Social Worlds


Life-World, Home-World, and Alien World

††††††††††† The social world transcends us.Our hold on the past and future is precarious.Our possession of the present is no guarantee of the future; is part of a time that never comes.This cultural world is ambiguous, yet always present.Other people present a difficulty to us.The cultural world also introduces the notion of plurality.Other people are part of the phenomenal field.As free beings, we cannot count ourselves among the realm of things.True, our will is often weak, thereby putting doubt upon our genuine freedom.Further, every act takes place within a background in which freedom is at least difficult to discern, if not entirely absent.The real choice is that of our whole character and manner of being in the world.As long as we are alive, our situation is open.It implies both that it calls up specially favored modes of resolution, and that it is powerless to bring one into being by itself.

††††††††††† Engaging in reflection upon our life-world, reconstruction of the life-world begins with familiarity as the primary characteristic of everyday life. The home world consists of those with whom I live; yet, it includes those who lived in previous generations and whom I know indirectly, through their stories. It has links with the past and prepares for acceptance of the future. The home world is not repetition of the past. The life-world comprises the sum of our involvement in everyday affairs. The naÔve is so fundamental that we do not assume that every person will recognize the familiar when he or she sees it. In our everydayness we find ourselves repeatedly in familiar surroundings, in relationship to people we know intimately or well, engaged in pursuits that are typical to our lives, and going through the patterned routines of waking life and of sleep. The typical is what familiar to me. The typically familiar I identify with the normal. The first normal life-world is my life-world; each of us has our own life-world. Other life-worlds are initially those that are familiar to others. Inter-subjective mediation of world-stories is peculiar to the abnormal and normal worlds. Our inter-subjectivity is the ground of the familiar and the non-familiar. Living naÔvely in the life-world, we accept the world as belonging to us; we know in a tacit way the shared nature of reality.

††††††††††† However, our perception of the world-horizon, the experience of the world as strange rather than familiar, opens us to another dimension of reality. A home world comes into relief through encounters with the alien-world. The home world is the first sphere of normality, rather than the Cartesian ego as the original sphere. We grasp the sense of the other through analogy or mirroring of our experience. Here is an ego that is not me, an ego whose possibilities are not my own, a lived body that I can never realize in my own sphere of life. The experience of inter-subjectivity has its foundation in association. To be human is to act in unusual ways at certain times. The behavior of others puzzles us. We puzzle ourselves. Encountering other life-worlds makes us imagine other life-worlds, the examination of other possible life-world environments helping us reflect upon what is essential and what is not. We can cross the boundaries of the life-world only because those boundaries remain. We know the alien-world through our experience in the home world. Our ability to reflect upon the life-world in which we are renders the familiarity of the life-world strange. The other becomes alien. The world that was home becomes an alien world.

††††††††††† The life-world is the optimal experience given that particular culture or sub-culture. What is different or abnormal within a culture, an anomaly, may be nothing more than bringing optimal opportunities giving birth within the life-world. The optimal is teleological, with a tension between it and the norm. The normal is not the natural, just as we can gain optimal experience through improving the natural (glasses or contacts to correct what is natural). Our lived experience normally transcends norms as it moves toward optimal experience, thereby creating new norms. Normality is the process of creating norms, the ability to survive new norms, and the possibility of tolerating infractions of the habitual norm, instituting new norms in new situations. An action can be normative even if it is not according to a set norm. We can transcend previous norms because the teleological character of norms is not fixed and eternal. We can form new optimal norms. From one perspective, we order experiences according to the previous norm. From another perspective, we order experiences by surpassing it in such a way that the old order refers to the new as the norm. This results in a conflict of norms and orders. Our principle of selection is the tendency toward the optimum. Selection entails the exclusion of other possible optimal experiences that become latent possibilities.Selection involves taking up and leaving out, as it were. Now, to return to the territory, we cannot understand it apart from its geographical and historical space. We cannot simply abandon it. It is the realm of the familiar.

††††††††††† The life-world becomes a territory, both as world-horizon and as earth-ground. The world-horizon is a field of fields; it points to another horizon, inner horizons, outer horizons, and even an all-encompassing universal horizon. The world-horizon is indeterminate and open. As earth-ground, the life-world is the place upon which we stand. This territory is our home world and is a co-foundation with the alien-world we encounter.

††††††††††† Renewal of the home world occurs through ethical demand that consists in the struggle toward a better humanity and a genuine human culture. At this point, we engage the ethical task of engaging the development of human culture. Repetition and habit do not create the binding character of norms in the home world, but only as they are practical and reasonable possibilities of renewing our life. We do not sever ties with tradition, but we do slacken the threads of tradition; we maintain a distance from the tradition while standing within that tradition. We cannot assume the given and once for all character of the home world. Critique involves evaluation of the internal contradictions of the home world as well as its future becoming.Ethical justice does not come from an analysis of the past deeds, but from the perspective of an ambiguous future emergence. A dead culture occurs when the home is no longer a home, when we no longer appropriate the home world; when we no longer identify it as our world. Our experience of home world and alien-world is not reducible to another foundation, nor incorporated into a higher unity. We can also encounter certain limit-situations that call into question our power to appropriate the home world.

The social world forms human desire. It profoundly shapes the desires, hopes, and dreams, which members of that social world possess. No matter into which social world one is born, people will adapt or adjust to it in some way. Social solidarity exists only as far as a social ego becomes part of us. To cultivate this sensitivity to society is essential to our participation in it. If society does not embed itself in us in some way, if an individual does not develop a form of social intelligence, culture will have no hold on us. The individual would become self-sufficient. Such individualism is not humanly possible or desirable. People conform to social obligations as if by habit.

In a modern society, people have families, follow a trade or profession, belong to a district, country or other group, and so on. Yet, we also have the ability to reflect upon our social world in terms of our actual participation in it or alienation from it. This process of self-reference, of experiencing the social world and then bringing that experience within oneself for reflection, contemplation, analysis, and synthesis, is the rational process in which we engage the social world.

††††††††††† The social horizon (or common consciousness) of individuals involves language, family, morality, religion, law, politics, and work.These forces vary in the strength with which they hold the individual in relation to the way people organize their culture.Thus, the collective consciousness has a strong hold on the clan.The increasing diversity of a civilized society means that the common consciousness has a weak hold on the individual. Yet, that weakness is the source of strength that modern civilization exhibits over forms of political organization that concern themselves more with direct, overt, and obvious forms of control. The social horizon of modern society becomes a kind of background music that holds together what appears as a chaotic movement of individuals pursuing their perception of the best human life for themselves. The combination of subtle (rather than overt manipulation) communion with others and individuality is what I hope to bring to our reflective consideration.

††††††††††† This social world is the product of human effort. Society provides a social world for humanity to inhabit. Society is the human effort to actualize the potential that this world has of being a good home for us. Our individual lives appear as objectively real to ourselves and to others, only as it is located within a social world that itself has the character of objective reality. It shows itself in institutions, roles, and identities, name, legal descent, citizenship, civil status, and occupation. In these ways, we see the reality bestowing potency of society. Society now functions as the formative agency for individual consciousness. The success of socialization depends upon the establishment of symmetry between the objective world of society and the subjective world of the individual. If socialization is not in internalizing at least the most important means of a given society, the latter becomes difficult to maintain as viable enterprise. Specifically, such a society would not be in a position to establish a tradition that would ensure its persistence in time. Our world-building activity is always a collective enterprise.

We can account for social reality through the assignment of function, collective intentionality, and constitutive rules. I must use institutional facts to explain institutional facts. Conscious agents have the capacity to create social facts in that we assign functions to objects and to other phenomena. Functions are never intrinsic. The relative interests of users and observers make this assignment. Collective intentionality is an engagement in cooperative behavior, but they share intentional states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. No set of "I Consciousness" adds up to a "We Consciousness." We do not have to choose between reductionism or a super-mind floating over individual minds. Institutional facts exist within systems of constitutive rules.

Social facts have self-reference. The concept money can apply to the stuff in my pocket, only because people think that sort of thing is money. People create institutional facts with the performative utterance.

The fundamental dialectic process of society consists of three moments: externalization, making objective, and internalization.

Externalization is the ongoing outpouring of human being into the world, in both the physical and the mental activity of people. We do not have a given relationship with the world; we must continually establish that relationship. Culture consists of the totality of human products. Society is a product of humanity, rooted in the phenomenon of externalization, which in turn arises from the biological constitution of humanity. Society confronts humanity as external, subjectively opaque and coercive brute fact. Individuals can dream of different societies. We can see the coercive objectivity of society most readily in its procedures of social control; in those procedures that are specifically designed to bring back into line recalcitrant individuals or groups.

