Milton Fisk, in Toward a New Socialism, edited by A. Anton and R. Schmitt (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), 117-144.
Thinking about morality is a neglected part of envisioning a socialist movement and indeed a socialist future. To remedy this neglect, I shall set out some of the moral concepts and tensions that deserve consideration. It turns out that they are familiar from recent moral debates, where mention of socialism is rare. Any novelty they have here comes from considering them in a special context, the context of concern over what socialism might be after the fall of its Soviet model in 1991. This context links the moral outlook developed here to only one form of society – socialism. This won’t seem so restrictive once one reflects that most moral views have, implicitly at least, a parallel tie to some form of society.
1 The Form of Morality
Something needs saying at the start about the form of morality. What I have to say comes from taking to heart Karl Marx’s critique of morality. At first blush, his critique seems to imply that even a socialist morality is impossible. However, his target was not all forms of morality. A morality must be transparent in form to escape his criticism. In a morality of this form, an orientation through feeling is given pride of place over the setting out of general principles.
What was his critique of morality? Marx saw morality being used as a smoke screen behind which groups and individuals could advance their purposes. Its class or other limited purposes hid behind morality’s claimed universality, which allowed one to express morality in the form of general principles. This was, though, only half of his critique. Marx also objected to the derivation of the moral force of these principles from their alleged otherworldly associations. Our own period has a different list than his of such associations. Today, the moral force of principles might come from a hypothetical contract with others in conditions so ideal they could never exist. Or it might rest in a process of reasoning with others that could end in universal consensus only at some limit point just outside this process. Or finally, as in Marx’s time, it might be based on a revelation from a source such as pure reason, clairvoyance, or divine spirit, all considered as distinct from capacities used in familiar critical thinking.
It is not obvious though that morality must always play the role of a smoke screen dependent on otherworldly approval. Why can’t it also state its purposes forthrightly and rest its legitimacy on familiar rather than otherworldly matters? Why can’t it, in short, be a transparent morality? In some cases, morality faces no serious obstacles to being forthright rather than devious and to being immanent rather than otherworldly. These are cases where morality integrates itself with benevolent feelings and cooperative interests. One has no reason to hide such positive feelings and interests in explaining one’s decisions, nor is there any need to go beyond familiar circumstances to the otherworldly in order to justify these decisions. In contrast, where the dominant feelings and interests in our moral outlook are greed and contempt, we have to be more cautious. We will have to hide them behind a façade of rules and rights that, to play this role, will need an otherworldly justification.
Yet by making morality transparent, isn’t there the danger that morality might simply disappear, leaving interests, basic attitudes, commitments, and some skills in critical thinking as a residue? Quite consistently, Marx leaves us with just such a residue. In what we may call his moral critique of capitalism, he lets matters stand by saying only that capitalism thwarts the interests of the lower classes to which he is committed, rationalizes its actions in a way that ignores familiar critical thinking, and uses the power of possession to force people to work. Far from morality’s disappearing here, it inheres in Marx the critic and by extension in his critique, so that we can speak of Marx’s morality or the morality of his major work, Capital. A morality that is transparent in form will inhere in a critic like Marx in virtue of his attitudes, interests, critical skills, and commitments with nothing standing apart from them being necessary to constitute it.
Specifically, there is no appeal in Marx to principles stating rights or rules of justice as matters that stand by themselves apart from attitudes and interests. That is, there is no appeal to principles as matters that can independently validate or invalidate commitments based on interests and attitudes. For, to make an appeal to principles that stand apart from feelings, interests, and commitments, and hence can stand in judgment over them, would be to abandon a transparent morality. Why exactly is there this lack of transparency?
There are several reasons. The first has to do with the fact that there are always interests behind principles, even though one portrays them as prior to interests. In our own lives, we could accept at first certain principles on authority, but then we might abandon them later on unless they serve our interests and harmonize with our feelings, showing that these principles lack priority over interests. Suppose, for example, that a dominant group proclaims the principle that freedom is a right of every citizen. Its interest in proclaiming this might be, as it often is, to divert the attention of citizens from ways they lack freedom. The dominant group may well want to maintain the limits it puts on citizens whether at their work, in their access to the media, or in coping with their basic needs. Here the principle is supposed by those appealing to it to stand on its own apart from their or anyone else’s interests. In fact, its very substance is to conceal quite definite interests. Those who see the conflict between their interests and the interests the principle conceals will have to look for a transparent counterpart of this principle. They will have to look for a principle of freedom as a right that, in its substance, is not limited by those self-interested purposes.
The second reason has to do with the justification of principles treated as standing apart from and hence as prior to feelings and interests. The critical factor here is the universal scope claimed for these principles. Their universality is supposed to give them priority over feelings and interests, which are thoroughly particular. This particularity, though, poses a challenge to the universality of those principles. The challenge is that there are different and conflicting feelings and interests that become the bases for different and conflicting principles, which are all universal in form. To meet this challenge, those defending principles that conflict with the principles of others will appeal to otherworldly devices. For example, on grounds of fairness employees dispute the right of employers to set wages based solely on market considerations. In order to get backing for its principles of fairness, the employees’ side of the dispute might resort to the otherworldly claim that agreement on those principles would come at a limit point just beyond realworld dialogue. The employers’ side will back up its claimed right to set wages with an appeal to an otherworldly revelation of reason that the use of wealth is at the discretion of its owner. A transparent morality, in contrast, looks for the resolution of moral conflict not in another world but in the unfolding of history, where earlier conflicts exhaust themselves as new ones flair up.
Still, a transparent morality need not avoid rights or principles. What one needs to avoid is a way of treating them that severs their connection with interests. Consider the case of rights in a socialist morality, interpreted here as a special case of a transparent morality. So interpreted, the interests at its core are dominantly the other-regarding ones, which are not in need of being hidden. To avoid being opaque, the rights a socialist morality can recognize will be ones that inhere in certain of the practices in political and civic life. Rights are not, as in so much liberal theory that appeals to a legal paradigm of principles, a framework for judging practices within political and civic life that stands apart from that life. Rights in such a version of liberal theory will not derive their validity from those practices. Instead, they stand over these practices. This leads many who would defend such rights to do so by reference to methods, standards, or origins that are otherworldly. For example, the standard of reaching agreement about rights at a projected limit point just beyond any realworld discussion introduces such an otherworldly element.
One needn’t introduce such an otherworldly device in order for rights to play a role in criticizing a society’s dominant practices. It suffices, instead, to appeal to the practices, already embedded in a society, that are opposed to its dominant practices. From these countervailing practices, countervailing rights will emerge with which to criticize the rights accepted within the dominant practices. For example, though racism was dominant in US society, the struggles of those oppressed by it led to appeals to racial equality as a right. The moral conflict between racists and defenders of equal rights is still working itself out, not in an otherworldly arena, but in school districts, hiring offices, and welfare politics. Its resolution comes only with the exhaustion of these struggles somewhere down the line.
The ascent to the otherworld rests on the assumption that the validity of rights is not to be found in the realworld. Yet making this assumption depends on ignoring how realworld factors enter in. Rights cannot stand in judgment on our political and civic life from outside it. We are tempted to think otherwise due to typical moral rights’ having a form of universality – no person lacks them. This universality, though, blinkers us to the way rights conceal their roots in a quite particular political and civic life. As Marxists emphasize in their critique of rights of individuals, treating rights as an external framework for judging political and civil life encourages our ignoring the intimate ties those rights actually have to practices in society. In particular, liberal capitalism hides itself behind the rights it proclaims, giving the impression that its rights have no tie exclusively to any one or several perspectives. It proclaims freedom of the press but means that the government may undertake only minimal interference with corporate controlled media. It defends equal opportunity but means that the market doesn’t privilege anyone by preventing them from failing. It defends the democratic right to have one’s opinion taken into account but means that an opinion needn’t be acted on when it can’t be reconciled with a corporate agenda. Socialists should have, of course, a Bill of Rights, but they will be able to point openly to their Bill of Rights as their own. The rights listed in such a Bill are quite openly for the defense of the solidaristic and cooperative values emerging within a certain tradition of struggle.
