Deference, Degree and Selfhood 1
The world we lost, and now barely understand, was one where everyone knew her place, and her attendant duties. Civilized groups were the likeliest to insist on a diversity of rôle and rule. Primitive societies are ones where there are rather fewer such distinctions. Slaves and merchants offered a way of being outside the orders, and from the older point of view, the life of slaves and merchants is exactly what the ‘liberal’ ideal entails. No one can count on her connections; everything is up for sale; no one is dishonoured by the acts of friends or family; only animal passions keep us all together. Even in societies that profess egalitarian theories, castes and classes re-emerge. If there is another option it may lie in drawing, as the ancients did, a clear division between selfhood and nature: even in a traditionally hierarchical society it is possible to recall the mere selves that play their various parts. In a would-be egalitarian society that hopes for something more than the hedonic or agonistic bonds that may bind small-scale communities together, recalling, and reconstructing, that distinction may be even more important.
1 This paper is intended as a prolegomenon to a larger study of NeoPlatonist ethics. I am grateful for the Leverhulme Trust's support for this project.