Thursday, January 25, 2024

Empire As A Way of Life

Empire As A Way of Life

Peter Schultz


Start with the quote from Storing about Locke’s morality. Sum it up: Locke’s morality is contingent, hence, he offers not so much moral constraints as prudential ones. 

But can’t this be generalized? Isn’t all morality contingent? On what? On the political. [Hence, Aristotle’s Ethics leads into his Politics.] Under political duress, the decent become and act indecently because it’s prudent to do so. Absent decent politics, morality, moral virtue disappears or is reshaped as needed. 

So, we may and should ask: What is moral in empires? Which is what Williams is writing about, “empire as a way of life.” 

That is to say, empire has its own morality, praiseworthy ways of being in the world. E.g. the way of being in the world that the Brits are so proud of or American exceptionalism. “Being" in an empire is different that “being” in a non-empire. Empire is one way “to be.” So, politics determines the shape of “being,” how humans understand “being,” when the political is affirmed. And when the political is affirmed, the way to be is to be powerful, warlike, morally virtuous, commanding, willing to kill or die to prove one’s worth. To rule! 

“Philosophy” is another way of life, another way “to be” in the world, another way of being, another way of seeing being. Hence, Socrates at the outset of his defense asks the Athenians to treat him as if he were a foreigner, because, in fact, he is one. His way of being in the world is not the Athenian way. He does not view the world as something to be conquered; rather, he sees it as something to be contemplated, as something beautiful. 

“Loving” is also a way of being; it’s a way “to be,” a way of life. So, when Harry realizes he wants to spend the rest of his life with Sally, he is realizing that love is a way of life, quite literally. “Fucking” is another way to be, but it’s defective because ultimately its an unpleasurable way of being. So, it’s not actually “hedonistic” because it’s not finally pleasurable. Genuine hedonists reject fucking for loving. 

Serendipity [the movie]: The book Jon is always looking at is Love in the Time of Cholera. Didn’t get it until today. Love is a redemptive, a sanctified way to be in a sick world. [I haven’t read the book, so this is a guess.] And it’s what Jon ends up teaching his friend, Dean. And what Sara teaches her “New Age” friend. 

It might also be what Jane Austen was about. Let me call her work: Love in the Time of British Sickness, In the Time of Aristocratic Imperialism.

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