These major thinkers/fictional characters all had a major contradiction in their worldviews that undermined their view toward the way the world really works. How does one resolve the dilemma in each case?
1. Adam Smith
The Wealth of Nations is a canonical statement about laissez-faire capitalism and the political philosophy of liberalism in the late eighteenth century. It certainly complements John Locke's Second Treatise and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. Natural law theory is the undercurrent binding these interlocking world views. Smith propounded the view of homo oeconomicus. Man is the sovereign individual/unit in the political economy where the aggregate of all individuals, supposedly with each person rationally pursuing his naked self-interest, will advance the general good. An Invisible Hand regulates these mass of conflicting interests in the social and technical division of labor into a harmonious public good. The intrinsic moral precept argues that this scheme of things inevitably brings about the happiness and advancement of mankind. But the question is, how can individual selfishness provide a standard of sound political polity that is virtuous and democratic?
Hint: Of course, today, Smith is a forefather of supply side economics. The message is anti-state in that it disavows the welfare entitlements from the government as subverting the will to work of individuals. Taxation is theft. Legally (constitutionally), corporations of the Fortune 500 exemptions will stimulate production, leaving individual middle-class citizens the burden to pay taxes happily because they are fully employed and supposedly leading the good life, measured by income and wealth. If you are rich, then you have been virtuous, runs the argument. If you are poor, then you have been leading a life of sin. This theory of a "natural" elite made sense in the 18th century. Can we find these axiomatic statements of laissez-faire capitalism and the Invisible Hand empirically and normatively valid for today's life? So, the translation of a political philosophy must have a very different meaning from another era. This difference would not have been within Smith's capabilities to foresee.
2. John Locke
Locke believed that man had the capacity to be free through using the inductive/deductive method of the natural sciences applied to moral sciences, and man invariably by his calculations would come to the right decision. If man is so rational, why does he constantly wage war on his fellow man?
Hint: Science and morality have different methodologies for arriving at truth. Sciences produce laws, while morality produces judgments subject to man's free will and second-guessing; hence, man is unpredictable with all the stimuli that impinge upon his environment internally and externally and are not controllable as in a laboratory. Violence can be a means to a just end--Realpolitik and the just war demonstrate that precept of the human condition, particularly in the relations among nation-states.
Sophie in the movie Sophie's Choice survived the most horrible ordeal on earth in her experience at Auschwitz. Why did she self-destruct at the pinnacle of her success?
Hint: She had internalized the values of the commandant as being subhuman. Combin this sense with guilt over the death of her two children, she felt she had failed in her duty as a mother. The death instinct prevailed in that she could not find redemption through love or exercise the will to power to create a new life under an entirely new set of circumstances. She lived in the past because of her post-traumatic stress disorder. So, she was reliving past conflicts and her maladaptations to them in the concentration camp and applying them to New York City. She could not help but have an unhappy consciousness because she had internalized the values of being a bad mother and a Slav subhuman in a totally confined environment. She never unlearned her maladaptive behaviors. She was divided against herself because she had not therapeutically experienced a catharsis to purge her traumatic memories.
4. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson said that all men are created equal. Yet, he advocated the end of the trafficking in slavery, while justifying the institution. If you believe in the equality of all men universally as deduced from human laws, how can you keep people in bondage?
Hint: Jefferson had a racist view of blacks as not assimilable to the white population; hence, he thought, if freed, they would out of revenge initiate a barbarous, race war with genocidal implications for both races.
5. Karl Marx
If you are conditioned by your class, how do you rise above your determined status in society?
Hint: With increasingly severe crises in overproduction, the capitalist system will break down. A vanguard goes over to the class of the future. Marx had a messianic complex because he believed that he had the key to the future in his scientific socialism which predicted general trends in the epochs of history. He would be the Moses to lead his people to the promised land. It was no less than his historical duty.
6. Friedrich Engels
Engels was a wealthy industrialist who turned against his class and advocated the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Why does one bite the hand that feeds him? Too, he believed that history unfolded mechanistically. Yet, he and Marx played the role of great historical agents. How do you reconcile opposite premises about history's workings. How can you be an agent in a predetermined history?
Hint: In the theory of dialectical materialism, Engels believed man could engineer history. He believed that the bourgeoisie were an impediment to a socialist society, and to a higher ethical political economic social form of life whereby in the mode of production the exploitation of man by man would end. Hence, you could bring heaven to earth by destroying a class whose domination of the forces of production hindered the emancipation of the species. The workers by sheer force of numbers already unconsciously controlled the means of production. They simply had to be shown the blueprint to initiate the revolution to expropriate the appropriators. Crises in overproduction would lead to self-questioning of class position and uestioning of the equitable distribution of the collectively created wealth of a nation. In short, property is theft, especially at the heights of the economy.
