Two Paradigms Of History

Two book appeared over decades ago that still warrant consideration. One is Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, and the other Peter Gran’s Beyond Eurocentrism: A New View of Modern World History. Both embody two respective specific views history that are termed “modernization theory” and “political economy theory.” Before we proceed to examine the two books in question, it is best, first of all, to briefly define these two theories of history, in order to gain a firmer grasp of the arguments of the two authors.

When we turn to modernization theory, we find that the emphasis is on the industrial knowledge and strength of wealthy nations, who achieved their prominence by way of a process of modernity. This first stage in this process is industrialization itself, which in turn brings about modernity. Thereafter a sequenced series of events occurs that bring about social, economic, and individual progress.

Thus, nations that espoused modernity prospered because they learned ways to ensure sustained economic growth; and this brought them greater riches in the form of cultural, social, and political standards and principles that fully embodied modernity. For theorists of modernization, the problems of the Third World are rooted in forms and structures of traditional societies, which markedly differ from modern ones. Traditional societies are intensely religious, while modern ones are secular, since they have learned to separate social, political, and economic standards from religion.

Traditional societies are rural; modern ones are urban and based upon commerce and trade. Thus, the strengths of modern societies lie in their secularization, urbanization, the ability to develop science and technology, their stress on social mobility, the inculcation of a system of rewards for merit rather than inherited status, the great importance of the rule of law, and the division of labor in society.

On the other hand, traditional societies are governed by religious authority, and depend upon a rural mode of existence. They do not have the ability to engender discoveries and innovations in technology and science; they have extremely inflexible social structures that allow for very little mobility. As well, traditional societies dispense reward based on inherited status rather than merit; they discourage innovation and new ideas, do not place controls on the implementation of political will and authority, and do not show social differentiation.

Thus, according to modernization theory, the rise of capitalism is the essential element that transforms traditional societies into modern ones. The Third World is poor because it has not cast off its traditional ways of organizing society and as a result modernist, capitalistic institutions have not emerged. In effect, modernization theory views history in a very linear fashion that proceeds along definite and knowable processes.

Whereas modernist theory focuses on progress, political economy theory concentrates structures of power and economic resources. The essential issue here is the examination of the distribution of power, namely, who has how much, and the inevitable result is an analysis of power distribution in society. Thus, it is social class that eventually determines how much wealth and economic power individuals have; and it is support of this structured distribution that society itself organizes itself.

This theory therefore critiques the resulting political economy, that is, how social, economic, and political policies and forces influence individuals. As well, there is a stress on determining the effects of power struggles that result because of the rift between the haves and the have-nots. Consequently, history is the result of these forces and struggles that see power and political economy shifting in order to balance and accommodate social needs.

In effect, political economy theory presents a materialist understanding of both society and history, in that ideology and culture are the result of material production. Thus, there is a relation of production that correlates to a stage in development of material powers of production; and it is the result of this relation of production that generates the economic structure of society, which in turn forms the basis of legal and political superstructures and engenders forms of social consciousness. In brief, social existence determines consciousness.

Thus, when Peter Gran critiques history in his Beyond Eurocentrism: A New View of Modern World History, he brings into play the various factors involved in political economy theory, in that his stress is social history, as well as the destruction of dominant paradigms: “Would not, then, a break with Eurocentrism as proposed in this book spell the birth of a Golden Age for social history both in the academy and beyond?”

When Gran turns to explore world history through the lens of social history, he suggests that there are in fact four structures of hegemony in the modern world, namely, the Russian road, the Italian road, the tribal-ethnic state (he uses Albania as an example), and bourgeois democracy (for which he gives Britain as an example). He emphasizes the fact that there are “only four” such structures.

Since these hegemonic structures are vaster entities and are not confined to Europe alone, for they find expression in different parts of the world. For example, Iraq adheres to the Russian road; India and Mexico keep to the Italian road; Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) sticks to the Albanian tribal-ethnic road; and the United States follows the bourgeois-democratic road, exemplified by Britain.

These four structures individually follow a series of three stages, namely, the early, “liberal” phase; a corporate or “collective” phase; and lastly another liberal or “neoliberal” phase. Certainly, Gran is well aware of the fact that the various countries he discusses do show variance in these phases, and although there are individual differences, the structural coherence of the three phases is maintained.

However, it is precisely at this point in his discussion that Gran veers away from the trap of assuming that the bourgeois-democrat road is superior to the other three, because he contends that Anglo-American society is founded upon racism, in that people of color, as well as women, are purposely kept in inferior ranks, in order to keep the mass of its male citizens happy and content, so they do not rise up against the privileged. In fact, multiculturalism is nothing more than a structure that continually plays “one race’s identity against another.”

Certainly, Gran finds points of critique in the other three roads as well, in that they have developed their own methods of preserving the hegemony of one group of elites or another. Thus, when he turns to the Russian road he plays down the role of Marxism-Leninism and instead focuses on “the ruling caste, or nomenklatura.”

As for the Italian road, he sees it as an amalgam of Mussolini’s fascism as well as a leftist corporatism, as evidenced by Mexico (under Cardenas) and India (under Nehru). And as for the Albanian road, he critiques the clan chiefs, or warlords, ruling through extensive family ties, whether they are monarchs (such as King Zog in 1920s), or the Communists, under Enver after World War II.

However, given the overriding nature of this study, and the inherent aim of political economy theory to critique forms of power, Gran continually overstates his case: “…standard world history is, in fact, so focused on the Western countries, their elites, and high cultures, that it does not permit much critical analysis of them. And this sort of overstatement continues.

Thus, for example, he states that “the U.S. state promotes the existence of a racial under-caste; it plays the white worker off against the black.” Certainly, this ignores the entire process of the civil rights movement and affirmative action. And because of this consistent overstatement he undermines his own approach of presenting a social history of the world, in that he concentrates his argument mostly on European nation-states and their political economy. Thus, for a work that seeks to steer away from Eurocentrism and strike a new course in world, the bulk of his argument remains rooted in European history and culture.

Against this work of political economy theory, we may read a work of modernization theory, namely Samuel Huntingdon’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In his work, Huntingdon basically argues that some societies (or civilizations) will never evolve into liberal democracies, rooted in capitalism.

The reason for this is that it is culture (and cultural identities), which is ultimately a civilization identity, that shapes the structures of unity, dissolution, and clashes in the post-Cold War world: “Yet the major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures.”

Thus, for Huntingdon, the world is divided into seven civilizations that are forever competing. These are: the Western, the Sinic, the Japanese, the Hindu, the Islamic, the Orthodox, and the Latin American. Given this structure of the world, Huntingdon tells us that global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational, and that modernization is distinct from Westernization and is leading to neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense, not the westernization of non-Western societies. Thus, the balance of power among these seven civilizations is changing, with the West slowly losing influence, and non-Western civilizations reifying their own cultures.

As well, Asian civilizations are increasing their economic, military, and political powers; and Islam is increasing demographically and thereby destabilizing both Muslim nations and their neighbors. Thus, “alignments defined by ideology and superpower relations are giving way to alignments defined by culture and civilization. Political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones: ethnic, religious, and civilizational.”

However, within this context it is important to realize that modernization and Westernization are one and the same, wherein each guarantees secular, liberal democracy, free market economy, and a loosely protestant religious structure. As well, given the great advancement of technology in the West, it is important also to note that the other six civilizations tend not to have a high degree of technological sophistication. Thus, the ensuing clashes although very probable must always assume differing aspects, rather than outright conflict. And there is the special case of alignments of civilization in order to overcome a common enemy, or achieve a common goal.