This understanding of rights and principles allows one to navigate between extremes. Many moral theorists have argued that, without principles standing outside the life of interests and having jurisdiction over it, one abandons morality altogether. What remains is a free for all in which the actors relentlessly pursue their own advantage. It is Thomas Hobbes’ war of all against all. Must one though choose between an opaque morality of principles that rests on otherworldly appeals and a nightmare of insecurity resulting from an emphasis on self-interest? An opaque morality fails to tell us how to decide since it leads us to the edge of the realworld, of which we understand something, and asks us to leap into the otherworld, of which we understand nothing. However, without a morality at all, efforts at cultivating a livable and peaceful society seem foredoomed.
A socialist morality provides one with the two main features called for by a third way between these unsupportable alternatives. First, it sees the solution to moral conflicts as possible without appeals to otherworldly devices. We overcome these conflicts with the exercise of our basic human skills in the course of history and not by projecting points of moral unanimity just the other side of history. Second, it emphasizes the social rather than the selfish interests. It is the selfish interests, which so much liberal thinking about morality takes as its starting point, and not the social ones, that lead to attempts at concealment by means of moral principles. Moral transparency opens up the third way between opacity and chaos.
2 Moral Orientation
This reflection on rights suggests a way to explain how a transparent morality inheres in persons and groups as well as in their critical analyses, such as Marx’s analysis of capital. How can it inhere rather than be something transcendent that judges our aspirations and actions?
Consider what we are trying to avoid. When rights, principles of justice, or regulations of conduct become a framework limiting the feelings we may follow and the goals we may pursue, we have to trust that this framework will serve us well. Among others things, we have to trust that it is not just a tool for alien interests or a guide supported only by some otherworldly consideration. In going beyond mere trust, we set out to inspect this framework to see if indeed it will serve us well rather than chain us to alien interests or snare us in otherworldly abstractions. This creates an impossible situation. For the only way to inspect the framework of principles in order to refute such charges against it is by considering our interests, feelings, and power relations to others. Yet on the view in question, these factors are themselves judged by the framework rather than standing in judgment on it. Thus, a framework of principles can’t consistently resolve the issue of its trustworthiness, and this is part of its failure to be transparent. For in a transparent morality, no inconsistency arises from judging principles through appeal to feelings, interests, commitments, and power.
This is not yet to say how a morality inheres in people, groups, and their critical analyses. What is missing is an indication of the roles played by the inherent factors of feeling, interest, commitment, and power. I want to focus on the fact that among these factors feeling provides us with a moral orientation. It gives a moral orientation toward various interests and power relations. Oriented by a feeling of kindness, one will tend toward having an interest in projects that benefit others without giving some of them significantly greater power over the rest. It is through feeling that a morality inheres in people, groups, and critical analyses. The difference between a transparent morality and one based on a framework of principles need not come from any difference in moral demands. Rather, the difference is that between starting from what I shall call a moral orientation rather than starting from a framework of moral principles. This is a basic difference of form between moralities.
This difference needs elaborating. On the one side are those who say that the elementary factors in morals are commands, rules, dictates, or laws. These stand out as a framework of principles guiding us in evaluation. As such, the history of their adoption or that of the everyday matters they are to control becomes irrelevant. Instead, we allow these principles, as things detached from our experience, to impose themselves on interests and feelings in order to reject those that lead in directions incompatible with them. On the other side are those who say there is a domain of the moral only because there are feelings that orient behavior. The options a person admits, when faced with problems, are those that these feelings promote. Formed with feelings of compassion and solidarity, one’s orientation will dispose one toward political solutions of a cooperative sort but against solutions involving abandonment for the sake of personal gain. Marx’s transparent morality in his critique of capitalism was one with an orientation set by compassion for the vulnerable and outrage at their treatment by the powerful. Once an orientation is in place, refinements can occur in it based on experience, critical skill, and instruction. The effect of these refinements will be that further limits are set on one’s options, but this is still a limitation within an orientation by feeling. Thus, it is through an orientation by feeling that a transparent morality becomes inherent in people, since such an orientation can’t be separated from them and organizes things within and between them.
The specific form of morality that makes an orientation by feeling central still allows moral agents to be critical of their own feelings. Moral agents retain the key feature of being self-critical because of this. Suppose that the moral orientation of an agent is by benevolence. Obviously, the agent can criticize a selfish feeling, which he or she may have despite that orientation. What, though, of his or her feeling of benevolence itself? The important thing is that it need not remain one’s orienting feeling. For, the agent might change to another orientation within which he or she could criticize the feeling of benevolence. (This displacement of an orientation is often itself a critical process in which, not just experience and training play a role, but also a new orientation comes into play.) It is not enough to say that one can criticize benevolence by some moral principle. One must add that any such principle assumes an alternative orienting feeling.
Both individuals and groups have moral orientations. There needn’t be agreement in moral orientation between them. If there is a dominant orientation in the society, then I may come to adopt it by default due simply to it’s being the one commonly adopted. My own moral orientation, though, may come to reflect that of a part of the society that is challenging the society’s dominant orientation. I would then have abandoned the hegemonic orientation for a counter-hegemonic one. Given that conflicting feelings affect most of us, such a change in moral orientation would invert the roles conflicting feelings play in our moral orientation with dominant ones becoming subordinate and subordinate ones becoming dominant. Of course, this change would not end the tension between those conflicting feelings. Instead, the feelings that once defined my moral orientation would no longer define it, and conversely some of the feelings that hadn’t defined my moral orientation would come to define it. Suppose, for example, that my moral orientation has shifted from insensitivity to compassion. On some occasions I might still feel the urge to react insensitively to the predicament of others even though on the whole I would be guided by compassion.
Important as personal moral orientations are, having them is not possible apart from group orientations. This does not mean that group orientations determine individual ones. The social nature of morality means something else. To see what it means, note that orienting oneself by a feeling is not sufficient for having a moral orientation. For that, the orientation has to be cultivated by, or at least a candidate for cultivation by, the people of some group. Saying it is a candidate refers to the existence of advocates for making the orientation universal within the group. None of this implies that the group orientation determines that of the individual. Instead, personal moral orientations are often responses to group orientations, whether in conformity with or in opposition to them. In sum, the moral orientations of persons depend on efforts to make orientations by feelings common within groups. So personal moral orientations depend on group orientations, without the latter determining the former, while, conversely, the moral orientations of groups are not just structural facts but are rooted in personal moral orientations.
3 Modes of Organizing Society
The orientation characteristic of a given morality will be important in selecting problems to confront and in organizing to resolve them. In the case of socialist morality, this orientation comes from the influence of feelings of two basic types. Feelings of both types are social, that is, feelings through which one is in some manner identified with others. On the one side, there are feelings of sympathy, compassion, and benevolence. If one is compassionate and sympathetic, encountering distress in others will stir our feelings. With benevolence, one goes beyond mere sensitivity to others’ distress by wanting to end distress or at least ameliorate it. In each case, there is identification with others, either with their feelings or with their need to improve their situation. On the other side, there are feelings of outrage at, mistrust of, and disillusion with decisions, officials, and programs. Feeling outrage goes beyond a personal hurt or slight, since it is a feeling one has while considering oneself part of a group that one assumes would feel in a similar way in the same situation. With outrage, then, identification with others comes through considering them part of a community to which one belongs that would react in a similar negative way to the same situation.
