Jan Hartman
Principia, 31-044 Kraków, ul. Grodzka 52


Jan Hartman



Beyond today’s debates. Towards the direct liberalism


In my work, entitled tentatively “Beyond today’s debates. Towards the direct liberalism” (and only drafted here), I intend to propose a programme of political liberalism, which, on the one hand, shall not resign of strictly philosophical (even speculative) forms of argumentation, and - on the other - shall be possibly free of entanglements in the dialectic monotony of contemporary discourse of political philosophy (e.g. focussing on the issues of liberalism and communitarianism). What is more, the proposed ideas are supposed to be translatable into a practical political programme. The starting point for my proposals is founded on the conviction that we are now in a critical moment for political philosophy. Its traditional notions, argumentation lines and debates have by and large exhausted their course. Also, world politics has arrived at the point where it is no longer obvious that the state should be considered the supreme institution in human community. In effect of the declining position of the state in social life, it has become necessary to revise the formulation of basic political issues. Possibly, it will be indispensable to amend some fundamental ideas and values served by the current discourse, independently of its continued internal debates. Justice, sovereignty, equality, representation, i.e. the notions inseparable from the political context generated by “modernity” in Europe, have assumed increasingly historical sense (as contrasted to as they are today workable sense). The same evolution has already affected the concept of nation. The demonstration of this fact will provide me with the opportunity to take political discourse beyond the magic circle of past debates, including those tackled by liberalism.

Yet, as mentioned above, the essential objective of the study is constructive. I shall attempt to present a version of liberal approach corresponding to the times when liberalism is a political fact rather than a postulated reality. The heritage of modern national-political values has been increasingly degraded to the function of a certain emotional aura accompanying politics, consisting in notions having no significant intellectual relevance.

In order to define briefly the position I propose, the following elements shall be emphasised. Firstly, I am convinced that the moral values (ideals) of politics must be treated differently. It is necessary to abandon the tradition alternative: the regulatory ideas of politics versus the ideological legitimisation of the invariably egoistic power-wielders. The truth does not consist in a compromise of both. Ideals are rare, seldom tangible, and yet absolutely real factor in politics. A political thinker must approach the purported values with pious carefulness: it is better to put in doubt many times the moral motives of political acts, rather than to show naive credulity in this respect. (This pious carefulness may sometimes show external features of cynicism. Yet, I expressly reject such interpretation.) Secondly, I am convinced that knowledge about the role of moral values in politics is not available to observers, and this non-determination of the authentic character of moral positions in political acts should be reflected in the political practice and the nature of political system itself. I support the partial release of the state from the burden of promoting moral declarations, which anyway cannot find any validation in the moral qualifications of civil servants. Thirdly, I emphasise the special role of technical expertise in the state operation. This role is conceived differently, compared to its treatment in traditional liberal doctrines. I believe that expertise is a precondition for the state’s fulfilment of certain roles. In particular cases, it may legitimise the limitations of direct democracy, and indeed legitimise the entire concept of liberal state. Simultaneously, it is a necessary factor in the process of state’s self-limitation. Civil servant’s expertise gives him/her a relative autonomy. As highly skilled professional, he/she is ready to terminate his/her loyalty to the state (to resign of the office or to implement it in non-standard way), in cases when it is clearly inappropriate to take responsibility for the mistakes committed by the state.

Of course, the above element of political system may be operational only in situation when the state is an institution limited in scope and competence. Only then will it be possible to resign of an office without life-long career consequences. This mechanism of state’s self-limitation, relying on the principle of the state's limited confidence in itself, seems to me the most effective guarantee of civil liberties. It should be accompanied by mistrust in those who are over-eager to quote moral and political values, elevating the state to unearned majestic heights.

