Moralism and Morality
The Bureacucrat and the Beast: The Dualities of Moralism
Marx and Morality
Marx spoke with contempt of morality, is said to have burst out laughing at the mention of the word, and claimed (in The German Ideology) 'the Communists preach no morality at all'. Yet it is obvious that Marx knew capitalism to be a vicious social order, at best transitionally necessary, in favourable conditions to be overthrown and replaced by a better one, socialism, which would in turn evolve into communist society. Most commentators have seen inconsistency here; even the orthodox have offered psychological explanations. Some say: 'Of course ethics is at the root of Marxism, but Marx's own bewitchment by the prevailing positivist ideology of 'science' led him to conceal it'. Others say: 'Of course moral principles have nothing in common with Marxist science and Marxist politics, whose task is simply to advance the objective interests of the working class'. Still others say: 'Of course, as a science Marxism is value‑free; but Marxist praxis presupposes extra‑empirical commitment to socialist ideals'. And so, scholastic refinements daily emerging, the debate among professional Marxists goes on (see Lucien Goldmann's 'Is there a Marxist Sociology?' reprinted in Radical Philosophy 1). There are textual sources for all of these interpretations (thus the irony of the sectarian 'of courses'), but it is possible to see that Marx's condemnation of capitalism is quite consistent with his contempt for morality.
Unlike Kautsky (Ethics and the Materialist Interpretation of History) and Engels (Anti‑Dühring) Marx appears to have had a quite specific conception of morality; he did not see the term generically as embracing the 'norms and values' of any historical society. For him, morality was an historically fairly specific ideological institution, functioning to mystify and discipline people in accordance with the oppressive needs of class society. He did not argue for a 'socialist morality'; rather he claimed that the communist movement 'shatters the basis of all morality' (German Ideology). To the class-conscious proletarian 'law, morality and religion are . . . so many bourgeois prejudices behind which there lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests' (Communist Manifesto).
But clearly, whether 'young' or 'mature', Marx wrote of capitalism as an evil social order whatever its 'progressive' aspects. In Capital, Volume 1, for example, he says:
Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over and exploitation of the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage to a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into hated toil; they estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life‑time into working‑time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital. But all methods for the production of surplus‑value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes again a means for the development of those methods. It follows, therefore, that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. (Moscow Edition, p. 645)
Why is this attack on capitalism consistent with the rejection of 'the moral point of view'? Because 'morality' is in his view, one of the real evils of capitalist society. What is the nature of this evil?
The first point I would make is that it is not the specific content of specifically bourgeois moral ideas that is centrally at issue here; I mean: ideas about the sanctity of private property, the family, and the state. Obviously Marxists are going to debunk such ideas as masks over capitalism's inhuman face. But Marx is not advocating that socialists work out a system of moral principles which do not consecrate bourgeois social relations. He is not concerned, then, to promulgate non‑invidious moral commandments such as 'treat no one as a means', or 'tell the truth', in the manner of a radical follower of Kant. For such left‑philanthropists assume that, perhaps with divine help, obedience to such imperatives would in fact serve the common good, serve mankind. But whereas, unlike 'respect your boss's property', the Kantian imperatives do not have an individious content, and may even provide the terms of social criticism and in the name of the higher authority of conscience command rebellion, blanket obedience to them, here and now, supports exploitation and deception. For to refrain on principle from harming, or lying to, the bosses or the officers of the state is to consent to exploitation by those whose good is typically the harm of the exploited. To fall for the cry of 'let us all make sacrifices for the good of all' , is to be played for a fool; there is scant common good.
But I do not think it is a question for Marx of rejecting or replacing such norms with revolutionary socialist norms. (Compare E. Kamenka, The Ethical Foundations of Marxism, London, 1962.) Trotsky proposes such a replacement in his debate with Dewey (see Their Morals and Ours, Merit, N.Y., 1966). Having attacked the hypocrisy of bourgeois morality and the futility of Kantian philanthropism, Trotsky puts forward a set of moral imperatives geared to revolutionary politics as understood within the Leninist framework . He advocates, in fact, a socialist utilitarianism, advocating duties and sacrifices subservient to the end of 'increasing the power of man over nature and abolishing the power of man over man'. What he does then, is alter the content of moral ideas, setting out socialist principles instead of bourgeois ones (see also Lenin's Address to the Third All‑Russian Congress of Communist Youth, 1920, an important and oft‑reprinted bible of Soviet Moralistianity). But whether such codes are called 'socialist morality' or 'truly human morality', they ignore, or even suppress, questions of the 'structure' or 'form' of morality, questions of whether the 'content' of socialist ideals admits of realisation through a practice of submission to duty, however much such practices may sometimes confront the status quo. Such thinking remains within the conceptual framework of bourgeois moralism. The best explicit statement of such an incomplete break that I know is Bertrand Russell's in his Marriage and Morals (Unwin, 1929, 1972 impression):
Conventional morality has erred, not in demanding self-control, but in demanding it in the wrong place. (p. 120)
Despite much of Russell's drift, then, he here affirms that his concern is simply with content; he does not question the different forms of 'self‑control' (taboo, inhibition). It was not this sort of road, I think, that Marx was concerned to point. He called the whole established notion and practice of 'morality' into question. Not concerning himself with the positive task of outlining a socialist 'structure' appropriate to a socialist 'content', of developing a more adequate concept of morality, Marx regarded morality as he regarded religion, as inherently ideological, mystifying and repressive. We have seen how radicals might think it adequate to put forward new moral principles for old, and we need to explore the common structural core and the common 'psychological politics' that these different systems share with established bourgeois moral thought and practice.
I begin with an account of what I see as fundamentally dualistic categories of moralism as articulated and as criticised in philosophy books, sermons, tracts and popular media. I shall then attempt to locate this discourse as reflecting, characterising and reinforcing class and specifically capitalist social relations. Then I shall try to portray the institutional transmission and embodiment of 'morality', thus understood, within our society'moral education'. From that point I propose to outline an alternative categorial scheme, social form, and mode of education in such a way as to bring out the connection between an adequate notion of morality and a radical social vision. In short, I shall try to help rescue the concept of morality from the jaws of moralism.
Durkheim: socialisation, coercion and morality
In Moral Education (Free Press, N.Y., 1973), Emile Durkheim, the father of modern sociology wrote:
Morality is the totality of definite rules; it is like so many moulds with limiting boundaries into which we must pour our behaviour. . . the function of morality is, in the first place, to determine conduct, to fix it, to eliminate the element of individual arbitrariness. Doubtless the content of moral precepts, that is to say the nature of the prescribed behaviour also has moral value and we shall discuss this. However, since all such precepts promote regularity of conduct among men, there is a moral aspect in that these actionsnot only in their specific content but in a general wayare held to contain regularity. That is why transients and people who cannot hold themselves to specific jobs are always suspect. It is because their moral temperament is fundamentally defectivebecause it is most uncertain and undependable. (pp. 26‑7)
Durkheim goes on to depict the means whereby these disciplining boundaries can most effectively be established within the soul, so that, even when the backs of authorities, uniformed or otherwise, are turned, the individual, 'moralised', 'socialised', will police himself.
