘permeate’ in this quotation, which includes the idea of acceptance, does not quite correspond with its use here, where it means solely ubiquity.

Permeation can then be thought of as a conceptual field in which, however tenuously, there is common awareness of the preferred values of the institution transmitted either directly through verbal indication or indirectly though suggestion. As outlined in part 1 this communication of value concepts is not the transmission of values in the sense of acquisition but only the possibility for  conceptual grasp, that is, the ‘awareness stage’ of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Schönpflug’s (2001b) two-stage process of ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’. The analysed research data gave a snapshot of the state of permeation and established that common values are found at all levels of the schools. Moreover the surveys established that there are significant levels of pupil awareness of the schools’ attempts to teach certain values and attitudes.

In this context, it is necessary to evaluate the two-stage process of ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’. First, these have to be considered stages in transmission and not a mechanism for transmission, certainly not in the sense of ‘mechanism’, understood as a causal explanation. Secondly, Schönpflug’s (ibid) two stages are of limited utility for grasping institutional transmission; they are appropriate in interpersonal transmission, but within an institution even if acceptance of a certain value can be shown, unless it can also be shown that inculcation, awareness and acceptance form a causal line within the institution, to speak of institutional transmission is not permissible. Establishing permeation is easier: indications of student awareness of being taught and of staff awareness of the ethos, both of which were evidenced in the data, are enough. Permeation means simply that there is a value discourse occurring in every sector of the institute, in this case at every one of the three levels of the schools. But while there might be institutional awareness, it requires something more to create the conditions for acceptance, or ‘acquisition’, the preferred term here.

Transmission and the institutional structure of authority

Permeation, as just noted, takes place as easily as people communicate, either informally through casual interaction, or formally as in the teacher-pupil interaction or in official documents and publications circulated through the school. Values are embedded in such modes of communication either consciously or unconsciously and therefore reach to every part of the school. However, to move to the stage of acquisition requires a very different process. This process involves the authority structure of the school.

To understand why this is so, it is necessary to go back to the basic theory outlined above, in which value has a dual structure. One is its external aspect of simply being a conceptual word, easily communicated and assimilated. However, this is not the whole or the essential nature of a value, which lies in its internal aspect of being a shared experience of the moral force of the value. For this aspect of the value to be acquired three things must happen: a communal context must exist; the value must be explained or modelled in some way; and the intended recipient as a moral agent in their own right must move to acceptance. The first two imply the existence of a source of authority. Each of these will be dealt with separately; this section will deal with the first two, under four sub-sections: a) invocation and evocation, the processes by which the community of the moral force of the institutional values (or ‘moral community’) is established; b) power and control, as aspects of authority; c) institutional authority structures, at the administrative and pedagogical level; and d) the value cycle, the self-sustaining interface between permeation and authority in the institutional ethos.

a. Invocation and evocation

The concept of invocation, explained above, is the clear link between the permeation of the institutional structure with value concepts and the beginnings of the process of the institutional inculcation of the values of the institution’s ethos. In invocation, though, the function of the value term switches from conceptual to symbolic and the particular institutional values deemed significant assume a sacred dimension and collective binding force in the institutional discourse and pedagogy. Within the classroom that is going to be supplied by the teacher’s use of a value-term in a meaningful context (Hawkes, 2010), perhaps supplying examples, in this way, more than just by definitional precision or extension, deepening the understanding of the term, and hopefully by being an example of that value and modelling that value in the behaviour they demonstrate to the pupils in the class and others. There was evidence of this type of discourse in each of the schools studied in the field research; sometimes it did in an explicit way relate to the religious tradition of the school in question, but values were implicit in secular concerns, activities and policies as well, such as the concern for inclusion, and after Eliade (1957) I have interpreted the sacred broadly as that which is existentially foundational.

According to the theory, as shared experience values have a communal aspect, the creation or maintenance of which is referred to as the ‘evocation of the moral community’. ‘The moral community’ is an abbreviation of – or better thought of as – ‘the community of the moral force of the value’, as values are definitionally a form of the good and operate as such within a value-oriented grouping. In the research two types of distinct evocation were witnessed, referred to as intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic evocation identifies the moral community with the community defined by the addressed group itself; they become, as it were, the experimental laboratory for the practice of the value. Extrinsic evocation is more an exercise in remote empathy, where the group experience vicariously, communally, the circumstances of others in a value-laden narrative.