Are these social feelings associated with a characteristic way of organizing work? They are indeed, and this becomes a main reason for their importance. A mix of social feelings of both types serves to motivate important social tasks–defining problems, uniting people, setting goals, and implementing them. The identification with others coming from these feelings lays the basis for working together with them on those social tasks. The social feelings lead to cooperation. Not surprisingly, then, cooperation becomes the chief mode of organizing for all the social tasks motivated by the social feelings. In a world where the social feelings were dominant, cooperation would become the primary organizer of the major social sectors – work, politics, the family, the city, education, and culture.
Moral orientations by the social feelings contrast with those based on mixes of non-social feelings. Insensitivity to the feelings of others contrasts with the compassion behind a cooperative mode of organization. The indifference to helping others realize their interests contrasts with the desire to satisfy their interests that is characteristic of the benevolence or solidarity in a cooperative mode of organization. This indifference to others is paired with self-seeking, which aims at the realization not of the self’s broader, social interests but rather at its narrower, personal interests.
Just as cooperation becomes the mode of organizing activity when the moral orientation is by social feelings, so too control becomes the mode of organizing activity when the moral orientation is by the non-social feelings above. Without insisting on control over them, those who are the objects of one’s insensitivity and indifference will become obstacles to one’s self-seeking. The slave, the serf, or the wageworker who is treated as a means to satisfy someone else’s self-seeking, and as deserving no further consideration, will not follow orders without control by the tightest discipline. Moreover, those who’s self-seeking and indifference to others has gained them advantages will use those advantages to control others in order to get even further advantages. So, control as a means of organizing activity becomes a means for creating inequality, which need not occur within cooperative organization. Control will come to range over a variety of important sectors – the economy, politics, and ideas – in order to guarantee that serious challenges to the advantages of those who have gained from indifference and self-seeking will have no room to develop.
How does all this relate to capitalism, the foil to the socialism for which I want to sketch a morality? Capitalism’s moral orientation comes from the non-social feelings of insensitivity, indifference, and self-seeking. It has, moreover, a proven record for extending control of the few over the many – in the workplace, in political debate, and in entrenching its key ideas. The moral orientation of capitalism makes control rather than cooperation its dominant mode of organizing activity. In choosing to organize its activity by control, capitalism has carefully selected the way it prefers to get control. Due to historical factors, it sets aside many other forms of organization by control in favor of one that stresses competition. Wage competition controls the degree to which workers will demand more, and the global market controls the degree to which a national economy can survive with a strong welfare system. Capitalism, then, does not control by feudal hierarchies, by slave ownership, and by autocratic central planning. It doesn’t hesitate to make important use of aspects of the autocratic methods used by these rejected forms of control. Still, competition becomes within it a major form of control. Competition is for it universal in the sense that it is competition not just between those trying to sell goods or services but also between workers for jobs and wages. Having such a variety of markets offers incredible opportunities for self-seekers to enrich themselves, while simultaneously creating frightening risks for them.
We can expect capitalism to extend control-by the few over the many-into numerous social sectors. Control will, then, go beyond the control over productive property that is encouraged by capitalism’s moral orientation through insensitivity, indifference, and self-seeking. There must also be political and ideological control that sustains inequality in productive property, keeps wages low, and legitimates the moral orientation of capitalism. Without political and ideological control, there are too few common social projects to make inequality bearable. Thus, capitalism’s survival makes control of the political arena and over the ideas of the majority an urgent task.
Competition has a place not just within organization by control but even within organization by cooperation. Competition, though, plays only a limited role where cooperation is the basic mode of organization. By contrast, the kind of organization by control found in capitalism gives competition a central role because of its ability to spread and strengthen control. The reason for this difference is that, in the case of cooperative organization, the important thing is the goal for the sake of which people cooperate. Thus in a system that is basically cooperative, athletic competition can serve the goal of making life enjoyable, and scientific competition can serve the goal of making life healthier. In this context, competition is not a zero-sum activity since even the loser gains because his or her goal was the social one of improving life rather than the personal one of controlling others by keeping them from honors or riches. In the case of organization by control, those who compete do so precisely to deny others control. This is the case not just in economic competition aiming at denying competitors a broader market or a lucrative contract but it also extends to the areas we has just talked about, athletic and scientific competition. Where organization is by control, the aim of activity is to concentrate control in the hands of individuals or corporate entities. Losers usually lack the consolation that their loss serves some broader goal. They competed to deny others control rather than for a good that didn’t depend on who won.
4 Rights and Common Goods
Earlier I rejected the view that rights must make up a framework of principles that stands apart from the political and civil life it governs. Rights, then, do not gain their legitimacy from being the outcome of ideal rational procedures or of some type of revelation. Rights serve to criticize behavior in society without their having to be associated with processes detached from realworld social and political life. I claimed that, for a socialist morality, rights would enjoy transparency, by inhering in cooperative organization without losing their critical role. What, though, does it mean to say that rights are inherent in cooperative organization? The answer, as we shall see, lies in the connection between cooperation and shared values in the sense of common goals.
Where control predominates, the divisions it creates will rule out shared values in the sense of common goals. Yet common goals tie together those engaged cooperatively. The status of rights, then, will be quite different where control predominates from what it is where cooperation predominates. Control in the form of exploitation, bureaucratic commands, gender or racial discrimination, and non-recognition of national minorities limits the degree to which people share values. After all, these and other controls divide controllers from controlled giving one side goals that spring from an interest in maintaining control and the other side goals that spring from an interest in escaping from it. With common goals absent or weakened when control is dominant, how is social union possible apart from sheer force? The dominance of control makes an appeal to any substantive value as a basis for unity an unfounded presumption. Even an appeal to the nation as a common value is frustrated since a nation’s most fervent supporters often claim their nation has a core group that through its special qualities is destined to control the rest.
So in hopes of finding a basis for social union despite the dominance of control, the idea emerges of a unifier that doesn’t depend on shared values understood as common goals. In a major tradition of liberal ethical theory, of which John Locke was a formative member and John Rawls a latter-day innovator, this unifier took the form of a framework of rights, justice, and regulations that was to impose limits on what people may do in pursuit of diverse values. This attributes to rights a priority over the values and common goals of different groups. The limits imposed, though, need not be inherent in the practices of any of the conflicting groups. Imposing those limits reduces tensions while leaving in place the divisions between these groups. The members of each of these groups gain rights through the imposition of limits on how those in other groups may treat them.
Even with the primacy of rights over common goals, the divisions are still not overcome by common goals. After all, eliminating those divisions would undercut the reason for making rights primary, which was the need for unity in face of asymmetries of control. Viewed in this way, asserting the priority of rights is less an enlightened toleration of diversity than a retrograde toleration of control. What such a priority achieves is a modicum of dignity for the controlled rather than the ascendance of cooperation over control.
Where, however, cooperation to predominate, rights could emerge from among the shared values – in the sense of the goals – of those who cooperate. There would no longer be a need to make rights a framework external to shared values. To say how rights emerge from cooperation, we first have to discuss the connection between cooperation and shared values.
People cooperate with an end in mind they agree on. For the kind of cooperation we are focusing on here in discussing rights, reaching the end will change things for them as a group. Cooperating to get a school up and running changes the community by adding a new feature to it. So, cooperation here takes place among those who see themselves as acting to give a certain feature to a collective unit to which they pertain. This kind of teleology is what makes cooperation a distinctive organizing principle for social groups. Cooperation in the family to expand its living space reveals the same kind of teleology since having the added living space becomes a feature of the family.
Why not focus as well on cooperation for ends that do not change groups? The reason is that we are discussing rights and hence want to focus on the kind of cooperation one needs to back up rights. Suppose there is a right to cooperation in realizing some end that is not a change in the society but merely help for an individual. Take the case of a passerby cooperating with a total stranger whose car is stuck in a ditch. Now assume – which may not be the case – that the stranger has a right to the passerby’s help. How will this right get its backing? It gets it from cooperation of a much broader kind for an end that is not just an individual end. The passerby cooperated with the stranger for the goal of getting the stranger on his or her way. This goal had as its subject an individual – the stranger – and not the society. To get backing for the right of the stranger there would need to be a cooperative project, involving the general populace, to reach the goal of having a society where distressed people are not abandoned. By focusing on this broader kind of cooperation alone, we capture the basis for rights to cooperation for individual ends.
