Self Interest, Virtue, and the Dilemma of the American Political Economy: Toward a Renewal of Ethical Care in American Civilization

This article argues that after more than two centuries, our system of justice is no longer functioning as intended by its founders. I argue that this breakdown can be ultimately traced to a philosophical dilemma at the heart of American civilization: the assumption that economic self-interest can by itself sustain ethical care for a common good. In treating economic freedom as a moral absolute, the American right has misconstrued the practical purpose of freedom and undermined justice and equality for all. In contrast to the ahistorical claim of libertarians that economic freedom should be treated as a moral value, the goal of the founders of the United States was very concrete: enabling most citizens to get basic economic needs met in peace and security. Free and open elections and a system of checks and balances would motivate the naturally more powerful to manage their own passions in ways that contributed to a common good. By contrast, in unchecked political systems that arose by the struggle for dominance among the powerful few, the de facto rulers lacked any motive to act in ways that were consistent with the interests of the average citizen. As Thrasymachus claims in Plato’s Republic, they habitually wrote laws that benefited themselves at the expense of everyone else.

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Small Is Ethical (Or: The Morality of the Micropolis)

The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For additional details about the conference, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Introduction

State institutions, starting with the entity we call “the state” all the way down to city DMV offices, seem no longer capable of acting or behaving ethically, regardless of what type of ethics we prefer to apply to politics—consequentialist, deontological, virtue, or any other—or whether we prefer liberal or communitarian normative agendas. Two features of modern political institutions block their intended functioning, ethical or not, and lead to new ethical crises. Those features are too-large size and incoherence. Thus even when policies[1] are ethical, institutions’ failures to implement or follow them undermine an ethical politics. And when various policies are implemented unevenly, new ethical problems arise. At least a partial antidote to these problems may be found in libertarian municipalism, the social-ecological approach articulated by Murray Bookchin, that demands small scale and direct democracy.

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Now Available: Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil

Telos Press Publishing is pleased to announce that Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil is now available for purchase. Order your copy today in our online store.

Eumeswil
by Ernst Jünger

Translated by Joachim Neugroschel
Edited and with an Introduction by Russell A. Berman

Eumeswil, ostensibly a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, is effectively a comprehensive synthesis of Ernst Jünger’s mature thought, with a particular focus on new and achievable forms of individual freedom in a technologically monitored and managed postmodern world. Here Jünger first fully develops his figure of the anarch, the inwardly liberated and outwardly pragmatic individual, who lives peacefully in the heart of Leviathan and is yet able to preserve his individuality and freedom. Composed of a series of short passages and fragments, Eumeswil follows the reflections of Martin Venator, a historian living in a futuristic city-state ruled by a dictator known as the Condor. Through Venator, the prototypical anarch, Jünger offers a broad and uniquely insightful analysis of history from the post-historic perspective and, at the same time, presents a vision of future technological developments, including astonishingly prescient descriptions of today’s internet (the luminar), smartphone (the phonophore), and genetic engineering. At once a study of accommodation to tyranny and a libertarian vision of individual freedom, Eumeswil continues to speak to the contradictions and possibilities inherent in our twenty-first-century condition.

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Now Available! Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage

Telos Press is pleased to announce the publication of Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage, now available for purchase in our online store. Expertly translated by Thomas Friese, who previously translated Jünger’s The Adventurous Heart, and with an introduction by Russell A. Berman, this key text from Jünger’s oeuvre is finally accessible to English-language readers.

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