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NO 117-118

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Helsinki Charter No. 117-118

March - April 2008

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By Vesna Pešic

I deliberately used the term immoralist in the headline. I had in mind Andre Gide's work under the same title dealing with immorality. Gide's hero, as I understood it, was neither amoral nor unmoral, not a person violating moral norms and hurting other people. He was a person guided by aesthetic values focused on exhibitionist smashing of the rule that shape people's behavior. Or more precisely, the Immoralist researches the field of absolute freedom. Gide does the same in his other books such as "Prometheus Misbound" or "The Vatican Cellars." One of his heroes slaps a passerby and gives him an envelope with money. That's how Gide testes free will, unbound and motivated solely by pure negation of the rules channeling our behavior - from decency to morality.

I am using Gide and his immorality as a space of smashed moral norms and absolute freedom to pose a crucial question: "Did Zoran Djindjic with his famous phrase 'If you are concerned with morals, go to church' advocated immorality in the sense of absolute freedom?" Was he using the phrase to advocate something worse than aesthetic exhibitionism taking that politics was immoral by the nature of things? Does it mean that politicians are allowed immorality? Does it mean that a politician concerned with morals should better withdraw from politics and turn to the church?

It would make no sense to focus on one of Zoran Djindjic's slogans had this particular one not caused an avalanche of criticism and negative comments claiming, as one, that Djindjic advocates incompatibility of morals and politics. Not only laymen interpreted the phrase as a green light to immorality in politics but also some philosophers took that his statement could only be understood as political immorality. Of course, the same as ordinary people, philosophers may feel animosity towards some political party or politician. But, unlike ordinary people, they cover up their animosity with philosophical apparatus that seems neutral and "objective" to readers. Their interpretations are the more so dangerous since they hush up the interpreted subject. Therefore, the interpreted subject should firstly be given chance to present himself in his "subjectivity" and only then expound his analysis. This is what I have to do. I must admit that I've like Zoran Djindjic as a politician. Readers will draw their own conclusions whether or not my interpretation of Djindjic's famous phrase about morals and church is a product of my affection or a valid argumentation.

Well, I will try to prove that "morals in the church" has nothing to do with immorality in politics or with Zoran Djindjic's "immoral personality." Even should we assume that he was such a person the very phrase would give no hint in that direction. Indeed, what was it that Zoran Djindjic had in mind? To answer the question I firstly have to determine the context in which the phrase was uttered and from which it derives. The context of the phrase is Zoran Djindjic's political philosophy centered on differentiating the area "of politics" from others fields, morals included.

Djindjic's philosophy centers on the sustainability of a modern state: on what makes its foundations, what constitutes it and makes it possible. Only once we understand this we shall understand why was it that he separated morals and politics into two different areas of activity. Zoran was primarily preoccupied with understanding the disintegration of pre-modern society into society and state, as a constitutive precondition of both phenomena - a modern society and a modern state. Before the split "political" was not differentiated as a separate field of activity, as a sui generis area, as an area that can be defined without invoking the God (religion), virtue (morals) or some natural order (nature). In his study "Community, Nature, Civil War: Hobbes and Marx" Djindjic thoroughly analyzes the "U-turn" in the notion of political. I will, therefore, rely on that study to present my argumentation.

In his study Djindjic notes that notions of political become slippery when treated in their historical meanings. He is interested in "the last layers of the notion of political, accumulated in the new era." Since this is about the 20th century notion of political, the concept could be called a "Hobbes paradigm." This paradigm will show that the notion possesses criteria of its own, designating a relatively independent activity when compared with other activities such as morals, aesthetics, religion and economy. So, what's the "ultimate differentiation" of political to which any such basic activity boils down? It obviously boils down to morals, to the difference between right and wrong, to an aesthetic criterion of nice and ugly, or to economic criteria of useful (profitable) and useless. Zoran Djindjic takes a specific mode of integration for a compass needle differentiating the political from all other contents and areas. Understanding this implies understanding of the preconditions of a community for getting integrated that way.