7. Sigmund Freud
Freud believed that unconscious conflicts dictate our behavior unbeknownst to us. Yet, Freud through self-analysis overcame his own conflicts. How could he resolve his Oedipus complex without the help of a trained doctor who would help him in his "after-education" to overcome the infantile residues of his behavior? If he was damaged, how could he heal himself fully without the help of psychoanalysis, the field he subsequently developed after his own nervous breakdown went into remission? In other words, how do you cure yourself before there is the prescribed therapy available? Is it a non sequitur to determine the cure based on the recovery after the fact (post hoc), reversing cause and effect?
Hint: He used the inductive/deductive method of science to perform a self-analysis of his dreams and the parapraxes in his own behavior. From his self-observations in which he objectified himself with clinical detachment, he formulated hypotheses which he generalized from himself to the world at large.
8. Walt Whitman
Whitman expressed his homo-erotic instincts through his poetry. He rejected human contact. What validity can we give to a man who is psychosexually dysfunctional and lives surrogately by masturbating fantasies and poetry? Do the socially maladjusted at the genius level have special insights that the so-called normal people do not?
Hint: Whitman sublimated his sexual neuroses into great poetry; hence, he is remembered as a great poet and not as a "deviant."
9. Charles Darwin
If all species are doomed by nature to extinction, why does man struggle with nature with his instruments of science and technology to prolong life and civilization? There is a level of analysis problem concerning macro- and microbiological units, the individual and the species that create the preconditions for evolution and the subsequent by modification over time. There are synchronic and diachronic issues that are blind, random, and violently chaotic, yet lead to higher and more complex forms of life to civilization itself but without an intentional design by a conscious causal agency. Evolution is engineering by trial and error internal to the dynamics of its self-organizing principles and natural selection of the fittest, not any metaphysics where miracles occur.
Hint: Sexual selection, the drive of Eros, compels individual men who are fit to reproduce to form heterosexual unions. Too, man defines himself by his free will and the existential span of his lifetime, rather than that of a species which might last millions of generations and cannot even by grasped by the average mind in terms of his possibilities or philosophical/ethical implications. But even ideas are acknowledged to have an evolution--the field of memetics.
10. Mohandas Gandhi
We live in a world where might makes right. Gandhi said that the cities corrupt man. Yet a deindustrialized country cannot compete in the world marketplaces and will not have the surplus capital to have a research and development program for your military/industrial complex. Are morality and politics basically incompatible in this modern, interdependent world?
Hint: Science and religion are incompatible. The scientific/technical elite of a nation will shunt aside considerations of religious morality once there is an economic takeoff point. If that threshold is not reached, the country will stay backward and at the mercy of predatory states in the practice of Realpolitik, where religious values are considered worldviews of the meek to be exploited. Gandhi did not understand Hitler, Stalin, and Tojo. Moral people cannot convert profoundly evil people to do good because they have different ways of looking at the world.
11. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X
King believed there must be a broad alliance with all groups on the political spectrum to have an effective program of civil disobedience. If your alliance is too encompassing, you alienate black nationalists. If you include black nationalists, you alienate white moderates who have the money. What is to be done?
Hint: The broader an alliance the more compromises the leaders have to make, at the risk of the organization fragmenting into its constituent parts because the underlying principles that unify and inspire have been too diluted. A great leader must find an Archimedean point between extremes to be pragmatic, live to fight another day, until gradually you do overcome.
Malcolm X was a black nationalist who was the political antithesis of King. He was an exclusivist. He believed black suffering is unique. How could whites, then, empathize? If you try to set up a nation within a nation, you remove yourself from the power centers, which will then be less likely to respond to militant demands. If they do not respond, is revolutionary violence justifiable to attain your goals? Do the means subvert the end if violence becomes undertaken for its own sake instead of for substantive egalitarian goals. A commonly defined enemy in the white man tends to polarize politics. Malcolm X rejected hate politics in the last year of his life.
In the end, there is a choice between the legal and pragmatic political style of King and the ideological and violent style of Malcolm X.
12. Elie Wiesel
Wiesel suffered the loss of his family and neighbors during the Holocaust. His book, Night, is both a therapeutic accounting of his personal experiences and a memorial and testimony to the suffering of Jews during World War II. But how can a person's subjective views be held up as an objective mirror of a complex, empirical phenomenon, the Shoah?
Hint: In undergoing this personal pain, does he exhibit the sin of pride in laying claim to the historical exceptionalism of the Jews in still surviving as a collective entity? As he is Jewish, does he presume too much in claiming he is speaking to the ages and refuting the existence of God? Can we truly explain genocide scientifically? Or at best should we attempt to understand the connection between racism and the will to power to eliminate whole categories of people. I think Wiesel's claims to truthfulness apply strongly to himself as he is a direct participant/victim of the Holocaust, while being the protagonist of his own novel. The understanding of the Holocaust by a witness must be conducted by independent researchers. You as an individual can never wholly encompass a complex sociopolitical phenomenon with "all the facts," because they exist largely outside your singular life.