The Relationship Between the United States and Left (IV)
Post four in my series on the relationship between the United States and Left.
How can a community survive the full creative expression of its individual members?
This faith in self-construction goes together in the contemporary religion of humanity with a faith in human solidarity. At its extreme limit, it is the visionary conviction, belied but not destroyed by the terrors of ordinary social life, that all men and woman are bound together by an indivisible circle of love. In its more prosaic form, it is the historical insight that the practical benefits of social life all arise from cooperation and connection.
That form of cooperation will be most productive that is least bound by the restraints of any established scheme of social division and hierarchy and that is most successful in moderating the tension between the imperatives of cooperation and innovation. Every innovation — technical, organizational, or ideological — jeopardizes the present system of cooperation because it threatens to upset the social regime of rights and expectations in which cooperative relations are embedded. We should prefer the way of organizing cooperation that minimizes this tension. It will generally be one that makes the endowments and equipments of individual independent of the accidents of their birth as well as the particulars of their position; that rejects all the social and cultural predetermination of how people can work together; and that encourages the spread of an experimentalist impulse, harnessing confrontation with the unexpected to create the new.
The most valuable form of connection will enable people to diminish the price of dependence and depersonalization that we must pay for engagement with others. Self-construction depends on connection, and connection threatens to entangle us in toils of subjugation and to rob us of the very distinction that we can develop only thanks to it. There is a conflict between the enabling conditions of self-affirmation. To diminish that conflict is to become freer and greater, not by living apart but by living together while deepening the experience of self-possession.
The Relationship Between the United States and Left (III)
How do you design a social structure that accommodates the need for a “permanent rebellion” against its own present form?
No institutional and imaginative ordering of social life accommodates all our strivings. The next best thing to such an all-inclusive order is the recombination of experimental pluralism — different directions — with experimental self-correction — each direction subject to the condition that is ease with its own revision.
The aim is the creation of a self that is less the plaything of accidental circumstance and the puppet of a compulsive social routine; a more godlike self. Such a self is able to imagine and to accept other selves as the context-transcending agents they all really are. It can experience a form of empowerment untainted by the exercise of oppression and by the illusions of pre-eminence. To this end, society must equip the individual — every individual — with the educational and economic instruments he needs to lift himself up and make himself more godlike.
Religion of Humanity
The “religion of humanity” that makes up the historical aspiration of the Left begins with the premise that we possess an infinite capacity within us to transcend the forms of the world we inhabit:
The religion of humanity presents the self as transcendent over context: incapable of being contained within any limited mental or social structure. Not satisfied occasionally to rebel, it wants to fashion a principle that makes rebellion permanent, and renders it internal to social life, in the form of ongoing experimental remaking.
The United States and the Left
In this 9th chapter of my book The Left Alternative, I argue that “no country identifies more completely” with that “religion of humanity” “at the center of the historical aspirations of the Left,” than the United States.
What is this “religion of humanity” and how is it engendered in United States, a nation that is said to have no living Left at all? Over the next few posts I will lay out the argument presented in the book.