Translated by F. Roger Devlin
In the eighteenth century, in order to put a definitive end to the wars of religion, liberalism attempted to “pacify” society politically and ideologically. As Jean-Claude Michéa has correctly explained, “the idea then gradually become established that the only way to prevent the return of ideological civil wars was to rely upon an axiologically neutral State, i.e., a State that gets rid of any appeal to moral, religious, or philosophical values, and which therefore speaks only the language of ‘expertise.’” In other words, the State must no longer claim to decide between the different systems of value to which individuals choose to appeal. It must no longer decide upon what Aristotle called the “good life.” It must no longer say some ways of living are better than others, nor attempt to propose, realize, or incarnate any particular philosophical or spiritual ideal. This attitude involves a strict separation between the public sphere, thus “neutralized,” and the private sphere where values continue to be lived out and shared, but only on condition of not seeking to spill over into the public sphere.
So the solution adopted by liberal modernity to conjure away the specter of civil and religious wars is not the model of Hobbes (who proposes to install Leviathan, the absolute State, to prevent the “war of all against all”), but a “neutrality” which naturally results in modelling the government of men upon the administration of things. “The aim then becomes,” observes Alain Caillé, “to define neutral, objective procedures — of which the market and law are the principal incarnations — which allow the society to function on its own, independently of the good or bad motivations of men.” With the decisions of the public authorities needing to be as “objective” as possible, the model for objectivity is sought in science, and more especially in technical expertise, supposedly the only court of appeal to speak a “language with no subject.” Thus begins the era of the “experts” for whom all social problems are, in the final analysis, mere technical problems. They are supposed to be resolvable through technical solutions as well. From such a point of view, it is always possible to uncover one solution “objectively” better than the others. It results from this that politics is no longer a matter of choosing between various possible orientations: Ideological discussions are useless, since in the end there is only one rationally possible solution, only one solution worthy of the name.
On the liberal view, the neutral State is the State which rises above society, in which the most different opinions coexist, in order to allow men to live “freely.” The Church had already distinguished between spiritual and temporal power; liberal modernity both separates powers and separates the State from civil society. The liberal attitude toward the State is ambivalent, however. On the one hand, the grasp of this “mortal God” (deus mortalis) must always be limited so that it does not threaten the privileges of civil society, conceived as the place for the natural exercise of freedom. But on the other, it is from the State that we expect it to allow that same civil society to remain sheltered from the political and religious confrontations of the past.
Michéa shows here the congruence of economic and political liberalism. The former must contribute to ideological “pacification” by means of “peaceful trade,” not simply because commerce, posited as a new form of human bond, is supposed by its intrinsic nature to escape the fatal violence of politics by substituting for conflict a contractual model based on a negotiation advantageous for all parties, but also because the priority attributed to the economy allows one to glimpse the possibility of delegating the management of societies to the impersonal mechanisms of the “self-regulating” market. Political liberalism, based on the “rule of law,” [Etat de droit] is organized around the idea that individuals are entirely free to lead the life they want under the protection (and authority) of an axiologically neutral law, charged only with acting so that the exercise of one person’s freedom does not infringe upon the freedom of others (without it ever being explained why, if the individual is to be truly free, he should respect this injunction not to harm others, which quite obviously limits his freedom). “If liberalism must be understood as the most radical form of the modern political project,” writes Michéa, “this is first of all because it proposes nothing less than fully privatizing the timeless sources of discord which morality, religion, and philosophy necessarily represent.”
In such a system, everything which belongs to morality or values thus finds itself limited to the private sphere. Moral questions are privatized, and the public sphere “ethically purified.” From the point of view of “pluralism,” beliefs receive the status of mere opinions, one being as good as another in principle, the important point being that economic and commercial society can function “freely,” without arbitrary judgments disturbing the free play of “natural” market mechanisms. “This means,” writes Michéa, “that if the liberal State intends to renounce on principle any definition of what the good life consists in, it is the market (and through it the imagery of growth and consumption) which will de facto take charge of defining the concrete manner in which men will have to live.”
