Philosophy of Democratic Government / by Yves R. Simon

The Training of Free Men

As we are about to discuss the respective merits of rural and industrial environments with regard to the training of free men, let it be remarked that the comparison, to be relevant, must take place between typical forms. Accordingly, industrial life will be represented in this inquiry not by the small workshop somewhat reminiscent of the good old days but by the big plant, and rural life will be represented not by so-called "industrial agriculture" but by the family-size farm.

Ever since the early phases of industrialism it has been said that big industry treats the laborer as a servant of the machine and destroys his personality. In our time, they remark, further, that an automatized laborer is an ideal subject for a dictatorship dedicated to the technocratic manipulation of men. When such views fall into the hands of literary gentlemen -- whose individualistic culture makes it nearly impossible for them to understand the data of a social problem -- they are generally so simplified as to become blinding clichés. It is unwise to allow one's self to be guided by a cliché, and it is unwise to reject a proposition which may have some truth about it, for the mere reason that it has become a cliché Throughout the present inquiry the picture of the big-industry worker reduced to the condition of a piece of machinery will be borne in mind. Yet we do not take it for granted that it is altogether truthful.

1. Let us consider, first, the effects of labor processes. For the purpose of this inquiry the relevant feature of the industrial process is the division of labor. We may not trust romantic descriptions in which the wretchedness of the assembly-line worker is pathetically contrasted with the bliss of the medieval artisan. But one hard fact stands: highly divided labor does little for the intellectual culture of the laborer. By general assent, many functions of big industry require only a very short apprenticeship, and years of experience add little to the skill acquired in a few weeks. In order to estimate the significance of this fact, consider that the core of all intellectual culture is constituted by intellectual qualities which, on account of their object, imply essential steadiness, necessity, certainty, indefectibility. Science is one of them; others are art and prudence. Art, like science and virtue, is structured by necessity; it is something hard and stiff, certain, reliable, and uncompromising, like a nature. Such dispositions, structured by objective necessity, are called "habitus" in good philosophic language.{9} Intellectual qualities devoid of certainty and necessity are of great human and social worth when their growth centers about habitus and supplements them with an element of flexibility and charm. But if habitus are wanting, the mind can hardly rise above the level of amateurish adornment. The most serious effect of extremely divided and monotonous work is that it deprives men of their chance to acquire intellectual habitus during their working hours. An assembly-line worker, if he makes good use of his considerable leisure and reads wisely chosen books, may become a man of culture in the conventional sense of the term, and his case, ultimately, may be considered satisfactory by professors of culture. Yet, except inasmuch as he may profit by the requirements of a lofty moral life, such a man is unlikely ever to become more than an amateur. Scientific information will not reach the state of science in his mind, and his keen interest in music and painting will not develop into art. Under other circumstances he might have become a man of art, through the constant exercise of skill. But no technical habitus can be acquired without steady participation in the planning of action upon nature, and every planning is concerned with wholes. In Aristotle's philosophy of labor it seems that the only functions endowed with the privilege of generating intellectual culture are the so-called "architectonic" ones; the manual laborer, exemplified by the mason, is described as a mere agent of execution, whose virtue consists mainly in carrying out the orders that he is given. The stain attaching to manual labor, as a result of its being commonly done by slaves, seems to have blinded Aristotle to the large amount of technical thinking and planning required of all skilled workers. The connection established by him between architectonic thinking and the art habitus holds; Aristotle's error consists in his failure to see that every skilled worker performs intellectual operations similar to those which make up the dignity of the architect. In so far as he exercises domination over a plurality of parts and arranges this plurality for the sake of an end, the artisan does, on various levels, what the architect does on a high level, and, like the architect, he normally acquires an intellectual habitus. But, in so far as the object with which a worker is concerned has the character of a part, there is less of an opportunity to exercise domination, to arrange, distribute, subordinate, and co-ordinate -- in short, to exercise technical thinking. As an effect of technical development, engineers have considerably increased in number; moreover, they have been subjected to ever more exacting requirements. By "engineer" we designate, in the present connection, any person specialized in technical planning, who directs the action of others on physical nature but does not exercise such action himself. In so far as quantitative expressions are tolerable in these matters, it can be said that the amount of technical culture has considerably increased in modern societies. The fact which causes difficulty is that this growth of technical culture has taken place in aristocratic fashion. As a result of extreme division of labor, an unprecedented separation has taken place between planning and execution. Architectonic functions have been taken over by a large minority possessed of increasingly distinguished knowledge and ability. But simultaneously a great number of industrial workers were assigned to tasks which, on account of their being concerned with parts rather than with wholes, are altogether devoid of architectonic character. Many industrial workers exercise no self-government in the labor process; government is concerned with wholes.

