Monday, December 12, 2016

Schlick's Utopia

Moritz Schlick--  "The 11th
Doctor stole my look."
Sometimes, when philosophers are bored, we get to describing Utopia. A little known fact about one of my philosophical faves (#NoFaves?) is that he indulged in this pass-time.  Shortly before he was murdered in 1936, Schlick had prepared a manuscript for what was to be the basis of a book on social and political philosophy. Drawing entirely from the work of Hubert Schleichert, I'll give a quick summary of Schlick's views on the perfect society. I think it reveals a very different side of Schlick to the one philosophers are familiar with. (How on earth would you verify these propositions!?) Note that I am describing without endorsing - I'll say a bit about what I think of it at the end. It's a long post today!

Schlick starts from the assertion that
There is nothing in our European civilisation that causes more grief than the state. Under it we suffer most.
He then tries to analyse why this is and what we could do to make it better. He has two main reasons for thinking that the state is the source of so much misery:
  1.  It is very difficult to disassociate yourself from a nation state you do not approve of or which is oppressing you. We are forced by the historical accident of where we are born to suffer things which we would never willingly endorse.
  2. The organisation of the world into different territorial states makes war far more likely - we are primed to think of those within our borders as co-citizens, whereas the state is protecting us from those without the borders. They, the foreigners,  must therefore be our enemies.
The first of these reasons is a familiar reaction to what is known as the "social contract" tradition in philosophy. A common philosophical thought has been that a just state is one that rational adults would agree to have govern them - a state is good just in case, all things considered, we all agree it is in our best interests to keep it around. Well, as many many people have gone on to point out, maybe we don't endorse the states which actually exist at all! Nobody ever actually gives us the chance to accept or reject the existence of the state we live under. Even in democracies all we get to have some say over is: who runs the state, not: should there be a state at all? So if what it takes for the state to be justified is that we reflectively endorse it, doesn't that mean that all the states which presently exist are unjustified?

The second of these reasons, though, is a bit less familiar. Per Schleichert's interpretation, Schlick is also responding to the social contract tradition here. A benefit the state is often argued to confer is protecting us from the inevitable chaos which is supposed to follow life without a state. The classical statement of this comes from Hobbes' Leviathon:
Hobbes - "You got the wrong guy!" 
"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man. 
To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues. 
No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

The state (a "common power to keep [us] all in awe") is meant to solve this by doing violence to anybody who would upset the common peace, or at least credibly threatening to do as much. Since the state will crush anybody who steps out of line, we can all go about our business confident that the threat of anarchic war of all against all has been avoided. So in so far as we all want to avoid "continual fear, and danger of violent death", and in so far as we'd prefer our lives not to be "solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short", we'd all do well to reflectively endorse the state which protects us from this.

However, Schlick was not satisfied with this. Because he noted that not only is the state meant to protect us from those who would do violence against us at home, but it is also meant to meant to protect us from those in other states. Foreigners, after all, are people who have not entered into our social contract - they are precisely the sort of person who state is mean to guard against, per the social contract theory. So just as the state maintains the peace at home, it must prepare for war abroad - and all the peoples of the world who were not born within the same territory as us are reduced to potential enemies. Against this, Schlick noted:
Terrible as they are, one has to acknowledge the fact that civil wars usually do not claim as many victims as wars between states with separate territories have, i.e. between hostile countries.
So, Schlick concluded, we would not endorse states as they exist now on grounds of security. Sure it makes civil wars less likely - but they also make foreign wars possible (and also likely), and those tend to be far more destructive when they do occur.

The solution Schlick proposed was "territory-less states". The common problem in (1) and (2), Schlick felt, was the fact that nation states are tied up with particular territorial areas. This allows for a clear boundary to be drawn between "us" and "them" - this leads to the mutual suspicion which underlies (2). It also means we are grouped together on an arbitrary basis, and it makes it costly and difficult to change state, which is the problem in (1). So, Schlick proposes, we should all organise ourselves into states on some basis other than physical territory. For instance, on the basis of political convictions. In his own words:
In such a case there would be no countries in the usual case, but political organisations, the members of which would live scattered over all continents. Each of these invisible communities could have its own laws and costumes, its courts, police and state form. There could be invisible republics and monarchies, but the presidents and kings would not rule over territories, but only such people as voluntarily belong to their state. Since human convictions can change, it follows from the very principle that one can at any given time move from one organisation to another.
... What does that mean?

