This is the 4th part in my series whereby I roughly follow Jerry Muller’s Thinking About Capitalism, in order to bring socio-economic and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s political taxonomy. Here is the political spectrum that I have been working with:
Last post I discussed how Machiavelli, Hobbes and various religious thinkers contributed to the transvaluation of Civic Republican virtue into the modern “virtue” of self-interest. This post will discuss the ways in which the 17th Century Dutch experience in general and – even though Muller strangely ignores him – John Locke in particular transformed the aristocratic Civic Republicanism into the middle-class Liberal Republicanism that would later form the very heart of the American constitution.
Commercializing Civic Virtue
The unintentional pioneers of Liberal Republicanism were the 17th Century Dutch. In the late 16th Century, the Dutch would rebel against the Spanish throne – thereby replacing it as the dominant economic power in the West – claiming that it did not represent Dutch interests or protect its Calvinist traditions. This rebellion against Spanish Absolutism was not, however, motivated by a sense of Civic virtue, since the Dutch immediately invited various foreign monarchs to replace the recently deposed Phillip II, including the Austrian Hapsburgs, the French Bourbons as well as Queen Elizabeth of England. It was only because (for various reasons) none of these monarchs were willing to assume sovereignty over these Northern Dutch states that they instead settled upon a republic. This, however, was a republic in a VERY different sense than had been advocated by earlier thinkers.
Recall that up to that point, the major struggle in Western European politics had been between the landed aristocracy (who sought some version of Civic Republicanism) and centralized monarchs (who sought some version of Absolutist Monarchy). The former ideology centered around the willingness and duty of aristocratic citizens to take up arms to defend their land and peasants. These aristocratic citizens were, then, a knightly, warrior caste. In order to resist their military power, the monarchs thus found themselves compelled to raise taxes in order to pay mercenary armies (typically Swiss) to fight against these aristocratic knights. This dependency on taxes thus forced the absolutist monarchs to be very friendly with cities (as opposed to the country towns) in general and merchants/banks in particular – these being the primary and most reliable sources of tax revenues. The Dutch, then, transformed this traditional struggle between nobility and king into a much more modern struggle in which there was no king at all, but was instead between the nobility and middle-class merchants.
Despite what the name might suggest, the Dutch Republic was much closer to Absolute Monarchism in many ways than it was to Civic Republicanism. In stark contrast to the later, the Dutch citizenship
- engaged in profit-motivated trade;
- outsourced their military service to paid mercenaries;
- transformed broad-minded participation in politics into a representation of and negotiation between interests within the political realm; and
- balanced these interests – primarily between those of the agricultural economy of the country nobility and the commercial economy of the city merchants/bankers – within an institutionalized separation of powers.
The mercantilism that Adam Smith would later attack was not invented by the Dutch, but by placing so much political power in the hands of the merchant middle-class, they definitely perfected that system. The history of how this came about is highly relevant to American politics, since is just is a genealogy of conservatism as understood by Americans.
In contrast to the Northerners (the modern day Netherlands), the Southern Dutch (modern day Belgium) had been unable to free themselves from Spanish rule. The intolerance of this Catholic rule would spur a mass migration of Marranos (Jews, Moors and other Diasporic minorities) from Antwerp (the previous center of Northern European commerce) to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The increase in competition directly caused by this mass migration led to the 1602 founding of the world’s first publicly traded company: The Dutch East India Company.
The creation of this publicly traded company was specifically aimed at preventing competition in order to keeping prices high. (The Dutch also had a strong tendency to hoard grain within their warehouses, waiting until the price of grain would get sufficiently high before they would sell it.) This monopoly was not only state-sponsored, but was actually authorized by the state to wage war so as to defend its interests abroad – since these interests just were the interests of the property-owning citizenship of the Dutch Republic. These foreign wars in the name of a self-interested citizenship were exactly what the Civic Republican tradition had been designed to prevent… But this Liberal Republicanism was quite clearly a strong departure from Civic Republicanism.
Muller sums up Dutch society as follows:
Holland was perhaps the first society in which a majority of households made that switch in the allocation of time toward production for the market [rather than production for household subsistence]… By 1669, the Dutch East India Company was the richest private company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and a dividend payment of 40%… Historians estimate that in 1700, the per capita GNP… in Holland, was about 50% higher than in Great Britain, which itself was a relatively well-to-do country at the time.
