It’s hard not to think a little false consciousness is going on in Cleveland. As you may well know, false consciousness refers to systematic misrepresentations of how people think about their social, economic, and political situation. Philosophers are, therefore, charged with the responsibility to reconstruct and interpret that situation to prevent false consciousness from occurring. That’s what I intend to do. In this post, I’ll meander a bit about a few reactions I had to the GOP invading my city. Let’s first start with the rhetoric we heard. The Republicans’ rhetoric called Black Lives Matters anarchists, implied that Clinton is sympathetic to Lucifer, and that United States is in danger despite record lows in crime. To make America great again is to make it safe again. Greatness = security. Of course, this also means that there are many types of meanings to what security may mean, and there’s no real clarification about what it means on offer. One night it’s safety; another it’s job security. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.
What’s happening? What are the sources of these delusions? And more specifically what are the philosophical errors in thinking that can be exposed here? Let’s acknowledge that there are many sources (and blog posts on their own are just snapshots of such errors), but among them is that Christianity has been distorted. This distortion, I’d argue, has been long coming. It’s not the mindful ethics of care Christ offers in the Gospels. Not at all. Long ago, Christianity became a source of legitimacy for capitalism in and around the 16th century. When this happened, I do not know, though I certainly feel the divine-like justificatory rhetoric in John Locke’s political thought resonates deeply with me on these points and since Locke’s founding ideas are often considered a philosophical justification and influence on the part of those aspects of American Conservatism that I find troubling, I’ll posit them as a beginning.
In Locke, common sense and fairness are “the standard that God has set for the actions of men, for their mutual security” (CH 2, Section 8). God is the source of the very rationality that Locke as a social contract theorist employs to justify the move from a state of nature –human beings living without civil government – to implement the social contract. Since living in the state of nature means that everyone can enforce the law of nature on their own, this could only end in confusion and disorder. “That is why God has—as he certainly has—established government to restrain impartiality and violence of men” in the state of nature from whence they came (CH 2, Section 13). In this passage, God grants legitimacy to the process of legitimation Locke posits to explain the state’s authority over us. In fact, establishing government is doing God’s will. This legitimacy continues well into the rhetoric of the American Founding Fathers. In 1790, Thomas Jefferson authored a letter in which he stated, “Locke’s little book [referring to the Second Treatise] on Government is perfect as far as it goes.” His “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence are regarded as a modification of Locke’s following passage,
The state of nature is governed by a law that creates obligations for everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches anyone who takes the trouble to consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no-one ought to harm anyone else in his life, health, liberty, or possessions (CH 2, Section 6).
In being so equal, reason teaches that there are some natural rights that follow as a consequence of being created by God. Following Locke, Jefferson included the language of inalienable rights secured by a Divine Creator and while you may want to say that certainly the language of a Creator does not imply the personal Christian God, as Jefferson is more thought to be a Deist, it still invokes the same ontological ground for the source of value. Independently of Jeffersonian deism, the political rhetoric is still the same, and it exercises enormous influence on the political imagination. Like it or not, there is a continual and perpetual appropriation of this divine language to elevate one’s own conservative moral position to be beyond reproach in American politics. God is outside of history, ordering the universe in such a way as to favor the United States in history, and conservatives embody the way in which it was intended to be.