NL XL: Peace and Plenty

Index to this series

With “Peace and Plenty,” we reach the end of the account of civilization in Collingwood’s New Leviathan. What remains is the account of barbarism. Strictly speaking, we little need it. Civilization quâ ideal of civility is the positive end of civilization quâ process, and as was pointed out on Chapter XXXII, “Society and Nature in the Classical Politics,” the positive end is the primary thing to know in conducting a process (32. 35–6).

“May Day, 1929,” V. V. Kuptsov


  • demands law and order (40. 11);

  • promises peace and plenty (40. 12).

These are not means and end, respectively (40. 13), since

  • regardless of whether accompanied by peace and plenty, the rule of law—which is justice—has value in itself (40. 14) and is characteristic of a good and therefore happy life (40. 16);

  • without law and order, you can get peace and plenty (40. 15), even though you are assured them, and abundantly, with law and order (40. 17).

If your community is robbed of peace and plenty, that means you have a defect of justice (40. 19):

40. 18. I will remind the reader, merely to warn him against it, of the argument that law and order may be deprived of their just reward in the shape of peace and plenty (and hence do not ensure them without fail) when a good man, just in all his dealings, is robbed by the wicked.

Justice is not only setting up a system (as of legislature and judiciary), but also making it work.

Peace is hard work, “dialectical labour” (40. 24). Collingwood has noted that the word pacifism is “ungrammatical” (29. 91); he has omitted to observe that the word ought to be something like “pacificism.” The pacific is a pacifier, something that pacifies: it makes peace. Properly understood, pacifism is not a refusal to do something, but a commitment to do something else, something that might well be called dialectic as opposed to eristic. If the pacifists whom Collingwood derided were not clear about this, they deserved the derision.

Again, peace is not the end of civilization, but only a by-product. The point is to be civil, and this is better described as being lawful or just, than as peaceful. Signs bearing the slogan “Peace is our profession” are seen around the military base in Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, and rightly so, since the movie is a comedy, and the slogan is ridiculous (albeit actually used by the Strategic Air Command). No less ridiculous is the slogan, “Peace is patriotic,” which has been chanted around me at American anti-war demonstrations that I have joined. Peace is the profession of the pacifist; the military profession, ideally, is force in service of justice. Having recently seen old copies of Soldier of Fortune, The Journal of Professional Adventurers, at a shop in Istanbul, I observe that the profession of the mercenary is not adventure, but force simply.

Peace within a community is threatened by factions (40. 32). Only unfit rulers can allow factions to arise in the first place (40. 33). The job of preventing them calls for repression or conciliation (40. 34):

  • repression of the “gangster,” who is “mentally unfit for the strenuous life of peace” (40. 35), since they have not properly grown to mental adulthood (40. 44);

  • conciliation of the “man with a grievance” (40. 37), through the action of the Third Law of Politics, bringing him into, or at least into cooperation with, the rulers (40. 39).

The gangster may pretend to have a grievance, or to be a defender of the oppressed (40. 46).

40. 47. It is important to know how these disguises can be tested. The question to ask is: ‘How do they stand toward attempts to redress grievances dialectically, by mutual agreement between the parties concerned?’

By this standard, Mitch McConnell would seem to be a gangster. I acknowledge that when I have talked about American politics in these posts, I have referred only to the Republicans. Currently they are enemies of civilization. The Democrats, at best, have been the incompetent rulers who failed to nip factionalism in the bud (40. 33).

Collingwood is big on nipping quarrels in the bud (40. 5). There are many opportunities, both within the ruling class (40. 51) and among the ruled (40. 55). Even trivial quarrels are a warning sign, “highly significant” (40. 57):

40. 58. So much so that there ought to have been, if there never was, a sage who advised the proverbial young ruler, his pupil, to investigate the nursery life of a people on whom he thought of making war: ‘If they allow their children to quarrel, they will be unable to resist you; if they keep the peace in their nurseries beware of them.’

The terrible thought arises that the key to a strong polity is—Barney. This imaginary purple dinosaur was evidently created precisely to make peace in the nursery. In 1996 in Toronto, a colleague from Hungary told us that when his children started quarrelling with their friends, he would poke his head into the playroom and say, “Remember Barney and sharing?” Instant silence.

I vaguely recall reading the criticism of Barney that he did not allow children to work out their own problems. I saw this for myself when I actually watched the program, and one boy had drawn a picture of Barney, and another boy had drawn the background, and the two boys had to decide who got to keep the picture. There was a hint of frustration, and Barney told the other children that instant intervention was needed. So they all sang a song, and the two artists made peace, without having actually quarrelled.

Something seemed wrong with this. Collingwood himself warned of another kind of nipping in the bud, in a passage from the “Desire” chapter, a passage I quoted when I started this whole series:

11. 19. Trying to force oneself or another to identify the object of an appetite by reflection (‘come, come’—one knows the hectoring voice—‘think; tell me what you want’) can only do untold damage. Already the vulgarized Freud, Jung, and Adler which constitutes our popular psychology warns us against the danger of repressing desires; but not against the far worse danger of abating appetites by never letting them grow into desires.

