Two short statements by Rorty made me think about the deep social roots of the modern economy, as outlined by Keynes.
The first is Rorty on "The End of Inquiry". He talks about the modern world as a world where we have stopped preparing for immortality and started preparing for our great grandchildren. This is reflected in the transition from essentially Platonic to essentially Pragmatic philosophy. We have gone from philosophizing the "ideal" and the "true" to philosophizing the useful. In Weber this transition almost emerges as a crafty trick fate plays on Protestantism - but the import for the modern economy is essentially the same - secular growth through capital accumulation. This is the picture offered in Keynes's Economic Conditions for Our Grandchildren, which I think coincides nicely with the Hans Blumenberg quote that Rorty mentions in the video:
But when we abandon Platonism and truth the world becomes far less certain. It always was uncertain, of course, but the human project was a project of rationalizing that uncertainty. Myth filled the voids in our understanding; ideas of Providence took care of the dark forces of time and ignorance that enveloped our future; philosophy, taking the Greek cue, took care of everything else and even displaced myth and Providence where it could. But with the abandonment of this project and the dawn of Pragmatism, post-modernism, critical rationalism, and whatever else may be appropriate to class together as a rejection of an idealized pursuit of "truth", the uncertainty was unavoidable.
This leads to something of a tension. The abandonment of idealism and truth means that we focus on investing in the future. But the uncertainty unleashed by this abandonment of idealism and truth means that we hoard to erect protective barriers against the unknown. It's important to note here that Rorty identifies uncertainty as a sort of luxury good. But that's largely the point, isn't it? Uncertainty, as a luxury that we did not have in earlier epochs, is a creature of the modern world - the modern economy.
I think regular readers should know how these two pieces of the puzzle work together to furnish us with Keynes's understanding of modern society: secular growth from capital accumulation combined with bouts of underutilization due to fear of the unknown. It's one thing to say "this is how the modern economy works", but I think it's useful to look at much broader social developments and see the deep roots of this Keynesian worldview.
Read this way, Keynes calls for a sort of Progressive Pragmatism. We need a society that continues to invest in possibilities for our grandchildren without succumbing to the very willingness to confront uncertainty that makes us modern.
In 1921, Keynes and Knight both published books about how we deal with uncertainty, with Keynes developing his ideas further through his career. Both men were right, and Keynes came to the same conclusion that Knight did when he wrote about "the social object of skilled investment". What we need, in response to this uncertainty, is less fear and more entrepreneurialism.
UPDATE: I was thinking about this a litle more, and it reminded me of a portion of a poem that my grandad recites from time to time - it's from Maculay's Horatius:
Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods,
And for the tender mother who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses his baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus, that wrought the deed of shame?
What's interesting is that Horatius doesn't see his stand as a defense of what Rome might become (this is the very early republican period), or even really for his children. The first thing he stands for is the dead. The second thing he stands for is the Gods. Then he stands in defense of several contemporaries, but he never even says he stands in defense of his children - just his wife who happens to be nursing his children at the time. Granted, this is a nineteenth century rendition of a Roman hero, but even if it cannot be taken as a transcription of the sort of classical attitude that Rorty describes, it's certainly a telling dramatization of it. Rorty's claim is that modernity experienced a wholesale temporal reorientation. When we are future-oriented we are future-oriented in a more practical, less idealistic way. It's an uncertain orientation, but in many ways a more productive one.
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