For example, India may be seeing a Hindu revival, nevertheless this revival is largely in the context of its fight against Islam, rather than any meaningful struggle against the West. Huntingdon certainly gives due credit to religion and sees it as an extremely potent force in contemporary world politics: “In the modern world, religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilizes people.”

As the well, the clash is an uneven one, in that the West has consistently pursued conflict in a highly organized and systematic way. Thus, when civilizations clash, there is an unevenness to the conflict, in that one side is slated to win: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of others civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.” However, as a representative of modernization theory, Huntingdon is extremely useful in that he takes care to include all of civilization (economics, politics, religion, culture, religion, mode of life).

Thus, we find that both political economy theory and modernization theory present two methods for offering a critique of history. In the first instance, the stress is on studying the distribution of power, and the modes of its production.

This view, although beneficial in providing a critique of capitalism cannot be seen as a more cogent reading of history, given the fact that it consistently seeks construct large political and economic structures, at the expense of ignoring the pertinent details.

Modernization theory on the other hand provides a rather efficient method of reading history, since it involves study of minute details that fit into a larger pattern, or civilization, for it these details that determine not only the identity of a civilization, but also its method of survival and propagation.


The photo shows, “Aqueduct Near Rome’ by Thomas Cole, painted in 1848.

What Is Thinking?

Over the years, higher education has become thoroughly vocationalized, and people come to university and college expecting to be trained for the job market.

More and more, society sees the academy as nothing more than a training facility where specific and transferable skills are acquired by individuals which can then be translated into careers and jobs in the marketplace.

Inherently there is nothing wrong about such a view of education; jobs and careers are fundamental to a happy life. But there is an essential problem here, because a primary component is being consistently ignored, which we can get to by asking a simple question.

What guarantees a career or a job or a paycheck in the first place? It is not proficiency in skill – rather, it is the context in which this skill is to be practiced. And this context, of course, is society. It is only within the context of a good society that jobs, careers – in short, the good life – can be guaranteed.

But if education is nothing other than training efficient workers who only know how to apply their skills in job situations – who will manage the needs of society so that it continues to be good, continues to be that context in which jobs and careers, and the good life, are to be guaranteed? If no one is educated in taking care of the good society, will society continue to be good? There is a strong and direct co-relationship between prosperity and the good society.

In our own political and cultural context, the good society is the liberal democracy, which depends upon the idea that all of us must work together to maintain the goodness of our society.

In order to do so, we must be educated in the wisdom of the liberal democratic tradition. But if we only worry about training for jobs, who will have the knowledge to ensure that our society remains both liberal and democratic – that it retains its goodness?

And what are the characteristics of such a society? They are ideals that we all aspire to and expect our society to provide – namely, freedom, personal worth, individual rights, and a government entirely answerable to the people.

Notice none of these expectations depend upon skill, upon being a good worker. And none of these expectations have come about as a result of industry’s efforts.

Industry can function in any type of society. It has loyalty only to profit. These expectations are, of course, ideals – and ideals require two things: education – not skill – and humane thinking.


How We Are Expected to Think

The enduring emphasis of skill in the educational system is also an emphasis on two kinds of thinking, and the neglect of a third kind. Skill is closely related to know-how, or technical knowledge, and to analytical, or scientific, knowledge.

The former is repetitive and performative, in that a skill is repeated in order to produce the same result. Scientific knowledge seeks to explain or predict; it can do no more.

For example, many children are prodigies with mathematics or music, in that they have acquired the skill to repeat notes or numerical patterns. Their expertise, or skill, is marvelous to witness – but no one turns to them for guidance on issues of freedom, individuality, or responsible government. Why?

Because we know that skills are not higher-level thinking. In the same way, a physicist understands fully how to establish models that can test natural laws and predict what nature may or may not do – but we do not consult this person about matters pertaining to the good society, or love. Why?

Because physics is analytical and cannot be used to understand goodness or love. Despite these obvious handicaps in scientific and technical knowledge, we still demand that higher education worry only about training workers. While everyone is functioning smoothly in industry – who is looking after the functioning of society?

Perhaps the reason for voter apathy, for example, and low voter turn-out may directly be related to this question.

There is a third kind of knowledge, which may be labeled practical wisdom. It is not technical, explanatory, or predictive. It is concerned with ideals, with formulating judgments and making decisions, and it directly relates to the way we encounter the world around us and the way we participate in society.

In other words, there is a specific kind of thinking which directly relates to the good society. Practical wisdom is about ideals. Life is always greater than tangible, material things.

Indeed, what is more important to human beings – happiness or skill?

To worry about skills is to desire to become a robot. To worry about happiness is to understand our humanity – because to be happy each of us must reflect upon what truth is and what goodness is, and each of us must create meaning in our lives. Skills can do neither of these things.

To be happy, to have meaning and value, we need to think critically, in the true sense of the term.


The photo shows, “Man at his Desk,” by Georg Friedrich Kersting, painted in 1811.

Sir Joshua Reynolds: Some Thoughts


Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Discourses on Art is continually informed by mimesis. The importance of mimesis for Reynolds lies in the fact that it produces perfection – a key motive in any production of art, for Reynolds.

Therefore, Reynolds’ discourse is grounded in the concept that art imitates nature, where the endeavor is to realistically portray life and reproduce natural objects and actions.

The justification of this grounding is provided for Reynolds by the old masters whom he admires for their success, and advocates that artists must follow in their footsteps in order to achieve and produce perfection. As well, there is the concern that without classical models artistic vices will proliferate and artistic virtue will not be attained.

There are several varieties of imitation: painting in the spirit of the old masters and using their general principles; borrowing from the old masters with the necessity of accommodating the material to the artists own age; and the collection and use of special “beauties” in technique and expression from the works of the best painters.

Let us look at mimesis a little more closely. The recurring theme in the production of discourse in the eighteenth-century is the desire to arrive at a definition of taste and good sense, thereby to place men and women into the eternal scheme of things.

As such, we confront a continuous tension between opposing forces, binaries of sorts: the classic with the Romantic, the rational with the sentimental, the town with the country, art with nature, religion with irreligion, to mention but a few. Joshua Reynolds’ Discourses on Art participate in this agonistic method by positing a discourse that is firmly grounded in classical esthetics, where the old masters are to be emulated as paradigms of perfection.

Thus, Reynolds is continually valorizing one mode of discourse over another: “I would chiefly recommend that an implicit obedience to the rules of art, as established by the great masters, should be exacted from the young students.
That those models, which have passed through the approbation of ages, should be considered by them as perfect and infallible guides as subjects for their imitation, not their criticism.”

But let us briefly turn aside and flesh out the key characteristics that constitute the paradigm of the old masters. The modus operandi for this esthetic is the classical period, or the ideals, and idealized versions, of Greece and Rome. Thus, Reynolds emphasizes taste, polish, common sense, and reason over emotion and imagination.

Therefore, upon the Renaissance idea of the limitless potentiality of human beings Reynolds imposes a view of human being as limited, dualistic, imperfect. For Reynolds, the intensity of human responses is checked by a reverence for order and a delight in reason and rules.

Imagination is tempered by a distrust of innovation and invention. Individualism comes to be defined only in terms of the human potential within a group and generic quality. The tension that results because of these polarities lead Reynolds to an esthetic that stresses order, logic, restrained emotion, accuracy, “correctness,” “good taste,” and decorum.