Logically, evocation must follow invocation, but the precursor for both within an institution is that the actual physical group must exist in which inculcation of the value can occur. Evocation requires the group to be transformed into the moral community, but it is not yet the moral community. In a similar manner, invocation requires the as-if modelling of invocation, even though the value has not yet been acquired by the group. Where there is clearly some gap between the theory and the reality, both evocation and invocation can be thought of as principles for action, or activation principles, rather than as straightforward descriptions of what happens. In both the cases of evocation and invocation the issue of authority arises: the authority of the school to organise young people into classes for the purpose of learning and specifically for the transmission of values; and the authority of the teacher to stand in front of a class of morally autonomous individuals and hold the attention of the class and undertake pedagogy in order that they can acquire a particular value or values. In other words the authority of the school over the moral autonomy of the individual must be brought into play, and such institutional authority needs to be thoroughly examined.

b. Power and control

In part 2 of this essay, I considered three models of institutional transmission, that of Talcott Parsons’ view of the school class as a social system (Parsons, 1959), Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction through pedagogy (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977) and Basil Bernstein’s synthesis of linguistics and politics in a theory of educational transmission (Bernstein, 1975). Of the three, Bernstein has probably most shaped my views on institutional authority, power and control. While the definitions that I arrived at through analysing the data from the schools differed ultimately from those Bernstein employed, his use of ‘classification’ for a spatial boundary between curriculum subjects and ‘framework’ for the temporal rhythm of the syllabus, shaped my thinking on how control is realistically exercised in an institutional setting.

Power has a number of manifestations, but in this model of value transmission, only two functions which are of importance: one is to create roles that function to distribute power; the other is to licence control. It is in the first of these functions of the role that power reveals its capacity to give rise to a self-replicating hierarchy, though one of vertically diminishing power. All power is symbolic and the appointment of someone to a role is a secular anointing accompanied by the symbolic trappings, such as the certificate, the office and the desk, for example. In developed economies appointments to important or professional posts – such as a teacher – are made on the basis of having met certain formal requirements that demonstrate sufficient skill to carry out the role. Once conferred, a role then gives the appointee the right in turn to confer power. A role, though, does more than just confer power; it also limits it through regulation (legal, organisational and ethical). Power takes two forms, that of empowerment and disempowerment. The role both empowers and disempowers (although, it can be seen in context that the role only disempowers by empowering in the first place; therefore, empowerment and disempowerment are relative) and by empowerment confers the power to empower and disempower in turn, though the nature of the conferred empowerment and disempowerment may be curtailed by the limitations of the role. Whether and to what extent limited, however, the power to employ empowering and disempowering methods, known collectively as ‘power distribution’, to alter the dynamics of a system such as a classroom, is fundamental to a role and one of the four areas of control conceded to a role in an institution. It seems that this power – the power to distribute power – is reproduced throughout the hierarchy, and is not a form of control which is a feature of personal charisma. Power distribution is not a creative shaping force as control is; it is essentially a reproduction of the forms of power being transmitted through the hierarchy, embodied in the assigned role. As discussed above, the role empowers through a certain space for action – a space in which charismatic control can be exercised – but also disempowers by placing limits on that space and curtailing the freedom to act by imposing mandatory requirements and responsibilities, prohibitions and taboos. Although the exercise of power distribution may appear to be undertaken spontaneously at each level, in reality the freedoms and limits, say, employed by a teacher in a classroom, are determined higher up the hierarchy and manifest in the legal and bureaucratic burdens that accompany the role.

The exact relationship between power and control is complex, because control also involves the use of coercive force, if not physical force in these times at least some form of ‘symbolic violence’ (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977; Foucault, 1979). Happily, such considerations lie outside the scope of this theory; in regards to the transmission of values, coercive force would be entirely unproductive. The forms of control that are of interest lie in a form of authority that transcends the role, which could be referred to as ‘character’, ‘personal magnetism’ or ‘charisma’, and for which the role is either unnecessary or necessary but not sufficient. (The latter seems intrinsically more realistic; even if an individual has personal magnetism, unless they have the authority to stand in a role they cannot exercise this control in a formal setting.) Power creates the context in which control can be exercised and, in that sense, unleashes it, but it is not the origin. Unlike power, which is conferred and hierarchical, control is either innate or learned and is unique to the individual.

c. The institutional expression of authority structures

At the whole school level there is an axis of authority (the authority for the school to exist, authorisation to administer education and recruit teachers, and mandatory requirement for the running of a modern school including the contents of education and pedagogies) which acts as the basis for three areas of local control relevant to values transmission: the internal structuring of the school, both in terms of its architecture and its management structures, and the limits of the school’s writ, which collectively are referred to as the bounding of space; the organisation of the syllabus into a timetabled curriculum, and the other aspects of school life into a set of routines, called collectively the periodisation of time; and overseeing a system for the permeation of values throughout the school, including strategic planning, signing, signposting and signage (semiotic marking), broadcasting and the cultivation of the school ethos, collectively known as the symbolisation of value concepts.