Individuals are born with a predisposition toward society. This hard wiring for society does not determine the content of society. They must become members of a society. The process of internalization is the process of internalizing the symbols of one's culture and subculture. It involves understanding of our fellow citizens and the apprehension of the world as meaningful and a legitimate social reality. Individuals receive socialization through the subjectively appropriated experience of others. One experiences socialization differently, depending upon social class, religious values, and other subcultures. As one experiences other subcultures, the competitive nature of those worlds becomes a reality within the context of the total social world. Institutions maintain the reality of the social world for the individual. They maintain that vision of reality in routine times and in crisis. This confirmation of the vision of reality occurs primarily through conversation. Individuals learn to move freely within the social world as subcultures, testing the plausibility of each subculture. Socialization occurs successfully when a high degree of symmetry occurs between the objective social world and the subjectively appropriated social world. People make peace with their social world.

Our internal appropriation of a world must also take place collectively. We cannot become or be human apart from society. The internalization of a social world is dependent on society in the same way. We are incapable of conceiving our experience in a comprehensive and meaningful way unless social processes transmit such a conception. The socially constructed world is an ordering of experience.

††††††††††† Political and legal institutions serve as obvious illustrations of procedures designed to bring back into line recalcitrant individuals or groups. Government has its origin in a series of primitive biological phenomena, such as the tendency of most primate social groups to form status hierarchies, the tendency of animals to accept leadership from other animals, and the sheer brute physical force that some animals can exert over others. These elements of primate biology are just as essential to understanding political philosophy as many of the features that philosophy traditionally discusses. The elaborate structures that are then set up evolve as institutional structures by way of the collective imposition of status-functions on top of the more primitive relationships. The possibility that the creation of institutional facts has a logical structure suggests that external forces do not impose it.

The process of socialization can lead to becoming a traitor to oneself. Individuals may perceive significant discrepancy between the symbols used to describe the social world on the one hand the reality of experience in that world on the other. Such contradictions lead to the experience of alienation between the individual and the social world. If that sense of alienation from the ideals of the social world and the individual experience is a mass experience, a revolutionary situation exists.

††††††††††† The struggles for recognition, the struggle to have others respect our individual worth and dignity, is that which makes possible both consciousness and subjectivity on the one hand and that makes possible the unity of social and cultural life as well as the continuity of history amid the open-endedness and incompleteness of its processes. All biological life receives its specific shape by interaction with other biological life, and to that extent is a struggle oriented toward worth and dignity. Human beings represent the high point of such ecstatic life. Language enables us to keep what is past and absent present in consciousness. Social institutions and culture show this human struggle for dignity. We cannot separate this struggle from embodied individuals. It expresses itself in external mediums like language, customs, and institutions. The embodiment of this struggle for worth and dignity occurs through human activity. This activity occurs in the medium of space and time. Hegel refers to this process as the actualization of Geist. Human spirit does not refer to immateriality or incorporeality. Nor does it refer to the internal or inward in contrast to the objective. Hegel did not mean spiritual in contrast to worldly. Human self-understanding attains objectivity in the social world. That social world consists of family, civil society (including religious and economic institutions) and government, and thus shows human self-understanding. Every social world shows the principle, the set of ideas and values, that expresses the struggle for worth and dignity.

††††††††††† The customs, laws, religion, system of justice, commerce, and political life of a people expresses their sense of human worth and dignity. The objectivity of the institutional world thickens and hardens for each generation. The social world becomes a comprehensive and given reality confronting the individual in a manner analogous to the reality of the natural world. Humanity creates its social world; the social world acts back upon humanity. The individual is a product of the social world. Such institutionalization is reversible, although they have a tendency to persist. De-institutionalization may take place in certain areas of the social world. However, as various social worlds interact and collide, we see that the struggle for the recognition by others of human worth and dignity is not simply a cultural phenomenon relative to a particular time and space, but rather expresses the universal desires and hopes of the humanity. We can observe these desires and hopes articulated, developed, and actualized through world history. Human beings seek a social world that adequately reflects human worth and dignity. Human worth and dignity is both a principle and a force that activates a people toward shaping the social world.

††††††††††† The human struggle for dignity gains self-knowledge by developing increasingly coherent interpretations accounting for an increasingly wide range of its activities. Social and cultural practices express human self-understandings. The human struggle for dignity gains space in the activities of a people and their products. As human beings engage in the social, political, and cultural practices, they actualize human struggles for worth and dignity. Human worth and dignity takes shape in stages through the process of world history. At any particular moment in space-time, human struggles for dignity and worth can be one-sided and inadequately expressed in the social world. The developmental process in space-time is the struggle to articulate human dignity. We will not grasp human desire for worth and dignity fully until the end of that developmental process. We can gain understanding of human worth and dignity only in retrospect. Contrary to the ancients, essence is not of a fixed and immutable nature.

The institutional order makes some sense to the participants. People need to make the totality of their lives subjectively meaningful. A social world must transmit such forms of life to the next generation. The social world does this through symbolization of the meaning and purpose of its institutions. Specific individuals and groups embody all socially constructed symbols of its form of life that serve to define reality. Such reflection occurs through specialization and the division of labor. The pluralistic nature of the modern social world leads to common assumptions within which such different forms of life may co-exist through mutual accommodation. It presupposes an urban society with a highly developed division of labor, a high differentiation in the social structure, and high economic surplus. It accelerates the already rapid nature of social change as it encourages skepticism toward what is and innovation toward what might be.

All socially constructed worlds are inherently precarious in that they bear the marks of internal contradictions and alienation that they must resolve in order to persist into the future. Supported by human activity, the human facts of self-interest and stupidity threaten them. Socialization seeks to ensure a continuing consensus concerning the most important features of the social world. Social control seeks to contain individual or group resistances within tolerable limits. We also support the swaying edifice of the social world through a process of making it legitimate.This need arises out of questions about why institutional arrangements are the way they are. Making the social world acceptable to its members is both cognitive and normative in character.

The paradigmatic case is language. It is a human product. Language is the imposition of order on experience. Language provides order by imposing differentiation and structure upon the ongoing flux of experience. As we name an item of experience, we also take it out of this flux and give it stability as the entity so named. Language further provides a fundamental order of relationships by the addition of syntax and grammar to vocabulary. It is impossible to use language without participating in its order. Every actual language is the historical consequence of the ordering activity of generations of people. The original ordering act is to say that an item is this, and thus not that. As sharper linguistic designation follows this original incorporation of the item into an order that includes other items, the ordering act intends a comprehensive order of all items that we can linguistically make objective; it intends a totalizing order.

We construct social reality through the objects to which it refers that lie beyond itself. In the social context, language has a performative function. It imposes status or function by collective agreement. Institutional facts require human institutions for their existence.

Language is a well-defined object in the diverse mass of speech facts.It is the social side of speech.It exists only by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community.Moreover, the individual must always serve an apprenticeship in order to learn the functioning of language; a child assimilates it only gradually.

Speech is so familiar a feature of daily life that we rarely pause to define it.Perhaps because of its familiarity, we rarely observe it, taking it rather for granted, as we do breathing or walking.Yet, this naturalness of speech is an illusion.Talking is natural. Yet, we would not associate certain sounds with certain symbols without society and its traditions. Eliminate society and we breathe and walk, if we survive at all.However, we will never learn to talk.

The calling in question of the I we call language. Language produces the positive deployment of this peaceful relation with the other. To be attentive is to recognize the mastery of others, to receive their command, to receive from them the command to command.Language is the first ethical gesture. Language is the way we conduct rational discourse. Through language, we cooperate with others in the use of power in order to bring about a proper ordering of life with nature and life together. Language does not belong among the relations that could appear through the structures of formal logic; it is contact across a distance, relation with the non-touchable, across a void. The analyses of language that tend to present it as one meaningful action among others fail to recognize this offering of the world, this offering of contents that answers to the presence of others or which questions them, and first opens the perspective of the meaningful. The vision of the other is inseparable from this offering language is. To see the face is to speak of the world.