Consequently, Reynolds defines art by a sense of symmetry, a delight in design, and by the centrality of the human subject, which in turn lead to the categories of proportion, unity, harmony and grace.

Thus, for Reynolds, the aim of art is to delight, instruct and correct human beings (in that primarily human beings are social animals): “Every opportunity, therefore, should be taken to discountenance that false and vulgar opinion that rules are the fetters of genius.  They are fetters only to men of no genius.”

Highlighted in the discourse of emphasizing the old masters is the moral discourse of imitation, or mimesis. The concept of art as imitation has its origin with the classical critics. Aristotle says at the very beginning of his Poetics that all art is a mode of imitation; and by extension, art is an imitation of nature. Consequently, in ancient Rome and Greece the imitation of models (created by past masters) was an accepted form of composition.

Therefore, for Reynolds, imitation is the key instructive tool. Imitation of nature, for him, becomes a realistic portrayal of life, and a reproduction of natural objects and actions.

As well, there is a marked admiration of the success of the greater classical artists, who had closely followed nature, and were therefore worthy of being imitated.

The moral aspect of this notion is fully visible when we consider that genius for Reynolds is not an inborn ability, but an acquired attitude: “Let us not destroy the scaffold until we have raised the building.”

In fact, an adherence to models created by past masters inculcates a method for Reynolds that successfully avoids artistic shortcomings and ensures the attainment of literary virtues.

Imitation is further defined by Reynolds. It is the borrowing from the ancients with the necessity of accommodating the material of the artist’s own age. It is the collection and use of special “beauties” in form and expression from the works of past masters. And it is the exercise of paraphrase and translation of the devices used by the past masters.

Consequently, for Reynolds, creativity can only be housed in mimetic expression, that is, in models created and perfected by past masters: “The pictures, thus wrought with such pain, now appear like the effect of enchantment, and as if some mighty genius had struck them off at a blow.”

The force that governs the mimetic concerns of Reynolds is, of course, nature. Contained within nature is the implicit workings of a universal esthetic whose validity leads the human subject to a reverence for rules and such reverence is then taken as an evidence of the basis of these rules in what is universal in human nature. The rules, for Reynolds, are grounded in models proven by the old master.

Therefore, it is necessary to include with nature the human capacity for reason – since both are grounded in the idea of “order” – nature is order in external existence, and reason is order in the internal existence of the human subject: “He who endeavours to copy nicely the figure before him not only acquires a habit of exactness and precision, but is continually advancing in his knowledge of the human figure; and though he seems to superficial observers to make a slower progress, he will be found at last capable of adding (without running into capricious wildness) that grace and beauty which is necessary to be given to his more finished works, and which cannot be got by the moderns, as it was not acquired by the ancients, but by an attentive and well-compared study of the human form.”

Thus, we see that Reynolds discourse in his Discourses on Art is continually informed and determined by mimesis, which advocates imitation of the old masters in whose works perfection is housed, and which students are to imitate in order to garner and benefit from the genius housed in artistic works of the past: “He who endeavours to copy nicely the figure before him not only acquires a habit of exactness and precision, but is continually advancing in his knowledge of the human figure; and though he seems to superficial observers to make a slower progress, he will be found at last capable of adding (without running into capricious wildness) that grace and beauty which is necessary to be given to his more finished works, and which cannot be got by the moderns, as it was not acquired by the ancients, but by an attentive and well-compared study of the human form.”


The photo shows a self portrait by Joshua Reynolds, painted, ca. 1780.

Economics And Human Rights

International economic law and human rights tend to be very poor bedfellows. Indeed, world indebtedness means less for the have-nots and more for the haves.

First, the policies of the World Bank and the IMF often violate the rights of poor countries in that these policies inhibit and even stall the growth of developing nations. Banks views Third World debt as an almost mythical moneymaking machine.

Pressure on the debtor countries and their people is increasing all the time, and the debts remain, growing ever larger. To enforce payment, the World Bank uses the IMF to impose adjustments.

As a condition for receiving new loan extensions to cover for defaults on interest payments, the IMF imposes strict economic conditions on countries, and forces debtor countries to cut their public expenditure, push up the price of food, and focus all their resources on the development of cash crops for export to earn the money needed to repay the debt.

The result of this pressure, imposed by the world’s richest nations on the world’s poorest, is ever-increasing unemployment, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and for many, death. Debt repayment is a major problem for 44 severely indebted countries.

A similar role of imposition of policies by powerful bodies can be seen in the workings of the WTO. The establishment of the WTO represents a watershed in the process of establishing a truly global economic order and it is likely to exert a more profound influence over the course of human affairs than has any other institution in history.

There are three reasons that justify such an assessment. The first has to do with the ever-increasing importance of international trade to a global economy. Transnational corporations now control more than one third of worlds’ productive assets, and the organization of their production and distribution systems has little to do with national or even regional boundaries.

Decisions about locating factories, sourcing materials, processing information or raising capital are made on a global basis, and a particular product may include components from several countries.

This explains why nearly 40% of all international trade takes within the same corporate family. Another measure of the growing dimensions of globally economic integration is the growth in international trade itself which according the most recent figures published by the WTO increased by a staggering 9 1/2 per cent in 1994.

The question of private party participation in WTO dispute settlement proceedings has been around since even before the organization’s inception. Of course, private parties have been interested in international trade dispute resolution since GATT entered into force in 1948.

For many years, as GATT labored in obscurity, these disputes took place relatively anonymously. However, especially with disputes over trade embargoes imposed for environmental purposes and over phytosanitary standards that affect human consumption of agricultural products believed by some to be unsafe, international trade dispute settlement became increasingly interesting to NGOs and members of the public.

The public like never before is now scrutinizing it. The environmental NGOs, in particular, have called for greater access to, and increased transparency of, the litigation process. As presented in a number of recent papers, there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate.

Those calling for increased access argue that for the decisions that emerge from this body to be viewed as representative, authoritative and fair, the WTO must provide mechanisms for expanded public participation.

This concern is raised most often where disputes involve non-trade policies embedded in trade regulations, such as import restrictions to enforce environmental standards.

NGOs question the WTO’s ability to make the right decision in such disputes without relying on their input.  From an NGO perspective, if the system is to be perceived as fair, those with an interest in the outcome of a dispute should have an opportunity to be part of the process, and the system must operate in a way that does not seem to systematically give an advantage to a particular normative point of view (i.e., that import prohibitions are to be condemned unless they fall within a narrow set of exceptions).

It is hard to know how much power lies with the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs). Because of their size, they have become major world players: sales can exceed the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries. General Motors income exceeds the GDP of all sub-Saharan Africa combined. TNCs now control two thirds of all world trade and 80 per cent of foreign investment.

Some argue that TNCs are important to people in developing countries. The reality is very different. TNCs employ only three per cent of the world’s labor force – and less than half of those employed are in the poorest regions of the world.

The need for governments to attract TNC investment has resulted in a sacrifice in the rights of working people in order to create the most attractive investment conditions. The immense buying power of TNCs results in domination of local markets and the shutting down of local firms.

The freedom to act without social responsibility has made TNCs the champions of global trade, without regulations. This lack of accountability and lack of respect for human rights has resulted in dangerous practices. Oil giant Shell has admitted supplying weapons for use by Nigeria’s security forces against protestors in Ogoniland, just as BP has openly funded military terror squads in Colombia for years. In West Papua, Freeport presses ahead with mining while the Indonesian military deals with local protestors incensed at the destruction of their land.

