Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Bosanquet anticipates and answers the public choice critique of government actors as necessarily self-interested

"We may approach the matter in this way. The paradox is, that if you scrutinise the acts which have made States, and which carry them on, or which go on under and within them, you will every where be able to urge that they spring from self- interest and ambition not from a desire for the common good. How then can we say that the State exists for a common good? Hegel's large conception of a social fabric and the temper of mind which maintains it should have done some thing to meet this problem. But we may come a little closer to the precise difficulty.

"Nothing is so fallacious as mere psychological analysis applied to the estimation of the purposes which rule a mind. In every act there is necessarily an aspect of the agent's particular self. One way or another he is satisfied in it. So the pessimistic or superficial psychologist can always -- not in some acts merely, but in all -- discover a form of self-seeking. Life is a whole made up of particulars, and the universal is a connection within them, not another particular outside them...

"But there is a kind of eye which sees all these particulars apart from the substantive aims which give them their character, and treats them as if they were the sole determining motives of the agent. Hegel calls such a critic he is thinking especially of historians 'the psychological valet, for whom there are no heroes, not because there are no heroes, but because he is only a valet.'" -- The Philosophical Theory of the State, pp. 291-292

I noted this at NYU last year. It is very surprising to hear people who call themselves Misesians -- and supposedly have absorbed his lesson that "self-interested" in economic thought must be taken as a pleonasm, and not a description of the particular ends someone pursues -- take this idea and use it to assert that government actors are always and only trying to line their own pockets and increase their own power.

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