18 November 2012

Politics: duty, religion, and/or the masses?

A minister friend of mine was asked about the recent US election and the disappointment voiced by those who put their faith in their version of a god and saw their candidate lose. He was asked how people in this situation should react. It got me thinking about the political process and the philosophical implications behind it.

The two predominant philosophies are either a) do what is best for the most (Bentham, Mill) or b) do what is best for duty to the most (Hegel, Kant). Very similar and the subtle differences is where the argument begins. Neither assumes any religiosity but I will attempt to interject that position as well (to satisfy the above).

In the first case, the argument is that politics should reflect what is the best for the most people possible. Some would argue that this is a derivation of Socialism, and without minutiae it is. But this in no way suggests that the result of an election represent this in any way. Popular vote does not equal beneficial for the most. What would would be a person elected who has the primary task of determining what the largest group needs and then providing it. In no way does this reflect the idea that the will of the people does the most good.

What is lost here is the subtle implications of what "beneficial to most" really means. In Nazi Germany it meant what benefitted the Aryan people the most. Under the Holy Roman Empire, Catholics (the minority) were those who benefited the most. Both cases the true meaning of "most" is lost. In this case is where religion intercedes and determines not only who the "most" is, but how they would best be benefited. In short, it is a facade concealing a dictatorship.

The second case seems the most obvious, until one argues what a duty is. Kant wrote his magnum opus on just that question, as did Kant. And yet to this day the argument of what is "duty" is still unanswered. To use the Holy Roman Empire example, the duty of a person was to attend mass, tithe, and follow the edicts of the Church. This duty was one proscribed by "god". But while the Empire was in command of vast areas, those who were Catholic were in the actual minority. What then of the veracity of duty?

To borrow from Rorty's public/private language construct, if a group of serial killers and a group of suicidal people were to form their own country, then the duty would be clearly defined as the killers would kill those who wished to die. Of course this is a ludicrous example, but it does serve to illustrate the ambiguity of the concept of "duty".

How then to resolve? If one discounts duty as being illogical and best for all as impossible, then the only solution is to follow Nietzsche's solution to eternal recurrence: to do whatever one wishes that is outside what is expected. To be who one wishes to be without law or deference to others. It is the base concept behind his Zarathustra.

The argument goes that religion and duty only serve to shackle a person and since one is bound to live the same life for eternity, in order to not be a slave, one must cast the shackles off at every opportunity. Proto-anarchy. It is not pure anarchy, which is completely lawless. One still follows the laws that are beneficial to oneself, ones that would benefit all lifetimes for eternity. In this regard one incurs Existential angst, but the benefit outweighs the cost.

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