At the classroom level the axis of authority is manifested in the role of the teacher, which reproduces the mandated power distribution of the higher authority. So, for example, the teacher has the authority to empower and disempower students but only within the parameters mandated by the school board (or increasingly by the government). The role is the basis of the teacher’s control that they are able to exercise in the class, but only in the sense that it legitimises their position; it does not constitute it, however. Control is a manifestation of the personal charisma of the teacher, which can be either innate or learned. While this charisma (as the name suggests) may in some sense be an ineffable quality, it has tangible dimensions through which control is exerted: as the shaping and structuring of space (physical, social and behavioural) through creating boundaries; as the rhythmic structuring of time (through rhetorical devices, lesson planning and the continuity of contact with the student body) referred to as periodicity; and as the shaping and manipulation of images through the spoken and written word and through performative acts, known as symbolisation. The relationships between these concepts are summarised in the table below.

Untitled

At the level of abstraction given above, the structural similarities between the two levels (whole school and classroom) and their point for point correspondence become clear. Evidence was gathered in the case studies that these attributes of power and control are ubiquitous throughout the institutional hierarchy; power distribution, though, is reproduced directly and hierarchically, whereas the other aspects of control – boundary, periodicity and symbolism – emerge spontaneously. The nexus between the two levels of transmission occurs (potentially) at several points: a direct link, as mentioned, in terms of authoritative axis and role, although this plays no decisive part in transmission but rather ensures the stability and continuity of the institutional structure; the critical nexus occurs in the area of pedagogical control, as teachers participate in and build on the institutional strategy for their own classroom strategy, appropriate the institutional semiosis, suitably adapted for their own classroom pedagogy, and both draw upon and contribute to the school ethos.

d. The value cycle

Up to this point permeation and control have been discussed in isolation, as if these processes or states were unrelated to each other. On the route to value acquisition, though, in the process of initiating and maintaining institutional value awareness, they are intimately related. As discussed above, control manifests itself through the persuasive manipulation of language, patterning time (periodicity), space (boundary) and image (symbolisation), in effect to create a controlled environment and conscious state in which individuals can be empowered or disempowered.

In the cross-case analysis of observational data from the field a causal relationship was identified that could be simplified to four categories: authority (power and control), strategy, sign, and participation. This represents the interface between the structure of institutional permeation and the structure of institutional authority. Teacher classroom strategy in the transmission of values, as previously mentioned, draws upon the institutional repository of the ethos and other sources of values and projects the message through a semiotic display in the classroom combining signs for control and embedded signs for a value, this pathway from strategy to sign being the process of invocation. The signs now permeate the consciousness of the pupils empowered and tasked to participate in the moral universe of the value. This pathway from sign to participation is the process of evocation. Participation in the moral universe of the value is also, for reasons already discussed at length, participation in the moral community, where the ‘sense of community’ is experienced. This leads naturally to an intensification of participation through value-based strategic action and semiosis at every level of the institution. The completion of the cycle from participation back to strategy equates to acquisition. At each stage of this cycle charismatic control is exercised; through the distribution of power pupils can exercise a measure of control over themselves and one another in maintaining a stable, value centred community. This process is shown in the following figure, where P = power, R = role, CC = charismatic control, St = strategy, in = invocation, Si = sign, ev = evocation, Pa = participation and ac = acquisition.

value cycle

The value cycle

 

Resistance, moral autonomy and transformation

The explanation outlined up to this point offers a hegemonistic and deterministic view of value transmission, in terms of permeation and authority. It describes the mechanism of value transmission from the inculcatory perspective of the institution and the teacher, but has not considered from the acquisitive perspective the recipient, the pupils, as autonomous moral agents (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994; Barni et al., 2011). To the extent that it has considered them, they have been viewed as blank canvases and as output, albeit the output from a rather more sophisticated process than that considered in many theories of values education. What has not been explained is the trigger to value acquisition; for inculcation or the attempt to inculcate is often met by resistance and for those cases something must ameliorate that resistance. This final part of the outline of a model of institutional values transmission will look at the nature of resistance and the transformation that needs to take place for values to be acquired within an institutional setting.

Resistance takes on different forms varying in intensity, from questioning to outright rebellion. Cases of the latter were only encountered in the literature (e.g. Willis, 1977); the cases from the research field were limited to a range between questioning and robust criticism. It would be wrong to think, though, that resistance is either limited to students or necessarily an expression of antisocial tendencies. The data exhibits examples of resistance across the institutional structure and towards varying targets: criticism of government policies by head teachers, criticism of teachers and head teachers by pupils, some criticism of teachers by other teachers, implied conflicts over policies, criticism of local authorities, other schools and other agencies by head teachers, and criticisms of sixth formers by younger pupils.

When individuals encounter the boundaries established by rules and regulations and limitations on their freedom they usually resist to some degree, either actively or passively (Brehm, 1966). In this state of resistance it is impossible to acquire the values promulgated by the institution, which raises a dilemma for the institution: it cannot relinquish the principles that bound the form of life (Pring, 1986) that the institution embodies, for in this case the institution would lose its identity and its raison d’être; neither can it simply reaffirm its principles, nor affirm them more vociferously, for this is only likely to strengthen the resistance. In order to seek the resolution of this dilemma it is first necessary to understand the nature of resistance in greater depth.