Morality, then, according to this bourgeois picture, is ‘self‑control'; but between the self who controls and the self who is controlled there is a gulf, a gulf as wide as that between a bestial state‑of‑nature and an ordered society, and a gulf as narrow, since the forces of anarchy ever threaten to overwhelm their internal ruler. Morality is the political 'problem of order' as it is solved in the head, and the long process of moral education is the authoritarian struggle to achieve that solution. Morality's target, then, is the baseness that is at the core of man's natural, unimproved, state; a baseness which consists, if not necessarily in the outright wickedness that John Wesley attributed even to young children, in blind wilfulness, savage wildness, thoughtless destructiveness, and indulgent selfishness. Morality's function, then, is precisely to inhibit, discipline, control, suppress, these impulses, inclinations, passions, instincts, and thus to guide us in the paths, if not of outright righteousness, at least of common decency. The moral man, the man of character, through the prodding of prickling power of his conscience, is able thus to regulate his conduct. As Professor Richard Peters puts it:
Character‑traits are internalised social rules such as honesty, punctuality, truthfulness and unselfishness. A person's character represents his own achievement, his own manner of imposing regulation upon his inclinations. (Ethics and Education, Allen and Unwin, 1966, p. 57)
If moral action occurs in the outer social world, it is the inner private world that is the locus of the moral drama. For it is within the individual breast that the moralist locates the forces of good and evil. Thus it is individuals' success or failure in self‑control that is the key to social well‑being or discord. There is evil in the world, we are to believe, because there are unmoralised individuals in the world: inside agitators; and evil will be kept down to the extent that such bad agents are suppressed or caused to repent and to suppress themselves. Thus, according to our moral judges, it is 'up to the individual' to discipline himself, to measure up to 'what is required'. If he fails to do this, it is his fault and he is to blame. As the cause of his own shortcoming he must, 'if he has any conscience at all', change himself. This whole voluntaristic claptrap amounts to the demand that individuals lift themselves up by their own spiritual bootlaces. The high moral tone of this individualistic voluntarianism masks its function as the social mobilisation of fear; but this mobilisation becomes quite explicit when judges, while abusing the transgressor for his culpably vicious mind, attributes blame, out of the side of their mouth (addressing 'the authorities'), to the 'permissive climate of our times'. The moralist puns on 'responsibility'. He says: 'the child must be held responsible before he is responsible, so that he may become responsible'. Removing the play on words we might say that the child is to be punished before he knows what he is doing so that he will come to obey voluntarily, to be moral. As Nietzsche said:
Men were treated as free so that they might be judged and punished, so that they might become guilty. (Twilight of the Idols', The Portable Nietzsche; ed. Kauffman, Viking, 1964, p. 499)
Moralists thus try to get us to see the source both of our ruin and of our salvation as within our own selves. They are concerned to present us to ourselves as cut off, not only from direct social communication, but from direct social determination. Basic to this thought is the split between people, so that it is only through moral compulsion or other external forces that we will be sociable. Durkheim's very definition of society is in terms of its 'externality' and 'coerciveness' with respect to society's individual members (Rules of Sociological Method, Macmillan, 1964, p. 2). And equally basic, since implanted compelling conscience is at war with innate, rebellious impulse, is the split within the individual.
Morality, then, has the mystical function of joining together what natural inclination would burst apart. Morality, rational, disinterested, universal, enters as a deus ex machina as that-which-overcometh our capricious, selfish, particularistic defects, as the mysterious, self‑composed, internal cement which holds all together by holding each down. It is the internal referee that ensures that the social contest is fairly fought. The conscience is the statesman of the soul.
Kant and moral jewellery
It is the writings of Kant that express most clearly this wholesale dualism. He held human beings capable only of capricious and sporadic direct inclinations towards each other; he harped on the 'slavish', 'blind', 'animal' nature of all inclinations, whether sociable or not, and was prone to depict 'giving in' to impulses such as sympathy or liking as just as self‑indulgent as giving in to any other inclination:
delight in the satisfaction of others. . . however amiable. . . is on a level with other inclinations, e.g. the inclination to honour. . . (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, transl. Abbott, Longmans, 1955, p. 16).
Though occasionally, and through 'accident' or 'coincidence', such inclinations might issue in actions 'in accordance with duty', their general tendency is to lead us away from duty's strict path:
since man is acted upon by so many inclinations that, though capable of the idea of pure practical reason, he is not so easily able to make it effective in concreto in his life. (Fundamental Principles, p. 5)
Thus, duty, the commandment of pure practical reason, dictates the control of inclination and the pursuit of virtue quite independent of inclination:
Thus, e.g., I ought to endeavour to promote the happiness of others, not as if its realization involved any concern of mine (whether by immediate inclination or by any satisfaction gained indirectly through reason), but simply because a maxim which excludes it cannot be comprehended as a natural law in one and the same volition. (Fundamental Principles, p. 72)
The moral man, then acts under constraints; yet since it is a constraint imposed on him (his inclinations) by Himself (his Reason), the moral act is, par excellence, a 'free' act.
A free will and a will subject to moral laws are one and the same. (Fundamental Principles, p. 79 (Abbott).)
Yet this freedom is opposed to vulgar spontaneity or common humanity:
For men and all rational creatures, the moral necessity is a constraint, an obligation. Every action on it is to by considered a duty, and not as a manner of acting which we naturally favour or might favour. (Critique of Practical Reason, transl. L.W. Beck, Liberal Arts Press, sometime 1956, Book 1, Chapter 3, p. 84)
(Larry Blum's critique of Kant's Ethic (unpublished) examines these ideas in depth and develops themes discussed in his article with Marcia Homack, Judy Housman and Naomi Scheman: 'Altruism and Women's Oppression', in Women and Philosophy, ed. Carol Gould and Marx Wartofsky, Capricorn, 1976.)
Not only do positive social inclinations fail to measure up to the concept of morality, to what Kant takes to be the ordinary person's sense that morality makes an absolute and universal demand of people. Such inclinations, moreover, are at best peripheral to the attainment of human happiness on this earth and in the next. In the Lectures on Ethics, which together with Education it should be the duty of all Kant students to read, Kant writes:
. . . if none of us ever did any act of love or charity but only kept inviolate the rights of everyman, there would be no misery in the world except sickness and misfortune, and other sufferings as do not spring from the violation of rights. (Lectures, Harper Torchbooks (transl. L. Infield), 1963, p. 193)
Such is the bejewelled isolation of the moral life according to Kant, and, given his emotional solipsism it is no surprise to learn that he regarded masturbation as 'the most abominable conduct of which a man can be guilty' (Lectures, p. 170, see also Education, p. 117). Sexuality, that paradigm of our lower nature's anarchy, is always the bête noire of moralism; and masturbation, at once the supreme form of easy gratification and the standing temptation of an atomised, privatised and self‑orientated society has long been its obsession. Alex Comfort's The Anxiety Makers and Stephen Marcus's The Other Victorians, explore the activities of bodies, worthy and unworthy in this connection.
To validate morality, to make sense of the miraculous character that we have already noted even in Warnock's account, Kant had to elevate the 'pure' human will above the crass, sweaty realm of empirical causality; to split man into a celestial bureaucrat administering a bestial psychopath, to postulate an individual dignity, freedom, and rationality quite independent of wordly contingencies and to promise, in the fashion of the parish‑preacher, a divine reward and penalty structure in the afterlife as dividend for the moral investment that he was calling for. We shall note below the very social and deterministic 'educational' processes which Kant proposed for the inculcation of the Free and Individual Moral Will. And we shall also be examining the utility of his anti‑utilitarian 'duty‑for‑duty's sake' ethic for the capitalist social order. Kant's dualism powerfully reflects and firmly captures key elements in the prevailing idea of what morality is and especially the sense, expressed even today by students to whom 'morality', like Kant himself, appears as a ghost from the credulous past, that a distinctly Moral appeal is an appeal that is from within, yet from outside, and yet again from above.
