By Olaf Stapledon
Taken from Philosophy (Volume 24)
TWO rival passions are at work in men's hearts to-day, the cult of individuality and the cult of society. They give rise all too often to extravagant praise of liberty and to a no less extravagant insistence on discipline for society's sake.
It is impossible to form a balanced idea of the functions of liberty and discipline, or of the right relation between the individual and his social environment, without having a clear view of the nature of personality and community. I offer a brief and dogmatic sketch of this subject.
A personality is the product of the impact of the objective universe, past and present, on a particular experiencing subject.
I do not wish to imply that a "subject" is necessarily a substance (in the philosophical sense) or a metaphysical ego, or an immortal soul. Whether such eternal individual spirits exist or not, I do not pretend to know. I do not even, by the word "subject," pledge myself to what Professor Broad has called a "centred theory" of the nature of mind, I do not know whether a mind is a system of experiences united in an enduring centre, as the spokes of a wheel are united in the hub; or whether it is a centreless "net" of experiences all related together in a special way. By "subject" I mean only "that which experiences," whatever the true philosophical account of it. I mean the seeming focus or centre of experience and action. This focus is in some sense located in time and space, in fact it is located within the organism. For my purpose the subject is simply that to which experience happens, and that which responds with conscious behaviour. I do not wish to raise the epistemological problem. I merely assume the rejection of solipsism, and the reality of an objective universe which the individual experiences, however imperfectly.
Pure subjectivity is nothing but a completely featureless abstraction, a bare possibility of experience of some kind or other. It is through the intercourse of the subject with the objective universe that the subject assumes character and purpose. It "espouses" needs that are in principle objective to its own bare subjectivity. For instance it espouses the need of its own particular body for food, rest, sexual activity and so on. It is aware of its body as a going concern and espouses its dynamic nature. It also espouses the dynamic needs of its own psychological self or person, its felt "me" which includes the need for fullness of personal life, for self-aggrandizement in a score of ways, such as intellection, constructiveness, self-respect, and successful participation in society. These needs also are objective to it as subject. They emerge from the interaction of the external world and the inherited and acquired nature of its own body and psychical dispositions, the felt needs 9f its objective "me." The inherited part of its nature is itself the outcome of the intercourse of past environments and past subjects.
Not all its personal needs are necessarily espoused. Some are consciously rejected for the sake of other needs, deemed more important. Some remain hidden from view, "in the unconscious." Some, owing to unconscious influences, are presented to consciousness in a very distorted form.
The subject, the conscious individual, may espouse, in addition to his own personal needs, the needs of other persons, in so far as these happen to come within his mental horizon; or rather in so far as his horizon extends to include cognizance of other persons as actual centres of experience and activity. This espousal of other persons as ends, and not merely as means to self-increase, is seen most clearly in full personal love, of which I shall presently say more.
The needs which the subject espouses may be either the actual objective needs of persons, including his own personality and others, or they may be fictitious needs, or needs misconceived, owing to faulty cognition; as when one individual mistakes the character of another (or of himself); or when, in reading a novel, we desire the triumph of some imaginary person; or when we hypostatize an abstraction, and personify it. For instance, we may personify a group of individuals, such as a nation.
Subjectivity, is not to be thought of as simply the expression of an objective environment in a certain merely passive centre. The subject is itself active throughout, both in apprehending the environment, and in responding. And responding involves active espousal of the objective needs. The fact that the subject is not merely passive but active involves the possibility of error and perversion, and the espousal of merely illusory needs. A mind is no mere excerpt from the actual world; it is what the subject does with the world's impact on it. For instance, in intellection it may seek to pass beyond the given to the not-given, and in doing so it ,may make mistakes.
