The more powerful a state and hence the more political a nation, the less inclined it is to explain the general principle governing social ills and to seek out their causes by looking at the principle of the state – i.e., at the actual organization of society of which the state is the active, self-conscious and official expression. Political understanding is just political understanding because its thought does not transcend the limits of politics. The sharper and livelier it is, the more incapable is it of comprehending social problems. The classical period of political understanding is the French Revolution. Far from identifying the principle of the state as the source of social ills, the heroes of the French Revolution held social ills to be the source of political problems. Thus Robespierre regarded great wealth and great poverty as an obstacle to pure democracy. He therefore wished to establish a universal system of Spartan frugality. The principle of politics is the will. The more one-sided – i.e., the more prefect – political understanding is, the more completely it puts its faith in the omnipotence of the will, the blinder it is towards the natural and spiritual limitations of the will, the more incapable it becomes of discovering the real source of the evils of society. (“Critical Notes on the Article ‘The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian'”)
Matt Taibbi has a great article in Rolling Stone on Goldman Sachs. The piece concerns the ways in which Goldman has profitted from various speculative bubbles that have wiped out other investors. What I particularly like is the way he brings out the intertwined influence of Goldman’s market power and its political power, the companies ability to set the rules both economically and politically.
Regrettably, though, Taibbi has followed up the article by endorsing a range of much less incisive criticisms of Goldman, from the silly claim that Goldman’s faster computers amount to illegal market manipulation, to some ludicrous bullshit from Zero Hedge, who see a totally standard disclaimer on Goldman’s website as evidence of a plan to defraud their customers. The problem with these supposed criticisms of Goldman is that they basically amount to apologetics for the company; in comparison to the vast systemic scale of Goldman’s actual crimes, such petty crimes can only appear as inoccence.
Some time ago Adam wrote a fine piece about ethics in House, arguing that House’s apparently unethical behavior—his devotion to solving the intellectual puzzle of illness at the expense of obeying hospital rules or caring about the wellbeing of patients—is in fact the ethical attitude par excellence. Adam explains: “Only by practicing medicine for its own sake and not for the people, and directly enjoying its inherent satisfactions, can he ever hope to solve the hopelessly complicated cases that he is faced with.” You could derive a couple of ethical theories from this. Read more↴