Bentham: manager of poverty
The power of Kant's phenomenology of morality is brought out in the backhanded deontology of those 'teleological' moralists, the British Utilitarians. I have been stressing the 'form' of moralism and the way in which Kant, with his dualism of duty and inclination, supremely articulates it. Now in one sense the utilitarians were not 'formalists'; they did not seek to ground moral duties in formal principles of 'pure reason', but in the substantial, empirical, end of 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Nor did they place duty in the heavens, above earthly causality. But while their thought was devoid of Kant's idealism, the place of duty's law in the utilitarian theorists' vision of the virtuous life was scarcely less aloof and remote from direct and spontaneous passion than in the Kantian scheme. No less than his was their own thinking obsessed with abstinence, with restraint, with control, through a law‑and‑ordered mind, of the dangerously seductive forces of impulse. Just as Hobbes, eschewing Divine Right, sought to establish state‑sovereignty on a footing as firm as any devout subject might wish, so the utilitarians sought through their psychological science (soon to be reinforced by Darwinism) to condemn indulgence to as dark a hell as could be dreamt of by the most pious Victorian parson:
To enjoy quicklyto enjoy without punishment, this is the universal desire of man; this is the desire which is terrible, since it arms all those who possess nothing against those who possess anything. But the law, which restrains this desire, is the most splendid triumph of humanity over itself. (Principles of the Civil Code, Chapter 9, Bentham's Works, ed. Bowring, Vol. 1, New York, 1962, p. 309)
For the utilitarians, unlike Kant, pleasure was not a distracting lure but, along with pain, the 'sovereign master' to whose 'governance' all mankind is wholly subject (Bentham: Principles of Morals and Legislation, p. 1). The monarchical irony of Bentham's expression has a real point: in his vision inertness is man's natural state. Activity is undertaken, not for its own sake, but for the sake of obtaining some pleasure or avoiding some 'pain', these being conceived of as sensations produced as more or less direct consequences of activity: (the labour discussed in chapter 2). Naturally, then, in the interest of minimum effort, since effort is itself painful, mankind's first tendency is to seek the most immediate, effortless, and readily available pleasures. And to follow that tendency is, as the utilitarian tracts of the nineteenth century repeat, to follow the road to ruin, since, unlike the gratifications produced by arduous forbearance, its fleeting pleasures bring untold pains in tow. Hence the role of morality as one of the road‑blocks. Pleasure, for the utilitarians, was indeed a strict ruler.
Bentham, Paley, Whateley, Bain and the others, had contempt for nonsense on spiritual stilts; they were not prepared to follow Kant and the plain man in seeing morality and the conscience in terms of the mysterious contrary‑to‑nature raiment in which they appear to consciousness. On the contrary, they consistently present morality in terms of their utilitarian psychology, and in particular in terms of social sanctions operating through the 'association of ideas' so as to produce pain at the thought of certain acts. Paley put it starkly (things were expressed so much more clearly before mass enfranchisement and literacy forced euphemism on the ruling‑class philosopher):
As we should not be obliged to obey the laws, or the magistrate, unless rewards or punishments, pleasure or pain, somehow or other depended on our obedience; so neither should we, without the same reason, be obliged to do what is right, to practice virtue, or to obey the commands of God . . . Let it be remembered that to be obliged is to be urged by a violent motive, resulting from the command of another. (The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Chapter II, III, quoted in Selby‑Bigge, British Moralists, Bobbs‑Merrill, 1964, p. 359)
As to the precise nature of the 'sanctions of morality', there were differences in detail among the utilitarians. Paley seems to have stressed the feelings produced by simple punishment for disobedience. Bentham, at least in the Principles already referred to, stresses 'esteem', 'love', 'repute' and their opposites, together with their material fruits, as the key to morality's development (Chapter 5, paragraph VII; but for an extensive treatment 'of the punishments belonging to the moral sanction', see the second and third chapters, Part II, Book 3 of 'Principles of Penal Law', in Bentham's Works, edited by Bowring, New York, 1962, Vol. 1, p. 453). In either case morality is among the 'tutelary motives' needing assistance in controlling the 'seductive motives'. Bentham's dream was of a 'policed', 'superintended', 'managed' capitalist society (see 'Pauper Management', Works, Vol. 8), and the Panopticon, designed by his brother as a factory but offered as a model prison, was the embodiment of his schemes of internal espionage (see Works, 1, p. 498). It was as a superintendant within each individual that the sense of shame was to aid the legislator although, in the case of the disorderly poor, good conduct was mainly a function of the 'direct and constant exercise of plastic(!) power'. In Bentham's 'Industry-Houses', then, the 'comforts of a clear conscience, brightened by religious hopes' were to be effected by:
Seclusion from incentives to sinthe result of the sobriety of the regimen, the omnipresence of the rulers, and the mixture of the guardian classes of the paupers themselves with the susceptible classes‑uninterrupted benefit of divine service; see below. (Pauper Management, Book 4)
Moral action, therefore, was action motivated by 'obligation', that is by a sense of fitness or repugnance associated with an action through its being attended in experience with certain socially administered pleasures and pains. There is a blindness about it, even 'the appearance of cruelty', and the opportunist Bentham would utilise all the authoritarian gimmickry at society's disposal for its effective inculcation, including the trappings of retribution:
Render your punishments exemplary; give to the ceremonies which accompany them a mournful pomp; call to your assistance all the imitative arts; and let the representation of these important operations be among the first objects which strike the eyes of childhood.
. . . scaffold painted black. . . officers. . . dressed in crêpe . . . livery of grief. . . a mask. . . emblems of his crime. . . a part of the decorations of these legal tragedies. . . terrible drama. . . serious and religious music preparing the hearts of the spectators for the important lesson. . . judges preside. . . and its sombre dignity should be consecrated by the presence of the ministers of religion ('Indirect means of preventing crimes', 'Principles of Penal Law', Works, Vol. 1, p. 549)
The utilitarians tended to divide society into two: the stratum of administrators of sanctions, acting consciously in terms of the Principle of Utility (and especially its specification in Political Economy) and the stratum of administered, acting in response, on one hand to the immediate external sticks and carrots waved about by their masters (in the form of wages, workhouses, prisons, savings, banks, etc.), and on the other hand to the inner prohibitions and commands received from parents and mentors. But since utilitarian calculation is itself far from a mere reflex, and since, if adhered to among the masses, reflex morality is so 'utilitarian', the utilitarians were concerned that the popularisation of their doctrine might be counter‑productive: in the wrong hands, the Utilitarian Calculus could cause a lot of mischief. Bentham urged heads of state under pressure to avoid stimulating unmanageable reflection among the masses:
Every favour, everything which bears the character of benevolence, ought to be represented as the work of the father of his people. All rigour, all acts of severity, need to be attributed to no one. The hand which acts must be artfully hidden. They may be thrown upon some creature of imagination, some animated abstractionsuch as justice, the daughter of necessity and the mother of peace whom men ought always to fear, but never to hate, and who always deserves their first homage. ('Principles of Penal Law', Chapter V, Works, ed. Bowring, New York, 1962, Vol. 1, p. 371)
A related doctrine is expressed by Henry Sidgwick, the last of the great utilitarian theorists of the nineteenth century:
Thus, the Utilitarian conclusion, flatly stated, would seem to be this; that the opinion that secrecy may render an action right which would not otherwise be so should itself be kept comparatively secret; and similarly it seems expedient that the doctrine that esoteric morality is expedient should itself be kept esoteric. Or if this concealment be difficult to maintain, it may be desirable that Common Sense should repudiate the doctrines which it is expedient to confine to an enlightened few. And thus a Utilitarian may reasonably desire, on Utilitarian principles, that some of his conclusions should be rejected by mankind generally; or even that the vulgar should keep aloof from his system as a whole, in so far as the inevitable indefiniteness and complexity of its calculations render it likely to lead to bad results in their hands. (Methods of Ethics, Macmillan, 1963, p. 490)
Act‑utilitarianism for some; rule‑utilitarianism for the others. The opportunism of the utilitarian school is of course proverbial. What I have been trying to bring out, however, is the way this opportunism penetrates to their elitist and authoritarian conception of the very 'form' of morality as blind obedience to inculcated demands. Thus for example, Hume, defending the double standard of sexual morality, wrote of the need to instill sexual 'repugnance' in 'the ductile minds of the fair sex in their infancy' (Treatise of Human Nature, III, 2, xiii).