As far as I understand, this “worse danger” of never having desires is brought about by helicopter parenting, which inhibits children from distinguishing what they want from what their parents want. Barney may be the apotheosis of the helicopter parent. In any case, cosseting is no doubt a perversion of what Collingwood recommends to parents.

Keeping the peace is not just the rulers’ job (40. 6); it is everybody’s, insofar as they share in the civilization of the community (40. 66).

40. 68. This is fully recognized by the tradition of English law: which makes a distinction between the king’s peace and the peace of the individual subject, and requires every man to keep his own peace and thus co-operate in keeping the peace of the community.

It was argued in Chapter XXVII that you should not leave the education of your children to the king, or today the “state” (40. 69). Neither should you leave peace-making to the sovereign. Such avoidance of responsibility, Collingwood calls “passing the baby” (40. 7).

The community in which quarrels are averted by dialectic is the well-mannered community (40. 71). How did it become well mannered (40. 72)? It is not the case that “An armed society is a polite society,” and indeed I found an editorial on a website for gun enthusiasts that points this out:

Being “polite”—having a shared set of values that includes placing a high value on peaceful civic discourse—is a necessary pre-condition for the arming of a society. Arms in a “polite” society remain the tools of good citizens to defend themselves against bad ones. But arming a society without those shared values is a recipe for chaos, for violence for, well, Somalia, Beirut, Pakistan et al.

The latter part of this may well be correct; but the writer, Martin Albright, would seem to be mistaken about the dialectic that produces the “shared values” that he refers to. If you examine a polite society, you find a history of personal armament. Collingwood has seen

  • “the most beautiful manners” where men carry knives and are ready to use them (40. 73), as in Crete and Spain (40. 75);

  • decent manners in English pubs (40. 74), where men are ready to use their fists (40. 75);

  • bad manners in so-called “polite society” (40. 74).

Corroborating evidence would seem to lie in a recent tweet:

One of my most vivid memories of my Turkish grandfather was his describing a business trip to Taiwan, where he encountered Americans saying obscene things to the Taiwanese waitresses in a hotel bar. Dedem, onları susturmak için: “I’m Turkish and I carry a knife everywhere…”

— David Weil (@Dweilius) September 24, 2018

These are historical observations concerning how politeness has arisen. The claim is that politeness has arisen from the necessity of keeping one’s own peace. The “chucker-out” does not keep you polite, any more than the police officer keeps you honest (40. 78); you do it yourself (40. 79), because a tradition has been established (40. 76).

40. 77. A tradition of this sort, once established, is easy to maintain. No man need use his fists in a modern English public-house, or even look as if he could. Unless he is exceptionally clever with them, he had better not try.

Perhaps the tradition has been lost in America. However, I don’t think you had better try keeping your own peace with a semi-automatic rifle strapped to your back. As Jerry Seinfeld says in a monologue of his very first program,

So they’re showing me on television the detergent for getting out blood-stains … Is this a violent image to anybody? Blood-stains? I mean, I, come on, you got a T-shirt with blood-stains all over it, maybe laundry isn’t your biggest problem right now …

If you “open carry,” because you think other people might come after you, maybe other people are not actually your biggest problem.

You are correct that the labor of keeping the peace cannot be done solely by the government. Neither can the labor of producing plenty (40. 91), a labor that Collingwood calls thrift, although it involves more than restricting consumption, but also “increasing production and improving distribution” (40. 92). There are the king’s thrift and private thrift (40. 93). The word thrift suggests responsibility; thus, “If the ruled class in the community had remained utterly non-social and uncivilized through bestiality in itself and incompetence in its rulers, there would be no private thrift …” (40. 94). Collingwood elaborates, and he may well be describing some workers today:

40. 95. Such bestial or incompetently ruled subjects would take no measures of thrift except what their rulers forced them to take. Left to themselves, they would always be unthrifty. In production they would never take the trouble either to work hard or to think hard. In distribution they would never have the energy to think where commodities were needed and to take them there. In consumption they would be gluttonous for themselves, indulgent to their kindred, and wasteful through idleness and stupidity. And if checked for these habits they would cheerfully pass the baby: ‘Thrift is the king’s business; let the king see to it.’

One might read that as insulting. Workers are not normally asked to think. But I think Collingwood is addressing not the “subjects” being described, but their rulers: the manager, the mukhtar, the bourgeoisie. It is up to them, or you, to show a better way. “From a brutally passive or non-social condition the mere fact of being ruled, if it were done with the least competence, would to some extent civilize [the ruled], socialize them, and endow them with a conviction (or as it is called a ‘sense’) of responsibility” (40. 96).

