Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
This post is dedicated to those who've asked me, "what are you writing about?" Most have greeted my words with frowns, asking, "what do those have to do with each other?" (Claire) or "What do you mean?" (Rachel). One has smiled and said, "I'd be interested in reading that." (Maddy) Just being asked gives me a little more reason to write, and whether I'm explaining my ideas to the frowners or the smilers, it helps me to figure out what I want to say. So, this post is about what I want to say.
well, I don't mean "government." And I don't mean what passed for politics today, in the US, UK, France, and other places around the world. The only love in that kind of politics, the politics of elections and bureaucracy and the status quo, is the love of power and money. Government has nothing to do with love; in fact it's the opposite of love.
By "politics," then, I mean working together in our communities to figure out what we most want and how we're going to achieve it. This idea isn't new, of course. Aristotle, as far as I know, first articulated it. More recently, Alasdair MacIntyre has developed a notion of this kind of politics. Notably, it is different from every other political theory I know today. And it is scary, because it makes the community important; yet, we've been taught to fear community--no doubt in part because capitalism cannot countenance the idea of community built on shared sister- and brother-hood. I will then have to talk about what I mean by "community" in my book, and that might be a bigger challenge than talking about politics or about...
We use this word, "love," in so many ways and so often that it has lost a lot of its significance. We know, however, what we mean by love. I love chocolate does not mean the same as I love dogs, which doesn't mean the same as I love my dog, Mickie. None of those mean the same as I love my friend, my partner, my family. We have different words for love: brotherly-love, erotic love, agape.
What do any of these have to do with politics, even politics in the way I mean the word?
In simplest terms, love is acting on and for those desires at the deepest core of who or what we are. To use God as an example: If God is love, then God had no choice in creation. The deepest desire of Love is to love and be loved, to act for Love. God has no choice in loving each and everyone one of us. God must love even Lucifer.
Let me move from theology to our every day: Love is acting. It is not a feeling/emotion. It is not some evolutionary calculation to ensure the survival of the species or the genes. It is acting on deepest desire. So, neither is it acting to get the next fix or because this chance of sex is here or because the cake looks good. Deepest desires are things I'll have to explain in the course of my book, but it's not our everyday desires, even if those desires might express in some sense our deepest desire.
If politics is about members of the local community pursuing their desires together, then it must be an expression of love. Anything that falls short of that is not as good as it can be.
So why write about love and politics?
Our world is on the verge of collapse. We must eschew government and politics as we know them for the politics I'm trying to defend. It might be utopian in the negative sense--as impossible--but maybe we have enough time to change the way we do politics today. It will take all of us, require us to give up our everyday desires for longer-term desires. So, while I'm not writing a blue print for politics, I am painting a picture for what we need to do different.
On the other hand, again, not as a blue print, but as a a hope, I write this book for how the younger generations can grow communities after the collapse which seems imminent and immanent. In this sense, I write about love and politics in the sense of positive utopia. It's a hope that humanity continues and can build a better world for the future.
I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners - all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty - and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
You have to love Dr. Martin Luther King jr. I think it’s a sign of humanity to do so. I’ve taken a moment this year to reflect on his Noble Peace Prize speech and discovered wonderful utopian moments in it.
He begins by reflecting on struggles of black people just days before accepting the speech. We could do the same ourselves, I’m sure, and not only harms done to blacks but to Native Americans, to the LBGTQ community, and to many marginalized people. But he continues with this:
After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.
A theme I am doing my best to develop—and I admit that this work is so hard today, in the Age of Trump, in the face of the rampant racism and sexism that drive US politics, and that drove much of the politics behind Brexit and what I know of politics in Poland—but trying to do my best to commit to the idea of non-violent peaceful resistance. And, of course, my doing so is easy—I’m a white (appearing), cis-hetero-normative male. I easily fit into the dominant culture.
But my role in the resistance has never been about violence or other physical resistance—it’s to use philosophy, theology, and social theory to support a vision of a better world and, when possible, to use my words, my writing, and my research to engage in local politics. This I am trying to do with midwives in the New England area.
The struggles that we face—we who are united in solidarity with the poor, the colored, the oppressed gendered—they are real, and non-violent resistance seems impossible. Yet, MLK speaks to us through the echoes of history.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
Justice is wounded and lies in the blood spilled from our black brothers and sisters shot by police for no reason than a broken tail-light. Justice lies wounded across the land ripped and torn and punctured for lust of oil—black money. Justice lies wounded in the dorm rooms, the strip-joints, and the bedrooms across this land in the violated bodies of our sisters and our queer brothers. But we cannot be cynical in the face of this violence. Our armor and our inspiration is unarmed truth and unconditional love. We cannot demonize those who oppose the right way. This path is the one that leads to the dark side, that turns us into the monsters we wish to free ourselves from. The orange-one is only the face of such monstrosity, just as Hitler was only the face of national-racism in the service of capital and commodity.
No, we cannot, we must not, demonize. For to demonize the other is to demonize ourselves—to become demons.
We have to believe, instead, in the positive, utopian vision that MLK jr. painted.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
And in doing so, we must remember that Dr. King was executed, not because of his defense of the black person, but because he stood up for the poor.
I remember—I could never forget—standing outside the hotel where he was shot. I pray that we will never know such violence. And I pray more that a thousand-million Martin Luther King jr.s rise up and lead us on the march to justice.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.