The Infinite Ways of God: Universalist Theology in a Post-Monotheist Age

(Adapted from a presentation to a theological conference)

The following outlines my sense, primarily as a social theorist, of the direction in which a universalist theology could develop, if it intends to underpin a form of society in which every person, of whatever culture or creed, feels they have a place, but which is true to the life, example and teachings of their particular philosophical or spiritual tradition. I propose that there are two main requirements for this to be realised: a philosophical basis for a universal spirituality and a set of universal socio-cultural values.

As I am not a theologian, my approach to religions is principally in understanding their efficacy in promoting good societal outcomes, which from my perspective is the extent to which they promote individual flourishing, social harmony and human progress. However, I wish to approach that obliquely and take as my starting point part of a biblical verse, Genesis 3:8, “And they heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day”, which is a literal translation from the Hebrew. The particular context is that Adam and Eve, after the fall, hid from the presence of Yahweh in shame. The author of the verse, however, seems to suggest that Yahweh was predisposed to taking a daily constitutional in his creation. How we understand this extract – literally, figuratively, symbolically, poetically, metaphorically or sceptically – is a matter of personal interpretation. Perhaps we can agree, though, that as an expression of a literary imagination steeped in an oral tradition passed on through generations, it has the power to transpose us from the mundane to a world of transcendent possibility.

Such a possibility sits uneasily with the dominant monotheism of the Christian West and Islamic world. Phenomenologically, the peregrinations of Yahweh are no different from those of Enki, Krishna, Zeus or Odin, literary gods based on oral traditions that are similarly open to interpretation as a source of ontological grounding and moral insight. Monotheism, however, forbids the possibility of existence of any gods but the one God and, therefore, by inference, the spirituality of traditions other than those based on its presuppositions. Ironically, then, the monotheistic religions fail to agree amongst themselves and have historically been in a state of near-perpetual conflict.

My thesis here is that the problem with monotheism is not the belief in a God from whom one finds spiritual sustenance and moral guidance; it is with its philosophical underpinning of monism derived from Greek philosophy, ultimately that of Parmenides of Elea. Parmenides pushed the pre-Socratic search for the basis of reality in a single substance to its ultimate logical conclusion in claiming that the ‘One’ is being itself, that the only thing that exists is being, that nothing exists outside of being and that the appearance of plurality, motion and change is an illusion.

An important inference from this is that thinking and reasoning are a part of being, there only being the ‘One’. In the words of Parmenides, “‘To be thought’ and ‘to be’ are the same [thing].” (fragment 3, tr. Herman, 2004) and “It is not possible to say or to think that it ‘is not’,” the denial of non-being (fragment 8, tr. Taran, 1965). There are two important corollaries to this philosophical monism: that being is the only thing that can make an appearance in our mind, since it is the only reality; and that the inability to see or to acknowledge this reality is evidence of error. It is a small step from this to the absolutist claims to truth of the monotheistic religions and the condemnation of ‘otherness’, which give theological justification to the horrors that have been committed in their names.1

Whether there is direct evidence of the influence of Parmenides on the development of monotheism is unsure, but there is circumstantial evidence as there is a conceptual lineage concerning the ‘One’, from Parmenides through Plato to Plotinus, who as the father of Neoplatonism influenced many early Christian theologians, including Augustine.

I would argue that a universal theology should not be based on Western philosophical and theological concepts founded on monistic presuppositions, but on philosophical and spiritual traditions that have understood being as plural, relational and dynamic. These would include the pre-Socratic philosophies of Heraclitus and Democritus, developed in response to Parmenides’ absolute monism, and the Taoist philosophy of Yang and Yin, which sees the underlying reality as the dynamic unity of opposites. The theological positions which are most closely aligned to this are pantheism and what philosophers such as Whitehead and Hartshorne refer to as panentheism.2

Pantheism is a total identification of the divine with the world, a position advocated by Leibnitz and the default position of many erstwhile atheists, while it is compatible with the phenomenological approach to the sacred espoused by the anthropologist Mircea Eliade (1957, 1963). As a spiritual tradition, pantheism is most beautifully expressed in the ancient Vedic Sanskrit saying tat tvam asi – That Thou Art – an articulation of empathetic identification alien to monotheism, though not, in all fairness, to some of the mystical traditions that have sprouted from the biblical and koranic religions. However, these mystical traditions are not actually pantheistic, but panentheistic. The failure of pantheism, as I see it, is that it is another form of monism; if everything is divine, then nothing in particular is.

The virtue of panentheism is that it unites the experience of transcendence and that of immanence, that of the divine beyond experience with the experience of divinity in the world. It thus compensates the weaknesses of monotheism and pantheism, the epistemological vices of “nothing but” and “everything”. While immanence in principle accepts as valid every experience and assertion of the sacred, transcendence creates a critical space for moral sensibility, based on cultural values.

A post-monotheist age, to be more than a theological fiction, must correspond to a social reality in which people are free to choose their own spiritual path, whether they do that individually or collectively, but in which there is recognition of an underlying philosophical unity in diversity that promotes collective tolerance, respect and even appreciation. This could be called something like an elective panentheism. As a social theology it would need to both engender and, reciprocally, be grounded on universal values. I suggest, below, what some of those might be, as they are common to the great philosophical and religious traditions, and exemplified by great figures throughout history. At the end of each section I have indicated in parentheses a small sample of related disvalues, that is, traits in opposition to the value, which may be contextually useful.

Uncertainty and the acceptance of our ignorance. This is why we think, why we talk to others, why we read and why we pray. The basis of wisdom is the acceptance of ignorance, a philosophical tradition that goes back to Socrates, but a religious teaching found in all the great religions which must, nonetheless, be cultivated as a practice by the individual. [Sample disvalues: arrogance, self-righteousness]

Openness to the mystery of being: nature, our minds, other people, other cultures. The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know. This is based on the values of humility and curiosity, the foundations of discovery. Science is an exemplar of this approach to nature, but all forms of knowledge arise through openness. [Sample disvalues: closed-mindedness, xenophobia, racism]

Sensitivity to truth, beauty, goodness, wisdom, and other great values; sometimes referred to as absolute values, they have been at the basis of all cultures. Though critiqued in modernist philosophy through the twentieth century, there is a growing understanding of these as important (if strictly unrealisable) aspirations that motivate social progress. [Sample disvalues: deceit, ugliness, evil, stupidity]

Support for the great institutions and accomplishments of cultures that allow individuals to flourish; prime among these is the family, which is reckoned foundational to all social life and, in some senses, a paradigm of all social structures, nurturing the individual within the collective. [Sample disvalues: mockery, promiscuity, disloyalty]

Respect for the everyday and the desire of people to live in peace. Barring those who are pathological by nature, the desire of ordinary – and even extraordinary – people is to nurture the mundane longings of loving one’s country, landscape and culture, achieving one’s own place, settling down, marrying, having and raising a family, achieving a modicum of accomplishment and respect from one’s peers, growing old among family and friends. [Sample disvalues: aggression, expropriation, enslavement]

Opposition to evils that deny fundamental human freedoms and the dignity and full expression of human life; basically, that which denies or denigrates the values discussed here. There have been many ideologies, movements and lifestyles that disavow these universal values and many examples of heroic figures who have opposed such negative forces at the risk or cost of their lives. [Sample disvalues: ignorance, indifference, cowardice]

Humility and generosity in the face of good fortune. The wise never take their good fortune for granted; external achievement should be matched by the development of character. [Sample disvalues: pride, arrogation, meanness]

Acceptance of the place of misfortune and tragedy in life, while attempting to solve and mitigate it as much as possible. Human life, like all life on earth, is framed by death and the possibility of injury and sickness. Some of this is natural, while some arises from human stupidity or malevolence. While acceptance is psychologically healthy to some degree, this should be balanced against a desire to lessen human suffering in whatever way we can, and many in society fulfil this function. [Sample disvalues: complaint, resentment]

Empathy, compassion and concern for the suffering of others; Humans are naturally social beings as well as individuals, and we naturally develop the ability to identify with others’ feelings, although that can be enhanced or diminished based on attitude and circumstances. [Sample disvalues: indifference, cold-heartedness]

Commitment to being at least not a burden and, ideally, a contributor to society; Any society can only create the opportunities for us to prosper; the responsibility finally rests with us, on or willingness to make effort. [Sample disvalues: laziness, apathy, lack of concern for self and others]

Believing, as I think most people do, that the only societies worth living in are as free as possible, the human proclivity for evil cannot be ignored. That is why all societies have laws. Laws, though, only set the boundaries of permissible acts. Values establish the core of a culture’s aspirations for a way of life and, if properly transmitted, can reduce reliance on the application of law. My hope would be that a post-monotheist age would see the emergence of a value-centred culture to which every philosophical and religious tradition contributed and from which they took their moral sustenance.

 

NOTES

  1. The litany of the sins that can be laid at the feet of the monotheistic religions includes genocide, torture, persecution, excommunication, dogmatism, schism, war, terrorism, the sacking of cities, iconoclasm and the destruction of cultural and historical artefacts. While these acts have not been restricted to the monotheistic religions, the scale and intensity at which they have occurred within these faiths should raise questions of whether there is something intrinsically wrong at the heart of the belief. The philosopher John Gray has also asserted that monotheism is the cause of atheism (Gray, 2003). At one time, in light of this history, atheism might have seemed a rational response. However, atheism has proved to be just as destructive of human lives and property when allied to monistic views of truth.
  2. Panentheism as a philosophical term originates from the early nineteenth century, but the concept long predates that. As a mode of religious belief and experience it has appeared in many different traditions, including Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and in some ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy (Culp, 2017).

 

REFERENCES

Culp, John, “Panentheism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/panentheism/&gt;.

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

Eliade, M. (1963). Myth and reality. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Gray, John (2003). Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. London: Granta.

Hermann, Arnold (2004). To Think Like God: Pythagoras and Parmenides: The Origins of Philosophy.   Las Vegas, NV:  Parmenides Publishing.

Taran, Leonardo (1965). Parmenides: A text with translation, commentary and critical essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Beauty: more than the eye of the beholder (part 1)

In my estimation there is no more perverse doctrine than that which states that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Not because it is not true that the experience of beauty is apprehended and appreciated at the level of individual perception, which is, in some sense, a redundant observation, but because of the reductiveness of identifying beauty itself with its mere apprehension. It is perverse, and not just mistaken, precisely because it refuses to accept the reality – and by that, I mean the real existence – of beauty and therefore its possibility of being analysed and understood, communicated and becoming once more a central part of our cultural narrative, repudiated as it was for a large part of the twentieth century.

The perversity of the reduction of beauty extends beyond ontological and epistemological concerns, though, into the social; it implies that we cannot refine our own sense of the beautiful through meaningful interaction with others; and it suggests – or even mandates – that we dare not teach the young about what is beautiful, as this would imply a denigration of some culture and cultural forms as inferior. The abandonment of a commitment to beauty can be seen in the parlous state of our culture in the West today, which increasingly celebrates the ugly in all its forms, or else, in reaction to that, the twee and insipid. It is perhaps an artefact of the infantilisation of our culture that the space for the mature appreciation of beauty is being squeezed to the margins, displaced by the unenviable choice of teen rebellion or kindergarten sensibility.

It is true that the apparent relativity of the beautiful seems to be confirmed, not only by the fact that we individually assert different things to be beautiful, but by the change in the perception of beauty over historical time. I will argue, however, that this is best understood as the process of the discovery of beauty, in the unfolding of the nature and structure of beauty’s constituents with the passage of time, to which various civilisations have contributed their own insights. I will also argue that the beautiful cannot ultimately be separated from notions of the true and the good and predict that the closer we come to an encompassing theory of beauty, the more that will become apparent.

The historical semiotics of beauty

Some time ago, while out driving, my wife and I witnessed a glorious full moon, hanging clear and limpid above the horizon. My wife was the first to spot it and commented how large and beautiful it was. We decided to pull over and spend some time just contemplating it. Being so inclined and interested in things astronomical, I mentioned that sometimes the moon is closer to the Earth, which makes it appear larger to terrestrial viewers, referred to as a supermoon. She refused to be impressed by this information and merely wondered whether such a sight had been seen in the remote past. I was not quite sure what she meant by this, but set forth again what I considered to be the interesting and salient fact that in the past the moon had been much closer to the Earth, that Earth’s day had been much shorter and that over time the drag of the moon’s gravity had caused the Earth’s spin to slow down and days to become longer. The imparting of this wisdom was received in silence.

Looking back and reflecting later, it became apparent that compared to the empirically-rooted but rather banal information I was supplying, my wife’s question was far more perceptive, as it could be excavated to reveal a richer stratum of ideas. For example, a thousand years ago, in what we for so long have referred to as the Dark Ages, would people have seen such a sight? The question is not about the physics of light or the biology of perception; it is about meaning, interpretation and social possibility. In our modern intellectual sphere, we have the possibility of a choice of epistemological perspectives: instrumental or structuralist, phenomenological or evolutionary, for example. For a medieval peasant, we suppose, not only did those terms, or their equivalents, not exist, but we doubt whether even those perspectives, which those terms denote, existed.

In all probability, the medieval peasant, farming a strip of land on the estate of the local lord, had a well-developed semiotics, but it was one rooted in the cycles of nature and of the agricultural cycle, tied in to the festivals of the Church. The priest as the most educated local would have been on hand to explain, or dismiss, the questions of the curious, almost certainly with reference to church teachings. According to Eco (1986): “The Medievals inhabited a world filled with references, reminders and overtones of Divinity, manifestations of God in things. Nature spoke to them heraldically: lions or nut-trees were more than they seemed; griffins were just as real as lions because, like them, they were signs of a higher truth.” Nature was full of signs, and in many ways the medieval peasant, being much closer to the natural world than we are generally today, would have had a more detailed knowledge of its practical processes and warnings, but not the theoretical insight to the interconnectedness of all nature that we would perceive today through our embedding in a scientific worldview. However, for the medieval peasant the signs were infused with symbolism through which they lived simultaneously in a mythopoeic reality, a Christianised revival of the sense of awe and wonder that had so characterised the Classical period of antiquity (ibid).

Could a peasant farmer appreciate the beauty of a full moon or a sunset? The barrier to such knowledge is almost as impassable as the attempt to recreate the prehistoric mind, or that of another species. As peasants were universally illiterate, they did not record their thoughts; as they were uneducated, poor and powerless, neither did anyone evince any interest in what they thought or experienced. Today, revealing the prejudices of our own age, we assume their consciousness was similarly constructed to our own, but we have no evidence for this. The closest we can get is through the theologians and poets of the era. This reveals some differences from modern consciousness. According to Myers, Pastoureau and Zink (2017), medieval nature poems “combine a myopic attention to what is close by – branches, blades of grass, the banks and hedgerows – with the pleasures of the other senses – the song of the birds, the rushing waters of the spring, the scent of the flower, the caress of the breeze – that are made possible by this very proximity and intensified by the limited vision”.

This suggests that the medieval idea of beauty was less conceptualised than that of the Greeks (at least the Greek philosophers) and less holistic than today, but sensually richer. The medievals saw the underlying unity of things in theological terms, the ‘Great Chain of Being’ and their own immersion in nature, but they lacked the framework of objectivity, to the extent of lacking the concept of ‘landscape’ (ibid). We surmise that the medieval peasant, in common with most pre-modern peoples, would have been in awe – that curious mixture of apprehension, wonderment and intoxication – at the sight of a supermoon or anything that strayed from the mundane and regular and, lacking knowledge of causes, would have fallen back on a supernatural explanation. This could be totally wrong; perhaps they were simply indifferent to nature or incapable of an aesthetic appreciation. It is unlikely we will ever know.

Part 2 will consider the evolution of the perception of beauty

References

Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (Originally published as: Sviluppo dell’estetica medievale, in Momenti e problemi di storia dell’estetica, vol. 1, 1959.) [Trans. Hugh Bredin] New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

Nicole Myers, Michel Pastoureau, Michel Zink (2017). Art and Nature in the Middle Ages. New Haven: Yale University Press

A Resolution of the Problem of Absolute Values in Transcendent Individualism

Since antiquity, and particularly after Plato, philosophers have pondered on the question of the absolute values, of truth, beauty and goodness. Now, just as then, there have been advocates of their status as real, as well as sceptics. The twentieth century was mostly a sceptical period, although I predict a revival of interest presently, given the generally calamitous state of public discourse, awareness of human depredation of the natural environment, and rising international and societal tensions. The concerns of philosophy have never been, throughout its history, entirely devoid of influence by or relevance to the social world in which philosophers are embedded. Nevertheless, the foundational issue of their ontological status must be addressed. I propose that the problematic status of absolute values finds its resolution in social structures founded on an anthropological concept of transcendent individualism.

The concept of value as a distinct theoretical concern of philosophy has its roots somewhere between the Enlightenment and the late 19th century when the first writings on value theory as a distinct branch of philosophy appeared in the writings of Brentano, Lotze, Meinong and others, though it has precursors in the medieval scholastic concept of the ‘just price’ and the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, among other sources (Werkmeister, 1970). The modern idea of values (in the plural), the ordinary language usage we make of the word when we are not wearing our philosophical hats, however, emerged with the advent of the modern science of society, or sociology, in the writings of Max Weber, in which values are judged to play an important mediating role in social interaction and institutional viability. It is precisely the existence of a realm of shared values in any given society which, according to sociologists, enables the social discourse between proponents of even profoundly different experiences, beliefs and views.