John Stuart Mill, sometimes at least, was inclined to reject this opportunism, and this was in line with his partial attempts to develop a deeper and more adequate utilitarian theory. He recognised that the doctrine of the greatest happiness of the greatest number could be internalised in as blindly associative a way as any moral system, but took the view that such a mode of education, and the reflexive authoritarianism of the 'morality' it produced, was itself in conflict with the highest demands of 'utility'. Thus, at least in Chapter III of Utilitarianism, he argued for a moral education that would so broaden the human sympathies and understanding that 'the good of others becomes a thing naturally and necessarily to be attended to'. Among enlightened people:
This feeling. . . does not present itself to their minds as a superstition of education, or a law despotically imposed by the power of society, but as an attribute which it would not be well for them to be without. (Utilitarianism, ed. Mary Warnock, Fontana, 1962, p. 287)
What Mill is pointing to here, and the essay On the Subjection of Women may be read as an amplification of the idea (rather than being consigned to the shelves as a piece of 'propaganda', as it is by sexist academics), is the connection between a deeper view of 'utility' and hence of the 'content' of morality and a radical view of the 'sanctions' proper to morality, of the 'form' of moral motivation and education. This will be taken up later.
Generally, however, the utilitarians, were far from wanting to dull the cutting edge of the puritan conscience: it was too serviceable an instrument. Many philosophers have expressed disquiet over utilitarianism, but, from Burke and Fitzjames Stephen to Devlin and even the benign Stuart Hampshire, British letters boast an honourable tradition of 'realists' who emphasise the legal and 'constitutional', that is socially enforced, character of morality as the inner barrier, sustained by fear, against the natural rapaciousness, torpor, corruptibility of the human individual. But some liberals, and expecially Mill and T.H. Green, were inclined to oppose direct moralistic authoritarianism, since 'enforced morality' is a 'contradition‑in‑terms', as Green emphasises in his Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation:
Moral duties do not admit of being so enforced. The question sometimes put, whether moral duties should be enforced by law, is really an unmeaning one; for they simply cannot be enforced. They are duties to act, it is true, and an act can be enforced; but they are duties to act from certain motives and certain dispositions, and these cannot be enforced. Nay, the enforcement of an outward act, the moral character of which depends on a certain motive and disposition, may often contribute to render that motive and disposition impossible.
Now here Green was simply following Kant's stress on the ('autonomy' of the conscientious will. As an apostle of sobriety, Green recognized that morality involved at least apparent 'self‑denial' and 'the surrender of our inclination to pleasure' and that this negativity 'penetrated life' far more deeply than in the Ancient World (see Prolegomena to Ethics, Book III, Chapter V especially). Hence, 1 believe, we can see one force behind the liberal preoccupation with moral education (schooling): that activity by which children are transformed from savages (remember that Mill excludes savages and children from 'the principle of liberty' in On Liberty) into 'freely' self‑denying adults, or rather, in the language that Green was inclined to share with F. H. Bradley, into adults who would deny their lower selves in the name of their higher selves. Thus is self-subjection transformed into a voluntary matter (and thus too we have one of the chief dimensions along with bourgeois 'liberals' differ from 'conservatives': their optimism about the Educability of Man).
B. F. Skinner; Warden of Walden
Bentham has his contemporary descendants, none more rampant than the 'behaviourists', for example H. J. Eysenck and B.F. Skinner. Eysenck:
Our contention will be that conscience is simply a conditioned reflex and that it originates in the same way as do phobic and neurotic responses. . . in other words when the child is going to carry out one of the many activities which have been prohibited and punished in the past (the slap, the moral shaming, or whatever the punishment may be), then the conditioned automatic response would immediately occur and produce a strong deterrent, being, as it were, unpleasant in itself. (Fact and Fiction in Psychology, Penguin, 1965, p. 260)
Skinner, in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Bantam, 1972), attacks the voluntaristic idealism of moralistic thought, assimilating it to any belief at all in mental life. Nonetheless, his book's substantial claims are all couched in thinly disguised terms of the hedonic calculus ('reward', 'aversive stimulus', etc.), and this is particularly the case in his account of moral 'training'. Skinner claims to be opposed to 'punishment' as a training 'technique 'that is painful itself and also since it merely forbids without enjoining the specific behaviour desired, because it is inefficient. Thus:
The skilful parent learns to reward a child's good behaviour rather than punish him for bad. (p. 30)
Through earning rewards, such as money, candy, television viewing‑time or promotion in class, then, the child becomes conditioned to perform those operations that he has experienced as leading to reward. He becomes a well-behaved person. All, in Skinner's bland presentation, is groovy, especially as 'the relation between the controller and the controlled is reciprocal':
In a very real sense the slave controls the slave driver, the child the parent, the patient the therapist, the citizen the government, the communicant the priest, the employee the employer and the student the teacher. (p. 161)
And so, too, no doubt, the caged pigeon controls the experimenter. What is concealed in Skinner's doctrine of transcendental democracy and equality, so endearing to the establishment forces that lionise him, is that the slave, child, patient, citizen, communicant, employee, student, and pigeon are likely to be in no position to make their masters do what they want them to doto let them go, for example. They can only negotiate, within more or less narrow margins, the terms of their servitude. And this sophistical suppression of invidiousness, of the location of power in the hands controlling the distribution of scarce rewards, makes a mockery of Skinner's claims to have found an 'alternative to punishment'. Skinner's is a technique of manipulation through the exploitation of scarcity. What he does is to begin from a position of misery, of 'zero‑reinforcement' (compare God, to whom we are supposed to owe everything), and then, suppressing the fact that this zero‑reinforcement situation is itself set up by the 'experimenter' (teacher, prison‑warden, employer . . . ), Skinner can pretend that all reinforcements from there are positive, and that the worst that can happen to the prisoner is the absence of reward (he doesn't receive any candy, watch television or get releasedit's the old authoritarian ruse of 'withdrawing privileges'). Skinner 'eliminates' specific punishments by turning the very situation of his subjects into a general punishment and offering promises of amelioration. But in any case, if candy is established as the reward for acceptable conduct, its pointed denial simply is a punishment. And this Skinner himself says in a different context, though without noticing that the point explodes his whole thesis: 'The removal of a positive reinforcer is aversive. . .' (p. 50). Skinner's cynical view of human goals, moreover, blinds him to the fact that the candy whose distribution his teachers are supposed to control functions to children as a communication of approval, even love, not simply as the source of nice taste, so that its withholding is a form of scolding. In fact Skinner's whole system, like Bentham's, and the management theorists' discussed earlier, is based on the search for a technology for getting people to do things which are intrinsically tedious. He has no place for rewarding activities, as opposed to rewards for activities; or for rewarding relations, as opposed to relations who dish out rewards. And so, in the end, he trots out the same dualistic structure that we found in Kant and Bentham, with 'self-control' the ideal:
The controlling self (the conscience or superego) is of social origin, but the controlled self is more likely to be the product of genetic susceptibilities to reinforcement (the id, or the Old Adam). The controlling self generally represents the interests of others, the controlled self the interests of the individual. (p. 190) 1
Radical Anti‑Moralism from Hegel to Reich
In Britain it has been left largely to poets and novelists, such as William Blake and D.H. Lawrence, to attack the established institution of morality at its roots rather than confining themselves to criticisms of particular edicts broadcast in its name. Thus Lawrence:
. . . To be a good little boy like all the other good little boys is to be a slave. . . Children are all silently, steadily, relentlessly bullied into being good. They grow up good. And then they are no good. . .
