"Every man, wherever
he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move
with him like flies on a summer day."
- Bertrand Russell
We all have visions.
They are the silent shapers of our thoughts. Visions may be moral, political,
economics, religious or social. In these or other realms, we sacrifice
for our visions and sometimes, if need be, face ruin rather than betray
them. Where visions conflict irreconcilably, whole societies may be torn
apart. Conflicts of interests dominate the short run, but conflicts of
visions dominate history. We will do almost anything for our visions, except
think about them. The purpose of this book is to think about them.
Role Of Visions
2. Constrained And Unconstrained Visions
3. Visions Of Knowledge And Reason
4. Visions Of Social Processes
5. Hybrid Visions
6. Visions Of Equality
7. Visions Of Power
8. Visions Of Justice
9. Visions, Values and Paradigms
#1 THE ROLE OF VISIONS
One of the curious
things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on
opposite sides of different issues. The issues themselves may have no intrinsic
connection with each other. They may range from military spending to drug
laws to monetary policy to education. Yet the same familiar faces can be
found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the political fence,
again and again. It happens too often to be coincidence and it is too uncontrolled
to be a plot. A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows
that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises. These different
premises - often implicit - are what provide the consistency behind the
repeated opposition of individuals and groups on numerous, unrelated issues.
They have different visions of how the world works.
It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely and deal only with reality. But that may be the most utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind. Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities. Like maps, visions have to leave out many concrete features in order to enable us to focus on a few key paths to our goals. Visions are indispensable-but dangerous, precisely to the extent that we confuse them with reality itself. What has been deliberately neglected may not in fact turn out to be negligible in its effect on the results. That has to be tested against evidence.
A vision has been described as a "pre-analytic cognitive act."' It is what we sense or feel before we have constructed any systematic reasoning that could be called a theory, much less deduced any specific consequences as hypotheses to be tested against evidence. A vision is our sense of how the world works.
Visions are the foundations on which theories are built. Visions are very subjective, but well-constructed theories have clear implications, and facts can test and measure their objective validity. The world learned at Hiroshima that Einstein's vision of physics was not just Einstein's vision. Logic is an essential ingredient in the process of turning a vision into a theory, just as empirical evidence is then essential for determining the validity of that theory. But it is the initial vision which is crucial for our glimpse of insight into the way the world works.
A vision, as the term
is used here, is not a dream, a hope, a prophecy, or a moral imperative,
though any of these things may ultimately derive from some particular vision.
Here a vision is a sense of causation. It is more like a hunch or a "gut
feeling" than it is like an exercise in logic or factual verification.
These things come later, and feed on the raw material provided by the vision.
If causation proceeds as our vision conceives it to, then certain other
consequences follow, and theory is the working out of what those consequences
are. Evidence is fact that discriminates between one theory and another.
Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing
theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.
Theories can be devastated by facts but they can never be proved to be correct by facts. Ultimately there are as many visions as there are human beings, if not more, and more than one vision may be consistent with a given fact. Facts force us to discard some theories - or else to torture our minds trying to reconcile the irreconcilable - but they can never put the final imprimatur of ultimate truth on a given theory.
#2 CONSTRAINED AND UNCONSTRAINED VISIONS
"At the core of every
moral code there is a picture of human nature, a map of the universe, and
a vision of history."
- Walter Lippmann
"We cannot change the
Nature of things and of men, but we can act upon them best we can."
- Edmund Burke (constrained vision thinker)
Visions rest ultimately
on some sense of the nature of man - not simply his existing practices
but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations. Those who see the
potentialities of human nature as extending far beyond what is currently
manifested have a social vision quite different from those who see human
beings as tragically limited creatures whose selfish and dangerous impulses can be contained only by social contrivances which themselves produce unhappy side effects. Running through the tradition of the unconstrained vision is the conviction that foolish or immoral choices explain the evils of the world - and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution.
By contrast, the constrained vision sees the evils of the world as deriving from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings. For the amelioration of these evils and the promotion of progress, they rely on... certain social processes such as moral traditions, the marketplace, or families. They conceive of these processes as evolved rather than designed - and rely on these general patterns of social interaction rather than on specific policy designed to produce particular results for particular individuals and groups.
