Check your U.S. voter registration status or register to vote here.

Image for post
Image for post

I’m reading debates in early modern philosophy, and I’m amused by how much they help explain our contemporary political problems. I think I can write this down in plain English. Here you go:

We want to be able to categorize the world, not just in the abstract, but we want our categories to reach all the way down and account for individuals’ properties in existence. It’s a bit of a tall order, especially if we want our categories to not just be ad hoc descriptions of existing properties, but instead, have these categories work together to give an account or a logic to existing properties with a sort of necessity.

It’s a good goal, to make existence make sense. Plato says, “nah, don’t expect existence to make sense. Lemme tell you about the world as it makes sense, and you’ll see how different it is from the world that happens to exist.” Whereas Aristotle says, “Hell yeah, existence makes sense as an intelligible system. Lemme tell you about the sense in the world.”

The problem is going to be with how we explain existence in the world by how different kinds of things reproduce, develop, and sustain themselves in different ways. Lions do what lions do. Seals do what seals do. Baby elephants do what baby elephants do. This is tied up with each species’ internal principle of motion, aka, their nature, how their organs work together. This account of a thing’s nature is its essence, and in this way, Aristotle explains existence by recourse to essence. A thing’s nature can account for how, if you throw rock at a lion, seal, horse, or a baby elephant, they’ll react differently. They’ll react according to their nature, even if they have roughly the same mass. He even works out an account of how chance plays out in the existence rather elegantly, without breaking his system of essences and their expression in the world.

The problem with this approach to explaining existence by recourse to beings’ nature is that the external world seems to have it’s way with us. Bleach kills everything. It doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is or its nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s an orchid or a weed or a toddler. You put bleach on it, and it breaks down and dies. Forever. So instead of looking at internal principles of motion and categorizing existence as the success of a bunch of individuals and whole species keeping themselves together through functioning parts or organs, we need to understand that your “parts” are just bits of matter. All of your organs are better understood as made up of bits of matter that are fundamentally identical. And if you look at how these bits interact externally, then you will be able to account for what you call your individual existence.

The problem is then you lose the intelligibility of individuality both ways. If you take the conceptual systems tact, you can’t get knowledge, especially, spacial temporal knowledge, of any individual substance from a generic concept of it. If you take the physical systems tack, your individuals aren’t really individuals anyway more; rather, “individuals” are just bundles of matter and this fundamental particle, by definition of being fundamental in this physicalist system, is singular without any internality in them. In this way, the individual thing dissolves into particles that don’t have an internal relationship with each other, just an external one.

What does this have to do with contemporary politics? For reasons, I’ve spoken about elsewhere, I think freedom is expressed in different species that can been analytically derived based on whether the mutual interaction constitutive of freedom is immediate or mediated. Which means you are going to have different species of freedom that cannot be reduced to each other because each species is a different structure to its relation of internal parts. This will spin out differentiated rights like property rights, family rights, civil rights, political rights, etc. that can’t be reduced to each other, but since they are all forms of freedom, need to be fit to accommodate each other, preferably in an mutually reinforcing relationship. This diversity of systematically derived and justified forms is what allows for a robust institutional politics. These institutions of freedom aren’t simply ideologically reinforcing each other, they are spiritually and materially reinforcing each other.

Conservatives get this. And depending on who you talk to, they HAVE this.

Liberals, on the other hand, will reduce all of these different kinds of relationships constitutive of freedom to individual choice. The thing about the choosing will of an individual is there is no internal structure. instead of a particle, you have a choosing person. This idea that choices are just acting on other choices dissolves all of the differentiated kinds of institutional freedom conservatives have worked out, while also hollowing out institutional politics, or reducing institutional politics to contingency. In this way, there is no internal logic holding liberal institutions together, this bits of choosers, whose will is unknowable, even to themselves, nor do their institutions enforce each other in their specific ways. Only reduced to institutions of choice.

What happens? Well, since the American Right’s institutions of freedom are differentiated, they all have different defense mechanisms, and since they are mutually reinforcing, if you take out one, the other will take up the slack, redistribute the responsibility until the other formally legitimate institution gets back on its feet.

This is why if the Dems beat the Right church, but leave the family, the property ideology, etc. in tact, then the Right church will come back under a slightly more accommodating guise. And since these are all legitimate institutions of freedom in form, even if the conservative content is dicey, dissolving them becomes a legitimate affront to reasoning and meaning in life. Against, just like the way the physical systems people dissolve kinds into arrangements of undifferentiated particles.

In the end, the Left needs to derive and own its variegated system of mutually reinforcing institutions that are legitimate grounded as institutions of freedom. These that are externally differentiated from each other because each institution has a different internal order. What I’m talking about is an ecosystem of freedom where the Left has a worked out account of property, religion, civil society, family, law and politics that shows the diversity of these spheres of freedom through accounting for the systematic way all of them differ as they are derived as institutions of freedom.

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store