The environmental record of TNCs is not much better. The destruction of whole ecosystems by mining and oil companies, the thousands killed in disasters such as Bhopal, and the ongoing, everyday pollution by companies for which “going green” is public relations. The Kyoto summit failed because powerful members of the Global Climate Coalition – responsible for half the world’s pollution mounted a multi-million dollar campaign to back big business.


The photo shows, “The Charitable Gift,” by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, painted in 1850.

Kant On Moral Law

It is in the Critique of Pure Reason that Immanuel Kant elaborates his ideas of moral law, where he studies what ought to be, as opposed to what is. In other words he examines the conditions of actual moral experience in the analysis of action.

The immediate question that Kant begins with is simply stated: What is morality founded on? Consciousness tells me that I ought to perform certain actions, and a little thought convinces me that oughtness is universal and necessary.

If I analyze the sense of obligation in the negative principle, “Don’t lie,” I find that, apart from the question of motive or utility, which are contingent determinants, it is a principle valid throughout all time and space. It is these properties, necessity and universality, that enable us to answer Kant’s initial question.

For Kant, universality and necessity affect the form, not the content, of the moral law, so that the universality of the prohibition, “Don’t lie,” is derived from the general formula, into which all obligation is translatable. Thus, the law on which our moral conduct rests must be fit to be an element of universal legislation.

However, the moral law is not founded on pleasure; for nothing is more unstable than feeling, which is the determinant of pleasure. The moral law, therefore, must rest on an unchangeable foundation, because of its universality and necessity. It is not founded on happiness; for the essential characteristic of the moral law is its obligatoriness, and so no one is obliged to be happy.

It is not founded on a moral sense; for mere sense cannot represent obligation as necessary and universal. Lastly, it is not founded on perfection of self; for perfection is, in the final analysis, reducible to pleasure or happiness.

The moral law is its own foundation; it is autonomous, being neither imposed by any external motive, nor deduced by the purely speculative reason from theoretical principles, but it is impressed on the will by the practical reason and revealed to us by immediate consciousness.

Further, the moral law is imperative: consciousness reveals it to us as commanding, not merely as persuading or advising. Its command may be categorical as, “You shall not lie,” or hypothetical, “If you want to become a doctor you should study medicine.”

The categorical imperative is the characteristic expression of the moral law. The moral law is the form which imparts to the contents of an action its goodness. The contents may be good relatively; the will, which is the form, is an absolute good.

Effects and circumstances are not of themselves determinants of moral value; the sense of duty is alone praiseworthy. Thus, the moral motive is respect for the moral law.

As well, the moral is unconditional. In the form of the categorical imperative, its voice is unconditionally authoritative and its command is unconditionally a law of human conduct. It speaks to us immediately, for we are conscious of its commands. And it is here that the freedom of the will rests.

The will is free in that the moral law, in saying, I ought, implies that I can.

We have no immediate consciousness of freedom, but we have immediate consciousness of the moral law which implies freedom. I can because I ought, and I know that I can because I know that I ought. Freedom is, therefore, the essence of the moral law, and the moral law is the consciousness of freedom.

Thus Kant asserts the supremacy of the moral law, which is not to be found in rational speculation. Oughtness is universal and necessary, and these are the qualities of the moral law.


The photo shows, “Woman Before the Sinking Sun,” by Caspar David Friedrich, painted, ca. 1818.

The Films Of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky made seven full-length films, as well as a few short ones. His work full participates in the grand tradition of Russian film established by people such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

As such, Tarkovsky’s films have a character that is uniquely visionary, while imbued with history, especially evident in his epic “Andrei Rublev” which portrays the life of the famous monk and icon painter, who strives to create beauty in the harsh brutality of the Mongol invasion of Russia. Given his ability to use history, it is not surprising that Russian authorities saw his films as works of dissent. This led to great hostility to his work and inevitable censorship; and worst of all, neglect. He died in exile in Paris 1986.

Tarkovsky’s films also show a marked use of dream sequences that resonate with deep meaning, and serve as symbolic reference points for the entire film itself.

In one sense the dreams that these films present serve to subvert the entire construction of reality that is being portrayed; and this subversion is made evident by the juxtaposition of the dreams as the ideal, while the mundane is represented as brutal, cruel, and senseless.

As well, there is the important distinction to be made in the conflict that this juxtaposition raises, namely, the very Russianness of the dreams and the prevalence of western ideas in the mundane reality within which these dreams occur.

It is important to bear in mind that Russian culture is replete with this western/eastern conflict, wherein the identity of Russia itself is marked.

The question again and again asked is this – is Russia fundamentally eastern or western. Tarkovsky’s dream sequences in his films address this fundamental question. Thus, dreams in Tarkovsky’s film fulfill two notions: they are a representation of the ideal, and they address the issue of Russia’s identity.

The immediate impression that one receives while watching a Tarkovsky film is the manner in which the quintessential image of Russia is blended with a ready acceptance of everything that is western.

We are presented with actions, faces, words, suffering, and deprivation. This is the mundane aspect of any Tarkovsky film. Against this immediate backdrop is the dream, which in fact is really a memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a way of life that has long vanished, or perhaps never existed.

This is what makes these dream sequences ideal – in that they are mythic, and they partake in mythic structures, in that they present an often “heroic” hyper-reality, which functions as a commentary of the actual reality of the characters in the film.

This is especially evident in Tarkovsky’s early films, such as “Ivan’s Childhood,” and “Mirror,” where he explores the sustaining power of both nature and the Russian tradition.

It is also interesting to note that in these two early films this ideal setting is dominated by the figure of the mother. These films are idyllic pastorales that also expound the ideology of “Mother Russia:” the vast stretches of forests, simple peasants, and domed churches. Thus, dreams are an attempt to capture the lost moment, the perfect harmony that once existed, but is now vanished, and can only be captured in dreams.

This need to dream becomes essential to the verity of the film because there is only bleakness otherwise; and this bleakness is the result of love, either for another person or the land, that is, Mother Russia; and this love is a continual heartbreak.

There is an absurdity to this love, because this love can absorb pain and can also share out joy. In “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Mirror” we see this love being demonstrated in the mother figure that animates both these films with love, sacrifice, as well as vulnerability. Thus, dreams are feminine, just as Russia is seen as the “motherland” rather than the “fatherland.”

The same process is evident in “Solaris” where we meet Kris Kelvin’s mother, who properly has little relevance to the plot of the film, but represents the capacity to dream. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind that dreams are also catalytic – they allow for existence despite the harshness and the unyielding bleakness.

In effect, for Tarkovsky, dreams are akin to memories and reminiscences, and all three crowd his films, and serve as forces of coherence and order. Thus, dreams are also an attempt to bring order to chaos. It is chaos that pervades the characters lives in Tarkovsky’s films. When they dream they seek to fashion this chaos into a semblance of order; and that order is minutely married to the ideal and idyllic Mother Russia.

Dreams, then, become a commentary on the familiar by way of memory, which in turn is an idealized projection. Thus, there is a sense of otherness to the dreams in Tarkovsky’s films. This otherness inhabits the subconscious, which is often ignored, given the demands of daily reality.

