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Metaphysical Premises And Types Of Liberal Ideology: Liberalism As The End And Liberalism As The Way

Igor I. Yevlampiev
St.Petersburg State University

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ABSTRACT: The problem of choosing the way for our country unavoidably brings us to a discussion of the problem of liberalism. At first glance, this should not be a problem since liberal principles underlie Western society and are the basis of the modern world order. But this opinion is not shared by all intellectuals in Russia. First is the specificity of the Russian mentality, social consciousness and social life. The idea of 'Russia's own way' is much referred to by various political movements of pronounced nationalist color, but we have to study this idea at its deepest level rather than oversimplify reality. Yet even most thinkers who are oriented to the West and have insisted on the adoption of Western values and standards have also strongly criticized European civilization. Secondly, liberalism does not have a simple meaning. It connotes a number of complex ideological systems transformed over time both in theory and in political practice. Therefore, it is important to analyze the metaphysical premises of liberal doctrines and systems. I will examine assessments of liberal ideas made by Russian religious philosophers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as P. Struve, N. Novgorodtsev, I. Iliin, and S. Frank who all considered liberalism primarily a metaphysical rather than a legal or political phenomenon, and interpreted it as an empirical manifestation of the deep nature of the human spiritual reality.

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The problem of choosing the way for our country unavoidably makes us discuss the problem of liberalism. At the first sight, this should not be problem at all, as the liberal principles underlie Western society and so make the basis of the whole modern world order. But such a straight opinion is not shared by all political people here in Russia and there are two major reasons for this. First of the two is specificity of Russian mentality, Russian social consciousness, and generally all Russian social life. The idea of Russia's own way is, true, much used by various political movements of pronounced nationalist color, but we have to study this idea to the most possible deepness to not be oversimplifying the reality. It was common among all political groups and movements to state Russia's special historical fate and ways. Even the most westernly oriented political thinkers, though insisted on the adoption of Western values and standards, strongly criticized European civilization at the same time (so did Hertzen in his late years, for example). It was as if Russia, after having adopted the said values, had to show true way to the Western society itself, true meaning of its mental achievements discredited by the real things in the life of the West. So the difference between the Westernly oriented and the nationalist political people was a mere difference in understanding Russia's specificity and where it lies exactly, no the specificity as a fact. We even may cite Lenin's plan of building the socialism separately in Russia for she was, in his opinion, a unique country, the weakest link of the world imperialist chain.

The other reason why we should think the problem exists is that the same term of liberalism does not mean any simple thing. Being rather complex ideological system, liberalism has much diverged in the course of evolution, both in theory and in political practice. We can see at least three different forms of liberal ideology. First, classic liberalism as developed by J.Lock; second, liberalism of the break of century that combined the ideal of liberty with that of social equity and so accepted the necessity of the State's active intervention into social processes; last, so-called new liberalism, propagated specially by F.Hayek, who declared the above intervention harmful, which is exactly opposite to the preceding socially oriented liberalism. The fact of the two concurring forms of liberal ideology in the 20th century evidences that some kind of crisis takes place, so the problem of choice could not be thought too simple even for Western old democratic societies, the more for Russia that is not.

In our current disputed about the right way, the problem under consideration is adequately assessed as being not simple, but without any sufficient results in understanding deep reasons of the choice to be made, which is commonly treated as a mere more or less effective means of solving current political problems. However, the principles of social organization are strictly coordinated with very fundamental truths of existence and final reasons of man's being. This is why have we to analyze the metaphysical promises of corresponding political doctrines. For the purposes of this paper, the most significant is the analysis of liberal ideas made by Russian religious philosophers of late 19th and early 20th century, first and foremost by P.Struve, N.Novgorodtsev, I.Ilyin, S.Frank. The said thinkers considered liberal doctrine primarily as a metaphysical, not a legal or political phenomenon, and interpreted as an empirical manifestation of deep nature of human spiritual being.