Weber took the view that values were functional aspects of social structures, largely irrespective of the actual moral force of particular and specific values, skirting around the fact-value dichotomy identified by Hume, wherein it is impossible – according to Hume – to derive a value judgement from the accretion of any number of facts. No one has yet advanced a plausible argument that Hume is wrong. In reality, though, in all social contexts (apart from conventions of philosophers possibly) we indiscriminately mix facts and judgements, even if there is no logical transition between the two. Weber put values on a new footing, ontologically, by assigning them a function while being mute about their fundamental nature. The influential mid-twentieth century American sociologist Talcott Parsons, put it thus: ‘An element of a shared symbolic system which serves as a criterion or standard for selection among the alternatives of orientation which are intrinsically open in a situation can be considered a value’ (Parsons, 1951, p.112).

While I am in general agreement with Parsons’ description of values as ‘an element of a…. system’, this describes their place from an ‘outside’ perspective only; their essential nature as conceptually specific, experiential and immanent in the emotions is ignored in sociology. Perhaps the best exponent of this view of the interiority of values is the Romanian anthropologist Mircea Eliade, who links the root of value even in the modern secular world to an experience of the sacred and for whom ‘even the most desacralized existence still preserves traces of a religious valorization of the world’ (Eliade, 1957, p.24). For Eliade, to hold firmly a value or set of values involves a hierophany, a ‘manifestation of the sacred [that] ontologically founds the world’ (ibid, p.21). While this may seem to imbue values excessively with meaning, they have the quality of remaining invisible and mysteriously opaque to inspection (Hechter, 1993) while inspiring and regulating social action (Kluckhohn, 1951, p.399).

A philosophical analysis of values can demonstrate that they can manifest as both conceptualisations of broadly agreed standards and an intense inner experience, though they do so under different conditions. Within normal societal discourse in open social circumstances we have frequent recourse to value terminology, which commits us to nothing more than a general assertion that we have a preference for one thing or perspective over another (Rokeach, 1973, p.5) or an interest in a specific thing (Perry, 1926). But there is another kind of discourse, which takes place within closed social groupings, in which a strong sense in in-group and out-group consciousness is maintained (Tajfel, 1974), in which value concepts take on a highly symbolic invocatory function and in which the experiential nature and sacred manifestation of the value is shared, or, at least, held to be shared. We can speak, therefore, of values as a conceptualised shared experience, conceptualisation or shared experience being uppermost depending whether the social context is open or closed.

The objection could be raised that the very disparate social conditions under which this dual nature of values manifest itself, as information with an ethical subtext in open society and highly symbolised medium of shared experience in closed community, undermines the coherence of the philosophical concept, that is, of value as a single entity with a dual nature. I would argue, though, that the modern idea of value has co-evolved with the form of society in the post-Enlightenment period characterised by individualism, in which an individual can freely move between multiple belongings, each form of life having the nature of a closed group built around a core of shared values, but in which the hard distinction of in-group and out-group is mitigated by a tentative membership and complex, self-assumed identities. Such societies – the liberal democracies – are, in theory at least, committed to maximising the freedom of the individual, while leaving the pursuit of meaning and happiness to the individual.

Individualism is one of the most misunderstood socio-political and philosophical concepts. This is partly because it does not feature or not feature highly in most non-western cultures, which favour some form of collective identity and almost certainly privilege the collective over the individual. Dumont (1973, p.34) makes a distinction between the ‘empirical subject of speech thought and will’ which is common to all cultures and ‘the independent, autonomous and (essentially) non-social moral being’ who is the inhabitant of modern societies. Thus, Dumont distinguishes between the facticity of individuality – as singular body and capacities – and the belief that one is free and the essential equal of all other human beings. It is this latter concept, which has evolved in the crucible of European history and its Hellenistic and Judeo-Christian inheritance, that has enabled the forms of society that we characterise as open to exist. Individualism, though, is not a peculiarity of Western culture; it is a periodic human discovery that has been made a number of times in history, notably by the Greek city states, but also in ancient Zoroastrian Persia and in medieval Islam. However, in the West individualism has probably had its most sustained form, allied as it has been to the rise of science and modern market economies, which have improved human life considerably over the past few centuries. Thus, although individualism is not peculiar to western thought and western ways of life, a case can be made that it is fundamental to modernity. If so, this entails that as collective cultures modernise, they will have to grasp the issue of individualism, otherwise progress will stall.

In my estimation, the major world religions have a relatively sophisticated and enlightened concept of the individual, which has enabled humanist outlooks to emerge in religious cultures as diverse as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Indeed, the typical view of the individual found in the sacred texts of the great religions mirror a contemporary humanist view, attributed to a 19th century scholar Lysenkus-Popper, that with the death of a single person, a whole universe disappears. Moreover, the sacred texts contain significant statements of existential value, in which each individual man and woman is accorded the opportunity to stand as a figure of moral significance, by taking up a significant historical role. This accords with the contemporary views of many social psychologists that we find meaning in life through assuming our burden of responsibility (Peterson, 2018). Thus, religions’ views of the individual accords unique value both ontologically and as a social actor.

Nonetheless, a view of society is not complete by just its anthropology. One criticism I have of religions as a basis for social theory is that they have an underdeveloped notion of freedom. This can be accounted for somewhat by their origins in strongly hierarchical cultures. For example, in its hermeneutics of the origin of evil, the standard Christian analysis of the story of Eden in Genesis 3 emphasises the Fall from God’s grace and alienation from God’s presence, without sufficiently, in my opinion, contextualising that within the creation narrative of the autonomy of the original ancestors, most obviously represented by the retrograde Catholic concept of felix culpa, the predetermination of sin in order that salvation be granted.1 In the moral narratives of religions, freedom is frequently minimised and bounded by conditions, particularly the idea of responsibility, which again is found to be bound up with the ideas of duty and obligation prevalent in closed communities and hierarchical societies. I believe this cultural loading perhaps prevents a more enlightened understanding of the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Rightly understood, responsibility is not the inhibitor of freedom, it is its complementarity and its guarantor.

First, the responsible person must accept that they are free, in both an existential sense and as a social actor making choices. Without this affirmation there can be no responsibility, only obedience, and at worst, slavery. The great tragedy of much of human history and still much of the world today is that social conditions do not allow people to be free and, therefore, not responsible, rather than duty-bound, though this number is, arguably, diminishing. The human thirst for freedom is unquenchable; we always choose it as an alternative to the burden of excessive societal expectation and to other forms of oppression, especially when we have experienced them.

Secondly, the responsible person must accept that their choices and the acts that flow from them all have consequences, for good and ill, for which they reap the benefits and the costs. With experience comes a greater ability to discern between the two and the wise person will not only make better choices but also choose to impose limits on their actions. The actions that destroy, deplete and offend are the ones that are most likely to result in a reaction that aims to curtail the freedom of the individual for the protection of the common good. For this to happen, the power of the community or the state must be invoked. Every invocation of the power of the greater collective or its authoritative representative entails a diminution of the freedom of the individual, which itself informs the state of freedom of the society. Consequently, that which guarantees the freedom of society is an act of self-limitation imposed on oneself for the sake of the greater good.

Thirdly, the responsible person should work for the common good, which is another way of saying social justice. A commitment to justice in this sense is not a commitment to equality, but it can be compatible with a commitment to reducing inequality, particularly of opportunity. Justice, we might say, is relative freedom, rather than absolute freedom. Justice is the addressing of actual injustices, where there is the absence, limitation or oppression of freedom. It is not attempting to equalise everything by limiting the freedom of the majority in favour of a minority. People are not, and never will be equal in freedom, but it is not unreasonable to address that issue by increasing the freedom of the less free.

From the perspective of a social theorist, absolute values can only be broached in a society which is committed to freedom based on individualism, partly because there is a strong case that the concepts have co-evolved. As the twin forces of religion and monarchy have been weakened in the modern period, individuals have become empowered, science, art and humanism have flourished, and the concepts of the true, beautiful and good have become dissociated from religious doctrine. Religions are, and will continue to be, though, an important mythic narrative source of local and universal values and an important agent in community structure and civil society. However, they can never be the model of a free, individualist and humanistic society, such is their penchant for otherworldliness (at worst apocalyptic nihilism), schism, persecution of supposed heretics and dogmatic control of thought. Their social utility, if that is the right word, lies in the deconstruction of their myths into moral narratives that pose existential challenges for individuals in secular societies, not in forming the authorised template for individual behaviour.

Nevertheless, individualism is clearly declining in the West. It is now routinely ignored in educational establishments, being replaced by postmodern values of equality, diversity and inclusivity, for which groupthink and commitment to collective political activism are required. Additionally, its foundations and the fundamentals of modernity such as evidence-based knowledge and logic, are being undermined, accused of being merely expressions of Western hegemony. But individualism is also declining because over time it has drifted from its roots in the spiritual iconoclasm of such figures as Francis, Luther, Kierkegaard and King and become all too often a justification for selfishness, indifference to suffering and greed. It has the appearance of a spent force whose ideals no longer inspire a civilisation. As Arthur Miller more cynically put it, ‘an era is over when its basic illusions have been exhausted’. The survival and reinvigoration of modernity will depend on the transformation of individualism into what I call transcendent individualism, which draws on the religious and secular heritage of the world’s cultures for the highest values that sustain the human conscience, lust for discovery and the instinct to altruism. These values will in all likelihood turn out to be universal and culminate in the absolute values of truth, beauty and goodness.

One can argue about the ontological status of absolute values, depending on whether one is inclined to Platonism or some form of instrumentalism. Work by Russell, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Quine and others laid bare the logical basis of mathematical and linguistic truth, fundamental science has added enormously to our knowledge of the universe, work on chaos theory has added to our knowledge of the constituents of beauty – such as symmetry, proportion and depth – that of creative instability, and the research of psychologists is building a slowly growing picture of what constitutes the good personality. There is little doubt about the existential force of these values in the lives of individuals and cultures for betterment, prosperity and peace, nor the minatory power afforded by awareness of the proximity of the disvalues of falsity, ignorance, ugliness and evil.

I believe I have made a case based on societal development and social expectations that absolute values and transcendent individualism are mutually supporting concepts. There is still a requirement, though, for some philosophical justification and underpinning for this argument. I believe this can be found in Munsterberg’s concept of the actualisation of absolute values through stages, culminating in the ‘self-assertion of the world’ (Munsterberg, 1909, p.74). I take this to mean that the only world that can be asserted by individuals in a world of individuals as constituting an identical experience of the world is a world of absolute values. However, it can additionally be interpreted as the assertion by the individual that they as an individual constitute a world-in-potential determined by absolute values, which is exactly what transcendent individualism implies. Absolute values provide the metaphysical space for the concept of transcendent individualism, which in turn embeds them in realistic societal conditions.

Because they are absolute, truth, beauty and goodness are, in principle, unattainable. Yet, the human condition is such that, under favourable conditions, it strives against its limitations spurred on by the prospect of the absolute – despite suspecting that it is unattainable – because glimpses of the ineffable are had from time to time. A society of freedom liberates individuals’ creative capacity to pursue truth, beauty and goodness and in pursuing these the individual ensures that the society remains free. The transcendent individual is moving outwards from themselves. Being in themselves, consciously and bodily, they nonetheless attempt to dissolve the boundary of self and other to achieve social solidarity and justice. They challenge themselves to transcend themselves in every dimension of their being: physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially to ensure their social attributes – such as compassion, hospitality, empathy and altruism – are continually being extended outwards. Above all there should be respect for the unique value of the individual and a recognition that everyone has a unique contribution; at the same time, the society of such individuals should be attuned to empowering those who are less able – as a result of natural or social disadvantage – through the progress of knowledge and technology.

The world today is a confusing mixture of optimism and pessimism, potentialities and threats of great magnitude. The idea of transcendent individualism grounded in the aspiration to absolute values could provide the vital nudge the world needs at this time. Our institutions – such as the press, the judiciary, the arts, the sciences, and politics – pay lip service to truth, beauty and goodness, though they frequently fail, both institutionally as well as in the actions of their constituent members, to uphold them. It is high time they were awoken from their constitutional slumbers.

 

NOTE

  1. The lesson of the myth of the Garden of Eden, to my understanding, was that the first ancestors did not protect their freedom and did not accept responsibility for their lives and their actions, but sought to play the victim, just as today (as throughout history) many seek to blame others or ‘society’ for their personal misfortunes. The victim mentality which seems to be sweeping so much of the West today is not the result of individualism, but the result of the decline of individualism and the retreat into polarised collectives characterised by philosophical incoherence, hysteria and addiction to blame and conflict.

 

REFERENCES

Dumont, L. (1970). Homo Hierarchicus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

Hechter, M. (1993). Values research in the social and behavioural sciences. In M. Hechter, L. Nadel and R. E. Michod (Eds.), The origin of values. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 1–28.

Kluckhohn, C. (1951). Values and value-orientations in the theory of action: An exploration in definition and classification. In T. Parsons and E. Shils (Eds.), Toward a general theory of action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 388-439.

Munsterberg, H. (1909). The eternal values. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

Perry, R. B. (1926). General theory of value. New York.

Peterson, J. B. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. London: Penguin Random House.

Rokeach, M. (1973). The nature of human values. New York: The Free Press.

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Social Science Information, vol. 13, pp. 65-93.

Werkmeister, W. H. (1970). Historical spectrum of value theories. Lincoln, Nebraska: Johnsen Publishing Company.

 

Dialectic of the Good: the structural containment of tradition in the establishment of virtue

As I write this, England will or will not be on the way to the finals of the World Cup, and that matter, like the fate of Schrödinger’s cat, will have been settled by the time this article is posted. Although I played (badly) as a boy, I have assiduously avoided following football as it seems an invitation to either adulation of bought success or perpetual disappointment à la Fever Pitch and, ultimately, always the latter. Moreover, the present games began inauspiciously, being located in a country that is an emerging threat to Western Europe, and through a process of tender that has come to be viewed in retrospect as highly suspect. However, like many others, I have been impressed by the shape of the England squad, less for their potential in lifting the Cup (though I would admit this is not entirely a negligible matter) than the character of the England manager, the care he demonstrates towards his players, the cohesion as a team and the attitudes they demonstrate on the pitch. This has inspired some thoughts on a topic not always considered these days, that is the nature of virtue.

According to Aristotle in Book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics:

Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is that at which all things aim.

Clearly, football, like any other pursuit, has an intended goal (no pun intended) of being played well. But what is it to play the game well? Aristotle makes a distinction between an art in which the goal is the pursuit of the practice itself and that in which the practice is productive of some tangible outcome. Aristotle’s examples are flute playing and house building respectively. Which one is football? For some this will be a ridiculous question, as the answer would clearly be that football is a productive activity, the product being scoring goals, winning matches and, at the professional level at least, winning cups and achieving eminent status. This much is not really in doubt. But as football has become increasingly wealthy, with the corruption that wealth can bring, the image that people have had is not so much that of ‘the beautiful game’ but something more akin to Game of Thrones.

Aristotle argued that every practice has an intended end, or telos, which is the cultivation of virtue; by which he meant the cultivation of the human character. This concept of the realisation of virtue through the cultivation of an expertise was also found in the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s teaching on the Tao – literally ‘the way’ – which persists today in various oriental arts, the do in Japanese martial arts (Judo, Aikido) and in the tea ceremony, Cha-do, for example. That is to say, the point is not merely to win, or more broadly to achieve success in something, although it is also that, but also to develop a virtuous character in keeping with one’s expertise.

The question then arises: what do we mean by virtue? The two great proponents of virtue in the history of philosophy are probably Aristotle and Confucius. There is some convergence between their thoughts on virtue, but important differences between them. For Aristotle the cultivation of reason (logos) was paramount, as this is what differentiates us from the animals, but this is mitigated to some degree by our sociality (ethos), what Aristotle calls our being a ‘political’ animal, that is one embedded in human society and its norms. Ultimately, though, Aristotle retains what today we would call a ‘critical distancing’ from the contemporaneous social form. By contrast, by today’s reckoning Confucius appears highly conservative. For Confucius virtue consists in obedience to the laws and rituals (li) of the past Zhou dynasty, which he considered to have embodied ‘the mandate of Heaven’. However, mere obedience to li without ren – literally ‘love’, though I prefer the translation ‘humanity’ – is empty of meaning.

Both Aristotle and Confucius, therefore, have a binary concept of virtue, consisting of an internal virtue and an external virtue, an individual response and an external conformity. I would argue that this essentially balanced and cohesive idea of virtue was sundered in Christianity, something which has haunted the idea of virtue in the West ever since, though it also added another dimension. Jesus, who according to Karl Jaspers, is one of the great ethical teachers of history, came with the radical demand that people leave behind worldly concerns and focus on the kingdom of God. Asked whether the Jews should pay the Roman tax, Jesus took a denarius and asked whose image was on it:

They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matt 15:21)

There are various interpretations of what this might mean, but subsequent history was strongly influence by St Paul’s insistence that the spirit has precedence over the law, underlying the split between the sacred and the secular in the West.

For Confucius ren was the love within the family, particularly of the son for the father (filial piety), which he saw as the basis for good citizenship and the model of the relationship between the king and his subjects (benevolence and loyalty). Jesus, however, took a radically different turn:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… (Matt 5:43-44)

What it means exactly to love your enemies – specifically – is not elucidated, though there are extraordinary cases of those who have been the victims of bestial crimes finding in themselves the power to forgive. I think more generally, particularly within the modern context, though, loving one’s enemies can be interpreted in a twofold way: the call to universality; and the call to empathy, both emanating from the implicit deracination implicit in Jesus teaching.

