The Dartmouth Observer
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Faith, Politics of State, and the Individual
I begin by congratulating Laura on her courage to start the Religion Debate. It's a tough one and it takes stamina and, of all the topics from which one can choose, it is one of the most difficult with which humanity has ever been faced. Let us attempt to satisfy the craving for this merely astonishing enterprise. Faith and politics are two things in which the individual seems to be constantly entangled and this, thanks to the separation between church and state, to put it crudely. Before we commense, however, I would like to briefly examine the three categories.
Whether or not the status quo is the human state of nature, one thing clear is that the individual exists, to a greater or lesser extent. If not always actuallised, we commonly debate the status of the individual in society, sometimes wanting that it be created. This, however, is another topic in which I am sure John Stevenson will take much delight. We can be sure that the individual exists because we have both first person singular and plural pronouns. The individual is a single human entity. The problem with the individual is her involvement in faith and politics. By faith, I mean religious faith, and by politics, I mean politics of state.
Religious faith, briefly, is the belief in a superhuman being entailling a particular world-view (this definition is approximate and I welcome anyone, perhaps Eisenmen, to enhance it). The superhuman being element tends not to have much bearing on anything except on the world-view, and this world-view establishes codes of conduct and thought, generally termed as morals. If all individuals were to share the same world-view, discussions such as this would be given no time. We notice, however, that we do not all share the same world-view. Since individuals act in accordance with the world-view and different individuals have different world-views, then some individuals will come into conflict with others on account of differing world-views. This means that there will be differing understandings of what, in fact, is moral. But I get ahead of myself. On to the politics of state.
If we are to understand politics of state, we must first understand the state. Political theorists have attempted to analyse the state since the days of Ancient Greece. Aristotle contends that it is the teleological cause of man, Rousseau sees it as the most just and right social contract, and Hegel would have it that there's no real humanity outside of the state, whatever stage to which it might have progressed. The first thing to be realised is that none of these claims, nor any others in the same vein, may adequately come to a substanciated definition of the state. I will say then, for the sake of argument, that individuals are assembled in either communities or state-like affiliations, that the state is in fact a social contract, that the contract is the general will of the people (the general will does not necessitate unanimous opinion and, even if there were such a thing, would not necessarily be in accordance with it; the general will is necessarily common, though not consciously experienced), and that the general will of the people is necessarily just. The state, therefore, is just.
Thus we have resolved that individuals inhabit states (or something like them) and that individuals have world-views entailing morality. The problem is this: no matter that we agree that individuals want what is best for themselves, we have not reason to believe in the existence of the general will as such, we have not reason to believe in universal morality, and we have not reason to believe that either of the two are compatible, should they in fact exist.
It seems that in the end, the state is irrelevent in the face of different world-views and morality. Even in plain, old, ignorant democracy of opinion, excluding the general will, we still find that morality will supercede democratic state scrutiny at any rate because the world-view is much more encompassing than that of the state and because it has a higher priority. This is religious faith that comes to influence politics, not vice versa. It is natural.
So then, I ask all of you and Laura to consider 1) whether there is such a thing as universal morality for the human race and 2) whether, as Socrates asked, all justice is moral or whether all morality is just. This second question is nasty and, in my opinion, is as yet to my knowledge, the greatest unanswered question in political theory.