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Jan 8, 2015

AGONISM AND HUMAN HISTORY

 
Staring from this panagonistic view of human nature, Ramon Valls made a scheme of the philosophy of history that makes a pacifying and completely humanized "we" conceivable. Valls thinks of human history from a dialectic perspective in three stages: first a political, imposed and educational "we"; second "‘I’s" which are individual, subjective, conflictive, with a dangerous tendency toward the most naive moralism and which resists the political "we" (which continues, however, for otherwise we will relapse into the war of all against all); and third, a new a true political "we" which differs from the earlier ones because it is formed by free recognition, reconciliation and mutual pardon among people.

This dialectic, the last key in the story, only makes sense if one presupposes that human nature is radically agonist, that is, based on and driven by struggle, egotism, conflict and war. As Valls says: "Therefore politics is constantly fighting against passions and interests and must keep the flock peaceful. A flock which often becomes lively and turns into a pack. Then they killthe suspected lambs and feed on each other ... as is natural".

So Valls sets himself within the realism which from Plautus to Hegel, passing through Hobbes, considers that "homo homini lupus est". We recall that the first contact between humans in "The Phenomenology of Spirit" leads to a struggle to the death or the complete submission or dominance of one and another. The dialectic of the noble and the serf, master and slave, is significantly the prime collective figure seen as such as a diverse response to agonism.

Even more, just as he begins his commentary on the prime figure of "Phenomenology", the awareness of the senses, Valls exclaims, "We have here the starting point of all diversities and all struggles. The irreducible diversity." Overcoming his earlier attempt of thinking of absolutes as loves, "Phenomenology" is guided by agonism and the harsh lessons which come from each of the figures of awareness. Each feels itself die just as it surpasses itself.

We are, then, faced with the collision between the concept on one hand, of human nature as struggle and egotism without "natural" limits and on the other hope (or despair) for an absolute, objective, final "we" of human existence which can control and overcome the agonism. Valls shows this referring over and over to what he calls "the Kantian golden line" (Metaphysics of Morals, "Conclusion of the Doctrine of Right") "war is not necessary: neither war between you and me in our natural state nor war between us as States (...); because this is not how one procures his rights".

Controlling Human Agonism and more Powerful Agonism

So it is very difficult to control an antagonism so deeply engrained in human nature; it is never completely eliminated and always returns. But Valls thinks that this is the primordial political task and the sense of history, and can only be done by laws and the State. As human nature is terrible, the monopoly on violence which every hegemonic regime has (be it despotic, totalitarian, democratic...) is legitimized because it tends to "end the terrible war". Therefore, and significantly, Valls defines "the political and juridical as insurance of stability".

As Hobbes showed, human agonism is so irreducible that it can only be pacified and controlled by counterposing a stronger agonism, the Leviathan. It is cruel, but the only possible route to pacification of society is the basic political mechanism defined by Hobbes. Valls was always clear that "justice, when it opposes the egotistical aims of the individual, acts as an equilibrium between law and power".

To illustrate the case Valls evolved in a way similar to that theorized by Hegel: a first stage of distrust of the State, then finally realizing that the State "is where we can accomplish the reconciliation which civil life can not achieve. (...) Meanwhile, it is better to have the State. By virtue of law our liberty is guaranteed here and now, it serves as arbiter between personal interests and egotism and guarantees an education for its citizens."

Valls presupposes that the defining characteristic of the State is its monopoly on violence, which automatically creates an identifiable norm known as justice. He considers this a great characteristic/mechanism, and therefore does not distinguish between the State and what scholars would consider simple, non-institutionlized spontaneous leadership.

We analyze the metaphor of the first humanized monkeys; from fear they said "We both want the banana, but since we don’t want to die for it, you tell us what to do and we’ll obey". The State has been invented. Monkey C has been called to impose law and order". Here Valls ignores that spontaneous leadership tends to be temporal, based on consensus, accepted without much resistance and more linked to the person than to the social role occupied, and therefore tends to disappear with the specific person; the simplest State, however, presupposes a strong institutionalization of power with a permanent division of social functions: power depends more on the structure and place occupied than on the person occupying. In fact, the whole dynamic complex (which fascinated Machiavelli) leads a few spontaneous leaderships to institutionalize themselves in a self-sustained power structure which, in the end, is indisputably a state.

Valls himself recognizes this when he continues "monkey C knows he is not equal to monkey A or B. (...) and as he is not ready to tolerate daily challenges to his position, he is obliged to maintain a fine balance the always precarious consensus of the representatives and a certain despotism (...). Such things may seem unpleasant, but they are true".

Surely the simplified caricature of "the monkeys", where one sees his "brutal" and provocative style, has the function of reducing the essence of the State to the control of the agonism of its subjects thanks to its monopoly on violence (in which it is of secondary importance how it got and how it uses the power). Therefore he follows in the same style, "the State’s movement, as legislator and in sanctions, is necessary whatever its territory, if we don’t want to claw ourselves to death".

Legitimacy of the violence of the "we"

Within this framework, Valls coherently argued the legitimacy of coercion and violence by the law or its "armed part", specifically because it was necessary to control the "natural" violence of those who violated the law. Following

Machiavelli, Valls accepts the fundamental truth that "without a strong power there is no good legal order. This is so because of the constant danger of the collapse of the political organization. Its equilibrium is unstable because, in function of its congenital weakness, the violence which comes with the state of nature is always about to reappear".

