Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Christ and the General Will

April 03rd, 2015 by G.

What do people collectively want? It’s hard to say. Voting gives you one kind of answer, but voting isn’t nuanced. Voters can only say yes or no to ballot questions as phrased and as they understand them. It’s possible that with more explanation they might feel differently, or with even slightly different phrasing they choose the other option.   Or else they can only select between candidates. Different voting systems give different answers. Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem says that no voting system can ever perfectly capture voter intent. Polls are even more fallible.

That’s where the concept of the General Will comes in. What if someone knew the people well enough to have an intuitive, almost literary, sense of what they wanted? That’s why dictatorships claim to be democracies. They say they’re giving the nation what it really, collectively, wants.

The reason it’s hard to know what voters want is because it’s hard to know what a voter wants. Individuals are something like a collection of people over time. No man can step in the same river twice, the Greek said, because it’s never the same man. The mind is always engaged in editing memory to fit the needs of the present, which it wouldn’t need to do if we were really fully the same throughout, if we always had the same end in view.

I can’t be the only one who has had the experience of being dogmatically against something, for example, and then with the passage of time embracing it, without ever experiencing a transition moment. When friends remind me of my old position, I’m surprised. “Really? I said that?”

I am also not the only one who has had friends and relations know me better than I knew myself. Gifts I never imagined for myself, that they give me and I love. Games or entertainments or foods I insist I wouldn’t like, based on their description, and their knowing, chuckling (and, as it turns out, correct) insistence that I will like it once I try it.

The General Will concept was invented by that Swiss dog Rousseau and has been almost exclusively used for evil in this world. Humans are too fallible to make those kinds of fine intuitive judgments with any degree of reliability. Just as often as friends have rightly insisted that I’d like something that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t, friends have wrongly insisted that I’d like something that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t. But human fallibility extends to ourselves. We are not perfect interpreters of our own personal general will either.

The personal general will has some ties to the Easter season. Christ’s prayer—“not my will, but thine be done”—perfectly illustrates how we have different levels and kinds of will. At one level, Christ wanted to not drink the cup. At a different, deeper level, he did want it, because he wanted to do his Father’s will.

One way of reading Christ’s cry on the cross, when he said “My God, my God, why has thou abandoned me,” was that at that moment he was having second thoughts and questioning what he had already decided to do. But because his prior choices had irrevocably committed him, that momentary will was overridden.

Finally, one way of reading the atonement in Gethsemane is that Christ entered some kind of total communion with all the moments of each individual life. If so, He, better than we, would know our actual general will.

Comments (1)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , , , ,
April 03rd, 2015 07:16:01
1 comment

Lassie
April 4, 2015

I resent the comparison to Rousseau.

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