The last time I was back in the Midlands was during the great coal strike. The men of my generation were there standing derelict, pale, silent, with nothing to say, nothing to feel, and great hideous policemen from God‑knows‑where waiting in gangs to keep them in the lines. Alas, there was no need. The men of my generation were broken in; they'll stay on the lines and rust there. ('Enslaved by Civilization', Assorted Articles, London, 1930, p. 122)
On the Continent Kant's strained dualism, highlighting the tensions within moral ideology itself, came under attack almost immediately from the young Hegel. Hegel saw the repressive legalism of Kant's system, while recognising its accuracy as an articulation of the moral consciousness. He compared the paragon of moral virtue with the loyal subject of the state: the latter 'have their lord outside themselves', while the former 'carries his lord within himself'. Hegel counterposes 'the spirit of Jesus', love, to the dead heteronomy of the moral law:
The Sermon (on the Mount) does not teach reverence for the laws; on the contrary it exhibits that which fulfils the law but annuls it as law and so is something higher than obedience to law and makes law superfluous. Since the commands of duty presuppose a cleavage and since the domination of the concept (reason) declares itself in a 'thou shalt', that which is raised above that cleavage is, by contrast an 'is', a modification of life. . . Against such a command Jesus sets the higher genius of reconcilability (a modification of love) which not only does not act counter to this law but makes it wholly superfluous; it has in itself a so much richer, more living fullness that so poor a thing as law is nothing to it at all. . . The opposition of duty and inclination has found its unification in the modifications of love, i.e. in the virtues. Since law was opposed to love, not in its content but in its form, it could be taken up into love, though in this process it lost its shape. . . (Hegel: Early Theological Writings, transl. Knox, Chicago, 1948, taken from Approaches to Ethics, edited by W.T. Jones et al, McGraw‑Hill, 1969, p. 331)
In The Ego and Its Own, the young Hegelian Max Stirner depicted moral precepts as 'wheels in the head'. Stirner depicted morality as the secular aftermath of religion, as the internal echo of the Divine Father's commandments. As such, it is all the more insidious since, through the conscientious identification of self with commander, laws 'entwine themselves all the more inextricably with me':
To expel God from heaven, and to rob him of his 'transcendence' cannot yet support a claim of victory, if thereby he is only chased into the human breast and gifted with indelible immanence.
Nietzsche regarded morality, with its 'intercourse between imaginary beings'God, the Soul, the Ego, the Will etc.as 'mere symptomatology', the deceitful surface manifestations of concealed anti‑life forces deeply embedded in society. Freud largely followed this way of seeing things, for all his later conservatism:
Our civilization is, generally speaking, founded on the suppression of instincts. . . (but) in paying for compliance with its own exorbitant prescriptions by increased neurosis, society cannot claim an advantage purchased by sacrifice. . . Let us examine, for example, the frequent case of a woman who does not love her husband, because owing to the conditions of the consummation of her marriage and the experience of her married life, she has no cause to love him; but who ardently wishes to, because this alone corresponds to the ideal of marriage in which she has been brought up. She will then suppress in herself all impulses which seek to bring her true impulses to expression and contradict her ideal endeavours, and will take particular pains to play the part of a loving, tender and obedient wife. The result of this self‑suppression will be a neurotic illness, and this neurosis will in a short time have taken revenge upon the unloved husband and have caused him precisely as much trouble and dissatisfaction as would have arisen merely from an acknowledgement of the true state of affairs. ('Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness’, Collected Papers II, 1908, pp. 82, 98)
Later Freud developed the theory of the 'superego' to replace that of the 'ego-ideal'. Considered in its own terms as the authoritative Knower of Right and Wrong, the conscience is an illusion. Properly described, what we have here is an internalised, socially formed force, funded by the spontaneous love and hate that the little child feels for her needed but frustrating, humiliating, and threatening parents. By the time he wrote Civilization and its Discontents, Freud had come to focus on 'basic' aggressive rather than libidinal forces as the key to the conscience of the civilized man:
What means does civilization employ in order to inhibit the aggressiveness which opposes it, to make it harmless, to get rid of it perhaps? What happens in the history of the development of the individual to render his desire for aggression innocuous? Something very remarkable which we should never have guessed but which is, nevertheless quite obvious. His aggressiveness is introjected, internalized. .. directed back towards his own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego which sets itself over against the rest of the ego as super‑ego, and which now, in the form of 'conscience', is ready to put into action the same harsh aggressiveness that the ego would have liked to satisfy upon other extraneous individuals.
Thus we feel 'guilt' and seek out punishment. Freudian theory shatters the illusions of autonomy of the 'conscientious' person, shifting our perspective from a rationalist, voluntarist, and idealist one to one which is psychopathological. The morally compelled person relates to his or her fellows because he or she 'must' because 'I couldn't live with myself otherwise'; he is estranged from himself, from others, and from his activities and achievements. The unquestionable character of the demands of his conscience merely echoes the unchallengeability of the social demands he has grown up to embrace as if they were his own. As John Anderson wrote:
We should regard 'obligation' as signifying not merely a false theory of ethics but also evil motives. Moralism, the doctrine of conscience and 'moral necessity' exemplifies the natural causality of repressive motives. There are acts which are performed under a sense of obligation but what they exhibit is not free communication but compulsion. Freud has informed us of the elaborate performances which compulsive‑neurotics feel bound to go through. They are simply 'the thing to do', they are 'right' but not good, forced, not spontaneous. The spontaneous action of a motive seeking its object cannot be induced by compulsion. Compulsion can only induce uniformity. And the motives which incline a man to conform, to do a thing because he is obliged are, speaking generally, fear and the desire for self-abasement, which in sexual theory is called masochism. ('Determinism and Ethics', Studies in Empirical Philosophy, Sydney, 1962, essay 19, p. 225)
Common to these critics is a sense of the centrality of the 'form' of morality. Morality in this sense is a sort of violent, even thuggish suppression, rationalised as the necessary subjection of evil by goodwhether the enemy is presented as 'the flesh', 'the self', 'intemperance', 'the beast (child) (savage) in us', 'the false self', 'impulses', 'the Old Adam' or even '(petty) bourgeois tendencies'. The moral 'must' is an individualistic and internalised form of social demands. To act 'morally', then, is to relate to human beings through the institutional medium of duty. Direct interactions, whether of antipathy or of sympathy, will thus be equally alien to one's second nature. Thus did Wilhelm Reich, following Freud's system but rejecting his pessimistic view of human nature, look forward to the day when the internal state would wither away as surely as the external one with which it cooperated:
When the person, in the process of gaining a different structure, realizes the indispensability of genital gratification, he loses this moralistic straightjacket and with it the damning up of his instinctual needs. Previously, the moral pressure had intensified the impulse and made it anti‑social; this in turn necessitated an intensification of moral pressure. Now when the capacity for gratification begins to equal the intensity of the impulses, moral regulation becomes unnecessary. . . The individual has no compulsive morality because he has no impulses which call for moral inhibition. (The Sexual Revolution, Vision Press, 1951, p. 6)
Cheap Government: The Political Economy of Bourgeois Virtue
I have so far focused on the psychological structure, the motivational form, of bourgeois morality as presented by moralists and their critics. Indeed, like Socrates' opponents, Thrasymachus in The Republic and Callicles in The Gorgias, these critics sometimes tend to leave it at that. Even Hegel, undialectically enough, does not in this early period go into the substantial implications of a love‑ethic and the transcendence of moral law for the content of life‑goals, does not investigate the connection of legal form and repressive content. Stirner seems to have thought that insight and personal courage would suffice to roll the wheels of the moral ‘must' out of the head and, as Marx pointed out in The German Ideology (see the extracts in C.J. Arthur's paperback edition, N.Y., 1970), Stirner simply accepts the abstract dualism of moralistic thought and affirms the bourgeois ego against bourgeois morality. While Nietzsche stressed, in The Genealogy of Morals, that the calculable and docile moral man was the product of a process of 'civilizing' history, he tended to divide the human race into the strong supermen and the meek minions. Freud, locating the conscience's origins in the social structure of the family, increasingly came to see repression and blind guilt as the inevitable cost of 'advanced', that is, bourgeois, culture:
. . . human beings manifest an inborn tendency to negligence, irregularity and untrustworthiness in their work and have to be laboriously trained to imitate the examples of their celestial models. (Civilization and its Discontents, p. 55)
And even Wilhelm Reich, who did so much to bring the psychoanalytic perspective into connection with radical Marxism, tended to treat 'genital sexuality' in the narrowly biological terms of tension‑reduction and not to explore the social, cultural and emotional constituents of a liberated way of life.