However, Tarkovsky uses dreams to bring about self-realization and the possibility of authenticity. Dreams, in effect, bring wholeness and completeness, because they link the fragmented self with the wholeness of the past – and this past can only be ideal because it is complete.

Thus, the characters dream in order to become whole. Similarly, they also remember and hallucinate, which are no more than extended paradigms for the perfected, ideal dream world.

This contrast between reality and the dream leads to a film that does not have a linear plot, nor does a Tarkovsky film fulfill stereotypical expectations. Rather, his films are elliptical and often “intellectual” and are therefore often deemed as obscure.

This is best described by his method of making films in different languages, such as “Nostalgia,” which is partly in Italian, and “Sacrifice,” which is partly in Swedish. This use of different languages also mirrors the nature of dreams – because the mixing of languages follows a process similar to dreams.

Thus, Russian is placed within the context of Italian or Swedish, which is certainly a jarring experience. Similarly, a dream is placed with the context of mundane reality, with equally jarring consequences. What we perceive as normal is in fact informed by the unexpected and the unusual.

People speak Swedish or Italian in a Russian film because they trail a different set of values, cultures, and a different history. And on an individual level, dreams allow us to access different values and cultures, and even history.

Thus, the dissonance is not with the juxtaposition, but it is with the context – what we expect is not what we often get. And this is the jarring fact of modern life.

In effect, dreams become a commentary on modernity itself. Society, which should provide us with solace and comfort, in fact isolates us and therefore fragments us, so that we become little more than individuals who can only respond to what lies outside of us, rather than becoming controllers of our own lives.

It is this process of action and reaction, which is so much a definition of modern life, that Tarkovsky’s dream sequences seek to address and understand.

Given this penchant for using dreams in this way, it is easy to charge Tarkovsky with being too allegorical and perhaps too obscurely moody.

For example, we have the horses appearing at the beginning and the end of “Andrei Rublev; there is the ticker-tape sequence in the last cathedral scene in “Nostalgia;” or the scattering of paper at the end of “Ivan’s Childhood.”

These sequences are exactly what dreams are all about, or why Swedish and Italian are spoken in a Russian film. They are part of the dream world that Tarkovsky wants to create; and this dream world is often irrational, inexplicable, strange, obscure, and at puzzling. But we need to realize that dreams also contain depth of meaning, which can only be recovered by a process of realization.

As well, n “Sacrifice,” Tarkovsky’s last film, Alexander’s lengthy speeches can be construed as verbal dreams, especially since these speeches are placed within the context of scenes such as the fire and the lonely road.

Thus, dreams may complicate reality, but they also lead us away from the process of conditioned responses; and perhaps this is why dreams are difficult to understand, just as Tarkovsky is often difficult to understand.

However, this difficulty is also a very important aspect of dreams for Tarkovsky – for by making things difficult, Tarkovsky emphasizes the process of alienation that we feel in the modern world. Often, we are placed in contexts that we know nothing about. Often we are baffled by life, and what it all means.

Tarkovsky’s films mirror this alienation. His allegories and his wordiness show our own psyches at work – how we handle a complicated reality within which we must live our lives. Dreams attempt to make sense of the vast chaos that stretches before; they serve to integrate ourselves within ourselves.

Of course, they cannot integrate us within society – that is not Tarkovsky’s concern – because to do so would in effect create another dream. When a solution is offered as to how life should be lives, or how happiness, fulfilment can be achieved, we veer into propaganda, where struggle always leads to happiness and fulfilment.

But life is often harsher than that, and Tarkovsky wants to make sense of this harshness, and thereby soften it by cushioning it with memories, dreams and even hallucinations.

As well, dreams provide a metaphysical experience in that we move into an inner world of the characters, within the context of the outer world of history and politics and personal struggles.

This inner world is the realm of dreams, where narrative is subverted and lost time is remembered. This inner world also functions to highlight the perfectibility of the individual. However, whether this perfectibility is available to human beings is a question that cannot be addressed in Tarkovsky’s films because wide gap that lies between the world of dreams and the world of reality.

It is this gap that is the source of tension and lack that permeates and affects the characters in a film such as “Sacrifice,” especially Alexander, whose discourses can only be verbal dreams at best.

And his discourse stands in direct opposition to the flow of reality outside, such as the road, which leads forever onwards, but we cannot know to what ultimate destination. In the same way, the horses that bookend “Andrei Rublev” are allegories of the disruptive force of dreams, which barge into the passive flow of mundane reality with all of their escapism, their visions of perfectibility, and their allure of a pastoral, peaceful, and harmonious past.

As discourse, dreams become the lens through which society and the individual are read. They are not so much as wishful thinking, or repressed desire; rather they are a very real force, which can shed light on the disparity of life, and the process of alienation that is part of the modern experience.

It is for this very reason that dreams function as allegories. For example, “Ivan’s Childhood” is layered with many war stories. These stories do not function to give meaning to the larger plot; however, they do serve as allegories of perfectibility.

Through their lens we confront values such as loyalty, memory, and courage. These stories also serve to create a dream world, which is a combination of hallucination and reality, which is rather typical of Tarkovsky’s method.

This combination is reflected in the narrative as well, in that the mother often intervenes, as the war stories are being told. As well, we have the juxtaposition of Ivan’s child-like innocence and his ability to kill as a guerilla fighter.

Even here we see the particular combination of the ideal and the real – the child-like Ivan is also a seasoned killer. Perhaps this is why Ivan dreams of a hand in the beginning of the film, for a hand can both build and destroy.

In this way, Ivan as a character frequently crosses the boundaries between dream and reality, and thereby he justifies his own life, which is a complex unity of innocence and bloodshed.

Once when we are given perfectibility in dreams, we are therefore also shown a dis-junction between the inner and the outer worlds.

This is well portrayed in “Andrei Rublev,” here the religious fervor of the icon painter Rublev is juxtaposed with a harsh, medieval world that cares little for beauty and art.

The traditional icons underscore the process of perfectibility, where despite the disjunction that one experiences in the world outside, the inner world becomes a complex realm where wholeness and harmony can be achieved and the emptiness of the modern world thwarted.


The photo shows “The Former,” by Ivan Vladimirov, painted ca. 1919.

Sin: A Brief History

What is sin? Is it merely religious transgression, or is it the very foundation of human culture? If we understand culture to be the expression of humanity’s search for meaning, then the idea of sin is the nub of all that makes us human: our need for morality, our need for private choice and private space, our erotic desires and pleasures, our fears, our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, and our religious hopes.

Because sin is an intensely human experience (the intriguing notion that other living things also sin disappeared very quickly in the course of civilization), it is found in all parts of the world, and from the very earliest recorded history.

The notion of sin is found in the earliest of human cultures; perhaps sin is the earliest expression of human desire, for it sets us apart from the instinctive drive of the animal world. Desire is very different from instinct because it is constructed by individual and social necessity.

The sinful individual is intensely human, because to sin is to be wrong, which implies the knowledge of rightness. The first stirrings, the pale residue of sin may be discerned in the most ancient of human expressions – animism. What does sin mean for an animistic culture?

This question brings into focus the interplay of the cosmological ramifications of personal choice and action – our deeds when right are constructive; when wrong are sinful and destructive. But for the shaman, sin is an imbalance between the community and forces that may bring harm. This imbalance may be remedied by ritual propitiation alone.

Thus was sin associated with personal and social obligations, wherein it became the duty of the community to restore the correct balance between the social group (the humans) and the more powerful forces inherent in the world at large.

