torstai 24. toukokuuta 2012

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on the social life of men and especially on the community - The enlightened despot

The origin of households in the Wolffian system is the desire for intercourse, together with the obligation to care for the possible outcome of the intercourse, that is, children. Now, Wolff suggests that household by itself cannot satisfy all needs of a human being. At most, a life constricted to a household can satisfy only basic needs, but this would be only animal and not human life – the households could not provide for the future nor would they be able to care for higher needs like science and arts. Wolff even invokes the Hobbesian argument that a life without a community of men would be a life of fear, because anyone could be killed by other people.

A community or a state is then created by households entering into a mutual contract that aims at the general well-being of all of them – note that it is the head of the houshold that gets to decide the loalty of everyone in his family. Wolff obediently notes all the six classical possibilities with the traditional names derived from Aristotle: the good constitutions or monarchy, aristocracy and polity and their corrupted variants or tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Wolff then does allow the possibility of ”polities” or republics ruled by majority votes, although he notes that they are often hindered by party politics. Still, the rest of the book is clearly meant for absolute or constitutional monarchies, where the king has all or at least majority of power in his hands. Wolff's task is to enlighten the German despots and make their minds accessible to reforms their states required.

Wolffian ideal of society contains some characteristics that justify calling him an enlightenment philosopher. For instance, Wolff encourages kings to found schools, colleges and universities for educating people in sciences and handicrafts, to build hospitals and apothecaries for serving the sick and to make the cities beautiful for all senses by filling them with works of art and by making sure that nothing stinks. Then again, the main interest of Wolff in politics is the upholding of public morality, which gives Wolff's suggestions a moralizing tone. Thus, Wolff suggests that only art that teaches morals is to be accepted and that a state should be filled with buildings for public moral preaching. The most extreme suggestion from modern standpoint is that all punishments should happen in public in order that potential criminals would think twice of their immoral intentions.

The idea of places for public moral preaching is interesting as a not so veiled attempt to promote churches as necessary for the well-being of the state – the attempt becomes even more apparent, when Wolff notes that belief in God is almost a prerequisite for a moral society. True, Wolff has admitted that morality is possible without religion. Wolff even goes so far as to accept China as an atheist state that has one of the best constitutions in the world – as we shall see, this admission will be fatal to Wolff's carrieer. Still, Wolff is convinced that majority of atheists will be scoundrels incapable of living in community with other people.

Wolffian politics is then not so much interested of the welfare of the people, but of their morality – although bodily and mental welfare is, of course, part of moral perfection in Wolffian system. Thus, it is just natural that in Wolff's opinion laws of a state should be based on the law introduced already in Wolff's moral writings, that is, the natural law. Wolff does allow some changes to be made to the natural law in case when following it would be extremely difficult. For instance, natural law determines that a child should become independent, when she has all the necessary skills for taking care of herself. Yet, because it is often hard to determine the exact time when a person has become mature in his actions, state must make a concession and determine some fixed age at which everyone is to be considered an adult.

Natural law is for Wolff even a higher authority than state. Usually one must obey the rulers of one's state, but if the rulers break the natural law, people are not committed to obeying them. Thus, if a king tries to murder someone, the attemped victim has the right to defend herself. Yet, Wolff advices people to resist the ruler's will only in the cases where one's own well-being is threatened or where one is commanded to do immoral things. Hence, if a despot threatens to kill your neighbours, you have no obligation to help them – unless you happen to be the soldier who is to pull the trigger.

Wolffian system of politics appears then to have no true stopgap for tyrants and dictators. True, Wolff does advise kings to limit their own power and become as symbolic rulers as king of Sweden or queen of England are nowadays. Wolff even justifies this adivce through a comparison with the universal monarch or God, who leaves the actual government of the world to humans. Yet, there is no guarantee that a tyrant would follow Wolff's advice. Indeed, Wolff can only hope that religion and the fear of God would stop kings from tyrannical behaviour – a rather poor hope when Wolff has just congratulated God of not meddling in human affairs.

The individual states are then related like individual persons to one another, and just like persons ideally act like self-enclosed monads, so should states have no concern for the international community. Positive in this isolationism is that Wolff thinks all warfare to be evil and justifiable only as a self-defence – although Wolff does accept also reasonable suspicision of evil intentions as a reason for self-defence, somewhat like American head of state before the attack to Iraq. But Wolff appears to be blind to the invisible economic battle that his mercantilist tendencies generate – Wolff advices states to horde as much money as possible, which in effect make economic co-operation impossible in international level.

So much then for Wolffian politics. Next time I'll have something to say about the generation of Wolffian school.

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