Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, Liberation, and Cosmopolis

Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

8.6 Cosmopolis 

Still, what is cosmopolis?

Like every other object of human intelligence, it is in the first instance an X, what is to be known when one understands. 

Like every other X, it possesses some known properties and aspects that lead to its fuller determination. 

For the present, we must be content to indicate a few of these aspects and to leave until later the task of reaching conclusions. 

First, cosmopolis is not a police force.  Before such a force can be organized, equipped, and applied, there is needed a notable measure of agreement among a preponderant group of men. 

In other words, ideas have to come first and, at best, force is instrumental.  In the practical order of the economy and polity, it is possible, often enough, to perform the juggling act of using some ideas to ground the use of force in favour of others and, then, using the other ideas to ground the use of force in favour of the first. 

The trouble with this procedure is that there is always another juggler that believes himself expert enough to play the same game the other way by using the malcontents, held down by the first use of force, to upset the second set of ideas and, as well, using malcontents, held down by the second use of force, to upset the first set of ideas. 

Accordingly, if ideas are not to be merely a façade, if the reality is not to be merely a balance of power, then the use of force can be no more than residual and incidental. 

But cosmopolis is not concerned with the residual and incidental.  It is concerned with the fundamental issue of the historical process.  Its business is to prevent practicality from being short-sightedly practical and so destroying itself.  The notion that cosmopolis employs a police force is just an instance of the short-sighted practicality that cosmopolis has to correct. 

However, I am not saying that there should not be a United Nations or a World Government; I am not saying that such political entities should not have a police force; I am saying that such political entities are not what is meant by cosmopolis. 

Cosmopolis is above all politics.  So far from being rendered superfluous by a successful World Government, it would be all the more obviously needed to offset the tendencies of that and any other government to be short-sightedly practical. 

Secondly, cosmopolis is concerned to make operative the timely and fruitful ideas that otherwise are inoperative. 

So far from employing power or pressure or force, it has to witness to the possibility of ideas being operative without such backing.  Unless it can provide that witness, then it is useless. 

For at the root of the general bias of common sense and at the permanent source of the longer cycle of decline, there stands the notion that only ideas backed by some sort of force can be operative. 

The business of cosmopolis is to make operative the ideas that, in the light of the general bias of common sense, are inoperative. 

In other words, its business is to break the vicious circle of an illusion: men will not venture on ideas that they grant to be correct, because they hold that such ideas will not work unless sustained by desires or fears; and, inversely, men hold that such ideas will not work, because they will not venture on them and so have no empirical evidence that such ideas can work and would work. 

Thirdly, cosmopolis is not a busybody. 

It is supremely practical by ignoring what is thought to be really practical. 

It does not waste its time and energy condemning the individual egoism that is in revolt against society and already condemned by society. 

It is not excited by group egoism which, in the short run, generates the principles that involve its reversal. 

But it is very determined to prevent dominant groups from deluding mankind by the rationalization of their sins; if the sins of dominant groups are bad enough, still the erection of their sinning into universal principles is indefinitely worse; it is the universalization of the sin by rationalization that contributes to the longer cycle of decline; it is the rationalization that cosmopolis has to ridicule, explode, destroy. 

Again, cosmopolis is little interested in the shifts of power between classes and nations; it is quite aware that the dialectic sooner or later upsets the short-sighted calculations of dominant groups; and it is quite free from the nonsense that the rising star of another class or nation is going to put a different human nature in the saddle.  However, while shifts of power in themselves are incidental, they commonly are accompanied by another phenomenon of quite a different character.  There is the creation of myths. 

The old regime is depicted as monstrous; the new envisages itself as the immaculate embodiment of ideal of human aspiration.  Catchwords that carried the new group to power assume the status of unquestionable verities.  On the band-wagon of the new vision of truth there ride the adventurers in ideas that otherwise could not attain a hearing. 

Inversely, ideas that merit attention are ignored unless they put on the trappings of the current fashion, unless they pretend to result from alien but commonly acceptable premises, unless they disclaim implications that are true but unwanted. 