We reveal ourselves in language.Expression does not manifest the presence of being by referring from the sign to the signified; it presents the signifier. The one who gives the sign is not the signified. It is necessary to have already been in the society of signifiers for the sign to be able to appear as a sign. Hence, those who give the sign must present themselves before every sign. Speech is an incomparable manifestation. It does not accomplish the movement from the sign to the signifier and the signified; it unlocks what every sign closes up at the very moment it opens the passage that leads to every sign closes up at the very moment it opens the passage that leads to the signified, by making the signifier attend this manifestation of the signified. As long as the existence of humanity remains within, it remains phenomenal. The language by which we exist for another is our unique possibility to exist with an existence that is more than his interior existence. The surplus that language involves with respect to all the works and labors that manifest people measures the distance between the living and dead.

Language presupposes the welcome of the other. Speech proceeds from difference. A difference is not produced in a process of specification descending from genus to species. Language is a relation between separated terms. Our speech elicits a response from the other. The other resists possession and resists my powers. The other threatens the eventuality of a struggle, but this threat does not exhaust the epiphany of infinity, does not formulate its first word. War presupposes peace; it does not represent the first event of the encounter.

The real world has its foundation in the largely unconscious language habits of the group. Language is a social fact.People who did not read or write spoke all languages through nearly all of their history.The languages of such peoples are just as stable, regular, and rich as the languages of literate nations.Language belongs both to the individual and to society.We must separate language from speaking, and thereby distinguish what is social from what is individual. Language is not a function of the speaker.It never requires premeditation. Reflection enters in only for the purpose of classification.Speaking is an individual act.It is willful and intellectual.We must distinguish between the language apparatus that an individual speaker uses on the one hand from the psychological mechanism that allows the speaker to externalize these particular linguistic combination on the other.

††††††††††† It is easy to misconceive the role of society in language.Language is a social art.However, it is an error to suppose we have seen deeply into the heart of linguistic communication when we have noticed how society bends linguistic habits to a public norm.

††††††††††† What is conventional about language, if anything is, is that people tend to speak much as their neighbors do.I do not deny the practical importance of social conditioning.What common conditioning ensures is that we may assume, up to a point, that the same method of interpretation that we use for others, or that we assume others use for us, will work for a new speaker.Linguistic communication does not require rule-governed repetition, and in that case, convention does not help explain what is basic to linguistic communications, though it may describe a usual, though contingent, feature.We cannot confidently ascribe beliefs, desires, and intentions to a creature that cannot use language.Beliefs, desires, and intentions are a condition of language, but language is also a condition for them.Language is at every moment everyone's concern.

††††††††††† Everyone participates in language and therefore everyone is constantly influencing it.Language is the product of current social forces.It is also the product of time.Language is not just the result of the current collective, but of time.Because the sign is arbitrary, it follows no other rule than tradition.Because tradition is the foundation of language, it is arbitrary.

Language is an exchange of ideas about the world, with the mental reservations it involves, across the vicissitudes of sincerity and deceit it delineates, presupposes the originality of the other without which, reduced to an action among actions whose meaning would require an infinite psychoanalysis of sociology, it could not commence. Language is possible only when speaking precisely renounces this function of being action and returns to its essence of being expression. Expression does not consist in giving us the interior life of the other. Others who express themselves precisely do not give themselves, and accordingly retain the freedom to lie. Deceit and veracity already presuppose the absolute authenticity of the other, the privileged case of a presentation of being foreign to the alternative of truth and non-truth. The ethical relation, the face to face, also cuts across every relation one could call mystical. My responsibility before a person looking at me as foreign constitutes the original fact of fraternity. The status of the human implies fraternity and the idea of the human race.

Language is an expression of emotion. For some, the goal of language, which its positive or negative value is determined, is seen as theoretical cognition and its expression.Words are signs for ideas, which are regarded as either objective and necessary contents of cognition or as subjective representations.Philosophy brought a new breadth and depth to the concept of subjectivity. This concept gave rise, more and more clearly, to a truly universal view of the spontaneity of the spirit, which proved to be as much a spontaneity of feeling and will as of cognition, it became necessary to stress a new factor in the achievement of language.For when we seek to follow language back to its earliest beginnings, it seems to be not merely a representative sign for ideas, but also an emotional sign for sensuous drives and stimuli.The ancients knew this derivation of language from emotion, from the suffering of sensation, pleasure and pain.

The objective culture provides the clue to the highest forms of consciousness.Language has an aesthetic character rather than a logical one. We do not form concepts from particular instances. Rather, the concept, as an instrument in organizing human knowledge, is already pre-existent before any task involving the classification of particulars can even be performed. After examining the various forms of our cultural expression, the unique ability that humanity has to form myth, language, and science shapes our essential character.It is a means of structuring our experiences and thereby understanding both the world of nature and us. At times, language seemed to be becoming the principal weapon of skepticism rather than a vehicle of philosophical knowledge.We could no longer seek the unity of language in its logical content, but only in its genesis and in the psychological laws governing this genesis.

Language changes in spite of the inability of speakers to change it.The sign exposes itself to alteration because it perpetuates itself.Language is radically powerless to defend itself against the forces that from one moment to the next are shifting the relationship between the signified and the signifier.This is one of the consequences of the arbitrary nature of the sign.Language is a genuine institution.The arbitrary nature of signs places linguistics on its true basis.This arbitrariness separates language from all other social institutions.This is apparent from the way in which language evolves.Nothing could be more complex.As it is a product of both the social force and time, no one can change anything in it, and on the other hand, the arbitrariness of its signs theoretically entails the freedom of establishing just any relationship between phonetic substance and ideas.A principle of general semiology governs signs.Continuity in time is coupled to change in time.Time changes all things.There is no reason why language should escape this universal rule.

The time-conditioned character of language does not confront speakers, but only with its static state.People do not modify the system directly.In itself, it is unchangeable.We alter only certain elements without regard for the solidarity that binds them to the whole.Language is not a mechanism created and arranged with a view to the concepts that we need to express.We see on the contrary that the state that resulted from the change was not destined to signal the meaning with which it was impregnated.Language is a system whose parts we must consider in their synchronic solidarity.Since changes never affect the system as a whole but rather one or another of its elements, we can study them only outside the system.Each alteration doubtless has its counter-effect on the system, but the initial fact affected only one point; there is no inner bond between the initial fact and the effect that it may subsequently produce on the whole system.The basic difference between successive terms and coexisting terms, between partial facts and facts that affect the system, precludes making both classes of fact the subject matter of a single science.We must realize both the autonomy and the interdependence of synchrony.

††††††††††† Language never stops interpreting and decomposing its units.Why does interpretation vary constantly from one generation to the next?We must seek the answer for the cause of change in the great mass of forces that constantly threaten the analysis adopted in a particular language state.The first and most important force is phonetic evolution.Analogical innovations are more apparent than real.Language is a garment covered with patches out from its own cloth.The very reason that it always uses old material for its innovations is remarkably conservative. Analogy has an equally important role as a conservative force pure and simple.Whether we deal with the preservation of a form composed of several elements or a redistribution of linguistic material in new constructions, analogy is there.It always plays an important role.

Language is essentially constitutive of institutional reality. Each institution requires linguistic elements of the facts within that very institution. The feature of language essential for the constitution of institutional facts is the existence of symbolic devises, such as words, that by convention mean, represent, or symbolize something beyond themselves. Language is partly constitutive of institutive of institutional facts amounts to the claim that institutional facts essentially contain some symbolic elements in this sense of symbolic: there are words, symbols, or other conventional devices that mean something or express something or represent or symbolize something beyond themselves, in a way that is publicly understandable. This symbolism is not intrinsic to the entities but is imposed by or derived from the intentionality of human beings. Many social facts that do not appear to be dependent upon language are in fact dependent. For a fact to be language dependent mental representations must be partly constitutive of the fact and the representations in question must be language dependent. The capacity to attach a sense, a symbolic function, to an object that does not have that sense intrinsically is the precondition not only of language but of all institutional reality.

My concern is with the modern social world or liberal democracy, as it actually exists, and not with some comprehension of an inner essence of things apart from their objective reality. We cannot ignore existing social arrangements. The rationality of the social world shows itself in existing institutions. We can grasp this rationality only by looking reasonably at the world.

The segmentation of institutional life distributes knowledge in modern society in an uneven and competitive way. The interaction of various sub-cultures of meaning makes its influence felt upon the whole of the social world. The increasing number and complexity of such sub-cultures or forms of life make them increasingly inaccessible to those outside. This experience encourages both cooperation and competition between various sub-cultures.

