Freedom in World Community: Lonergan and Arendt

Though they come from radically different backgrounds and presuppositions, Bernard Lonergan and Hannah Arendt describe a surprisingly similar need for world community. They both are concerned with the decline of society and the dangers of solipsism, materialism and totalitarianism; they both desire an environment where humans can speak and act in freedom. From this concern for decline and this desire for freedom, they postulate a notion of world community. Though Lonergan labels world community a ‘cosmopolis’ (i.e. a world city) and Arendt calls it the ‘public realm’, they are both promoting a world community established for the same purpose: to get rid of false judgments, biases and prejudices and to create a place for the discovery and advancement of true knowledge and meaning. In this post, I will highlight why freedom, for both Lonergan and Arendt, is necessary for world community.

Freedom, for Lonergan, means simply a space to ask questions; it allows the unrestricted desire to know free reign. In a world community, all questions are permitted; no one is restrained from pursuing his or her curiosity. Though many solutions may later be rejected, all of them remain possibilities at the beginning. Lonergan gives five characteristics of a cosmopolis and four of them relate to freedom. First, a cosmopolis is “not a police force” and is “above all politics.”[ref]Bernard Lonergan, Insight in The Lonergan Reader, ed. Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2002), 148-149[/ref] Cosmopolis is not backed by any kind of force, whether from the police or a particular government or a powerful social institution, but rather by freedom which more powerfully promulgates the fruitful ideas of the cosmopolis. (See The Problem of Liberation: Lonergan and the Use of Force for more thoughts on the problem of using force to promote good principles.)

Second, cosmopolis “is concerned to make operative the timely and fruitful ideas that otherwise are inoperative.”[ref]Ibid., 149[/ref] Ideas, which are normally suppressed by dominant groups, have the freedom to be aired in the cosmopolis. Not only will they be discussed, but the ideas, which prove to be helpful, will be put into action.

Third, the cosmopolis is “not a busybody.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref] The cosmopolis does not try to manipulate others through false knowledge, but rather to stop “dominant groups from deluding mankind.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref] The cosmopolis hopes to free humans from the enslavement to delusion and rationalization.

Fourth, in a similar fashion, cosmopolis aims “to protect the future against the rationalization of abuses and the creation of myths.”[ref]Ibid., 150[/ref] The flourishing of all sorts of cultural entities protects against rationalization and myths, as Lonergan describes:

. . . it invites the vast potentialities and pent-up energies of our time to contribute to their solution by developing an art and a literature, a theatre and a broadcasting, a journalism and a history, a school and a university, a personal depth and a public opinion, that through appreciation and criticism give men of common sense the opportunity and help they need and desire to correct the general bias of their common sense.[ref]Ibid., 151[/ref]

From art to literature, from journalism to history, world community allows the freedom for all of these cultural products to develop. The cosmopolis rests on freedom and exercises freedom through its cultural products. This freedom is exercised within a “cooperating community” or a “matrix of personal relations.”[ref]Lonergan, The Method of Theology in The Lonergan Reader, 463[/ref] The complexity of the matrix reveals a tension in the cosmopolis between allowing the freedom of ideas and allowing the freedom of criticism. The freedom of the cosmopolis does not mean that all actions are permissible nor does it imply a relativistic view of values, but instead creates a space where all ideas can be presented and then critiqued by cooperative analysis.

Hannah Arendt also places freedom at the core of world community. To be free, for Arendt, means “both not to be subject to the necessity of life or the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It [means] neither to rule nor to be ruled.”[ref]Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 32[/ref] Freedom begins by rising above the necessities of life. A human focused on survival and practical gain is a animal laborans, living in the private realm without freedom. But a human in the public realm is a homo faber or a craftsman. Craftsmen are not only connected to the products that they make, but also to the world of things to which they add their own products, and, indirectly, to the other craftsmen who are adding their products. A craftsman, whose work allows him to rise above survival, is free to engage in the public realm and thus free to be truly human.

Because freedom, for Arendt, goes beyond an individual’s survival, she finds it in a public space where humans come together on equal terms for the sake of common goals and where no one is ruling over anyone else. As a result, decisions are made based on words and persuasion. In order for equality of humans and freedom of ideas to thrive, Arendt, with Lonergan, denies the use of force in world community. She contends, “To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided by words and persuasion and not through force and violence.”[ref]Ibid., 26[/ref].

At this point, we may perfectly agree with Lonergan and Arendt that our society is in decline and desperately needs a community founded on freedom. But, practically speaking, how is such a community possible? The practical steps are not spelled out by Arendt or Lonergan. Arendt realizes that she cannot even address the practical steps until she first convinces others that the public realm is not only beneficial, but completely necessary for humanity; we cannot, she claims, be fully human until we are part of the public sphere. Once we recognize our need for the public realm, then we can consider the practical organization for such a community. Lonergan, in a similar vein, believes that world community is only a starting place. And he recognizes that creating such a community is very difficult. In fact, his fifth characteristic of cosmopolis is that it is not easy.[ref]Lonergan, Insight in The Lonergan Reader, 151[/ref] He too, like Arendt, wants others to recognize the need for such a community, but he (unlike Arendt) asserts that for such a community to practically function, it will need some sort of higher viewpoint or standard to which it will refer.

Putting that aside for now, we can at least say, along with Lonergan and Arendt, that world community, not as the final measure for human actions, but as a way to move beyond mere practical survival is worth considering. World community could create a space where knowledge is pursued communally and has potential for reforming and changing a society. World community, then, may not provide the answer to our problems in society, but it can give us a place to start.