Lack of autonomy in such an important phase of human life as daily work is by itself a very grave privation. Considering, further, that there is inevitably a certain amount of interdependence between intellectual functions, it is reasonable to fear that a man deprived of a chance to govern himself in the process of labor will have a hard time learning to govern himself in moral and social life. Of course, the connection between the ability to achieve self-government in the labor process and the ability to achieve self-government in human and social life is by no means essential; but it is psychological and likely to be a matter of fact in a majority of cases. It is, accordingly, reasonable to conclude that extreme division of labor tends to produce circumstances unfavorable to the training of men in self-government.

In contrast with industry, agriculture does not admit of extremely divided labor. The biological rhythm of nature and the alternation of seasons make it generally impossible for a man to repeat the same operation throughout the year, as often happens in industry. Most of all, the circumstances of daily work in the family-size farm aiming at self-sufficiency make it necessary for all to be acquainted, though in varying degree, with all the processes of agricultural labor and with all phases of each process. Laborers trained under such circumstances do not need to be directed in all their actions by specialized brains. They commonly possess such ability to govern their own work that the son of a small farmer is generally able, when his turn comes, to run a small farm.

These characteristics of wholeness and integration are due in part to the nature of the living processes with which the agricultural worker is concerned; but they are principally due to the nature of the unit within which these processes take place. Inasmuch as production processes are aimed at satisfying all the needs of the farm, the integrating center of work lies in man. The essence of humanism is the use of a reference to man as principle of integration. When labor processes are calculated to satisfy the needs of the human unit within which and by which they are planned and executed, the laborer is given a guaranty of human finality. In order that human labor may be properly related to man, two things are necessary: (a) that the product of labor be designed to satisfy some real human need and (b) that proportions measuring various products be determined by proportions existing among human needs. In the family farm, futile effort, unrelated to the genuine needs of man, arbitrarily directed toward the satisfaction of fanciful wishes is kept down to a minimum; balance is maintained among the various components of production. It is hardly necessary to point out that industrial production is much more subject to distraction by casually or artificially created demands and to those ruptures of equilibrium which often bring about abundance of the less needed products, together with scarcity of the more needed. In short, the laborer enjoys, under the circumstances of the family farm, the benefit of a man-centered system of integration that industry does not provide. The industrial laborer, working under the circumstances of highly divided labor, is directed by his experts -- his "betters" -- toward accomplishments which may well not be centered about man but rather about such things as profit (in the so-called "free-enterprise system") or something worse (in the enterprise controlled by a party bureaucracy).

Thus farm work normally has, both in reference to technique itself and in reference to man, a character of wholeness and integration that industrial work cannot, in most cases, be expected to possess. All other things being equal, the farm worker finds in the conditions of his work an opportunity for training in self-government, both in the technical order and in the human order, which industrial conditions do not furnish. If the industrial laborer is to possess, with regard to self-government, a chance equal to that of the farm worker, it will be through the operation of factors capable of compensating for serious deficiencies.

2. Another phase of the inquiry concerns the character of the working unit in industry and in rural labor. Relevant questions may be stated under the headings of personality, authority, and justice.

The wide and enduring influence exercised in our century by a variety of personalistic doctrines and movements is plainly due to the common experience of threats made to personality by the circumstances of modern life. Of those threats, the most apparent and perhaps the most central originate in technological organization. The type of organization promoted by technology makes for large and sometimes huge units in which the uniqueness of the individual person is, in many cases, unlikely to be remarked, remembered, pondered over, and sympathetically understood. Further, division of labor, in so far as it renders special skill and apprenticeship unnecessary, gives manpower the character of a fungible commodity. There is something depressing about the feeling that one is lost in a multitude, undistinguished, unrecognized, unknown, and that one will never possess ground for recognition -- since the function satisfactorily performed by one person is known to admit of equally satisfactory performance by any number of equally unrecognized persons. Such a feeling discourages or perverts the natural urge toward autonomy. The orderly pursuit of self-government requires that I should be aware of the true law of myself, that I should perceive, beyond the confusing whims of pleasure and passion, the real meaning of my uniqueness. I am unlikely to achieve sound understanding of those things if I know that they are inevitably ignored by society. Opposite conditions are found on the farm. Even if the task of the farm laborer is so simple as to admit of being fulfilled by any unskilled worker, the closeness of human relations would still force upon the group the realization of what is unique and irreplaceable in the individual laborer. In so far as the recognition of personality stimulates the urge toward self-government, rural life supplies a framework more favorable to the attainment of autonomy than the technological workshop does. Allowance must be made, however, for various corrections brought about by organizational skill.