There are, then, two chief features of a goal pursued by cooperation of the kind needed to back up rights. First, it is clearly a shared goal since those pursuing it don’t aim at distinct goals but only one, that of giving a certain feature to a collective unit. Second, it is a goal pursued in solidarity since those trying to realize a feature of the collective unit don’t want it just for themselves but for one another. Thus, the goal which cooperating individuals are pursuing is a shared goal of giving a collective unit a certain feature while pursuing it in solidarity.
Beyond cooperation within families, enterprises, and ethnic minorities, there may also be cooperation across the more encompassing groupings thought of as societies. A goal pursued through cooperation that would become a feature of such a broader grouping-a society be it national, transnational, or global-is called a common good. Widespread agreement on a common good is necessary in order to ensure that we pursue it through cooperation rather than control. A feature of a society pursued through control would not be a common good, even if it happens to serve the interests of all in it. The difference is not in the goal itself but in a subjective element. For, control becomes necessary for pursuing a goal when there is a failure of the widespread agreement on it needed to have cooperation.
Now we come to the promised connection between rights and those shared values that are social goals of the sort called common goods. Instead of being primarily a framework for judging common goods, rights emerge as defenses within the feeling-oriented activity of adopting and pursuing common goods. As defenses of this kind, it is important to divide rights into the specific and the general. The specific rights derive from the content of specific common goods. If a healthy society is a common good, then unsafe workplaces are an obstacle to this common good and as a rule no employer has a right to keep an unsafe workplace open. So insisting on specific rights is a way of seeing to it that people prevent the coming of and remove existing obstacles to specific common goods.
There are also general rights, ones that assure the general conditions for realizing common goods. Denying a people certain possibilities could undercut the cooperative action needed for realizing any of their common goods. Measures to assure that people will have these possibilities are protections of their general rights. They deserve protection if people are serious about being able to create the kind of society they would like by cooperative means.
These general rights, which make possible the general task of pursuing common goods, fall into two broad groups. On the one side, there are rights to political autonomy. If respected, they protect people who come together to publicize what they see as flaws in their society and who then wish to try to get widespread agreement on implementing changes. Without such organization and advocacy, control will replace cooperation thereby making common goods impossible. On the other side, there are rights to personal autonomy. Among other things, they aim at protecting individuals who want to make exceptions of themselves whether by dissenting from a widespread consensus or by not participating in its implementation. Without the possibility of withholding consent and participation control gains a beachhead from which it will spread, ultimately undermining the cooperation needed for common goods themselves.
Thus, common goods are the link connecting cooperation and rights. Rights are inherent in cooperation at least when cooperation aims at common goods. Having placed rights in this context, there is no need to go beyond the network of feelings, cooperation, and shared goals to give them legitimacy. The nature of socialist morality is, as liberals have rightly insisted, incompatible with importing into it the liberal view of rights as an external framework for limiting the network of feelings, cooperation, and shared goals. What this means is not that socialist morality is no friend of rights but that the liberal view of rights distorts their status. Socialist morality treats some rights as protections against undermining the specific common goods to which social feelings and cooperation lead us. Others it treats as protections against the erosion either of our political freedom to choose to pursue goals with others or of our personal freedom not to participate in projects to realize widely accepted goals.
5 Cooperation and Rationality
In view of all the above, moralities appear to fall into two main categories. A formal morality gives primacy to principles, whereas a morality of orientation emphasizes feelings over principles. Before saying more about a formal morality, I need to say how a morality of orientation connects with feelings. We have already noted that feelings provide a general moral orientation. In addition, though, feelings provide specific motives for actions. One can explain the difference as follows.
An orientation by certain feelings is a disposition both to have those feelings and to have them guide us. It is a trait constituting an important part of moral character. If one’s orientation is by benevolence, for example, then one will be disposed both to feel benevolent and to let that feeling guide one’s choice of action and as well one’s choice of goals, principles, and policies. As a disposition, one’s orientation by benevolence doesn’t itself involve an actual feeling of benevolence. Rather, with an orientation by a social feeling like benevolence, one is likely to respond to a wide range of circumstances with feelings of benevolence and, when it comes to thinking about justice and rights, to adopt principles of justice and rights that are appropriate to a cooperative mode of organization. Even for this benevolent agent, there remains the possibility of having and being guided by feelings that are not social. This mere possibility is not enough, though, to make it likely that in a wide range of circumstances one will have the non-social feeling and be guided by it. Even when one has the non-social feeling and is guided by it, this would be out of moral character for the agent oriented by social feelings. Only in circumstances that put the benevolent agent under severe stress does the social response cease to be likely.
In their role as motives, feelings assume a second connection with morality. Motives are actual feelings and not just dispositions for feelings. The connection with morality comes in when we ask whether as a motive a feeling leads to the kind of action that would be encouraged, or discouraged, by following a given orientation by feeling. If the action would be encouraged the motive “fits” the orientation and is then good; if it would be discouraged the motive fails to “fit” the orientation and is then bad. The motive of greed, for example, would likely lead to actions that would be discouraged by following an orientation by benevolence. However, the motive of respect would likely lead to actions encouraged by following that orientation. Greed is bad in light of this orientation, whereas respect is good. While acting, an agent may have various feelings without all of them motivating the action. As mere feelings, they are neither good nor bad; they become so only as motives.
Things appear inverted as we turn from a morality of orientation to a formal one. In the later, the agent’s relation to principles is decisive. On the one hand, the principles are not acceptable just because they happen to fit an orientation by certain feelings. They must satisfy instead a requirement of autonomy to the effect that those principles are adopted after due consideration and not because of pressure from feelings – from desire, from jealousy, from benevolence, or from fear. On the other hand, an agent will need a motive for acting on those principles. This immediately introduces feelings into the agent’s relation to principles. But the motive for acting on a principle may be simply the neutral one of respecting what has been arrived at by a process of due consideration. This is a rather rarefied motive but a motive nonetheless, which has the advantage of being neutral between the social and non-social feelings.
Let us focus more sharply on the due consideration called for in adopting a principle. Could a socialist morality, with its call for cooperation, ever be a kind of formal morality? There would have to be a principle of cooperation among the principles of such a formal morality. It might run as follows: Act toward others so that you always treat some of their goals as your own goals. Now the due consideration needed for adopting this principle would involve the social feelings, for without them, why would we ever accept such a principle? We would not accept such a principle of cooperation because of the selfish feelings since people with selfish motives exit from cooperation when it becomes demanding. Moreover, a neutral feeling like the respect for principles adopted autonomously comes into play only after adopting principles.
The issue is not whether the principle of cooperation is true or false but only how we would give due consideration to determine which it is. If the appeal is to be to rationality, then we have to ask why reason by itself would favor cooperation over control. When neither the social nor the selfish feelings inform or make part of reason, it remains neutral between cooperation and control. After all, for neoliberal moralists, who defend free trade and the privatization of public services even at the expense of economic and social safety nets, rationality is not pure but manifests the selfish feelings. This allows these moralists to assert the rationality of social organization by control. Likewise, due consideration that involves a theological appeal fails to escape a base in feelings, since it is only a compassionate and caring divinity that would insist on solidarity and cooperation among humans. In sum, a formal morality is incapable of dealing with the issue as to whether there should be organization by cooperation as opposed to organization by control.