Marxists have often poured scorn on psychologism, the attempt to understand social problems in terms of the psychology of individuals, and as a result, as Sartre says in The Problem of Method, they often carry on as if workers were born at the factory gate. But the problem is to locate psychology, not to deny it. Thus we should indicate how, while it constantly generates 'immorality', the capitalist order needs 'morality' and produces it.
This is a problem; for in one sense capitalism is and is widely seen to be an immoral system; the institutionalisation of selfish greed. And capitalism's dawn, and the Political Economy with which the Utilitarians trumpeted its triumphant passage, was and is seen as smashing the traditional moral networks that defined feudal, paternalist, society. The theoretical problem is addressed in Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in R.H. Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class works which illuminate the issue far more than I can here. What I have been stressing is the priority of 'form' over 'content' in the prevailing bourgeois concept of morality, and it could be said that Protestantism asserts this priority in its emphasis on faith and conscience as against the stress in Catholicism on specific manifestations of obedience in 'the good Catholic's' life. Now it would be wrong to pretend that the repressive form of morality was a protestant or bourgeois invention; the conquest of the flesh and other internal varieties of evil is the bloody crusade that rages over the battlefields of western civilization from the beginning. But 'traditional' morality's disciplines were much more firmly bound to the performance of specific duties and functions within a divinely ordained 'chain of being'. And it was in the name of these specific functions and expectations ('contents') that the new bourgeois epoch was met with howls of protest and rumbles of revolt (see E.P. Thompson, 'The Moral Economy of the English Crowd', Past and Present, No. 50, 1971, and the comment of E. G. Genovese Past and Present, No. 68, 1973). Capitalism's standard is 'exchange‑value', as determined within the 'free' competitive market; that which sells, including labour, has value whatever its nature, and that which doesn't sell is valueless. This was no mere technical abstraction (see Bishop Whately's Lectures on Political Economy, 1831) but legitimated a prolonged and exceedingly 'moral' attack on the axioms of traditional morality. Thus did capitalism turn the tables on its aged rival, with blistering irony pointing to the moral turpitude that was the other side of the coin of 'charity' and 'sympathy', hallowed virtues which, it was alleged, merely served to consecrate the vices of idleness and profligacy.
Thus it is in its harshness, its indifference, its 'appearance of cruelty', that capitalism claims its title to Morality. And it is thus in its stress on discipline, on the evils of ease and indulgent consumption, and on the stern responsibility of each for ordering his life in accordance with the harsh realities of life, that I would locate the key formal dimension of morality as it presents itself in bourgeois culture. Of course the discipline that bourgeois culture demands is structured in terms of content, latent as well as manifest. My students, for example, when asked to give examples of 'things to do with morality', mention 'not stealing' and 'telling the truth', ‘respecting parents and the law'; the moral rules quoted themselves have the abstract and legal character of business propriety about them. Certainly the concern for truth‑telling has little stated connection with ideas of open and communicative human relationships. In any case my impression in the classroom, as out of it, is that conscientiousness and self‑denial are seen as conferring moral dignity on almost any action. As long as your actions have on them the seal of commandment, they are blessed. That is why Kant's ethics of pure form, of 'duty for duty's sake', is so liable to collapse into a capitalist and bureaucratic ethic. Certainly Kant forbade exploitation and disrespect for 'Persons', but such Beings are members of the Kingdom of Ends, whose status there is in no way compromised by their phenomenal and empirical situation in the visible world. I can respect my valet as Person while exploiting him as valet. Kant's ethics, then, merge, along with the more religious transcendentalism of puritanism, into the generalised disciplinarianism of classical capitalist morality. Capitalism and its partner since birth, the nation‑state, constitute an authoritarian order, and it is by its abstract authoritarianism that the moral consciousness of this era is characterised. In military emergencies that embodiment of authority, The Nation, may command an uncashable allegiance, but in normal times it is only the 'family unit', as vehicle of authoritarian training and as focus of husbandly and wifely responsibility (through the imperatives of provision and support) that constitute a substantial sphere of concrete and sacred 'extra‑economic' obligations. This sanctity has itself been subject over the years to market fluctuations, but is central to the ideology of discipline and the practice of accumulation and exploitation.
Capitalists have to compete in order to accumulate and accumulate in order to compete. Competitive drive and the capacity for disciplined abstinence are thus essential virtues of a bourgeois existence; lack of them leads the shortfaller sliding back to the wall. Ambition and self‑discipline are musts, imperatives, which capitalists and career‑adminimrators as well must obey through the subjection of feeling, spontaneity, and humanity. But, just because this competition has to be fierce, bourgeois individualism threatens mutual destruction. Thus, in partial opposition to the imperatives of ambitious drive, respect for the 'rules of the game' enshrined in law and clubbish custom ('fair play'), are necessary. This contradiction and the power of the 'success ethic' expresses itself in the fact that, even when the capitalist competitor cheats in order to win, he is commonly responding to the imperatives of his conscience. John Wesley saw another irony in the ills brought on by virtue itself; which therefore require ever stronger moral medicine:
. . . the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye and the pride of life. . . (quoted by E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class, Chapter 11)
Utilitarian Political Economy, with its doctrine of the interests of all being served by the interests of each and its obsessive onslaught on the sapping tendencies of charity and pity and of weakness and self-indulgence, provided 'scientific' underpinning to this morality. Each of us is 'responsible' for our own success or failure and each of us gets what he deserves (including the Public School place wherein to imbibe such wisdom).
Alas, the bourgeoisie and partners have not got society all to themselves. Their position rests on the lack of position of another 'sector': that which makes up the working class, that class which, we are told, whether through innate stupidity or lack of drive, has failed to invest and thus finds itself forced to labour in the factories, monuments to the saving and investment of its superiors. The top dogs, then, must control, not only their own appetites, but, even more resolutely, those of their subordinates. Now, as Bentham said, the laws of capitalist property do function 'to overcome the natural aversion to labour'; but, unless the external might of police is matched by the internal might of respect among the lower orders, property's security is slight. And unless that respect extends to a concern that the master's property or money is earned by the quality, quantity, and intensity of his own property of labour‑power and labour‑time the capitalist is likely to go bankrupt from the wages of supervisors. And who will supervise them? Forced on pain of hunger to long, hard, and tedious drudgery, without 'remnant of charm', the working class had to be turned, over time, into their own policemen, lest they played truant or rebelled against their oppressors and exploiters. The philosopher of manufacture, Andrew Ure, saw the problem in 1835:
To devise a successful code of factory discipline, suited to the necessities of factory diligence, was the Herculean enterprise, the noble achievement of Arkwright. Even at the present day. . . it is found nearly impossible to convert persons past the age of puberty, whether drawn from rural or from handicraft occupations, into useful factory hands. After struggling for a while to conquer their listless or restive habits, they either renounce the employment spontaneously, or are dismissed by the overlookers on account of inattention. (The Philosophy of Manufactures, p. 15)
Wages, high or low, were an inadequate instrument, since the well paid workman 'irrationally' stopped working beyond what he thought of as enough, while the poorly paid workman lacked incentive to stay at the job despite the attempts of Bentham and his followers to create the threat of hell‑on‑earth for the unemployed. Ure had recourse to a higher paymaster:
It is, therefore, excessively in the interest of every mill‑owner to organise his moral machinery on equally sound principles with his mechanical, for otherwise he will never command the steady hands, watchful eyes, and prompt co‑operation, essential to excellence of product. . . Vague notions cannot give birth to the heroism of faith, or to self immolation for the good of others. Pure acts of virtue must be inspired by the love of a transcendent being. . .