Lonergan: Genuineness is Necessary for the Pursuit of Truth

One of the most lucid and beautiful sections in Lonergan’s Insight is on the idea of genuineness. Lonergan describes,

Genuineness is the admission of that tension into consciousness, and so it is the necessary condition of the harmonious cooperation of the conscious and unconscious components of development. It does not brush questions aside, smother doubts, push problems down, escape to activity, to chatter, to passive entertainment, to sleep, to narcotics. It confronts issues, inspects them, studies their many aspects, works out their various implications, contemplates their concrete consequences in one’s own life and in the lives of others. If it respects inertial tendencies as necessary conservative forces, it does not conclude that a defective routine is to be maintained because one has grown accustomed to it. Though it fears the cold plunge into becoming other than one is, it does not dodge the issue, nor pretend bravery, nor act out of bravado. It is capable of assurance and confidence, not only in what has been tried and found successful, but also in what is yet to be tried. It grows weary with the perpetual renewal of further questions to be faced, it longs for rest, it falters and fails, but it knows its weakness and its failures, and it does not try to rationalize them. Such genuineness is ideal.[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 261[/ref].

Though the quotation is rather lengthy, I felt compelled to put the whole paragraph as each sentence offers a unique description to the idea of genuineness. Genuineness is a bridging of the conscious and the unconscious through the organic organization of development. When we engage in genuineness, we do not suppress the questions that are slowly eating away at us. We face them full on, with a knowledge that sometimes they will be scary, but with the passionate desire to know, leaving no stone unturned. What we find will change us completely; it will be uncomfortable and even painful but we crave the unity of thought.

For Lonergan, this ideal genuineness is the foundation for possessing good will. Good will is a “willingness to follow the lead of intelligence and truth.”[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 269[/ref] This willingness comes from our whole being and includes our whole person. Lonergan states, “For the appropriation of truth even in the cognitional field makes demands upon the whole man.”[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 269[/ref] A genuine pursuit of the truth is demanding. Not only does it take a lot of work, but, based on what we discover, we have to be willing to completely change our lives and even who we are. It may mean tossing out ideas or habits that we love and training ourselves into new ways of thinking and acting. This reminds me of St. Paul’s words,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Pursuit of truth demands a sacrifice of the whole person. Only when we lay our whole being on the altar is truth able to transform our lives and renew our minds. For followers of God, this means allowing our wills to be changed to His will. His will is the truth in our lives and we desire to align our will with His.

But, can we truly develop a harmony between the unconscious and the conscious? Will the tension always make us perplexed? Can we actually eradicate our individual or group bias? Is this ideal genuineness possible? I believe Lonergan would say that while we cannot perfectly attain it, we should continue to strive for this attitude when we pursue truth. For, unless we have the humility which comes from genuineness, we cannot have our minds renewed and we cannot gain the deeper insights of truth.

The Problem of Liberation: Lonergan and the Use of Force

Bernard Lonergan describes our unique human curiosity and wonder about the world as a detached, disinterested desire to know. But due to our moral impotence, we often restrict one another’s freedom to pursue this pure desire to know. He calls this the ‘problem of liberation’. In searching for a solution to this problem, he states, “The problem is not met by setting up a benevolent despotism to enforce a correct philosophy, ethics or human science.”[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 288[/ref] When we have discovered a cohesive philosophy or a proper code of ethics, we desire others to agree with us and live according to our principles. We naturally want to be part of a community united under a common set of philosophic and ethical principles. But, in order to create this unity, we may appeal to the use of force in order to insure that everyone follows these principles. While it is better to have force from benevolence, than from malevolence, “the appeal to force is a counsel of despair.”[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 288[/ref] The solution to the problem of liberation, according to Lonergan, is not found in forcing humans to follow a certain philosophy. For, as he ironically puts it, “Is everyone to use force against everyone to convince everyone that force is beside the point?”[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 289[/ref]

Sadly, we have seen the principle of force used in order to give power to certain idealistic governments. Some political ideologies have good aspects to them but they are implanted through the use of force causing many violations of human rights. For example, some of the Marxist ideals behind communism aim at promoting freedom, equality and human rights. The idea of shared property and communal living can even be found in the early church where the believers lived under a certain type of pure communism: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44). The generosity and communal ownership of the early believers sprang from a free and willing spirit in the individuals; it was not a policy enacted by the church leaders.[ref]In fact, the church leaders did not expect people to give up all their property as we can see in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Their deaths were due to their pretended generosity though they were under no obligation to give their money away.[/ref] Apparently, Marx desired communist ideals to be implemented among freely associated individuals as well. However, communism usually has an additional element from Leninism requiring an armed Vanguard party which uses force to put these ideals in place and keep the order. The result, as we have seen in history, is that the communist nations have had one of the highest records for the violation of human rights and mass murders. During the Great Purge of Stalin (1937-1938), conservative estimates for the death rate are about 1000 people per day. According to one scholar, Stephane Courtois, author of The Black Book of Communism, the death count for mass killings in communist countries in the 20th century is just under 100 million.

The point is that using force to push certain ideals is not the way to allow for the freedom of knowledge. So, what is the solution? Lonergan states that the solution to the problem of liberation is a need for a higher integration of human living. The solution needs to take people “just as they are” and point them toward a higher level.[ref]Lonergan, The Lonergan Reader, 289[/ref] It is built on an acknowledgement and respect for our human intelligence, reasonableness and freedom. From this starting place, we will search for a universal view point which will raise the question of transcendent knowledge. Lonergan suggests that exploration into transcendent knowledge will provide the basis for the freedom of the detached, disinterested desire to know.