This book, the culmination of Benardete's masterful translation of what Jacob Klein was...moreReview:
Plato's most disturbing political dialogue
This book, the culmination of Benardete's masterful translation of what Jacob Klein was pleased to call `Plato's Trilogy,' includes not only a translation of `The Statesman' but also a superb commentary with notes. (Benardete, btw, is something of a rarity these days, a `non-political' student of Leo Strauss.' This `trilogy' (as Klein would say) in question consists of 3 dialogues; Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman. But, as Benardete points out, the Sophist and Statesman belong together as a pair. The singular appearance of the Eleatic Stranger - some translate `Stranger' as Visitor - and the near silence of our Socrates, the inability (or unwillingness) of Plato to give us a third dialogue (as seemingly `promised' at 217a) called `The Philosopher,' all this points to the unique pairing of Sophist and Statesman. Benardete also points out that these 2 dialogues are the only ones with specific and "explicit allusions" to each other.
In turning away from the Sophist and turning towards the Statesman we are leaving the rarefied heights (and obscure depths) of theory, and its imitators, for the `lowly' everyday world of political/social life. Indeed this `turn' can perhaps be said to be foreshadowed in the Sophist (at 247e) when the Stranger makes a remarkably `Nietzschean' definition, "I'm proposing, in short, a definition (boundary mark): `The things which are' are not anything but power." Being as Power! Plato is not Nietzsche, however. Plato always hedges. The `proposal' is perhaps only made to convince some so-called `improved' materialists to leave their `artless' materialism. But later, when speaking to some `friends of the forms,' who are `idealists' like Socrates, the logic of this dialectic forces the Stranger (249a) to say, "But, by Zeus, what of this? Shall we easily be persuaded that motion and life and soul and intelligence are truly not present to that which perfectly is, and its not even living, not even thinking, but august and pure, without mind, it stands motionless." Thus materialists and Idealists are `forced' to concede that being is the ability to affect and be affected.
Later, at 249c-d, the Stranger will speak of this arrangement in such a manner that it reminds us of compromise between two warring parties. But compromise, and the seeming impossibility of enduring compromise, brings us towards the very heart of the Statesman. Socrates is going to die. (It is tragically fitting, perhaps almost necessary, that Benardete ends the final installment of his commentary on the Triptych Theaetetus/Sophist/Statesman with the words "Socrates is about to go on trial.") Death, the threat of death, hovers above these pages as it does around political life. "The Statesman is more profound than the Sophist" Benardete (p III.142) correctly reminds us. It is profound for several reasons. Benardete brings at this point to our attention just one: "Virtue consists in the strife of the beautiful with the beautiful." The metaphor/image/standard for morality in the Sophist - health - is replaced in the Statesman by beauty. ...Perhaps it is true that `we have beauty so we don't die of the truth' as Nietzsche somewhere remarked. But he fails to mention that we now die of beauty instead of truth.
The two types of beauty that are at war are courage and moderation. "Dialectics, it seems, is the practice of resolving the strife between moderation and courage." Benardete, I think correctly, indicates there is, and can be, no final reconciliation between them. Indeed, it seems there is no natural mean between them. "Nature might herself be neutral, but her apparitions are always skewed and cluster around either one of two partial kinds." Men and women are emblematic images of courage and moderation, the ever-present reminder that they can never simply be the same.
But the City can, in theory, also be either moderate or courageous. A city of the first sort, "moved by the spirit of accommodation, such a city ends up enslaved, its unwilled and inadvertent cowardice hardly separable from its stupidity." A city of the second type, "in contrast, looks at every other city as its enemy. Its' insight is too keen. The otherness of the stranger [foreigner] is for it so absolute that it must be constantly engaged in war, until it brings upon itself either its enslavement or destruction." This last, the beautiful error of courage, could only not be an error if the courageous city never lost. "The Stranger disregards the possibility that such a city might never fail and thus achieve a universal empire." But this is the beautiful modern dream of Kojeve and his universal homogenous state; it is not the dream of the Stranger or, I think, Benardete and Plato.