Both Aristotle and Confucius, as far as we know, saw their duty as delimited by that which was close to them, for Aristotle the polis, which at the time would have numbered a few tens of thousands and for Confucius the State ruled over by the king. Universality was not within their conception. The world that Jesus inhabited was already much wider and interconnected; in Palestine the Egyptian, Graeco-Roman and Semitic-Hebraic cultures collided. Literally collided, that is, as Palestine was a vassal state under the dominion of the Roman Empire. Through exhorting his disciples to love their enemies, Jesus was extending the range of their concern from the local to the universal.

Despite its Greek linguistic roots, empathy is a modern term coined in the nineteenth century, developing out of German Romantic philosophy. It has no analogue in the ancients, which could be taken as evidence for humanity’s continued spiritual development. However, I would argue that the seeds for the development of the concept of empathy are in Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemy, and that, therefore, it is more likely to have arisen in a civilisation based on Christianity. There is no historical evidence for this, of course, as empathy arose from the romantic school of interpretation of the artwork, as Einfühlung, literally ‘feeling into’, and it was only later translated into social theory by Theodore Lipps as an explanation of our ability to identify the emotional life of others. But it is at least plausible that the Christian context allowed the development of the idea that it is worthy to understand the world from the perspective of minds other than our own.

Is it possible, though, that the teaching of loving one’s enemy, rather than extending the idea of virtue, has fatally undermined it? Nietzsche certainly thought so; he saw through the supposed Christian virtues of meekness and forgiveness an underlying corruption of the spirit and the values underlying European civilisation. His solution was a radical transvaluation and a return to the warrior codes of aristocratic society.

The moral philosopher Alasdair McIntyre in his 1981 book After Virtue, though no less aware of the demise of virtue, targeted the humanism that emerged in the Enlightenment. According to McIntyre the concept of virtue was lost when thinkers such as Hume and Kant attempted to reconstitute virtue in purely sentimental or rationalistic terms, undercutting the notion of tradition – whether religious or cultural – that had always been a part of it, as can be seen in the case of both Aristotelian and Confucian ideas of virtue. For Hume the good was no more or less than human feeling. Kant attempted to explain virtue in terms of the categorical imperative, the admonition to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”, which while it is mirrored in the teachings of the great religions, is itself devoid of any particular content or transcendental cultural grounding. For McIntyre, modernism has so etiolated the notion of virtue that it is now virtually impossible to reconstitute it, unless through a return to classical notions of the community such as found in Aristotle.

I am not as pessimistic as either Nietzsche or McIntyre about the influence of Christianity or the Enlightenment project on Western civilisation. Both in their way have the potential to release us from the stultifying weight of tradition, as demonstrated historically by periodic episodes of reform and revolution. However, the discussion of virtue in the ancients placed an emphasis on what I have termed an external virtue, which can only be some form of social norms, as well as an internal attitudinal virtue. This, of course, is none other than a tradition.

Can we and, if so, how do we, reconcile these seemingly incompatible facets of a tradition, as an obstacle to aspiration and as a context to aspiration? It is, in effect, to achieve the seemingly impossible of a synthesis between the critical and the conservative approaches to tradition. There is in fact an activity with a long pedigree within religion, law, aesthetics and more recently in philosophy that sets out to accomplish that, which is the art of interpretation, the study of which is known as hermeneutics. Interpretation is premised on the assumption that the text – a general term for any object of interpretation, though frequently a written text – is given and indissoluble; that the interpretation extends the meaning of the text, but does not replace it. Interpretation, therefore, steers a middle course between literalism, which allows of no interpretation, and deconstruction, for which every interpretation has the same literary or aesthetic value as the original.

Interpretation offers a bridge between an Aristotelian more intellectual and critical approach to tradition based on the rules of the community and the Confucian one of loyalty to a tradition mediated by humanity. Interpretation allows the preservation of a tradition – in fact, insists on it – while seeking that which is essential and profound within it, not merely an external observation or observance. Virtue, then, can be understood as a variety of interpretation, one in which the telos of the activity is the acquisition of the good. The hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer likens interpretation to ‘play’ and cites the poet Rilke:

Catch only what you’ve thrown yourself, all is

mere skill and little gain;

but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball

thrown by an eternal partner

with accurate and measured swing

towards you, to your center, in an arch

from the great bridgebuilding of God:

why catching then becomes a power—

not yours, a world’s

Which is perhaps an apposite moment to return to football. According to Bill Shankly, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that”. Perhaps not, but neither is it as mundane as kicking a ball around a field. Like all serious sports it is a game bound by rules that represent a tradition within the sport, but one that is symbiotic with the traditions of civilised societies. Some interpretations may push the rules to the breaking point in a winner-takes-all attitude; while this may appeal to a narrow sporting fan base, it does not command widespread public respect. A truer – certainly a more virtuous – interpretation, one which we have seen inklings of this time round, sees the rules as the occasion for exemplifying the values of sportsmanship – courage and fairness, magnanimity in victory and resilience in defeat. Sport at its best humanises and civilises us.

 

Selected Bibliography

Aristotle (2000) Nicomachean Ethics (tr. And ed. Roger Crisp). Cambridge: CUP. Online at: http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam032/99036947.pdf

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1994) Truth and method. London: Continuum Publishing Group.

Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) After virtue: A study in moral theory. London: Duckworth.

Karsten Stueber (2018) ‘Empathy’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/empathy/&gt;.

Jiyuan Yu (1998) ‘Virtue: Confucius and Aristotle’. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 323-347.

The Just Society: Equality or Freedom?

In A Theory of Justice John Rawls conducted a famous thought experiment. He asked, if we were to imagine, behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, being born into a world in a position somewhere on the scale of unalloyed privilege and crushing poverty, what would be the type of social system we would advocate. Rawls assumed it would be reasonable to choose a society in which economic justice of a distributive nature prevailed, on the likelihood that we would be more likely to be one of the multitude of the poor than the small fraction of the privileged.

Rawls attempted to derive in a purely rational manner the proper balance between freedom and equality. This has, indeed, been the central narrative of political discourse for at least the last century. It has been assumed that the rational position is a centrist one, forging a middle point somewhere between the two poles of freedom and equality. Although in American terms it was considered radical and A Theory of Justice is considered a liberal left academic touchstone, from the perspective of the present Rawls position seems mildly quaint. The middle ground is now largely out of favour and this is perhaps a timely moment to reconsider the prevailing political narrative. I happen to think that Rawls is wrong: from a point of logic, ethics and the facts of history.

To begin with, the contiguity of freedom and equality is the wrong juxtaposition. Freedom and equality are not opposite ends of a spectrum in which the Aristotelian mean is the just position; they are contradictory ideas which compete for the same space. Therefore, it is impossible to derive a stable balance between them. Logically, if you favour freedom, you cannot accept the idea of equality; similarly, if you favour equality, you cannot logically tolerate freedom. Some, like Rawls – though, I suspect, fewer than in the past – argue that we need to compromise: we accept limitations on our freedom for the sake of some equality (although, strangely, I never hear people arguing the opposite; it seems the argument only goes one way). However, the reality is that the advocates of equality are never content with some equality. In the end, everything must be levelled, to the point of absurdity. It would be reasonable to assume that this might have less to do with the idea of equality as an abstract principle than with its advocates; but even this obsession can be explained by an analysis of equality.

Freedom and equality are, in fact, only related by the concept of power, and who holds it. In freedom, power is distributed; so, the closest we get to equality is when we are free. In equality, power is concentrated in the hands of a few, and even the few controlled by the most powerful; so, the only sense in which we are equal is an equality of powerlessness. To paraphrase Orwell in Animal Farm, everyone is equal, only some are more equal than others.

Despite freedom and equality (or their advocates) competing for social space, there is an ethical difference between them, which to my mind is like the difference between light and darkness. Belief in freedom must logically be accompanied by a belief in tolerance. If I believe in freedom, I do not believe in it only for myself, but for everyone, because the fact that it is distributed guarantees my own freedom. Just as I have a right to my thoughts, words and actions, so do you and everyone else, except inasmuch as the exercise of your right would deprive me of mine, for example by intimidating me or killing me. This is a perfectly reasonable and realisable state, in a society in which everyone shares that fundamental belief. It does have vulnerabilities, though, to pathological liars, the intolerant, those living at the extreme and those whose tendency is to usurp power.

That vulnerability is exploited by ideologues, who manifest all the traits just described. The love of freedom grows out of the philosophical discovery of ignorance, expressed eloquently by Socrates, but reaffirmed in the scientific revolution and accompanying Enlightenment of the seventeenth century. Ideologues first trait is absolute certainty. That means, bluntly put, they believe a lie, as truth is an evolving quality, ever pursued but never finally attained. If you are certain of something, there is a tendency to think everyone who disagrees with you is a fool or a rogue. There is, of course, a reasonable degree of certainty, which anyone having a point of view is expected to possess (otherwise we would have nothing to say), but it is tempered by an openness to correction and development. The ideologue, though, cannot bear correction and hates the open debate of ideas. The more unreasonable the belief the more vociferously its opponents must be attacked, and in the most extreme cases, be silenced. That is why the ideologue loves power, because it is a means of controlling knowledge and protecting certainty.

The belief in equality is an ideological position tout court. There is no equality either in nature or human society. The Procrustean critique of equality is already so well established that it needs no repeating. The socialist dogma of equality of outcomes is just an economic version of such crude egalitarianism and is impossible to realise where any spark of human creativity and freedom remain. It has been shown in practice not to result in greater equality, except in misery and fear for all but a tiny privileged minority. The liberal fudge of equality of opportunity is no more realisable, though a worthwhile goal if pursued intelligently, pragmatically and gradually. I will suggest such an approach (at least the theoretical foundations of such) towards the end of this article.

Being an ideological position, and embodying a fundamental untruth, any programme to implement equality must resort to lies, the denigration of critical voices, the capture of the levers of power in any society, and the use of those powers to force conformity to the dictates of the ideology. This is both the logical necessity of equality and the actual practice of its advocates. This is most obvious in totalitarian states of the left, though it is also manifested in totalitarian states of the right that have policies to ‘equalise’ society by removing undesirable elements. However, it is also seen in otherwise liberal democratic societies where the equality agenda proceeds stepwise by advancing the cause of groups that are proclaimed to be disadvantaged, less by addressing the root causes of their disadvantage, but by political activism and entryism to tear down the normative values of those societies and to brand the relatively advantaged as oppressors. Each step proceeds by labelling the cause promoted as addressing an ‘injustice’. However, the final result is not equality but conformity and the rule of a powerful minority.

If there is one sense in which I would accept the notion of equality, it is that we are at a deep metaphysical or mystical level of equal value as human beings, and that as members of the species homo sapiens we have a value above all other species. I would qualify that by saying that in a secular context our assessment of the value of any specific individual is driven by a host of symbolic, aesthetic and practical concerns, such as who they represent, how they present themselves and how they act. Nonetheless, a transcendent sense of human value, in which we feel called to work for the betterment of humanity and, particularly, for the lessening of inhumanity, is not only compatible with freedom; it seems to me to be the essence of freedom.

Turning then to freedom, it has become an accepted orthodoxy that science has demonstrated the non-existence of free will. This is only true, however, according to the canons of positivistic reductionism, and I’m not even sure of the status of this assertion in the light of quantum theory, which portrays indeterminism at a very fundamental level. Be that as it may, the experience of freedom is real at the human and social level; we know when we are free and when we are not free, because it is felt at the level of our perceived status in the social order and our experience of relative power or powerlessness, which is even manifested as a physiological response.

The moment I think or move of my own volition, I assert my freedom and my difference, which is manifest in the world, multiplied infinitely by all the individuals in the world. In the way I am, think and move I create inequality. Naturally, I am better at some things than any other random person and worse at some; which is true of all people, everywhere. Some of these attributes lead to power, influence and wealth, some to mediocrity and some to ruin. This effect is multiplied across all societies and creates the turbulent history of the world, an uncomfortable truth of how individuals, peoples and nations prosper, stagnate and decline.

The true dilemma of justice is not in the clash between freedom and equality, but the subtle negotiation between freedom and responsibility. Freedom guarantees the possibility of doing anything within your power. This is an exuberant, exhilarating, addictive human experience, and one in which individuals can blossom emotionally and intellectually and achieve unimaginable things. On the societal level it enables the conditions under which real human progress can be made. It also, of necessity, allows bad choices to be made, individually and socially. That includes the freedom to act criminally and psychopathically and endanger the lives and possessions of others. It also includes the freedom to be obnoxious or simply insensitive and offend others. It may also just include acts of kindness in good faith which are, nevertheless, unwelcome. It will inevitably include choices which impact on our health, education, career, livelihood, prospects for love and family, and overall happiness and quality of life. Since the outcomes can be so different, it is important to understand responsibility and the part that it plays in freedom.

Responsibility is not well understood, because few people think about it, and it is not part of our social discourse today, apart from sniping asides from the fringes of moral commentary. If most people have heard of it, it is probably as an admonition to bend to the will of the commentator rather than to act on their own will; that is, it is perceived as a threat to, or an imposed limitation of, one’s own freedom. It is true that the word is often uttered as a reactionary shibboleth without, however, having any specific content. This is to misunderstand the role of responsibility.

Responsibility is not the inhibitor of freedom, it is its guarantor. The first stance of the responsible person is to accept that they are free, in both an existential sense and as a social actor making choices. Without this affirmation there can be no responsibility, only obedience, and at worst, slavery. The great tragedy of much of human history and still much of the world today is that social conditions do not allow people to be free and, therefore, not responsible, though this number is, arguably, diminishing. The human thirst for freedom is unquenchable; we always choose it as an alternative to tyranny, especially when we have experienced the latter.

The second stance of the responsible person is to accept that their choices and the acts that flow from them all have consequences, for good and ill, for which they reap the benefits and the costs. With experience comes a greater ability to discern between the two and the wise person will not only make better choices but also choose to impose limits on their actions. The actions that destroy, deplete and offend are the ones that are most likely to result in a reaction that aims to curtail the freedom of the individual for the protection of the common good. For this to happen, the power of the community or the state must be invoked. Every invocation of the power of the greater collective or its authoritative representative entails a diminution of the freedom of the individual, which itself informs the state of freedom of the society. Consequently, that which guarantees the freedom of society is an act of self-limitation imposed on oneself for the sake of the greater good. It is something that emerges from the realisation and experience of the actual and potential consequences of one’s actions in the world and the harm that may occur because of them.

The third stance of the responsible person is to work for the common good, which is as close to a definition of social justice as I would allow. A commitment to justice in this sense is not a commitment to equality, but it can be compatible with a commitment to reducing inequality, particularly of opportunity. Justice, we might say, is relative freedom (rather than absolute freedom). Justice is the addressing of actual injustices, where there is the absence, limitation or oppression of freedom. It is not attempting to equalise everything by limiting the freedom of the majority in favour of a minority. People are not, and never will be equal in freedom, but it is not unreasonable to address that issue by increasing the freedom of the less free. One of the ways of doing that is education about freedom and the values of freedom, that come through a grounding in science, the humanities, arts and ethics. Another is through strengthening the character of people to be self-reliant and resilient, as well as generous in spirit. Physical disadvantages can and are increasingly be addressed through technological development, empowering people who have life-limiting conditions.

It would be naïve to think that we could do without laws and rely simply on the self-realisation of all the individuals with whom we share a society. There is an argument to be made, though, that justice and the common good can only emerge when there is a keen sense of individual freedom and a commitment to be governed by a state that protects and fosters that sense based on an evolving notion of truth. An over-strong state or community has ideological motives, degrades its commitment to freedom and replaces it with coercion, precisely because it cannot command assent. In a free society, the justification for the state is that it protects the freedoms of the people that it represents, internally and externally, and not the interests of a ruling faction.

The quest to build an equal society, on the other hand, requires totalitarian government precisely because of its fundamental impossibility. In addition, radical egalitarians feel no need to exercise the type of self-control discussed here in their treatment of other people, and feel free to offend, demean, ultimately to dispossess and eliminate those that they have determined to be the enemies of equality. Of course, this mistreatment of those they consider ideological enemies demonstrates the absurdity of their position, as believers in equality and warps, ultimately, both their sense of and realisation of justice.

 

 

Nietzsche and Weber: Transcendent Individualism as Resistance to the ‘Iron Cage’ of Bureaucratic Rationalisation.

 

Introduction

Modernity has been characterised not only by the great benefits brought by the increase in scientific knowledge and the technologies that have flowed from it, such as increasing wealth and convenience, improvements in health and well-being, and access to enormous amounts of information by ordinary citizens, but also by the increased possibilities for the documentation, regulation and control of our individual lives by governments, corporations or the cooperation of the two which technology has facilitated. This was already foreseen in the nineteenth century by one of sociology’s founders, Max Weber, who coined the term ‘the iron cage’ to characterise the growth of bureaucratic rationalisation in capitalist society. Other writers of the period also perceived this tendency within modernity, notably Friedrich Schiller, and Franz Kafka in The Trial. Over the intervening century the bureaucratic state has slowly but inexorably been stretching its tentacles into every aspect of social life, and this development has gathered pace with the advent of big data. With the convergence of government with big data, such as the establishment of a social credit system in China this tendency is now reaching its apotheosis in the ‘digital state’.

The argument made in this essay is that while technological developments have facilitated the drift towards the digital state, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by the promises that the digital world holds, while neglecting the matter of our spiritual being, specifically the rationality, freedom and moral individualism which is the foundation of a sustainable democratic order. While responsibility for this neglect cannot ultimately be laid at the feet of anyone but each of us individually, there are cultural currents that define the social context in which we are brought up, educated and live our lives, and those currents are driven by thinkers of great perception and boldness. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was one such thinker. His influence on the twentieth century, if largely unacknowledged, has been profound, as various aspects of his ideas contributed directly or indirectly to eugenics, National Socialism, existentialism, the sexual revolution, liberal theology and postmodern philosophy. By advocating hedonism as a positive virtue, Nietzsche unleased the genie of irrationalism in Western culture, where it has played havoc with our thinking and institutions since.

