Group blog

« Kafkaesque | Main | Agamben and essentialism »



john c. halasz

Actually, I suspect that "The Earliest System Program", reinterpreted in a reactionary direction that stripped it of its original "progressive" intent, was part of what was behind Heidegger's public commitment in support of the Nazis. (At any rate, IIRC, he began to lecture on Schelling in 1935, just as his initial enthusiasm was waning.) I'd be skeptical of any attempt to suborn politics to a systematic rationality. Politics is, after all, an arena of conflict between incommensurable values, "within", as well as, between different positions. And it's aestheticiztion is, aside from hopelessly and incoherently appealing at once to something distanced and private, a consumation devoutly not to be wished, as a "harmonization" of conflicts through their integration into a totality. (That was precisely a considerable dimension of fascist ideology and technique). And, needless to say, an appeal to "mythology" is already rife in the irrationality of politics. In one sense, myth and history are alike in that they both involve dealing with basic needs and their practical exigencies when the boundaries between the known and unknown are themselves unknown. (In that sense, the philosophy of history was always rather mistaken, as an effort to subordinate once again practical reason to the traditional supremacy of theoretical reason). On the other hand, it's the rational limits of history that is supposed to provide the leverage for criticism the persistence of ideologically distorted norms and values. And the eschatological/Messianic perspective that you might appeal to is precisely anti-mythological, eh? Indeed, the point of traditional Messianicism was that it could only be anticipated, but never controlled, let alone brought willfully to fruition. Which accords with the historical contingency of political outcomes, which can neither be entirely predicted, nor rendered wholely irrevocable. And, needless to say, I wouldn't appeal to the "rule of law, not men" to provide some sort of guarantee of the rightness or integrity of outcomes, since, while that makes sense in that law publically constitutes and regulates power and its distribution, rather than relying on essentially personal and private relations to effect the collective "will", precisely insofar as it is effective in doing so, it becomes an object of political contention and part of the "game". ( And, needless to say, law can be a means of oppression or the securement and manipulation of dominant interest, as well as, a protector of "rights" within the regulation of social conflicts. Is it too cynical to regard law mainly as a codification of extant relations of power and property, whose relation to "justice' is sheerly adventitious?) I think Marx got the older Hegel a bit wrong when he proposed that a socio-economic revolution would overcome the real alienation behind the false political reconciliations of "idealism". Politics is pre-eminently and constitutively the realm of alienation, of passing over into otherness, and none of its historical conjunctures and their quasi-rational belonging-together of its "issues" can make it "whole". And I think Rorty has it a bit right when he points out the secondariness of "principles" against their own principle, and hence the relative ineffectiveness of the theorization of politics, (which, especially in the form of economic theory, is itself a large part of the ideological and administrative gloss on our decaying technocratic regime). But, "unprincipled" pragmatism, which amounts to muddling on through as we must, provides no criteria for sorting and assessing the conflicts, struggles, resistances, and legitimations that would be involved in a "progressive" pursuit of political "justice". In the end, with respect to the U.S.A., I think change, for better or worse, is coming soon, not through any organized political program or movement, but through pending economic decline and stagflation involved in the required adjustments to a lowered standard of living and the deflation of our overextended financial sector. It's hard to predict how such fraught pain would play-out politically in the balance between reactionary and irrational and "progressive" and "rational" tendencies among the population. But one could hope that such "necessary" social pain might lead to a less imperialistic, chastened and more realistic country.

Adam Thurschwell

John, I agree with pretty much everything you say, although I'd certainly hesitate to attribute Heidegger's involvement with Naziism to the "1st Systematic Program" without a great deal more evidence . . . . In particular, I don't think politics can or should be subordinated to any particular brand of rationality -- the 20th Century experiments with that have, to date, proved pretty much dismal, world-destructive failures. (There are obviously those who would argue that the book is still out on the subordination of politics to the rationality of the market, but I'm not one of those . . . .) My point (about Rorty and neo-pragmatism) is that the recognition that politics can't and shouldn't be "subordinated" to reason isn't enough; the irrationalist ("mythological") alternative is simply the mirror-image of that subordination and doesn't work any better (to say the least). What's needed (IMHO) is a reasonable defense of a politics that's grounded on something that has the motivational resources (in a non-empirical sense of that term, if that makes any sense) of myth, but which is not myth -- something that (I think) would be closest to a "rational religion," emphasizing the distance implied by "closest to" and the inadequacy of both the terms "rational" and "religion." In other words, my citation of the "1st Systematic Program" was intended to illustrate a current lack, not propose a current solution.

john c. halasz

As to Heidegger's ever disturbing foray into politics, I didn't mean to suggest that the "System" fragment was the sole or main factor, though I'd guess he'd read it,- (it was probably first published during the Hegel revival at the beginning of the century with Hegel's youthful writings),- and he was certainly familiar with the Tuebingen gang, and pre-occupied with German idealism, even if in Hegel's case in reaction or rebellion against him. Whatever Heidegger thought he saw in his self-seduction and self-delusion into Nazism,- and obviously he had to overlook a great deal-, the idea of a popular religion which would cloak ideas in exoteric mythic form to gain the alliegance of the people to them and bring about a philosophical-revolutionary renewal of the nation is suggestive.