While the Dutch transformation of Civic Republicanism into Liberal Republicanism directly led to war and violence abroad against both “savages” and other East India Companies, it was, paradoxically, also the modern historical source for the Western “virtue” of domestic tolerance. I put the word “virtue” in scare-quotes because neither Civic Republicanism nor Absolute Monarchism thought toleration of diversity to be a virtue in any sense. The public discussion of religion, virtue or values in general were supposed to be either unanimous (Civic Republicanism) or kept out of public discussion altogether (Absolute Monarchism). The Dutch, by contrast, sought to tolerate as much diversity as possible precisely because ethnic and religious minorities:
- had been forced into trade and banking by their exclusion from owning land, working land or joining guilds;
- had greater access to and familiarity with otherwise exotic, international markets; and
- streamlined international trade as shared languages and mutual acquaintances vacillated greater trust within commercial transactions.
In other words, the “virtue” of toleration was justified primarily, if not solely in the self-interested terms of commercial profits and market shares.
It is within this context that 17th Century Amsterdam became the European center of intellectual innovation – a direct precursor to the 18th Century French Enlightenment. Bertrand Russel noted in his A History of Western Philosophy that
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Holland in the seventeenth century, as the one country where there was freedom of speculation… [Descartes] lived in Holland for twenty years (1629-49)… Hobbes had to have his books printed there; Locke took refuge there during the five worst years of reaction in England before 1688; Bayle (of the Dictionary) found it necessary to live there; and Spinoza would hardly have been allowed to do his work in any other country.
It is especially illustrative that whereas the absolutist Thomas Hobbes had earlier sought political refuge from parliamentary forces within Absolutist France (1640-1651), the parliamentarian John Locke, would seek political refuge from royalist forces within Liberal Republican Amsterdam (1683-1689). Two note-worthy events had historically separate Hobbes from Locke: 1) Isaac Netwon’s discoveries (1666-1687) and 2) The Glorious Revolution (1688) in which the British Nobility invited the Dutch William of Orange to invade monarchist England under the condition that he recognized the sovereignty of British parliament over the throne. Locke actually returned to England on the very same boat as William’s wife, the soon-to-be Queen Mary, she being the royal blood according to which William’s actions had been legitimated within England.
The most relevant point to Americans is that the founding fathers of the constitution would, nearly 90 years later, be strongly influenced by the essays and treatises written by Locke during his political exile in Amsterdam. These essays and treatises, in turn, had been a (rhetorically Newtonian) rationalization of what had occurred, largely by unplanned accident, within the Netherlands. (As we will see in a later post, this distinction between the rationalization of experience and more radical attempts at legislating political revolution based in nothing more than abstract theory would later be elaborated upon by Edmund Burke.)
Maker’s Knowledge and Author-ity
A major theoretical difference between Hobbes and Locke was that while the former largely ignored God (religious beliefs were dangerous!), the latter grounded his entire philosophy in God’s authority as the Creator of the entire natural world. According to Locke, all law – be it physical, moral or political – was the product of and thus subordinate to some creative act of will. In the case of physical and moral laws, God had created such things as an act of Divine will, and it is this fact that explains both 1) God’s sovereignty over His creation and, less intuitively to us moderns, 2) God’s knowledge of His creation. Before unpacking the socio-political implications of this “maker’s knowledge”, I want to briefly discuss its philosophical implications, since 1) the socio-political implications were merely a special case of the former and 2) it gives us some critical distance from our own ideas regarding the relationship between knowledge and authority.
The doctrine of maker’s knowledge was a very widely accepted doctrine that went back long before John Locke – at least to the Italian Renaissance. It was the claim that it was only by creating something that one could truly know that thing. Thus, we humans know beyond any doubt how a knight moves within a chess game precisely because we humans made the rules to that game. This same reasoning went for mathematical results, in that their absolute certainty was specifically due to the fact that we humans had invented the rules according to which the results were derived. Like Hobbes, Locke believed that this same reasoning also applied to the positive laws that governed a polis; we could have no doubt about what the law of the land was for the specific reason that we human had made that law. It was for this reason that early modern thinkers had seen no difference whatsoever between “political” authority and “scientific” authority since both such things flow always and only from a willful act of author-ship.
This claim can be understood in terms of the different stances that Hobbes and Locke took toward experimentalism within the scientific method. Locke followed Newton and other Baconians in understanding scientific experimentation as a process of intelligent design in the strongest sense of that term. Scientific experiments were an active mixing of one’s mind/will with some part of the natural world in order to gain a maker’s knowledge of one’s own experience in doing so, a maker’s knowledge that had an obligation to approximate that of the Original Maker. To make this view a bit more explicit:
- Locke and Newton could be sure that there was a rational/moral order in the natural world because they knew that God had created it, and
- Locke and Newton could be sure that humans could comprehend this rational/moral order because their minds/wills were all made in God’s image.
These early modern thinkers thus bridged the gap between what have been called “tutelage” and “heteronomy” wherein our will/mind must submit or conform to, respectively, God and nature. We must conform to the dictates and laws of nature, because nature is itself the dictate and law of God. I hope it is clear how essentially all forms of modern “scientism” are themselves derived from this very religious – albeit, only semi-scriptural – view of the world and our place within it.