How shall we respond to the charge that a morality of orientation of the type needed for socialism promotes both sentimentalism and irrationalism? We must say that giving a place to feelings is not sentimentalism, nor is denying the power of detached reason irrationalism. These labels are inappropriate as is clear from examining how we would select and then implement social goals within a socialist society. In such a process, involving struggle, reflection, and compromise, the role of sentiment would not displace that of reasoning. In selecting and implementing its goals, people would give reasons for and against various positions, reasons informed by and integrated with an outlook of outrage at gratuitous harm, compassion for victims, and solidarity in reconstruction. Such reasoning, though, would not encourage a complacent inhumanity. The integration with feelings would not permit one to become insensitive to the suffering and vulnerability of others, nor would it permit one to undermine a commitment to improving their lot. A formal morality would not allow sensitivity to suffering and commitment to amelioration to inform and to integrate themselves with reasons and reasoning. The role of reason in a morality of socialism is not to escape from the sentiments but to complement them in a way that promotes cooperative action.
6 Elements of a Socialist Morality
Before giving a sketch of socialist morality, something needs saying about each of its elements and about how they are connected. Feelings will of course be among them, but there will also be both the shared values whose role is to guide feelings and the institutional ways of pursuing these values. We can list the following stages in an idealized version of the process of connecting these elements. It is a rational rather than a historical progression. Starting with social feelings, each subsequent stage in adding elements belonging to a socialist morality comes as a reasoned response to limitations detected in the previous stage. We ignore the historical ordering and obstacles to such a rational progression. So we get only an idealized version of how the elements come together in a socialist morality.
There is a first stage where the social feelings dominate. The main concern here is not with what gives rise to these feelings but with the fact that they motivate valuations and actions. The positive social feelings-compassion and benevolence-often lead to rescue operations. Soup kitchens emerge, funds for medicines swell, or emergency technical training springs up. Still, negative social feelings eventually emerge from such activity, for there will be outrage and disillusion when the conditions that make the rescues necessary remain unchanged and further rescues are unavoidable. Taken together, the positive and negative social feelings motivate an analysis of the situation that ends by recognizing a need for deeper change.
This leads into a second stage where the search for values is dominant. One seeks these values to avoid the seemingly interminable rescues prompted by the social feelings in the first stage. They can guide us toward changes in the society, changes that give the society new features. Having these features gives the society a robust capacity to satisfy needs for which in the first stage there were only palliatives. In this second stage, then, these values point the way to changes that keep the positive social feelings from leading to dead ends. Nonetheless, in searching for values to guide us, the orientation by social feelings of the first stage provides a framework that the values chosen must fit within.
Specifically, this framework leads to two requirements for acceptable values. One is that the social feature which is to be a value must represent a radical change. It will, then, avoid, and not just temporally suspend, the original problems leading people to feel outrage at the system mixed with compassion and benevolence for its victims. The other is that the social feature, which avoids the initial problems, should itself provide a compassionate and benevolent order. For example, one should not avoid the inequality problems of a capitalist market by turning to an economy that simply imposes poverty on everyone. Even as it guides the social feelings, a feature of society that is to be a value needs to be compatible with an orientation by those feelings. Otherwise, the value would promote either indifference or harm to others.
The requirement that values be a compassionate and benevolent solution to initial problems is a strong one indeed. It leads us to claim that the goals proposed to provide solutions will be ones about which there can be widespread agreement. It must at least be feasible. Without this possibility of agreement, the goals will override the wishes or at least the latent wishes of large numbers. But such an imposition would make for a solution that is neither compassionate nor benevolent. Moreover, the requirement also leads to the claim that the features of society aimed at are inclusive rather than exclusive. White supremacy would be an exclusive feature insofar as a society with that feature would exclude non-whites from basic opportunities. A non-discriminatory society, in contrast, would include opportunities for all. Solutions to social problems that are exclusive and are not a step to a broader solution that is inclusive are neither compassionate nor benevolent. Not only do they fail to deal with the suffering and needs of those beyond a given group but also they set up barriers to dealing with them. .
A goal for creating a feature of society that is inclusive and on which there is or could be widespread agreement we call a social value. The characteristic thing about any social value is that it will be the same for everyone, rather than distinct from person to person. If having an educated society becomes a social value, then a great majority in the society will have the same goal of making their society an educated one. This is clear since, when one of us gets to be part of an educated society, all of us in the same society also become part of it. In contrast, my getting an education is a goal for me and it is distinct from your goal of getting an education, since your getting educated doesn’t imply my getting educated. .
And so we move to a third stage which goes beyond the search for social values to actual agreement on them and their implementation. It sets out from social values widely agreed to, rather than being merely feasible objects of agreement as in the second stage. With this agreement, these social values project the new features of society that will become its common goods. This widespread agreement ushers in, as the active component of the third stage, a cooperative effort to realize these social values.
As understood in the second stage, social values have an intimate connection with the cooperation involved in implementing solutions to social problems. Here in the third stage there will be widespread agreement to pursue certain social values. Once there is this agreement, the key factor for getting cooperation is that a social value is the same for all. This sameness automatically creates a situation of solidarity, for your goal of realizing the social value is my goal as well and likewise my goal is yours. I shall want to help you with your goal and you will want to help me with mine, since your goal is mine and mine is yours. This leads us to cooperate, reducing thereby the efforts we would otherwise have to make. In sum, within the framework of the social feelings, the solutions pursued will be compassionate and benevolent, and such solutions lead to cooperation.
The third stage will be not just a stage of commitment to and cooperation in action but also a stage of building institutions. To avoid leaving the realization of social values to the ups and downs of feeling, the cooperative effort of pursuing them takes the form of building institutions. Working together to provide this basis for realizing social values becomes the source of the emphasis in a socialist morality on cooperation rather than control. The institutions built to achieve social goals, which in achieving those goals give rise to common goods, I refer to as public goods. Their distinguishing feature is that they serve as a robust means for giving the society features that people mutually desire – desire for one another – in addition to desiring them for themselves.
7 The Need for Cooperation
The institutions of this third stage occasion debate over their mode of organization. Why after all must public goods, which are means to widely agreed on social goals, be cooperative institutions? Perhaps we were wrong in thinking that cooperative pursuit is necessary for realizing features of society desired by each for all. If we were wrong, we could still hold that the social feelings motivate the process of achieving social goals. Yet we could no longer hold that a morality oriented by the social feelings has to call for cooperation. The current ideology of privatization, for example, sees no conflict between the market and widely agreed to social goals, such as security in retirement, a healthy society, and an informed citizenry. Yet the market, which doesn’t have its base in the social feelings, is not a cooperative system.
My argument below to show that cooperation is necessary for realizing any widely agreed on social goal is that without it people go their own way. Instead of getting behind a single goal, they split off to work for distinct goals. I shall try to show this for the case of control and later ask whether other forms of non-cooperation also fit under the umbrella of control.
To deal with the issue of the mode of organization for realizing a social goal, it is well to start by noting an important difference between cooperation and control. Cooperation certainly allows for a division of labor, including a division between leaders and others, provided it is a matter of mutual consent, which is subject to reconsideration without threats or reprisals. Choosing leaders, for example, takes place in an open manner and followers are to have the right to change them regularly. Concern with achieving given goals is behind the allocation of roles. One chooses leaders for their potential to reach social goals. Organization by control, in contrast, depends less on estimates as who can achieve agreed to social goals than on maintaining the power of dominant groups. One ascribes leadership roles to those in a certain class, a certain office, or a certain nationality. Hence, organization by control rests on the allocation of roles by social ascription. Changing the organization of control depends on changing the basis for ascribing control and being controlled. Such a change can’t be chosen in an open process that ends in mutual agreement since those who control through social ascription will use their ability to control in order to oppose the change.