To this view Michéa opposes the idea that societies cannot live without a minimum of shared values; i.e., without agreeing on a minimal definition of what the “good life” is — obviously, without this minimal definition being supposed to result in a “metaphysical ideology of the Good,” any more than it should legitimate a warlike attitude always susceptible to leading to authoritarian (if not totalitarian) aberrations. Whence the importance he accords to Orwell’s concept of “common decency,” which covers qualities to which common sense has always adhered, above all in the popular classes: honesty, solidarity, generosity, loyalty, the spirit of giving, the sense of gratitude, the sense of honor, a taste for reciprocity and mutual assistance, and so on.
The neutrality postulate concerning the liberal State is not really tenable. On the one hand, as Carl Schmitt has shown, the resolute choice for “neutrality” is itself never a neutral choice, and the liberals’ will to eliminate morality from the public sphere itself results from an obvious moral (and moralizing) choice. On the other, even liberal milieus hold that some things are better than others, including of course on the moral level. No liberal, however concerned about “neutrality” he may be, can think a non-liberal proposition as good as a liberal one. In real life, liberals affirm their principles and values as strongly as anti-liberals. So liberalism cannot escape the “moral temptation.” Hostile to traditions, it is itself part of a tradition. It has its own peculiar social character.
Let us take the example of freedom, which liberalism makes such a fuss about. The essential point for a liberal is freedom of individual choice, without any value or substantial reference point to guide it. But if everything is as good as everything else, what would be the use of this very free choice? Is it not rather because some things are worth more than other things that freedom can acquire a meaning? Freedom cannot be practiced in a normative desert, but only beginning from some meaningful axiological horizon. In other words, there is no free choice without values to guide it: We cannot in real life do without a shared normative horizon.
The adhesion of liberals to the ideology of progress is no less significant. In this ideology, the future is assumed to automatically be the bearer of something better, with man himself supposed to improve insofar as the conditions of his existence improve, since he is posited as indefinitely perfectible and endlessly plastic. So one cannot “neutrally” hold that the past was just as good as the future. At the same time, let us note that it is this “moral” amelioration, presented as the result of an objective historical necessity, which justifies us in not having to ask ourselves moral questions about its concrete consequences; i.e., about all the problems to which modernization can give rise.
Finally, liberalism is also the vehicle of an ideology of the rights of man. These rights are, as we know, subjective and inalienable; every man is supposed to hold them because of his own nature (and even, usually, because of an ancient state of nature that preceded his life in society). Now, there is no doubt that the ideology of the rights of man, apart from its legal underpinning, is a profoundly moral ideology. At the same time, however, since the morality of which it is the vehicle implies the priority of the just over the good (we will return to this subject), it can also give itself the appearance of a certain “neutrality” insofar as these rights are imagined and constructed independently of any particular conception of the good. It is for this reason that the rights of man were not originally conceived as contradicting the liberal belief in the State’s necessary neutrality. “Justice” is posed here as reconcilable with moral neutrality, and even as demanding such neutrality. But it is no less true that beginning with the rights of man, the “neutral” liberal State will favor the invasion of the public domain by the ought-to-be [le devoir-être]. To make the whole of society conform to the principles of rights-of-man ideology would be to render it more “just.” Thus, moral obligation no longer concerns so much individual behavior as the way society must transform itself to become “better.” At the same time, in daily life the incessant multiplication of demands derived from the rights of man, the gradual slippage from “rights of” to “rights to,” and the bidding war occasioned by this slippage will gradually result in what Philippe Muray has called the “Empire of the Good.”
But the ideology of the rights of man will also allow the West to posit itself as incarnating the Good vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Being applicable to all men, the rights of man, a purely Western creation, have been posited from the beginning as valid in all times and places. It is in their name, by draping itself in its pretention to be the only culture capable of enunciating a “universal” discourse, that the West will teach the cultures of the entire world by suggesting they renounce customs and ways of life of which the West disapproves. Such a procedure amounts to an endlessly renewed struggle against otherness. Convinced they are the bearers of the only conceivable universal values, the West wants to extend them to the entire planet, which leads it to delegitimize as perverse or archaic any singularity opposed to it, “including that singularity which is death itself” (Baudrillard). It means to institute the reign of Sameness at a planetary level in the hope of making ambivalence disappear, the negative principle; what Georges Bataille called the “cursed part.” Fundamentally, the West wants to negotiate otherness away, and becomes enraged at being unable to manage this.