Hobbes, in opposition to Newton, Locke and the entire Royal Society, rejected all forms of experimentalism as a source of reliable truth precisely because he refused to endorse either of the two religious claims above. Experiments were, indeed, the means by which men imposed their own mortal minds/wills upon the natural world through intelligent design. It was for this reason, however, that any “truths” that they wrongly thought themselves to be “objectively” reading off of the experimental data were actually imposed upon the experiments through their own, imperfect acts of will. (The modern term for this claim is that all experiments are “theory/interest laden”.) It was because of this refusal on Hobbes’ part to accept experimental results as definitive that he was repeatedly denied admission to the Royal Society. Note well, however, what was at issue here: Hobbes’ rejection of intelligent design in the overtly religious sense unavoidably threatened the objectivity of natural science with relativistic constructivism.
Let us approach this point about maker’s knowledge from a different conceptual angle: that of primary vs. secondary properties. Galileo had followed the quasi-religious metaphysics of the Pythagoreans in believing that nature was essentially mathematical in nature (the claim that the “book of nature” is written in the language of mathematics can be found nowhere in Christian scripture). He thus claimed that all qualitative properties were merely secondary and, as such, quite mortal projections onto an essentially quantitative natural world. The romantics, by contrast, would later insist that quantitative properties were actually the secondary, projected properties, while post-moderns would insist that all properties, qualitative and quantitative alike, were equally human projections.
Unlike Galileo, Locke’s views regarding maker’s knowledge led him to attribute the difference between primary and secondary properties to who had created the property in question. Primary qualities were those that had been created by God’s mind/will while secondary qualities were those that had been created by our human minds/wills. It was for this reason that all humans had both a natural inclination and a natural duty to approximate God’s primary qualities with our own secondary qualities.
Locke’s philosophy was, then, a semi-stable combination of an uncompromising acceptance of the divinity of natural law and an uncompromising refusal to equate any person’s mind/will with that divine law. In this way, he argued for a skepticism and relativism that was universally bounded by the absoluteness of God’s physical and moral laws. Since each person’s understanding of divine law (primary qualities) was be imperfect and relative to their own, private experiences (secondary qualities), and since no person had created the mind/will of another person (the word “consciousness” was actually invented by Locke’s friend, Ralph Cudworth), there was simply no means by which any mortal could ever exert author-ity over another mortal.
As such, no scientific or moral claim could ever be justified by anything other than a description of one’s own personal experience with the natural world, and no experience with that natural world was either perfect or exactly the same as any other person’s. It is worth pointing out that Locke was utterly intolerant towards Catholics and Atheists because they, on the one hand, grounded authority in something other than personal experience, or, on the other hand, denied that God constrained this skepticism/relativism.
I think it will be useful to point out the important role that Locke’s strict separation between our mortal maker’s knowledge of human experience and God’s maker’s knowledge of natural law would later play in Western intellectual history:
- Locke argued for a skepticism/relativism of mortal author-ity, constrained by and subordinate to nothing other than God’s absolute author-ity. (A religion of natural law)
- Hume argued against God’s author-ity, leaving the skepticism/relativism of mortal author-ity totally unconstrained. (A rejection of religion and natural law)
- Kant argued that there was only one, timeless and universal type of mortal author-ity, it being the one and only thing that pointed to God’s author-ity. (A religion of universal reason instead of natural law)
- Hegel and Fichte argued that mortal author-ity was historical. (A religion of rational history)
- Darwin argued that mortal author-ity was without direction, purpose or reason. (A religion of blind adaptation)
- Nietzsche argued that, since God’s author-ity was dead, each person must make their own mortal author-ity. (A religion of the individual Ubermensch)
This timeline is only meant as a brief illustration of the deep, conceptual ramifications that follow from the different ways in which thinkers have attempted to equate, relate or otherwise prioritize 1) our minds, 2) God’s mind and 3) natural law.
Private Property and the Fiduciary State
The year after Hobbes died, Robert Filmore’s theological defense of Absolute Monarchy was published. Like many other thinkers of the time, he endorsed the Maker’s Author-ity of God over His creation. He thus argued that God had given dominion over the world to Adam as an inheritance, he being the first born son. This right, he argued, was passed down as a birth-right throughout the generations as parents had “created” their children, all the way down to the absolute monarchs of Filmore’s time. (Genealogists were actually paid good money to “derive” their clients’ genealogies as far back to Adam as possible in order to situate themselves within the entailed social hierarchy.) Thus, whereas Hobbes had argued that, out of self-interest, we all give up all our rights to the sovereign so that it will protect us from each other, Filmore argued that the sovereign needed no such consent from us. The absolute monarch was our rightful sovereign regardless of what our interests might be on the matter, since his sovereignty was his “divine right of kings.”