I cannot help employing the concepts of "growth" and "perversion." The growth of a personality seems to consist of increasingly accurate and comprehensive and integrated awareness of the objective universe; along with increasingly appropriate feelings about things in the universe, and the universe as a whole; and also increasingly appropriate, integrated and creative action in relation to the universe and its members. The "appropriate" attitude to any need (taken in isolation from other needs) is to espouse it. But of course needs conflict, and the less important may have to be sacrificed to the more important. So far as I can see, the more "important" are those which either inhere in a wider objective field (the needs of two people all else being equal. are more important than the needs of one person), or those which emerge on higher levels of the growth of personality, and are qualitatively better than those of the lower levels. This statement is, of course, very controversial, and calls for detailed discussion; but this cannot be attempted here.
The "perversion" of a personality (and of course we are all perverted in one way or another) consists of aberration from the true line of growth, owing to obsessive concern for some particular minor need at the expense of major ones.
At every stage of the growth of the personality the subject is prejudiced in favour of the more intimate and familiar objective needs against the more remote and the newly discovered. The incursion of new fields of objectivity, alien to the current habit of the personality, is always repugnant to the established self, which fights for its life against the impact of the wider vision. If it succeeds in rejecting the vision, it survives; but at the price of stagnation within the narrow and familiar horizon. Its obsessive concern with one familiar or obtrusive section of the objective field may permanently blind it to wider spheres of objectivity. On the other hand, the vision of a wider field of objective reality, or of new depths or heights of reality, may overpower the familiar, restricted, unregenerate self; so that, in the long run or suddenly, it is transformed, or even killed and reborn as an ampler and more awake self.
This process of dying and rebirth. through the incursion of new fields of objective reality into the personality, may, owing to untoward circumstances, be permanently checked at any stage; or it may continue from birth to death by imperceptible degrees. But this gradual growing may also be punctuated by occasional phases of profound and revolutionary change, which more obviously merit the description, "death and rebirth." Probably the first of these occurs when the infant wakes to the realization of itself as a continuing conscious self, and of its mother as another self. Formerly it was interested only in sensory pleasures and pains, or (more accurately) in the intercourse of its body with the physical environment; but now it begins to be vaguely and disturbingly aware of "I" and "you"; and also of "we." And this "we" is an incomplete symbiosis of self-aware and other-aware persons, often in conflict, but sometimes mutually cherishing and mutually moulding.
In a sense, of course, this new kind of experience is a development of the earlier and purely sensory kind, but it cannot be fully described simply in terms of the "descriptive laws" of more primitive experience. It is a development of the range of awareness, in virtue of which a new field of objectivity, namely the field of personality and personal relations, intrudes into the incipient personality, presenting new values, not simply reducible to the old values. This new range of percipience may open up, little by little, the whole universe of personal intercourse, and the endless drama of the conflict between self-seeking and love.
Another of these revolutionary transformations of the personality may occur in adolescence, when the incursion of vast new fields of objectivity compels the young mind to "put off childish things." If, owing to some psychic trauma, interest still remains unconsciously fixed on the values of childhood, further awakening may become impossible.
At a later stage, another revolutionary change, gradual or sudden, may take the form of religious conversion. But there are two kinds of conversion, and only one of them is relevant here. A spurious conversion may be at heart nothing more than a passionately wishful reversion to ideas and values which should have been permanently outgrown. Of this kind is the religious experience that is mainly concerned with the conviction of individual salvation in a life to come. The genuine, the enlarging, the awakening kind of conversion is that in which, no matter what the doctrinal expression of the experience, the actual source of the revolutionary change in the personality is an intruding vision of new values emerging in the individual's intercourse with the world. Doctrines may sadly distort genuine the religious experience, and cramp the expanding personality. But the experience itself is a real waking to a new objective field of experience, and as such it is something capable of destroying the unregenerate self, and creating a new and ampler and more objectively aware self.
On the highest level, the process of waking to new fields of objectivity is perhaps best described as the discovery of the "spirit." By the "spirit" I mean not a metaphysical substance of any kind, certainly not a personal deity (of these I know nothing), but simply the ideal form of behaviour for all personal beings awakened to a certain level of self- and other-awareness. In fact "the spirit," whatever else it may be, is experienced simply as a way of life, as "the Way," as "Tao." It is the way of sensitive and intelligent awareness of the world, of precise and appropriate feeling about everything encountered in the world, and of appropriate, coherent and creative action for the expression of the spirit itself in the world. In fact the way of the spirit is the way of love and wisdom and creating in relation to the actual world.