Social visions differ in their basic conceptions of the nature of man. A creature from another planet who sought information about human beings from readings William Godwin's "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice" in 1793 would hardly recognize man, as he appears there, as the same being who was described in "The Federalist Papers" just five years earlier.
Alexander Hamilton in "The Federalist Papers" regarded the idea of individual actions "unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good" as a prospect "more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected."
Unlike Adam Smith, who regarded human selfishness as a given, William Godwin regarded it as being promoted by the very system of rewards used to cope with it.
Believers in the unconstrained vision seek the special causes of war, poverty and crime, believers in the constrained vision seek the special causes of peace, wealth or a law-abiding society.
"It may be a reflection
on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses
of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections
on human nature."
- from The Federalist Papers
The two great revolutions in the 18th century - in France and in America - can be viewed as applications of these differing visions. To the Federalists, the evil was inherent in man, and institutions were simply ways of trying to cope with it.
In America, the men who wrote "The Federalist Papers" - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay - first came to public notice as leaders in the revolt against British Rule. The constrained vision was not synonymous with (or camouflage for) acceptance of the status quo.
The constrained vision is a tragic vision of the human condition.
#3 VISIONS OF KNOWLEDGE AND REASON
"The growth of knowledge
and the growth of civilization are the same only if we interpret knowledge
to include all the human adaptations to environment in which past experience
has been incorporated. Not all knowledge in this sense is part of our intellect,
nor is our intellect the whole of our knowledge. Our habits and skills,
our emotional attitudes, our tools, and our institutions - all are in this
sense adaptations to past experience which have grown up by selective elimination
of less suitable conduct. They are as much an indispensable foundation
of successful action as is our conscious knowledge."
- Friedrich A. Hayek, "The Constitution of Liberty" (constrained vision thinker)
Knowledge as conceived in the constrained vision is predominantly experience - transmitted socially in largely inarticulate forms, from prices which indicate costs, scarcities, and preferences, to traditions which evolve from the day-to-day experiences of millions of each generation, winnowing out in Darwinian competition what works from what does not work.
"Compared with the
totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of
a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest
and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is
"Practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but if which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation."
- Friedrich A. Hayek
In the constrained
vision, the businessman's moral duty is fidelity to the stockholders, who
have entrusted their savings to him, not sincere pursuit of the public
good through charitable donations or investment or hiring decisions which
compromise that trust. Similarly, the judge's moral duty is faithfully
carry out the law he was sworn to uphold, not sincerely change that law
to produce better results as he sees them.
In the constrained vision, the individual wielding social decision-making power lacks the competence to continually make ad hoc determinations of what specifically is good for mankind.
#4 VISIONS OF SOCIAL PROCESSES
"A state without the
means of some change is without the means of its conservation."
- Edmund Burke
"Tradition is not something
constant but the product of a process of selection guided not by reason
but by success."
- Friedrich A. Hayek
"To be attached to
the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in our society,
is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is
the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love of our
country, and to mankind."
- Edmund Burke
Language is perhaps
the purest example of an evolved social process - a systematic order without
a deliberate overall design. Rules of language are indeed written down,
but after the fact, codifying existing practices.
It is not that languages cannot be created - Esperanto clearly was - but that they are more effective when evolved, because natural languages draw upon a more vast wealth of experiences over the centuries than will be at the command of any individual or council designing a language, in the constrained vision.
The two visions differ fundamentally in their sense of social causation. In the constrained vision, the crucial characteristic of any social system is the set of incentives confronting the individuals in it. This includes not only the explicit rewards and penalties of the marketplace and the law, for example, but also the internal psychic rewards and punishments evolved by the culture and its values.
In contrast to the constrained vision, which seeks to analyze, prescribe, or judge only processes, the unconstrained vision seeks to analyze, prescribe, or judge results - income distribution, for example.
As long as the process
itself treats everyone the same - judges them by the same criteria, whether
in employment or in the courtroom - then there is equality of opportunity
or equality before
the law, as far as the constrained vision is concerned. But to those with the unconstrained vision, to apply the same criteria to those with radically different wealth, education, or past opportunities is
to negate the meaning of equality - as they conceive it.
Justice is likewise
a process characteristic in the constrained vision: If a footrace is conducted
under fair conditions, then the result is just, whether that result is
the same person winning again and again or a different winner each time.