Not that a universal state is, for Benardete at least, impossible. "But apart from the difficulty that it [the courageous city] would then be forced to turn against itself if it were not to give up its own nature, the myth [of the Reversed Cosmos, 268e] has taught us that God alone is capable of universal rule, and even he is periodically forced to abandon control. Excessive moderation then, is more a danger to the city than the hubris of courage. The nature of things is more disposed to check the tyranny of a part over the whole than the enslavement of a part to a part. We perhaps might believe that the Stranger in this regard is a shade too hopeful." It seems that while Benardete thinks the Universal State, ala Kojeve, is technically possible, it would be a calamity. It would not be entirely an exaggeration if we were to observe that the major difference between `non-political' or philosophical Straussians and those Straussians actively involved in politics is that the latter no longer believe that the Universal State is necessarily a calamity.
Be that as it may, Benardete points out that while the city executes, exiles or disgraces those courageous natures that oppose it, the moderate it merely enslaves. This only seems, btw, to contradict what Benardete said earlier about moderation being a greater danger. The greater danger to the city qua city is moderation; the most dangerous individuals, however, are always courageous. "The city cannot afford excessive courage; it cannot dispense with excessive moderation." But the binding of "moderation and courage, which the paradigm of weaving [279e] implies, cannot be accomplished politically."
Indeed, we turn from the political to the biological and psychological. Intermarriage (of the moderate and courageous) and education (for common opinion) replace (or augment) pure politics, as the proper form of the paradigm of weaving. "The Stranger's solutuion, then, really amounts to this: the true King assigns the members of courageous families to the city's army, and the members of moderate families to its lawcourts." Benardete doesn't here mention it but in this manner the City itself, the institutions of the city itself, are forced to mimic the Guardians we meet in the Republic; they are fierce to enemies but gentle towards friends. Benardete then observes that "the Stranger does not even hint at which families are to supply the rhetoricians of the city." Or which family supplies the weavers or true Kings.
Benardete fills the penultimate paragraph with observations on how it is very difficult to get the members of the different families (courageous and moderate) to love each other. One can convince them that the `mixed' marriages are best but one cannot make a married couple into lover and beloved by education alone. "Insofar as Eros is love of the beautiful, and not identical with sexual desire, these most suitable marriages are against the grain of Eros." Each `family' sees itself only as beautiful. But the city requires that each family marry its non-beautiful other. "And, likewise, since the divine bond of the city consists of opinions about the beautiful, just and good, which are for the wise statesman nothing but prescriptions for the health of the city, the city through the law incorporates in its ruling families as little satisfaction of the requirements of pure mind as of the needs of Eros." Thus the laws of the city satisfy neither the mind nor the eros of citizens. ...But the city is healthy; and the citizens bodies are protected and sated.
"The law, said the Stranger, is like a stupid and willful human being. We now know what this means. The law combines the vice of moderation with the vice of courage and thus passes itself off as the perfect weaving into the web of justice of the beautiful with the beautiful. But the true synergy of mind and Eros in soul was the impure dialectics of Socrates, and Socrates is about to go on trial." By `impure' dialectics Benardete means a dialectic that is a mixture of moderation and courage. The philosopher Socrates is about to die so the city can live. The city, or, if you prefer, its laws, are an inverted philosopher. The city and its laws are stupid and willful, while the philosopher is both moderate and courageous. ...In any city Socrates would die.(less)
Brilliant, especially the discussion of the 'City of the Pagans'. I love his discussion of Roman Religion, riffing as it does on the earlier...moreComments:
Brilliant, especially the discussion of the 'City of the Pagans'. I love his discussion of Roman Religion, riffing as it does on the earlier work of Varro and his 'esoteric' division of religion into the civil (political), natural and mythical. Also, his seeing the neoplatonic philosophers as precursors to Christianity was very sharp. Look here for a sober assessment of Nietzsche's contention that 'Christianity is a Platonism for the People'.(less)
The honesty and realism of Orwell never ceases to amaze. He opens 'Shooting an Elephant', the first story in this co...moreReview:
Homage to Orwell
The honesty and realism of Orwell never ceases to amaze. He opens 'Shooting an Elephant', the first story in this collection, by telling us that he was hated by many people. He will spend the rest of the essay showing us why. The pointless death of an animal no longer harmful becomes the legal murder we witness in 'A Hanging'. In both cases we see people becoming their jobs, counting doing one's duty more important than being human.