I will briefly review four aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy and their influence on European culture1: the Übermensch, transvaluation of values, death of God, and the eternal recurrence. As post-modernism is the contemporary intellectual legacy of Nietzschean philosophy, I will consider how this legacy is taking forward the programme of transvaluation, and the influence that is having on the modern culture and, specifically, on individualism as the bulwark against the bureaucratic state’s total dominance. Finally, I will re-evaluate Nietzsche for insights that might yet reinvigorate individualism and the democratic tradition.

The Transvaluation of European Thought

Like Weber, Nietzsche observed the increasing bureaucratisation of European society and, while like Weber, he saw this as rooted in Christian doctrine and values, unlike Weber, he was not merely content to objectivise these values as structural components in a ‘science’ of society; instead, he called for the wholesale transvaluation of our value system. Under the influence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the will, he developed his ideas of the will-to-power. Nietzsche saw the phenomenon of bureaucratisation as a moral failure of Christian civilisation, particularly as represented in the bourgeoise life of the middle classes, and this failure as arising from the weakening effect of Christian values such as humility, meekness, love and charity on the will-to-power. In place of these values, he sought to instil what he saw as the aristocratic values of the past, those of the warrior code of the pagan gods.

Nietzsche stands in opposition to much of what we think of as philosophy in the Western tradition, usually discussed along the dual traditions of rationalism and empiricism, which can be traced back to the debates of the ancient Greeks, although inflected through the ideas of medieval scholasticism. Rather, he made a turn into mystification and mythologisation through the medium of analogy and aphorism. His most influential work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, uses the figure of a hermetic seer, nominally based on the actual founder of the Zoroastrian religion2, who descends from his mountain to speak about the Übermensch (Over-man, more commonly translated as Superman) and announce the death of God to the world.

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. Despite the middle classes embodying many of the virtues of stable societies and their cultural values, they are consistently a target for elitist figures, including the totalitarian ideologues of left and right of the past century and their intellectual apologists. One can see Nietzsche’s point to some extent; although most of us in the West at least are middle class, to aspire to be middle class is to accept a place in Weber’s ‘iron cage’ of an increasingly regulated existence. To the extent that we are aware of this, we feel a call to resist, and the Übermensch offers us one model of resistance. For reasons that I will develop further below I think it is the wrong model; not wrong absolutely, but too partial to address our current requirements. What it does suggest is that resistance has an element of danger, both risk to ourselves and – at least potential – threat to others.

Surveying the conditions of his day, Nietzsche believed European civilisation was on the verge of sliding into nihilism. The cause of this catastrophe he argued was that Christianity was effectively emasculating the population; belief in the afterlife, values such as meekness, humility, love and forgiveness, and turning the other cheek in the face of hostility, were diluting the will-to-power necessary for the vitality of a culture. As part of his critique of Christianity, Nietzsche, through the mouthpiece of Zarathustra, announced the death of God, meaning that belief in God and in an afterlife no longer had any power to motivate European civilisation to greatness. His riposte to Christian belief was the doctrine of the eternal recurrence. This is best understood as a thought experiment: imagine that if we had to live each moment of our life over and over again eternally, and then imagine living it without a single regret. Nietzsche was not advocating living a blameless life, but a Dionysian existence of excess without shame.

Is it true that belief in an afterlife encourages apathy towards social development in this world? One can see logically why it could be true, but there is no compelling evidence that there is a causal relationship. The Victorian period in British history was marked not only by a strong religiosity, but also substantial social reform frequently motivated by religious belief. Nietzsche obviously moved in more genteel circles, in which an insipid form of religious observance encouraged passivity rather than social engagement. This coincided with the rise of more bureaucratic states in Europe as urban populations rose with the development of capitalism and industrialisation driven by scientific discovery. Together they created a pliant cultural milieu, in which the individuality of the individual was subsumed in a culture of mediocrity. Against this reality Nietzsche railed and called for a transvaluation of values, something that entailed the wholesale replacement of the Christian virtues and the values arising from the Enlightenment with the pagan virtues of the aristocratic warrior, the elevation of a Dionysian view of human life and potentialities.

One sees something like a need for a Nietzschean reaction to the present-day dominance of illiberal values, which, together with the rise of digital technology, have emasculated the vibrancy of Western and other developed cultures. We are a few steps away from becoming vassals of a totalitarian digital state. The implementation of a social credit system in China is the precursor of what may happen globally if present trends continue, because it has a logical inevitability as well as an intrinsic appeal to the powerful. However, There is a terrible paradox to Nietzsche’s revolt against the Christian and humanist traditions of European culture; standing outside the mainstream and preaching a philosophy of the extreme – a heady mixture of violence and hedonism – against the suffocating dictates of reason and conventional morality, has weakened very core values of European and Western identity and stability and allowed the influx, cultivation and nurturing of extremist ideologies at the very heart of many of our academic institutions.

The Susceptibility of Post-Modern Societies to the ‘Iron Cage’

The ‘iron cage’ of Weber’s imagination is as apt a description of the social trends we see today as it was of his own time. Two new factors have been added: the emergence of digital technology which has accelerated and augmented the bureaucratisation of the state and its intrusion into more areas of individual and family life; the rise of a rights-based illiberalism which necessitates, increasingly, the use of the tools of state power to implement and police its diktats in every corner of society.

How have we been enticed into the iron cage, and how do we continue to live there for the most part unaware of our imprisonment? Answering those questions fully would require a historical and psychological account to be given and I am neither a historian nor a psychologist, but from a socio-philosophical perspective it can plausibly be argued that a Nietzschean transvaluation has in fact occurred. European civilisation has been based upon individualism derived from both classical Enlightenment values and Christian values. This type of individualism has provided people with the tools for both internal resilience, that is inner conviction in an extrinsic truth, and the ability to call out wrongdoing and transgression in the name of a greater good, not only moral but also social. At the same time, it has also bred a belief in fundamental freedom and tolerance, meaning an acceptance of that with which one did not necessarily agree. Beyond this, these fundamental values have provided the basis for a shared understanding and belonging in a web of communities, both secular and spiritual, in which disagreements could be discussed in a more-or-less civilised manner. It is this individualism which has now been severely weakened.

How is it then that a culture that underlay Western individualism has been so etiolated? I think that the seeds lie already in how Christianity and humanism developed through their institutional embodiments. In some respects their positive strengths and values made them susceptible to the enticement of alternative – more extreme – interpretations of their virtues. These forces include the emergence of a culture of groupthink. At some point in the development of human rights thinking, the notion of group rights became accepted. This went against the very idea of human rights in its original form, which enshrined the right of the individual to be protected from the power of the state. The protection of the rights of a group requires and inversion of this priority, that is the interference of the state in the rights of individuals in freely expressing their views on groups considered vulnerable. Of course, it can, and is, argued that this represents progress in social matters; nevertheless, it was a breach in the protection of individual rights. The expansion of this initially laudable idea of the protection of vulnerable groups has continued apace, until it has come to occupy almost the entire discourse on human rights, and where group rights conflict with the individual right of self-expression or conscience, almost invariably group rights – the protection of one’s rights as part of a collective identity – take precedence in any legal judgement.

A second related threat is the progressive undermining of the spiritual and secular values of European civilisation. For reasons that it is beyond the scope of this essay to consider, spiritual and secular values, while often in tension, exist in a symbiotic relationship. It has often been noted that the particular religious legacy of the West has been instrumental in creating its intellectual culture. Attempts to distil the essence of rationality shorn of this historical and cultural context have inevitably run into paradox. At least since the French Revolution, though, the intellectual culture of the West has been increasingly hostile to religion, and this has permeated almost every institution and medium of mass communication. For example, the EU is an attempt to create a European identity based entirely on secular values, without any reference to its shared religious history. To some extent this trend is understandable, as it can be seen as a reaction against the past historical abuses of power of the Christian churches and the wars of religion. However, the lessons of the French revolution should disabuse us of the idea that reason alone is the guarantor of a just social order. I suspect (though I have no evidence for this) that religion creates a context of rules for an extended community in which reason can operate but is constrained; freed of this constraint, reason has nothing to operate on but itself, which at least explains the self-destructive tendencies in the hyper-rationalism of post-modern philosophies such as deconstructionism.

Post-modernism is doubtless the principal contemporary ideology with a Nietzschean lineage.3 Its indebtedness to Nietzsche is two-fold: on the one hand is its clear inheritance of Nietzsche’s diatribes against Christianity and rationality, though reinterpreted through a Marxist appeal to equality to the downtrodden (replacing the industrial proletariat with whoever can conveniently be labelled a victim of western power structures) and the subtle use of dialectic that allows the play of meaning to the verge of semantic nihilism; on the other hand is its incessant narratives and barely concealed love of confrontation and transgression: Foucault’s discourses on power and ‘symbolic violence’ (basically everything), anti-imperialist, radical feminist and queer theorists that subject even science and mathematics to their victimological hermeneutics, to the current vogue for ‘safe spaces’, ‘microaggressions’ and ‘trigger warnings’, that foreclose open debate and precipitate pre-emptively defensive acts of violence. Nowhere is this postmodern dialectic more revealing than in its apologetics for radical Islam, despite (or is it because of?) its anti-rationalist and anti-science fundamentalism, its oppression of women, support for global jihad and dreadful human rights record.

Resistance to the ‘Iron Cage’

Is it possible to interpret Nietzsche for a route out of the iron cage, towards which, I have argued, he has unwittingly helped entice us, by creating the cultural shift in values that is facilitating the advent of the totalitarian digital state? I believe that a reading of Nietzsche can be foundational to a reassessment of individualism moving into the emerging information age, both of its rationalistic elements and of its Christian morality. I will focus on two of Nietzsche’s concepts, the figure of the Übermensch and the eternal recurrence.

The Übermensch has been criticised as a type of proto-fascist ideal. They live by an aristocratic code of superiority, the will-to-power, which is what attracted the Nazi theorists to the idea and it is certainly true that the Nazis appropriated the terminology for their own propaganda.4 The delineation of the idea in itself, therefore, makes Nietzsche responsible to that extent. That, however, can be said of almost any idea: that it is subject to misinterpretation and misappropriation. A reading of Nietzsche on the subject should be enough to correct that criticism. Fascism is a branch of socialism that identifies the state with national identity rather than the industrial proletariat. The Übermenschen live by their own values, not by the values of the collective. They have no allegiance to the state, to an ideology, to a collective identity or obedience to a Fuhrer, which is where Nietzsche and fascism part company.

I think Nietzsche was right to critique the dominant values of the culture of his time, particularly the way in which Christianity, with its focus on sin and salvation, diminished the image of man and reduced the capacities and potentialities of life in this world with the promise of a better life in the next. He was also right in predicting the slide into nihilism that occurred with the two world wars. It is possible that the very culture of inadequacy and dependence which he lacerated was instrumental in the rise of Hitler, who came as a messianic saviour to the German people. However, the image of the Übermensch should not be appropriated wholesale, but accepted critically as a corrective to the weaknesses of the dominant European culture. Particularly at this time, as people are becoming in thrall to the new digital culture and the possibilities for radical government control over the actions and thoughts of their citizens, Nietzsche’s Übermensch holds out the possibility of the individual citizen becoming more dangerous to the power of the state.

That said, this does not require a total transvaluation of the sort proclaimed by Nietzsche. Many of the values that he criticised have an important place in our culture and our psychology. The fact is, we are physically and morally limited and fail or commit sins. All cultures have evolved methods for individual and societal healing, such as confession, punishment, contrition, mercy and forgiveness, depending on the nature of the crime. I suggest rather than a rejection of the values of the culture of which we find ourselves a part, we should engage in a more critical appropriation and individualisation of those values, accepting the positive aspects and resisting attempts by the state to coerce us into its desired patterns of behaviour. It is to redress the balance in the relationship between the state and the citizen, which has flowed in the direction of state empowerment during the last 100 years. It is not a repudiation of statehood, but of the totalitarian bureaucratic state that is threateningly just over the horizon. It is also to accept the responsibility for becoming a better citizen, who holds the state to account.

The idea of the eternal recurrence (or eternal return as it is also known) is probably the most difficult of Nietzsche’s ideas to fathom. I have offered my interpretation above, and on the surface a more morally odious and nihilistic idea can barely be conceived. Yet I want to turn that on its head now, and consider how that might yet presage an important philosophical turn in European civilisation. The eternal recurrence, on Nietzsche’s own understanding, means to live beyond not merely belief in a life after death, but beyond belief itself, in a world of values. It is to live in the eternal present; not so much to live hedonistically in the present moment as such, but to live one’s values as if they are eternal values. Nietzsche therefore declares that the age to come is the new axial age, in which matters of value, whether they be religious or secular, take precedence over the matters of ontology and epistemology which have hitherto been the central concerns of philosophy.

Just as Nietzsche could not contemplate a transvaluation of European civilisation without a mythological underpinning, so too a reinterpretation of the eternal recurrence as a paradigm shift to values-based culture has its own mythology, which is best described by Maurice Berman’s concept of ‘the re-enchantment of the world’, which  emerged in a book of the same name on the philosophy and psychology of science, and became adopted as a tellingly evocative motif among certain environmental writers and theologians in the late twentieth century. Coming full circle, it was, ironically, a challenge to Weber’s characterisation of the predicament of post-Enlightenment societies through a phrase he had borrowed from 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. The disenchantment of the world is the spiritual precursor of the iron cage of bureaucratic rationalisation.

The idea of re-enchantment fulfils the need in a thoroughly secularised age for a sense of the transcendent in human life. That could be transcendence in the religion of our own culture, 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, or in love. Seeking transcendence of our ego, our experience of the self, is not only an expression of our freedom and individuality, but also our desire, as an individual, to belong to the human community. Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch, therefore finds a more benevolent interpretation in what I call transcendent individualism, a philosophy of the self that is at the heart of resistance to the iron cage.

To speak of transcendent individualism as benevolent does not, though, mask its threat to the forces of bureaucratic rationalisation. The modern capitalist society requires us to be good workers and consumers, whereas socialism requires us to be good citizens of the state. Of the two prospects, given the choice, people have chosen the former on the whole, and the former almost universally after having experienced the latter. But the state in either case has no intrinsic interest in us as individuals, only as functional parts of its operational whole; it defends us against enemies, feeds us, educates us, provides we remain in reasonable health, and perhaps employs us, because that is the requirement of its own survival – indeed without doing those things we would call it a failed state. Paradoxically, then, though the state is, in the end, just individuals, as a deontological entity, it abstracts the individuality of the individual and, if it becomes too powerful it crushes the natural state of free thought, free expression, free action and free association that underlie authentic social belonging.

Transcendent individualism, by resisting the encroachment of the overgrown state into more areas of our lives, is the guarantor of the continuing vitality of the society of which the state is an important part. It addresses philosophically an issue which has been neglected in recent debates on democracy, the importance of individualism as the foundation of democratic societies, without reducing it to the consumer of capitalist requirement. It does not shy away, either, from the notion of democracy as a messy, conflict-ridden and sometimes revolutionary force. I do not foresee a reduction in conflict in democratic society in the future, as there will inevitably be clashes of values, but this is the essence of the form of society that builds itself on the value of the individual, one that must be eternally vigilant of collectivist tendencies and the stultifying oppression of bureaucratic rationalisation.

Notes

  1. I have referred to European thought and European culture rather more than the more general term Western thought and culture, firstly because this is more representative of the cultural milieu in which Nietzsche moved and wrote, but also because, although there are continuities with Western thought and culture more generally, some of the criticisms, e.g. of the character of Christianity, discussed here do not necessarily apply outside Europe.
  2. The modern-day Parsees of India, a small but influential community, are the last remnants of the Zoroastrian religion, which was once widespread throughout central Asia. Its influence is even apparent in Jewish and early Christian theology.
  3. Nietzsche’s relationship to subsequent developments is disputed and paradoxical, as it seems he is held responsible for precipitating the things he warned against. He likened Christianity to a slave mentality, making a virtue of weakness. Today postmodernism – which does have an authentic Nietzschean heritage – underpins much of social justice rhetoric and activism, yet reproduces this mentality. Similarly, while he warned against nihilism, he is considered by some a nihilist philosopher.
  4. It is known definitively that Nietzsche’s links to Nazism arose through the emendation of his archive posthumously by his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who was married to an believer in Aryan supremacy, and was later herself a National Socialist sympathiser. Through the bowdlerised works, Nietzsche came to the attention of Nazi theorists and leaders.

 

Selected Bibliography

Peter Baehr (2001), The “Iron Cage” and the “Shell as Hard as Steel”: Parsons, Weber, and the Stahlhartes Gehäuse Metaphor in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, History and Theory Volume 40, Issue 2, pages 153–169, May 2001

Ernst Bertram (2009[1918]). Nietzsche: Attempt at a New Mythology [Translated by Robert E. Norton]. University of Illinois Press.

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

Simon Denyer (22 October 2016). China wants to give all of its citizens a score – and their rating could affect every area of their lives. The Independent (online): http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-surveillance-big-data-score-censorship-a7375221.html

Graeme Garrard (2008). Nietzsche for and against the Enlightenment. The Review of Politics, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Fall, 2008), pp. 595-608

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.