Where then shall mankind find this transforming power? In the cross of Christ. . . it atones for disobedience; it excites to obedience; it purchases strength for obedience; it makes obedience practicable; it makes it acceptable; it makes it in a manner unavoidable, for it constrains to it; it is, finally, not only the motive to obedience but the pattern of it. (Philosophy of Manufactures, pp. 417, 424)
Perhaps God had better beget and have crucified a Second Son, for it would appear that piety is on the wane and that capitalists are unwilling to employ more positive motivations beyond vague appeals to teamwork; from what we have seen the recourse of participation and job‑enrichment is only with reluctance turned to. At any rate, the problem has not gone away:
. . . The other root cause of our present difficulties with the workforce might be termed a general lowering of employees' frustration‑tolerance. Many employees, particularly the younger ones, are increasingly reluctant to put up with factory conditions, despite significant improvements we've made in the physical environments in our plants. (A Ford Motor Company director, quoted in 'The Lordstown Struggle', Solidarity Pamphlet, 1974)
And old solutions are still with us. In October 1974, Sir Keith Joseph, intellectual spokesman of the Tory Party, called on the British Nation (in much the same spirit as the good Bishop Berkeley had two hundred and fifty years before him in The Prevention of Ruin in Great Britain) to abandon permissiveness and the welfare bureau:
The worship of instinct, of spontaneity, the rejection of selfdiscipline, is not progress; it is degeneration. . . It was Freud who argued that repression of instincts is the price we pay for civilization. . . This could be a watershed in our national existence. Are we to move towards moral decline, reflected and intensified by economic decline, by the corrosive effects of inflation. . . Or can we remoralise our national life, of which the economy is an integral part? It is up to us, to people like you and me. (The Guardian, 21 October, 1974)
And a year later Archbishop Coggan of Canterbury summoned up the same forces of religion, family, authority, and self‑discipline to aid the British Nation in its time of peril. Keynes said that Abstinence was the lean goddess exercising tutelage over Victorian England. His successors are calling on Her again, in the wake of the ruin of Keynesian consumerism and its soft and swinging repercussions.
Our society divides people up and presents this atomisation as the human condition; it pits them into competition with each other and calls this human nature; it demands the suppression of impulses and calls these humanity's enemy. Deficient in positive bonds, society, and even the lives of individuals, need to be held together and prevented from erupting into chaotic orgies of decadence and violence by external and internal police. If the state is God's march on earth morality is his parade on the spirit. In the absence of positive co‑operative ties and positive motives to work and create, the capitalist system requires 'specialist' forces of control, armed men and harsh consciences, bullies to make us do what money alone cannot bribe us to do. Marx summed it up:
Thus political economydespite its worldly and wanton appearanceis true moral science, the most moral of all sciences. Self‑denial, the denial of life and of human needs is its cardinal doctrine. . . The less you are, the more you have, the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being. (1844 Manuscripts, Moscow, p. 119)
The Production of Morality: the Vanishing Hand of the Moral Educator
The moralist may urge us to see ourselves as 'responsible' for our 'freewill' choices, and hence to accept the blame for society's ills, but he need not be unaware of the social processes behind the individual conscience or the causes of our sense of freewill. Here are Kant's very empirical and ‘phenomenal' remarks on the basic steps in producing that fine, transcendental, and noumenal member of the Kingdom of Ends, the Good Will:
It is discipline which prevents man from being turned aside by his animal impulses from humanity, his appointed end. . . By discipline men are placed in subjection to the laws of mankind and brought to feel their constraint. Children, for instance are first sent to school, not so much with the object of their learning something, but rather that they may become used to sitting still and doing exactly as they are told. . .
The love of freedom is naturally so strong in man, that, when once he has grown accustomed to freedom, he will sacrifice everything for its sake. For this very reason discipline must be brought into play very early; for when this has not been done, it is difficult to alter character in later life. . .
We see this also among savage nations who. . . can never become accustomed to European manners. . . (Education, Ann Arbor, pp. 3‑4)
'Break their wills betimes', as Wesley expressed it. To the moralist, the child represents all that needs to be subdued; the child is a beast, an anarchist, a bundle of drives demanding immediate gratification, a self‑indulgent and irrational 'little devil'; in R.S. Peters' words, in various writings on education, especially in Ethics and Education, he is an ‘autistic amalgam', 'a barbarian at the gate', 'an outsider'. It is on such raw and untamed material that 'moral education' sets out to do its work, and with which the conscience carries on its battle throughout life, for man is never wholly moralised; his lower self smoulders and strains and only through constant vigilance and recurrent attacks can it be kept down.
Breaking‑in begins from the beginning. Few to‑day would go to Wesley's limits: 'let a child from a year old be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly', but his advice to the child's moral educators, 'Begin this work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain, perhaps before they can speak at all', is widely enough heeded, as parents strive to bring their children's routines into line with their own, and employ a rich moral vocabulary in the process (you can already hear it clearly enough in any post‑natal ward). Parents judge their children as they supervise them and administer rewards for 'goodness' and punishments for 'naughtiness' though boys are expected to be a little bit naughty, as long as they are naughty in a boy's way, since their enterprise is to be harnessed later for higher things. (On the difference between the responses of parents to girls and boys, especially in Italy see Little Girls by Elena Gianini Belotti, (Writers and Readers Co‑op, London, 1975). The conscience and the servile habit surrounding it, then, are the introjected shadow of this experience of supervision and punishment. In the monogamous nuclear family, however liberal, the child is at the mercy of her family, deprived of responsibility in the sense of determining and productive agency and denied the opportunity for full, wide, and many‑sided relationships with peers and older people. Thus are imposed the isolated, anxiety‑ridden, competitive character structures of the bourgeois as well as the tamed and low‑aspiring character of the proletarian. Isolation, egoism, sexism, narrow sympathies and submissiveness are the natural outcome of education within the nuclear family. This is not just a function of attitudes; it can be understood only in terms of the rhythms and priorities dictated to the family unit by wider social forces, and most obviously the imperatives of male and female work. But this dictation is masked by its very banality, so that it is the family that carries the emotional burdens dumped on it by a misery‑making and hostility‑generating social structure. Thus for example the young adolescent's rebellion will be against his father and his individual vices, not against the system of oppression of which his frustrated father is the front‑line vehicle; his son's rebellion remains 'oedipal', trapped within the narrow political limits of the family, this recurrent drama making the family a serviceable buffer. Banality masks a further, more 'normal' function: the family constitutes the narrow focus of affection and proprietary responsibility for the 'breadwinner' so that, by being brought up to confine his concerns to the family unit, the male child is being prepared to take on anything that will pay him enough to wear, before real and imaginary spectators, the badge of proud husband‑and‑father. By being the overloaded heart of a heartless world, the family helps keep the world heartless, and itself suffers chronic attacks.
