332. The taming power of the great (V)
Updated: Aug 23
If you hold inegalitarian views or think that hierarchy is in some way innate to social relations, you must be prepared to consider that it is likely that you should not be in charge—of anything, let alone a state—and that, further, you should submit and swear allegiance to someone who knows what they are about. The Enlightenment promise, best stated by Kant, was that to be an autonomous self-directed individual was the optimal state and that all men could achieve this situation. This was a large part of what Enlightenment meant in the European sense; it was the view that with the progress of reason more men could come to direct their own affairs, and so leave behind the tutelage provided by princes and churches.
The most complete rebuttal of this view, a view that essentially came to endorse mass democracy, was provided by the Dark Enlightenment from about the late 2000s to the mid-2010s. The Dark Enlightenment differed from straightforward reactionaries, those who resisted the original Enlightenment, because it held that if the logic of the Enlightenment was followed through to its conclusions—the progress of biology, for example, into Darwinism—we would be forced to reject Kant’s vision of an ever-increasing sphere of autonomous self-directed individuals. For example, when freed from ideology, genetics and biology indicate that there are substantial differences in intelligence and temperament between individuals and races. To be an autonomous self-directed individual requires a certain intelligence level and temperament; and so there are biological constraints on the numbers of such people in any society—therefore, contra Kant, not everyone can be Enlightened. The progress of reason leads to reactionary conclusions.
The Dark Enlightenment was the realisation—in Jungian style, a bringing of Enlightenment’s dark side to consciousness—that the reactionaries were not entirely right in specifics but were more right than wrong overall. We really do need to live in a world of masters and apprentices, boys and masters, and, per every adored fairy tale, princes and princesses. I once had a friend who regretted he had not joined the army when he was young simply because constant decisions, even between seven different deodorant brands in the supermarket, depressed him; he just wanted to be commanded, really. If people who are unsuited to autonomous decision-making are given free rein it will be the worse for everyone else, and the worse for them as well.
People need—are happier, in fact—to be bound to a master. Now, of course, there are always perverted masters who mistreat their charges, just as some men mistreat their dogs; but the Enlightenment’s answer to this question would be to release all dogs from their owners and let them roam around in wild packs—obviously worse for humans and dogs alike. Indeed, I think there are some animal rights activists who would like to do just that; those who would free the animals are their most radical abusers.
It turns out that certain people, embedded in state bureaucracies, with an “Enlightened” interest in those incapable of self-government are only too happy to use the Enlightenment’s benevolent rational rhetoric to spring “abused slaves” from their private masters; but this does not make them free; the ownership merely transfers from an individual to the state: the most indifferent and irresponsible, and, consequently, most cruel master.
I have thought a little about whom I would bind myself to as a master; the assumption was, remember, that contrary to what we are told it is likelier that someone more capable than you would make better decisions for you than yourself—if you are their property, their investment to be improved. Of course, there is a difficulty: the person who needs a master is unlikely to be a good judge of masters; and, anyway, in practice he is simply mastered by someone—besides, many heuristics by which we might judge suitable masters, such as education, have been corrupted by the state. Nevertheless, tomorrow I will discuss my preferred masters.