Values and Identity

By Colin Turfus

We hear much about “values” and “identity” in discussions in the media these days. Often the debate about values is specifically around so-called “British values”; and the discussion about identity is often in the context of what is referred to as “identity politics.” The discourse on both these topics in my experience tends to be tedious and unilluminating, so I would like to try and consider these topics from a fresh perspective, in particular to look at their relationship and consider what light the one can shine on the other.

What Do I Mean by Values?

In relation to values, it is often assumed that, to be worthy of the name, they need to be universal or universalisable, i.e. worthy or capable of being upheld by all people, conceptually at all times (although this last idea is rather difficult to square with the commonly held perception that values somehow evolve as the human race becomes more “enlightened”). One of the consequences of this approach is that the concept of “British values” becomes almost an oxymoron, and we tend only to list amongst them things like “fairness,” “democracy” and “respect for the rule of law” which we would advocate that all people in all nations should adopt on the basis of their self-evident merit, arguing to that end along the lines of Kant’s categorical imperative.

Personally, I consider Kant’s philosophy to be unduly influential in our public debate, not least in his insistence on universalisability as a means of determining rules for what constitutes the good. While such arguments are helpful if we wish to compel others to adopt a mandated value perspective, or at least to behave and speak in public as if they did, much of what we really mean by “values” is not really universal at all; indeed it is often quite idiosyncratic and personal. Not only that, I would even propose that idiosyncratic value perspectives are crucial in bringing people together in social groupings and enable the members thereof to see themselves as distinct from members of other groupings on the basis not only of what Aristotle would refer to as the telos, or intrinsic purpose, of the group but also of the values to which this telos gives rise.

What I am arguing, therefore, is that we should think of values as inhabiting intersecting spheres, mirroring the fact that as multifaceted individuals we ourselves inhabit separate spheres in our lives, such as work, family, sports clubs, choirs, and discussion groups, each with its own telos and its own values, some of which may be universal and others of which may be highly exclusive. What I want to emphasise is that those which are universal are not necessarily higher or more important than others. Indeed they probably only offer a lowest common denominator. Who would wish it to be said as their epitaph only that they always did what was required of them? Or that they never strayed even once into political incorrectness? Surely a life replete with value has to go beyond the mundane and be infused with some idiosyncratic personal passion?

Problems with Conflicting Values

Another common misunderstanding—and this brings me on to the question of identity—is the opposite one: that when we feel the values of some particular group are antithetical to our own, there is some onus on us to show respect for the values of that group and indeed for whatever is the object of their valuing. To my mind that is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense. The group and their values are different precisely because they are idiosyncratic, not universal. To demand that we respect the values and the valuing of another group is to suggest that we should adopt in some measure their idiosyncrasies. But in order to do so, we must at the same time relinquish hold on some of those associated with our own group (and identity). Thus we are required to pay homage to the values of groups to which we do not belong, and so to sublimate our own values. Presumably the other group is expected to reciprocate. As can be seen, if we were to take this process to its logical conclusion, our very identity, shaped as this is by the groups we belong to and the aims and activities we share with their members, will be undermined.

Much of such discussion about respect for other people’s values revolves around the idea of rights, which of course are inextricably linked with universalisability. Human rights law does indeed protect freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Consequently there is an onus on each of us to respect the rights of individuals and groups to hold and give expression to their values, but not necessarily to respect the values (or objects of valuing) themselves. Of course, if the expression of “values” is antithetical to universal rights held by others, or worse illegal, even the right of expression is curtailed.

In summary, “values” may by their nature and the role they play in our social lives divide us as much as they unite us, and to believe or wish otherwise is not just mistaken, but potentially dangerous as it may result in drawing groups into unnecessary conflict and undermining their ethos and the seminal role they play in underpinning civil society. Protecting spheres of value requires a judicious measure of separation to be maintained between social groupings. There can be such a thing as too much “unity”.

Problems with Multiple Identities?

As I have suggested above, the idiosyncratic values we hold to are a reflection of the social groupings we belong to (or used to) and vice versa. These give rise in a natural way to our identity, which will naturally be multi-faceted. This state of affairs and the recognition of the ultimate incommensurability of diverse value perspectives has given rise in the modern era to the postmodernist narrative, or perhaps I should say multiplicity of narratives. (How this squares with the purportedly necessary Kantian condition of universalisability of values has never to my knowledge been elucidated.) In accordance with this perspective, no individual or group has the right to prioritise their perspective or values over any other.

Well that’s the theory. The reality in the UK and indeed across Western society in general is of course what has become known as the multi-cultural society, whereby non-indigenous communities are encouraged to hold fast to their separate identity and culture, express their grievances against the majority community and demand preferential access to resources; and are often permitted, encouraged even, to flaunt the law, such as with so-called sanctuary cities in the US and in refugee camps at Sangatte. Thus we enter the realm of identity politics in accordance with which the basis of this entitlement to assert one’s identity or culture is a sense of victimhood, or the experience of prejudice or microaggression at the hands of the “majority” community. We have veritable industries now established in our universities manufacturing theories and devising ever more ways to fan the flames and identify new injustices which had hitherto gone unnoticed. How this can be reconciled with the idea of a society of universal shared values is hard to fathom.

But it does not even stop there. Under the postmodernist agenda new minority communities are all the time being identified, for example through the agency of gender dysphoria which has gone within a matter of years from being a pathological psychological state to being the major battleground in the crusade to evict inherited/traditional values from their erstwhile home at the centre of society. What was previously referred to as the LGBT community has become a veritable alphabet soup where soon we will be running out of letters to represent all the rainbow of gender perspectives which the theory (or, absent that, the ideology) seeks to accommodate. And don’t get me started on the haves versus the have-nots debate (where interestingly it appears uniquely to be the minority who are deemed to be the oppressors!).

Under this narrative, the authenticity of the perspective expressed is deemed to arise not from any coherent philosophical perspective or historical narrative but from the grievances which are evinced, so civilised discussion is barely possible, only capitulation lest one be seen as manifestly part of the problem and labelled as embodying this or that phobia or -ism.

Where Does This Leave Us?

This whole business seems to me to be a misuse of the idea of identity. From the perspective I outlined above, this should be about shared values within a community or social grouping, not shared grievances and enmities. Interestingly I would see the new revanchist nationalism evident in the US and Europe (it was rarely if ever absent anywhere else in the world, so is seldom remarked upon other than in Europe or North America) as a reaction against the perceived injustice of precisely this privileging of minority over majority interests. Unfortunately the manifestation of this tends all too often to be again through the expression of shared grievances and enmities, which is not really leading towards a resolution.

It would appear there is urgent need to put positive values back at the centre of the concept of identity and indeed of our moral/societal/political discourse.

‘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.

Value Socialisation and Pedagogy, Part 2: The Theoretical Basis of Teaching Values in the Classroom

Part 1 dealt with issues arising in the field of values education, looking at the literature of academic debate over three decades. In my estimation, a fundamental problem of the whole field is that it has taken insufficient account of the philosophical discourse of values and lacks a concept of values as transmissible entities or a model of institutional transmission. I have elsewhere written on these topics (September 2015, August 2016). The present essay outlines this institutional model in a specifically pedagogical context of the school classroom. All schools and all teachers attempt to instil values in their students, and the success of these attempts are measurable in terms of the interrelated variables of expected behaviours and expected outcomes. However, much of this is implicit rather than explicit, but by exposing the nature of successful transmission mechanisms, even when implicit, there is the hope to give values education on a more robust theoretical and evidential basis. This model has drawn for its inspiration on several theorists, but particularly on the cultural transmission theory of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Bernstein’s (1975) theory of educational transmission. However, the conclusions reached are based on a cross-case analysis of values education carried out in three UK secondary schools with different demographic profiles and differing forms of governance (Trubshaw 2014).

Methodological Considerations

Before presenting the model, a consideration of the methodological procedures for data collection and analysis are in order, summarised from the document referred to above. The model emerged from an iterative cross-case analysis of three cases employing a mixed methods – primarily qualitative – approach to gain a snapshot view of institutional processes in constructing, realising and maintaining the institutional ethos, investigating embedded values in school documents, pedagogy and student lived-experience.

Observations, several interviews, a survey and student focus group and an examination of public and internal documents were carried out at each school and the data subject to a range of analyses, such as content analysis, conceptual coding, semiotic analysis and statistical analysis, as appropriate. A profile of institutional transmission was built up through a series of matrices tracing the fortunes of prominent value groups across the management/administrative, teacher/classroom and student/recipient levels of each school, which formed the backbone of each case study.

The resultant model, outlined below, was subject to several tests. First, each element was checked against the raw data, to determine whether there was supporting evidence for the particular concept, and to test the extent and variability of the concept (and to rule out the possibility that it was an artefact of theorising or theoretical influence). Then the whole model was applied as an analytical tool to randomly chosen passages of interviews, to look for ‘conceptual clustering’ around values in the text. Finally, the model was applied to the description/transcription of a classroom observation. The first and second strongly validated the model. The last was more problematic as transmission is an institution-wide phenomenon, not limited to the classroom. Moreover, it is a transformative phenomenon, taking place over time, and so unlikely to be captured in its entirety in a single class. Nevertheless, there were elements on display and I remain confident the model will be further validated when longitudinal studies are carried out.

Finally, two concepts referred to in this essay, invocation and evocation, are terms denoting processes deduced from philosophical analysis of the nature of values to hypothesise the mechanics of value transmission, and are therefore not part of the empirical model derived from collected data, but rather what Blumer (1954) refers to as ‘sensitising concepts’ in the research design. Invocation refers to the ritualistic (incantatory) utterance of value terms by an authority figure to a receptive audience, while evocation refers to the declaration of the existence of a community bound by a value or set of values (moral community).

PRESENTATION OF THE MODEL

Overview and Outline of Model for Institutional Value Transmission

Based on the analyses of data obtained at the three schools covered in the case studies, an overview of the model for institutional value transmission in four stages can be outlined, shown in the table below. The categories/concepts in bold are constitutive aspects of the stages in the left-hand column; non-bolded ones are typically examples of the categories/concepts or ‘scaffold’ terms that have been important at various stages in the construction of the model.

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The following section will provide a definition of all the main categories and concepts in the model, the principal stages in the first column and those bolded in the second column of the table.

Categories of Permeation

Permeation is the state of conceptual saturation of the life-world of an institution, specifically by value concepts. This arises through the normal routes of institutional communication in schools: policies, meetings, notices, discourses, colleague dialogue, books and films, classroom pedagogy and more informal exchanges, peer conversations, and so on. As well as the specifically linguistic, it can also include extra-linguistic communication, such as pictures, symbolic acts and behavioural modelling.

Value

A value is any term, or a description of a state of affairs, that has the connotation of a good in a particular frame of reference, and can influence how individuals feel and behave in certain circumstances. Here, it includes specifically social, moral, spiritual, individual and achievement values. Using a variation of content analysis, values are designated by abstract nouns being assigned to sections of text that match the noun in meaning, either through being identical, transformed (e.g. syntactically) or synonymous.

Disvalue

Disvalues, as they are interpreted in this research, are negative states that reinforce a good or invoke a positive reaction, so are found in clusters either with or without values.

Strategy

A strategy is an action, intention to act or action plan with a pedagogical aim, specifically (though not exclusively) to facilitate the teaching of a particular value or set of values.

Semiotic marker

A semiotic marker is a word or phrase that designates an object or event, either real or imaginary, which has some pedagogical significance, particularly, though not exclusively, in the teaching of values.

Intentional state

The term is taken from the phenomenological literature, from the ‘intentionality of consciousness’, used first by Brentano (1973) and then by Husserl (1970), meaning that consciousness is not a pure abstraction but is always consciousness of something, that something being either indiscriminately the perception of an object in the external world, the awareness of an emotional state, a belief, etc. In this essay ‘intentional state’ is used to denote particularly expressions of experiences in the context of a value or set of values.

Categories of Authority

Authority is understood to consist of power and control. Power is hierarchical and distributive and this distributive aspect is reproduced throughout all levels of the institution. Control, by contrast, is individual and charismatic, and limited only to a particular arena. Power and control are not themselves represented at the analytic level, but power by ‘power distribution’ and control by ‘periodicity’, ‘boundary’ and ‘symbolisation’.

Power distribution

Includes any references to the power structure, the giving (empowering) or the removal (disempowering) of power: within the class, within the school, or from outside the school.

The following three categories denote techniques for exerting control within the school environment, that arise from individual or collective autonomy, initiative and creativity, outside of the hierarchy of power. They include physical manipulation of the environment, but more specifically the manipulation of language. At the administrative level this latter is more likely to be written; at the pedagogical level it is more often spoken.

Periodicity

Periodicity refers to the action of patterning language with respect to time. That could include placing things in a chronological order, or even creating a time reference for a single event. It also includes introducing cycles into language through various rhetorical devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, group of three, etc, and also grammatical regularities such as parallel clauses, linking and reference, and phonological aspects such as intonation and stress. In all cases examples should be immanent in the text rather than a secondary reference.

Boundary

Boundary refers to the action of using language to pattern space, of dividing space – in the widest sense, including physical and all forms of imaginary space – up and thereby bounding sections of it. Examples would be dividing the class into groups, prohibiting or promoting certain actions (dividing moral space, creating regions of ‘allowed’ and ‘not allowed’). The language tends to be imperative, but the bounding transcends the language and is ‘felt’ in the realm of meaning.

Symbolisation

Symbolisation can include the use of visual images, but refers specifically to the manipulation of language to create images in the mind of the reader or listener. Includes, metaphor, metonymy and simile, onomatopoeia and alliteration, etc., which are immanent in the language, but also various transcendent narrative and anecdotal devices. The use of visual images, particularly used pedagogically, would probably be classed under ‘semiotic marker’.

Categories of Resistance

The natural reaction to change, particularly when that change is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to impact negatively on the relative freedom, power, status, wellbeing or economic circumstances of an individual or of an individual to act on behalf of an institution. In the context of this research the definition is more narrowly focused on the struggle between the relatively empowered and disempowered over the question of the good.

Moral autonomy

The desire of each person to be able to decide the good for themselves, irrespective of whether that good might be fundamentally selfish, self-denying or public-minded. It is the encroachment of power into the area of moral autonomy that is the basis of resistance.

Intensity

Every reaction to the usurpation of moral autonomy is a form of resistance, but its manifestation can vary widely, particularly its intensity. The intensity of resistance can be categorised in a range of behaviours, from the least to the most intense: questioning, criticism, distraction, defiance and rebellion.

Target

The target of resistance is that authority which is perceived as encroaching on moral autonomy. The identification of this source with the real situation depends entirely on the correctness of this perception. This can be problematic, as power is invariably diffused and authority notoriously subject to mythologizing by those subject to it.

Negotiation

We all negotiate a compromise between various goods, for example between freedom and security or leisure time and income. Sometimes this is subtler and more fundamental. The acceptance of a value requires the sacrifice of a degree of moral autonomy. Often this proceeds through an internal dialogue; sometimes the bargaining is in the open but the nature of the process is not acknowledged, as when a teacher convinces a pupil to work hard for an exam. The institutional transmission of values in a school requires a specific negotiation that may be made partially explicit, but ultimately takes place within each individual: the acceptance of a place in the moral community, which the school has to offer, in return for – at least a measure of – the pupils’ moral autonomy. That is clearly not an offer that every person feels obliged to take up. The youths in Willis’ (1977) classic study of working class pupils were clearly not willing to sacrifice their moral autonomy to accommodate academic study, despite this condemning them to a life of industrial labour. Children who truant are rebelling against the authority of the school and placing themselves outside the moral community. These are the more extreme cases, but as a measure of negotiation takes place within all individuals, there must be something that both makes the moral community an attractive proposition and assists in the mitigation of moral autonomy.

Categories of Transformation

In the notion of ‘transformation’ a link is made between the institutional and the individual. Although transformations take place within the individual, they are never spontaneous and isolated, but always related to the particular context of the individual and, in the case of transmission, the processes taking place within that institutional context.

Transformative experience

As the experience of a shared feeling constitutes the interiority of value, the acquisition of a value should logically be accompanied by a type of ‘experience’ – i.e. a transformative experience – the occurrence of which allows and enables the experiencing of that shared feeling. Though these two meanings of experience used here are distinct, as continuity of consciousness and irruptive event, they are connected at a very fundamental level, as awareness of emotional response.

Trigger

The change from a state of non-acquisition of a value, particularly in the case of active resistance though not limited to this, to a state of acquisition requires an event in the individual’s personal or social environment that triggers the change. This can be something dramatic or something quite mundane, but it leads to a shift in perception. In the schools I investigated, in particular talking to students, I found evidence that such transformative experiences were invariably connected with a good personal relationship with an authority figure, sometimes with an insight into the human warmth and humour of those who must ordinarily present an authoritative role, a trigger event that I termed ‘the slipping of the mask’.

Turning inward/reflectivity

The exteriority of a value is its linguistic conceptualisation. Therefore, the acceptance of a value, particularly as this is explicitly recognised, should engender a more reflective attitude towards life. Though values are relative and underpin very different life-worlds or ‘forms of life’ (Pring, 1986), all values qua values require something of an inward turn.

Replication

Values are intrinsically shared. Moreover, they are inherently transmissive, meaning they require being transmitted. On acquiring a value, at the expense of a degree of moral autonomy, there is a need not only to reinforce the decision through invocation of the value but also to extend the moral community of the value. This underlies the sociality, actually the tribalism, of human nature, which is evident from phenomena as disparate as religion, being a fan (of a sport or a genre of music) and hobbyism.

EVALUATION OF THE MODEL

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 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 Schoenpflug (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 , which I concluded was fundamental to a contextual transformative experience en route to the acceptance of institutional values.

