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The Force of Reason

October 4, 2010

JM Bernstein nicely dismantles the current financial crisis and the TARP by using Hegel, of all people. He says, quoting Hegel, “regulation is the force of reason needed to undo the concoctions of fantasy.”

…it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world.  What makes the propounding of virtue illusory — just so much rhetoric — is that there is no world, no interlocking set of practices into which its actions could fit and have traction: propounding peace and love without practical or institutional engagement is delusion, not virtue.  Conversely, what makes self-interested individuality effective is not its self-interested motives, but that there is an elaborate system of practices that supports, empowers, and gives enduring significance to the banker’s actions.  Actions only succeed as parts of practices that can reproduce themselves over time.  To will an action is to will a practical world in which actions of that kind can be satisfied — no corresponding world, no satisfaction.  Hence the banker must have a world-interest as the counterpart to his self-interest or his actions would become as illusory as those of the knight of virtue.  What bankers do, Hegel is urging, is satisfy a function within a complex system that gives their actions functional significance.

I really like the way he puts this. It could’ve badly derailed. Fortunately, I don’t think it did. At least, I find it clear enough. Wonder what non-readers of Hegel think.

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