But all children grow up and have to go to school, where stronger methods seek to cope with stronger bodies and more knowing minds, especially as many families just fail to do their job. The words of Kant are echoed by schoolmen ever since Durkheim:
There is a whole system of rules in the school that predetermine the child's conduct. He must come to class regularly. . . at a specified time and with an appropriate bearing and attitude. . . not disrupt. . . do his homework. . . host of obligations. . . It is through the practice of school discipline that we can inculcate the spirit of discipline in the child . . .
The morality of the classroom . . . an intermediary between the affective morality of the family and the more rigorous morality of civil life. . . It is by respecting school rules that the child learns to respect rules in general. It is the first initiation into the austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun. (Moral Education, pp. 148‑9)
Impulse‑control and deferred gratification is highly institutionalized in the school. . . further developing these patterns of control on top of the beginning which their families may have made. . . required to spend most of his time sitting in the required seat. . . not allowed to talk or freely interact with peers. . . Intrinsically attractive activities are supposed to be put aside in favour of others whose purpose is hard to see, but which are demanded by teachers. (The School and Moral Development, Croom Heim, 1973, p. 13)
R.S. Peters locates his school‑ethic in the context of a Philosophy of Man:
I conceive of the mind of the individual as. a focus of social rules and functions in relation to them. . . wishes become wants when social standards defining ends and efficient and socially appropriate ways of attaining them become imposed on this autistic amalgam. ('The Psychology of Moral Character', in 1. Scheffler ed. Philosophy and Education)
Education is on this view 'initiation', and Peters stresses the process whereby, as imposition deepened, individual differences are progressively ironed out:
. . . a child‑centred approach is appropriate in dealing with the backward or difficult adolescent as it is at the infant stage. . . in universities. . . and the later stages of secondary education, the emphasis is more on the canons implicit in the forms of thought and awareness than on individual avenues of initiation. . . unless the idiosyncracy is so striking that the common enterprise is held up. This is one of the respects in which education differs from group therapy. (Ethics and Education, p. 56)
More recently Peters stresses intellectual disciplines rather than social roles as the secrets into which children are to be initiated; but the authoritarian form, the subjection of individuals to pre‑given 'forms of experience', remains central, since the students are not to criticise the 'form' until they have 'mastered it'. Social roles, therefore, constitute a latent content of Peters' academicist educational philosophy. This link is clearly recognised and proclaimed in the pamphlet from the National Association of Schoolmasters, 'The Retreat from Authority' (March 1976), which condemns 'do‑gooders' whose activities 'have been eroding the standards of discipline in society for a long period of time'. They call in one breath for traditional curricula and traditional modes of enforcement. (The Police Federation, ever anxious for academic excellence, welcomed the pamphlet).
The child, then, is isolated and taught to be 'good', by being taught to be 'responsible' to adult authorities, of whom, and especially of fathers and headmasters and mistresses they are commonly scared. These, then, are the sources of evaluation and retribution and hence of selfesteem and self‑punishment. So is developed the intensely anxious self‑surveillance and self‑preoccupation of the conscientious neurotics who provided Freud with so much income and data. The 'moral education' thus imparted stands things on their head. A child hits and hurts her friend who stands howling, and the parent or teacher turns on the offending child and scolds her, ignoring meanwhile the victim's distress. The punishment actually teaches the offending child to ignore the direct impact of her actions and to focus, not on the good or harm that is the action's direct upshot, but on herself as the condemned, as the punished. Durkheim again:
The principal form of punishment has always consisted in putting the guilty on the index, ostracising him, making a void around him, and separating him from decent people. (Moral Education, p. 175)
Established morality rests on and reinforces human isolation, turning virtues into a means to an easy conscience. In what amounts to a wholesale rat‑race of goodness, children are encouraged to compete, on pain of isolation and contempt, for that scarce commodity, praise. Hence they acquire a profound concern for telling tales and putting each other down. Forbidden from co‑operating on pain of 'cheating' or of forming a disruptive solidarity ('In school, unwholesome ferment or excitement constitutes a more serious moral danger because the agitation is collective' (Durkheirn p. 150), the children's budding moralism takes the form precisely of cheating, of putting themselves in the right against others in order to appropriate for themselves the badges of virtue. It presents itself too as 'collective agitation' of a fascistic sort, in the ganging‑up on moral outcasts. Thus an uneasy selfrighteousness and an unstable identification with the rewarding and threatening institution become the pathetic payment sought from their disarmers by children deprived of real. integrity, solidarity, power, or productive agency:
The political economy of ethics is the opulence of a good conscience, of virtue etc.; but how can I live virtuously if I do not live? (Marx, 1844 Manuscripts)
The morality of moralism is a ghostly medium of social exchange; it is a fantastic institution! For its particular rewards and punishments people are brought to interact in accordance with social demands. It rests on and reinforces a break‑down of directly motivated relations of co‑operation and reciprocity. The 'moral' man acts for the sake of his conscience, not of his fellows, and it is only by pleasing his conscience that the child can please himself, through pleasing the loved and feared ones with whom he identifies. Thus are duty and interest reconciled!
This longing of children to be honoured and loved should be cultivated as much as possible. . . for instance, if a child tells a lie, a look of contempt is punishment enough. . . (Kant, Education, p. 88)
Bourgeois moralism and its educational institutional underpinning constitute the official apprenticeship of people for their place in our society. Without it we would be less willing to take those places. But when we do take them our moral education is not complete, for the disciplines of labour require daily imposition. We imbibe from our official institutions, then, a morality appropriate for capitalists, timeserving careerists, hacks, and rank‑and‑filers, a morality which detaches the focus of action from content, context and consequence (someone should form a British Society for the Social Responsibility of Moralists). It is an Eichmann morality and, judging from Stanley Milgram's experiments, it is a widely shared one. Milgram did a series of experiments, with students and others as his subjects, in which he put the subjects in the position of believing, mistakenly, that, as part of an experiment on memory, they were administering electric shocks to other 'subjects', who were in fact actors. It emerged that about sixty percent of subjects were prepared, in response to the instructions of the experimenter, to administer shocks that produced not only screams of pain but apparent collapse. Milgram has been criticised for his willingness simply to use these people and to deceive them, and to the extent that he failed to turn this traumatically revealing experience into one of self‑awareness this criticism is a just one. But Milgram did observe and question his subjects, and this is his understanding of his findings:
The ordinary person who shocked the victim did so out of a sense of obligationan impression of his duties as subjectand not from any particularly aggressive tendencies.
It is a curious thing that a kind of 'compassion' on the part of the subjectan unwillingness to 'hurt' the experimenter's feelingsis part of these binding forces inhibiting his disobedience. The withdrawal of such deference may be as painful to the subject as to the authority he defies. . .
The essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes. . . The most far‑reaching consequence is that the person feels responsible to the authority directing him, but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear; it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority. ('The Perils of Obedience', in Dialogue, April 1975)
Milgram's experiments highlight the practical upshot of the normal moral education and its authoritarian form, as a timid obedience distorts the appreciation of our actions. In terms of the formulation I have been offering, Milgram's subjects experienced a battle between the morality of 'form' and the morality of 'content', and usually it was the latter that succumbed.
SOURCE: Skillen, Anthony. Ruling Illusions: Philosophy and the Social Order (Hassocks [UK]: Harvester Press, 1977), Chapter 4 (excerpt), pp. 129-164.
The American Utopia: III.2: The Technocratic Utopia by Eduard Batalov
Ideology Study Guide
Marx and Marxism Web Guide
Morality, Reflection, and Ideology by
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Chapter 2: Is morality a ruling illusion? (Skillen)
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