What is common to the examples of resistance given above is the reaction of moral agency to the perception that authority is encroaching on the space in which it exercises moral autonomy, something explicitly voiced in the research data. What can overcome that resistance is the calculation that a benefit is to be had by trading a degree of moral autonomy for something that authority has to offer; that is the moral community, evidence for which was encountered in the field. Therefore, resistance should not be viewed as something pathological, but as an intrinsic psychic mechanism for the protection of moral integrity, which is, nevertheless, at the same time, negotiable. From the perspective of authority the process of transmitter inculcation/recipient acquisition can only be completed through overcoming this resistance; from the individual acquirer’s perspective resistance is an asset which creates the possibility of testing the integrity of the moral community before acquiescing to the merging of their moral identity with the collective. In our complex and relatively open social world individuals rarely become identified with a single form of life, but enjoy multiple identification and belonging. But for each belonging there is a concession of moral autonomy. Objectively, from a neutral perspective, we can speak of the necessity for a transformative experience. Many things can trigger that transformative experience, but to be meaningful to the idea of institutional transmission they should be institutionally contextualised, i.e. things that occur or are witnessed within the school.

In the deductive theory the nature of value was analysed and exposed as a conceptualised shared experience. It seems logical, therefore, that a transformative experience within an institutional context must underlie the transformation from resistance to the acquisition of a value or values. The evidence from schools and the data collected in this research is circumstantial but suggestive of a typology: the acquisition of values is always accompanied by a turning inward. Indeed the conceptual aspect of values logically requires that acquisition should be accompanied by a more reflective attitude. I have already suggested above that this inward turn is accomplished through a process of negotiation between moral autonomy and belonging to the moral community. It is ultimately to find in the community something sufficiently compelling and attractive that the boundary, the encroachment of authority on moral autonomy, becomes invisible or irrelevant. It could be something explicitly inward, such as spirituality, but also a pride in the school or the tradition of the school, or learning to take responsibility for others, and again there were examples of all these in the data.

These things describe the nature of acquisitive transformation, but not ultimately why it occurs, what triggers the transformation that allows the acquisition of values within an institution. The reasons may ultimately be ineffable and idiosyncratic, yet a common phenomenon appears in two anecdotes from the field. It is difficult to put one’s finger on it exactly, but I have decided to refer to it as ‘the slipping of the mask’. The pupils in one of my focus groups told me, almost in hushed tones, of their admiration for the former Head, who had spent an entire break time with one of them, ‘sharing a bag of crisps and talking about TV and stuff’ and on another occasion had participated in a snowball fight. What is not significant here are the actions themselves, which are mundane, but the dissonance between the mask of authority and the humanity beneath. A similar dissonance, on an institutional as well as a personal level, occurred between the hierarchical, tradition-bound structures of an independent boarding school and the glimpses of warm communal life. During an interview, the Chaplain related his amazement at the care shown by a housemaster to his charges, deeply grounded in intimate and detailed knowledge of their likes, dislikes and background, something that will probably have as lasting an impression on those pupils as it obviously has had on the Chaplain. As Heidegger (1962, p.243), quoting an ancient Roman fable, reminds us, ‘Care’ is ‘that to which human [Being] belongs ‘for its lifetime’’.

There is one final aspect of transformation that needs to be explored, which is replication. The essence of values is in a shared experience. Therefore, to acquire a value is to acquire the desire to share the value, both as a way to reinforce the negotiated decision involved in transformation and to extend the moral community. The basis of this concept is deductive reasoning from the nature of value and the symmetry of the model of permeation-authority, outlined in the previous section, and illustrated in the diagram of the value cycle, which entails a new cycle of strategy, sign and participation. Nevertheless, evidence from the data – though limited at this point in time – supports this contention; in one case study pupils spontaneously affirmed values of inclusion permeating through the institution structure from the official levels to classroom pedagogy, and there is circumstantial support for this phenomenon in other cases. Replication links the phenomena of resistance and transformation to those of permeation and authority, by completing the link between participation and strategy. Participation is the end result of the process of transmission, but also stands at the head of a new cycle of transmission. In real contexts this recursive structure is likely to be curtailed by the limited nature of the institution and the downward diffusion of power.