To those with the constrained vision, the best processes should be used and protected, because the attempt to produce the best results directly is beyond human capacity.
The two visions' original differences and assumptions about human nature dog their footsteps as they go from issue to issue.
#5 HYBRID VISIONS
The Marxian theory
of history is essentially a constrained vision, with the constraints lessening
over the centuries, ending in the unconstrained world of communism.
This hybrid vision puts Marxism at odds with the rest of the socialist tradition, whose unconstrained vision condemned capitalism by timeless moral standards, not as a once progressive system which had created new social opportunities that now rendered it obsolete. As in more conservative compromises with evil, Marx's temporary moral acceptance of past capitalism was based on the premise that nothing better was possible.
Even when dealing with theories which he considered to be clearly erroneous, John Stuart Mill was concerned with "seeing that no scattered particles of important truth are buried and lost in the ruins of exploded error."
One of the hybrid visions which has had a spectacular rise and fall in the 20th century is fascism. Here some of the key elements of the constrained vision - obedience to authority, loyalty to one's people, willingness to fight - were strongly invoked, but always under the overriding imperative to follow an unconstrained leader, under no obligation to respect laws, traditions, institutions, or even common decency. Fascism appropriated some of the symbolic aspects of the constrained vision, without the systematic processes which gave them meaning.
Adherents of both the constrained and the unconstrained visions each see fascism as the logical extension of the adversary's vision. To those on the political left, fascism is "the far right". Conversely, to Hayek, Hitler's "national socialism" (Nazism) was indeed socialist in concept and execution.
Inconsistent and hybrid visions make it impossible to equate constrained and unconstrained visions simply with the political left and right.
#6 VISIONS OF EQUALITY
Equality, like freedom and justice, is conceived in entirely different terms by those with the constrained vision and those with the unconstrained vision. Like freedom and justice, equality is a process characteristic in the constrained vision and a result characteristice in the unconstrained vision.
Hayek argues that those
who "postulate a personified society" assume an intention, purpose and
corresponding moral responsibility where there is in fact an evolved order
- and "the particulars of a spontaneous order cannot be just or unjust".
Government, as a deliberately created entity, may act on intention and
be morally judged by its act, but not society. Government, as a limited
set of decision-makers, cannot possess all the knowledge in a society,
or anything approaching it, and therefore lacks the omniscience in fact
to prescribe just or equal results.
He questioned "whether it is moral that men be subjected to the power of direction that would have to be exercised in order that the benefits derived by individuals could be meaningfully described as just or unjust".
While the unconstrained
vision has feautured egalitarianism as a conviction that people should
share more equally in the material and other benefits of a society, it
tends to see the existing capabilities of people are far more unequal than
does the constrained vision.
It is only when estimating the potential intelligence of human beings that those with the unconstrained vision have a higher estimate than those with the constrained vision. When estimating the current intelligence of human beings, those with the unconstrained vision tend to estimate a lower mean and a greater variance.
#7 VISIONS OF POWER
"A nation, despicable
by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral."
- Alexander Hamilton, "The Federalist Papers"
Like other evils, war was seen by those with the constrained vision as originating in human nature and as being contained by institutions. To those with the unconstrained vision, war was seen as being at variance with human nature and caused by institutions.
The localization of evil is one of the hallmarks of the unconstrained vision. There must clearly be some cause for evils, but insofar as these causes are not so widely diffused as to be part of human nature in general, then those in whom the evils are localized can be removed, opposed, or neutralized, so as to produce a solution.
Within the constrained vision, war did not require a specific explanation. Peace required explanation, and specific provisions to produce it.
In the constrained vision, each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late. Their prospects of growing up as decent, productive people depends on the whole elaborate set of largely unarticulated practices which engender moral values, self-discipline, and consideration for others.
"The market system
delivers the goods people want, but those who make it work cannot readily
explain why it is so. The socialist or communist system does not deliver
the goods, but those who operate it can readily explain its failure."
"The market order minimizes the power of individuals and groups forcibly to restrict the choices of other people. Forcible restriction of the choice of others is what coercion means. Possession of wealth does not by itself confer such power on the rich. Indeed, in modern market economies the rich, especially the very rich, usually owe their prosperity to activities which have widened the choices of their fellow men, including those of the poor. Obvious examples are the fortunes made in mass production and mass retailing."