Liberal democracy

Liberal democracy is, as it ought to be. Liberal democracy embodies various contradictions that it resolves within its social world. The ideals always exceed the reality. This social world does not have a utopian vision of either its individuals or its life together. We cannot say this about other social worlds. The institutions of the modern social world do not conform to their norms. In fact, they must fail to do so. The sphere of human action is arbitrary, contingent, and filled with error. Anything that is the result of human action exhibits defects, imperfections, and wickedness. Imperfections are necessary conditions of the social world being as it ought to be. The modern social world can be as it ought to be only in existing institutions. The price of realization in existing institutions is imperfection. It is not absolute evil (superiority of the wealthy, supremacy of a race or dominance of a gender) or absolute good (in actualizing respect for the worth and dignity of every individual). Imperfection is the price of the modern social world being as it ought to be. Imperfection in existing institutions does not count against the claim that the modern social world is as it ought to be, for the failure to achieve its ideals is part of its being a human social world.

††††††††††† The modern social world is logically untidy and flexible and an ambiguous compromise. We need less messianic fervor and more skepticism that is enlightened, more toleration of idiosyncrasies, and more room for personal taste and belief. We need less mechanical and fanatical application of general principles and a more cautious and less arrogant self-confident application of accepted, scientifically tested general solutions to unexamined individual cases. We need a loose texture and toleration of a minimum of inefficiency, indulgence in idle talk and curiosity, and aimless pursuit of this or that without authorization. Conspicuous waste of time may allow more spontaneous, individual variation, and will always be worth more than the neatest and delicately fashioned imposed pattern. The kinds of problems that this or that system of social organization solves are not the only central questions of human life. We may deal with injustice, poverty, or war through reform or revolution. However, we do not live only by fighting evils. We live through positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, and at times incompatible. Just as our experience of the world presents a process of coming to be at home that never ends, even in a world that appears ever stranger because we have changed it so much, so too a reflective account of such a culture is an unending process.

††††††††††† Now, I will grant that people who reflect upon culture often view themselves only as isolated individuals. They have social roles, but typically regard these roles as fundamentally external to their identity. However, isolated individualism is a pure abstraction from the context of life as we experience it. Further, such expressions of individualism are not the whole truth of the matter. Reflective individualists often closely identify at some level with community, often with ideologically like-minded persons, family, country, or some other community. Further, the concern about alienation evident among many reflective individuals reveals a tacit desire to find a place in the social world and fit in with its arrangements. The subjective alienation they experience through its indifference or hostility (we can see this experience of alienation on the political Left and the political Right) is because they want to experience being at home not just as individuals but also as social members.

††††††††††† I am not interested in reconciling citizens of liberal democracies as isolated individuals to the modern social world. Rather, I am interested in changing our self-perception to that of individuality and social membership. The tension between individualism and social membership constitutes the primary tension of living in the modern social world. Our experience of this social world as alien is because we have accepted the split between individuality and social membership. My project of closing the gap becomes increasingly complex. Individuality and social membership are compatible. It is possible to actualize ourselves as individuals through social membership; it is possible to actualize our social membership through our individuality. We will understand better who we are if we engage this process. This process is not just a matter of fitting into the arrangements of the modern social world. Rather, we come to view ourselves in a more true way. Reconciliation cannot occur without accepting a true conception of who we are.

We can see the appeal of contract theory in political philosophy, such as developed by John Rawls, from this perspective. Such theories view the social world as an aggregate of individuals. In fact, we could view traditional contract theory as exemplified by Hobbes and Locke as the attempt to make the modern social world a home for isolated individuals. My project is of a different sort.

Citizens in liberal democracies take human rights as an ideal for granted. In reality, the creation of human rights is one of the more amazing forms of status-function. Status-functions fall into certain broad categories. First are symbolic powers, in that status-functions involve our discovery of meaning. The point of having symbolic powers is to enable us to represent reality in one or more of the possible illocutionary modes. Second are deontic powers, in that the social world creates rights and obligations for individuals to function in a healthy way within society. The point of having deontic powers is to regulate relations between people. In this category, society imposes rights, responsibilities, obligations, duties, privileges, entitlements, penalties, authorizations, permissions, and other such deontic phenomena.Third is honor, involving status for its own sake. Fourth are procedural steps on the way to power and honor. Actually, all of this dissolves into deontic powers. Conventional powers are variations on the basic structure. We have nothing but the ability to impose a status and with it a function, but with collective agreement or acceptance.

††††††††††† That which motivates me is questions for which we do not seem to have clear and distinct ideas. Even though I consist of physics and biology, (and so do you) I find myself most concerned with our life together. The concept of culture combines cultural form with the fact that cultures take shape within socially organized reality. The unity of society needs for its establishment the foundational order of values that is supplied by the cultural system. We can no longer understand the unity of culture in the context religious systems and myths or alienated consciousness. The modern and secular society will not abide such analysis.

††††††††††† Let us consider the possibilities of play. Playing together links the question of the identity of the individual with the further question regarding the shared world in which individuals are given the opportunity for achieving their personal identity. Due to its open-endedness and freedom of movement the play of young animals is comparable in principle to human openness to the world. Human beings remain at a stage of youthful development and retain this kind of openness to the world as a behavioral characteristic throughout their lives. We can relate all forms of cultural life to the main types of communal play. This means representational playing (ritual) and contests according to rules. Culture arises primarily out of the play that inspires cooperation and competition. Play turns us from individuals and their concern with identity to the life-world that individuals share. In play, human beings put into practice exocentricity, being outside themselves, as is their destiny. The ecstasy characteristic of play conceals demonic possibilities, even though demonic possibility does not destroy the potential creative possibility of play. Cultic play is the organizing center of the shared human world and of its unity. Play is closely connected with the specifically human intelligence and with language. Together these lay the foundations of the shared human world.

††††††††††† Further, the meaning of reality is the common theme of language and reason. In language, meaning achieves presentation, and by means of its expression in language it is communicated. Reason detaches the content of meaning from its linguistic form. It can do this because it precedes language and speech. Language and reason are specific to human being as a biological entity. Language and reason are closely involved in the development of culture. Both transcend the naturally given inasmuch as they grasp and name its essence. We adapt to nature and appropriate nature, the combination of which we call culture. The purpose is the integration of nature into the order of the shared world.

††††††††††† Society is a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs, and rules for behavior, designed to serve as a vehicle for heroism. Whether magical, religious, primitive, secular, scientific, and civilized, society is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of value, usefulness, and meaning. Society reflects our heroic reaction to the reality and finality of death.

††††††††††† The unit of culture is based on a communal consciousness of meaning that establishes the social world as an orderly place, permeates it, and is represented in communal play. Language is a universal medium for this communal consciousness of meaning that forms the basis for the exocentric identity of individuals. Language itself takes the form of play, as we can see from its obedience to rules and from its representational function. This representational aspect makes language essentially symbolic (mythic) and distinguishes it from a set of mere signs. We develop a consciousness of meaning that is conceived in common and founds the unity of the life-world. We find outside ourselves the ground that allows each of our lives to develop its own special identity and unity. The roots of individual identity are to be found in the jointly affirmed meanings from which the very consciousness of unity derives its strength but which can also enable individuals to resist the thinking and behavior of the group and can motivate them to do so. Critics of a society may appeal to the shared of consciousness of meaning and show how it is contradicted by the reality of society. Critics may also cast doubt on the undergirding consciousness of meaning. The purpose of institutions is to regulate relations among individuals in connection with the satisfaction of their basic human needs (food, clothing, shelter, and sexuality) and in connection with secondary needs. In the reciprocity of relations between individuals, we find the key to the basic forms of institutionalization. We find here an aspect of the exocentricity of human behavior. Society is a process of differentiation in the course of which partial systems become increasingly independent of each other, thereby leaving greater room for freedom of movement. ††††††

††††††††††† Liberal democracy distributes power over several spheres of social life. The distribution of power toward individuals, families, free association in civil society (including between employer and employee and between producer and consumer), and the distribution of political power, suggest that liberal democracy does not have a center of power. Individuals, corporations, religions, and political parties, not even the State, become the hub of a wheel or the center around which society revolves. Liberal democracy creates a social order that exists more like a dance with moves that have reckless abandonment to it, while at the same time possessing subtle dimensions of order. The institutions of liberal democracy do not exist by means of force. They exist through an incredibly complex means of inter-connections that, with no one managing them, works together for the improvement of human life together. This is why an ideological critique of liberal democracy cannot deal with liberal democracy as citizens actually experience it. Ideology proposes a static critique. One could propose such a critique of feudal society, or military democracy, communism or fascism. Such systems are static because of their need for force to impose the system upon citizens. This encourages a rigid social system and guarded access to power.