He sees "the dirty work of Empire at close quarters" and knows that " imperialism is an evil thing" but continues to do his duty as both imperialist and colonist would see it. The amazing thing is that he is not alone in this. In "A Hanging" the hangman is a convict and after the deed is done we see both Europeans and natives laughing and drinking together. In "Shooting an Elephant" he is stuck between "hatred of the empire" and "rage against the evil-spirited little beasts" that made his job impossible. But again, we witness crowds of natives expecting him to be a Sahib.
Orwell's stories show us the demoralizing duties, the pompous gravitas of Imperialism. It dehumanizes both rulers and ruled, turning them into the role they play rather than allowing them to become who they might have been. Both fortunately and unfortunately, he also knows that, "the British Empire is dying [...] it is a great deal better than the younger Empires that are going to supplant it."
This collection is pure Orwell. His unsentimental love of ordinary people, coupled with the easy, natural, sympathetic description of complex characters, relationships and motivations, reveal Orwell as a man who was genuinely at home with ordinary people. Only he could write movingly of how imperialism traps (freezes!) both rulers and ruled into roles and duties, of the daily humiliations of colonialism, and the little lies that keep the system going, and still show the oppressors as human beings. Even people we might miss. The only one I have ever read who comes close is Camus on Algeria.
In '1984' (only excerpted in this collection), a prophesy of what the Empires destined to replace the British empire could become, it was his ear for the corruption of language by permanent war that struck me, when I first read it well over three decades ago, as the perfect lens for viewing the lies spoken daily by both sides during the Vietnam War. Also, Orwell's insight into the political necessity of continual crises to keep the people both frightened and grateful for protection explained rather nicely how the communists (or Islamic Fundamentalists today) could work with us (and we with them) whenever it was politically convenient to do so.
In the collection of literary pieces what surprises is that a man of the left like Orwell, who was always a socialist, could appreciate authors as patriotic and conservative as Dickens and Kipling. We should always measure men by whether they can appreciate the strengths of their enemies. To my mind it is the height of civility in our twisted world to be able to admire an enemy whom someday you may have to kill. We need to remember that there always is, or at least always should be, something beyond (and above) politics.
But much of Orwell's posthumous fame comes from his writing on communism. As well it should, he was among the very few famous intellectuals (Camus and Koestler also come to mind) who forthrightly criticized the Soviet dictatorship. But he always remained a man of the left. It was during the cold war that this admirer of decency, virtue, and honesty; to say nothing of socialism, was dishonestly dragooned into being a cold warrior by, among others, Commentary magazine. They went so far as to call him a neo-conservative, twenty-five years before the fact!
They should learn how to read. And `Homage to Catalonia', also excerpted in this collection, is an excellent place to start. Yes, the critique of totalitarian communism is there, perhaps expressed better than anywhere else. Here he is interacting directly with the type of Monster dimly limned in 1984. He didn't need to read about the communist's mania to dominate every coalition they enter into, he lived through it. He saw in Barcelona the destruction of a genuine working class movement by the disgraceful collusion of liberals and communists.
When Franco led much of the Spanish army into revolt it was the workers who spontaneously resisted. They formed workers' committees to run the factories and workers' militias to win the war. In Catalonia, the anarchists, the radical wing of the worker's movement, were stronger than the socialist parties. In Madrid, a loose governing coalition of liberal and socialist parties was attempting to win the war not only on the battlefield but in the court of world opinion. In plain English, this meant do not appear too radical. You see, socialism worried liberal, capitalist nations like England and France; but anarchism scared them to death.
As time went on the government drifted to the right. Orwell was not shocked by this. He understood the diplomatic necessities as well as anyone. What did surprise him was that this rightward drift coincided with ever strengthening ties with the Soviet Union. You see, all the Soviets cared about was the defense of the Soviet Union, and to them this meant the politics of the Popular Front. In the thirties this meant an alliance between everyone (communists, liberals, conservatives) against Hitler and Fascism. An alliance at any cost. So farewell workers control, workers' councils, and workers' militias; this would be just another bourgeois war.
And that's what shocked him. Even though Orwell initially favored this policy, as did most of the European Left, he changed his mind when he saw it in action. He too had believed that the most important thing was to win the war. But the suppression of independent socialists like the (Troskyite) P.O.U.M., the gradual repression of the anarchists, and the lies in the international press about all this turned him around.
