December 22, 2015


The Functional Anthropologist, Roger Scruton :  Edmund Husserl, oikophobia, Pierre Manent, Roger Scruton (PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER, 12/22/15, Library of Law and Liberty)

The truth, Scruton concedes, is there are two ways human beings can be viewed as wholes: 1) We are animals, in other words the whole organisms described by the impersonal natural scientists, or 2) we're also whole persons, with experiences that can't be reduced to those of animals. We're stuck, Scruton thinks, with this cognitive dualism. Neuroscientists who describe us from their third-person point of view can't incorporate the personal experience of the "I" into their descriptions of what each of us is. Their accounts of the "what" don't account for the "who" -- the particular being with a name, a personal identity.

Still, Scruton also thinks that the whole that is the person can't be detached from our natural being as social animals, even as, for us, social is transformed by self-consciousness into relational. Persons exist in an interpersonal world -- a lifeworld (as per Edmund Husserl and Vaclav Havel), a world of customs, conventions, traditions, and other shared historical understandings of interrelated persons that can be distinguished from the environments inhabited by animals. Being personal depends on a world not of one's own making. Consciousness, including self-consciousness, is always consciousness with others.

The liberal experience of freedom depends on belonging to a particular home. This home can't be understood as natural in the sense of natural science or as a mere social construction unrelated to our natural capabilities. It is a characteristic of beings such as ourselves, beings with the natural capability for self-consciousness and so for being personal. It's the self-destructive project of scientism in theory, and of ideologies (including liberal ideologies) in practice, to deprive us of the home or lifeworld that is the condition of personal being.

Is the lifeworld a world of "seeming" or is it one of "being"? Does it depend on what most philosophers and scientists--save Georg Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, and Husserl--regard as illusions? Scruton does not pretend--and, in his eyes, no real conservative would pretend--to have the authoritative answer to that question. The lifeworld depends on premises about love, personal responsibility, free will, and so forth that are questionable or invincibly open to reductionistic explanations. But the world of seeming or being on the surface is that upon which the "I" depends to live well, even to live in the light of the truth. And it's a world that produced all kinds of noble and wonderful and aesthetic and reasonable and religious thought and behavior that the scientists can't explain as characteristic of an organism in an environment.

The problem of the relationship between the lifeworld and the Kantian or liberal theory of autonomy is, Scruton explains, that "it is impossible that I should be a transcendental self; but it is necessary that I should suffer the illusion that I am." Thus, the conservative "functional anthropologist" observes, "I must belong to a world in which this illusion can be sustained, so that my projects are also values for me, and my desires are integrated into a vision of the good." So, from the third-person perspective, the benefits of the illusion of the autonomous "I" can be experienced only in a world where they are - by being relationally embedded, in other words not really so autonomous at all - not experienced as an illusion.

The "functional anthropologist," being a conservative, is to be distinguished from the natural scientist or evolutionary psychologist. The natural scientist is not concerned with sustaining nature itself, but he too becomes an anthropologist when considering the effects of the person on nature. And a conservative has an anthropocentric or functional concern with the interdependence of natural and social ecology.

When thinking about liberals, the functional anthropologist "smiles indulgently." The liberal thinks he is liberated enough to "question every given fact of community," but if he really did so, he would be left entirely naked and disinherited. He would have ended up exterminating the world in which the illusion of autonomy is credible. The lifeworld in which we distinguish between good and evil and are capable of sharing joyfully in the truth is constituted by "social artifacts," including that of "morality itself." The truth is that people are "born into a web of attachments," which could never all be validated by personal consent or by detached personal intention.

I didn't choose or construct the world in which I can experience myself as a confident and responsible "I," and so my "very existence" as a particular person is or ought to be "burdened with a debt of love and gratitude." We are born and die debtors, and the burden of being recipients is readily distinguished from what some libertarians call the tyranny of the gift. We can escape only in a limited way from "the absolute claim of the locally given." A full escape would be from everything that makes freedom more than, as the song said, nothing left to lose.

Not that the conservative always smiles indulgently at liberal pretensions concerning the autonomous liberation of the "I." Scruton rails against the "oikophobia" (the "repudiation of inheritance and home") that is the opposite of xenophobia. This ridiculing of "the unconsidered and spontaneous social actions" by which one affirms loyalty to one's own now disfigures English and American public intellectuals. The reflexes of ordinary people are routinely disparaged or "even demonized by the dominant media and educational system."

These habits that are mostly unconsidered and unchosen, are yet absolutely indispensable to us: they make up for what might be regarded as an instinctual deficiency in members of our species. The oikophobes have supposedly outed these habits as the behavior of thoughtless suckers. But the spontaneous effectiveness of these habits can't really be replaced by calculated deliberation about everything or even most things. The wholesale repudiation of loyalty disarms--in theory as well as in practice--such freedom as we really do have.

The irony is that "educated derision" may be capable of extinguishing "the freedom to criticize" that makes educated derision possible. No freedom has a future without people prepared by settled relational inclination to live and die for it. The freedom to criticize, properly understood, is the source of social improvement or adaptation to changing circumstances and technologies. It ministers unto social sustainability.

The alleged sustainability experts, the liberals, do not realize this. "In his own eyes," says Scruton, the oikophobe is "a defender of enlightenment universalism against local chauvinism." But it is much clearer what the oikophobe is against than what he is or she is for.

One of the great themes of the My Struggle series by Karl Ove Knausgaard is how thoroughly embedded supposedly secular modern Sweden is in Lutheranism. 
Posted by at December 22, 2015 5:16 PM