††††††††††† Liberal democracy replaces eternity with hope for the contingent future. It takes time and finitude seriously. The meaning of human life and societies is a function of how human history turns out, rather than its relation to something a-historical. The way to think about the significance of the human adventure is to look forward rather than upward, contrasting a possible human future with the human past and present. It makes human significance and awe temporal.

††††††††††† Many studies indicate that the desires and preferences of people respond to their beliefs about social norms and about their own opportunities. The political, social, and cultural context of individuals determines their anxieties, guilt, fears, and anger.

††††††††††† Human beings are beings who desire recognition from others of their worth and dignity. As important as physics and biology are for forming the natural framework of human beings, they do not define human beings. We are the kind of beings who show ourselves through the social arrangements and culture for which we are responsible. The self-knowledge that we gain in this way arises because we are beings of worth and dignity. Yet, the social world for which human beings are responsible also exerts its influence upon us and shapes us through the form of life a culture establishes. We are social and cultural beings. We become ourselves as human beings only as the result of being raised in and socialized within a human community and actively participate in that human community. We cannot have an understanding of ourselves apart from that cultural context. Culture shapes our deepest needs and goals. The social world into which our parents give us birth shapes our biological drives, desires, and needs. We are children of our time. Our needs and goals vary given particular culture and history. The constellation of knowledge and attitudes that exist in a particular country and religion determine what is right and acceptable. Historically and culturally determined moments define the human good. We show human worth and dignity through the national communities of which we are a part. The collective dignity of a people is greater than the aggregate of individuals within the community. Such human communities reproduce themselves in individuals. Each culture raises its members to behave and understand themselves in such a way that will reproduce those social arrangements. National communities reproduce themselves through the individuals of which that culture consists. We can see this on a small scale within the family unit. As parents raise children with specific values, the family continues only as the children incorporate those values within themselves and carry them onward. Only as individuals find their social world expressive of their self-understanding can a culture reproduce itself. We become who we are through our social world.

††††††††††† No human being can speak from nowhere. Everyone has a place from which we view the world. Human desire for worth and dignity is greater than any particular individual or culture. Every culture partially expresses human worth and dignity, suggesting that human worth and dignity struggles to articulate itself beyond the historically and culturally conditioned moment. We gain partial understanding of that struggle of human dignity now, through reflection upon the social world. We cannot gain an authoritative view of that struggle until we catch a glimpse of the end or purpose of that struggle.

††††††††††† By the way, I could begin speaking of God here. We show in our dissatisfaction with what is and the restlessness of the human desire for dignity and worth that no social world is our home in this sense. In this understanding, God transcends each culture, and thus beckons the human struggle for the recognition of the dignity and worth of the individual toward increasingly articulate expressions of the work of God. I view this experience of incompleteness of individual and communal life as a hint or clue that points us toward the possibility of God. The concern that God demonstrates for humanity makes God the supreme humanist, desiring the best for humanity in all its social arrangements, and not just in religious experience or ideas or in theology. Of course, philosophically, the question of God can only remain problematic. We reach one of the many limits of philosophy.

††††††††††† Does this confidence of which I am about to write come from some psychological phenomena within me? Does it come from faith in God? Does it come from some philosophical assumptions about human progress? I do not know, and I do not think any of that is particularly important if what I am about to write has a ring of truth to you. What is, is not necessarily a rational expression of human desires for worth and dignity. Not everything that is, is rational. We can easily misunderstand at this point the double dictum of Hegel: "What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational." We can reasonably assume the eventual victory in human community of rational forces over irrational forces. Plato had disdain for what exists, pointing beyond what is to the ideal world. Plato failed to understand that what is real must become external in space-time. Any existing social world can be an illusion in the sense that it distorts to a significant degree the articulation of the human expression of worth and dignity. The social world can fail to a significant degree to reflect the movement of human dignity. The underlying rational structure of the social world may fail to express itself in a way that most adequately articulates human dignity. We observe this distinction in ordinary speech when we speak of someone as a "real" poet, in contrast to poets who do not distinguish themselves. A "real" social world articulates the human desire for human worth and dignity to the greatest possible degree. The point of human community is to help bridge the gap between the "real" social world and the social world that actually exists. Much of our world is illusion and self-deception. Unmasking the social world is an important part of the human project. We can carry on this project of human community only by appealing to norms and ideals, to principles and practices, to which we have already committed ourselves and which we root in what is real. Rational ideals have a claim to satisfaction. Their non-fulfillment constitutes an objective wrong. Our imagination or fantasy can give us a sense of a claim for satisfaction of desires that are delusional. The norms of valid ideals have power to bring themselves into a real social world. The realization of valid norms has the rather modest potential of realization to a significant degree. Thus, the ideals of family, the market place, political life, religious community, will never realize their full potential. The tendency of the social world is to realize its valid norms. These norms are intelligible, reasonable, and good. The basic tendency of the social world is to become more rational. The arrangements of the social world of liberal democracies reflect an increasingly more adequate conception of the human struggle for the political recognition of the worth and dignity of individuals. This transformation takes place through world history. The fact that such reform takes place within time and history reminds us of the inevitable imperfection of the social world in which we live. World history shows a lessening gap between the real social world and the actual social world. The gap becomes increasingly smaller.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Civil society is a complex web of intermediate institutions, such as businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches. The civil society is a separate realm of human activity that is distinct from the political sphere. A thriving civil society depends on the habits, customs, and ethics of a people. The civil sphere is the arena of contractual and civil relations within which people can pursue their private and association ends. It provides an arena within which people provide one another with objective recognition of their individual talents, skills, and achievements, their determinate position in society, and their general status as members of society. Of course, rights based individualism has its challenges. This emphasis can lead to the perception that nothing we do individually ought to matter to society. America pays a high price for its individuality, noting that one percept of its population is in prison, pays more for police protection than other democracy, and has more lawyers per person than any other nation.

††††††††††† Modern society thrives when it allows the full participation of every citizen. Consequently, excluding participation of whole groups is counter to the health and liveliness of a modern society. More importantly, however, it represents a severe break with its moral ideals. Exclusion of groups creates an alienating situation for those groups that causes an internal relational tension within the individuals of those groups, within the excluded group, and between the group and society. Exclusion of women, of ethnic minorities, of religious minorities, of racial minorities, runs counter to the ideal of every member of society actualizing their worth and dignity through participation in society. This participation allows individuals to experience their social world as a home. Democracy is a means for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom.We cannot reconcile the supremacy of a single purpose for the whole of society on the one hand with the freedom of the individual on the other.Truth becomes the casualty.

††††††††††† Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Industrial era, the primary identification of people will be cultural rather than ideological. This means that conflicts will more likely occur between secular, scientific, and democratic culture on the one hand, and Islamic, Confucian, Hindu, Roman Catholic, and family centered cultures on the other. Our exposure to different cultures often becomes the occasion of creative change for all. However, the potential for disastrous interactions also exists.

The political state within liberal democracy is a weak organization in that it respects the individual rights of its citizens. Individual rights, the worth and dignity of each individual, forms a limit to legitimate action by the state, regardless of what the individual believes philosophically or in religion or what they do ethically. The strong political states, such as military dictatorships, fascism, communism, and theocracy, have failed in satisfying fundamental human longing for the recognition of their uniqueness, dignity, and worth. Military dictatorships lack a plausible long-term basis for legitimacy.


Social roles and being individuals in the strong sense


The emphasis upon individuality in liberal democracy represents a unique moment in human history, elevating individuality to a specific social role that we will need to accept if we are to fulfill the best plan of life within this social world. Our participation in social roles like domestic, civic and economic life, and political life, is often tacit. We behave in ways consistent with being a member of a family, a worker, or a citizen, even when we do not explicitly conceive ourselves in that way. The cost of rejecting such roles is high, but we have the freedom to do so. We can bear the cost.

Modern people who accept their roles are individuals and social members in the strong sense. They are compatible. For people living in liberal democracy, to reject social membership simply means that they will not realize themselves to their fullest potential, for rejecting the role amounts to rejecting themselves. We can conceive of ourselves as individuals and social members because both individual and civic life affirms that we have separate and particular interests, that we possess individual rights, and that we have the right of moral choice. Civic life is the proper sphere where we find this affirmation of the self. Further, we can conceive of self and social membership together. We are independent of our social roles; while at the same time conceive ourselves in terms of them.