The discovery of the spirit is first achieved, in an unclear and inarticulate way, when the young mind first genuinely loves, when it first becomes aware of "I" and "you" and "we," and finds that participation in a "we" is for it the way of life.
Similarly in its early ,delight in simple skills the young mind begins to discover another aspect of the spirit, one which may develop into delight in aesthetic activity, or, intellectual activity, or some form of creative social service. All this is revealed as intrinsically good because an expression of spirit, in fact as the appropriate intercourse of conscious beings and the objective environment.
The way of the spirit is essentially a way not for the isolated individual but for individuals in genuine community with each other. This is obviously true in the case of personal love and social service; but it is equally true, though less obviously so, in art and intellection. In their higher reaches these are essentially operations in and for a "we." And in the last resort the "we" is nothing less than the ideal community of all personal beings.
But fully awakened spiritual experience and conduct goes beyond sociality. The discovery of the spirit is not a fully "awakened", experience till it brings a profound conviction that, in some indescribable sense, individuals are essentially instruments for the manifestation of the spirit in their actual lives. The lover, for instance, must pass beyond the stage of simply cherishing the beloved, and simply delighting in the common "we." He must pass on to the conviction of the instrumentality of the two; and of the precious "we" itself, as indeed a vessel of something intrinsically good and of universal significance, in fact of the spirit. This fully awake discovery of the spirit is by no means inevitable. Indeed, it is probably rather rare. For most people, love is simply a cherishing of the beloved and a delighted participation in the common "we," without any sense of universal significance. This incompletely awake experience of love is "opaque," so to speak, not translucent. But in the more awake kind of loving the whole experience is irradiated by a sense of possession by a vision of something universal, or at any rate a sense of the universal significance of loving. The lover may well incline to use theistic language and say, "God loves through me, and what I love through her is God." He feels that every word and act and gesture becomes symbolic. Along with its intense particularity, each act of love seems to echo the loves of all the generations, and to actualise here and now, once more, the spirit. Perhaps I should mention that love, of course, is not necessarily sexual. I have referred to sexual love because, on the whole, it is the simplest and most vivid example.
Not only love, but also the other humanly developed activities may be gateways to the discovery of the spirit. For instance (and to repeat) the passion for understanding, or the passion for creative imagination, may waken into the sense that the concrete activity is not only good in itself but also good as being instrumental to the spirit's expression. Thus the creative thinker feels, "God thinks in me"; the creative artist, "God creates through me." These expressions have certainly an important metaphorical truth.
But this sense of instrumentality is all too likely to lead to the insistence on precarious metaphysical doctrines as a logical explanation of the experience. The spirit may be interpreted as actually a personal God for whose purposes we are instrumental. About all such metaphysical explanations we must be rigorously agnostic. Out of very loyalty to the spirit, we must always remember that human intellect and human language are far too crude to make any reliable statements about such difficult matters. To be true to the spirit intellectually we must remain strictly sceptical. By all means let us speculate; but let us beware of using the fragile structures of our speculation as a foundation for our religion.
Nevertheless, this strict agnosticism must not lead us to dismiss the actual experience of instrumentality as sheer delusion, due (for instance) to spiritually irrelevant childhood happenings. For such theories themselves are fragile structures. The experience of the spirit is unmistakably an experience at the topmost range of human "awakeness," and should be allowed to exercise full sway in guiding us, even though we cannot yet properly theorize about it.
For the understanding of the life of the spirit, personal love is the key experience. Not only is it the most direct path to the discovery of the spirit, but also no man without experience of personal love can properly understand what community is in any sphere. And the essential nature of love (genuine love, and not mere possessiveness) is that the lover is captured, so to speak, by a new vision of objective reality, namely of another person. whose needs and powers; whose whole unique personality, he "espouses."