An evaluation and interpretation of the model

Through this research, the aetiology of value transmission has been traced, from the nature of values having a dual role as concept-like and symbol-like, through the institutional permeation of value concepts throughout the institution, to their invocation through the medium of pedagogical control of the value concepts and their re-symbolisation for the student audience. In doing so this theoretical perspective has developed an understanding of the school as an institutional structure for value transmission, incorporating and offering a reinterpretation of its power hierarchies, and its administrative and pedagogical functions. Moreover, it has demonstrated that the definitionally problematic notion of ethos has a tangible meaning in the context of value transmission. The abstract notion of value has been shown not only to be real but implicated into and – importantly – co-defined with its institutional context, incorporating aspects of space, time, authority, strategy and dramatic play. In short values, value transmission and institutions are co-existent and inter-related conceptually (Rokeach, 1975).

It has also considered what many theorists of values education and values transmission have not, that of the role of resistance to values inculcation and its incorporation into a more inclusive theoretical model of transmission that embraces both inculcation and acquisition perspectives, through the negotiation of moral autonomy for belonging under acceptable conditions. Parsons (1959) did recognise the phenomenon of resistance to schooling, but saw that as a structural reaction to raising levels of achievement. Values education is much more than a one-dimensional race towards academic or vocational achievement, although research on longer term programmes of values education (Lovat, 2010; Toomey, 2010; Hawkes, 2010) suggest that it can impact considerably on those outcomes; it is about humanising the curriculum (Aspin and Chapman, 2000) and creating the opportunity for education to touch the lives of young people (Darom, 2000) based on ‘the kind of persons that [as a society we wish them] to grow up into’ (Pring, 1986, p.181). For this to happen, values education, as all good education, requires a transformative experience in the life of the recipient, one which can mitigate or even prevent resistance to transmission.

The emerging picture of transmission of values within an institution is both simple and complex. It can be understood at the level of an individual journey through the institution, a negotiation with and reconciliation to the demands placed by institutional belonging. But it can also be understood at the institutional level, as the workings of a complex system of interlocking hierarchies, in the cases considered here the relationship between the teacher in the classroom, the administration, management and ethos of the school, and the influence of outside forces, notably religions, local communities or constituency, and local and national governments. A school is an intricate web of control, dependence and autonomy (Morris, 1964) at every level and a consideration of the transmission of values highlights this very clearly. But at its core it is about a series of spaces and encounters in which significant relationships between authority figures and pupils flourish or wither.

Value socialisation and pedagogy

The model of values transmission should prove useful for teachers, managers and administrators within schools concerned with the pedagogy of values. Derived to solve a purely theoretical problem, that of the process of institutional value transmission, nevertheless its conclusions converge significantly with the empirically-based views and strategies of educators who take a more proactive approach to values education and add a theoretical underpinning to their programmes and curricula. As detailed in the previous section, though, it remains a highly conceptual and abstract model, so I will attempt to draw out its relevance to pedagogical practice.

The model of institutional values transmission addresses a number of issues that have been discussed in the academic literature on values education and also issues that are recognised by teachers generally, such as the role of ethos and school culture, implicit and explicit forms of values education, pupil resistance to authority, issues of student empowerment, the school as a community  as well as part of the community, school discipline, rules and regulations, friendship groups, gangs and bullying, ethnic or class tensions, and the risk of increasing alienation through raised standards, although its primary contribution is in promoting values as fundamental to all educational development and a balanced view of values education as being a process of both inculcation and acquisition.

IVT.pedagogical

The process of value transmission in a school can be considered as a pupil’s ‘journey’ through the institution towards the acquisition of its values. According to this model, simply stated, the necessary stages on this journey are the transition from self-empowerment (i.e. self-directed freedom and desire) to disempowerment under the authority of the institution, where they are inducted in the values, culture and structures of the institution, to empowerment (or re-empowerment) under the authority of the institution, where they have the opportunity to rationalise the choice of these values as their own.

However, these stages involve a complex choreography of institutional strategy and individual response in which the desired outcome is, or at least is experienced as, an individual choice. A pupil enters a school in which an established ethos reigns, which is promulgated by the governing body of the school, embodied in the person of the headteacher, and carried into the classroom by the teaching staff. Pupils may initially follow this as a matter of course, but at a certain point in their development, usually around puberty, when they become more morally autonomous, they may start to manifest resistant behaviours. Resistance is typically seen as problematic, but from an axiological perspective, because values must be freely assented to, resistance to the prevailing ethos – except in the more extreme cases – should be seen as a healthy and necessary development, as a testing of the moral community of the institution as a prelude to acceptance of and belonging in that community. But that resistance also has another function, which is to alert those in authority that the moral community must be sufficiently attractive that it is likely to elicit a transformative shift from resistance to acceptance and catalyse the negotiation with moral autonomy which this transformation requires.

One conclusion of this research, based on an understanding of the nature of values, is that values can only be acquired, and only acquired in any meaningful sense by an experience of the moral demand that they place upon us (‘moral’ being understood in a broad sense of ‘requiring commitment to a set of behaviours’), but that they are rarely, if ever, acquired in the absence of an intention to teach them.

None of the schools I studied had a specific values education policy or programme, although all of them considered values to be an important concern of the school and the education of values in general to be a part of what they did. The schools were different in the degree to which they were able to identify specific values which they considered important, though my research indicated that all of them had policy statements in which values were prominent, though perhaps subsidiary to the overall purpose of the texts. Again, I observed examples of PSHE classes in all the schools, and of good practice in each, but, except in one case, the   education of values was not an explicit aim of the class. The implicit education of values has an important function, in reinforcing a particular message or desired behaviour, but evidence from the research on values education indicates that an institutional discourse of values in which specific and explicit values are a pedagogical focus is more effective in terms of behavioural outcomes – and academic performance as a result. This is perhaps unsurprising, as conceptual clarity with effective practice is invariably a potent combination.

Another conclusion of this research, based on an understanding of the nature of values, is that the acquisition of a value is never merely a private experience, but through acquiescence to a shared meaning and a shared commitment to its moral demand, is bound up with belonging in a moral community (one that shares that commitment) and a shared experience. This means that schools in order to transmit values not only have to acquaint students with the meaning of value terms, make clear the expectations in terms of attitudes and behaviours, and ensure that their staff are setting an appropriate example, but also create the communal structures that both reflect and elicit that sense of belonging.

Schools face two challenges to accomplishing this. The first of these is what I have come to call ‘spontaneous sociality’. By that I mean simply the natural tendency of humans to form social groupings, not necessarily those deemed by authority to be in the interests of the common good. My research indicated that where the student body is highly heterogeneous in terms of cultural background student perception of the school as a ‘community’ is lower than where it is more homogeneous, despite this being an important focus of the official policy, and that the primary commitment of pupils is to the community of their cultural background, class, ethnicity or friendship group. While all pupils enjoy the opportunity to socialise that schools provide, they do so largely with people of the same background. This is not necessarily a problem as such – although it can lead to factionalism and be the precursor of bullying – but it tends to weaken that sense of belonging to the school community that schools clearly wish to foster, and hence commitment to its institutional values, and replace it with a sort of co-presence. This may have implications for the definition of what we mean by ‘inclusion’.

The second challenge is resistance to institutional authority, as discussed above. ‘Resistance’ is a broad category that ranges from boredom and disengagement, though criticism and disobedience to outright rebellion and non-attendance, including truanting. Although resistance creates problems for teachers and schools, it should not, except in its most extreme forms, be taken to be something essentially negative, but as an expression of moral autonomy and, as such, a precondition for the acquisition of values. Also, resistance is by no means limited to pupils. In my research, I came across instances of resistance to institutional authority from Heads, teachers and pupils, though the targets were variable and commensurate with the forms of authority with which they were dealing.

Implications and recommendations

Implications for values education

Data from the literature (Hawkes, 2010) and from the field both indicate that expectations of appropriate and good behaviour, and the organisation of the structures within the school to promote that, and to minimise poor behaviour, while a worthy end in themselves in promoting young people who aspire to play a positive role in society, are also fundamental to creating the atmosphere, ethos and culture in which academic attainment can be optimised. A school culture in which there are strict boundaries and clear sanctions for transgression, but one in which the inward pull of community is strong, a strong institutional pride and identity is fostered, but also one in which a balance between authority and humanity is maintained, is clearly fundamental to this effort. At the same time, the concept of invocation, which has largely been vindicated through this research, implies that the explicit voicing, explication and modelling of values is more important than is generally practiced within schools, and this view is strongly backed by evidence from programmes of explicit values education (Lovat, 2010). Evidence from the field in all the schools studied shows, though, that even implicit or ‘intrinsic’ approaches bear fruit in the permeation of fundamental and strongly-held values, whether those are moral, individual attainment or socio-political, into the student body.

The model of institutional values transmission described above has several implications for pedagogical practice and organisation in schools.

  1. Schools should develop an integrated and specific set of values which reflect the character of the school, reinforce the community of the school, further their commitment to creating educated persons in the broadest possible sense, and develop their place in and service of the local and wider communities of which they are a part.
  2. These values should be taught explicitly and integrated into all aspects of the school culture, particularly attitudinal and behavioural expectations. They should also be taught implicitly, by the example set by the management and staff of the school. The model does not specify that these values should be integrated into the curriculum as such, but that knowledge/skills and values should be ‘twin pillars’ of the institution, though some subjects may be naturally appropriate vehicles for the broader educational contextualisation and discussion of values.
  3. The specific values, or their origin, are less important than that these are assented to by the entire staff and reinforced on a continual basis. The expectation is that there would be a convergence on a core of common and widely shared values, though variation at the institutional level is probably socially beneficial.
  4. Although the excesses of resistance to authority, as described above, should be controlled, critical evaluation of authority and institutional values should be accepted as a natural phenomenon of cognitive development and the assertion of moral autonomy, and pupils should be encouraged to exercise their moral imagination in different scenarios, at an age-appropriate level. The inner nature of values as shared experience entails that any form of coercion is counter-productive; explanation and dialogue are the required methods to achieve acquiescence to the institutional values and their behavioural requirements.
  5. Schools should be structured in such a way as to maximise opportunities for belonging under the auspices of the school that ‘cut across’ and thus mitigate spontaneous sociality based on class, ethnicity or friendship group and primary commitments to those values (which weaken the communal integrity of the school). Evidence seems to suggest that a culture of belonging to such sub- and micro- school communities (diffused belonging) actually reinforces a sense of belonging within the greater school community. Two of the schools I studied employed a house system to good effect, but there are numerous ways to achieve this diffusion: clubs, boards, groups, teams, and projects, both internal and external.
  6. The acquisition of institutional values requires some element of personal transformation that occurs within the specific institutional context. Although in the research the manifestation of that transformation was found to be different, such as a growing academic interest, a spiritual crisis and its resolution or the assumption of greater communal responsibility, the institutional trigger was invariably the relationship between a member of staff and a pupil. Pupils look to their teachers and senior staff as role models and appreciate those who are open, friendly and helpful and who make themselves present and available, while maintaining their authority and setting clear boundaries, and clearly these are qualities that need to be sought, emphasised, nurtured and developed. Indeed, a striking finding was that it is the dissonance between the ‘mask of authority’ and the underlying humanity that plays a key role in triggering transformation.

Implications for schooling in general

Schools already provide, and are required to provide, a measure of education in values for their pupils, whether it is explicit or, more usually, implicit. As discussed above, I believe, and the evidence tends to support this viewpoint, that the more explicit the education the more pronounced are the outcomes. There is one thing to add: fundamental to values and to values education is the development of reflectivity, a higher-order and late-developmental cognitive skill, which as a technology-driven and highly pressurised culture we do not provide sufficient context for young people to develop. While I make no specific recommendations in this regard, I believe that we do our young people a disservice if we model our schools on too narrow a view of success as the success of the marketplace, and bias learning and means of knowledge acquisition too strongly towards the technocratic at the expense of the traditional, creative and reflective.

Recommendations for educational policy

  1. There should be national standards for developing and overseeing values education programmes. At the moment Ofsted oversee the provision of moral and spiritual education in English and Welsh schools, but there is no requirement for schools specifically to have a values education policy.
  2. While national oversight is important, an approach that allows schools freedom in determining their own policies of values education would be preferable, following the example of Australia, which has a nationally determined policy, but allows schools to determine their own values strategy (Lovat, 2010).
  3. The pedagogy of values should be integral to all teacher-training programmes, and an element of school and teacher evaluation.

REFERENCES

Aspin, D. and Chapman, J. (2000). Values education and the humanisation of the curriculum. In M. Leicester, C. Modgil and S. Modgil (Eds.), Education, culture and values, vol. vi (Politics, education and citizenship). London: Falmer Press, pp. 123-140.

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.

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.

Brentano, F. (1973) Psychology from an empirical standpoint. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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.

Euler, H. A., Hoier, S. and Rohde, P. (2001). Relationship-specific closeness of inter-generational family ties: Findings from evolutionary psychology. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 147–158.

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.

Husserl, E. (1970). Logical investigations. (Trans. by J. N. Findlay). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Lovat, T. (2010). The new values education: A pedagogical imperative for student wellbeing. In Lovat, T. et al. (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing. London: Springer, pp. 3-18.

Morris, C. (1964). Signification and significance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

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.

Rokeach, M (1975). Towards a philosophy of value education. In Meyer, J. R., Burnham, B. & Cholvat, J. (Eds.), Values education: Theory/practice/problems/prospects. Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, pp. 117-126.

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 through a Comparative Case Study of Three Schools (doctoral thesis). University of Derby.

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

Value Socialisation and Pedagogy, Part 1: Issues and Trends in Values Education

Introduction

Values – both allegiance to values and disagreement about values – have been and continue to be fundamental to society, culture and thought (Moor, 2004; Andrew, 1995; Werkmeister, 1970) yet, paradoxically, remain largely submerged in our individual and collective unconscious. It can, however, be reasonably asserted that conscious interest has quickened in recent years in response to a perceived ‘crisis of values’ within developed economies and modern cultures (Bindé, 2004). This quickening is felt most keenly in the political and educational establishments, where responsibility – both for the problem and the solution – is considered to lie most heavily (Giroux, 2011). A crisis in values is, in fact, not a peculiarity of our age; one only has to read almost any of the writings of antiquity to understand that laments about the waywardness of youth and the moral decline of social institutions are as old as recorded history. What is perhaps unique is the extent to which we have come to believe that schools are the key to arresting this downward spiral (MacIntyre, 1987, p.16).

In the UK the current wave of interest in values and in values education can almost be pinpointed to a specific moment in time, and began, as these things often do, with a dramatic and tragic incident, in this case the murder of a head teacher outside the gates of his school (Davies, 2005; Taylor, 2000). Of course, there were antecedent incidents and there have been subsequent, regrettably frequent, incidents at schools that have all but erased the memory of this earlier outrage. A few years prior to this there had been an upheaval in education, with the passing of the Education Reform Act (UK, 1988), itself a reaction to perceived weaknesses in the quality of schooling. But this was perhaps the moment when vague feelings of disquiet about the state of the nation’s youth and of the inadequacy of our social institutions to deal with these problems spilled over into a determination to do something, which boosted the profile of the nascent values education movement and that led to calls for moral or values education in schools and a flurry of activity on the policy front (SCAA, 1996). These early government-led initiatives were never systematically implemented or given statutory force (Hawkes, 2010), but stimulated the present oversight of spiritual and moral education provision in UK schools in Ofsted inspections (ibid), and resulted in some localised and networked  approaches to teaching values (VbE, 2014; Lepkowska, 2012/08/06).

Against this background, I wish to make two points of a philosophical nature. The first is that, for all the positive resonance of the term ‘values’, the nature of values is contentious, both as to whether such things actually exist and, if they do, what form they take. The second flows from this; it is that values education, in the absence of an understanding of the nature of that which is supposedly being transmitted, must lack an adequate theoretical foundation. Like ‘education’ itself, the transmission of values is highly contextual and sensitive to the nature of the package; it is far more than mere logistics. To illustrate this point, a common definition of values that is used within the values education establishment is that of Halstead (1996, p.5):

[Values are] principles, fundamental convictions, ideals, standards or life stances which act as general guides to behaviour or as reference points in decision making or the evaluation of beliefs or actions.

This, or something like this, may, indeed, be what most people would have in mind if they were called on to give a definition of values. But from a theoretical point of view its very inclusiveness is a weakness, as it offers no cohesive view of values that could be used in understanding the process that takes place when a value is acquired within an educational setting. This much is clear when looking at various definitions of values education. This is Taylor’s (1998, p.1) view:

[Values Education] is a relatively new umbrella term for a range of common curriculum experiences: spiritual, moral, social and cultural education; personal and social education; religious education; multicultural/antiracist education; cross-curricular themes, especially citizenship; environment and health; pastoral care; school ethos; extra-curricular activities; wider community links; collective worship/assembly; the life of the school as a learning community.

A definition of values education comprised entirely of exemplification helps in understanding the context within schools where it is taking place, but is also not of much help in understanding what takes place when values are acquired or what ought to take place in order that this activity can be deemed successful. Hawkes (2010, pp.233-234), in a similar descriptive vein, but adding a more practical edge, defines values education as:

a convenient term for a wide range of implicit and explicit activities devised to develop a values-base to the life…which are principles that guide behaviour. It explicitly develops an ethical vocabulary based on value words… It encourages reflective learning through silent reflection…It looks for ways that values can be expressed through positive behaviour in the school and community.

Hawkes attempts through this definition to build a more cohesive sense of what values education is beyond the activities which make it up. It moves beyond being merely a collective noun for thematically related activities to something with a distinctive and positive praxis. Even here, though, it is unclear whether there is a coherent conceptual idea underpinning the project.