In short, the always uncontrollable human agonism can only be pacified by a stronger agonism with the right to use violence. As he says on repeated occasions: "in the republic of men, where lack of respect for the rights of others is inevitable, the law must always be coactive. We state clearly that politics cannot renounce violence against one who uses natural violence." This means that for Valls politics has nothing to do with the image of the moralists and the naive because "in synthesis, the common good and soft dialogue are moralizing and, in politics, barren. Political dialogue, if it is realistic, is always hard".

Human agonism and the perpetual tendency toward violence generate and legitimize the use of force by the State in the sense that "Law is coactive, but one cannot say that it uses violence. It is coactive because it can force one to comply with it, it is not violent, however, because this force is the inevitable consequence exercised by those who do not comply with the law". For Valls civil peace must be "undoubtedly armed, for without the sword the law is no more than words".

The dialectic of history

The agonism inscribed in man’s animal nature makes necessary, defensible and legitimate a "we" which imposes peace, albeit violently. As we have noted, it is basically a ternary dialectic, with the first stage corresponding to a political "we" which is imposed but educative.

More or less, this corresponds to the Hegelian vision of the Oriental world (where only one is free: the despot) but, surprising as it seems, it also fits the beautiful Greek "we" and the harsher, more disciplined Roman Empire. Opposed to the simple application of the metaphor "from I to we", the historic starting point does not correspond to individuals and "‘I’s", for individualization and subjectivization are modern developments for Hegel and Valls, with little presence in antiquity.

Both the prehistory of the hordes and tribes and the ancient empires and the Greek cities are stages where the "we" and not the I dominate. An educative, political "we" imposes itself, but it is still spontaneous. Thus it is in the fortunate and beautiful Greek era when, according to Hegel and Valls, a marvelous but unstable equilibrium is achieved, which will have a short lifespan and will not survive the polis.




The second great stage in history corresponds to the long process of individuation and subjectification which make possible the constitution of an "I" which is autonomous and capable of recognizing another. It is a typical second stage of the dialectic (alienation, negation, excision...) where the "I" will finally enter the struggle against the disciplinary and educative "we". This historic dialectic stage simultaneously develops and disciplines the individual "‘I’s", directing them toward free recognition and mutual respect.

Due to its dialectic nature, during the second stage the "natural", imposed "we" collides with the increasingly individuated "‘I’s" which, on the one hand demand the essential value of autonomy and personal liberty but on the other, according to Valls, fall into the worst errors of anarchy and moralism. We will show later that Valls is tremendously critical of naive, ineffective, failed, utopian "beautifully souled" moralism and, like Hobbes, he considers inevitable the persistent and despotic "we" and its violence to avoid the war of all against all.

Valls is very sure that only in the end, in a third stage, can a superior, true "we" appear. It will be produced by reconciliation and, at the same time, surpass both political discipline and the full development of autonomy, liberty and recognition of the "‘I’s". In fact, this third stage is an ideal; if not inaccessible, at least it is never completely achieved, for it is very difficult to have a complete match of free, universal recognition, reconciliation and pardon among people (that is among completely autonomous individuals capable of spontaneous mutual respect).

As is normal in Hegelian dialectic, the maximum complexity lies in the second stage, marked by the agonism between the "‘I’s" as well as the increasing individuation, subjectification and autonomy. There are three largely opposed determinations here. First, it is a reaction against the insufficiency of the initial authoritarian "we". Valls says: "From this moment on, anyone who accepts this ideal legislates above the legislators". Second, it is an agonist movement of excision, war and negativity18 which will finally be overcome by determination already implicit and developed from that exact initial movement. "In our interactions with others and the pleasant and useful relations we have with them, it’s not all a bed of roses. (…) We also hurt and hit. And this is a constasnt threat to the relation of recognition and can destroy it. It’s personal conflict. It’s war."

Influenced by present bioethics with Kantian roots, Valls, in his last book, shows himself to be strongly in favor of the idea that "ethics is the obligation and that the supreme human dignity lies in the ability to take the law upon oneself (autonomia) and thus auto-obligate oneself". But he immediately clarifies the role of the autonomous individual to avoid any appearance of individualism: "The establishment of moral law, in fact, cannot lie on the isolated individual, but must be based on mutual and respectful interaction of several". At no time does Valls have the slightest doubt of the superiority of the ethics of the State (Sittlichkeit) over Kantian Moralität. Although it is known that in earlier versions of the Hegelian system Morality appears at a later and higher stage.

For our purposes, the third stage of reconciliation in a political "we" requires one to assume the experience of the previous moral autonomy and "raise it to the law". In agreement with Rousseau, Valls argues that individual autonomy, will and liberty need not collide with general political will, but must recognize and submit to it.
Thus, politics could be recovered as an authentic "we", where the various autonomous "‘I’s" freely recognize each other and overcome, now adequately, the dangerous agonist tendencies: "if we oblige ourselves to universal respect, we understand that the will to end war is associated with the birth of the moral, the birth of the humanity of humans. So we make a transition to the political with the moral demand to end war"
 

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