And isn't that vintage Orwell? This man of honesty and integrity, who would report exactly what happened, even when it went against what he believed or wanted. This is why Chomsky called 'Homage to Catalonia' the best book on the Spanish Civil War. It would have been an honor to have George Orwell as a friend, an ally, - or an enemy. Men like this illuminate our world.(less)
Yet another Loeb book that I have lost the companion volume to! This is translated by William H. Race.
Pindar is of the ancient race, and his...moreComment:
Yet another Loeb book that I have lost the companion volume to! This is translated by William H. Race.
Pindar is of the ancient race, and his judgments belong to an Archaic Greece that was gradually being transformed into our 'Classical Greece.'
"I believe that Odysseus story has become greater than his actual suffering because of Homer's sweet verse, for upon his fictions and soaring craft rests great majesty, and his skill deceives with misleading tales. The great majority of men have a blind heart, for if they could have seen the truth, mighty Aias, in anger over his arms, would not have planted in his chest the smooth sword. Except for Achilles, in battle he was the best..." (Nemean 7.)
Ajax, and not Odysseus, deserved Achilles arms. This is the ancient (or archaic) judgment, but today, we who have been formed by a history that truly begins in Classical Greece all feel differently. When I was young and first read the Iliad and Pindar it was then that I first realized that there had once been a different world... (less)
Most people are aware that Western Marxism (Lukács, Gramsci, et al.) and the so-called 'Frankfurt School' (Ador...moreWhat was Existential Marxism? 9/20/2011
Most people are aware that Western Marxism (Lukács, Gramsci, et al.) and the so-called 'Frankfurt School' (Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, e.g.) significantly differ from the 'theories' and policies that emanated from the 'all-knowing' seers in the Soviet Union and Red China. But most people do not remember Existential Marxism; while those who do regard it merely as a type of Western Marxism. But that is not entirely correct. (Nor is it entirely wrong; after all, the best short definition of 'Western Marxism' is that it is the Marxism that takes philosophy seriously.) Sartre and Merleau-Ponty were often quite critical of both the USSR and and also some aspects of Western Marxism (Lukács, e.g.) in their various 'Marxist' works.
So, what is Existential Marxism? It is an open-ended philosophy that rejects both the 'utopianism' of the classless society (understood as some final state of human history, i.e., a 'final totalization') and at the same time rejects, avant la lettre, the nihilism of postmodernism. Sartre says, "if such a thing as a Truth can exist in anthropology, it must be a truth that has become, and it must make itself a totalization." He understands that "such a totalization is perpetually in process as History and historical Truth." No totalization, no state of affairs, is permanent; this means that both the dogmas of diamat and the marxisant superstitions regarding some utopian future are categorically rejected.
Dialectics is either a practical explanation of contemporary circumstances or it will be frozen in some totalization that eventually no longer applies. This last, both fortunately and unfortunately, has always turned out to be the history of really existing Marxism.
This book, "Search for a Method", in its first incarnation appeared as an essay that Sartre wrote for a Polish review on the situation of Existentialism in France. Later, it was reworked substantially for his famous journal "Les Temps Modernes" and the article was renamed "Existentialism and Marxism". This book is the latter unchanged. Sartre tells us that there is one question he is posing:
"Do we have the means to constitute a structural, historical anthropology?"
Well, yes, we have Marxism, and (according to Sartre) within Marxism we have a "philosophy of freedom" (i.e., existentialism) as a sort of loyal opposition. Now, why doesn't existentialism (in this review I will only be interested in the existentialism of Sartre) just join Marxism? After all, Marxism is, according to Sartre, the 'philosophy of our time'. Why Existentialism? Because "Marxism stopped." It had ceased to be willing to learn. This is why existentialism had to rise and attempt to correct it. Not that Marxism and existentialism are merely opposites. Sartre points out that the founders of these two movements (i.e., Kierkegaard and Marx) both oppose to Hegel "the incommensurability of the real and knowledge." For Kierkegaard the 'real' is the individual subject; for Marx, it is social relations. But how did these two seemingly separate critiques come together in Existential Marxism? For Sartre personally, it "was the war which shattered the worn structures of our thought." Abstractly, the students of his generation had been groping their way towards Marxism and the working class. "We had repudiated pluralist realism only to have found it again among the fascists, and we discovered the world."