Conclusion

Comparison with models of values education and models of value transmission

Because the model I have presented takes a holistic and integrative view of values transmission, it bears some similarities to other holistic views in the literature. For example, Downey and Kelly (1978) and Plunkett (1990, pp.128-9) put forward similar ideas of values education being approached from one of four possible avenues: through a specialised curriculum, through a broadening of the existing curriculum, through pastoral care or through the school community. Hawkes (2010) has effectively taken all those approaches and combined them in pedagogy of values education. Hawkes, even more explicitly recommends the creation of a vocabulary of value terms to structure pedagogy, an approach essentially undertaken on a national level in Australia which has a list of desired values (Toomey, 2010), around which participating schools can design their curricular and pedagogic approaches. Seeing values education less from a curricular and more from a psychological perspective, Darom (2000) discerns four distinct aspects of education, the cognitive, affective, values and behaviour, which he believes should be integrated for education to have ‘a chance of truly touching young people’ (ibid, p.20). The model of values transmission touches on all those points but explores their theoretical connections, not only as interconnected parts of institutional structure but as aspects of a coherent mechanism.

That mechanism, which I have presented here, I would argue, builds upon, incorporates and goes beyond the mechanism put forward by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Schönpflug (2001a), a two-stage process of awareness and acceptance. Looking at transmission from an institutional perspective, it has had to take into account issues of authority and control which are constitutive of the deontology of institutions, aspects not made explicit in their theories (even if assumed), which make formal education possible and, as I have described, have a central role to play at the stage of awareness. Between awareness and acceptance there is also a hiatus, which they have not clearly addressed, that of resistance and transformation. This theory has provided a theoretical framework that bridges that gap. In some sense the theory of transmission explained here could also be said to extend Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman’s viral transmission model by incorporating the idea of the dual conceptual and symbolic functions of values, allowing them to switch from ‘diffusion’ mode to ‘infection’ mode.

The centrality of the human relationship to transmission

If there is any consensus over the frequently disputed area of values and values education it is the centrality of the human relationship and the quality of that relationship in the transmission of values. As Schönpflug reminds us (2001b, p.132), the contents of transmission are ‘particularly sensitive to the channel’ of transmission, which I interpret to mean that for the recipient of any form of information, and particularly with the case of values, which also need to be activated in the recipient, who the transmitter is, in terms of the perception of the transmitter by the recipient, is vitally important. From a negative perspective, in cases from the schools studied where teachers were not held in high regard, this had a negative impact on academic performance; and in all these cases the cause of the complaint was not their competence as teachers, which in all but a small minority would be taken as given, but their lack of warmth, remoteness or unpredictability. Research invariably backs this observation up. There is a broad area of agreement with various psychological and philosophical views that the quality of relationships is central to the idea of transmission. For Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) the relationship between the teacher (transmitter) and the taught (recipient) is a key condition of transmission. Although the focus of studies on values transmission has been on the parent child relationship, shifted into an institutional context, all of that which has been predicated of relationships in intergenerational transmission is equally true of the teacher-pupil relationship. For Schönpflug it is (2001a) that is ‘an empathetic style’; for Euler et al. (2001) it is ‘emotional closeness between the generations’; for Barni et al. (2011) it is the ‘relationship’ among the parents and the ‘consistency’ of the value message that is received, as well as the ‘closeness’ of the relationship. These all fit into a pattern of successful parenting, which most now agree is authoritative (Steinberg, et al., 1989), rather than authoritarian or permissive. This also seems a fitting description of the relationship that ought to exist between teachers and their pupils in the context of education in general, but specifically in the context of transmitting values. An ‘authoritative style’ seems a fitting description of the combination of authority and humanity of key figures that I discovered in the data from the schools and characterised as ‘the slipping of the mask’, which I concluded was fundamental to a contextual transformative experience en route to the acceptance of institutional values.

References

Apple, M. W. (1979). Ideology and curriculum. London: Routledge.

Barni, D., Ranieri, S., Scabini, E. and Rosnati, R. (2011). Value transmission in the family: Do adolescents accept the values their parents want to transmit? Journal of Moral Education, vol. 40, no. 1, pp.105-121.

Barth, F. (1993). Are values real? The enigma of naturalism. In M. Hechter, L. Nadel and R. E. Michod (Eds.), The origin of values. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 31-46.

Bernstein, B. (1975). Class, codes and control, volume 3: Towards a theory of educational transmissions. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul.

Blumer, H. (1954). What is wrong with social theory? American Sociological Review, vol. 19, pp. 3-10.

Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.-C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. (Trans. R. Nice). London: Sage Publications.

Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. (s. l.): Academic Press.

Cavalli-Sforza, L. and M. Feldman. (1981). Cultural transmission and evolution: A quantitative approach. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Darom, D. (2000). Humanistic values education: Personal, interpersonal, social and political dimensions. In M. Leicester, C. Modgil and S. Modgil (Eds.), Education, culture and values, volume vi: Politics, education and citizenship. London: Falmer Press, pp. 24-40.

Downey, M. and Kelly, A. V. (1978). Moral education: Theory and practice. London: Harper and Row.