With regard to authority, the fact of decisive importance is that the unit of labor in the small farm is centered upon the family and participates in the propensities of the family community. Family life, in the present connection, would be properly described in terms of a twofold system of relations, viz., biological and spiritual. The former are primitive and necessarily implied; the latter have the character of a terminal attainment and often remain beyond the range of actual accomplishment. Now both these systems of relations tend to bring about paternalism, i.e., a state of affairs characterized by the permanence of the paternal function of authority and its factually indissoluble union with the functions relative to the good of the community. In the family and in any community patterned after the family, the distinction between the business of the individual and the business of the community is uncertain; consequently, authority can hardly discharge its functions in relation to the common good without taking a chance to control, by accident, things that really concern the individual person alone.

Inasmuch as personal freedom implies freedom from interference by authority in the pursuit of personal good, the farm community is not the framework in which the greatest amount of personal freedom can be achieved. All other things being equal, the industrial setup would give personal freedom a better chance. In many cases the migration of the youth from the farms to the big cities has been a movement away from paternal rule, toward conditions of more complete personal independence. Attention must be called, however, to the particular version of paternalistic government that party bureaucracy or a state bureaucracy, when given a free hand, usually inflicts upon industrial masses. This variety of paternalism, is characterized by impersonality, rationality, efficiency, and the finality of its decisions.

Concerning justice, the main point is this: inside the family and to a lesser degree inside any unit patterned after the family, unity is too intimate for justice to assert its type in unqualified fashion. Briefly, justice implies diversity, it consists in an ethical relation between two human terms (which human terms may be persons or groups or a person and a group); the distinction between these human terms may be complete and may be qualified; if it is qualified, the relation of justice, considered precisely as a relation of justice, is itself qualified. A qualified relation of justice is no less an ethical relation, it is not less binding, than a relation of unqualified justice, but it is less of a relation of justice. Between father and son, unity is too close for justice to obtain in the purity of its distinctive essence. The proposition that the son is something of the father expresses, over and above a biological relation, a state of moral unity which prevents justice from realizing the integrity of its essence; for justice implies otherness. The duties of the father toward his son are not in any way less certain than the duties of justice properly so-called; they are, by all means, stricter. But the qualified fashion in which they embody the essence of justice entails consequences which deeply affect human relations. Of these consequences, the most important concerns the enforcement of rules. One property of justice properly so-called is that its rules are normally sanctioned by the power of society. If one partner fails to live up to a contract, courts are supposed to see that justice is done -- if necessary, through coercive procedures. When, on the other hand, justice is qualified by excess of unity between the terms of the relation, enforcement of the rule cannot be guaranteed in so strict a fashion; it is, to a large extent, intrusted to the good will of the parties. Whether the obligations of the father toward the son are actually lived up to depends, most of the time, upon the good will of the father. If he does not want to fulfil his obligations, there is not much, in most cases, that society can do. Society uses its coercive power only in extreme cases, as, for instance, when a child is badly mistreated. If relations of qualified justice are not controlled by love, as they normally are in the family community, they are likely to be managed in rather casual fashion.

The relations of qualified justice, which, again, owe their qualification to excessive unity, can foster the goods of unity, under appropriate circumstances, more successfully than can pure justice. Even outside the family community, the advantages of closer unity should never be dispensed with lightly. Recall, for instance, the tragic consequences of the abrupt suppression of family-like relations between management and labor in the early phases of industrial expansion. Between the landlord and the serf there obtained a paternal relation of qualified justice under which a laborer could expect some help in case of disease and in his old age. Many landlords felt greatly relieved when, by order of law, they no longer had to do with serfs but with proletarians who were supposed to take care of themselves in health, in sickness, and in old age as well. Yet, all other things being equal, relations of unqualified justice are more favorable to the training of men in self-government.