- Lord Peter Bauer, London School of Economics
Gunnar Myrdal has sought to discover those 'conditions' in the Third World countries which are 'responsible for their underdevelopment'. But rather than try to explain the lesser development of much of the word compared to the industrialized west, Lord Peter Bauer has instead sought to explain the causes of prosperity and development, refusing to designate 'the position of the great majority of mankind as abnormal'. To Myrdal, it is poverty which needs explaining; to Bauer, it is prosperity.
Because employers cannot reduce an employee's pre-existing set of options, he does not have 'power' over him in this conception. But to those with the unconstrained vision, power or force is not defined in these process terms. Power is defined in terms of the ability to change someone else's behaviour.
#8 VISIONS OF JUSTICE
"The life of the law
has not been logic: it has been experience... The law embodies the story
of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt
with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Chief Justice
cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Chief Justice
"The concept of social
justice... has been the Trojan Horse through which totalitarianism has
- Friedrich A. Hayek
Adam Smith and John Rawls each made justice the prime virtue of a society, but they said it in such different senses as to mean nearly opposite things.
Rights of free speech are zones of immunity from public authority, without regard to whether what is said is wise or foolish, noble or mean.
Much of what the unconstrained vision sees as morally imperative to do, the constrained vision sees man as incapable of doing. In the constrained vision, the principles of justice are subordinated to the possibilities of justice.
#9 VISIONS, VALUES AND PARADIGMS
Visions may lead to paradigms, whether in science or in politics, economics, law or other fields, but visions and paradigms are different stages in the intellectual process. Visions or inspirations come first, and are subsequently systematized into paradigms, which embrace specific theories.
The fundamental difference between science and social theory is not at the level of visions, or even paradigms, but at the point where theories produce empirically testable hypotheses.
It is no less arbitrary and dogmatic to declare a priori that 'the truth lies somewhere in between.' It may. It may not. On some highly specific issue, it may lie entirely on one side.
Intellectual struggles can be wars of attrition as well as wars won or lost in a single battle. The visions of science, rather than those of social thought, seem to lend themselves to single decisive confrontations.
Just as travelers seeking the same destination must head in opposite directions if one believes it to be to the east and the other believes it to be to the west, so those seeking 'the greatest good for the greatest number' (or any other similarly general moral precept) must favor opposite kinds of societies if opposite kinds of human beings are assumed to inhabit those societies.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Each vision tends to generate conclusions which are the logical consequences of its assumptions. That is why there are such repeated conflicts of vision in such a range of otherwise unrelated issues. The analysis here is not intended to reconcile visions or determine their validity, but to understand what they are about, and what role they play in political, economic, and social struggles. The question is not what particular policy or social system is best but rather what is implicitly assumed in advocating one policy or social system over another.
Whatever one's vision, other visions are easily misunderstood - not only because of caricatures produced by polemics but also because the very words used ("equality," "freedom," "justice," "power") mean entirely different things in the context of different presuppositions. It is not mere misunderstanding but the inherent logic of each vision which leads to these semantic differences, as well as to substantively different conclusions across a wide spectrum of issues. Visions are inherently in conflict, quite aside form the misunderstandings, hostilities, or intransigence generated in the course of polemics.
Given the unconstrained vision, which permits results to be directly prescribed, its basic concepts are expressed in terms of results. The degree of freedom is thus the degree to which one's desires can be realized, without regard to whether the obstacles to full realization bed the deliberately imposed restrictions of government or the lack of circumstantial prerequisites. Power is likewise defined by results: If A can cause B to do what A wants done, then A has power over B, regardless of whether A's inducements to B are positive (rewards) or negative (penalties). Equality too is a result, the degree of equality or inequality being a direct observable fact.
All these basic terms are defined in profoundly different ways under the assumptions of the constrained vision. One consequence of this is that those with different visions often argue past each other, even when they accept the same rules of logic and utilize the same data, for the terms of discourse signify very different things. In the constrained vision, where man cannot directly create social results but only social processes, it is characteristics of those processes that freedom, justice, power, and equality have significance. Power is exerted in social processes, by individuals or by institutions, to the extent that someone's existing set of options is reduced - but is not an exertion of power to offer a quid pro quo that adds to his existing options. Equality as a process characteristic means application of the same rules to all, without regard to individual antecedent conditions or subsequent results.
