A Love of One’s Own

6 Jun

My Orientation

The purpose of this section is to give the reader an idea of my way.

On pages 7-8 of The End of History and The Last Man, Francis Fukuyama looks back to American views during the Cold War. He explains that there was an “almost universal belief in the permanence of a vigorous, communist-totalitarian alternative to Western liberal democracy” which came to an end at “[communism’s] worldwide collapse in the late 1980s.” Professor Fukuyama’s book predicts, as everyone knows, that such grand political alternatives have passed. Human history will see them no longer. This passing is exactly what I do not want to be the case. I like grand political alternatives, and I think living in a time of grand political alternatives is good for people.

“Mr. Simmons! Does this mean you would prefer half the world live under the scourge of communism? You think this is ‘good for people’?” It is not that I think communism is good for people, but that having a definitive contrast to one’s way of life is good. Such a contrast between political alternatives leads men to think more about their way of life and helps to give purpose to their lives insofar as they become defenders of the way of life they inherited, or proponents of a different way of life. And in any event, I wonder how far removed from the USSR mentality Putin and the Russian government is today, except that the rhetoric of alternatives has ceased, surreptitiously ceased.

This sort of purpose is undermined by our current way of thinking, which views all ways of life as equally good. Without an enemy or “other” to contrast ourselves with we become apathetic to the way we live. We have become apathetic because we do not think there is any single way of life that is, in principle, the best way of life. Therefore, no single way of life has precedence. By setting up any and all ways of life as legitimate (in an attempt to encourage diversity) we have lost the ability to distinguish between truly alternative ways of life, which I believe exist and can be ranked. This movement (historically and dialectically) results from modern (in the sense of Lockean) liberal principles.


It will be useful to offer three descriptions of what I find distasteful about modern liberal tendencies. I draw the first description from Alexis d’Tocqueville, to show what happens when men no longer feel strongly about their own. I draw the second description from Carl Schmitt, to show the dishonesty of modern-liberal politics. And the third description comes from Leo Strauss, to show the uniqueness of our present situation.

In the chapter titled, “What kind of despotism democratic nations have to fear” Alexis d’ Tocqueville gives the following description of modern despotism:


“I want to imagine with what new features despotism could be produced in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country.

Above these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principle affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?”


The first paragraph describes the type of men that live under a soft despotism, and the second paragraph describes the type of despot who rules such men. Now, I think what is missing from the men in the first paragraph is a love of their own, or a shared identity.[1] Not only does this lack of love explain their abjectness before the Central Power, it explains their softness and aptitude to live on entertainment. These two claims are supported by the following considerations: “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Abusive authority is more easily maintained when men are disinclined to forcefully resist it and soft men are so disinclined. Men find themselves disinclined to forceful or warlike exertions when they lack a good reason for them. We must feel as if something is at stake if we are to kill and risk being killed. One’s own (friends, property, family, fellow citizens) is the most potent reason to risk oneself in such a manner. Men who love their own are hence more willing to go to war. They are not soft.

I am fully aware that other solutions within modern liberalism may be offered and despotism avoided. It is true that “love of one’s own” does not necessarily need to be relied upon to avoid soft-despotism. Indeed, Tocqueville’s own solution apparently lies outside of a return to a love of one’s own, instead encouraging the continual exertion of enlightened minds to uphold republican self-government. I do not share Tocqueville’s opinion that this solution is adequate, or at least I do not find it adequate today. But I do share his aversion to soft despotism, to the results of certain notions of justice leading men to erect a world in which quiet obeisance is rewarded with satiating comfort.