In all love there is of course conflict between the lovers, as self-regarding and mutually hungry individuals; but also, in all genuine love the conflict is largely transcended through mutual cherishing, and the creation of the common "we." Each freely and gladly accepts a firm self-discipline for the other's sake, and for the "we." Thus conflict itself becomes a source of enrichment. Each, as an individual personality is moulded to a finer pattern, not without pain; and each rises to a higher plane of awareness. The prime motive of genuine love is not self-increase but sheer espousal of the other. Self-increase is, of course, incidentally sought, and does inevitably come. Or rather, the old self. though expecting increase, is transformed and destroyed; and an ampler self is born. a self which embraces the beloved, and the common "we"; a self that may also come to be aware of the universal significance of love as a. function of the spirit.
It is of extreme importance. particularly for the understanding of society, to realize that the common "we" is not a common "I," a sort of group-mind over and above the individual minds of the lovers. The "we" is a society of wholly distinct individuals of different characters, who freely espouse each other, and enter into a mutually moulding symbiosis. Love is essentially a freely willed partnership of independent beings, who gladly accept self-discipline, for the common "we." Maybe (I do not pretend to know) in our unconscious depths we are all rooted in a unified "collective unconscious"; but this is irrelevant to the understanding of conscious love.
Clearly this freely willed partnership of independent conscious beings is also what the good society should be, in any sphere, from the band of workmates to the ideal world-society of all mankind.
There are two prevalent false views of the good society. One is that it is simply an ingeniously contrived system of interdependent self-interests, in which each man, by looking after his own affairs intelligently and single-mindedly, contributes incidentally to the common good. Now it is true that in the good society self-interests must be so far as possible correlated in this way. Any healthy society must be, in the main, so adjusted that the self-interest of each finds its advancement in the service of all. But this system of inter-related self-interests is not all that the good society is. At bottom it must be a common "we"; not, of course of the same intimate kind as that of personal lovers, but none the less a consciously willed symbiosis of mutually cherishing and mutually moulding persons.
The other false view of the good society is that it is held together simply by gregarious feeling, that it is just a highly organized herd or ant's nest, in which each member is subjected utterly to the dictates of the herd. Each, of course, has his special function, but emotionally all conform to the herd pattern. And if anyone shows signs of eccentricity in behaviour or in thought, the herd at once imposes discipline. Here again there is no real common "we" but only an illusory common "I," a personification and deification of the herd. And the individual "I" itself becomes a mere shadow. It is prevented from being fully personal by its obsessive conformity to the herd conventions. And the discipline which it accepts, though not imposed by physical force, is none the less imposed. It is not genuine self-discipline, freely chosen by the lucid and independent personality.
In contrast, the true view of the good society is that it neither merely individualistic not merely gregarious, nor merely a mixture of the two. No society can be satisfactory unless it is held together not solely by these primitive impulses but also by the conscious will of its members for community. And this will for community is impossible save to those who have had some experience of the microcosmic society of personal lovers. Thus in the good society genuine personal love must be a widespread experience. And also the conscious recognition of the spirit as the supreme value must sufficiently common to exercise an influence on the whole society. Needless to say, no actual society approximates to the ideal save in a very low degree; but in some actual societies the motive of genuine community is not a wholly negligible factor.
In case of misunderstanding, I had better repeat that, of course, in the good society all the members cannot possibly be united with each other in personal love. Obviously love is a relation which can exist only between individuals in close personal contact with each other. My contention is merely that if the tone of society is to be good, many of the citizens must know at first hand what love is. The argument may be summarized as follows:
Needless to say, for the creation of a healthy society much else is necessary as well as the experience of personal love. For instance, the society must be organized in such a way that no group of citizens has reason to feel unjustly treated, or in any way seriously frustrated and prevented from contributing to the co-operative life of the society.