So, why not simply become Marxists? Again, because "Marxism stopped." What does that mean? That "there arose within it a veritable schism which rejected theory on the one side and praxis on the other." This was due to the situation of the USSR and the absence of a successful European Socialist Revolution. The USSR had to 'go it alone' as a socialist state, and today we know even better than Sartre that this was simply impossible. "The separation of theory and practice resulted in transforming the latter into an empiricism without principles; the former into a pure fixed knowledge. On the other hand, the economic planning imposed by a bureaucracy unwilling to recognize its mistakes became thereby a violence done to reality." The problem is that neither the Party, nor its theoreticians, could ever change their minds. "And I do not mean to speak only of Communists, but of all the others - fellow travelers, Trotskyites, and Trotsky sympathizers..." Sartre, after mentioning the revolt in Hungary, concludes this line of thought by saying that later, "there was news, a great deal of news; but I have not heard it said that even one Marxist changed his opinion." So we end up with ideal types, 'Soviet bureaucracy' and 'direct Democracy', each the negation of the other. They have become caricatures, ...and articles of faith.
But Marx does not do this. He always strives to appreciate "the process as a unique totality." He studies each event within history and political economy with both the ability and the willingness to learn from them. "In the work of Marx we never find entities. Totalities [...] are living; they furnish their own definitions within the framework of the research." In Marx, everything in the human social world is dialectically moving. This is why each historical situation must be analyzed in its own unique terms, which "is but the first moment in an effort at synthetic reconstruction." But,
"Marxist voluntarism, which likes to speak of analysis, has reduced this operation to a simple ceremony. There is no longer any question of studying facts within the general perspective of Marxism so as to enrich our understanding and to clarify action. Analysis consists solely in getting rid of detail, in forcing the signification of certain events, in denaturing facts or even in inventing a nature for them in order to discover it later underneath them, as their substance, as unchangeable, FETISHized 'synthetic notions.' The open concepts of Marxism have closed in. They are no longer keys, interpretive schemata; they are posited for themselves as an already totalized knowledge. To use Kantian terms - Marxism makes out of these particularized, FETISHized types, constitutive concepts of experience. The real content of these typical concepts is always past knowledge; but today's Marxist makes of it an eternal knowledge. His sole concern, at the moment of analysis, will be to 'place' these entities. The more he is convinced that they represent truth a priori, the less fussy he will be about truth."
Marxism became a Dogma. This means, above all, that past (i.e., temporary) knowledge has been reified into Eternal Knowledge by our Marxist savants. Before any analysis had began, this Marxism (that Sartre here criticizes) always 'knew' the result. It had become an atheistic faith with infallible texts and equally certain infallible methods. "The totalizing investigation has given way to a Scholasticism of the totality. The heuristic principle - 'to search for the whole in the parts' - has become the TERRORist practice of 'liquidating the particularity'."
Now, what does Sartre think Marxism should do? It should make use of 'bourgeois concepts' without ceasing to criticize them. "The real attainments of American Sociology cannot hide its theoretic uncertainty. Psychoanalysis, after a spectacular beginning, has stood still. It knows a great many details, but it lacks any firm foundation. Marxism possesses theoretical bases, it embraces all human activity; but it no longer knows anything. Its concepts are dictates; its goal is no longer to increase what it knows but to be itself constituted a priori as an absolute knowledge."
But isn't any alliance between Marxism and Existentialism but a pipe-dream? Don't the existentialists claim that each person is an unknowable unsurpassable individual? Perhaps some existentialists think like that; not Sartre (or, for that matter, Merleau-Ponty). While "Marxism has reabsorbed man into the idea, [...] existentialism seeks him everywhere where he is, at his work, in his home, in the street. We certainly do not claim -as Kierkegaard did- that this real man is unknowable. We say only that he is not known."
Regarding 'really-existing' Marxism Sartre says that "its shadow has obscured history; this is because it has ceased to live with history and because it attempts, through a bureaucratic conservatism, to reduce change to identity." A long footnote hanging off this last remark concludes by saying, "They construct an interpretation which serves as a skeleton key to everything - out of three ingredients: errors, the local-reaction-which-profits-from-popular-discontent [sic] and the exploitation-of-this-situation-by-world-imperialism [sic]. This interpretation can be applied as well or as badly to all insurrections, including the disturbances in Vendée or at Lyon in 1793, by merely putting 'aristocracy' in place of imperialism. In short, nothing new has happened. That is what had to be demonstrated." Again, 'really-existing' Marxism no longer believes that it has anything to learn.