Well, since he never got round to actually writing the book on account of being murdered, it's kind of hard to know what Schlick had in mind. Schleichert offers as an example of groups that might be like this the Catholic Church and the Jewish diaspora (though neither are perfect examples). There are rules and rituals associated with participating in these groups, there are even penalties which people will pay despite their being no external control. It's not quite so easy to associate or disassociate with these groups as Schlick imagined for his ideal states, but we can at least imagine something close to them where somebody could join and leave at will. Another good example might be political parties - most of my readers live in nations with different political parties which strongly disagree about how we should govern thins, but which (for the most part) manage to mingle together in peace. In Schlick's utopia, all the socialists could live under their own rule, so could all the capitalists, so could all the fascists, and the theocrats.... etc. They wouldn't have to separate out and live apart, just make it clear who belongs to what state, and associate with each other appropriately within a shared space. It's very vague - but, hey, getting shot to death by Nazi-sympathising students can do that to your clarity, so I don't blame Schlick for the idea not being fleshed out.

So, what do I think of this idea? Well, surely the first thing that comes to mind is how impractical it sounds. What happens if two groups disagree about who gets to use a particular building at a particular time? Schlick, apparently, loosely gestured towards there being a world government for settling disputes between nations - but nothing about the League of Nations (or its successor the UN) gives me much faith in that idea for maintaining peace. And securing peace and co-operation between peoples seems to pretty clearly be Schlick's main goal here. What's more - sure (I'll grant) wars between states are worse than civil wars, but the fact that civil war seems much more likely to afflict me than wars between nations seems to be a relevant consideration that Schlick didn't consider. Finally, much of what drives Schlick seems to be an anticipation of what is now called the "contact hypothesis". This is the idea that if you spend a lot of time mingling with people from groups you wouldn't normally like you come to appreciate their humanity more, and so become less prejudices and hostile towards them. As Schlick put it himself:
Attempts at secession and isolation prevent peace and the development of an international morality. Morality is always a product of living together.
But from what I know the evidence regarding the contact hypothesis has been mixed at best; so this is far from a secure foundation upon which to build utopia.

So I think Schlick's idea is not really implementable and founded on some questionable sociology. Despite this, though, I must admit I have some sympathy for it. Schlick, writing in 1930s central Europe, came to the conclusion that belligerent nationalism and group-identities founded on arbitrary properties like ethnicity were an evil that should be got rid of. In his own words
Living together on the same territory, taken to the principle of belonging together, gives rise to all such evils which dog our divided world the most.
Will I not prefer a thousand times more to cooperate with a reliable Chinese of good character than with an egoistic, insincere European? 
Given how things turned out, who can blame him for the sentiment? And Schlick sometimes expressed himself in passages which seem vaguely mystical, but are for that rather inspiring:
Only good will can be the ultimate principle of unification; the state that is established in this way is the true state of god. 
People of good character, the kind and peaceful, belong together "by nature"; they form the invisible state of god, civitas dei.
Sure, it's vague and seems very naive. But it's also a beautiful sentiment. It surely becomes a philosopher to dream such dreams aloud.

(I spoke about the philosophical tradition of Utopianism. But it should be noted that Utopian thinking also has strong, and far older, roots in the Jewish religious tradition. This tradition has been taken up by Christianity - and, I would presume though I know less, Islam. Various texts in the Scriptures describe a world where where the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. We will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with us. There will be fair judgement between the nations and the peaceful resolution of disputes for all peoples. Swords will be beat into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will we train for war anymore... etc. I think the imagery in the religious tradition is more striking and more beautiful than the philosophical tradition, with the possible exception of Plato, has tended to be.)

Augustine - "I am in the religious tradition mentioned,
and Schlick is referencing me with talk of "civitas dei""

No comments:

Post a Comment