Thursday, October 11, 2018

Scott Ferguson — The Shape of Law

Titled Declarations of Dependence: Money, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Care (University of Nebraska Press, July 2018) my recent book develops the insights of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) for critical theory and aesthetics. While the modern Liberal imagination treats money as a finite, private and decentralized exchange instrument that seems incapable of serving all, MMT’s state or “chartalist” approach to political economy insists that money is an inalienable public utility that can always be mobilized to meet social and ecological needs. In Declarations, I trace the historical repression of chartalist ideas to the rise of modern Western metaphysics through the negation of the medieval Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas. I uncover the impoverished social topology upon which both Liberal modernity and critical aesthetics have historically relied. Ultimately, I labor to redeem critical theory and aesthetics by recovering a more capacious social topology from the Thomist theology that modern Western philosophy supplanted.
Here, I would like extend this project by complicating the Westphalian model of sovereignty, which MMT’s state theory of money presumes. My contention is not that international finance, supply chains, and NGOs somehow render the modern-nation state powerless or passé, as theorists of globalization regularly claim. Rather, I contend that the metaphysical suppositions behind modern Westphalian sovereignty obscure globalization’s interdependent legal architecture, while simultaneously naturalizing a politics of irresponsibility. In response, I argue, MMT would do well to return to a Thomistic topology of law and politics, which figures law as the center of global interdependence and governance as unavoidably answerable to all worldly forms....
Unless one has the background to understand this —I studied Aquinas in some detail in grad school and am familiar with the works of many Thomists, such as Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson — one is likely to be lost. The issue can be simplified by distinguishing the great chain of being, of which Thomism was and is only one statement, and the universe according to natural science. As the modern age replaced the medieval age, the great chain of being came to be viewed not only as supernatural but also dogmatically based.

Modernity can be viewed as the attempt to replace a worldview based on the great chain of being with the scientific world view. This was initially mediated by deism, in which the laws of nature were viewed as the clockwork that the the "Creator" put in motion at the beginning and then left to itself. Eventually, that non-naturalistic assumption was also abandoned, leaving a purely mechanistic model that excluded the non-empirical from knowledge about reality. However, this invited relativism. Indeed, Modernism is now in the process being replaced by Post Modernism, and truth is in crisis.

The task that faces humanity now to avoid falling into a pit of relativism or ideological dogmatism is to recover balance by reconciling the great chain of being with the universe of natural science by showing how the later is a subset of the former rather than a replacement for it. In my view, this involves relating the great chain of being to perennial wisdom as the testimony and teachers of the wise extending into prehistory and found around the world. In order to serve in this capacity, perennial wisdom must be shown to be not only compatible with naturalism and also a necessary complement to it rather than presented as grounded exclusively in supernaturalism. Since perennial wisdom underlies all cultures, this would provide an anchored worldview for globalization.

The Shape of Law
Scott Ferguson | Associate Professor and co-director of the Film & New Media Studies Track in the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida., Research Scholar at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, and, co-founder of the Modern Money Network: Humanities Division

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