What community is integrated by "political?" What are the preconditions of a political community and why is it that those preconditions direct us towards their content-free foundation (which is not the case with morals) and suggest that "the reality of a political community rests on reflection and that generality is its way of existence?" It suffices to say that political integration is necessitated only by those communities that have lost their natural homogeneity, i.e. the communities that have been pluralized for good. And this is not about any pluralism but the pluralism of convictions. Convictions can be integrated within a content-free frame only, the political frame the catalogue of notions of which has wiped off morals, religion, aesthetics, nature, etc. To understand this we have to go step by step back to Hobbes' paradigm.

Hobbes differentiates natural state characterized by "the right of every individual to everything," i.e. by absence of law. Opposite to it is the civil order (status civilis). His theory recognizes an unbound individual guided by uncontrolled passions and aggressive egoism, which he describes as "war of all against all." The important thing in his hypothesis is that individuals are unbound but that means not that the natural state can be described as a state of open possibilities that "counts not on some teleology in the background." Hobbes takes that this pluralism of needs (passions) can be pacified in the natural state if all actors opt for maintenance of life and give up the sovereignty of their needs. He fixes this denial in "social contract" as a demarcation line between the natural state and normative order.

And what is the basis of the normative order? Hobbes takes that an order is established when individuals wield their sovereignty to the state (Leviathan). However, Djindjic warns that conflict of passions (aspiration of many individuals for naturally limited objects) and renouncement of conflicts are not enough as preconditions for establishment of an order. Passions are not something objective but subject to interpretation. In the situation of pluralization (freedom) an order does not derive from suppression of freedoms and selfish interests but from pacification of pluralized convictions - those conflicts are irreconcilable since they all aspire to general applicability. Religious wars, says Zoran, testified that maintenance of life was not the fundamental value for individuals but victory of one's beliefs. Hobbes is wrong, says Zoran, when he assumes that the interest in life would overcome beliefs, since wars have been wagged for beliefs. There would be no problem whatsoever had the life had the upper hand. How was it possible then to overcome religious wars, i.e. conflicts of beliefs, each of which has aspired to general applicability?

Djindjic makes the following point: the conflict in the civil war was not a struggle for survival but a result of disintegration of the Christian normative universalism. Such a conflict (of pluralized beliefs) was surmountable in the political community that "did not stand for any order but for the order incorporating two basic presuppositions: aspirations for general applicability reached unbearable intensity and 'the sides at war' were ready to give them up." But this is not about "resigned disavowal of one's beliefs," this is about an order that is possible only if all give up general applicability of their beliefs and adopt a changed, though intense, attitude towards it so that they all can control one another and thus prevent any aspiration for general applicability from being recognized. Consequently, this means separation of private and public. Passions, interests and beliefs are moved to the private sphere (society) whereas public, i.e. political, is constituted as content-free, a frame of integration of the society that is as general as possible. And that can only be law applicable to all.

In conclusion, the political - enabling a performance of various interests - constitutes law (Constitution) rather than morals. Politics has separated from morals because morals do not make a constituent part of the foundation on which politics rests. It is law - rather than morals - that secures a political community and a modern state. Of course, this means not that politicians are unaccountable to moral judgment and that politics should be amoral. The point is that politics constitutes law rather than morals. Zoran Djindjic said many times that morals is important for people - and that is indisputable the same as that integration of a modern society, its management and regulation of social relations do not rest on the criteria of right and wrong but on law. Only law secures free expression of interests and different beliefs. Zoran Djindjic has never negated moral values. But, for him, setting foundations for modern politics and state is another story. "Morals in the church" advertises not immorality in politics or personal immorality - it only claims that political processes and struggles are, as a separate domain, constituted and regulated by law rather than by morals.


NO 117-118

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