Frank Furedi has an outstanding Arendtian piece up at Spiked:
Unlike ‘science’, this new term - ‘The Science’ - is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission.
The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.
The authority of science is a funny thing, because authority is that which is conformed to without, and not because of, the exercise of power. Science is knowledge; or a certain privileged type of knowledge is the product of which science is the method. Fashionable in the philosophy of social science today is the notion that ontologically speaking one duality describes all there is: call it identity/agency or knowledge/power. The substrate of the material universe is given the status of 'brute facts', arrangements of particles with no meaning until we give it meaning. We give meaning, we are told, by socially constructing it, and social construction, we are told, is nothing but the product of intersubjective power relations. Identity/knowledge is thus the product of agency/power. Without agency/power, you cannot have an identity/knowledge. The authority of science derives from its power.
But this inverts the ideal type of authority, in which power is subsidiary. The classic example is religion, or certain types of religion, in which the commandments of God are to be conformed to not because of what God does but because of what God is. The is-ness of God -- the identity of God -- supervenes over the does-ness, the agency, of God. Complicating matters is that part of the proof of the is-ness of God, as told in Job's story, is the does-ness of God; in other words, God stands in a power relationship with regard to the universe, but an authority relationship with regard to human beings. God repeatedly declines to strike us dead when we're lying. But thou shalt not bear false witness.
The problem of the lie is central here. The identity, the is-ness, upon which authority is predicated receives the scientific appellation 'subjectivity'. Along the model of social science I have mentioned (and in significant part actually endorse), subjectivity is not a brute fact. The production of meaning that results from intersubjective power relations affords some humans 'more' identity than others. Identity is contingent on power. Along the model of religion I have mentioned (and also endorse), the subjective identity of human beings is a brute fact. In that way, the agency of God does frame the identity of God with regard to the divine relation to humanity. The soul, which (at least initially) confers each person with their subjective identity, is a creation of God. But one of the capabilities -- perhaps the central capability -- with which the soul has been bestowed is the power to ignore or disobey divine commandments. The divine relationship of power over human beings is, by design, supervened by the divine relationship of authority over them.
We must not lie, but we can and do. Our power over the word may supervene over the authority of the word; as agents in power we may do violence to the truth, even while as subjects in authority we must not. I took the time to talk theology in order to now point out that this paradox about the lie reveals how and why our mutual reliance on the authority of our words is so important to cultural, social, and -- as Arendt insisted -- political order. The 'tyranny of science' that Furedi describes is a tyranny of power, in which the only knowledge treated as real is the knowledge of power. Identity is completely contingent on agency. The science of agency rules. Furedi reveals clearly the fundamental opposition of this tyranny to the just rule of authority:
As Thomas Henry Huxley once declared: ‘The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such.’ ‘[S]cepticism is the highest of duties’, said Huxley; ‘blind faith the unpardonable sin’. That is why Britain’s oldest and most respectable scientific institution, the Royal Society, was founded on the motto: ‘On the word of no one.’ The message conveyed in this motto is clear: knowledge about the material world should be based on evidence rather than authority.
Arendt teaches us that a world in which the authority of the word is not to be trusted on anyone's lips is a world in which citizens are forcefully deprived of the power to tell truths. This is a profound political danger, a danger to politics itself. Power, in this fashion, is removed from politics and arrogated to science. For reasons like this Weber tried to insist that politics and science be kept rigorously and vigilantly separate, even to the point of segregating 'values' from 'facts'. But Furedi takes us further than Arendt:
The critical spirit embodied in that motto is frequently violated today by the growing tendency to treat science as a belief that provides an unquestionable account of the Truth. Indeed, it is striking that the Royal Society recently dropped the phrase ‘On the word of no one’ from its website, while its former president, Lord May, prefers to use the motto ‘Respect the facts’ these days (see The Royal Society’s motto-morphosis, by Ben Pile and Stuart Blackman).
As it happens we have this strangely unquenchable desire to revert to authority. Some might say this only proves Weber's other big contention that all authority is simply a power relationship, either viscerally immediate or charismatically institutionalized. But by collapsing the difference between authority and power, Weber made it too difficult to maintain the difference between 'value' and 'fact'. Furedi points us to the striking way in which the re-admixture of fact and value on terms of power explicitly hostile to pre-scientific (religious) authority winds up leading us in somewhat tortured fashion back to our longing to stand in a relationship of order defined not by power/agency but authority/identity. But the reason why this would be a bad thing is because it remains confused on the subject of whether authority supervenes on power or the other way around. And therapies of 'deep commitment' to both 'science' and 'respect' are designed to cope pragmatically with the repressed pain of contradiction fostered by that confusion and the things we do within it. As I've suggested before, the whole concept of 'deep commitment' is designed to simulate authority -- create merely the experiential sense of it -- from within a frame in which power supervenes on all. 'Values' become the lies we tell ourselves about 'facts', and 'facts' the lies other people tell us about their 'values'.
This chaotic contradiction will not do. Phony authority must be pulled back out of science, and the power of science must not usurp the authority of subjective identity. Though Weber deprived himself of the best -- and, I think, necessary -- tool to accomplish this delicate but fundamental peace, his hope to do so was virtuous, and his attempt to do so crucial. Understanding why, and why it fails, is an essential project for political philosophy on which Furedi helps us gain fresh traction.