Morality and politics, and the connection between the two, have been the undercurrent of my thinking of late, the leitmotif of my recent essays. It’s a classical conception to be sure, dating back to Aristotle for whom politics was but an outgrowth of ethics, an extension of personal relations to the social and beyond; and once this extension was carried forth, the political was born: a clan became a tribe, a tribe a coalition of tribes, eventually a city-state (the polis, as Greeks would have it), and then a federation, a compact between city-states. A nation-state is where we are right now, representing as it were the pinnacle of our efforts, a point beyond which we can’t seem to see our way past.Have we reached thus the end of our evolutionary or moral development as a species? Does this centrifugal movement away from the parochial to the universal, this constant progression towards human enlightenment and the ethos of inclusion, represent the end of the road for us? Can’t we do better? I’d like to believe that we can. More importantly, however, I’d like to provide you with reasons, cogent reasons, why we can. There is a basis for hope.
No question that extraneous circumstances, whether due to nature and its elements or events beyond, engineered by humans because of strife, desire for conquest or plain hostility, have all accelerated this relentless push towards consolidation and the making of alliances. The commonality of purpose has always served as the most immediate impetus for coalition-forming, whether you’re an aggressor or a defender. Only a fool would dismiss pragmatic considerations as representing the first step, if only the first step, in all such endeavors. Still, to say there is strength in numbers, that it makes perfect sense to present a united front against common enemy, again, either natural or human, is not to say very much. We can do better.
In the remainder of this article, I’d like to argue that what really matters is the basis of human consensus and coalition-forming. Practical Reason, to borrow from Kant, may be the first step in the process, but only the first step. If we truly believe ourselves to have progressed on the evolutionary or moral scale, beyond the exigencies of the moment or of dire necessity, then we must look for human consensus on more lasting, more solid grounds. Pragmatism, as far as I’m concerned, is only a platform, a launching pad on the way to transcendence, ultimate transcendence. It instills in us the habit, a very useful habit for humans connecting, but it falls short of the mark by ignoring the possibilities. What ultimately matters about humans connecting is the nature of the underlying purpose, beyond what’s merely practical or prudential. And to my thinking, there is no better candidate for building a meaningful and lasting consensus than commonality of values, shared values, no better principle of construction if our aim is inclusion.