Ritual invocation of the rights of man thus presents the obvious advantage of allowing one, from the right motive, to violate the sacrosanct principle of non-discrimination. When it comes to denouncing “backward” traditional cultures, the “superstitions of another era,” and other practices which it is the business of “progress” to make disappear, it is permitted to designate for universal condemnation a certain number of “rascals” (or “rogue States”).
Challenging on this point Samuel Huntington’s theses concerning the confrontation between Islam and the West, Jean Baudrillard writes:
It is not a clash of civilizations, but an almost anthropological confrontation between an undifferentiated universal culture and everything in any domain that retains something of an irreducible otherness. For the world power, which is just as fundamentalist as religious orthodoxy, all different and singular forms are heresies. As such, they are destined either to be reintegrated (willingly or forcibly) into the world order, or to disappear. The mission of the West (or rather of the ex-West, since it has not had any values of its own for a long time now) is to force the various cultures to submit to the fierce law of equivalence by every possible means. A culture which has lost its values can only avenge itself on those of others. . . . The aim is to suppress the refractory domain and to colonize and domesticate all untamed spaces, whether in geographical space or in the mental world.
Although it also proclaims itself “neutral” with regard to the various religious “denominations,” American neoconservatism, heir to the puritan tradition, puts politics in a relation of direct dependency on morality, especially by representing relations of force and international conflict as a kind of “struggle of Good against Evil.” The United States, in this view, is always on the side of Good: It is even “God’s nation,” whose Manifest Destiny is to export its model of society to the utmost limits of the planet. Evil consists of any obstacles to the Americanization of the world, which at the same time are survivals of a “premodern” consciousness that the Enlightenment thought it had abolished by proclaiming the principle of reason’s omnipotence.
But let us return to the fundamental distinction between morality founded on the primacy of the good and morality founded on the primacy of the just.
The debate over the priority of the just and the good partly overlaps with the classic opposition between deontic morality of the Kantian type and teleological or virtue-based morality of the Aristotelean type. Aristotelean ethics is a virtue ethics founded on the priority of the good: It is an “attractional” ethics which makes morality rest upon aiming at some good inseparable from a telos; i.e., a specific finality. Modern societies, on the contrary, are the product of a moral revolution consisting in according the just priority over the good. Each morality obviously makes use of both terms, but placed in the opposite order. If the just is fundamental, the good will be defined as that desired by the individual insofar as his acts and desires are in conformity with the demands of moral obligation: The good will be the object of a just desire. If the good is fundamental, the just will be what one does to arrive at this good. The former say: The good is what is just; the latter respond: The just is what is good.
Kant was one of the first to reverse the order of priority, breaking with the teleology of the Aristotelean search for the good to content himself with the deontology of respect for the just. The transcendental subject is for him a necessary presupposition of freedom, for only a subject conceived as independent of and anterior to the determinations of the sensible world can escape heteronomy. “All action is just,” writes Kant in his Metaphysics of Morals, “which can, or whose maxim can, allow the coexistence of each person’s freedom of will with the freedom of all according to a universal law.” He infers from this that justice demands society be governed by principles not involving any particular conception of the good, nor passing judgment on any particular substantial good. Kant lays as his foundation a moral law unconditionally binding upon individuals, whatever their desires, wishes, or interests. It is this moral law which defines the good, and not the other way around. Thus, a deontic morality succeeds to an aretic morality; i.e., a virtue ethics (the ethic of honor, for example). The political domain thus finds itself dissociated from moral communities, and public norms are no longer necessarily the prolongation of private individuals’ values. The moral validity of an argument no longer necessarily coincides with its political legitimacy. This corresponds to the wishes of a Benjamin Constant: “Let us ask authority to remain within its limits, limiting itself to being just, while we concern ourselves with being happy.”
Major contemporary liberal authors such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Bruce Ackerman, or Charles Larmore are heirs of Kant (even if they sometimes attempt, as Rawls does, to rid his doctrine of its metaphysical basis). Rawls maintains that a theory of justice must correspond to the concern rational individuals have for the satisfaction of their interests without ever imposing upon them a particular conception of the world. “Justice,” he writes, “is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.”