Relations of unqualified justice, with no remnant of paternalistic rule, are found in organized industrial labor, a typical product of the technological environment. So long as the labor union remains faithful to its idea and keeps itself free from corruption by economic power, free from monopolistic practices, free from subservience to party ambition or state bureaucracy, it constitutes a unique means to train masses of men in self-government. If labor is not organized, the relation between employer and wage-earner is, at best, paternalistic; a contract is signed between these two men, but, even if the party is dishonest, one condition for the genuineness of the contractual relation is imperfectly satisfied, viz., the equality of the contracting parties. If the employer feels like taking advantage of his privileged position, there will not be any sanction. The only thing which makes the system workable is goodheartedness on the side of the employer and reverence on the side of the laborer. The labor union, through the procedure of collective bargaining, which is its proper instrument, establishes equality between the contracting parties and gives full reality to the contractual character of their relations. The strict discipline required by the labor process in any technological setup has, for the laborer, the character of a self-imposed rule, in so far as he joined the plants by genuine contract and in so far as workshop regulations have to be assented to by the laborers. Over and above resistance to unfair management, labor organizations have accomplished the double feat of helping to establish discipline among masses of men and of giving such discipline the higher meaning of autonomy. What this great product of the technological society -- the labor union -- has done for autonomy is of such exceptional value that any reform which would jeopardize the operation of labor unions or alter their essential constitution is bound to arouse the suspicion of the democratic mind.

3. Let us now consider in what ways the local forms of public life are affected by rural economy, on the one hand, and by industrial economy, on the other hand. In agricultural districts the unit of public life is small; we call it a village or town. Technology, on the contrary, promotes big cities. It is often said today that gigantic enterprises prove wasteful and that the tendency toward extreme industrial and urban concentration is likely to subside. This anticipation is of no essential concern to the present inquiry, for, if the industrial city of the future is less gigantic than Birmingham or Detroit, it will still contrast significantly with the rural village or town.

With regard to autonomy, the small unit of public life is distinguished by the following features: (a) The uniqueness of the individual person has a better chance of being recognized. In this connection the remarks made above concerning the farm hold for the small community of farmers, and those made concerning the big industrial plants hold for the big city. (b) The small rural community is about the only place, in modern public life, where some sort of rotation in power is practicable. The management of such a community requires no high degree of expertness; it may, consequently, be intrusted to any prudent person. True, violence is done to the nature of public life whenever government is in the hands of an expert rather than in those of a prudent man. In public life government by experts is government by outsiders. But in technological societies the expert often becomes so important that it is hard to keep him in purely instrumental functions. Rule by experts is a frequent accident in modern states and in big cities as well. Against such accident the small rural community asserts the autonomy of public life by intrusting leadership to persons that have no other distinction than their being good and experienced citizens.

A state directly governed by the people is hardly conceivable under modern circumstances, and, anyway, many disadvantages attach to government without distinct governing personnel. Yet direct democracy remains the archetype of all democratic organizations, and, if it were to perish from the earth, representative democracy might soon be transformed into some sort of oligarchic or aristocratic polity. Large cities are not different from states with regard to the need for distinct governing personnel; but in the town and village elected councilors and officers are in such relation to the whole of the people that local government amounts to a close approximation of direct democracy. The modern democratic state draws much of its spirit from the small rural unit of public administration. Democracy on the level of the state depends to a large extent on the intensity of democratic life in the rural community. A democratic polity is hardly possible in a nation in which the countryside is subjected to oligarchic rule, whether by landlords of the old-fashioned type or by companies.

{9} At the time when modern philosophic languages were formed, the concept of "habitus" was ignored by the prevailing philosophies. Accordingly, no modern philosophic language, to our knowledge, has an appropriate expression to convey this very important concept. Under these circumstances the wise thing to do is to take over the Latin word -- a practice extremely common in all scientific branches. But, following the line of least resistance, many writers use the words that resemble "habitus" most: "habit" in English, "habitude" in French, etc. -- which makes for nonsense, since a habitus is, in a way, exactly the opposite of a habit. Both are steady, but the steadiness of the habitus proceeds from objective necessity, that of a habit is a disposition generated in a subject by a repetition of acts or impressions. Such abuse is particularly shocking in English, since the meaning of the word "habit," in the language of Hume, is made unmistakable by the celebrated analyses in which Hume endeavors to show how the factual and subjective steadiness of habit counterfeits objective necessity. In our quotations of Pegis' translation of Thomas Aquinas, we took the liberty of inserting in brackets the word "habitus" whenever the word "habit" was used instead of "habitus" by the translator; we also inserted the word "habitus" when the corresponding Greek word hexis was unintelligibly translated by W. D. Ross (salva reverentia) as "state of character."

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