A Reply to the Reply
by Gregory Elliott and Peter Osborne
In ‘Active Citizenship as Political Obligation’ (RP 58) I argue
that it is in principle as legitimate for us to be required to perform
‘community service’ as it is for us to be subjected to compulsory
taxation. Here I turn Robert Nozick’s argument against
redistributive taxation on its head into an argument for ‘compulsory good samaritanism’. (For further discussion, see my ‘Flew
on Russell on Nozick’ in Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 7,
No. 1, 1990.) Except to label the thinking ‘authoritarian’ and
‘despotic’ Elliot and Osborne in ‘Community as Compulsion’
offer no criticism of a recognizably philosophical sort.
I argue further that state-distributed welfare services, funded
by taxation, exhibit a form of alienation represented in the fact
that the same people complain both about the deficiencies of state
provision and about their excessive tax bills.
In part, then, my argument for universal community work is
aimed at generating in a practical, face-to-face material way, a
direct and appreciable connection between social input and output, hence an appreciation of the take-and-give that is constitutive of social life at a wider as well as the private domestic level.
In this sense my concern is with ‘political morality’ both for itself
and for its consequences in improving conditions of life for
present and future generations. It is no part of this argument to
advocate the replacement of the ‘welfare state’. Indeed, if I am
right, societies in which my proposals were enacted would be
more aware of its necessity. Nor, since the article merely develops the argument of ‘Welfare State or Welfare Society’ (Journal
of Applied Philosophy, 1985, where my two critics will find
enough historical contextualization to keep them occupied) is it
just a reaction to Douglas Hurd’ s talk of ‘active citizenship’.
Elliot and Osborne accuse me, in effect, of utopian idealismmuch as the early Marx attacked advocates of such things as
‘equal political rights’ or religious liberty for Jews. They accuse
me of imagining that ‘political de-alienation’ could offer a ‘solution’ to the basic ‘antagonisms’ and ‘deprivations’ inherent in
capitalism. In consequence my ‘universal active citizenship’
would function only as an ‘accessory’, masking such basics.
Though they defend the welfare status quo, hence ‘ the powers
that be’, they accuse me too of imagining that these same ‘powers’ could implement my proposals in anything but an authoritarian and centralistic manner. No contradictions are allowed within,
or among state apparatuses. We are, then, back with a totally
unreconstructed ‘Marxist’ revolutionism, one not even sophisticated by notions of a ‘transitional programme’. It seems that
anything short of everything is worse than nothing.
Radical Philosophy 59, Autumn 1991
My article is predicated on the economically and culturally
sustained existence of an important and relatively coherent subset of practices and concerns describable in terms like ‘welfare’,
‘caring’, ‘environment’ which are not readily marketable
(privatizable) or thought of in market terms. The vocabulary of
‘needs’ and ‘obligations’ remains alive even after the ideological
onslaught of the Nozicks and Thatchers. Though he sees each
citizen in terms only of entitlement to receive, this is Marshall’s
Now only a madman would imagine that ‘universal active
citizenship’ as a component ofthis ‘sector’ could ‘solve society’S
problems’. But the practical experience in the welfare sector of
working for human need constitutes a potential model for infection of the ‘economy proper’. At the very least, it promises a more
critical and politically aware workforce.
Rather than tiresomely return tiresome jibes it might be better
to add a further emphasis to what is.in my article. At present the
bulk of caring work is done in private by women (I pass by their
predominance in nursing, social work and the teaching of children) – as mothers, wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, neighbours, child-minders, etc. Implicit in my proposal is not only the
recognition of such work as meriting support as ‘active citizenship’, but the lightening of that burden and its spread among
males as well as females. Thereby, perhaps, a major material base
of sexism in the gender division of labour would be weakened.
And with that might wane the heartless machismo of the hardnosed ‘real struggle’ Marxism represented in Elliot and Os borne ‘s