For Sartre, Marxism could come to know Man; but today, "it is precisely the conflict between revolutionary action and the Scholastic justification of this action which prevents Communist man -in socialist countries as in bourgeois countries- from achieving any clear self-consciousness." Marxism was once "the most radical attempt to clarify the historical process in its totality." But "for the last twenty years, on the contrary, its shadow has obscured history..." Is Marxism now dying of 'old age'? No. According to our author, "[f]ar from being exhausted, Marxism is still very young, almost in its infancy; it has scarcely begun to develop. It remains therefore the philosophy of our time. We cannot go beyond it because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it." So long as these circumstances are with us (i.e., the Capitalist System) Marxism will be the 'philosophy of our time'.
But some might ask, doesn't the permanence of Capital, the 'permanence' of capitalist relations, prove either its 'truth' or, at the very least, its terrible necessity? Again, according to our author, no: "For us, truth is something which becomes, it has and will have become. It is a totalization which is forever being totalized. Particular facts do not signify anything; they are neither true nor false so long as they are not related, through the mediation of various partial totalities, to the totalization in process." The facts of capitalist success, however impressive, do not prove its permanence. In fact, given the never-ending unfolding of a material dialectic, one suspects that there should be no permanence in human history. (Although there can, of course, be stability that endures for a surprisingly long while.)
After quoting Engels famous letter to Bernstein regarding 'economic determinism' Sartre says that "we do not conceive of economic conditions as the simple, static structure of an unchangeable society; it is the contradictions within them which form the driving force of history." For Sartre, nothing said above should be taken to mean he opposes Marxism. Far from it: "To be more explicit, we support unreservedly that formulation in Capital by which Marx means to define his 'materialism': 'The mode of production of material life generally dominates the development of social, political, and intellectual life.' We cannot conceive of this conditioning in any form except that of a dialectical movement (contradictions, surpassing, totalizations)."
But when does the philosophy of freedom rise that Sartre believes will replace Marxism? "As soon as there will exist for everyone a margin of real freedom beyond the production of life, Marxism will have lived out its span; a philosophy of freedom will take its place. But we have no means, no intellectual instrument, no concrete experience which allows us to conceive of this freedom or of this philosophy." The process of human history is ceaseless. Everything in it is (however slowly) on its way to becoming something else.
I want to stop here. In the 'Annexe' to his "Critique of Dialectical Reason" Sartre said of the relation between this slim volume before us and the thousand plus pages of his 'Critique' that he feared "that this mountain of notes might seem to have brought forth a mouse..." This note of mine has been merely a review of the first chapter of this 'mouse'. I only wanted to show here that Marxism did not need to be only a dogma imposed upon the world through force. I also wanted to indicate that it was possible to be a Marxist and yet still be willing to learn from the world and the various 'bourgeois' (i.e., non-Marxist) disciplines that study our troubled world. At some point I would like to scale the 'mountain' (i.e., the "Critique of Dialectical Reason") with a much (much!) longer review...
But in closing, I again want to point out again that Marxism, for our author, is the philosophy of today; Sartre adds that tomorrow there will be a philosophy of freedom. Now, will that be the end of our dialectical adventures? No, of course not. The deepest problem (in my opinion) is that nature itself is fundamentally non-dialectical. It indeed changes, but it does not 'learn'. It has no Logos. Excluded from Reason forever, material nature can never dialectically grow. Yes, yes, of course nature can change, even evolve; but again, even this 'evolution' teaches it nothing. Thus the dialectical dance of human culture and inhuman nature must be ceaseless and therefore the 'philosophy of freedom' that, according to Sartre, will one day supplant Marxism will also eventually be overthrown. Why? - Because between the rationalizing artifacts of human culture (whether these be things or ideas or social relations) and the bottomless silence of nature there will (and indeed there must) always be contradictions. Thus every Totalization in human history is (and can only be) but a temporary state of affairs...