As we already showed, those with the same social goal will, with a moderate level of commitment to the goal, work together to realize it. For, by cooperating with another to realize a social goal, one is not just helping that person to realize this goal but also helping oneself to realize it. To maintain their cooperation, they are careful in taking steps toward the goal to do what is feasible in order to discuss alternatives, to be inclusive, and to broaden consent on the steps taken. All this would be different were certain individuals, or those in a certain group, able to rely on their status as a basis for having things done their way. Still, couldn’t those who get their way and those who are controlled by them have the same social goal? If so, cooperation and hence seeking widespread consent no longer seem to follow from the pursuit of the same social goal.
Consider though whether, without cooperation and seeking consent over taking steps to a goal, each can want for everyone the benefits of achieving this goal. Without cooperation and its more consensual style, a tension arises between the alleged sameness of the mutually desired goal and the different interests of controllers and those they control.
Here is why there is such a tension. On the one hand, sticking with the same goal makes the case for cooperation compelling. With the same goal, it would be capricious to ignore the advantages of cooperation and its consensual style. Not only does cooperation have the advantage of strengthening motivation, it also has the advantage of reducing the tendency to work at cross-purposes.
On the other hand, it makes sense to ignore the advantages of cooperation by turning to control only if the goal is not the same for both. One would turn to control only if one thought that others did not share one’s goal and hence would contribute to one’s goal only if controlled. Still, in an effort to sustain motivation on the part of the controlled, one might claim that there is only one goal. Health maintenance organization executives will claim that they are part of a national effort to realize a healthier society, but by overburdening nurses and dumping senior citizens, they make clear they are not working for that national goal but for the short-term interests of investors and lenders.
Those who prefer control to cooperation will cite a variety of reasons why it is best to adopt control in order to realize an apparent common goal. Among them are the lack of organizational ability on the part of most people, the need for controlling the undisciplined, and the inefficiency of a more consensual approach. Yet within a cooperative endeavor, there is no systematic reason why people cannot achieve organization, discipline, and efficiency. There must be some other reason behind the call for making control dominant. The clue to finding it is that the organization, discipline, and efficiency wanted are different in kind from what either exists or is possible within a dominantly cooperative endeavor. They are what we would expect to find in a project that is not cooperative but serves an exclusive interest – an interest not of all but of a special group. So, none of the reasons given for abandoning cooperation makes sense apart from the fact that those in control would be pursuing a distinct goal, one that conflicts with the abandoned social goal. They judge that somehow they will gain greater satisfaction from realizing their exclusive interest than they would from realizing an inclusive interest.
Thus in a society where people share the same social goals, they cannot realize these goals by control but only by cooperation. Could there be, though, a third form of organization between control and cooperation? A market is clearly not cooperative, but perhaps it could promote the realization of social goals? Well, navigating the market leads one to try to get control of agents who might otherwise act against one’s interest. Buyers come together to control the price sellers are willing to take; sellers cut production costs to underbid their competitors. Far from being a third way, market behavior is all about control. Getting control in the market excludes those who can’t take the pressure.
There still might be a way to realize social goals without cooperation that does not involve control. Social engineers would seem to be able to organize tasks for realizing the social goals of a people without either cooperating with or having control over them. Don’t they dedicate themselves without bias to a social goal they try to realize for others. The populace needn’t cooperate except in so far as it pays to have its social goal realized by such agents. However, there is often a lack of fit between the institutions organized by social engineers and the needs recognized by the populace as their own. After all, the professional norms that motivate these engineers serve certain social goals that are unrelated to the goals they are paid to realize. Moreover, they don’t wall themselves off from the influence of forces threatened by a social goal they are to implement. By modifying the goals of their clients in these ways, social engineers come to have control over their clients. Hence, the only path to realizing widely agreed to social goals appears to be cooperation.
To end this section, I discuss the moral orientation that leads to organization by control. It is the non-social feelings of insensitivity, indifference, and self-seeking that form the moral orientation of those who contribute to social organization in which control is dominant. They are the basic exclusive feelings that can help institutionalize organization by control, just as the basic social feelings of compassion and solidarity – the inclusive feelings – can help institutionalize organization by cooperation. Personal selfishness, racial and national chauvinism, class snobbery, the desire to abandon the vulnerable, and money lust are offshoots of the three basic exclusive feelings. All feelings of this breed involve a yearning to exclude others, whether from wealth, recognition, or caring.
Mechanisms of control will not catch on without a culture oriented by the exclusive feelings. Without a yearning to push others aside, one will be conflicted, and hence halting and ineffective, in one’s pursuit of the control that can yield power, honor, or wealth. A positive social feeling might otherwise enter in thereby blunting the effort that must exclude some others. Where the exclusive feelings dominate, they can act against efforts to limit enormous power, honor, and wealth by creating solidarity. A General Electric officer who tells 1,400 mid-western workers in a large refrigerator plant that their work is going to Mexico must show no weakness. Unless this officer really comes to want to be done with those 1,400 workers along with their complaints to the National Labor Relations Board, their picketing of the plant, and their attempts to rouse the community, he will show weakness they can exploit.
8 Sketch of a Socialist Morality
So far, I have said what is necessary for a morality, what its elements are, without saying what a morality itself is. There are several options each with backing from common usage. One is that morality is a moral doctrine, a set of principles governing behavior. This ignores the dynamic features we have emphasized in talking about orientation by feelings and the selection of goals.
Another option is that morality is a process, one through which moral agents move as they are led by their orientation by feelings through steps leading to the construction of values and then through the collective effort to establish public goods. Such a process amounts to the moral history of a person or of an epoch. It captures the dynamic element I have emphasized in talking of the central role of feelings and desires, but it is overly rich in detail to be a morality. A morality is something less than the strand of emotions, reflections, decisions, and projects in a life or in an epoch. For, a person or an epoch could have the same morality even though the details in the strand that is its moral history were very different.
A third option, the one I shall adopt, is that a morality is a tendency, specifically a tendency to be part of a process that is a moral history. It is not the moral history itself but rather the potential, the disposition, or the tendency for such a history. One part of that tendency or disposition is an orientation by feeling; another is the skill in selecting values, and still another is the commitment to pursue a goal. Each of these parts is itself a tendency. The morality will be, then, a complex tendency to enter into a process that has various stages. In teaching a morality, one creates conditions that will give rise to such a complex tendency to have certain feelings, select certain values, and work for certain goals. After saying something about how feelings, values, and goals integrate themselves into the tendency that is a morality, I shall be able to put in brief formulas exactly what both morality in general and socialist morality are.
As regards feelings, recall that moral principles will play a secondary role in a morality, ceding priority to moral orientation by feelings. This prompts us to speak here only of moralities of orientation, of which a socialist morality is but one kind. A morality of orientation is not a compendium of principles but a tendency for a process with a certain character. Among the things that give the process its character is a moral orientation, which itself is a tendency making up the complex tendency that is the morality. This moral orientation helps select a certain course of action, thereby giving the process direction. At the root of this moral orientation is a trait, such as being compassionate, which is a tendency to have certain feelings, in this case feelings of compassion. These feelings are the dynamic behind the process that subsequently unfolds. The feelings driving a renewed socialist movement will have among them the feelings that a socialist morality is itself a tendency to have.
We need the emphasis on tendencies for moral histories in order to achieve the transparency promised earlier. We wanted transparency to make it more difficult to use morality as a smoke screen for hidden interests. Once we learn to treat morality as a tendency in which an orientation by feelings is a basic feature, we will be on the lookout for feelings and interests when moral principles are proposed. Thus, when someone says, “Everyone should be left free,” we may be in a position to reply, “Your type is familiar enough to us; we know from your interests that you are asking us to let you be free to treat us shabbily.” Our reply goes not to the universal principle but to what it intends to hide, a tendency to orient by selfish feelings. It is this tendency and not a principle that is the heart of the morality here. Principles are derivative from the tendencies leading to both agreeing on values and engaging in cooperative activity, both matters set in motion by the feelings establishing a moral orientation.