In part 2 of this essay I will discuss a theoretical model of values transmission derived from philosophical considerations of value and research into good practice in schools exhibiting a range of governance models, proposing a theoretical basis for values education as a coherent enterprise. In this first part, though, I intend to set the scene by considering the main trends and issues in values education over the past thirty years, values in the curriculum, values and character education, values and tradition, and values and wellbeing, concluding with an overview of the emerging themes within values education, including many of the unresolved issues with which any model attempting to provide a coherent theoretical underpinning will have to engage.

Values in the Curriculum

Whether and to what extent values should form an explicit and distinct part of the school curriculum is something that has formed an integral part of the discourse on values education. In examining the philosophical, political and sociological dimensions of implementing values education into the school curriculum, Richard Pring (1986, p.181) declares that it is inescapable that ‘the educational activities promoted by any society are intimately connected to what that society believes to be a valuable form of life…[T]he particular values embodied in what is designated educational will be about the kind of persons that the society wishes its young people to grow up into.’ However, he believes that these values will not yield to ‘philosophical analysis’. Instead he argues that values are local and historically conditioned, and cites in favour of this view the controversies and arguments over values even within our own society and its educational system. To educate someone ‘entail[s] the introduction to a valued form of life but …what [that is] is essentially a matter for moral debate’ (ibid, p.182).

In an interview that I conducted with him on 11th September 2009, Pring reiterated much the same view, which is that the development of a person’s values is contingent upon the nature of the community or communities in which they are raised, and this issue cuts to the question of the nature of community that schools should embody in order to transmit the appropriate values to the next generation. Pring seems to believe that the resolution of this implicit relativism, which particularly troubles moral philosophers such as MacIntyre (1981), lies somewhere between reasoned debate, an appeal to the intrinsic worth of human life and the requirement of social continuity: ‘You’ve got to create the kind of communities in which the values which are humanly important to provide social cohesion…are somehow embodied and these young people are introduced to them’. I hold essentially the same position as Pring on this, although I suspect that the conflict of values plays a more significant role than he allows and perhaps reasoned debate less than we would like (citation from interview used with approval of interviewee).

Awareness of the dangers of educating young people in a critical tradition that can result in the radical transformation of culture has meant that politics has always exercised some form of control over what schools teach and this has manifest itself in recent times in the call for schools to be involved in the education of values (Pring, 1986, p.182-183). Recognising this, Pring turns his attention to the substantive values that he believes can and should be transmitted ‘through the content of the curriculum but also through the methods of teaching and through the general ethos of the school’:

  • The respect for rule-governed behaviour, and for the authorities.
  • The respect for persons, whether oneself or others.
  • Respect for the truth.
  • Trusting and unselfish relationships.
  • A sense of justice and fairness.

He argues, though, that:

it would be wrong to translate the general concern for personal and social development, and for developing in particular a set of defensible values, into the content of specific subjects…For that could be but a distraction from the more important questions that a school should be asking about the impact of the curriculum as a whole upon the values of individual pupils (ibid, p.189).

Pring then draws on the evidence of a survey of twelve schools, which correlated outcomes in terms of exam results, behaviour and attendance with the general school ethos. By ‘ethos’ what is meant are ‘the various stable procedures through which business is conducted towards individuals and their work, towards the community as a whole, and towards those outside the school’ (ibid, p.190).

Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) consider the role of values education to be that of humanising the curriculum, in directing it towards ‘educating for excellence in the life of virtue’. They see this as including moral, political and personal values.

[V]alues exist [and] are found in and embodied across the whole curriculum. Values are not definable as though they were an autonomous element in the curriculum, as being in some way a separate subject, with its own body of theory, cognitive content, typical activities, disciplinary procedures or criteria for success. Values permeate everything that we do in the curriculum – including the naming, defining and inter-relating of all its parts. And that is because of the point made above, that description and evaluation are inextricably entwined activities (ibid, p.136).

What seems clear from these readings is that values are not to be considered as something apart from the information and activities that constitute the normal life of the school. That is not to say that values is an area that can safely be ignored; it is, rather, an area that requires particular attention, but one that should be integrated into the processes and procedures of the school. Such considerations have also informed the debate on the implementation of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) education. Within the context of the provisions of the National Curriculum and the 1988 ERA, it is obvious that provision should be made within schools for the implementation of SMSC policy. The philosophical raison d’être has been variously expressed, as in this rather flowery statement: ‘Just as such biological development requires appropriate conditions – to do with such things as climate and soil in the case of plants – so, the (Ofsted) report claims, the personal development of pupils demands a favourable ‘climate and soil’…provided and promoted by the school’ (White 1994, p. 370, cited in Dillon and Maguire, 1997).

There are probably two areas from which strong support and push for the implementation of this policy derives. The first is among the general public, and particularly the parents of school pupils, perceiving an apparent decline in ‘moral standards, particularly among young people’ (SCAA, 1996, p.8). This perception has, over the past two decades, filtered through to government policy and local initiatives. The other comes from the opposite end of the process, in the Ofsted inspections to which schools are periodically subjected and which has kept the pressure on schools for the incremental implementation of SMSC policy. Left to themselves, most schools would probably have quietly dropped this provision of the National Curriculum due to the burden of the existing administrative and teaching loads. As it is, according to Dillon and Maguire (1997, p.184), ‘Many schools are choosing to write a policy statement on SMSC. When developing the policy, three key issues are paramount. These are the need to consult, the provision of a rationale to support the proposed framework and a strategy to put the policy into practice’.

There are naturally difficulties to a successful implementation of any policy on this scale. Pring details five areas of difficulty in relation to Personal and Social development, which would be equally valid in the case of SMSC: conceptual, political, ethical, empirical and organisational (Pring, 1984, pp.4-7). Some of the tensions involved in setting out on a policy like SMSC were recognised by the government in the 1970s:

The educational system is charged [firstly] with equipping young people to take their place as citizens and workers…Secondly there is responsibility for educating the ‘autonomous citizen’, a person able to resist exploitation, to innovate and…[defend] liberty. These two functions do not always sit easily together (DES, 1977, quoted in Pring, 1984).

Several strategies have been proposed for the implementation of spiritual and moral education. Downey and Kelly (1978) propose four possible strategies for the implementation of moral education in schools: a specific, timetabled, subject ‘Moral Education’; through broadening the scope of the existing curriculum to include a moral dimension; through pastoral care supplementary to the existing curriculum; and through the school community. In considering the teaching of spiritual values Plunkett (1990) outlines a similar range of strategies and draws up the advantages and disadvantages of each. Discussing the use of the curriculum for teaching spirituality, for example, he states:

…a pupil will often learn thinking skills, aesthetic standards, religious values, healthcare, interpersonal qualities, and so forth, not from a specific subject but from the pervasive of multiple and often uncoordinated inputs into the total programme…The curriculum has become an instrument of economic and social policy when it should be just as much a spiritual celebration of humanity’s inner and outer beauty (Plunkett, 1990, pp.128-9)

As Dillon and Maguire have pointed out, most schools pursuing the implementation of SMSC have done so through the writing of a policy statement (1997, op. cit.). The hope is that this is in some way incorporated into the ‘ethos’ of the school, a factor of agreed significance by all interested parties (SCAA, 1996, p.11). Citizenship education and PSE(PSHE) is also seen by many as playing potentially significant roles in the implementation of this policy (SCAA, 1996, pp.14-16), though some of the recommendations have already been implemented with as yet inconclusive results.

One issue that has been discussed in relation to values is the ‘hidden curriculum’. Carr and Landon (1999) discuss the various senses in which values are thought to be hidden in the hidden curriculum, such as being a part of unofficial knowledge, being implicit, spontaneously emerging or being deliberately concealed (ibid). In order to understand their role in the hidden curriculum they develop a concept of values as ‘principled dispositions or preferences conducive to the promotion of defensible goals or individual and social flourishing’ (ibid, p.24). It is this practical nature of values that makes their concealment possible; they are hidden in practices which do not require that they be made explicit verbally (except, ironically, when those same practices are brought into question), which also makes their deliberate concealment possible by those who do not want the practices of the institution to be too closely scrutinised (ibid). They disparage both conservative and liberal views on the values of the hidden curriculum based on a ‘weak consensus’ and call for a more robust commitment to inquiring into the ‘objective truth’ of judgements made on the basis of these values (ibid, pp.26-27).

 Values and Character Education

Richard Peters (1981) examines the apparent paradox that exists between following rules and traditions in order to arrive at a rational moral position. He draws finally on Aristotle’s dictum (Nicomachean Ethics, book II, chapter 3-4) that ‘the virtues we get by first exercising them…we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts’. In the context of educating children in morality, Peters claims that ‘it is only if habits are developed in a certain kind of way that the paradox of moral education can be avoided in practice’ (ibid, 1981, p.60). What this way is, is beyond the scope of philosophy, but empirical evidence from psychology suggests that the existence of a loving and trusting relationship between parents and children is an important factor (ibid, p.54).

For some, the role that it was hoped that values education would play within the life of schools has largely been filled by citizenship education. There have been a number of critiques of citizenship education, but Kristjan Kristjansson (2002) advances a critique from the perspective of a style of character education known as ‘non-expansive character education’, one which he maintains the proponents of that style have not themselves thought through or taken advantage of. Kristiansson’s first charge (ibid, p.209) is that the concept of democracy implied in citizenship education is a particularly Western and liberal one.

McLaughlin and Halstead (1999) introduced a distinction into values education between ‘non-expansive character education’ and ‘expansive character education’. Kristjansson (2002) refined those definitions, showing that while both employ methodological substantivism – basically a mixture of teaching methods – non-expansive character education takes an approach that he terms moral cosmopolitanism, the teaching of ‘transcultural values and ‘moral basics’’, whereas expansive character education takes an approach which he calls moral perspectivism, the teaching of a highly selective range of values (ibid, pp.209-10). Citizenship education, according to Kristjansson, ‘constitutes a quintessential programme of expansive character education’. The values with which Citizenship is concerned are those of ‘democracy’, but not only with the transmission of facts about these values but the inculcation of these values through ‘an extensive programme of character moulding’ (ibid).

Kristjansson then raises his major objection to Citizenship education which is that it ‘politicises values education beyond good reason, by assuming that political literacy and specific (democratic) social skills, rather than the transcultural ‘moral basics’, are the primary values to be transmitted’ (ibid, p.212). There is a danger implicit in the programme of citizenship in that ‘the emphasis on this new foundation subject runs the risk of overshadowing and sidelining the necessary core of all values teaching, including justice teaching, namely, the inter-human psychological capabilities and moral virtues that lay the basis for social and political skills. To put it bluntly, the danger is that the cart will be put before the horse’ (ibid, p.212).

Kristjansson (2002, pp.214-216) moves on to detail three specific areas of disagreement between citizenship education and non-expansive character education. First, citizenship privileges the ‘right’ over the ‘good’, employing a more deontologically based concept of justice, in which moral goodness is subservient to social institutions and particularly the notion of ‘rights’. Non-expansive character education, on the other hand, asserts that justice and other values are fundamentally ‘personal virtues’ before they come to have social and institutional significance for the individual. Secondly, non-expansive character education is pluralist to a wider range of political settlements than the narrower democratic, rights-based view of citizenship, but is less accepting of a plurality of lifestyles. The value of tolerance is not given primacy to the extent that it is in citizenship, but non-expansive character education can countenance the idea of personal and communal justice existing even under conditions of unjust government, the corollary being that social justice can exist only where just individuals hold sway. The third disagreement is over the relationship between morality and politics. Kristjansson (ibid) perceives the danger of citizenship education is that primacy is given to the political over the moral, the latter becoming in some way derivative. He believes this would overturn almost the entire philosophical tradition stemming from Plato and Aristotle who considered the morality of the individual logically anterior to the social virtues.

Darom considers another distinction, or tension, that arises in implementing the education of values in school. He begins (Darom, 2000, p.16) by contrasting the often conflicting views of humanistic education and values education. He states that humanistic education ‘focuses on the individual whose growth and development, needs and aspirations are considered paramount in all educational processes’. By contrast, values education ‘emphasises involvement with others – individuals, communities, society – commitment and social action’ (ibid). Darom sees his task as integrating these two perspective s within a common humanistic values education.

Darom (2000) looks at the interdependence of four aspects of education, the cognitive, affective, values and behaviour. ‘Education can thus be considered a system having four sub-systems, every one of which plays an equally decisive part in the system as a whole. If any one of them is neglected, the whole educational process is incomplete…By striving for the fullest possible integration of these four domains…education has a chance of truly touching young people, of sowing seeds of intellectual and moral honesty and personal commitment’ (ibid, p.20). In particular, an individual’s value system has three components: personal, interpersonal and social values. ‘These three are an indivisible whole; a structure whose stability – whose very existence – depends on their more or less successful blending’ (ibid).

There seems a relative consensus that values education should take a holistic approach to educating the whole person, addressing the various dimensions of human life such as the social, spiritual, economic and political spheres, the academic, physical and cultural skills, and the individual, interpersonal and collective levels. On that basis Darom’s distinction between humanistic education and values education seems superficially redundant; however, it alludes to an issue already discussed, in the previous section, that of the dichotomous purpose of education: whether it is preparation for a critical evaluation of, or for participation within, the existing social and economic order. This essay does not seek to answer that question, except inasmuch as it bears upon the related issue of the balance between the desire of agencies within society to inculcate their values and the desire of individuals to freely acquiesce in the values that seem in their own – hopefully enlightened – interest.

Tradition and Values

In the first of the Richards Peters lectures in 1985, Alasdair MacIntyre sounded a pessimistic note about the future of education. ‘Teachers are the forlorn hope of the culture of Western modernity’ (MacIntyre, 1987, p.16), he declared, meaning that they are both at the forefront of the effort to maintain that culture and that their efforts are destined to fail. MacIntyre believes that the task which we have set for teachers is impossible to accomplish ‘because the two major purposes which teachers are required to serve are, under the conditions of Western modernity, mutually incompatible’ (ibid). These purposes are, first, to educate a young person to take up a role in social and economic life, a role pre-determined by that society; and, secondly, to educate the young how to think and to gain intellectual autonomy. However,

[T]hese two purposes can be combined only if the kind of social roles and occupation for which a given educational system is training the young are such that their exercise requires, or is at least compatible with, the possession of a general culture, mastery of which will enable each young person to think for him or herself (ibid, p.16).

The coexistence of these two requirements can only occur, MacIntyre is arguing, only where there exists what he terms an ‘educated public’. There have been times in history when such an educated public has existed, for example in France, England and America, and the case he cites is the Scotland of the eighteenth century enlightenment. But ‘as a matter of contingent fact specifically modern post-enlightenment societies and cultures now exclude the conditions which make this coexistence possible’ (ibid, p.17). MacIntyre locates the conditions for the existence of an educated public in the contingent existence of a consensus on procedures and institutions for the conduct of rational debate, marked by an ‘agreement to participate in a particular ongoing debate, [where] allegiance to the purposes of the debate would have to be as important to the participants as their allegiance to their own point of view’ (ibid, p.33). It is the existence of these particular conditions that MacIntyre considers to have vanished with the advent of modernity. One of the causes of that dissolution is the sweeping of intellectual discourse from the broader society into the realm of ‘professionalized and specialized academic discipline[s]’ (ibid):

[T]he possibility of thinking for oneself, other than as a professional specialist, only opens up in the context of a certain type of community and that … kind of community is no longer available, indeed has not been generally available to post-Enlightenment culture for quite some time (ibid, p.34).

He considers the one possibility of returning to such a culture is an education in which the reading of the Greek political and philosophical texts is central.

The return to an intellectual tradition is one of the ongoing dialogues in the philosophy of education. This dialogue which began in Britain really with the publication of MacIntyre’s book After Virtue (1981) has been paralleled in America with cultural critiques such as T. S. Eliot’s Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1962) and Alan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987). Commenting on MacIntyre’s Richard Peters lecture, Graham Haydon considers that:

It has sometimes seemed that either education, in transmitting values, will merely be an agency by which the domination of one cultural tradition over others is sustained; or that, in attempting to avoid that outcome, it will leave the way open to a scepticism about whether moral values and ethical life have any meaning at all it may be that [there is] an understanding of the ethical life that allows us to make realistic sense of a third possibility: that it is indeed part of the business of education to sustain the ethical life, but in a way that can embrace pluralism within the ethical life. If this is not a possibility, perhaps MacIntyre’s pessimism will be justified after all (Haydon, 1987, p.12).

There are those, naturally, for whom the fragmentation of tradition is seen as both a natural and a positive development. Susan Mendus traces the arguments of MacIntyre, Bloom and Eliot back to a ‘myth of the fall’ and a golden age when traditions were intact. She rejects this view, partly because it was a myth, and rejects the call for a return to the past because of ‘a belief that the past is not as good as it is said to be, and … the belief that such a return is, where not possible, intellectually disreputable’ (Mendus, 1992, p.182). She claims that the return to such a mythical golden age requires ‘an innocence that we no longer have and which we can only ‘regain’ by intellectual deception’ (ibid). Mendus locates the source of this inauthenticity in the idea that the solutions to the problems of our age and, necessarily the problems of education, lie in a transcendental realm. Her own view is that modernity is characterised by ‘reflective consciousness’ and that education should be fostering that capacity in the young, not cultivating an inordinate respect for tradition. Education ‘must, of course, appeal to the past. But it must also remember that we possess the past; the past does not possess us, and our task now is not to return to a lost world, but to seek and create a new one’ (ibid).