Sartre is certainly aware of this problem. The question before us is whether our philosophical understanding of Nature (understood ontologically, phenomenologically) and our philosophic understanding of Man (understood dialectically and existentially) can ever be brought together. In the great 'Critique', and this is to his credit, Sartre can be said to be pursuing both these lines of thought. In the Critique, ontologically and phenomenologically, Sartre can be said to be (in some sense) quite nearly a 'cyclical' thinker! Scarcity, the final and fundamental fact of human history, is never really overcome. It returns (in different forms to be sure) to threaten fragile human civilization forever and again. This is part of the reason why there can never be any utopia. But that is only half the story; historically (that is, existentially and dialectically) he is certain that virtually every situation humanity finds itself in can be improved. I too think this way...
Sartre also believes these two great lines of philosophical thought (i.e., the ontological and the dialectical) must somehow come together. In the long footnote that gobbles up the final pages of the first chapter of "Search for a Method" Sartre says that the "only theory of knowledge which can be valid today is one which is founded on that truth of microphysics: the experimenter is part of the experimental system." What does that mean? It means that "the revelation of a situation is effected in and through the praxis which changes it." Of course, according to Sartre, 'official' Marxism (and perhaps even Marx himself!) knows nothing of this:
"Yet the theory of knowledge continues to be the weak point in Marxism. When Marx writes: 'The materialist conception of the world signifies simply the conception of nature as it is without any foreign addition,' he makes himself into an objective observation and claims to contemplate nature as it is absolutely. Having stripped away all subjectivity and having assimilated himself into pure objective truth, he walks in a world of objects inhabited by object-men. By contrast, when Lenin speaks of our consciousness, he writes: 'Consciousness is only the reflection of being, at best an approximately accurate reflection'; and by a single stroke he removes from himself the right to write what he is writing. In both cases it is a matter of suppressing subjectivity: with Marx, we are placed beyond it; with Lenin, on this side of it."
Sartre regards both these understandings as pre-Marxist! He writes his great "Critique", in part, in order to overcome this. He wishes to show that human agency and subjectivity are real parts of our world.
"There are two ways to fall into idealism: The one consists of dissolving the real in subjectivity; the other in denying all real subjectivity in the interests of objectivity. The truth is that subjectivity is neither everything nor nothing; it represents a moment in the objective process (that in which externality is internalized), and this moment is perpetually eliminated only to be perpetually reborn."
Does Sartre overcome existential subjectivism in his 'Critique'? Can he bring phenomenology and dialectics together? Does he limn an epistemology that avoids the traps of subjectivity and objectivity? Of course, each reader must decide for himself. But, before you scale the 'mountain', I suggest that you have a look at Merleau-Ponty's "Adventures of the Dialectic". Here M-P criticizes the pre-'Critique' Sartre for falling back into subjectivism. Sartre's Critique is, in part, an answer to Merleau-Ponty. How successful that answer is would be the subject of another review.(less)
Excellent. "Enactment of the Nietzschean agenda in science and politics promises a new sense of the sacred, a return of Dionysos and Ariadne."...moreComment:
Excellent. "Enactment of the Nietzschean agenda in science and politics promises a new sense of the sacred, a return of Dionysos and Ariadne." Or, as Nietzsche once said, from time to time there is magic. Nietzsche, unlike our academics, recognizes that reason must be supplemented by 'magic'. Now, this 'magic' can be understood as either a cosmological or a psychological category -or both. This is one the greatest unstated difficulties in Nietzsche interpretation. That is - do we understand his 'magic' as cosmology or psychology?(less)
This book consists of translations of various medieval authors. Obviously, these are usually not complete translations of these works but exce...moreComment:
This book consists of translations of various medieval authors. Obviously, these are usually not complete translations of these works but excerpts of these various texts. I've heard rumors of an updated edition of this being in the works but have yet to see this confirmed. (The rumor now is 2011.) The Bibliography is extremely abbreviated and that would be certainly the first thing I improved. When this book first appeared much of this stuff hadn't been translated at all. But now, 40 years later, things have changed. For instance, Chapter 5 of Farabi's 'Enumeration of the Sciences' is also available in 'Alfarabi: The Political Writings' and a translation of the 'Commentary on Aristotle's Politics' by Aquinas came out in 2007. Now, I would rather see a new book come out that only had untranslated (or unavailable) pieces rather than have works I can also get elsewhere. I understand that this is a sourcebook intended for beginning students in Medieval Philosophy and thus it must have pretty much the authors it has above. So why bring out a new edition? Instead, bring out a supplementary edition that would include previously untranslated works or difficult to find out-of-print stuff of the above authors but also have some authors that aren't represented in the canon. (less)
Militant Atheism has recently gone on the offensive (again) in the recent works of Richard Da...moreReview:
Marxism and Religion, Yesterday and Today
Militant Atheism has recently gone on the offensive (again) in the recent works of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. And all our soi-disant radicals are rallying to the cause. But contemporary Marxists have seemed to hold back; indeed, some seem to even admire bits and pieces of l'Infâme. I looked to this volume as a corrective to the current fashionable atheism and also for a deeper understanding of the original Marxist position and I was not disappointed on either count. Now, in a volume like this in which there are many extracts one cannot hope for a comprehensive view of the thought of Marx (and also Engels) regarding their understanding of Christianity and Religion. However, I will say that I think this volume is a wonderful place to start!