In the epistemological sense, the priority of the just means that “the principles of justice that specify our rights do not depend for their justification on any particular conception of the good life”; i.e., that the just must be formulated independently of any conception of the good. In a liberal regime, the good is thus defined in a purely formal, and not substantial, sense. Thus, for John Rawls a person’s good is determined by the rational life project he would choose on the basis of a rational deliberation concerning a maximal class of projects (the principles of justice being the principles which would be the objects of an agreement between rational persons placed in an original situation of equality). Finally, for liberals the individual is always anterior to the ends he assigns himself. There is always a “priority of the self over its ends,” states Rawls. “What is important first of all to the unencumbered self, what intrinsically defines its personality,” remarks Michael Sandel, “is not the ends it chooses but its capacity to choose them.”
Michael Sandel has defined the liberal ideal very well:
Its central thesis can be put like this: A just society does not try to promote any particular project, but gives its citizens the opportunity to pursue their own projects insofar as these are compatible with equal freedom for all; consequently, this society must be guided by principles which do not presuppose any idea of the good. The fundamental justification for these regulatory principles is not that they maximize the general well-being, cultivate virtue, or promote the good in any other way, but rather that they are conformable to the concept of justice, a moral category to which is attributed a priority and independence with regard to the good.
Thus, by way of the distinction between the just and the good we find once again the postulate of “neutrality,” but associated this time with a preconceived view of morality. The classic justification of this point of view is that if the State were not neutral, and if it affirmed a particular conception of the good in the face of the society’s “pluralism” — which continues to grow today — its partisanship would amount to a lack of impartiality (because the values of only one part of the citizens would be promoted or favored), and thus a limitation on individual rights. Now, for liberals the State must furnish everyone the conditions allowing him to live out the conception of the good life to which he adheres in the private sphere without privileging any one such conception (a principle which matches that of secularism [laïcité] in France). The role of public power is neither to contribute to make the citizens virtuous, nor to promote particular ends, but only to guarantee fundamental freedoms. In this view, what makes a society just “is not the telos, the goal or end it pursues, but precisely its refusal to choose in advance among competing goals or ends.” The political system must abstain from taking a position in the conflict of value systems or conceptions of the world, which must remain restricted to the private sphere.
The priority attributed to the just over the good in liberal doctrine therefore finally rests upon three foundations. First, the idea that the individual is the only source of moral value, which excludes any conception attributing to any collectivity aspirations not reducible to those of its members. Then, the idea that the State should remain neutral for the reasons indicated. And finally, the idea that political judgment should be based exclusively on formal and procedural norms. Whence the definition of the liberal State as a “Procedural Republic,” itself resting on the principle of the neutrality of public action and the primacy of the subjective rights of an individual freely choosing his ends without in any way being led to do so by what is upstream from him; e.g., his heritage or belonging.
The unrealistic character of this last postulate leaps out at us: No more than there can be extra-societal (or presocial) freedom do there exist subjective rights inherent in human nature. Given that justice is defined as an equitable relation, there is no possible justice [droit] except in society. Man, on the other hand, cannot choose all his belongings, since a number of them are established before he is born. So it is an illusion to imagine that his forms of belonging do not help to determine his choices: Identity can be constituted in opposition to them, but not without reference to them.
Communitarian theorists (Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, and Alasdair MacIntyre) have had no difficulty showing that the priority of the just over the good rests on an imaginary anthropology: the subject of Kantian morality, like that of Rawls’ theory of justice, is an abstract subject with no affiliations, and thus “neutral” as well, whereas in real life there only exist men embedded in concrete structures of belonging. While liberals proclaim that the self is always anterior to its ends, communitarians, taking their inspiration from Aristotle or Hegel, show that man discovers his ends more than he chooses them, and that the way he determines them is indissociable from recognition of the forms of belonging and attachments to others that constitute him. They thus emphasize the constitutive character of bonds and social relations for the identity of agents. Since no one is able to stand outside his culture and history, even when he means to contradict and reject them, an “unencumbered” self free of all belonging is merely an abstraction. Once emptied of all the concrete characteristics of concrete men, it is not the “essential” which is left over (a “supra-empirical” man). Nothing is left over. The result is that it is quite simply impossible to posit an abstract justice independent of any determinate conception of the good, still less anterior or prior to it.
So liberalism’s relationship with morality is not simple. On the one hand, the liberal State claims to be “neutral” in the domain of values. On the other, the ties it maintains with the ideology of the rights of man, an eminently moral doctrine, seem to forbid liberalism from respecting this ideal. But this observation should be qualified by taking into consideration the difference between moralities which deduce the good from the just and those which deduce the just from the good — the first being able to boast of a certain neutrality, even if basically illusory (insofar as a position on the relation between the just and the good is anything but neutral).