Having stated my view of personality and of community, I can at last consider the problem of liberty. The controversy over liberty is all too often a mere squabble between champions of the two false views of the good society. The one party assume that all restraint must necessarily be evil (though sometimes a necessary evil), because it limits the expression of individuality, The other party, regarding the individual as a mere unit in society, condemn his claim to freedom as silly or immoral. The only true happiness for the individual, they say, is that he should succeed in being an effective eye or hand or mouthpiece or mere tool of society.
The true solution of the problem of liberty follows from the true view of the nature of personality and community. But this principle has to be combined with a full realization of the imperfection of all existing societies and individuals, and the impossibility of maintaining such societies solely by applying the principles that are true for a fully developed society.
In the society of lovers there is no discipline save self-discipline. It is the very nature of love that it shall issue in free action for the sake of the beloved. Indeed it is of the very nature of personality that it shall act freely. In so far as a person is constrained by external authority, his personality is to that extent crippled. Personal action is spontaneous action in relation to a freely espoused objective field. If the field itself imposes action by physical violence or any other kind of constraint, the action is not fully personal but in some degree mechanical.
Further, the essentially personal kind of action is creative, in that it brings into being some bit of novelty that is significant for the individual or for other individuals. Creative action is essentially free, not in the sense that it is arbitrary or indeterminate, but in the more important sense that it is an expression of the subject's own personality and volition in relation to his whole environment. Creative action is in one sense determined by the environment (of physical events and personal needs); but it is determined through spontaneous subjective action, which, in virtue of its spontaneity, is always in some degree creative. Creative action can never be compelled to occur by external pressure. Of course, pressure may put the individual into such a situation that he may be stimulated into expressing his own free personal prowess in some creative act, so as to overcome the restrictions imposed on him; as when a man uses intelligence to overcome danger, or when a people is stimulated by a tyrannical social order into achieving a creative social revolution. But in every case the act itself has to be a spontaneous act of free personality. And such an act is only possible if the constraint has not gone far enough to destroy the personality of the agent. Robots, and also slaves whose personality has been completely subjugated, are incapable of creative action in any sphere, personal, political, intellectual, artistic or any other.
We may conclude that for the fulfilling of personality-in-community in the good society, a very high degree of individual liberty is necessary. Even in the good society, of course, there must be some discipline; but in the good society all discipline must be at bottom self-discipline, not externally imposed discipline. It must be self-discipline, imposed on the self-interested self by the socially aware self for the sake of the common "we"; or rather, strictly speaking, not simply for the common "we" but for the intruding vision of the spirit, which the actual "we" imperfectly manifests.
'Incidentally, discipline is needed by the individual himself for proper growth. Only if he suffers some measure of tension between his individualistic impulses and his loyalty to a wider field of objectivity, will he be stimulated to the full expression of his powers. Freedom alone is not enough, even from the self-regarding point of view; if by freedom is meant irresponsible gratification of every impulse.
Further, not only self-discipline but even externally imposed discipline is in some measure sometimes necessary for the health of the individual personality. The normal individual needs, at some times in his life, to feel that in some respects, if he fails to discipline himself, if he "runs wild," d he lets self-interest triumph over public duty, society will in the last resort discipline him. The boy may need to be aware that, if his self-discipline should fail, the firm though friendly hand of authority would in the last resort constrain him. Similarly the ordinary citizen needs to feel that his self-discipline is backed by the firm authority of a benevolent but powerful law. But of course the authority of the law must be derived not from the arbitrary will of certain other individuals, or a class of individuals, or even the whole population; it must emerge from something which he himself does recognize as rightly authoritative. It must have not only might but right. It must wield the organized might of the right. And for the healthy personality the right is simply the rightness of the spirit. The only final right authority is the authority of the spirit. And only if the authority of society is felt to be in the last resort a truly spiritual authority or at any rate not hostile to the spirit, should the awakened personality accept it. Thus in a very metaphorical sense the ultimate authority may be called "theocratic," since it is the authority not indeed of a personal God, of whom, I submit we know nothing, but of the spirit, which confronts us in our actual living.