When we begin to look civilization, we become more deeply involved with sin, because sin becomes not only a communal problem but an individual one. Therefore, the earliest civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China) saw sin in legalistic terms, as a contractual breech, for it was a transgression against society – individual action destroys the community.

This gave birth to the various law-codes which were the very first to evaluate and quantify sin – in order to establish remedial redress. This led to the establishment of the idea of paying for one’s sins; that is, the association of sin with personal responsibility.

Once this connection with the individual was established (as, for example, described in The Epic of Gilgamesh), then the idea of sin was translated into religious terms, in that the individual could sin against society and against the gods, both of which involved different methods of payment.

The Greeks saw sin as harmatia (literally, “to go amiss”). This view brought the notion of personal shortcoming into the equation, in that sin resulted when a person had personal defects (such as hubris).

This led to the development of ethics (duty, what ought to be done); that is, human beings should strive to be perfect. When they stop striving to be perfect, they sin.

Thus, with the Greeks, sin acquired philosophical shape; it was no longer misguided personal action, an upsetting of some sacred balance, or a willful act which could be compensated – rather, sin became a method whereby one could understand what was good for human beings and for society.

The Romans maintained this idea, adding only the concept  of civic identity – sin (peccatum) became deviation from the norm, from what the larger population maintained and believed.

It is with the Jews that sin takes on questions of purity and defilement. The Hebrew term for sin, avera, is closely associated with another Hebrew term, avon (“lust).

Here, we see for the first time the association of defilement with desire and thus with sin – a sinful person lusts after more than what he or she has and thus becomes physically dirty, an outcast, since his desire leads him or her astray, and he or she becomes defiled (who should not be touched), and who needs not only ritual cleansing, but also spiritual cleansing. Here lies the link of sin with evil.

For the Hebrews, sin became an offence against God, because a lustful person sought more than what God has allotted him or her. Further, it is with the Jews that sin becomes associated with atonement, through prayer. Here, an intriguing link with sin and language is established, in that it is possible to erase defilement by verbal redress. The importance of the word for the Jews (akin to the Greek concept of language) becomes part of the process of overcoming sin. Thus, we see for the first time, the link with repentance, which will be fully validated by Christianity.

The association of sin with evil stems neither from the Greeks nor the Jews; this legacy is found further east – in ancient Iran. The idea of good and evil (the Devil) is the contribution of Zoroaster, the semi-legendary sage of Persia of long ago, who taught that falsehood is the greatest sin, which can be overcome by truth, and that sin the emanation of the evil forces of the universe, who seek to subvert the inherent goodness within humankind.

The torch of the Roman empire passed to the Christian West, and the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian concepts of sin (falsehood, deviation and defilement) were incorporated into Christian culture – but with a twist – in that humankind was now regarded as sinful not because of personal acts or deeds, but because of their state of being – that is, a person was born sinful, through no fault of his or her own. It was with Christianity that sin became solely associated with theology.

Since sin was innate, the need for atonement was therefore far greater, in that individual deeds were no longer enough – God Himself had to step in (through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ).

Further, the only way sin could be innate was to regard the soul itself as sinful. But because God was also now associated with sin, the notion of atonement was superseded by the concept of repentance (one had now only to trust God and recognize that one’s soul was indeed sinful and therefore needed God’s help).

Consequently, various human failings humans were seen not as being harmful to the body and the community, but to the soul itself. Sin no longer upset the balance, or defiled a person – it now robbed the soul of eternal life. Christianity gave sin a far larger role in human life than it previously had had, in that sin was now associated with redemption.

The Christian notion of innate sinfulness led to further refinement of sin: the association of sin with hell (the proverbial Seven Deadly Sins), fear, sexuality, pleasure, and desire.

However, in the Christian scheme of things, and in a paradoxical way, not every instance of sex, pleasure and desire were sinful – only the utter engrossment in their pursuit was sinful, which made the person forget the true purpose of life (faith in God).

Thus, sin became s measuring rod of how religious, how faithful, how honest, how true, how noble a person could be.

Is the concept of sin still relevant? In our age where religion and morality are no longer central to the way we live, does sin exist today? We have associated it with global morality (greenhouse gases, rampant consumerism, greed, genocide).

How will we continue look at sin in the burgeoning technological age? Despite our desire to be pluralistic, we are inheritors of a very clear understanding of sin (as traced in the previous chapters), to which we resolutely adhere. Sin is now firmly connected with guilt (the result of excessive pleasure, or hedonism). Perhaps this perception of sin fits our age of unbounded consumerism and materialism.

As for the future, it is interesting to note that we have projected sin into outer space – we seek new worlds because we innately fear that we have irreparably destroyed our own.

Are we unwittingly enacting the myth of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden? Is the exploration of outer space an act of redemption, atonement, for the way we have defiled the earth? Is the realization of our sin (the selfish way that we continue to live) make us hope and dream that we can begi again on some distant planet? And will we take sin along with us?

Sin is still firmly grounded in the need for salvation, even if we understand salvation in secular terms – that is, the desire to redeem ourselves from our own willful and destructive acts.

To trace the history of sin is to trace the history of humanity itself. The idea of sin has been part of the human experience from the very beginning.

In fact, we may conclude from this history that each culture and civilization has understood sin in its own way; or rather created sin in its own image.

Perhaps human beings need sin in order to be human, since ultimately sin is the conceptualization of frailty and imperfection – and the strong desire to transcend both these shortcomings sometime in the future.


The photo shows, “The Remorse of Orestes,” by William Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1862.

Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair-trade coffee as a product which is being produced and consumed within a complex of values such as ethics, economic disparity, geographical boundaries, political realities, and environmental considerations.

And this complex involves the largest consumers of coffee who live in the richer northern hemisphere of this planet, and the various growers of coffee who inevitably live in the poorer, and often impoverished southern hemisphere, such as, Mexico.

But is appears that fair-trade coffee has forced the consumer to make ethical choices about personal consumption, since eating can no longer be a neutral act – it involves a whole array of forces that must be negotiated before coffee can be poured into a cup.

In the area of food production, globalization has meant that an industrial model has replaced the traditional family farm. Food is no longer produced by a farmer, but by large conglomerates whose aim is to produce food on an immense scale in order to minimize cost and increase profit.

This means that the bulk of the food we eat is produced not by farmers but labourers or workers who simply tend crops on land owned by conglomerates. Even when small farmers do grow product, such as coffee, they usually must sell it middlemen who are part of the conglomerate structure, since they have no other method to sell what they have grown.

And in this industrial structure, the profit is at the top-end; the worker in the field simply gets a wage. In effect, the very role of the family farm has been eradicated by this industrial model of food production, since the individual cannot access the marketing structures of the conglomerate food growing operation.

Moreover, by selling to the conglomerates, the individual farmer does not control the fluctuation of commodity prices that is the reality of trade when carried out in vast quantities. All too often, individual farmers tend to one-crop operations. For example, in North America, most farmers grow corn to be used as feed for the massive beef and dairy industries. Most farmers do not grow food that can be sold directly to consumers.

Food, as a result, is now produced in a highly centralized fashion, and distributed to the consumer by equally large grocery store chains, which also share the same corporate structure as that practised by the producers of food – namely, bulk production to lower production cost and increase profit.

Such vast structures in food production and distribution has led to dissent – those that see such structures as inherently unethical, in that the production of food has been taken away from the individual farmer and placed into the hands of food factories, for lack of a better term.