It needs adding that the dynamic element in a moral history calls for more than passive feelings. There must also be the active feelings, which are desires to do something. For a socialist morality, the basic feelings are social ones, whether positive like compassion or negative like outrage. These social feelings aren’t enough to engender the orientation behind a socialist morality. In addition to these feelings, which are passive since of themselves they do not involve a desire to help others, getting this orientation calls for the active social feelings. These include feelings like benevolence and solidarity, which do involve a desire to assist. Among the exclusive feelings, there is a parallel distinction. Insensitivity and indifference need involve no desire, whereas self-seeking does.
As regards values, they are part of a morality as tendencies to seek certain goals and avoid others. In many cases, the goals are shared and then the tendency is to reach agreement on goals. The desire to assist others may be present in the absence of a fruitful idea, or even any idea, as to how to assist. Desire becomes more concrete through values. For assistance to be effective in the face of serious problems, some of those values will have to be social values. They will have to be, that is, features the community might have at some future point. Social values are appropriate ones in this context of a moral orientation toward assisting others. They are appropriate since people will desire them not just for themselves but for others as well.
We have yet to say why we should desire social values for others. Unless we do, they are not the kinds of values that show us how to assist others. Suppose you wanted your society to be a healthy one, that is, one in which a good healthcare and public health system protects individual health. Could you avoid wanting a healthy society for others in your society? Even if you did not want it for them, they would have a healthy society once you realize your wish to have a healthy society. Without wanting it for them, you would have to ask yourself why you want a healthy society. You will say that it is because, first, your main goal is good health care and staying healthy yourself, and second, you are sure that having a healthy society is an indispensable means to this individual goal. This leads directly to the conclusion that, even though your individual goal is your ultimate goal, you must still want others to live in a healthy society, which for you is only a means. For, if they do not live in a healthy society, you will have failed to get a healthy society and hence failed to do what you think is necessary to protect your own health. In wanting the social goal of a healthy society, you must want it for others too.
It is not just social goals, but also individual goals, that are important to people. Those social goals, around which there is widespread agreement, will be common goods. Their content will be features of the society, such as the society’s being one of civic equality or its being one with an educated populace. The individual goals will include, instead, such features as personal honesty, privacy, individuality, health, freedom, and initiative. Is there a place for these goals in a socialist morality?
The pursuit of these individual goals often interferes with the cooperative pursuit of widely agreed on social values. Since this interference may produce fruitful changes of outlook, there is no need for an absolute rejection of interference with cooperative pursuits. The pursuit of individual values can reveal the inadequacy of widely accepted social values. This need not signal a break with the moral orientation of the social feelings but only a break with outdated social goals. Moreover, even apart from challenging social goals, individual goals have the effect of enriching a social life framed by social goals, making of it a genuine comity. Thus, the development of individuality, for example, becomes a guarantee that cooperation will not be mechanical but will call for a range of responses appropriate for the different individuals involved.
Individual values enter indirectly into a morality through our wanting the kind of society in which people will pursue them. My wanting to be honest, to have the virtue of being honest, is a less daunting task in a society where there are incentives for being honest. My goal of being honest becomes part of my morality only because there is, for some relevant group, the social goal of having an honest society. An interesting case is the individual goal of being a reflective and critical person in order to expose outdated social goals. This will be part of an individual morality only if there is the social goal of having a reflective and critical public, even though having such a public can lead to taking a critical stance toward any social goal.
In discussing values, one should not lose sight of their tie to feelings. Values cannot become intellectual objects like numbers without losing their character as values. One cannot break them off from their place, in a morality, as tendencies for evaluation. In a moral history, the agreements values lead to are constantly being formed and reformed. It is in this process that commitment to pursue them depends on their being part of this process. The moral orientation within which we formulate values transfers to them its commitment to change things.
Finally, as regards public goods, a morality is a tendency not just to pledge to or commit to pursue certain goals but also to act. This tendency, when it is part of a socialist morality, will include a tendency toward cooperation as the dominant mode of organizing action. This mode of organization is, we saw, essential for realizing goals that each desires for all. Only cooperative institutions–public goods-can build a society with these goals. To promote the dominance of cooperation over control, a socialist morality will also have to promote the social over the exclusive feelings.
We can now put all this together in two formulas. Within the category of moralities of orientation, what will count as a morality? As was just emphasized, such a morality is, as regards its form, a complex of tendencies, rather than a set of principles. The morality’s end is the realization of values. The agency is a mode of organization appropriate for those values. Finally, the framework for the process is a moral orientation. In short, we have the following:
A morality is a tendency, of a person or group, which has its base in an orientation by feeling and desire that can promote selecting values and pursuing them through a mode of organization compatible with those values.
In view of its generality, this formulation could apply to an orientation by the exclusive feelings, which would lead to values one realizes by control rather than by cooperation. Moreover, one could make it more specific to generate a description of a socialist morality, as follows:
A socialist morality is a tendency, of a person or group, which has its base in an orientation by social feelings and desires that can promote selecting social values and pursuing them through a cooperative mode of organization.
We can see from these formulations how values inhere in a tendency that is a morality. Values do not transcend such a tendency, or a moral history that emerges from it, as they values would if the morality were not transparent.
We speak here of widely agreed on social values, or equivalently of common goods, in the plural. Clearly then we are not dealing with any good that is unique and a basis for all other goods. Is there then some connection between these distinct goods? I am assuming that as people come to agree on their social values they build into each of those values relations to the other values. In fact, most of these values are in important ways dependent on the rest. In a modern setting, a healthy society depends on its being educated which in turn depends on its having a high degree of civic equality. In addition, this sequence is just as valid in reverse. If one concentrates solely on realizing one good efficiently, one may diminish the realization of some of the others. Yet to take the others into account calls for weightings that aren’t given outside the ongoing moral process of refining each of the goods. Refining the nature of any one good will, then, require a lengthy discussion and struggle over all goods.
9 Markets and Cooperation
The effort to refashion socialism after 1991 has drawn attention to the relation of markets to socialism. In the current neoliberal climate, it is not surprising that some claim a major role for markets in a future socialism. My view of socialist morality helps decide how great a role, if any, markets should play.
The central role given to cooperation, rather than control, in socialist morality puts limits on how far one may promote the market within socialism. Cooperation gets its central role from two elements within socialist morality. The first is the stress on having a moral orientation by social feelings. The second is the stress on acting for social goals. So marginalizing cooperation to favor the market would ignore its importance in socialist morality.
Those who advocate the market within socialism – in other words, market socialism – do so because of efficiency–getting the desired product for the least expenditure of resources. What might the limits be on pursuing efficiency in market socialism? As a rule, market socialists set the limits in terms of the way socialists conceive of productive property. There is a variety of ways, each calling for different limits. One way comes from viewing property as belonging to a society as a whole. Efforts to improve efficiency by the market are not then to undermine social ownership, which gives primacy to funneling the profits of the different firms into a central fund. Firms that are successful in market competition might expect to get money for development from this central fund. Another way comes from viewing property as belonging to firms, and hence to those working in them, rather than to the whole society. In this case, one must not allow improving efficiency to undermine ownership by firms, which gives importance to retaining in each firm a significant portion of the profit made by it. Market socialism gives free rein to the market but only within the limits set by one of these forms of collective property. The least common denominator here is the absence of familiar forms of the private appropriation of profit.
Market socialists call, then, for saving from the market only the social relations characteristic of collective property. Yet these relations alone will not give us a society either oriented by social feelings or working cooperatively toward social goals. Doing away with the private appropriation of profit creates merely the possibility for having societies that are in numerous respects better than what we have. After all, profits no matter how appropriated can still be put to abominable uses. Treating profits as belonging to the society, where this means funneling them into a central fund, is compatible with an elite using that fund to ensure its continued dominance. Treating them primarily as belonging to the firms from which they arise is compatible with some firms using them to keep other firms from developing. In both cases, what get passed off as socialist property relations promote control.
