Sunday, September 4, 2011

Formalism and Legalism and Post-Modernism

Niel Clements, "Built. Lacking " (2009)

Speaking of the Rectification of Names -- which I do from time to time -- and the continuing redefinition of the most basic terms to suit whatever political agenda one (or one's group) may have, I should say something about Formalism and Legalism, both of which seem to be heavily relied on in our Post-Modern political systems as rationales for belief, foundations for ideologies, and excuses for both action and inaction.

Formalism is more of an arts reform movement than a political philosophy, but its basic tenets are just as appropriate to politics as to the arts. The main idea of Formalism is that the form (or structure) of the work is more important than the content. A variation asserts that the process is more important than the product -- or outcome.

Legalism is a doctrine found in theology and Chinese political philosophy that asserts that law and the rule of law are the fundamental factors in salvation and the proper governance of the state.

These are very simple concepts that somehow I thought everybody knew and understood -- regardless of the origins of the terms -- and apparently I was wrong. Not for the first time, either.

Another term I throw in the mix a lot is "Post-Modern" because I see it as the current social and political fashion.

Post-Modernism -- as I use the term -- refers to the tendency to regard all reality as relative and subject to interpretation according to political ideology and/or agenda. This should make both Formalism and Legalism near ideological impossibilities, because there is no "truth," thus there is no "law," and all "form" and "process" are nothing but interpretations of actions and outcomes that are subject to dispute. And yet time and again, Formalism and Legalism are at the foundations of Post-Modern descriptions and interpretations of events and results.

Both Formalism and Legalism are vital parts of the Post-Modern world-view because they can be subjected to infinite interpretations based entirely on one's own perspective -- political, religious, or what have you.

If you believe that what you do is not as important as how you do it, or that the product of action matters less than the action itself, you are living a deeply Post-Modern version of "what matters most."

If you believe that the Law and the Rule of Law (that is, the observance of Law regardless of its content) is more important than justice, or that the enactment and observance of Law is by definition justice, and that you personally (or someone) have the power and authority to interpret Law to produce Justice, you are living a deeply Post-Modern version of "rule by the scholars."

With neither facts nor truth but only form/structure and rule/process by which to understand society and politics, one is left flailing for substance and sanity, because there isn't any in the Post-Modern Formalist and Legalist world view. One frets continually over the least important matters, one argues endlessly over the meaning of "meaning," and one is paralyzed by indifference, since nothing actually matters in any case.

One constantly seeks heroes to correct the perceived imbalances, to restore proper governance, to adhere to the imprecise and incomprehensible rules of the Law and the Prophets, to interpret for the rest of us what is and what should be, to define and dispense justice, and of course to reveal the Face of God.

And when no heroes are forthcoming, one despairs, one rages, and in a frenzy of anger, one continually repeats one's actions in the hopes of one day producing the results one seeks, heroes and all.

It doesn't work. It doesn't work any more than Chicago School Economics work to produce "something better" -- unless you accept the notion that everything is abstraction, nothing is real, and "better" is simply relative to someone else's "worse."

We live in those interesting times we were warned about.

No comments:

Post a Comment