We can intellectually abstract ourselves from social roles, as a moment of alienation. Philosophers before Hegel recognized the ability to abstract from social roles. Hegel is the first to say that we can reflectively identify with them. It is one of his greatest insights. Such abstraction and thus alienation may be important in that liberal democracy needs reflective individuals to participate intentionally in its social institutions. This separation need not be permanent. When we ask whether a role is suitable or whether we want to play a certain role, we can also respond with affirmation. We then intentionally identify at a reflective level with that role. The fact that we have a choice in this identification is a uniqueness of the modern social world. The alienation that reflection requires need not be final. Whether we can reconcile ourselves to liberal democracy depends upon the place from which we view it. I want to invite you to join me on a journey to that place.See if the form of life that I describe the modern social world in a way that makes it possible for us to experience reconciliation with it.

Membership in the modern social world makes individuality in the strong sense possible. Civil society provides the proper sphere for the exercise of these self-understandings. In that sphere it is most appropriate to pursue one's separate and particular interests and insist upon one's individual rights. Civil society actually encourages such practices. Our participation in civil society invites us to think of ourselves as selves and as bearers of separate and particular interests.

The use of the concept of everyone pursuing their self-interest has given people with ethical sensitivity a basis for concern. It was an unfortunate choice of terms. In reality, each of us has only one life to lead. Each of us has needs, desires, hopes and dreams, the combination of which is unique. To live in a society where we can pursue our considered conception of the best human life we can lead is indeed a privilege. Few people on the earth have this privilege. When we take it for granted, we do an injustice to the genius quality of liberal democracy.

Political authority and the system of justice protect these interests. We freely enter into contracts and make use of the legal system. Civic life is the arena in which we encounter ethical formation. In that sphere, we cannot rely upon custom to determine what one ought to do. Participation in civic life forces us to appeal to private moral reflection. Through participating in civil society, through actualizing ourselves as members of civil society, we actualize ourselves in the strong sense. An important function of the family is to raise children capable of interacting in the modern social world. An important function of political authority is to provide the support framework for civil life to be that arena within which individuals can actualize themselves as individuals in the strong sense. In this way, the social roles support each other.

In a tacit way, when we act as individuals in the strong sense, we act as members of civil society. We live in a society with highly defined limits, a social world that contains a civil society separate from family and from political dictation. The family and political authority are preconditions for strong individuality. We regularly make personal sacrifices for family. We experience ourselves as citizens, even to the point of willingness to die in times of war. We cannot understand individuality and the modern social world without facing this willingness to sacrifice. The shape that human desire for worth and dignity takes in a particular culture shapes the members of that society. Thus, even if one rejects certain features of the American way of life, one typically does so in a characteristically American way. The shape that human dignity takes in a particular family also shapes the members of that family. Though one can reject certain features of their family, they cannot do so totally. Even though we share social roles with others, we maintain our individuality in the performance of them. We cannot understand this man apart from the social role he plays as father. The social role of fatherhood affects him subjectively in his feelings, sentiment, and self-conception. He will also be a unique father as he tailors the role to one's own temperament and circumstances.


Hegel makes the point that individuality (Einzelheit) consists in the unity of particularity (Besonderheit) and universality (Allgenmeinheit). The universality of a man consists, in part, in his role as a father. His particularity consists, in part, in the specific way in which he inhabits this role. We cannot understand who this man is in his universality unless we consider the fact that he occupies this universal role. Nor can we understand who he is in his particularity unless we consider how he occupies this role. Individuality exhibits the structure of the concept (Begriff), which is the basic structure of reason.


In order to actualize ourselves fully, we must intentionally identify with the roles of individuality, domestic, civil and economic life, and citizenship. In other words, we become healthy individuals through dialogue with others, we establish a home with spouse and children, we discipline ourselves through job, and we accept some responsibilities in civil society for the health of the community. The path to a reasonably happy life within a liberal democracy is relatively simple. We absorb these roles into our subjectivity, actualizing our social membership through our individuality. We then actualize ourselves as individual social members.

Civil society requires the ability of people to work together for common purposes in groups and organizations. Civil society requires the ability of people to associate with each other in both economic and non-economic ways. Knowledge and utilitarian skill are not enough to hold society together. This ability to associate depends on the degree to which communities share norms and values and are able to subordinate individual interests to those of larger groups. One aspect of such groups is the rational contract people make that it is their self-interest to cooperate with others. However, the most effective organizations are based on communities of shared ethical values. These communities do not require extensive contract and legal regulation of their relations because price moral consensus gives members of the group a basis for mutual trust. The ability to work together requires habituation to the moral norms of a community, and the acquisition of virtues like loyalty, honesty, and dependability. The group has to adopt common norms as a whole before members can actualize trust broadly. Individuals do not act on their own to acquire the ability to work with others; this requires social virtues rather than internal virtues. We cannot expect the ability to work together to equally spread itself throughout society.

Out of such shared values comes trust, a quality of civil life that has large and measurable economic value. Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep value questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behavior. The ability of people to work together with a common purpose arises from the prevalence of trust in society or in certain parts of it. Cultural mechanisms like religion, tradition, or historical habit create and transmit this ability to work together in trustful ways. Although the way individuals inherit culture is not rational, culture may embed a high degree of rationality. As a habit, culture changes slowly.

Such a division might imply to some rigid boundaries. Thus, the homemaker and wage earner must be separate. However, these three spheres of the modern social world form of life blur distinctions in ways that I hope will be clear in the following discussion. The modern social world is not so tidy as the outline may suggest.


The nature of individuality and social membership


The modern social world must provide the opportunity for the actualization of individuality and social membership. The modern social world will reward people who actualize themselves as individuals, acquiring wealth and prestige in varying degrees. A well-ordered family rewards its members by providing them with love, intimacy, and understanding. A well-ordered state will reward its members with a form of life in which people can pursue the shared general end of the good of the community and have recognition as members of the political community.

The modern social world must make it possible for people to actualize their individuality through their social membership and to actualize their social membership through their individuality. The framework of the modern social world makes it appear that individuals cannot reach these goals. That is why many people who live within the modern social world experience it as alien, hostile, or indifferent to their needs. The bureaucratic expansion of the modern political state and corporations appears to disrespect individuality. The family unit appears to dissolve individuality in favor of the family unit. Actualization of ourselves as individuals through social membership, and actualization of social membership, appears unlikely. Yet, beneath this appearance of failure in the modern social world is a coherent and intelligible system whose various components promote both individuality and social membership.


Friedrich Schiller, in The Aesthetic Education of Man, makes the opposite claim: the modern social world through its structures leads to the fragmentation of the human being. He resorted to a mythic conception of the ancient Greek world, contrasting that with "us moderns." The conditions of modernity prevent us from actualizing ourselves as wholes by preventing them from fully actualizing their natural powers. The modern social world consists of lifeless fragments; the involvement of individuals in that social world turns them into fragmentary lives.

Gabriel Marcel wrote in The Philosophy of Existentialism (1933) that modern civilization makes individuals into an agglomeration of functions. That gives us a stifling impression of sadness produced by this functionalized world. It creates a dull, intolerable unease. It has an empty and hollow ring. Martin Heidegger said in Introduction to Metaphysics (1935) America and Russia were identical metaphysically, which I suspect the people liberated from Communism in 1989 might disagree. Further, he speaks of the dispirited condition of the west, which I would suggest that in Germany at that time, his support of the Nazi government would lead to such reflections. He also lamented the powers of spiritual happening shifting to a sphere where they are divided up into regions, such as art, science, and poetry. They become separated fields of endeavor in which individuals seek fulfillment but cannot find it. My intent in this essay is to admit the problem that such experiences give to us as modern people, but also that our modern world provides ways of moving toward reconciliation and wholeness.