Eliade, M. (1957). The sacred and the profane: The nature of religion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Foucault (1979). Discipline and punishment. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Grusec, J. E. and Goodnow, J. J. (1994). Impact of parental discipline methods on the child’s internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology, vol. 30, pp. 4-19.

Habermas, J. (1984). Theory of communicative action, volume one: Reason and the rationalization of society. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Hawkes, N. (2010). Values education and the National Curriculum in England. In Lovat, T. et al. (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing. London: Springer, pp. 225-238.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. (Trans. by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Huntington, S. P. (1993). The clash of civilizations. Foreign Affairs, vol 72, no 3.

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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Parsons, T. (1959). The school class as a social system: Some of its functions in American society. Harvard Educational Review, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 297-318.

Plunkett, D. (1990). Secular and spiritual values: Grounds for hope in education. London and New York: Routledge.

Pring, R. (1986). Aims, problems and curriculum contexts. In Tomlinson and Quinton (Eds.), Values across the curriculum. London: Falmer, pp. 181-194.

Schönpflug, U. (2001a). Intergenerational transmission of values: The role of transmission belts. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 174–185.

Schönpflug, U. (2001b). Introduction. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 131-134.

Steinberg, L., Elmen, J. D. and Mounts, N. S. (1989). Authoritative parenting, psychosocial maturity and academic success among adolescents.Child Development, vol. 60, no. 6

Toomey, R. (2010). Values education instructional scaffolding and student wellbeing. In Lovat, T. et al (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing. London: Springer, pp. 19-36.

Trubshaw, D. (2014). Modelling institutional values transmission though a comparative case study of three schools (doctoral thesis). University of Derby. Available at: http://derby.openrepository.com/derby/handle/10545/337247; http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.633680

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour. Farnborough, UK: Saxon House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foundations of the Moral Order

By Colin Turfus

Part 1: The Moral Basis of the European Project

The Two Pillars

For over half a century now a project has been under way to transform European society from what it was at the mid-point of the 20th century, a disparate collection of peoples possessed of distinct national identities and traditions, into a coherent unified whole based on principles of co-operation and solidarity. This project has been known by various names through its 60-year evolution but is now constituted as the European Union. Opinions vary as to whether the cost of what has been lost along the way is mitigated by the undoubted gains which have been made in terms of both co-operation and solidarity, particularly when one compares the history of the European project with the circumstances of the half-century which preceded its inception with two world wars, both initiated in West/Central Europe. But it cannot be denied that, in terms of its growth in size and scope, it has been an extremely successful political project. To what can this success be attributed? And why is it that when, as at present, voices of dissent are being heard ever more widely in relation to a growing number of issues which are so obviously damaging the life chances and disrupting the lives of many individual and families across Europe, so many continue to defend the track record of the European Union and maintain faith in its founding vision of a united Europe, indeed of a United States of Europe?

In a recently written report on the subject, written for the Theos think tank [8], Ben Ryan argues that the founding vision was essentially a moral one, based on the twin principles or “pillars” of solidarity and subsidiarity. The former, he suggests, is captured in the May 1950 Schuman Declaration as follows:

“Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

while subsidiarity is according to the glossary of the EU website [9] defined as a principle that

“…aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made to verify that action at Union level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.”

Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.

It will be my claim below that the success and enduring traction of the European project in winning the hearts and minds of citizens across Europe and beyond is in its appeal to these two principles; indeed that these two principles lie at the heart of any functioning moral framework.

Following the setting out of the founding vision in the first part of his report, Ryan goes on to describe in a second part how the original moral and spiritual vision has been lost and suggests how the various crises which are causing increasing disillusionment with the European project in a growing number of countries are a consequence of this. The third and final part of his report is then devoted to his proposal for “putting a soul (back) in the union.”

While I concur with Ryan in the broad conclusions he draws in his second part, I will seek to argue that what has gone wrong in the European project is not adequately characterised as simply a loss of moral vision but also has to be seen as a failure to grasp the nature of the moral order and to understand its foundations. I will draw my own conclusions on that basis of what can be done to restore the lost moral dimension and provide a new direction for development in the UK in particular, but more generally across the European continent.

The Solidarity Principle

As I suggested, it is hard to argue against the solidarity principle. It is in our fundamental human nature that we share a common identity with all members of the human race. This has led to the framing of the golden rule, formalised by Kant as we shall see below into his categorical imperative. However, the key point I want to bring out is “common identity.” Whereas some aspects of our identity are shared across all our fellow human beings others are specific to smaller groups or communities to which we belong. The fact that solidarity is premised on a shared identity, and rightly so, inevitably means that a greater degree of solidarity is felt for those with whom we have more in common and with whom we “identify” more strongly. This point was well brought out by David Goodhart [10] in his analysis of UK post-war immigration where he pointed out the unresolved tension at the heart of the “multicultural society” whereby separate identity of minorities is promoted while at the same time the inculcation of a universal sense of solidarity is sought.