Capitalism, Art Young, private collection (reproduced in Harper's, Jan 2016, p. 64)

“Capitalism,” Art Young, private collection (reproduced in Harper’s, Jan 2016, p. 64)

As peace is not “static quiescence and somnolence” (40. 23), so plenty is not “a life of full bellies and soft sleep” (40. 81).

40. 82. Plenty means a life of mutual adjustment between the positive or commodity-creating elements of the economic process and the negative or commodity-destroying elements.

Adjusting does not mean balancing, since a balance always finds itself (40. 83); the point is to find the right balance, for the civilization that the economy exists for (40. 85). This may mean devoting some wealth to weaponry (40. 86); such wealth is not necessarily wasted (40. 87). However, exploitation of the natural world, however intelligent and laborious (40. 88), is wasted if the results are thrown away to keep prices up or to serve the idleness of the rich (40. 89). On the latter point, Collingwood refers only to “the consumption of bank-notes for pipe-lighters.” For more on these things in this blog, I refer to “On Trial for Pacifism,” the proximate source for the Art Young cartoon above.

In the reference to keeping prices up, Collingwood seems moved by the “epidemic of over-production” discussed in the Communist Manifesto. He is appalled by

the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity—the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.

We know that Collingwood disapproves of the materialistic language; but he seems to share the concern, and he calls for a properly managed economy:

40. 9. Plenty is also in part procured, therefore, by controlling distribution and partly by controlling consumption: canalizing these in such a way as to promote the civilized life of the community.

But then he goes on to point out that, as with peace, so with plenty, while some things can be done publicly, some can be done only privately.

That’s Collingwood on civilization. As I wrote in considering Chapter XXIX, there are no short-cuts and no excuses.

  • No short-cuts, as by just passing a law that everybody shall be civil.

  • No excuses, as that some people are just incapable of civilization.

I might also add that there is no excuse not to read Collingwood, though his problems and his manners be not exactly ours.

I have said elsewhere that, without reading Collingwood, Julian Baggini has arrived at a similar manner of thinking. But now he has posted (and announced in a tweet) an article (dated September 24, 2018) called, “Plato got virtually everything wrong.” According to Collingwood, Plato got some things wrong, especially in thinking

  • that political problems can be solved only by a perfect ruling class (30. 48), and

  • that children need to be educated by professionals as a public service (37. 4).

However, there is no question that Plato should be read, and he is right about a lot of things, particularly in the need to think dialectically (24. 63), which is a grand theme of the New Leviathan itself.

Read Plato, even if he is wrong, because a lot of people have thought he was right, or at least worth reading. In a tweet I recommended David Bolotin, “The Life of Philosophy and the Immortality of the Soul: An Introduction to Plato’s Phaedo” (Ancient Philosophy 7 [1987]).

Read Collingwood, even if a lot of people have not heard of him, much less read him. I have listed elsewhere, in “Re-enactment,” some ways that even his admirers have misread him. In considering “Civilization As Education,” I said we ought to read Collingwood as a Platonic dialogue: read “dialectically,” looking for agreement, rather than “eristically,” looking for disagreement. Everybody should be read dialectically; but since, whether as practice or theory, politics is mainly a profession now, the usual mode of discourse is eristic.

Thus I see Francis Fukuyama ridiculed now, for having the temerity to publish a new grand generalization about history, after his stunning error about the end of history. I liked Louis Menand, “Francis Fukuyama postpones the end of history” (The New Yorker, September 3, 2018), but it was unpleasant elsewhere to see jokes about wishing for the end of Fukuyama.

The idea that history would end with the Cold War is ridiculous, though I have not actually read Fukuyama on the subject. Collingwood dealt with this sort of idea in “Force in Politics”:

27. 55. The real dialectic of harmonious co-operation between contradictory principles, theoretical and practical at once, which is the spectacle history presents to those who take part in it intelligently, is thus imagined as being replaced by a false dialectic of oscillating conflict between false abstractions.

After the American and French Revolutions, it was imagined that democracy had triumphed for good, until later it was feared that aristocracy would reassert itself (27. 6). It ought to have been understood that these principles were always present.

The revised edition of the New Leviathan came out in 1992, the same year as Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man; but this was based on an article of 1989. Collingwood’s editor David Boucher could have pointed out that, for Collingwood, the belief that there can be final solutions to political problems only makes those problems worse, since “The world is always breeding new types of Yahoo” (30. 86).

Now that we are actually seeing a new type of Yahoo, an editor of a new edition of the New Leviathan could point this out, as a reason to study Collingwood.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] call this a false abstraction of civility. Civilization “promises” peace and plenty (40. 12), as a “by-product or consequence” of law and order (40. 17). Part of the work of […]

  2. By NL XIV: “Reason” « Polytropy on December 16, 2018 at 10:00 am

    […] for, nobody knows.” Collingwood has described civilization as entailing “law and order, prosperity, and peace”; but according to the rebels against it, civilized society is both “fraudulent,” because it […]

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