††††††††††† The modern social world combines the principles of individuality and freedom with membership in a community. The form that individuality and freedom take includes freely forming families and marriages, freely and responsibly developing morality and conscience, pursuit of our economic goals, freely associating with people of similar interests in society, and freely participating in the political order. In order for society to be the home that I propose, people must experience it as a place in which they can realize themselves as community members without abandoning or suppressing their individuality. If we reconcile ourselves to the modern social world, we do so only as we preserve our individuality and freedom as reconciled people. Reconciliation with the modern social world does not mean the loss of individuality. Some people appear to develop a myth about the past agricultural life or rural life, in which people identified themselves with the community so much that they lost their sense of individuality and uniqueness. They enjoyed the satisfactions of community without the pain of alienation. Hegel writes in this manner at times. However, once the modern world went the direction of freedom and individuality, we have no way to turn back.†††††††

††††††††††† My project is therapeutic in this sense: I would like to help certain of my contemporaries to experience reconciliation with the modern social world. I will grant that religious reconciliation, inner peace, is possible regardless of social arrangements. However, the experience of peace with God must not reconcile us to evil objective conditions. Marx accused Hegel of suggesting that Hegel would make peace with any social arrangements through theory. That was a wrong analysis of Hegel. The idea that the modern social world is a home is not just a metaphor when it means that we have the possibility of actualizing ourselves as individuals and as members of society. This view unites the ancient concern for the values of public life and the concern of modernity for individual rights. I identify with Locke at this point, emphasizing the liberties of the moderns, such as freedom of thought and conscience, certain basic rights of the persona and of property, and the rule of law. This emphasizes the liberties of the ancients, the equal political liberties and the values of public life.†††††††††††††††††††

††††††††††† I agree with Marx that major social transformations occur through revolutions that are often, though not always, violent. Where I disagree is that social revolution has already taken place, in the American Revolution, rather than some future revolution that will usher in the utopian classless society. Marx views the social world created by that revolution as one of alienation. His political project seeks to secure the objective conditions of reconciliation by transforming the central social institutions to make them worthy of reconciliation. He wants to change the modern social world to one that is worthy of reconciliation. He wants to make reconciliation possible through political change.

††††††††††† Marx would say that what I say in this paragraph makes my project ideological. It promotes a false consciousness that helps people feel comfortable with the oppressive nature of the modern social world. For Marx, if the modern social world were a home, it would be transparent to all persons. Such a social world would not need philosophical justification. The fact that I engage this project suggests that it is not a home.

††††††††††† Is it not obvious that modern people are both individuals and social members? After all, we are distinct human beings who participate in the social world. What is the issue? Individuality has the minimal sense of conceiving ourselves as distinct from other people in virtue of having particular traits and qualities that distinguish them from others. This is a necessary condition of being a human individual. The minimal sense of being a social member is to say that we are essentially social beings. We depend on society for the satisfaction of biological, social, and cultural needs. We depend on society for the realization of our distinctively human capacities, such as thought, language, and reason. We could not realize ourselves as human beings unless we were members of a society. This is one way to interpret Aristotle's observation we are political animals. This soft approach to individuality and social membership does not describe the modern experience. We are full-fledged individuals and full-fledged social members. Modern individuality and social membership are not only compatible but also intertwined. Through their social membership, modern people actualize themselves as individuals; through their individuality, modern people actualize themselves as social members. The human struggle for recognition as individuals of worth and dignity articulates itself in this process of actualization. The soft approach to individuality omits the idea of viewing oneself as having separate and particular interests. It says nothing about individual rights or conscience. It omits the possibility of standing back from social institutions and criticizing them. It does not engage the contrast between individual and society. A stronger conception of individuality shows that modern individuality is not so simple.


Nietzsche holds that we are genuine individuals only if we undertake to create our values and live a life that is radically original and radically non-conformist. See Thus Spake Zarathustra, 5 and Beyond Good and Evil, 41-63. Mill denies that genuine individuality requires originality or nonconformity; it does require determining for oneself which of the customs and traditions of one's social world are suitable for oneself and choosing one's own life plan, rather than simply doing what "one" does. See "On Liberty," 53-71.


1) We are selves. To be a self is to conceive of oneself as independent of and distinct from one's social roles. We think of ourselves as having the capacity to abstract ourselves from any given social role that we perform. We enter a reflective relationship with the social world. We wonder about how we relate to that social world. We question and evaluate the social role in which we participate. We wonder if we want to play the role. We wonder if we accept the values and norms that are present in the role. We wonder whether we ought to play it. This suggests that one might choose not play in the accepted social roles. Whether one refuses or not, we distinguish ourselves by the fact that we have stood back and evaluated it. The role is external to us, to our "self." The social role does not define us. As selves, we grasp that we have this ability to step back from social roles.

2) We are bearers of separate and particular interests that are separate from the interests of other people and the interests of the group, community, or social world. They are particular in that they are interests one has as the particular person one is. This means that something may be good for one individual that would not be good for another individual or for the community. Such separate and particular interests can bring one into conflict with other individuals or with the community.

3) We are possessors of individual rights that do not derive from one's status as the bearer of a particular social role or position in society. We have rights as persons in contrast to other individuals and in contrast to the community. These rights may conflict with other persons and with the community.

4) We are subjects of conscience, as we become independent sources of moral assessment and evaluation. We have the capacity and right to assess courses of actions, social roles, and institutions based on our private, subjective judgment, even in defiance of accepted practice and custom. We make judgments about right and duty, asserting that we know what those are in given situations. Conscience can bring us into conflict with our community since it is always possible for the deliberation of our conscience to run counter to the demands of community.

Individuality understood in this way is a distinctive feature of the modern social world. Other cultures of the past and present have individuality in the minimal sense, but not all cultures have this strong sense of individuality.

Modern people are distinctively and specifically members of the modern social world. We are members of a society organized around social institutions like the nuclear family, civic and economic life, and political institutions. We are part of a unique set of social arrangements that shape us. We explicitly and tacitly participate in the central institutions of the modern social world. We are born into this social world. We are born into this framework of institutional life. We will likely die in it. We gain our perceptions of ourselves through participation in this social framework. We can move to another type of social world. We cannot destroy the perception of self that we have gained living in this social world.

How can this core have such central influence upon modern people?

First, such central social roles constitute who we are as individuals. They shape the psychology of modern people. We have basic needs and desires. Our need and desire for intimacy find expression in family life. Though family life at times conflicts with our particular and separate interests, family life does not constitute external demands disconnected from our feeling, values, desires, and needs. They reflect norms that are part of our own basic values and desires. This congruence between self and role occurs through the institutional process by which we forms needs and values. People form the most central and fundamental needs and values they have through a process of socialization, acculturation, and education. This process occurs in family, civic and economic life, and political structures. These institutions channel and shape our needs and desires in such a way that modern people come to need and value the forms of lie that it provides. The social framework forms the will of modern people. The modern social world shapes and channels these biologically given needs, drive, and desires. The modern social world consists largely in a process of gaining determinate social and cultural shape to biological needs. The family molds the desire for sex and children into the specific desire for marital life and family. It makes these originally natural desires social in that it provides with a social institution through they can find satisfaction. The raw biological fact does not lead people to marry. The institutional framework of society provides that desire. It forms the will and thus has a strong role in shaping individual character and personality. The social framework shapes the core features of the psychological makeup of modern people. However, they do not exhaust personality and character. The central social institutions shape the fundamental needs and values of modern people. They do not fix them. We have varied persons shown in the particularities, eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies. Civil and economic life and family provide a sphere for the realization of different aspects of our particularity. Modern people can express and develop their emotional and psychological needs within the family. We can express and develop our interests, talents, and skills within civil and economic life.

Second, these core social roles provide the basic elements and constitute the basic framework of the lives of modern people. A choice involving family, career, and civic life, provides the basic elements of the life one leads. Modern people, in making such choices in relation to social roles, also choose the form of life they will lead. They represent the main arenas within which modern people exercise individual choice. Even if we do not marry or work, the social world that involves these institutions shapes us.

Third, the rejection the core social roles carry a high personal cost. To reject these roles (such as citizenship) in thought is to lead to an empty life. To reject these roles in practice, one's life will become abstract and impoverished. To reject such core roles is to reject one's own personality and character.

Certain historical circumstances may arise in which it is reasonable to withdraw from the social world. People will not always find meaning in the existing social roles. The social roles of the modern social world, however, are acceptable to reflection. What are the conditions that people must satisfy in order to realize themselves as the kind of beings that they are? We must participate in that form of life that expresses the correct understanding of human uniqueness, worth, and dignity. The modern social world is that form of social life. Through participating in the social framework of the modern social world, we actualize human desire for worth and dignity. Beyond this, fully realizing oneself would take us toward art, religion, and reflection.


Non-modern societies

††††††††††† What I will describe is a modern society. One could give it many names. One could call it a secular society. One could call it by negative terms, such as an acquisitive society. One could call it the regime of individual rights. One could call it liberal, bourgeois society. We can describe this society because we have the reflective capacity to consider what we are doing, whether we want to continue participating in it, and whether there are other options for us to consider for ordering our social world.