One such form of dissent is the “fair-trade” movement, which seeks to restructure the production and distribution of food (as well as other items) so that the family-farm can again be made important in the job of feeding people. Briefly, the fair-trade movement suggests that the “conglomeratization” of food production is inherently an ethical issue – that it is unfair that the money is made at the top-end of the food production chain, while those that actually get their hands dirty, literally, and cultivate the crops, see very little of that profit, other than their wages.

As well, this often meant that the imbalance further distanced the have and have-not nations of the world, with the haves being in the northern hemisphere and the have-nots being in the southern hemisphere. It was in Europe that this dissent first acquired a formal organization under the term, “alternative trade organizations,” or ATOs.

The purpose of these ATOs would be to purchase goods from family-farms or farming cooperatives, more of than not in the southern hemisphere, and then establish a system of distribution of these goods in the northern hemisphere.

These ATOs would also do two things. First, they would get rid of the various middle-men who profited from food production by simply facilitating the movement of goods from source to consumer (such middle-men are part of the food conglomerates); and second, they would instil in the consumer the sense that eating, or consumption, is not a neutral act – it can either be ethical or unethical.

The point being that by consuming goods distributed by the conglomerates, one was enriching the rich, and therefore being unethical, while on the other by purchasing fair-trade goods one consumed ethically, by ensuring that labour was properly paid for, and profit shared in direct opposition to the tradition industrial mode – the bulk of it going to the bottom-end, that is, at the level of the individual consumer.

The largest fair-trade commodity, and the first to be handled using the ATO model, is coffee, which is a product that clearly highlights the level of economic disparity between the coffee consumer (almost always in the rich northern hemisphere), and the coffee grower (always located in the impoverished southern hemisphere).

This means that coffee has become an important cultural product, in which social values, economics, and politics have blended. Since the issues of economics and politics lie well beyond the scope of this paper (although they cannot fully be treated as bearing no influence on the topic at hand), the focus will primarily be on the social values that are set into motion each time a cup of free-trade coffee is drunk. And these social values are clearly demonstrated at the level of consumption.

Ethics is the most important value that comes to the fore. When a consumer sees the label “fair-trade coffee” in the context of other, non-fair-trade coffee, there is a subtle manipulation at play.

The consumer is being told that free-trade coffee is not a product of the conglomerate, the immense “coffee factory.” Rather, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, the consumer is being asked to support a structure that markedly works against the conglomerate. In other words, the consumer is being made aware of an important fact – that spending money is not only a form of personal acquisition – it is also an ethical act – that money must be spent in such a way that it gives equal value to all.

There is a big difference between the terms “value” and “profit.” On an immediate level, “profit” lies at the heart of the industrial model and is intimately linked to another important term, “growth.” Industry needs to continually grow in order to maintain its profitability.

This is why there is always a stress on growth, so that the one year must show greater gains than the previous year. Not showing such gain means stagnation – that one year is as same the as previous. “Value,” on the other hand, means involves an altogether different emphasis. Instead of “growth,” the stress is on “sustainability” – the notion that production should be maintained at a certain level.

Sustaining the livelihood of an individual farmer carries an entirely different set of assumptions than growth and profitability in industry. Therefore, the consumer is asked to contribute, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, towards sustainability – and at the same to walk away from the industrial model.

However, this choice becomes a complex one when retailers who are conglomerates themselves become involved. For example, what does fair-trade coffee become when being sold at Starbucks? And is sustainability possible if large retailers demand more and more fair-trade coffee? Or the danger that the profit model will be re-manipulated?

Perhaps in response to this involvement of large retailers, there has been a further refinement of fair-trade coffee – namely, “shade coffee,” which is coffee grown beneath the canopy of forests, since the coffee plant is shade-loving. Shade coffee has brought the issue of the environment in the choice that the consumer must make. And sustainability means not only sustaining the individual farmer, but sustaining the environment.

The opposite of shade coffee is sun coffee which is a plant that has been genetically altered to yield a higher crop. But, sun coffee requires cleared land that then needs to be heavily fertilized.

Sun coffee is having a devastating effect on the environment – it is contributing to the disappearance of various species of birds. Shade coffee, on the other hand, uses traditional approaches to growing coffee beneath trees and is therefore environmentally friendly, as it encourages biodiversity, and is often grown on family farms.

Since shade coffee needs the canopy of trees to grow, the participation of large retailers in marketing and selling shade coffee will mean greater environmental sustainability, since trees will not have to cut down.

But will this mean the small coffee farmer can also be sustained? It would appear that slapping ethical labels on food is part and parcel of our continuing moral decline – we want to be good, but we no longer know how to be good – and this opens us up to all kinds of economic exploitation.


The photo shops, “Automat,” by Edward Hopper, painted in 1927.

The Early American Republic

The two-party system that is at the heart of the American political structure, in which the Democratic party has consistently played an important role, in that it has always sought and won the support of working people, since it claims to be a party of the common man. This claim has a long pedigree, and its roots lie in the election of Andrew Jackson, in 1828.

The years immediately preceding Jackson’s election saw the granting of voting rights to white males of all classes; as was customary at the time, women and slaves were excluded from the political process.

This was an important step forward, since previous to 1810, only men with property had the right to vote. Thus, by the time Jackson ran for the presidency, his voter-base was significantly increased, and his during the election some 54 percent of the voters turned out to cast their votes.

Thus, when Jackson won, his victory was seen as a triumph of the common man, and it also highlighted the importance of public opinion in a democratic government.

But this victory also served to heighten the profound differences between the industrialized north and the slave-economy of the south. Thus Jackson’s election brought crucial issues of class, labor, and federal power into greater focus.

Jackson’s politics depended upon a fundamental belief that the average person should run politics, rather than a few, patrician families. And Jackson saw himself as just such a common man, given his great experience in the army, and his stress on being in tune with the needs of the ordinary man.

In fact, many saw him as the personification of the rugged, American frontier spirit, which was seen as the spirit of American democracy, and inherently superior to European culture.

Jackson was viewed as an agrarian, which was the condition of the majority of Americans at the time, and his loss of his parents at an early age was used in his favor, as a tough, man of the people. As well, with Jackson, the Democratic Party came into its own, and became an important player on the political stage; in fact, Jackson’s was the party’s first president.

He initiated the first labor reforms by establishing a ten hour work day for federal shipyard workers; he was in favor of the abolition of debtors’ prison, where those who owned money were put in jail, until they paid their dues; and more importantly, he championed the mechanics’ lien law, which tackled the widespread abuse of bankruptcies laws by businesses, which previously could go out of business in order to pocket the back-wages of their workers.

Jackson’s vision of America also involved his notions of freedom and power. He believed in negative liberalism, inn that he believed that government power was in fact interfering to individual, person liberty.

He believed that individuals have to be independent, and that political independence only comes as a result of economic independence. Therefore, governments had to be restricted to a minimum, so they would not interfere with the wishes of the people.

This meant that Jackson favored a strict construction of the Constitution, strong rights for the states, and drawing support from government projects that did not benefit all of the people.

Henry Clay and the Whig Party held an entirely different view. They believed in “positive liberalism,” in which the government could actively make society better through institutional reforms.

Economic progress of the nation was seen to depend on government help, and private businesses were to be supported by the government. Thus, for the Whigs, there was a need for a strong, centralized government, a loose construction of the Constitution, especially the use of the “necessary and proper” clause that would fit any situation in order to advance the power of the government.