I'm not a big Rorty fan, though it seems to me that something of his basic arguments are right, if recycled from elsewhere and unoriginal. He does seem to give off an air of complacency and lack of exigency though. Perhaps Habermas' old diagnosis of a continuing residue of naturalistic scientism deriving from Analytic philosophy is not without merit. His effort to estrange and "shock" readers out of the "usual" assumptions have struck me as often vague and a bit banal. (I've wondered whether declaring himself an acolyte of Hubert H. Humphrey was just such an effort.} And translating the lack of foundational "necessity" into the merely optional tends to miss the connections involved, as if they still boiled down or referred to any individual or collective "self" of pragmatic concern. I think that Rorty tends to be a bit tone-deaf toward his own re-cycled "continental" sources. The easiest example is his discussion of "hermeneutics" as mere conversation, as if we have all this useless junk left over and we might as well just talk about it. Gadamer, by contrast, delineates the hermeneutic in terms of the conjuncture between "effective history" and human finitude, and thus provides an account of the need, even the "necessity", of such interpretation. And the left-over junk is not just superannuated error, but also a source of unsurpassable insights that can't quite be found elsewhere. Wittgenstein, whose critical dissolution of epistemology Rorty largely recycles in an Analytic framework that largely missed the "message" to begin with, even as it claimed him as their own, was intensely concerned with how philosophical errors were arrived at in the first place, and didn't consider them as quite dispensible, but rather emphasized them, as mistaken apprehensions of our "true" needs. "Don't scratch where it doesn't itch" is hardly a Wittgensteinian slogan, but rather Wittgenstein was intensely concerned with the mismatch between itchie and scratchie and why it misleadingly occurs, not with the non-existence of itchie and scratchie. Rorty was certainly right about the disunity, even fragmentation of "reason", and that it is not exactly the vocation of politics, whose relation to rationality is fraught and complicated anyhow, to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But he seems to miss not only the sociological realism about the "advanced" structural-functional differentiation of late modern or "post-modern" societies, and the difficulties of political organization that involves, together with the strange temptations of "force and fraud" that "solve" such problems, but the recurrent conjunctures of fragmented "reason" with political issues and "identities", which appeals to "pragmatism" can't resolve.

But aren't you just appealing to that old dream of a civic religion, going back behind the "System" fragment to Rousseau and who knows how much further back? If by "rational religion", somehow beyond empirical motivation, you're referring to Levinas' account, that's so fraught and pressed to the extremity of ambiguity, as to be not publicly articulable. And it does little to resolve the diversity of knowledges and identities. The Constitution, whatever its anachronisms and defects, has been torn to tatters, and the political and media system has been so monetized and corrupted as to be virtually beyond repair. Though that didn't just begin in 2001, even if it became more brazen and intensified. I tend to think that we're dealing with the hang-over and over-hang of the Cold War, with all the "forces" concealed or wrapped into it, and the ruling elites are doing to "us" what they did so disasterously to the Russians, with potentially comparable results. Appeals to populism, Enlightenment fundamentalism, civic-public virtue, or religious righteousness are rhetorics all equally ungrounded in the quick-sand of reality, and it's doubtful that there's any technical rationality that could make up the deficit. The lack is not one of "vision", but of the denied and occluded "depths" of reality.

It's Betty Davis time!

Adam Thurschwell

John, thanks again for this extremely thoughtful comment. In fact I am (or should say, would like to be eventually, in some form that remains true to its essence) "referring to Levinas' account," despite, or in a sense precisely because of, the fact that it's not "publicly articulable." I am not in favor of any "civic religions" of the Rousseauian or other variety; rather, I read the virtual disappearance of such "religions" (both civic and traditionally "religous") in anything but parodistic or "empty shell" forms as a symptom and indication of the fundamental malaise at "the denied and occluded 'depths' of [our current political] reality." Taking a clue from this reality and its history, my sense is that the Derridian/Levinasian (and, I think, more obscurely but equally importantly, Blanchotian) discourse of "religion without religion" is our current best hope for talking about not just the problem (which I read your comment, for example, as providing a good diagnosis of -- sorry for my convoluted sentences and dangling prepositions!), but also for beginning to talk about how we climb out of these "depths" -- which I would be the first to say is an extremely difficult (to say the least) proposition. No matter how difficult, however, since we're in them, and since they suck (not to mention threatening to end the world through technologically-driven global warming, ethnic-religiously driven nuclear terror, etc.), we might as well try to figure out a way out while there's time. My problem with Rorty is that it seems to me that he (to use your words) "denies" the "depths" of the problem, which accounts for the superficiality of his own solutions.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)