To complicate things a bit more, we must still examine another set of problems which modernity has not been able to avoid: that of the existence of Evil. The presence of evil in the world has always been a problem for theodicy; i.e., that part of Christian metaphysics which concerns the existence of God and of his attributes. How is the presence of evil in a world created by an infinitely good and all-powerful God to be explained? The classic Christian response is that man is responsible for the appearance of evil, since it results from the bad use he made of his free will at the time of the original sin [lors de la faute originelle]. The gnostic response made the existence of a bad God intervene, as the competitor of the good God. In the modern age, this set of problems has shifted. The alternative is no longer whether man or God is responsible for the appearance of evil, but whether man or society is responsible. This new question is, of course, only possible from a point of view, itself typically modern, wherein man (put back into an imaginary “state of nature,” for example) can be analyzed separately from society. Evil, it is then affirmed, does not come from man, whom certain writers go so far as to call “naturally good,” but from society. The Enlightenment concludes from this that, not being an intrinsic property of human nature, evil can (and must) be eliminated. For this it is enough to change society (or move to another). We run into the ought-to-be once again.
Let us recall that human society is conceived by the Moderns as a mere aggregation of individuals, elementary atoms who have chosen to leave a pre-political and pre-social state of nature and associate with each other with a view to maximizing their interests. This image is itself founded on an anthropological model: that of a fundamentally egoistical individual constantly trying to rationally calculate his material best interest. This egoism is not viewed negatively: According to liberal authors from Adam Smith to Bernard Mandeville (“private vices, public virtues”), it is on the contrary the workings of everyone’s egoism which is supposed to contribute to the social optimum and the happiness of everyone, thanks to the action of the market’s “invisible hand.”
Thus, along with modernity appeared the idea that evil can not merely be channeled or suppressed, but definitively eliminated by way of a particular social order which it is enough for us to construct. This idea supposes, as we have just said, that evil is exterior to man and that it does not come from him, but results rather from the effects of power, authority, and unjustified domination. From that moment, justice consists in creating the conditions in which injustice can no longer appear. At the same time, the idea came to prevail that man is all the more human insofar as he frees himself from all naturalness, which opens the way to radical historicism: The human species will be what we want it to be.
The concept of evil, which in the modern era has often aroused a certain unease, has over the past 30 years tended to reenter public language. But it has done so in an odd way. On the one hand, our contemporaries continue to think it is possible to eradicate evil by means of appropriate measures. On the other, adhering to a conception of the good derived from what they believe to be just, they no longer hesitate to denounce what they call “absolute Evil.” This absolute Evil is not the counterpart of an absolute Good, to which no one thinks of appealing (for positing the existence of an absolute Good would run counter to the “neutrality” inherent in the liberal conception of justice). It is rather an absolute Evil posited as the radical contradiction of the dominant ideology. It is incarnated today in a number of repulsive figures that constantly get brought up: the terrorist, the holocaust denier, the pedophile, the Nazi, the racist, the serial killer, etc. The images we give of these are rarely derived from psychological or political analysis, but rather from a hysterical or demonological approach that makes any in-depth analysis impossible.
From a strategic point of view, assimilating anything to absolute evil pays quite well: Any suspicion in this domain amounts to complete disqualification. On the basis of an arbitrary chain of equivalences which give rise to just as many inquisitions into bad intentions [procès d’intention], one can thus slap a badge of public disgrace on the presumed bearers of bad ideas. Insofar as they incarnate absolute Evil, these figures have the great advantage that they can be used to suspend judgment. To fight against them, in fact, everything is permitted. To fight terrorism, it is only natural to restrict civil liberties. To face down “pedophile networks,” it is only natural to put all Internet users under surveillance. To get the better of the “Evil Empire,” it is legitimate to kidnap, torture, bomb, and atomize entire populations. Absolute Evil ends up being defined as radical otherness, “unspeakable” horror, and irreconcilable heterogeneity. Evil is both denied in principle (we will eventually end up making it disappear) and recognized in a form which forbids any relativization. This is an absolute evil corresponding not to any absolute good, but to a set of values in respect of which it plays the role of a foil.