Another reader of Tocqueville was a German (Nazi) jurist by the name of Carl Schmitt. He offers his own striking description of a world gone soft:

“Like everything that has a bad conscience, this age reveled in discussing its problematic character until the twinges of conscience ceased and it could feel better since such reasoning was at least interesting. This age has characterized itself as the capitalistic, mechanistic, relativistic age, as the age of transport, of technology, of organization. Indeed, ‘business’ does seem to be its trademark, business as the superbly functioning means over the end, business which annihilates the individual such that everything must go smoothly and without any needless friction. The achievement of vast, material wealth, which arose from the general preoccupation with means and calculation, was strange. Men have become poor devils; ‘they know everything and believe nothing.’ They are interested in everything and are enthusiastic about nothing. They understand everything; their scholars register in history, in nature, in men’s own souls. They are judges of character, psychologists, and sociologists, and in the end they write a sociology of sociology. Wherever something does not go completely smoothly, an astute and deft analysis or a purposive organization is able to remedy the incommodity. Even the poor of this age, the wretched multitude, which is nothing but ‘a shadow that hobbles off to work,’ millions who yearn for freedom, prove themselves to be children of this spirit, which reduces everything to a formula of its consciousness and admits of no mysteries and no exuberance of the soul. They wanted a heaven on earth, heaven as the result of trade and industry, a heaven that is really supposed to be here on earth, in Berlin, Paris, or New York, a heaven with swimming facilities, automobiles, and club chairs, a heaven in which the holy book would be the timetable. They did not want a God of love and grace; they had ‘made’ so much that was astonishing; why should they not ‘make’ the tower of an earthly heaven? After all, the most important and last things had already been secularized. Right had become might; loyalty, calculability; truth, generally acknowledged correctness; beauty, good taste; Christianity, a pacifist organization. A general substitution and forgery of values dominated their souls. A sublimely differentiated usefulness and harmfulness took the place of the distinction between good and evil. The confounding was horrific.”

Schmitt lashes out in numerous directions and his description of the modern ailment is less clear than Tocqueville’s. However, the moral power in Schmitt’s writing (a power absent from Tocqueville’s) is perhaps the cause. Tocqueville has certain tastes that he shares with Schmitt, but lacks the conviction of Schmitt. Unlike Tocqueville, Schmitt is certain there is something morally rotten about the cosmopolitan world he sees around him. He naturally laments the loss of the distinction between “good and evil.”

According to Schmitt, men have lost their “enthusiasm” because they have taken a crooked view about their own; that is, they are denying the primacy of their own. Men seek to make an earthly Babel, not only because they have rebelled against the deity, but they have denied differences between themselves – Heaven can be found in Berlin, Paris, or New York. These cities, erected by differing peoples, all have the same taste, the same seedy feel. Nothing is differentiated properly and men especially refuse to distinguish between “friend” and “enemy.” We have had to turn Christianity into a pacifist organization because we wish to be through with enemies and through with weighty matters to fight over. Men used to fight on behalf of The One True God. Now they don’t think anything, even His Truth, is worth fighting over.

Schmitt justifies this lament by “giving the lie” to his opponents. The new Heaven of swimming pools and automobiles waged war against the old Heaven. Those Christians turned merely pacifists themselves went to war, and are still waging war, against those who think some matters are so substantial that no toleration is possible. In fact, it is not even that one side thinks some things are worth fighting over – both sides think some opinions and ways of life are beyond toleration. The difference is that men like Schmitt admit that this is the case. He is willing to call his enemy “enemy,” and revolts at the insult (or disingenuous attack) of his enemies calling him a friend. In the end, everything is reducible to a love of one’s own or patriotism, and all the honest people are willing to say so. Those who claim to love everyone equally and decry intolerance have only learned the newest tactic in the war of all against all. Now, I obviously think there is something true to be gleaned from Schmitt’s view. However, I do not give “the political” the absoluteness he does. Which is a good reason to turn to Leo Strauss.[2]

Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve undertook a debate about the goodness of the “the universal and homogeneous state.” Their writings on the subject can be found in On Tyranny. In the second to last paragraph of his “Restatement,” Strauss describes the world state and comments on the novel sense of urgency philosophers should feel in the face of it:

