Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Symptoms of Order--An Individual as Spectator

"Spontaneous social order is the basis for personal development and social harmony, and vice versa."
–Adam Ferguson

Within the neostoic framework self-interest pursued as vita activa was a ‘natural’ principle governing interpersonal interactions in the public realm. This self-interest, however, was defined as the triumph of reason over the passions. In other words, the self-interest of the liberal subject was one that saw the reasonableness of submitting to civic constancy. In this way, one’s individual engagement in public was dependent on one’s “rational” self-interest. An individual acting in accordance with self-interest required the suppression of the passions. The individual was made ever conscious of his/her disunity—the civil persona was meant to triumph over the “irrational” and socially detrimental ‘passions.’ In this way, the epithet of rationality is implanted as a spectator of individual conscience.

Specifically, the consciousness of the spectator becomes a way to conceive of self-interest on the grounds of commercial, social, and national welfare.
As Smith writes, “We constantly pay more regard to the sentiments of the spectator, than to those of the person principally concerned, and consider rather how his situation will appear to other people, than how it will appear to himself.” This “double-consciousness” via the internalization of the social body ultimately positions ‘rational self-interest’ as equivalent to norms governing economic exchange. Thus, the spectator leads to the rationalization of the individual. In this sense, “individualism” is kept under surveillance by commodified norms of the invented spectator.


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