The will to “eradicate evil” often crystalizes around the idea that it is possible to make conflict disappear and outlaw war. This idea can be formulated in the manner of pacifists (we will abolish war by making “warmongers” disappear), but also in the manner of liberals who, here as well, allege the pacifying power of commerce and the market’s “invisible hand,” which is supposed to transform all of society into a peaceful, self-regulating structure. On this last point of view, the underlying postulates are, first, that individual interests are spontaneously consistent with collective interests (which are merely the sum of the former) provided that one allows the mechanisms of the market free play, and then that there is no conflict to which a “reasonable solution” cannot be found, for opposed points of view, assimilated to conflicting interests, are always reconcilable insofar as communication between the parties is possible. They mean by this that all conflict is negotiable, without realizing that there are things which by their very nature cannot be negotiated (values are not interests).
Such a procedure is not merely destined for failure; it usually results in the opposite of the result sought. The rejection of conflict finally results in generalized competition, in that same war of all against all that the liberal project was supposed to neutralize (but in which Engels, already in 1845, saw the very essence of liberal society). The dream of universal peace leads to a totally unrestrained “just” war which spontaneously takes the most extreme forms, since it is a matter of triumphing in the name of humanity over an enemy thereby placed outside humanity. The wars of religion that one wanted to leave behind gave way to ideological wars obeying the same logic. The hope for perpetual peace results in perpetual war.
Wanting to make conflict disappear to work toward the dawn of an age of universal justice and harmony, and desiring to make the ontological, constitutive dimension of conflict disappear, is in fact once more to deny (or want to suppress) otherness. Since conflict is born of the contradictory plurality of human aspirations, difference is presented as intrinsically contentious. But one forgets that the denial of differences is no less so: The more men resemble one another, the more they desire to distinguish themselves, and therefore they do not stop fighting, mimetic rivalry representing just one of the forms of this confrontation. “Far from being pacified,” observe Michel Benasayag and Angélique del Rey, “contemporary societies which deny or repress conflict are pregnant with extreme and unlimited violence — latent or actual.”
Beyond the desire for the extinction of conflict, we observe in contemporary Western societies a tendency to deny the power of the negative which, as we have already said, is only acknowledged and recognized in extreme and pathological forms (“absolute Evil”). The general idea is that one can eliminate the negative, keeping only the positive side of human existence: cooperation without conflict, reason without passion.
Evil is in fact defined in a privative manner. At bottom, what our contemporaries denounce as evil is what follows from the tragic character of human existence. They want to eliminate the tragic dimension of existence because the tragic is fundamentally ambivalent, and thus “opaque.” To this opacity they oppose an ideal of social “transparency.” This aspiration to “transparency” is a classic demand of rationalism. It pushes the “disenchantment of the world” to its utmost consequences: the eradication of its mystery and ambivalence. Every organic social bond, every “prerational” social relation, all spontaneous vitality that cannot be controlled, everything that is not reducible to calculable self-interest is considered a form of “opacity” that must be made to disappear. This “transparency” is that of Orwell’s 1984: Big Brother is watching you, Big Brother knows everything. (Obviously, this does not prevent the preservation of a few juicy opaque zones: money-laundering operations, payoffs, bribes, and tax havens.) The ideal of transparency is a totalitarian ideal in the proper sense.
As Jean Baudrillard emphasizes:
All discourse concerning the good is ravaged by ambivalence. This is particularly visible in its relation to stupidity as the blindest, but also most direct and massive, expression of that ventriloquism of Evil. Philippe Muray has magnificently described this beatification, this grotesque pacification of the real world, this festive swallowing up of all modernity in a celebration qua perpetual franchise [
We believe naïvely that the progress of the Good, its rising power in all domains, corresponds to a defeat of Evil. No one seems to have understood that Good and Evil increase in power at the same time, and according to the same movement. . . . Good does not reduce Evil, nor vice-versa: they are irreducible to one another, and yet their relation is inextricable. . . . Absolute evil is born of an excess of Good, an unchecked proliferation of Good, of technological development, infinite progress, a totalitarian morality, a radical and unopposed will to do good. At that point, Good turns into its opposite: absolute Evil. 
Faced with the conflicts which inevitably reappear in society, Jean-Claude Michéa observes that
liberal justice has no other solution (since it is obviously impossible to satisfy two contradictory demands simultaneously) than to base its final decision on the power relations acting upon society at a given moment; i.e., concretely, on the existing relations of force between different interest groups which speak in society’s name, and whose relative weight is commonly a function of how much of the communications media they have been able to occupy.