Responding to Mendus, Ruth Jonathan questions whether the crisis in education brought about by the fragmentation of value resulting from the relentless assault of critical rationality can really be solved by more of the same (Jonathan, 1993, p.171). While accepting that the supposed homogeneity of the pre-modern world is frequently exaggerated, she argues that one of the consequences of relentless criticism is a ‘quantitative and exponential increase in the rate of cultural fragmentation [that] has resulted in a qualitative change both in the social world and for the developing individual’ (ibid, p.173). While Jonathan does not suggest that the solution to this crisis is a return to tradition as such, she warns that the predicament that is already engulfing modernity cannot be resolved by continuing the same emphasis within liberal education (ibid, p174); otherwise, the result will be a social relativism in which the individual good is only that which the individual chooses and the social good reduced to that which allows the individual such latitude (ibid, p176).

Mendus’ stance that a return to a more innocent, traditional view of the world is ‘intellectually disreputable’ I understand but find overstated. Ricoeur (1967), for example, maintains that while fully cognisant of the facticity of the historical origins of founding myths, indeed because we are so aware, we are, nevertheless, able to enter into a state of ‘second naivety’ that is as profound as the ‘first naivety’ but richer because it is based on knowledge and conscious decision, rather than ignorance and uncritical acceptance. Moreover, Gadamer (1994, p.298) argues that it is the temporal distance between the events in mythic time to which a text refers and the present that creates the possibility for the discovery of truth, through a fusion of the horizon of the present with the horizon of the text. The culture of modernity, if it anywhere exists outside of university departments, is characterised by a lack of a socially cohesive worldview. But on the very grounds of rationalistic critique, such a worldview cannot exist, except perhaps in the reductive caricature that Jonathan outlines, where we are all thrown into a state of moral solipsism. Yet, both intellectually and intuitively we accept the existence of society, which means we uncritically accept a type of myth. Within all social institutions, including educational institutions, a plurality of myths are fostered, many of which embody the core values of the institution. Many of those are held in a state of ‘second naivety’ in which they are half-believed but fully endorsed; in many of the most enduring and adaptable institutions these myths are reinterpreted into new and shifting contexts without dissolving the integrity of their mythic core.

Values and Wellbeing

The issue of student wellbeing and its relationship to values education has emerged as a focus for educators in the early twenty first century. Much of this development has been focused in Australia where the government has been promoting a programme of values education based on a set of 9 common Australian values that define citizenship in the nation and in a global community, a programme that each state and territory education board is following, although the actual policies and methodologies are being left to each area, and even each school, to define, mixing cross-curriculum and stand-alone approaches (Lovat, 2010, pp.3-7). The intellectual paradigm that supports this programme is the ‘double helix effect’, which asserts, based on psychological and neuroscientific evidence, that the goals of ‘learning implied in quality teaching (intellectual depth, communicative competence, empathetic character, self-reflection) [are] more readily and easily achieved in the learning ambience created by values education’ (Lovat, ibid, p.7). The programme thus sets out to achieve benefits in two spheres: that of individual wellbeing and a reinvigorated sense of citizenship and, presumably, national engagement.

Although the model of values education is openly declared to be one of inculcation at the classroom level (ibid), which has its critics and detractors, the organisation is locally based and proceeds with full student involvement. In schools which are operating these programmes there are four main components: a common language of values and shared expectations about personal and interpersonal behaviour that lie at the core of the school’s values education programme; a positive dynamic in the teacher-pupil interaction; the modelling of appropriate and expected behaviour by teachers; and the incorporation into the programme of an external service project that provides an opportunity for pupils to be involved in a public good (Toomey, 2010). Through this, in addition to the ‘double helix effect’, there is also a ‘troika effect’ emerging from the relationship ‘between values education, quality teaching and service learning’ (ibid, p.20). Students are involved in the establishment of this structure at an early stage through Student Action Teams that identify a need in the local community and plan a strategy and action programme of engagement (ibid). Toomey asserts that this is pedagogically sound and evidence-based as it has been shown to provide a sense of empowerment through taking initiative, social bonding through teamwork, and a sense of self-worth through giving to others.

By contrast with the Australian experience with values education, which seems to be affirmative, progressive, incremental and joined up, balancing political will with local initiative, and based on cumulative evidence from pilot schemes and scientific evidence, the experience with values education in the UK seems to be an object lesson in how not to approach it (Haydon, 2010). As in Australia, it was a perception that values relativism was an underlying problem of social ills that prompted attempts to discover shared values that could be taught in schools. In 1996 the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) convened the National Forum on Values in Education and the Community, bringing together some 150 people from organisations representing all sectors of society. Their brief was to arrive at a consensus of values that were shared across British society. They came up with a Statement of Values that is now appended to the National Curriculum (National Forum on Values in Education and the Community, 1997). However, its recommendations, and that of subsequent policy initiatives in this area, were never given statutory force, and uptake has been left almost entirely to individual schools (Haydon, 2010; Hawkes, 2010). Instead, values education in the UK has followed the twin paths of PSHE and Citizenship Education, which Haydon (2010) argues has compartmentalised wellbeing and personal responsibility, unlike the programme of values education in Australia, which has integrated these two functions effectively.

Being based on a consensus model, the values the NFVEC’s Statement contains have a tendency to be generalised expression of values-based intent rather than very specific named values as in the case of the Australian government’s National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005). My own view is that this different approach may have resulted from different perceptions of where the problem of value relativism lay. During the twentieth century Australian schooling abandoned its original charter to teach values and became values-neutral (Lovat, 2010), effectively removing standards against which pupil behaviour could be judged. The move to values education is thus a recovery of its original intent. By contrast, British schools have largely maintained a tradition of values education through RE and more recently through PSE/PSHE, although the 1988 Education Reform Act clearly intended to enshrine this function in law (UK, 1988). The problem of value relativism, therefore, is more likely to have been located in society as a whole rather than in education in particular, and for this reason the response more diffuse and ambivalent.

Emerging Themes within the Educational Discourse

Having reviewed the literature around values education and the formal education system in the UK, a number of themes have begun to emerge, prominent among which are: the source of values; the degree of autonomy/control over the curriculum; the rationale, reason or role of values education; the medium for values education and the strategy for implementation of a values education programme; the dimensions of values education; the degree of integration, both internal and external, of programmes; and conflicts, antimonies and unresolved aspects of values education. Each of these themes will be considered, synthesising information from the literature considered.

a) Sources of institutional values

Religion and faith communities: Macmullen (2004, p. 603) argues that religious education and religious upbringing together provide the basis for an ‘ethical autonomy’ although this needs to be conducted within the context of rationality rather than dogmatic faith. While rejecting the aspect of religious observance in schools as divisive, Ward (2008) recognises the higher moral standards of faith schools as something that should be aspirational. Like Macmullen (2004) he believes that pupils should be taught about religions within a framework of rational inquiry. Halstead (2007) has a radically different perspective. Schools, he proposes, should support the religious observance and identity of the home and faith community through an inter-faith ethos built on the foundation of the British cultural values of tolerance, cross-cultural understanding and respect.

Traditions: Traditions are longstanding institutionalised behaviours, in which values – often implicit – are embedded, that are passed to succeeding generations. Clearly, religious beliefs and practices are an important source of values and traditions for many institutions, including schools, though McIntyre (1987), Eliot (1962) and Bloom (1987) all refer to an intellectual tradition in which the reading of the classics is fundamental.

Government initiatives: Government has always had a measure of interest in the moral as well as the academic education of children (Arthur, n.d.), but it was only with the Education Reform Act (1988) that it started to play a more active role in promoting values within education. Apart from Religious Education, provision of which is mandatory for all schoolchildren up to 16, most schools, including independents, have some form of Personal, Health and Social Education (PSHE), although the contents are not mandated, and Citizenship, which was (until 2014) a part of the National Curriculum.

Local communities: Pring (1986, p.182) argues that values, rather than being absolute or universal, the result of a rational analysis, are rooted in the particular view of a society and the moral decisions it makes, and in the local, historically conditioned communities that engender and introduce the rising generation into a ‘valued form of life’.

b) Degree of autonomy/control over the curriculum

There are a number of parameters through which the degree of autonomy or control over the curriculum, including the provision for values education, can be ascertained, though they tend to converge upon particular modes – what might be referred to as models – of governance. For example funding, status with regard to the National Curriculum and ability to select are parameters of control which are, in theory, independent of each other, yet tend to be highly ideological markers of the to-and-fro of policy-making. State schools, including both community schools and Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Aided faith schools, follow the National Curriculum, have local government oversight and funding and, apart from the few remaining state grammar schools, are non-selective. Independent schools are self-governing and financing, are not required to follow the National Curriculum, although many opt to teach some parts of it, and are completely selective.

Specifically regarding values education, as this is not included in the NC and the only requirement of Ofsted is that the spiritual needs of pupils are being met, this gives schools a relatively free hand in how and to what degree they meet this requirement. Clearly, faith schools of all types are committed to giving a religious education, both doctrinal and experiential, to their pupils. There are also a small but growing number of ‘values schools’ (part of a movement for values education rather than an officially-recognised designation), whose syllabus, pedagogy and daily routines are built around a set of core values (VbE, 2014).

c) Rationale, reason or role of values education

Rationale, reason and role are not identical, but they bear a close relationship, rationale being closer to an explicit justification – often requiring documentation, such as a policy statement (Dillon and Maguire, 1997) – and role more of an implicit, understood purpose or function. The reasons given for values education are advanced more philosophically and address the moral requirements of society. For Pring (1986, p.182) that is the creation and perpetuation of the ‘form[s] of life’ that society considers ‘valuable’; for Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) it is to promote ‘excellence in the life of virtue’. The SCAA cites a more pragmatic and pressing reason: to address parents’ perception of apparent decline in the ‘moral standards…among young people’ (SCAA, 1996, p.8).

d) Medium and implementation of values education

The process of implementation of values education begins with an impetus and that seems to derive mostly from the public, represented particularly by those who are most directly involved, that is, the parents of children within school (SCAA, 1996). But a secondary driving force is also the inspection regime initiated in conjunction with the National Curriculum, Ofsted, which as part of its responsibilities checks for the provision of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education; but while it can recommend, there is no statutory requirement for schools to have a policy in place (Hawkes, 2010). Implementation of a values education policy has three steps: a period of consultation; a rationale for the policy; and an implementation strategy (Dillon and Maguire, 1997). There are three basic strategies to implement a values education programme: through the curriculum, through pastoral care and through the whole community (Downey and Kelly, 1978); moreover, there is a decision whether to have a separate timetabled subject within the school curriculum or to adapt the existing curriculum. Bigger and Brown (1999) advocate a cross-curricular implementation of values education, but many schools favour a whole school approach of embedded values. The experience from Australia shows both approaches can work (Lovat, 2010). Pring (1984), though, doubts the cross-curricular approach and favours more the transmission of a core of values through the general ethos of the school and ways of teaching. Increasingly, there is also recognition that non-curricular and non-directive aspects of school life, the so-called ‘hidden curriculum’, also play a part in the education of values (Carr and Landon, 1999).

e) Dimensions of values education

There is near universal agreement that values education is a complex phenomenon, interwoven into all strands of the educational process, which needs to address the multi-dimensionality of human life as well as that of the social institutions of schooling. Darom (2000) attempts to encapsulate this within four educational sub-systems, that of the cognitive, affective, behavioural and values, the latter which is itself comprised of personal, interpersonal and social values. This, though, is a predominantly psychological reading of the issue. A differing interpretation, although I prefer to see it as complementary, is that offered from a socio-cultural perspective, that of the ‘ends’ of education – individual wellbeing and the public good – and the ‘means’ of education – the infrastructure, materials and processes necessary to promote the values within the cultural spheres of the political, economic, moral and spiritual (Plunkett, 1990; Dillon and Maguire, 1997; Aspin and Chapman, 2000; Darom, 2000; Kristjansson, 2002; Haydon, 2010).

f) Degree of integration – internal and external – of programmes

To speak of a programme being integrated means that the various aspects such as the rationale for implementing the programme, the medium or means for delivering it, the people and agencies bringing their various skills to the programme, and means of assessing the outcomes, are part of a strategic oversight, both within an institution and in relation to the wider society. By this measure, the development of values education within state education in the UK has to be considered to be poorly integrated. There has never been a fully developed strategic view, and even when the prospects for one seemed at their highest in the late 1990s, the proposals were watered-down and eventually led to a series of recommendations and a fairly weak assessment regime (Hawkes, 2010). The approach has rather been piecemeal, perhaps reflecting a national unease about ideologically-driven or inculcatory approaches to values. Values education in the past would have been delivered through Religious Education or some form of Moral Education, but the moral content of RE at least has been somewhat attenuated through the focus upon appreciating cultural difference and the differing cultural experience (Barnes, 2011). There has been an attempt to introduce values education and character education through PSHE and Citizenship (Arthur, n.d.), but Haydon (2010) has argued that this approach has effectively compartmentalised well-being and personal responsibility. Moreover, Kristjansson (2002) criticises Citizenship for giving precedence to political values over moral ones. By contrast, ‘values schools’ and others that have implemented explicit values education policies have tended to have integrated approaches consisting of such things as core values and a values language promoted throughout the school, common behavioural expectations and reflective practice (Hawkes, 2010). In Australia, the government has taken the initiative in promoting ‘Australian values’ through various state sponsored programmes. Although the specifics of the programmes are decided at regional and even school level they have common features: they are based on psychological and neuroscientific evidence that the combination of quality teaching and values education promotes good learning and personal outcomes (Lovat, 2010); and they consist of four essential elements of a language of values and expectations, positive relations between teachers and pupils, appropriate modelling of behaviour by teachers and the incorporation of an external service project (Toomey, 2010).

g) Conflicts, paradoxes and unresolved aspects of values education

Actual programmes of values education often fall short of the complex multidimensionality outlined in section e) above, being too limited, too tentative or too partial. However, these are problems essentially of implementation. There are also unresolved theoretical issues, though some arise out of ideological differences or simply lack of empirical data.

A number of commentators have pointed out various paradoxes in the overall moral purpose of education today. MacIntyre (1987, p.16), echoing a cautionary note sounded by the DES in 1977 (cited in Pring, 1984), sees a fundamental contradiction between education as preparation for working in the economy and education for intellectual autonomy. The Australian experiment with values education programmes, though it is young, seems to be confounding such pessimistic views and showing that all aspects of pupils’ lives can be enhanced. Perhaps values education does, as Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) argue, ‘humanise the curriculum’, meaning that it allows all dimensions of human experience to be integrated through practices. Not everyone is convinced of this. Foster (2001), for example, maintains that the openly inculcatory practices of many programmes, such as those in Australia, undermine some fundamental democratic assumptions.

Implicit in this discourse is the fundamental pedagogical conflict over whether education, and specifically values education, should be achieved through a process of inculcation, in which weight is given to the educator of a given set of values – political, religious or traditional – or through a process of acquisition, in which weight is given to the acquirer of values, probably by some form of self-realisation. My starting assumption would be that inculcation and acquisition both play some role in the transmission of values, and in Part 2 of this essay I will propose a mechanism for transmission that incorporates both.

Both Mendus (1992) and Jonathan (1993) see the incommensurability of critical rationalism with the existence of a tradition, though they evaluate this conflict differently, the former a more strident rationalist and the latter a more concerned rationalist. Certainly to my satisfaction, though, tradition and reason seem to find a resolution within the philosophical hermeneutics of Gadamer (1994) and Ricoeur (1967), in Gadamer’s idea of the fusion of the horizon of the past with the horizon of the present, and Ricoeur’s concept of the re-mythologised ‘second naivety’. The concept of values as a philosophical proposition mediates somewhat this debate, as values lie at the core of traditions, whether embraced in toto or demythologised into moral assumptions and practices.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the clash between faith and reason, which seems to be one of the recurrent motifs within education with direct relevance to values education. There seems to be a default assumption that reason prevail, a position that I have strong sympathy with; yet, the dangers of over-rationalisation have been made clear, by Jonathan (1993) amongst others. Faith has played, and continues to play in my estimation, an important role in the cultural life of societies; it should be shaped and controlled by reason, but not consumed in a firestorm of reason. All values, including faith and reason, should be self-replenishing in stable, balanced and dynamic societies. However, our institutions should be multi-valued, not mono-valued, whether that be faith or reason or some other, although there is a good case, I believe, for institutions to be disposed to holding to particular sets of values, and these differently-valued institutions competing in the social arena.

Peters (1981) brings attention to a fundamental antinomy in moral education, which overlaps significantly with values education, between following rules and a rational morality, and locates its possible resolution in parental upbringing (ibid), something that finds empirical support in the research on intergenerational transmission of values (Schoepflug, 2001a; Euler et al., 2001; Barni et al., 2011). It boils down to, as Brighouse (2006, cited in Haydon, 2010, p.198) says, living it ‘from the inside’. As in the debate over inculcation versus acquisition it is necessary that at some level institutional requirement, whether that be legal or moral, is matched by individual assent, and that requires a specific type of management in an institutional setting such as a school.

Finally, Pring (1986) raises the thorny issue of the paradox that the social values that are considered fundamental to social life – and in that sense absolute – are, nonetheless, locally and historically conditioned. As the title of this essay suggests, and a theme that will be more fully explored in part 2, a major function of values education – perhaps the only function ultimately – is the socialisation of the individual, and that proceeds regardless of the particular set of values that is transmitted. It may be that across cultures there is a convergence on the most important values. It is certainly true that within majority cultures the existence of sub-cultures with values, principles and priorities at variance with the major culture and with each other can give rise to social tension and potentially fuel conflict. What seems obvious is that at the institutional or national level we must create opportunities for multiple belonging to be as widely accessible as possible.

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