In all other respects, my position shares the features of strong liberal approach. In particular, I reject the state’s claim to be a representation of society called to effectuate a just redistribution of a large share of national income. The claim is itself unjust and unjustifiable. Of course, I am not going to quote here all the mainstream liberal views. I shall focus my efforts on more precise presentation of the principles of “direct liberalism”, i.e. the political proposition which is the central issue of the planned book:



The real power of values despite all deficiency of their realisation. The dimension of ideals and values, according to self-proclaimed objectives, consists of regulatory ideas and ideal aims. Yet it is transposed but indirectly into politics (through impact upon decisions and laws). However, its rare influence ought to be constantly monitored and analysed, providing the systematic basis for political and ideological strategy. The crucial statement is that the imponderable foundations of political system have the feature of reality. That means that, when appearing as widely proclaimed values and norms they exercise a very real impact upon the actors of social life. The radical disproportion existing between the moral declarations and the practical acts of political agents is not necessarily the proof of their hypocrisy. It reflects the crucial power of values for all those who are able to proclaim them in public earnestly - even in the case when they find it impossible to follow the proclaimed norms in practice.

Symbolic foundation f democracy. Democracy is tantamount to lawfulness, and the impact of certain imponderable norms upon legislation, as well as the real presence and political significance of symbolic acts related to participation and self-determination (e.g. the rituals of power-sharing such as general election).

Expertise as a shield for personal satisfaction and moral safety of state officers. Political activity is usually a career path chosen by certain individuals who are guided by similar motivation as the one existing in other occupational choices, i.e. the tendency to maximise social and material status, the desire of power and authority, the need of creativity and popular acclaim. The existence of proper legal and ideological environment of this occupation predetermines the possible compatibility between private motives of political activity and the interests of various social groups, even the most populous ones. The crucial element of this compatibility consists in the subordination of every state activity to precise specialist issues and the expertise of officials responsible for the management of such issues.

Principle of limited loyalty os state officers. In the liberal system, in the meaning of direct liberalism, the recruitment of public officers exercising political power ought to rely not only on arithmetical (electoral) legitimation, but mainly on the factual premises (i.e. their expertise). The limitations of discretionary state authority and state officers ought not to result solely of the democratic entitlement pertaining to citizens who delegate their representatives to exercise certain government tasks. Such limitations should be imposed essentially by the responsibility and critical judgement shown by experts who are aware of the imperfection of their knowledge, and are reluctant to exercise power and use the privilege of public authority in the cases when it might be related to excessive risk of damage. In such political system, the postulate of high expertise and moral standing displayed by public officers becomes crucial. Their responsibility as private persons must be treated as the essential moral asset of the state. Such moral stance cannot be understood as unquestioned loyalty to the state. On the contrary, the loyalty must be limited. The officers ought to be aware that, in the course of their career and services discharged to their respective social groups ("the political and executive class"), they will necessarily engage in moral conflicts with individuals. These conflicts result of the questionable public mandate to enforce public operations which may be even fully justified in view of "technical" and moral expertise (e.g. the problematic state monopoly to issue money or to collect taxes). The limited loyalty of public servants to the state is reflected in their propensity to legitimise the undertaken actions on the grounds of material (real) competence, rather than official (state) authorisation. The officers are liable to refuse state service in the areas beyond their competence. Thus, an honest state, respecting the citizens' liberty and rights, relates its prerogatives to real (material) competence, specialist expertise of decision-makers (politicians) and executives (public servants). The state exercises self-limitation and self-control in all those areas where the risk of public officers' mistake (and resulting personal liability) is higher than the hope of further benefits and pleasures related to fulfilled authority or office held.

The regulatory principle of conformity of the state and the society’s aims. The success of state depends on the degree to which the objectives and activities fulfilled by the occupational group ("class") of politicians and civil servants (extremely competitive internally) overlap with the maximum efficiency of state's institutional infrastructure. The conformity between state activities and the welfare of population becomes indirect political value (though such welfare may be directly aimed at, in political declarations). Only when this condition is met, does it become the only real value at all: indirectly - in the meaning of the mediation of welfare objective through the realisation of group objectives of civil servants.