Also it is human nature to feel greater solidarity for those with whom we feel most closely connected. But often when greater “solidarity” is advocated these days it is not in relation to those surrounding us in our daily lives but often in other countries or in far remote parts of the world, and/or in relation to people about whose lifestyles and circumstances we know little, but who are perceived or portrayed as being in need. I would suggest that this is probably a misuse of the concept of solidarity which is something that arguably should exist independently of the needs of those with whom we feel solidarity and which furthermore tends to be mutual. Such “solidarity” with relative strangers is more accurately characterised as sympathy or compassion, resulting in an expression of support: no less a virtue but a different one.

Within the European Union, one of the main avenues for the expression of solidarity is through the so-called Solidarity Fund whereby the cost of projects in less-developed areas of the Union (or even in accession states) are subsidised by those in more developed nations. This is done in such a way that the European Union itself and not the donors is perceived as the origin of the funding and indeed such is reinforced by the imposition of large plaques which must be displayed at penalty of hefty fines being levied in the event of failure to comply. In this way, the European project is able to expand and sell itself successfully to ever more countries, to the point where it is now running out of European countries and starting to talk about membership for Turkey. This is perhaps not surprising when one re-reads the excerpt from the Schuman Declaration above and realises that solidarity is there defined not as an end itself but as a means to fulfilling “the plan” through “concrete achievements” (their words not mine).

Another point I would make about solidarity is that it is a property associated with a community rather than with an individual, whereas of course sympathy and compassion represent the personal response of an individual. As I have already mentioned, they are also conditioned on the circumstances of another which elicits the response. A further point I would make is that, in the age of the welfare state and universal care, the meeting of the needs of those facing disadvantage or hardship in developed societies becomes less and less the responsibility of individuals motivated by compassion and more the responsibility of government and (publicly-funded) NGOs. So it is natural that the advocacy of more funds being made available for such purposes becomes a substitute for engaging in a direct expression of compassion for those whose needs we are made aware of through first-hand experience (rather then sound-bites on the BBC News at Ten or artful photojournalism). Even “charitable work” for most of those who engage in it in a voluntary capacity consists of raising funds for organisations whose charitable outreach work is invariably done these days by (well-)paid professionals.

So if UK taxpayers (or those of any other country) are to make available funds to support infrastructure development projects in other parts of Europe, let the case be made by our/their elected politicians as to which projects should be supported where. And let us have our say on the proposals in an election. Then it really will be solidarity and the satisfaction we feel will be all the more for it, as will the appreciation and recognition of those in receipt for that which is freely given. We in Britain are already giving about twice as much in overseas aid as a fraction of our GDP than any other country. It is not as if we need to be led by the example of our partners in Europe to find generosity in our hearts. Though to hear how we are criticised by them for our lack of “solidarity” one might easily imagine the situation to be otherwise.

And let us bear in mind that solidarity is mainly about our relationship with those with whom we live in community. Yes, it makes sense to feel and demonstrate solidarity with the Syrian refugees or the Polish immigrants who have moved in down the road or whom we meet at the local school. But our duty towards those who may be facing difficulty in Poland or Syria is a different matter. We should take care lest we find that our attempts to address their issues based on “compassion” rather than a familiarity with the local circumstances, and driven more by a desire to salve our conscience and/or signal our virtue, may do more harm than good and be rewarded not by reciprocated solidarity but by accusations of meddling or even “cultural imperialism.”

The Subsidiarity Principle

If the problem we identified above with the hollowing out of the concept of solidarity within the European Union to the point where it is largely about the enforced transfer of funds is acknowledged as meriting consideration, the shortcomings in this regard pale into insignificance in relation to the obfuscation and disingenuousness that exists around subsidiarity.

But first, why is subsidiarity important in a moral context? As I stated above, the concept of solidarity (or, if you like, empathy) gives rise to the golden rule and provides the justification for Kant’s categorical imperative which, I shall argue in Part 2 below, is the foundation of the modern doctrine of human rights. If the enumeration and enforcement of such rights were a sufficient condition for the establishment of a harmonious world order (or even a single nation), nothing further would need to be said and the argument for subsidiarity would be more difficult to make. But for reasons I shall return to below, human rights have become problematic in a number of ways.

The essence of the problem is that values and consequently what we see as “rights” have a habit of turning out to be incommensurable one with another. This is a reflection of the fact that our values are intrinsically connected to our identities which are in turn shaped by our history (personal and national) and our community, or more properly in a modern context, the diverse communities, real and virtual, in which we live out our lives. I like to think of this multiple connectedness in terms of an individual living at the intersection of multiple hyperplanes, each with its own set of rules and conventions. As we move around on each hyperplane we follow the conventions appropriate to that social context which are shared, either implicitly (between friends) or explicitly (as, for example, in the workplace). As long as activities on different hyperplanes remain partitioned, this works fine. But such separation is not always possible since the hyperplanes intersect. Also, particularly in the modern multicultural society, the rights of diverse groups thrown together in community to live according to their traditional values and lifestyle may explicitly prevent others from doing so. Whereas in the past this was always seen as a problem mainly for the newcomer or immigrant, the pendulum appears to have swung the other way to the point where the incumbents tend to be the ones who are expected to make concessions in the event that a conflict arises.