It is against this argument that Locke’s version of the social contract should be understood. Contra Filmore, Locke argued that God had given dominion over His creation to mankind in general and that one’s birth was utterly irrelevant to the issue since we were all equally children of God. For this reason, a sovereign was not at all like a father, a husband, a lord or a pope – all of these being comparisons that Filmore had explicitly made. Rather, what mattered was the extent to which one mixed their mindful/willful labor with God’s creation. Thus, in the exact same way that I gain exclusive author-ity – in the form of expertise – over the observable world in the scientific sense, I also gain exclusive author-ity – in the form of property – over the arable land in the economic sense.
Since property was a natural law that existed totally independent of any contract or agreement, Locke’s social contract theory was very different from Hobbes’. For starters, Hobbes saw the state of nature in terms of the civil wars with which he was all too well acquainted. Locke’s state of nature, by contrast, was much more like the open and unclaimed land of the American frontier. (Rousseau’s state of nature, we will see in a later post, was that of the native Americans who were being forcefully displaced by the “civilization” of those American Lockeans.)
Since moral author-ity was built into nature by God Himself, and since property was individually created within that shared nature by us mortal author-ities, this made men much less desperate to give up their rights, if only because they had so many more of them to give up. (Remember, there were no female citizens or property owners.) Thus, while Hobbes advocated a total surrender of our rights to the sovereign, Locke suggested that we merely exchange our rights, but only to the extent that it is in our self-interest to do so. Most important to Locke’s view was that the state did not have author-ity over our property since 1) it had not mixed its labor with that land, and 2) it was to protect that very property that men had created the state in the first place. It is in this sense that we all have an inalienable right to life, liberty and property. (The Americans would substitute “the pursuit of happiness” for the last one):
Man being born … with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves… (Two Treatises of Government, Chapter VII, section 87-89)
There were three important corollaries to Locke’s view of the state, all of which were epitomized by the Dutch experience with which he was so familiar.
First, the law was not the servant of the prince, as Machiavelli had suggested, nor was it a tool by which the sovereign unilaterally protected men from each other, as Hobbes had taught. Rather, it was an instrument of property owners by which they protected themselves against would-be thieves and appropriators. The greatest threat to the social contract and collective well-being was not civil war, as Hobbes had thought, nor was it corrupt self-interest, as Aristotle had thought, but the appropriation of property from above: the absolutist monarch. While Marx would later agree that the Liberal Republican state was specifically designed to protect property owners from thieves and appropriators, he thought that this was a bad thing. Socialists would thus advocate an absolutism of the working class over this property owning class.
The second consequence of Locke’s view of property was that the citizen’s moral right to revolt against the state was not the product of any social contract, but was a natural and inalienable right. Locke’s view did not claim that if a land-owner hired a man to work his land, that the latter would thereby gain ownership of that land through his labor. Rather, the worker had “only a Fiduciary power to act for certain ends” (the author-ity of a trustee). The exact same went for the state: since the property owner only endorsed the state to the extent that it served his interests to do so (this itself was heresy to the Civic Republican), the former had the natural right to dismiss the latter when it did not remain bound to this mandate. Recall that in the tradition of maker’s knowledge, all laws were subordinate to the mind/will that brought them into existence. As such, men were completely free to overthrow any sovereignty or contracted law if such things violated natural law or the interests of the citizen – these two being very nearly one and the same thing.
The third consequence of Locke’s view of property was that it turned efficiency into a moral virtue. Men had a right to property all and only to the extent that they mixed their labor with it. (Given the caveat above regrading the fiduciary relationship of labor, it would be more accurate – not to mention more consistent with his epistemology – to say that an owner mixes his will with his property, not his labor.) Thus, any nobles who owned land with which they were not mixing their will had actually forfeited their natural rights to that land. In other words, wastefulness was a violation of natural law and, as such, a sin in Locke’s mind!
Given the Dutch context in which Locke’s philosophy was developed, it should come as no surprise that his metaphysics and epistemology were both extremely well suited to the coming rise of capitalism.
Questions for Mormons:
- While Locke grounded science and property in maker’s author-ity, Darwin’s theory would totally destroy this entire conceptual package. What does Mormon revelation teach about the relationship between authorship and author-ity?
- Filmore grounded authority in the ascribed status of persons, while Locke thought that nothing other than largely impersonal experience carried authority. How do the LDS doctrines of priesthood authority and revelation relate to these two positions?
- Do the ideals of the United Order, or Zion in general most approximate those of Civic Republicanism, Absolute Monarchism or Liberal Republicanism? Why or why not?