This is a chapter from the book:
Psychology of the Private Individual

Chapter 5: Bourgeois spheres of life from the viewpoint of the righteous person

An individual who, with the consciousness of his freedom, arrives at the ideal of righteousness allows himself a quid pro quo in the carrying out of all his dealings that is really something. His attitude toward social relations, his readiness to conform, makes him see the bourgeois world as one set up precisely for him as an individual human being. It accommodates him with its rights and concessions, with its dictates and offers, it actually only organizes everything he feels as needs, duties and inclinations.

The expedient arrangement of the world already becomes clear to the moral subject in the division of the spheres of life:

  • Political rule, carried out as democracy, creates order while at the same time granting him — alongside “indispensable” restrictions — freedom of opinion, the sovereignty of the subjugated person, whom nothing ever suits when he goes along with things; who goes along with everything of his own accord and enjoys this — so much so that he remakes his assent to state force into the fairy tale that force is not a political means and he lives free from force.
  • Competition, the way the citizen’s working life, his work, is organized, is not considered to be a comparison made with him and against him. For him, it is the fulfillment of his need for fairness that is his due. He is extremely conversant with the lie that an individual’s performance determines his income, his share of wealth, and his social position overall. He is equally conversant with the wish, expressed in the pose of protest, that this is how it really should be. He just insists on holding his own in the comparison with others.
  • Finally, private life is regarded by a citizen — despite the detailed regulations imposed on it by the state — as the sphere of life where he can do whatever he likes without interference from annoying authorities and other people, his sole purpose being to please himself.

Thus the bourgeois subject, in agreement with the dictates and restrictions that oppose his interests, by no means submits to the force and obstacles he continually encounters out of “insight into his powerlessness,” gnashing his teeth. What he does, even and particularly if he belongs to the majority who fail miserably, is something quite different. A citizen idealizes the harsh conditions for success as the means of success — and the complaint that these conditions do not correspond to his ideal circulates as criticism. In each sphere of life, critical people discover the imperfect realization of principles they think should be valid — and they especially like to try improving one sphere by transferring the ideals of another to it. Their conclusion: things are not quite all right yet, but…

5.1. The democrat’s servile spirit:[*] Self-confident championing of prevailing conditions

Bourgeois society can come up with an amazing achievement: the exploited and ruled majority are of the free opinion that they are getting a good deal. The democratic servile consciousness justifies ones own willingness to submit more or less continually, and particularly when others show certain signs of rebelling, with the “argument” that it wouldn’t work any other way. On those occasions when an objection to a very precisely defined phenomenon of political life, conditions at work, etc., is made, a decent citizen feels challenged to defend the bourgeois system lock, stock and barrel. For this much he does realize: the criticism attacks his way of making himself useful — which is why he swears on the spot that he can’t imagine things any other way. Somebody has got to govern, and if there were no rules everything would go haywire, not just traffic; if there were no wage incentives no one would lift a finger, and without anybody somehow in charge no one could get his act together, other people especially would let it all hang out — and nobody wants that, least of all me… As for communism, it might be a nice idea but unfortunately unworkable. A decent citizen, a dogged freedom fighter to the end, would never put up with anything like what you saw over there in the former Soviet Union and its allies!

5.2. The citizen as Mr. Clean

Just because the individual has freely decided to assign his materialism a backseat to his idealism doesn’t mean it has to be pursued in the shadows. For the transfiguration of state, competition and private life into the most expedient institutions for seeing to it that everyone, oneself included, can show off their abilities and their decency to advantage leaves enough room for announcing one’s own interests. However, these interests do not make their appearance simply as such; they are presented precisely as befits honorable things of long standing in the world. The classical form of hypocrisy, making one’s demands in the name of prevailing and accepted rules, is applied in a multitude of ideologies, which are easy for anyone to appreciate and reject as “constructive criticism“ and “a useful contribution.” Any dismay about one’s own situation, just as any discontent with other people’s real or imaginary advantages, is recast as concern about the functioning of an institution, a moral custom or social life as a whole. Any disagreeable phenomenon of competition is turned into a crisis, and the state’s dealings with citizens into a matter of life and death for values that are fairly sacred to us all. Bourgeois journalism leads the way here, because it specializes in the most recent cases for lamenting the erosion and undermining of law and the family, currency and democracy, old-age pensions and public opinion, etc., etc. — all in the name of the citizens, of course, who eagerly learn that this is the only permissible way to get grievances off their chests. This yields the much-praised climate of tolerance, in which the moth-eaten class struggle and its “mindset” withdraw. Alongside the naked materialism of envy, there are therefore also subtler forms used by a bourgeois subject to go after his peers, but never after those who actually land him in the soup with the reason for his righteous concerns. Everyone is a little guardian of public morals, who laments the decay of at least nine principles of occidental civilization per day — and is also proficient at putting this grievance into action in the form of slander and the like.

How pointless it would be to question these shining examples of abstract free will about what good this does them

5.3. Criticizing one sphere with the ideals of another

Someone who considers bourgeois conditions to be the institutionalized form of his most sovereign human nature also finds in them the standards for criticism when, in spite of everything, he is displeased at times with quite a bit. As a fanatic of democracy and its forms of intercourse — whose substance and purpose, effective rule, is totally irrelevant — he comes up with all the democratic ideals when he thinks he has discovered something amiss outside the world of politics. In the sphere of competition, i.e., at work, one is ignored and never has any say since others call the shots unilaterally; in private life there is genuine discussion with everyone voicing an opinion on an equal footing and even full recognition of women and children — so much for “making changes” these days. But then too, the harshness of competition also works as an idealized principle. As soon as such a critical citizen discovers how comfortably political party careers advance in comparison to getting ahead on the assembly line, he gets to thinking — and demands a proper selection process in politics for political pros. And in private life, many a bad decision can be noted among one’s own and the opposite sex if one applies the criterion of comparative performance: “She’s dating him,” that loser…? But the nicest thing of all is to apply maxims of private life, which of course are construed as terribly humane in utter opposition to nasty politics and to the work/business life where everyone has to assert himself, to the other branches of bourgeois society: there needs to be more leniency and you-know-what-I-mean in politics, lots and lots of solidarity in the working world and above all more humane workplaces. It’s so easy to scale the heights in borrowing ideals with this to and fro: the separation — so goes the argument — between private life, career and politics hinders humaneness; the humane motto: in all circumstances be responsible, always a good citizen!


[*] Ger: “Knechtsbewußtsein.” cf. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, where it is often translated as “consciousness of the bondsman.”