It follows that the justification for any restriction of liberty can never be simply the need to maintain public order, or to preserve existing social institutions. The only justification is, in the last resort, the need to prevent men of evil will from sinning against the spirit; for instance, by tormenting or seriously frustrating their fellow men.
Applying these principles to actual societies, we must always bear in mind that a society that is barbarian, or racked by internal conflict, or tormented by any kind of distressful circumstances, cannot attain the same degree of liberty as a relatively civilized, harmonious or contented society. It cannot, because, either the established government will itself restrict liberty for the sake of public order and its own survival; or else, if the state fails to do so, some powerful minority will usurp the power of the state, and itself restrict liberty. But in a relatively civilized society, where liberty is highly valued, where there is harmony and contentment and no real need to restrict liberty, a high degree of liberty will in fact be attained. Even so, it will only be attained if men struggle to attain it and maintain it. For governments, even the best, are inevitably concerned more to keep order than to foster individuality.
In view of this distinction between a relatively developed and sane society and relatively primitive or neurotic societies, it is foolish of the citizen of a relatively civilized and stable society to demand a very high degree of liberty in a barbarian or a gravely distressed society. But one thing he can and should demand, namely that there should be as much liberty as is consistent with restraining men of evil will from maltreating the innocent.
Champions of liberty are apt to say that the only cure for social disorder is on the one hand to eradicate its causes, and on the other to allow full civil liberty, including full freedom of expression. They triumphantly quote Voltaire's famous dictum about fighting even for the freedom of others to express detestable opinions. For relatively civilized and contented societies, this policy is certainly right. Even for relatively uncivilized societies, and for civilized but distressed societies, too, the all-important thing to do is to abolish the causes of disorder. But this may be a lengthy process; and anyhow a society cannot rise from barbarism to civilization overnight, or from neurotic exasperation to placidity in one stride. And until the population has become contented, has overcome its neurotic exasperations, and has been educated for liberty, it may be necessary to restrict freedom to some extent, not merely to protect the state or maintain public order (for the order may be a bad one) but to prevent men of evil will from tormenting innocent persons. Nay more, it may be necessary to restrict not merely freedom to use violence but also even freedom of expression, harmless as this may seem to the more doctrinaire kind of liberals.
In this connection the important points to recognize are these: —
In conclusion I will summarize, and mention a few additional points. To the mind that is sufficiently conscious of itself and others, and not perverted by irrelevant obsessions, the way of life which I have called the "spirit" appears as intrinsically good. Both individual and society are felt to be, in some sense, instrumental to the actualization of the spirit (so far as possible) in the life of each individual and society as a whole. In all social problems the ultimate criterion is simply the expression of the spirit as personality-in-community. This depends on the capacity for self- and other-awareness, and the capacity for "espousing" the needs of others. For the good society to be possible, there must be a widespread experience of personal love, and also some degree of the genuinely religious experience of the spiritual aspect of love and of all kinds of community. Individualism and gregariousness inevitably play a part m all societies, but the good society is one in which the will for personality-in-community is the controlling influence.
For the development of personality-in-community a high degree of some individual liberties is necessary. But we must distinguish those liberties that are necessary from those that are not. Necessary liberties include a high degree of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom from economic tyranny. Without these, a population will consist not of responsible citizens but of a mixture of the slave-minded and the rebel-minded. Some liberties, though desirable in themselves, are not necessary for personality-in-community, and in times of stress they may be sacrificed without spiritually damaging the society. Of these, examples are: freedom to buy and sell as one pleases, freedom to employ others for personal profit, freedom simply to idle. Finally, there are some liberties which, because they flagrantly violate the most sacred moral principles current in the particular society, must not be allowed at all. Of this kind, freedom to murder, torture and rape are well established examples. In our own age mankind is beginning to feel that the class of absolutely forbidden liberties should include freedom to use private money power to exploit the labour of others. A final point may be added. For a government to indulge in such practices as judicial murder and torture and gross perversion of the truth, even in a cause regarded as supremely good, is always bad, even if only for the reason that any advantage that might be gained by such practices is outweighed by the damage done to the moral custom of the society.