Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
4. The Tension of
Intersubjective spontaneity and intelligently devised social order have
their ground in a duality immanent in man himself.
As intelligent, man is the originator and sponsor of the social systems
within which, as an individual, he desires and labours, enjoys and
As intelligent, man is a legislator but, as an individual, he is
subject to his own laws. By his insights he grasps standard solutions to
recurrent problems, but by his experience he provides the instances that
are to be subsumed under the standard solutions.
From the viewpoint of intelligence, the satisfactions allotted to
individuals are to be measured by the ingenuity and diligence of each in
contributing to the satisfactions of all; from the same high viewpoint the
desires of each are to be regarded quite coolly as the motive power that
keeps the social system functioning.
But besides the detached and disinterested stand of intelligence, there
is the more spontaneous viewpoint of the individual subjected to needs and
wants, pleasures and pains, labour and leisure, enjoyment and privation.
To each man his own desires, precisely because they are his own,
possess an insistence that the desires of others can never have for him.
To each man his own labours, because they are his own, have a dimension
of reality that is lacking in his apprehension of the labours of others.
To each man his own joys and sorrows have an expansive or contracting
immediacy that others can know only through their own experience of joy
Yet the ineluctable privacy of each oneís experience provides no
premise for a monadic theory of man. For the bonds of intersubjectivity
make the experience of each resonate to the experience of others; and,
besides this elementary communion, there are operative in all a drive to
understand and an insistence on behaving intelligently that generate and
implement common ways, common manners, common undertakings, common
For this reason, it would seem a mistake to conceive the sociological
as simply a matter of external constraint.
It is true enough that society constrains the individual in a thousand
ways. It is true enough that the individual has but a slight
understanding of the genesis and growth of the civilization into which he
was born. It is true enough that many of the things he must do are
imposed upon him in a merely external fashion. Yet within the walls of
his individuality, there is more than a Trojan horse.
He has no choice about wanting to understand; he is committed not by
any decision of his own but by nature to intelligent behaviour; and as
these determinants are responsible for the emergence of social orders in
the past, so they account for their development, their maintenance, their
Spontaneously every collapse is followed by a reconstruction, every
disaster by a new beginning, every revolution by a new era. Commonly, men
want a different social order but, left to themselves, they never consent
to a complete anarchy.
There is, then, a radical tension of community. Intersubjective
spontaneity and intelligently devised social order possess different
properties and different tendencies. Yet to both by his very nature man
is committed. Intelligence cannot but devise general solutions and
The individual is intelligent and so he cannot enjoy peace of mind
unless he subsumes his own feelings and actions under the general rules
that he regards as intelligent. Yet feeling and spontaneous action have
their home in the intersubjective group and it is only with an effort and
then only in favoured times that the intersubjective groups fit
harmoniously within the larger pattern of social order.
Thus it is that in the history of human societies there are halcyon
periods of easy peace and tranquillity that alternate with times of crisis
In the periods of relaxed tension, the good of order has come to terms
with the intersubjective groups. It commands their esteem by its palpable
benefits; it has explained its intricate demands in some approximate yet
sufficient fashion; it has adapted to its own requirements the play of
imagination, the resonance of sentiment, the strength of habit, the ease
of familiarity, the impetus of enthusiasm, the power of agreement and
consent. Then a manís interest is in happy coincidence with his work; his
country is also his homeland; its ways are the obviously right ways; its
glory and peril are his own.
As the serenity
of the good old days rests on an integration of common sense and human
feeling, so the troubled times of crisis demand the discovery and
communication of new insights and a consequent adaptation of spontaneous
common sense does not include an inventory of its own contents. It does
not reside, whole and entire, in a single mind. It cannot point to any
recorded set of experiments for its justification. It cannot assert
itself in any of the inflexible generalizations that characterize logic,
mathematics, and science.
knows, but it does not know what it knows nor how it knows nor how to
correct and complement its own inadequacies. Only the blind and
destructive blows, inevitable in even a partial break-down of social
order, can impress on practical common sense that there are limits to its
competence and that, if it would master the new situation, it must first
consent to learn.
Still, what is to
be learnt? The problem may baffle what experts are available. A
theoretical solution need not lead automatically to its popular
presentation. Even when that is achieved, the reorientation of
spontaneous attitudes will remain to be effected.
The time of
crisis can be prolonged, and in the midst of the suffering it entails and
of the aimless questioning it engenders, the intersubjective groups within
a society tend to fall apart in bickering, insinuations, recriminations,
while unhappy individuals begin to long for the idyllic simplicity of
primitive living in which large accumulations of insights would be
superfluous and human fellow-feeling would have a more dominant role.
Dialectic of Community
Primary Lonergan Page