It is the business of cosmopolis to prevent the formation of the screening memories by which an ascent to power hides its nastiness; it is its business to prevent the falsification of history with which the new group overstates its case; it is its business to satirize the catchwords and the claptrap and thereby to prevent the notions they express from coalescing with passions and resentments to engender obsessive nonsense for future generations; it is its business to encourage and support those that would speak the simple truth though simple truth has gone out of fashion. 

Unless cosmopolis undertakes this essential task, it fails in its mission.  One shift of power is followed by another, and if the myths of the first survive, the myths of the second will take their stand on earlier nonsense to bring forth worse nonsense still. 

Fourthly, as cosmopolis has to protect the future against the rationalization of abuses and the creation of myths, so it itself must be purged of the rationalizations and myths that became part of the human heritage before it came on the scene. 

If the analyst suffers from a scotoma, he will communicate it to the analysand; similarly, if cosmopolis itself suffers from the general bias of common sense in any of its manifestations, then the blind will be leading the blind and both will head for a ditch. 

There is needed, then, a critique of history before there can be any intelligent direction of history.

There is needed an exploration of the movements, the changes, the epochs of a civilization’s genesis, development, and vicissitudes.  The opinions and attitudes of the present have to be traced to their origins, and the origins have to be criticized in the light of dialectic.  The liberal believer in automatic progress could praise all that survives; the Marxist could denounce all that was and praise all that would be; but anyone that recognizes the existence both of intelligence and of bias, both of progress and of decline, has to be critical and his criticism will rest on the dialectic that simply affirms the presuppositions of possible criticism.  

Perhaps enough has been said on the properties and aspects of our X, named cosmopolis, for a synthetic view to be attempted.  It is not a group denouncing other groups; it is not a super-state ruling states; it is not an organization that enrols members, nor an academy that endorses opinions, nor a court that administers a legal code. 

It is a withdrawal from practicality to save practicality. 

It is a dimension of consciousness, a heightened grasp of historical origins, a discovery of historical responsibilities. 

It is not something altogether new, for the Marxist has been busy activating the class-consciousness of the masses and, before him, the liberal had succeeded in indoctrinating men with the notion of progress.  Still, it possesses its novelty, for it is not simpliste

It does not leap from a fact of development to a belief in automatic progress nor from a fact of abuse to an expectation of an apocalyptic utopia reached through an accelerated decline. 

It is the higher synthesis of the liberal thesis and the Marxist antithesis. 

It comes to minds prepared for it by these earlier views, for they have taught man to think historically. 

It comes at a time when the totalitarian fact and threat have refuted the liberals and discredited the Marxists. 

It stands on a basic analysis of the compound-in-tension that is man; it confronts problems of which men are aware; it invites the vast potentialities and pent-up energies of our time to contribute to their solution by developing an art and a literature, a theatre and a broadcasting, a journalism and a history, a school and a university, a personal depth and a public opinion, that through appreciation and criticism give men of common sense the opportunity and help they need and desire to correct the general bias of their common sense. 

Finally, it would be unfair not to stress the chief characteristic of cosmopolis.  It is not easy.  It is not a dissemination of sweetness and light, where sweetness means sweet to me, and light means light to me.  Were that so, cosmopolis would be superfluous. 

Every scotosis puts forth a plausible, ingenious, adaptive, untiring resistance.  The general bias of common sense is no exception.  It is by moving with that bias rather then against it, by differing from it slightly rather than opposing it thoroughly, that one has the best prospect of selling books and newspapers, entertainment and education. 

Moreover, this is only the superficial difficulty.  Beneath it lies the almost insoluble problem of settling clearly and exactly what the general bias is. 

It is not a culture but only a compromise that results from taking the highest common factor of an aggregate of cultures. 

It is not a compromise that will check and reverse the longer cycle of decline.  Nor is it unbiased intelligence that yields a welter of conflicting opinions. 

This is the problem.  So far from solving it in this chapter, we do not hope to reach a full solution in this volume.  But, at least, two allies can be acknowledged. 

On the one hand, there is common sense and in its judgments, which as yet have not been treated, common sense tends to be profoundly sane. 

On the other hand, there is dialectical analysis; the refusal of insight betrays itself; the Babel of our day is the cumulative product of a series of refusals to understand; and dialectical analysis can discover and expose both the series of past refusals and the tactics of contemporary resistance to enlightenment.

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