It is a very demonstrative a fact that all the representatives of religious philosophy, based on the analysis of the system of political and legal institutions, found the classic liberal principle of society unsatisfactory, insufficient, and needing to be added with such elements as natural rights, social ideal, spiritual community, etc., which could make, in their opinion, this ideology better determined in metaphysical sense. They considered to be a defect of the classical liberalism its pretension to make a system of absolute principles, without alternative, and self-satisfying; the pretension to represent an ideal form of social organization. Russian theorists considered liberal principles as mere the most useful means of reaching the very final (so unrealizable on empirical plane) aims of social being of men. It was interpreted as the simplest and effective way of right organization of social life, the quality of being right, however, was to be additionally assessed with a criterion of the aim, or ideal, partially realizable in the social life and so making it right and organic.

The history showed that such corrections of liberal principles could lead to very different ideology, even to non-liberal one at all; this is confirmed also in the evolution of political views of the above thinkers. Particularly I.Iliin, who in late 20's rejected liberal ideas as a defective political doctrine and adopted the ideas proclaiming the role of a national leader, even accepted fascist dictature; later on he became adept of classic monarchism based on the ideas of the rank and aristocracy. Nevertheless Russian liberal thoughts not only show the weakness of liberal tradition in Russia. It contains also yet underestimated positive sense. It should be accepted that the tendency to correct the liberal doctrine was deeply rooted in the features of Russian mentality and social consciousness. And it is quite probable that some correction should be made indeed when applying liberal principles to the Russian. But this proposition could not be corroborated without going beyond purely politological considerations. So we have to make clear the metaphysical promises of liberal theories and practices and determine the differences of various versions of those.

When taking the very basic differences, in the history of European culture, we can see three main concepts of the man's role in the world and of the sense of the history. First of these three is the oldest one and is based on the idea that the reality is wholly determined by a single omnipotent and completely rational element called the God. All that happened, happens, and will happen is predetermined in the God's plan. It is simply natural to deduct from this concept that the history has an end in empirical time. The concept originated from Judaism and took its classic form in Christianity, where the end of the history became the Doomsday. Later in some secularized versions of this concept the end of human evolution was declared Absolute State by Hegel, communism as the jump from the domain of necessity to the domain of freedom by Marx, and simply the end of history by A.Kozhev and his follower F.Fukuyama. In the Judaic and Christian versions of the concept the rationality of the world history remained obscure for the men, while the secularized variants consider the sense of history intelligible. Man is able to understand the ends of history and even to promote the history to its ends.

The second of these concepts is directly opposite to the first and based on the idea that the world rests upon a single irrational element, not regulated by any rational and therefor absolutely unknowable, unpredictable, and independent of man. Within this concept the history is quite naturally declared to have no ends. More than that, impossibility to derive rational laws from the history leads to negation of possibility of social being improvements and harmonization. This leads either to historical passiveness of men (as in Stoicism) or to voluntarism and extreme willfulness of individuals in social activity. This approach was best developed in the irrational systems of the 19th and 20th century by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Camus, and others.

Last, there is one more concept, which originated as a Manicheism and proliferated into Europe with many corresponding heresies in Christianity. This accepts two equally significant and permanently fighting one against another elements, one being rational and good, the other being irrational and evil. As the good is not absolute and cannot overcome the evil one forever, the history is here considered to be in quite opposite sense than above: it is determined and has an aim, but could not predicted, however. The world and man being partly rational, an ideal can be postulated. This ideal is the man's aim and should be realized in the history, but could not be realized in empirical reality, in historical time. Here the main point is the tragedy of disrupted existence, impossibility to reach the ideal despite of having to struggle for.

All the three concepts are reflected in European philosophy. But before late 19th century the first of the concepts predominated in social consciousness of Europe. This is why the idea of the earthly paradise was so popular all the time in the New Age in Europe, as was penetrated by P.Novgorodtsev in his work entitled On the Social Ideal (see P.I.Novgorodtsev. On Social Ideal. Moscow, 1991. Pp. 20-32). In fact, this feature was shared by all main political ideologies of the West, including the liberalism. The differences were only in the nature and characteristics of the paradise on the earth that should be reached through realization of this or that system of political principles. The liberal doctrine think the Eden is reachable mainly through realization of full personal freedom. Then we can understand, why liberal thinking is addicted to socialist ideology, as this latter is the simplest and clearest form of utopian ideas, such a form that proclaims material liberation of man to be the criterion of social perfection. Both liberal and socialist ideologies (as realized in classic Western forms) are in sufficient only two sides of one ideological tendency. The first of the two is an illusion of possibility of full spiritual freedom in the society, the second is based on the believe into possibility of material freedom. Seeing the correlation between the two freedoms, material and spiritual, and impossibility to realize one of them separately, leads to the attempts of improving the liberalism by adding some socialism and to make the socialism more acceptable by adding some liberalism (socialism with human face). However the history has convincingly demonstrated the advantage of liberal ideas over socialist ideas, which is obviously explained by the fact of the spiritual freedom's primacy. This is why socialist ideology, even added with some liberalism, showed itself so ineffective in the history, while the defects of the classic liberal model were only revealed in this century.

But the main point is that the history of late 19th and early 20th century has demonstrated much more than a mere impossibility to realize one of the forms of earthly paradise without some use of another: it was decidedly proven the impossibility of any Utopian models in social life, traditional Western Utopianism was discredited radically (as was tried to demonstrate by Novgorodtsev, see op. cit.) The breakdown of history, when the faith in rational organization of the world was abandoned, has influenced many late 19th century thinkers (Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, V.Soloviev). Europe in the persons of the greatest ideologists had to look for a new thinking paradigm, with necessary participation of irrational element.

It is natural in the times of crisis to turn to a new ideal directly opposite to the old and discredited one. This is why the second of the three concepts became so popular and noticeable on the background of the ruins of Christianity. As stated above, this a concept of irrationality allows two opposite models of behavior: one all passive, based on the idea that any rational purposeful activity is senseless in this completely irregular world, and the other all voluntarism, quite the same as to negation of rational element in the history. The second of the two models was best represented by J.-P.Sartre and A.Camus. The world's absurdity, and the history's as well, leads to the opinion that a kind of individual revolt against oppressing circumstances is the only rational form of behavior.

Strange as it may seem, the first of the two models is now associated with the neoliberal ideology, namely with that of F.Hayek. He does not speak of any ideal and harmonic state of the society within the liberal principles (as it was presumed in original form of liberal concept, in Kant's for example). Major principles of classic liberalism are interpreted as coming from basic laws of man's being, they have unquestionable rational basis and are self-satisfying values. On the contrary, in Hayek's theory the principles of liberalism are interpreted as spontaneously arising in the process of formation of the extended order of men's interaction (F.Hayek. Fatal Self-Sufficiency. Mistakes of Socialism).

He declares these principles to be a mere adaptation to the milieu we cannot predict. The evolution of society (cultural evolution), says Hayek, is similar to biological evolution in one significant aspect: both have no laws of evolution, which could be used for prediction of the future. Cultural evolution is not determined by genetic or by any other factors and leads to diversity and not to uniformity (Idem). But the quoted statement contradicts to another Hayek's statement that the principles of liberal market society are the most effective and invariable in the permanent evolution of man and society. Such a statement of invariability of these principles by Hayek implicitly revivificates the idea of ideal state of the society. The assumption itself of the existence of stable and exact principles cannot be based on the conviction of our regular and rational relations with irrational world. It is clear that the existence of such rational regularities "built-in" in irrational chaos that predominates in the history could not be explained. Hayek repeatedly remembers D.Hume; in fact, his concept shares Hume's main principles of agnosticism. Insisting on the absolute and invariable character of liberal principles, Hayek does not give convincing demonstration. Their effectiveness in the past cannot be taken as a basis for statement that they will be equally effective in the future.

The said internal inconsistency of neoliberal ideology shows well that within the concept under consideration the liberal ideology cannot be correctly substantiated. This is, however, true with respect to any rational political doctrine, too: by accepting that the history is irrational in principle, we have no chance to approve that one social system is better than another and so have to treat them equally senseless and unable to reach the aims they declare.

The only chance to build valid liberal ideology opposing to Utopianist classic liberalism can be in accepting of the third and the most complex of the three concepts, which takes the man and the world metaphysically dual. And here all the significance of Russian liberalism and generally Russian social and philosophical thoughts could be seen. The West only in the late 20th century begins to rid off the metaphysical opposition of traditional Christian Utopianism and very dangerous in use idea of the world's irrational nature. The third way of more flexible view on reality as the stage of the tragedy of history and life, where the good fights against the evil and the rational against the irrational, only recently adopted in the West, was Russian tendency for many years before. This was noted by many Russian thinkers. For example, V.Zenkovsky called such a mode of the world viewing the mystical realism, which acknowledges all the reality of empirical world, but also sees another reality behind; the two domains of being are real but not equal: empirical being can only exist for the account of mystic reality (see V.V.Zenkovsky. History of Russian Philosophy. Leningrad, 1991. Pt. 1. Pp. 39-40). We will not discuss the history of this system of ideas and only state that its most adequate form was reached in the works of I.Iliin early in the 20th century. He formulated metaphysical premises of this ideology in his 2 volumes entitled Philosophy of Hegel as the Teaching of God's and Man's concreteness (1918) and developed his ethical system in the book On Violent Resistance to the Evil (1925), where the central point is the statement of absolute responsibility of men for all happening in historical time (for more detailed discussion see I.I.Yevlampiev. God and Man in the Ivan Ilyin's Philosophy. St.Petersburg. 1998).

Such a world-outlook is sufficiently different from the Christian traditional one, where supernatural divine order is taken of much more value than the earthly order. This can lead to historical passiveness, of which is well said by Novgorodtsev: "Trying to take supernatural order as the rule for human life lead to neglecting of historical work by humans" (P.I.Novgorodtsev. On Social Ideal. P. 70). But this can also lead to traditional Utopianism, that is to the wish of immediate and definitive elimination of imperfect being for perfect ideal one.

Dual world understanding, characteristic of Russian ideology, is also inclined to the Utopianism, bur with quite different features as compared to the classic Western Utopianism. An ideal is constructed that is considered necessary for men in the history and unrealizable in real historical time. Once again let us read Novgorodtsev: "for historical life of human race, an absolute ideal will remain always requirement and appeal. It gives to men not the bliss and calm, but the permanent drive and unrest. Being only partly and relatively realized under empirical conditions, the ideal excite new drive in the man each time the man realizes for a part, and so on without the end" (Idem. P. 68).

In this context it would be interesting to follow the evolution made by socialist Utopian idea in Russian social thinking. In the classic Marxism, its central notion, the communism means ideal state of the society that can be reached in the history; this state having been reached, no forces can reduce the society to the preceding imperfect state. The world and the man would be made perfect and having no defects from the past. But the real evolution in socialist Russia went in quite opposite direction, to more and more intensive fighting against ever reviving imperfection. Stalin's thesis of growing class struggle and corresponding practice of eliminating permanently appearing people's enemies was only adequate manifestation of the conviction that an ideal could not be finally realized.

All the above having been said, it is very easy to understand the causes of this sort of evolution the liberal ideas passed through here in Russia. In the West, they were taken as an absolute value, while in Russia as a mere way, among other possible ways of permanent fighting for the ideal. As Novgorodtsev said (Idem. P. 101), the greatness of the ideal make all means and ways only relative values, which allows to use them with some degree of freedom depending on situation. All attempts of more exact substantiation of the liberalism in Russian philosophy with necessity lead to reduction of the notion to a mere one way towards the social ideal. The ideal was also understood differently. Novgorodtsev took the ideal of the free universality, universal unification on the principles of equality and liberty (Idem. P. 111). Frank's ideal was full realization of spiritual life, realization of the life itself with all fullness, deepness, harmony and freedom of its divine first principle (See S.L.Frank. Spiritual Foundations of the Society). I.Ilyin had the ideal of love-merging of people (I.A.Ilyin. On the Kindness. Russkaya Mysl. 1912. No. 5. P. 36). But these differences were not the point for them, the main was impossibility of realization in the history. The break between the ideal and the life is the final cause of historical process and makes the process though "progressive", but tragic.

It is beyond any doubts that in modern world liberal ideology remains the most effective means of securing stability and progressive development of social systems, but we must keep in mind it is only means the society can use in fighting against its yet not eliminated (and they may be persistent) defects. This presumes we have to take into account the characteristics of the societies the liberal principles are introduced into. In some cases non-liberal measures could be necessary for improving a system and liberal reforms will only aggravate the situation, as the situation is, for example, in the ex-USSR countries. As for Russia, accepting of liberal principles is her only way towards the civilized community. But her peculiarities and special mentality (the Russian idea) requests much more flexible understanding and application of liberal principles. And in the historical future our apparent political immaturity reflected in such a flexibility could become an advantage and even lead to some new and better than classic form of liberal ideology.

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