“It seems reasonable to assume that only a few, if any, citizens of the universal and homogeneous state will be wise. But neither the wise men nor the philosophers will desire to rule. For this reason alone, to say nothing of others, the Chief of the universal and homogeneous state, or the Universal and Final Tyrant will be an unwise man, as Kojeve seems to take for granted. To retain his power, he will be forced to suppress every activity which might lead people into doubt of the essential soundness of the universal and homogeneous state: he must suppress philosophy as an attempt to corrupt the young. In particular he must in the interest of homogeneity of his universal state forbid every teaching, every suggestion, that there are politically relevant natural differences among men which cannot be abolished or neutralized by progressing scientific technology. He must command his biologists to prove that every human being has, or will acquire, the capacity of becoming a philosopher or tyrant. The philosophers in their turn will be forced to defend themselves or the cause of philosophy. They will be obliged, therefore, to try to act on the Tyrant. Everything seems to be a re-enactment of the age-old drama. But this time, the cause of philosopher is lost from the start. For the Final Tyrant presents himself as a philosopher, as the highest philosophic authority, as the supreme exegete of the only true philosophy, as the executor and hangman authorized by the only true philosophy. He claims therefore that he prosecutes not philosophy but false philosophies. The experience is not altogether new for philosophers. If philosophers were confronted with claims of this kind in former ages, philosophy went underground. It accommodated itself in its explicit or exoteric teaching to the unfounded commands of the rulers in such a way as to guide the potential philosophers toward the external and unsolved problems. And since there was no universal state in existence, the philosophers could escape to other countries if life became unbearable in the tyrant’s dominions. From the Universal Tyrant however there is no escape. Thanks to the conquest of nature and to the completely unabashed substitution of suspicion and terror for law, the Universal and Final Tyrant has at his disposal practically unlimited means for ferreting out, and for extinguishing, the most modest efforts in the direction of thought. Kojeve would seem to be right for the wrong reason: the coming of the universal and homogeneous state will be the end of philosophy on earth.”

According to Strauss, the two most dangerous things about the world state are (a) the Final Tyrant’s claim to represent the only true philosophy, and (b) the material he possesses to seek out and silence opposition combined with a substitution of fear and suspicion (informants and fear of them) for law-abidingness. What allows the Final Tyrant to represent philosophy is his elevation above “irrational” attachments to one’s own people. The modern state is founded on “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” not this people or that ancestry.

Now, Strauss appears to argue that this tyranny is altogether new. “But this time, the philosopher is lost from the start.” If the philosopher is lost from the start “this time” we may suppose he was not lost in former times. However, “the experience is not altogether new for philosophers” because philosophers were “confronted with claims of this kind in former ages.” Wherever there is a ruler that claims universal authority, an authority that “extends beyond borders” and knows no particular nationality, this ruler claims his authority on philosophic grounds (the Pope comes to mind). It is not mere geography that ties his people together, but common assent to the truest law, the Law of laws. Strauss thinks that philosophers have faced this sort of problem in the past. What is truly unique is the material power of the Final Tyrant. Supported by vast technological advances, his ability to uncover corrupters of the youth surpasses the abilities of all tyrants before him.

In particular, the Tyrant will take aim at those who differentiate between men because his dominion is founded on the claim that all men are potential philosophers or enjoyers of wealth and power. “We are all one and the same” is the thought that animates the Final Tyranny. This position is clearly the antithesis to a love of one’s own, where the distinction between “civilized” and “barbarian” holds sway.


So these three examples illustrate my own concerns. While basing politics on love of one’s own runs into certain irrefutable arguments, its contrary, as theoretically articulated by enlightenment philosophy and practically culminating in a world state, is no less prey to irrefutable arguments and is leading to a strangely oppressive world state. I say “strangely” because the world state will not oppress the majority of people with a stick, but with entertainment. And unlike the Roman panem et circenses, this entertainment will have a sort of unlimited quality. The Final Tyrant will never run out of trinkets to throw. Indeed, there will be a continual supply of novel trinkets to fascinate.

I turn to examining the United Nations because the principles animating this international organization all aim at establishing the terrible power described by Tocqueville, Schmitt and Strauss.



[1] “Identity politics” is not a phrase I must use to get my point across. However, arguments surrounding love of one’s own are so often attached to this phrase, which is then quickly associated with fascism and the nationalist politics of the early Twentieth-Century. My thinking is: if this tactic is often used by academics, why not preempt them and use the phrase in a more reasonable manner, in an attempt to separate politics surrounding love of one’s own people from crass manifestations of that love in the form of Nazism and fascism generally.

[2] Cf. Liberalism Ancient and Modern, “Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,” fn. 66.


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