Principile of the state’s egoism („They-State”). The state is an institutional infrastructure of the occupational group of politicians and civil servants, having appropriate means of decision enforcement at a given territory. Similarly to every other subject, the state acts to fulfil its own objectives and maximise its own welfare. Therefore, a good political system provides mechanisms where the state (political groups and institutions) generates welfare for itself in such way that other organisations and individuals are not prevented from following their aims, or are even sometimes supported by the state. Yet, the state's objective is not, and cannot be, defined as direct service to the citizens' welfare. Similarly to all other subjects and organisations, the state follows its own objectives. It is only indirectly that the state may be useful to other occupational and social groups, external to the political class. The precondition of such usefulness lies in specialist enterprise displayed by state officers providing meta-organisational services, i.e. higher competitive efficiency compared to other organisations. The non-governmental organisations are usually perceived as subordinated to the state, and subjected to internal law only (while the states are subject to international law or are entirely sovereign in domestic law-making). Such perspective is obviously realistic, but it petrifies the non-liberal relations and archaic state patriarchalism.

Criticism of the „moral overweight” of the state. The political thought usually eulogises the state as the highest possible form of social association (luckily this definition has been growing obsolete rapidly). The state is imputed with high ideals of justice and democracy. The realisation of such ideals is hardly commensurate to the level of their promotion (by political discourse itself). In other words, the imposition of such forms to the political discourse which respect the dogma that the state's objective consists in maximum welfare of citizens, while justice remains the highest public value, results in overall hypocrisy and demoralisation affecting the very state officers, who are expected (allegedly and formally) to show much higher idealism than they can afford. No state can afford to institutionalise moral values, and the faith in such possibility leads to providing the state with prerogatives and authority which it is not entitled to.

Postulate of the state’s moral self-limitation. What we need is a constitution of truth, i.e. a constitution where ideology is present only to the extent that it can be afforded by the state officers, while the moral aspirations of state (to justice, assistance to weaker citizens, etc.) are realistically defined. Only such state can develop morally and become nobler.

Negative liberty. A good state is self-limiting and self-critical. In its legitimising political discourse, such state uses primarily the ideal of liberty. The protection of liberty is considered the basic premise for self-limitation, and most important external function, which the state ought to discharge. Simultaneously, state uses the concept of its right (resp. lack of right) to limit individual freedom. Its ideology reflects and sustains the understanding that the law to curtail the citizens' freedom is not a direct result of justified argumentation, i.e. it is not a simple consequence of the technical and moral competence. This right becomes valid and enforceable only in the face of vital interests of the state.

10.Competetiveness of political and other professional careers. A truly liberal state does not require the republican discourse of power conceived as service, legalism, "raison d'état" and national interest, leaving such ideals to the conscience and individual views professed by officers and citizens. This situation would be possible only in the presence of other strong organisations and attractive types of career non-related to civil service. Such diversification limits the politicians' and officers' motivation of loyalty to the state. It is this professional group that provides the personal substance of state. The state's competitive relations with non-governmental organisations and types of life career is a necessary pre-condition for the real self-limitation of the state, being the paragon of its lawfulness and honesty (and in particular its respect for the freedom of citizens).

Direct liberalism is direct in this meaning that it openly proclaims that - similarly to all other subjects - the state follows first of all its own objectives, and next, the objectives of citizens. Political theory must acknowledge this fact and seek such systems solutions that make the state's egoism an instrument of public objectives. Direct liberalism is direct since it is free of the need to mediate in ambiguous and para-ideological discourses. It is neither affected by the paradox of the "ideology of non-ideologisation", nor the paradox of the authoritarian defence of democratic liberties against all forms of authoritarianism. It does not need to fall back on republican, conservative or nationalist moralism, as it had often happened to liberalism before. Direct liberalism approaches political life directly, in its immediate forms. For instance, when it is asserted that the usual motive to become a member of parliament consists in money and social influence, while the nobler motives are rare and insignificant, no unmasking effect is meant nor scepticism close to hypocrisy. This statement reflects the simple fact known to everyone. Yet such observation is not a purpose in itself; it is used to formulate the question how this fact can be used for the good of state and population. Direct liberalism aspires to be neither an academic commentary nor abstract political theory, which must be processed and refined to become a political program. Its ambition is to apply directly to real-life policies, and support the fallible (and not always loyal) experts with its own expertise.