The Whigs also believed that men were entirely in charge of their own destinies, and therefore government of the people had to make a positive difference in the lives of the people.

This strongly federalist view was embodied in Henry Clay’s American System, which was ultimately a nationalist program. It sought the establishment of a national bank; it advocated a special tariff that would promote and protect domestic industry, and it promoted internal improvements, financially backed by the Congress.

The Whig vision of America called for a nation in which economic development was promoted and greatly diversified; in which dependence on imports would be significantly reduced; in which the various parts of the nation would come together and work harmoniously.

Thus, a Whig America would one in which the industrial future would be fully embraced, which would allow America to become a great manufacturing and commercial power.

In fact, Henry Clay’s, and the Whig’s, vision was largely accomplished, in that many of the elements of the American System were brought into practice by the Republican Party, which succeeded the Whigs.

The photo shows, “Young America,” by Thomas Leclear, painted  in 1863.

Luther, Father Of Secularism

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (which would later be called, Protestantism)).

This is when an obscure German monk decided that it was up to him to finally establish real Christianity in the world, because the faith had been hijacked by paganism embodied by Roman Catholicism. He was going to return Christianity to what Christ meant it to be.

Of course, he could never point out in history where he could find the first, original church.

This monk wanted a purer faith, a faith that was immediate, uncluttered by show and ceremony, freed of all superstition, mysticism and obscurantism.

Most important of all, he wanted a faith that had no need of authority of any kind, and so he preached that the true church lay inside the heart of each believing Christian. Therefore, anything other than faith was just nonsense, or worse, anything other than faith was a system designed to oppress and enslave and must be destroyed.

The name of this monk was Martin Luther (1483-1546), the man responsible for laying the foundation of the secular world.

There is no point in getting into the whys and wherefores of the entire Reformation and Luther’s rebellion – all those have been often told and many books have been written in the subject.

It is far more fruitful to look at the consequences of what Luther taught, and more importantly the kind of world that he created, which is his true legacy.

His most immediate contribution is the de-sacralization of the world, in that daily life is not connected to God, which means that the only real obligation that human beings have to God is to simply believe in Him – and everything else will be fine (this is the famous, “faith alone” doctrine).

What this means is that God is a personal choice because, as Luther explains, the true church is inside each of us, and we need to tend that inner church by personal meditation through Scripture and prayer.

This means that the institution of the church is not needed at all. This has always made the organized church itself very problematic for Protestants, and this has always caused questions as to whether a church building is actually needed or not. We have to keep in mind that in the early days, tearing down churches was a common activity among Protestants (the famous “Beeldenstorm“).

As well, Protestants were iconoclasts, and as such had a very negative view of the arts in general, especially music.

Given this problematic relationship to the institution, the arch-enemy was always the Roman Catholic Church, which maintained that it was the true, historical church, as founded by Christ, through his disciple Peter, the very first Bishop of Rome. Of course, it had history to back up this claim.

Luther denied this priority and in its place stressed the individual – who became his own priest. This is why in most Protestant traditions, there is no priesthood; there are only ministers, whose function is to teach and preach the Gospel.

To further this radical departure from the historical church, Luther also revamped the Bible by taking out books of the Old Testament that he deemed did not belong (this is now known as the Apocrypha). The logic behind this editing was that these books were corruptions introduced by the Roman Catholics. Here Luther was simply demonstrating his own ignorance.

This stress on the self also meant that each individual could construct his own parameters of morality, whatever those might be, as guided by his inner chuirch. In fact, Luther famously denied the Ten Commandments any kind of authority. For him, they were simply leftovers from a primitive understanding of God. This established the strain of anti-establishment that weaves throughout western culture.

As well, the strong propaganda against Catholicism that the Protestants engaged in, especially the groundless charge that since the Roman Catholic Church was essentially pagan, it had always conspired to keep the real truth of the Gospel from the people – gained prominence.

How this could possibly have happened, the Protestants never bothered to explain. It was simply enough to state this charge, and then repeat it often until it became fact. There are similar such baseless charges, and these collectively are known as the “Black Legend.”

Thus, the Protestants were the first conspiracy theorists, and the first creators of “fake news.” And, the tradition of conspiracy theories has had very, very long legs.

For example, the claim that Christmas is an old pagan sun festival which the Catholics adopted is a very old charge first invented by Protestants – and the Protestants always railed against celebrating the birthday of Jesus.

This narrative is repeated so often that it now passes off as true. Of course, no one bothers to look at why this cannot be true (as there is no historical evidence to back up any of it, other than a lot of opining).

Thus, the grand-old tradition of “concealed truth” remains a very powerful pastime and is so widely used that it has become a scholarly strategy of sorts.

This assertion then leads to another theme that runs throughout Protestantism, namely, that the Roman Catholic Church is illegitimate, corrupt, and pagan. These charges have had a very deep influence in the modern world, namely, the marginalization of Christianity in society, which is also known as secularism.

By denying that the church has any meaningful role to play in society (since the individual is his own priest and can perfectly look after his own spiritual needs), morality itself becomes fragmented – and this gives rise to a curious secular invention – the State-as-Church.

The state takes on all the privileges once retained by the church (especially the instruction in moral care of the self and of the world), and becomes the sole dispenser of what society might need – by way of legislation.

So, from the earliest days, Luther enabled the state to become far more powerful than it needed to be, because there were no real moral checks that could be placed upon it – since the individual cannot be an institution.

Since God was a private choice, the world could be managed perfectly well without Him. Al these assumptions, or “truths” are the hallmark of contemporary secularism.

As well, it is important to point out that a major component of secularism is atheism, and another likely unintended result of Luther’s ideas.

It is always easy to deny God’s existence when He is denied in the social sphere. Since all God wants is belief (faith), and He is not interested in people doing good works, then it is not all that difficult to say, “I don’t need to believe in God anymore.”

In other words, Luther makes the man-God relationship a very arbitrary one, and even a very casual one. He famously said that it was good to sin boldly, since actions had nothing to with salvation (which could easily be obtained by simply saying, “I believe”)

This may seem a harsh assessment, but it is important to look at the consequences of ideas, since ideas always have consequences.

And here, of course, Luther falls apart. Since ideas have consequences, then it is certainly not enough to simply believe and then carry on doing all kinds of nefarious and nasty things.

Here, the usual answer is that by believing in God, a person’s life is transformed for the better. That may well be, but the point remains, that the stress on faith alone cuts loose personal responsibility from action.

But this is where the state steps in with legislation. Since God neither rewards good deeds nor punishes bad ones, then it is the job of the state to do so. This is the basis of the famous separation of church and state.

Of course, Luther himself never really believed in this separation, because the church was an internal property and could never be manifested in the world. Thus, the state was all that existed in the world, and the state could act and behave like God.

Here, too, we have the germ of communism and socialism, which have had an appalling record when it comes to cruelty.

Given all this, what was the point of the Reformation? It was one man’s ego trip. Why? Simply look at the demise of the Protestant churches, with their graying members and empty pews, and the flight of youth from church buildings – and right into the arms of the state, which offers them heady ideas like social justice, human rights, and legislated free speech. And where do these ideas actually come from?

Who needs the church? This is the one question that Protestants have a very tough time answering, because each man is his own church. And therein lies Luther’s greatest contribution to the modern world – alienation and atomization which haunt us all.


The photo shows, “Luther Posting His 95 Theses,” by Ferdinand Pauwels, painted in 1872.