democracy, Enlightenment, History, philosophy, politics, Protestantism, rights, science, sovereignty
Fragment 148, word count: 628.
As long as the ubiquitous metaphysics in the European cultural system was creationist monotheism, there was a blanket sanctification for the rights and privileges (ultimately sovereignty) of the strongest, since they are evidently favoured by deity and typically partnered with priestly institutions dedicated to studying and proclaiming divine messages. However, that blanket sanctification was disrupted beginning as early as the later fourteenth century, gradually building toward the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789-99. Over those four centuries there was a convergence between two distinct philosophical streams in the developing culture of western Christendom, one stream focused on the nature and movement of objects and the other on the status and dignity of the subjective personality of individual humans relative to divine personality. The object-focused stream was mechanistic materialism (anti-Aristotelian) inspired by Lucretius (ancient Roman Epicurean materialist rediscovered in the Renaissance) via Spinoza (1632-1677). Such scientific materialism was used to undercut claims of the divine right of kings, aristocracy, and Church to dominate society, but it also re-conceived human nature as being inclined to rationality, with the inherent ability to reason mathematically and logically, to question, recognize relevant evidence, investigate and judge reality. In other words, it recognized humans as competent to acquire scientific knowledge of the natural world. This was a profound upgrade in human dignity compared with the Christian teaching of hopeless inherent sinfulness since the Fall from Grace. There was a serious effort in this philosophical stream to make human rationality consistent with a mechanistic universe. (Materialism always stumbles over an awkwardness to accommodate conscious ideality, intelligence.) The other stream was also a major upgrade to general human dignity. It was a stream of thinking about human spirituality, expressed in an early form in the remarkable work of John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), concerning the individual self-sufficiency to read and understand the Biblical word of God. This developed as the spirit of Protestantism, ascribing to individuals the inherent nobility to engage with deity directly, without interceding saints or priestly sacraments empowered by the institutional Church, along with the innate power to take a mental leap to faith (Luther), which is to posit conceptions of reality. Both of these streams of thought had philosophical force, and their combined history accounts for why the political left-wing is the party of philosophy: because the convergence of these streams of philosophical thinking came to conceive human nature as having the inherent dignity of rationality and creative self-possession, in the spirit of protestantism but also extending beyond religion into secular politics. Even the protestant stream contains an implicit politics: with God exercising sovereignty directly within every individual’s intelligence, there is no justification for any military commander-in-chief to exercise sovereignty as a local expression of divine will.
Democracy is an expression of the political left-wing, an assertion (against the age-old dominance of the strongest) of the rights to political self-determination of the most numerous class of people who must sell labour for wages to survive because they possess little or nothing. It is leftist to derive inherent and inalienable rights from mere sentient existence, from the inherent dignity of life prior to any possession of property. Based on this philosophical convergence, developed over a long troubled history, there is no metaphysical justification for any claim that a collective can own anyone, or that anyone can own anyone, even on the grounds of being the strongest. No one has a metaphysical obligation or duty to submit to or be subject to the commands of a collective or individual, no matter how gifted. There is no metaphysical commanding height. The crucial freedom is the freedom to disbelieve the bogus metaphysics that sustains the dystopia: that rights belong to the strongest.
Copyright © 2019 Sandy MacDonald.