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Posting 117, word count: 1199

Metaphysics is the ultimate weakness of the political left-wing. Right-wing politics is the promotion of patriarchy, and the main pillar of patriarchy is the widespread personal orientation (superego) formed around bogyman metaphysics, assumptions of cosmic moral ledger-keeping in preparation for a final reckoning, a cosmic plan. Any conception such as karma that includes the idea of a cosmic reckoning, or any other reward and punishment after death, is personification of nature on the grand scale (bogyman metaphysics), entrenching an idealized paradigm of patriarchy as a top-down personal orientation. Platonic Ideal Forms and any other metaphysics ascribing primacy to some conception of eternal Being or a Great Chain of Being are also examples of top-down metaphysics. It is the top-down orientation which confers meaning on imperialistic war. Right-wingers have elaborate social and biological theories (Hobbes, Darwin) cementing conflict, trophies, and centralized monopolies of violence as crucial forces of civilization and society. Such theories are expressions of top-down metaphysical assumptions, and the metaphysics is the ultimate support of right-wing political power. Right-wing thinking operates in an overall conception in which the objective world consists of certain specific, determinate, and eternal structures (great chain of being) and categories (atomic facts) which pre-determine what is correct thinking and perception for every individual. In that right-wing world everyone’s subjectivity must be and should be formed by, and subordinate to, the determinate structures and categories of the objective world, including social, economic, and political structures. The right-wing orientation is a looking outward for transcendence or for an equivalent for transcendence in material determinism, categorically given and absolute in the Great Chain of Being. Top-down metaphysics is entirely bogus but unfortunately is the universal cultural default, entrenched by history and tradition. Such is the dystopia in which the prospects and strategies for autonomous thinking as an individual must be devised. The good news is that, since the personal superego is the patriarchy, then disrupting the patriarchy is an accomplishment of thinking, an intellectual and cultural enterprise. More good news is that there has been since ancient times a cultural stream of philosophical thinking, a minority report, that resisted and disputed the dominant orientation.

Historical Roots of the Political Left

The main roots of the political left, expressed for example in socialism, are in the philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, specifically in the radical branch of the Enlightenment which asserted universal human rationality, a transcendent power at the level of the individual, and developed that claim into a profound rejection of social and economic inequality as most evident in such institutions as monarchy, aristocracy, and religious hierarchies. The other looming presence in the ideology of the left, Marxist theory, was merely a footnote to and a distortion of Enlightenment ideas, and Enlightenment ideology itself was a particular formulation of the cultural stream of philosophical thinking that disputed the dominant orientation since antiquity. Marxist theory attempted to change the foundation of egalitarianism from universal human rationality (at the level of the individual) to the predetermined working out of economic laws governing class struggle in history: dialectical materialism. It was a variant of Hegelian (top-down) metaphysics, driven by the cosmic Final Cause, and a tragic dead end innovation. The collapse of communism in The Soviet Union and eastern Europe exposed the absurdity of using materialism as a bottom-up foundation for such Enlightenment ideas as innate rationality, equality, individual human dignity and rights, secularism, cosmopolitanism, and representative democracy. Although materialism can claim to be an alternative to top-down orientations, and was promoted as such by the radical branch of Enlightenment, it cannot avoid determinism and so becomes a justification for anything that exists. The idea of economic determinism is still an institutionalized assumption in the science of economics. Karl Marx’s ideas of dialectical materialism and laws of history demonstrate how materialism settles into strict fatalism, unfreedom, and the impossibility of transcendence (the creation of unforeseeable alternatives and possibilities). The loss of transcendence carries the implication that everything has to be just the way it has always been. The collapse of Marxism was not the collapse of the long historical development of egalitarianism as implicit in Enlightenment ideas, because the same egalitarianism was vestigial in ancient humanist philosophy and in Renaissance humanism and in a continuous stream of cultural developments in western cultural history. The pressure of egalitarianism has lasted so long against apparently crushing forces because it expresses the fundamental reality of transcendence at the level of the individual, implicit in the idea of universal human rationality. The collapse of Marxism merely discredits materialist and top-down metaphysics (as in economic theory) as a base for the political left.

Metaphysics for the Political Left

Although in the early twenty-first century the political left is faltering badly for lack of an articulated metaphysics, it already has an informal conceptual framework, a thinking orientation, which implies its metaphysics. Left-wing thinking operates in a conception of the world in which individual subjectivity has an important degree of creative freedom to conceptualize and re-conceptualize the structures of the world, and to intervene in forming and altering those structures. In that context, individual subjectivities have a mission that goes beyond struggling for survival and acquiring trophies and knowledge of objective facts, a mission, instead, to conceive and make an authentically personal mark on the world, to bring goods from a spiritual interiority and inject them into the shape of the public world. Creating structures of mutually nurturing sociability is an essential part of that mission. On the left-wing view, then, individual subjectivity is transcendent in relation to the merely inertial and entropic world. If metaphysics is the identification of transcendence, then the political left is already committed to a metaphysics. Consciousness itself, the being of a spiritual person, a self-constructing idea of a life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself into the world, is the only fountain of unforeseeable possibilities creating the openness to an otherwise inertial and entropic world. That makes thinking the transcendent power. Consciousness (thinking) is not a single occurrence but a multitude of separate and distinctly embodied instances, individual animal bodies, some of them human.

The salvation of the left does not lie in abandoning transcendence in a rush to the metaphysical bottom of materialism, nor in a backward-looking reverence for antique conceptions of top-down cosmic providence, but instead in a reconceptualizing of transcendence that builds on the Enlightenment recognition of individual rationality. The great mistake in metaphysics has been to gaze outward, especially toward far horizons, squinting to make out messages in the haze. The focus of metaphysics has to be the looking itself, not what is seen but the seeing. Consciousness, and only consciousness, is transcendent, and consciousness occurs only at the level of the individual, and not as a passive receptivity but instead in the application of personal context in a moment of interpretive sensitivity, a context-projecting moment of interpretation. There is no looking or seeing without an encounter of personally specific context with novel sensitivity, a personally spiritual act.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.