There are two opposed approaches which can be taken to address the above issue. One approach is to seek a reduction in the dimensionality of the hyperspace and look to impose as far as possible a one-size-fits-all set of rules which everyone is expected to conform to. This is the essence of the human rights approach whereby making society “fairer” comes to be about identifying groups who are disadvantaged or discriminated against and seeking redress through expressions of “solidarity,” publicising the purported injustices and obliging others (through the courts if necessary) to explicitly acknowledge those rights and to “respect” the chosen lifestyles or belief systems of those asserting them. One can certainly see that there is a strong strand of this way of thinking in the policy direction pursued by those driving the European Project.

The alternative approach is based on subsidiarity whereby we seek to allow established hyperplanes to exist and manage conflict according to agreed rules or compromise. Communities once established are, wherever possible, entitled to self-determination, unless some good reason can be given as to why this is antithetical to the greater public good (a Kantian categorical imperative). Interestingly, this second approach appears to be aligned with the idea of the multicultural society. I would argue that it may be. But it does not, as advocates of the multicultural society often argue, mean that we should necessarily side with the minority community and offer them preferential treatment. Much more could be said here but this point is not central to my main argument here.

In the context of the European Union, though, the half-heartedness of its commitment to the principle of subsidiarity is evident in the very language used. For example, areas where the Union has “exclusive competence” are explicitly excluded from challenge by the subsidiarity principle. But one of the biggest criticisms made against the European Project is the avidity with which it arrogates competences to itself at the expense of national parliaments; and the anti-democratic nature of such behaviour. Of course, the fact power was previously exercised at a subsidiary level but then is arrogated to the centre is clear evidence that the principle of subsidiarity is being turned on its head. How is this allowed to occur? The answer is again clear from the EU’s own words: checks are made, it is claimed, to ensure that action is not taken by the Union which would be more effective if taken at a local level. But who is carrying out the checks and making the decisions? We know the answer to that. And what visibility is granted to lower level authorities of decision-making processes which would allow them to influence the outcome? Clearly subsidiarity properly understood is something which the EU is likely only ever to be able to pay lip service to.

So we come to understand the crippled state the EU now finds itself in, where it maintains its popularity by identifying and paying homage to the twin pillars of solidarity and subsidiarity which support the moral order. But it has hollowed out the one and turned the other on its head. The consequence of this is that it heaps criticism and contempt on countries and groups which seek to challenge its one-size-fits-all policies which are defined as if they were categorical imperatives but are actually hypothetical, conditioned on the support they provide for the advancement of the European Project. It evades the need to universalize its arguments by vilifying the disenfranchised, impoverished masses who suffer the consequences of its misguided economic and social policies, justifying its anti-democratic approach on the basis that its critics are populist upstarts, led on by demagogues and racists and pursuing a self-serving nationalist agenda. It pretends to be listening but is only really interested in being seen to be listening. And rather than exercising subsidiarity it gets lackeys like our Prime Minister David Cameron to trumpet the virtues of the European Project and push it down the throat of the electorate with such force that his reputation and that of his chancellor will probably be damaged beyond repair. And indeed his own party will probably take a long time to recover from the battering it has visited on itself in recent weeks.

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In the second part of this essay I shall develop a framework for thinking more broadly about the establishment of a moral order in which some of the issues we currently face, not only in Europe but across the globe, might be better addressed.

References

[1] A. MacIntyre: After Virtue – A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed., 1985 (Duckworth, London)

[2] A. MacIntyre: Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 1988 (Duckworth, London)

[3] A. MacIntyre: Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 1990 (Duckworth, London)

[4] S. Dothan: Judicial Tactics in the European Court of Human Rights, 2011, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 358, University of Chicago, Department of Law

[5] H.-W. Micklitz: Judicial Activism of the European Court of Justice and the Development of the European Social Mode in Anti-Discrimination and Consumer Law, 2009, European University Institute Working Papers, LAW 2009/19.

[6] R. Scruton: A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein 1984 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London)

[7] M. Oakeshott: The Tower of Babel in “Rationalism in Politics” 1962 (Methuen), first published in 1948 in Cambridge Journal, vol. 2

[8] Ben Ryan: A Soul for the Union, 2016, Theos Think Tank Report http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/publications/2016/01/21/a-soul-for-the-union

[9] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/subsidiarity.html

[10] David Goodhart, 2013, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration