Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Secular Age 3

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

A great achievement of modern civilization is that the social elite do not spend their time making war on one another. Instead, they make business on one another.

Charles Taylor says that one of the great achievements of our modern moral order is creating "the economy" as an autonomous sphere, which has become the central arena of action for our ruling class. This is the last step in the long social process of taming the feudal nobility.

The nobles were independent military actors through the wars of religion. The revulsion against those wars created the idea of religious toleration and moved religion out of the state and into the new "civil sphere." A side effect was to reign in the nobility to royal power, and to expand the elite to include the non-military gentry. The warrior elite and the gentry elite were both domesticated as educated, civil, advisors and agents of royal power. The English elite broadened to include economic functions, both through the state and through their own business. The English pattern became a model for other national elites.

America, which was born without a warrior caste, or even with nobles, so takes for granted that the ruling class is a business class that this seems like common sense. It is good, therefore, to step back and celebrate the civilizing of the warrior class.


TallCoolOne said...

Does Taylor distinguish between the antique warrior classes and the ones that obtained after the Fall of Rome? The differences are quite large, and how they were treated would make a large difference to how I would evaluate the analysis. (Taylor is now on order, but won't be here for a week.)

For a shorthand form: ODIN (the god of young Germanic males sent out to make their way in the violent world) OR TIWAZ (the god of the first-born Germanic males who inherited the land and stayed at home)? Neither of those were antique deities, nor were the practices associated with them.

And for the record: I hate entrepreneurs. They show no loyalty or norms beyond the bottom line.

halifax said...

Taylor is making an argument about how the modern (European) world emerged out of the medieval world so he's not overly interested in antiquity (except as it was conceived by early modern Europeans). His interest in the emergence of the 'economy' is an aspect of his debt to Hegel, who claimed that the emergence of civil society (i.e. a realm in which individuals consider themselves in terms of the ultimate value of personal choice) is the most distinctive element of modernity. For Hegel and to a lesser extent for Taylor as well, civil society or the economy is the realm of personal or, as Berlin phrases it, negative liberty. Such a realm did not exist in medieval Europe or in the classical world.

As for your last observation, I haven't noticed that entrepreneurs are less loyal or less ethical than any other group. In fact, I would say (from personal experience in every sense of the term) that college professors are less loyal than any other group that I have ever dealt with (Professor Weston is the exception, of course).

Black Sea said...

"Sir, a man is seldom so innocently employed as when he is getting money."
--Dr. Samuel Johnson

Gruntled said...

I am all in favor of domesticating warriors, and I am in favor of business. I am hoping to gain some insight from Taylor about which kinds of business elites are religious, and which secular.

The professoriat runs to secularity. I don't know whether they would be more religious if they were more connected to the market.

TallCoolOne said...

I've not read much about Hegel, so I'll have to take Halifax's word on where Taylor draws on his work.

To Black Sea: a truncated appropriation of another statement by Dr. Johnson -- "There is much in your work that is good and original. Unfortunately, what is good is not original."

To Gruntled: I don't mind business, or the keeping of thugs in line, only the commodification of life which entrepreneurs inevitably promote, sustain, and preserve. If the economy could be "kept in its place", things would not be so problematic. Maybe Hegel thought differently, but, as I said, that lies outside my knowledge.

Black Sea said...

TCO: "Almost every man wastes part of his life attempting to display qualities which he does not possess."

TallCoolOne said...

The snobbery on this blog is getting a bit oppressive. Does everyone have to lie around all day reading books a tiny fraction of the rest of us have the luxury of just knowing about?

I don't want to make close, personal friends here, but this kind of "I'm smarter and better educated than you and here's how I prove it" chicanery is getting old.

I enjoy reading Gruntled's post, and trying to have a conversation with him. Why to try letting me, and anyone else so inclined, do that without the sucker-punching?

TallCoolOne said...

Apologies for the typos in the last post. The program glitched on me as I was trying to edit them out.

Black Sea said...

"I don't want to make close, personal friends here . . ."

TCO: I don't think most people who comment here are out to make enemies, either.

The first quote from Johnson was not a personal rebuke of you or anyone else. I happened to remember it and thought it relevant to the post, particularly since Gruntled seemed to be making the point channeling agressive energies into business acitivities is arguably more socially benign (and benefical) than the alternatives.