To prevent giving dominance to organization by control, it is important to cultivate social feelings and a broad spectrum of social goals. It is not an easy task to say just how this cultivation is to take place as people start to struggle for collective property relations. It is easy though to say how to prevent it. For, an effort to expand the market to the limits of collective property relations would clearly impede the cultivation of social feelings and goals. Such an expansion would put an orientation by social feelings in second place behind an orientation by the exclusive feelings, on which organization by control is based. And it would imperil the public goods needed to realize social goals by leading to exit from the cooperative task of building those public goods in search of individual solutions.
Suppose though we take a less austere view of the social relations surrounding collective property, building into them from the start the cooperative motivations underlying a socialist morality. Here then, as Marx noted, “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right [can] be crossed” as “all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly.” Doubtless, many market socialists think of themselves as adopting this cooperative view of collective property relations. Yet in order for them to adopt it, they must have already included factors within those relations that severely restrict the market. The market can no longer be so extensive that it either undermines an orientation by social feelings or threatens the cooperative organization needed for realizing social goals. Nonetheless, market socialists often do not face up to the threat that the market poses to the orientation by social feelings and the cooperative struggles for social goals.
Even if achieved, an orientation by social feelings and a cooperative pursuit of social goals are fragile enough to need protection from the projects of efficiency zealots. To protect them, a socialist political morality needs to develop a broader notion of efficiency. According to such a notion, undermining social feelings or cooperation is itself a large cost in the process of producing goods and services. It would then be a failure of efficiency not to substitute a different process that, though it might use other resources a bit more liberally, would not undermine social feelings or cooperation.
To avoid having theory run ahead of practice, it is useful to ask what socialism meant for those who have struggled for it. For them, it was more edifying than the mere absence of the private appropriation of profit. Still, it was not as edifying as an orientation by social feelings or an organization by cooperation. It was something immediate; it was the chance to give society features whose absence had become intolerable. It was the chance to have decent housing for everybody, to overcome discrimination, to have rewarding jobs, to have democracy from the bottom up, to have media not beholden to the bosses, to get health care for all, and to have fair trials. The goals of these struggles were features that the market would destroy, given its tendency to generate inequality and control. The problem was not that some things can’t be bought but rather that some people would lack resources to buy with. Thus, those in these struggles saw their goals as resting on an equality and absence of control to which the market was inimical. Only in areas left outside those goals can market relations fit the vision those who struggled for socialism had of it. With these areas being the leftovers, markets in socialism are not a fundamental but at best a secondary matter.
How then could one pursue the goals for which the market fails? Past socialist struggles have taught us important lessons on this point. In many cases the institutions that were set up to realize those goals came to be seen by those they served not as making for a society of a desirable kind but as existing to serve clients as discrete individuals. This undermined those institutions, as individuals tried to reduce their support for them when they saw others as making more use of them than they were. This was inevitable without a dominance of an orientation by the social feelings. In most cases, moreover, bureaucrats ran the institutions. Their clients were happy not to be responsible for participation in their governance, and the bureaucrats were happy not to be sharing decision-making with laypersons. This was inevitable without cooperation being the dominant organizing mode. The lesson learned is then that to realize the goals of socialist struggles calls for a context of orientation by social feelings and of cooperation.
1. See, e.g., Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981) chapters 9 and 10.
2. Rationalist moralists are unwilling to leave the resolution of moral conflict to history. They propose that it be resolved in an ascent to universality. Since universal agreement often evades us, this becomes an otherworldly resolution. Still, Jürgen Habermas defends universality as a necessary condition for morality. See his Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), chapter 3.
4. John Rawls appeals to precisely such a limit point of rational discussion to back up his view that there are universal principles of justice. See John Rawls, “Reply to Habermas,” The Journal of Philosophy 92, no. 3 (March 1995): 138-42.
5. Consider the moral orientation that leads Marx to say in Capital, volume 1, chapter 10, section 1, “Capital is dead Labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Or the moral orientation behind his observation on the repression of the Paris Commune in The Civil War in France, chapter 4, that “The civilization and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against its masters.”
6. Such an “education of the sentiments” at the personal level would involve instruction through direct experience, fictional narrative, exemplary leaders, and reflections on the tensions between one’s own feelings. There is a parallel education of the sentiments at the group level where the stakes may well be the displacement of a dominant moral orientation. See e.g. J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 3, and Considerations on Representative Government, chapter 3.
7. Marx seems to contradict this when he says, “Cooperation ever constitutes the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production…” (Capital, volume 1, chapter 13). But cooperation in this context not only contrasts with the work of isolated independent laborers-say, peasants and craftspeople-but also implies autocratic control by capitalists over their large work forces. For him cooperation is a historical form, changing with each mode of production. My notion of a cooperative mode of organizing would fit into his historical view of it by identifying it with the form of cooperation in a hypothetical epoch of common ownership in which control over labor does not violate solidarity.
8. The importance of control also extends to any society on the model of the late Soviet Union, despite its difference in moral orientation from capitalism. The inequality in regard to who determines the use of resources in any such autocratically planned society has to be backed up by tight controls that normally preclude widespread cooperation. See Sam Farber, Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy (New York: Verso, 1990), chapter 2.
9. Comments on an earlier draft of this essay by Richard Schmitt were extremely helpful in clarifying my thought in Section 1 on the relation of the feelings of individuals to the dominant feelings of groups and in Section 2 on the relation between cooperation and competition.
10. The notion of a common goal can be illustrated as follows. A good educational system is something we all want but each of us does not want a distinct system that others would not share. A good bowl of soup is also something we all want but each of us wants our own bowl not to be shared with others. The educational system but not the bowl of soup is a common goal.
11. Has an appeal to common values been more successful in what were, or still are, post-capitalist nations? The revolutionary project itself initially provided a unifying value. Yet in those nations, increasing control by political elites eventually undermined such a value. The majority then sensed that the revolutionary project had become identified with that elite’s continued control. See e.g. Janette Habel, Cuba: The Revolution in Peril, trans. J. Barnes (New York: Verso, 1991).
12. Such a priority was claimed by John Rawls in his essay “The Priority of Rights and Ideas of the Good,” in his collection Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), lecture 5.
14. For more on this notion of a common good, see Milton Fisk, Toward a Healthy Society: The Morality and Politics of American Health Care Reform (Lawrence Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 89-95.
15. This principle of cooperation is a weaker version of Kant’s principle of persons as ends: “For the ends of a subject who is an end in him-/her-self must, if this conception [of humanity as an end in itself] is to have its full effect in me, be also, as far as possible, my ends” (Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, chapter 2). On the relation of social feelings to Kant’s moral views, see Allen W. Wood, Kant’s Ethical Thought (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), chapter 8.
16. The Kantian principle of ends was viewed by a whole wing of late 19th Century German philosophy as reinforcing the solidaristic sentiments lying behind socialism. See Harry van der Linden, Kantian Ethics and Socialism (Indianapolis, In.: Hackett, 1988), chapter 6.
17. Without spelling out a clear idea of agreed on social goals, it is easy to suppose that the public goods serving them could be achieved by markets, and hence without cooperation. John E. Roemer, A Future for Socialism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 21, 148, adopts this view of public goods.
19. Tony Blair’s revolution in the British Labor Party consisted in convincing its majority that the old value-commitments to health, education, housing, and transportation, which people still share, need market forces for their realization. See Stephen Driver and Luke Martell, New Labour: Politics After Thatcherism (Cambridge, Eng.: Polity Press, 1998), 63-72.
22. A notable exception is Michael W. Howard who tries, within a market socialist framework, to incorporate a “socialist vision” that is broader than mere collective property into his Self-Management and the Crisis of Socialism (Totowa, NJ.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), chapter 12.