The clash between the two visions is not over the actual or desirable degree of freedom, justice, power, or equality - or over the fact that that there can only be degrees and not absolutes - but rather over what these things consist of, in whatever degree they occur. Moreover, the relationship between the two visions reflects not only their logical differences, but also the historical ascendancy of one or the other vision at a given time. Because some of the key concepts used by both sides were first defined primarily in the terms of the constrained vision, those with the unconstrained vision have had to distinguish their concepts as "real" freedom, or "real" equality, for example, as contrasted with merely "formal" freedom or equality.
In addition to these changing asymmetric relationships between the two visions, there is an enduring asymmetric relationship based on how they see each other as adversaries. Each must regard the other as mistaken, but the reason for the "mistake" are different. In the unconstrained vision, in which man can master social complexities sufficiently to apply directly the logic and morality of the common good, the presence of highly educated and intelligent people diametrically opposed to policies aimed at that common good is either an intellectual puzzle or a moral outrage, or both. Implications of bad faith, venality, or other moral or intellectual deficiencies have been much more common in the unconstrained vision's criticisms of the constrained vision than vice versa. In the constrained vision, where the individual's capacity for direct social decision-making is quite limited, it is far less surprising that those who attempt it should fail - and therefore far less necessary to regard the "mistaken" adversary as having less morality or intelligence than others. Those with the constrained vision tend to refer to their adversaries as well-meaning but mistaken, or unrealistic in their assumptions, with seldom a suggestion that they are deliberately opposing the common good or are too stupid to recognize it. Personality variations cut across these patterns on both sides - Burke was less generous to adversaries than Hayek, Shaw less accusatory than Condorcet - but the patterns themselves have persisted for centuries.
Malthus said: "I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor." But when Godwin wrote of Malthus, he called him "malignant," questioned "the humanity of the man," said "I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made," and hinted that Malthus' appointment as Professor at East India College was a reward for apologetics for the privileged. In the twentieth century, Friedrich Hayek's landmark book, The Road to Serfdom, made him a moral leper to many, though in that book he was very generous to his adversaries, whom he characterized as "single-minded idealists" and as "authors whose sincerity and disinterestedness are above suspicion." Further examples could me multiplied almost without limit. The point here is that these differences reflect more than personality differences, and are themselves part of an enduring pattern growing out of the fundamental assumptions of the two visions.
Both visions try to make the locus of discretion coincide with the locus of knowledge, but they conceive of knowledge in such radically different terms as to lead to opposite conclusions as to where discretion should be vested.
Logic is of course not the only test of a theory. Empirical evidence is crucial intellectually, and yet historically social visions have shown a remarkable ability to evade, suppress, or explain away discordant evidence, to a degree that scientific theories cannot match. Yet, for individuals, changes of visions have not been uncommon, and catastrophic historical events have created many "road to Damascus" conversions. The hybrid vision of fascism, once touted as "the wave of the future" only half a century ago, has been devastated by the experience of World War II. In short, evidence is not wholly irrelevant even to visions, even historically - and it is of course crucial logically. Historic evasions of evidence are a warning, not a model. Too often the mere fact that someone is known to disagree widely on other issues is considered sufficient reason not to take him seriously on the issue at hand ("How can you believe someone who has said...?) In short, the fact that an opposing vision has as much consistency across a range of issues as one's own is used as a reason to reject it out of hand. This is especially so when the reasons for the differences are conceived to be working toward morally incompatible goals.
While visions conflict, and arouse strong emotions in the process, merely "winning" cannot be the ultimate goal of either the constrained or the unconstrained vision, however much that goals may preoccupy practical politicians. The moral impulse driving each vision cannot be jettisoned for the sake of wining, without making the victory meaningless. While defections form one vision to another may be occasioned by empirical evidence, it is usually the relevance of that evidence for the prospects of achieving some morally desirable goals that is decisive.
Professor Steven Pinker's excellent "The Blank Slate - the Modern Denial of Human Nature" references this book to demonstrate the two main opposing views of man.
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