††††††††††† The value that many students of culture attach to foreign society often reflects hatred toward the customs of the person's own setting. Often inclined to subversion among their own people and in revolt against traditional behavior, anthropologists appear respectful to the point of conservatism as soon as they deal with a society different from their own. Some such students of culture will undergo a transformation of attitude as they start to give preference to their own culture that they have given to a foreign culture.

††††††††††† Further, people often look to the past with an idealized image toward the origin. Some criticism of modern civilization uses the vision of the ancients, especially Plato and Aristotle, to pronounce upon the shallow thought of modernism. Other attacks come from Nietzsche, who analyzed what he viewed as residues of Christianity in the founders of modernism. Karl Marx analyzed the modern vision of democratic institutions, economic life, and family life. Each of these criticisms offers their reasons for experiencing alienation from modern civilization. When applied within the United States, idealization can be toward venerating the past or alienating the past. Thus, one can look back to the founders of the United States with veneration, as if they attained perfection. They knew themselves to be far from perfect. We can examine their beliefs and practices and observe many weaknesses. We can also look to that past with alienation, focusing on those imperfections to the point of dismissing the great ideas that they genuinely expressed and sought to embody in institutions. Our veneration or alienation simply reflects dissatisfaction with the present. We experience dissatisfaction with our present life together, and therefore seek rationalization of that dissatisfaction through venerating the past or alienating ourselves from that past. What I will suggest, however, is that the institutional life of America has the capacity for self-renewal concerning its failure to actualize its ideal of freedom and community.

††††††††††† The paradox of civilization is this. Its charms are due essentially to the various subtle dimensions it carries along with it. For an example, free enterprise is right to be rational and increase efficiency and production. People are also right to cherish those very imperfections we want to eliminate. Social life consists in destroying that which gives it its nourishment. We are caught up in the evolution of our own society and our interested parties. Our culture provides us with the context that determines many of the issues we must face.

††††††††††† However, when we deal with foreign societies, everything is different. The objectivity that was impossible in the first instance now becomes reality. Since we are no longer agents but spectators of the transformations that are taking place, we are all the better able to compare and evaluate their future and their past, since these remain subjects for aesthetic contemplation and intellectual reflection, instead of being brought home to us in the form of mental anxiety. Further, anthropologists display the predilection for social and cultural structures different from the one in which they inhabit. They over-estimate the foreign culture and under-estimate their own culture. They cannot proclaim the validity of the foreign culture except by basing that judgment on the values of the society that has prompted them to engage in such research. Given the difficulty of not thinking that the norms of one's society are not superior to another, how can anthropology pretend to be scientific? The only way is to refuse to make judgments. Such an approach would prevent anthropologists from denouncing any feature of a culture, even when it is cruel, unjust, and oppressive, against which the very society suffering these ills may be protesting. Since such abuses exist in our society, we appear to have no right to speak. Anthropologists become critics at home and conformists abroad.

††††††††††† The study of culture often explores primitive culture, creating the illusion of something that no longer exists but still should exist. It would be too overwhelming to conclude that the history of the past 20,000 years is irrevocable. People can do nothing about it now. Civilization has ceased to be that delicate flower that was preserved and painstakingly cultivated in one or two sheltered areas of a soil rich in wild species that may have seemed menacing because of the vigor of their growth, but which made it possible to vary and revitalize the cultivated stock. Instead, I hope to show that the ideas that have shaped European and American civilization can become, in unique ways, part of rich tapestry of culture that stays away from the bland outlook of a single culture and instead allows for the rich variety that the explosion of freedom can bring to every culture.

The modernist social world is a specific type of society. Our solution to our needs is exceedingly complex. It depends on many factors, including the way of life in a society and how it determines human relations within it. We could also write about other types of social worlds, such as Roman Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Communist, Jewish, totalitarian, military dictatorship, hunter and gatherer, agrarian, industrial, totalitarian, and so on. Totalitarian ideas have also dominated Christianity, as in the inquisition. The fear of individualism ought not to lead us to an even greater barbarism.

††††††††††† The culture of a people can be a major obstacle to the formation of liberal democratic states. This statement suggests that if we genuinely care about the worth and dignity of all human beings, our desire is that all human beings would experience the blessing of enjoying the freedoms that liberal democracies provide. It also suggests that tradition and custom can become the subtle language of a liberal democracy, even if they no longer are the dominant force they once were. It also suggests that liberal democracy is such an important social value that any culture or ideology that, by its nature, does not allow liberal democracy to form must modify itself or have others defeat it, not for the sake of any one nation, but for the sake of human worth and dignity. The opposition has a moral purpose in caring for the well-being of others.

††††††††††† The answers that humanity has given to political organization of societies are so vastly different that they give the impression of resting upon human invention. We might think of primitive tribes, feudal societies of the past, monarchies, aristocracies, and theocracies. We might also think of military dictatorships, fascism, and communism. Every human civilization in history has had internal contradictions that led to their eventual demise. We cannot avoid the importance of political structure in shaping individual desire and behavior. Social institutions shape the preference and desire of individual members of the community. Although human beings have a basic biological nature, many of the essential features of human beings are open, undetermined, and therefore free to create our own nature. The social world has more of an impact upon that creation than many of us care to admit. The modern social world takes seriously the ways in which social institutions shape the preference and desire of individuals. This suggests multi-relationships requiring an enormous variety of relations, with people, with material objects, and with abstract entities.

††††††††††† At various times in the past and the present, people gained domination through birth and blood, landed wealth, capital, education, dispensing the grace of God, and the raw military power of the State. Pre-modern, closed societies hold their members together, usually with a central religious myth that provides the foundation for the society, caring little for the rest of humanity, and often on the alert for attack or defense, providing a continual readiness for battle.

††††††††††† However, liberal democracy envisions a variety of social goods that the free interaction of individuals distributes throughout the society in such a way that absolute power exists nowhere. No individual or small group of persons control life in a culture organized around modern principles. This means that power distributes itself over these spheres of free exchange between individuals and groups without concept of deserving it in other spheres, and based upon basic needs of persons. Individuals and groups will both cooperate with each other to accomplish shared goals, as well as compete with each other. Liberal democracy establishes a weak view of the political state. In liberal democracy, no single sphere of influence becomes dominant throughout the culture - not even money. The modern social world reduces a focus upon dominance, coercion, and force. The failure to perceive these truths is why the Marxist style critique is ineffective against the historical success of liberal democracy.

††††††††††† The religious orientation of a culture may be an obstacle to liberal democracy. In particular, certain experiences of Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Islam are totalistic religions that seek to regulate every aspect of human life. These religions may be compatible with democracy, but they are very hard to reconcile with liberalism and the recognition of universal human rights, and in particular with the freedom of conscience or religion. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a response to the failure of Muslim societies generally to maintain their dignity in relationship to the non-Muslim world. It presently bears a close resemblance to European fascism. The only democracy in the Middle East is Turkey, a country that rejected its Islamic heritage and established a secular state.

††††††††††† A highly unequal social structure, and all the habits of mind that arise from it, are an obstacle to liberal democracy.

††††††††††† If culture has a high degree of dependency upon the state, it will be an obstacle to the development of democracy.

††††††††††† One of the interesting studies of culture is from Lenski. As you read this summary, please keep in mind how different it is from liberal democracy, and how similar it is to many countries in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and portions of Asia. Lenski divides human societies into hunting arid gathering, simply horticultural, advanced horticultural, agrarian, and industrial societies.Agrarian societies have nine classes, but there is a great gulf separating the five upper classes from the four lower ones.The ruling class enjoyed significant property rights on all the land in the domain and received 25% of the national income.The governing class was only one percent of the population, but received 25% of the national income.The retainer class averaged around 5% of the population and ranged from scribes and bureaucrats to soldiers and generals.Their function was to serve the political elite.The merchant class confronted the governing class on the level of market rather than political authority.They evolved from the lower classes, managing to acquire a considerable portion of the wealth, and in rare instances some political power.The priestly class could own a substantial amount of land, around 15% in some societies.The society sub-divided lower classes as well.The peasant class was the vast majority of the population.The upper classes viewed this class with suspicion, trying to keep them economically at the point of barely providing the necessities of life so that they would not rebel.The artisan class was around 5%, with their income generally slightly less that the peasant.The unclean and degraded class were those whose origins or occupations separated them from the peasants and artisans.The expendable class, often 5% to 10% of the population, included petty criminals and outlaws, beggars, underemployed itinerant workers, forced to live by their wits or by charity.This class arose by the fact that agrarian societies usually produced more people than the upper classes found it profitable to employ.