Hence the role of lobbies, competing with one another to impose their own views as a function of their interests.
It is, however, clear that such an atomization of society by liberal law (and the reappearance of the old war of all against all which it involves) can only finally end in rendering all common life impossible. A human society only exists, in fact, insofar as it succeeds in permanently reproducing a bond, which presupposes that it can rely on a minimum of common language between all who compose it. Now, if that common language must, conformably for the demands of liberal dogma, be axiologically neutral (since any “ideological” reference would reintroduce the conditions of civil war), there remains only one coherent way of resolving the problem. It consists in basing society’s anthropological cohesion on the only attribute liberals have always held to be common to all men: Their “natural” disposition to act according to their self-interest properly understood. So it is quite logically upon self-interested exchange (the famous “give and take” which is the basis of the rationality of all commercial relations) that the philosophical task of organizing the peaceful coexistence of individuals must finally devolve; everything else is supposed to oppose such coexistence. . . . In the end, that is the main reason the economy has become the religion of modern societies.
Here, liberal “neutrality” reaches its ultimate limit. The good, in modern society, is the reign of money.
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 Cf. Sylvain Dzimira’s review of the meeting organized by MAUSS on February 16, 2008, with Jean-Claude Michéa, to mark the publication of his book L’Empire du moindre mal (www.journaldumauss.net/spip.php?article308).
 Alain Caillé, “L’homme est-il un animal sympathique ? Le contr’Hobbes,” in La Revue du MAUSS, no. 31, January-June 2008, 27.
 The reason for such silence is probably that respect for this principle implies a certain sense of reciprocity, a term which liberalism excludes because of its “social” overtones. “How do I establish that the exercise of a particular liberty does not harm that of others,” asks Jean-Claude Michéa, “if I must forbid myself recourse to any value judgment in deciding?” (“De quoi le libéralisme est-il le nom?”, in La Revue de MAUSS, no. 31, January-June 2008, 307).
 Jean-Claude Michéa, “De quoi le libéralisme est-il le nom?”, op cit., 305.
 “[P]olitical liberalism,” Rawls writes, “looks for an idea of rational advantage within a political conception that is independent of any particular comprehensive doctrine” (Political Liberalism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1993], 180).
 An attitude which allows it to disguise, while regularly reproducing, its own criminal behavior and acts of “bravado” — Tzvetan Todorov writes, “A precept for the next century might run: begin by fighting not evil (in others) in the name of the good (which we possess), but the assurance of those who claim always to know where the good and the evil are to be found; not the devil, first of all, but the Manicheans” (Le Débat, November-December 1999).
 Jean Baudrillard, Power Inferno (Paris: Galilée, 2002). “The name of the Universal,” notes Alain Brossat, “can, if necessary, be remarkably plastic: to ridicule Arabs and Muslims, and associate them with terrorists, obscurantists, and enemies of republican institutions and democracy by a game of rough associations is a practice generally covered in France today by one of the names of the Universal — in this case, freedom of opinion and expression. . . . Conversely, to mock rabbis, attack so-called communitarian institutions, or violently denounce the policies of the State of Israel are all practices which would leave those risking them vulnerable to the blows of another decree of the Universal” (Le Sacre de la démocratie. Tableau Clinique d’une pandémie [Paris: Anabet, 2007], 93-94).
 This distinction, at the descriptive and typological level, goes back at least to Henry Sidgwick (The Methods of Ethics, 1874).
 Cf. especially Michel Forsé & Maxime Parodi, La Priorité du juste (Paris: PUF, 2004).
 Immanuel Kant, OEuvres philosophiques, vol. 3, “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade” (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), 479.
 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), 3.
 Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
 Michael Sandel, “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self,” Political Theory, February 1984.
 Michel Benasayag & Angélique del Rey, Éloge du conflit (Paris: La Découverte, 2007), 81. “The suppression of conflict can produce barbarism,” we read on page 10.
 Jean Baudrillard, Carnaval et cannibale. Suivi de: Le Mal ventriloque (Paris: L’Herne, 2008), 65-66.
 Jean-Claude Michéa, “De quoi le libéralisme est-il le nom?”, 308-309.
 Ibid., 309.
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