What you would expect to find in a compilation like this is here: the seminal Introduction to the 'Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right', the important 'Theses on Feuerbach', relevant extracts from 'The Holy Family', and The 'German Ideology'. What one doesn't expect is all the wonderful journalistic essays and also the letters. Engels letters to Bloch and Schmidt (for instance) deploring the excesses of Marxist 'economism' are always especially welcome.
Now, to the currently fashionable cocksure atheism, the understanding of Marx and Engels must sound quite half-hearted, if not almost treacherous. What is the difference between Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens on the one hand, and Marx and Engels on he other? Dialectics. Not only isn't Religion deplored as merely a mistake, as sheer nonsense, both Marx and Engels understand and explain the historical necessity and utility of Religion. - Even its 'socialist' character!
What!?! Indeed, Engels will go so far as to claim "that this 'socialism' did in fact, as far as it was possible at the time, exist and even become dominant - in Christianity." (In the final essay of this book, "On the History of Early Christianity". 1895) Obviously, due to the social, political and economic conditions of the time this ancient 'socialism' could only be other-worldly. And, for the most part, it is for Christianity alone that our two authors reserve their highest praise. - But why?
Well, part of the answer is that in the Middle Ages movements arose within Christianity, according to Engels, that clearly sought a change in economic relations instead of merely a change in leaders. There doesn't seem to be any analogous movements in other religions. Engel's points out, in a note in this same essay, that in Islam there are periodic 'revolutions' by the poor led by some Mahdi - but they never have any intention of changing economic conditions. ...So the Nomads overthrow the City, become the City, and then need to be overthrown by other Nomads. -This, for Engels, is the History of Islam in a very small nutshell. But Christianity, through its sublated avatar, secular modernity, eventually rises to the socialistic struggle to change the actual material economic relations and social forces of _this_ world.
But for our contemporary atheists there is no distinction between superstitions. They are all nonsense. What Engels said of the satirist Lucian could be said of them too: "from [their] shallow rationalistic point of view one sort of superstition was as stupid as the other". They have no theory of (or hope for) changing the society that makes religion necessary. But for Marx and Engels, the problem is not Religion; the problem is society!
Again, this volume consists of many extracts, Introductions, Forewords, journalistic pieces and letters. Amazon does not give the space necessary to consider them all. The only complete work seems to be Engels' "Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. (1883)" In it, Engels gives a brief but (I believe) sound description of the consequences of the dialectical method. Rather than the common notion that dialectics presents one with some dogmatic Truth or final Goal Engels argues that "for it [dialectical philosophy] nothing is final, absolute, sacred."
He understands that the communist revolution results in no utopia. "Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a perfect society, a perfect 'state', are things which can only exist in imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher. Each stage is necessary, and therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin." - So much for the famous End of History!
But this review is not about Kojeve and Fukuyama. For our purposes here it is important to note that the justification for some social formation does not come from some table of 'philosophical truths', rather it comes from the necessities and contingencies of the specific circumstances of that time.
But in concentrating on the end of this anthology (Engels outlived Marx by a dozen years) I have neglected Marx! Let us turn to an early work by Marx, his "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" (1844). First, some quotes that I believe are pertinent to our theme from the famous Introduction (which is all that is reprinted here) to that work:
"This state, this society, produce religion, a reversed world-conscioussness, because they are a reversed world."
"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion."
"Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower."
(I am here following the translation provided in this book. There are better translations. The publisher, Dover, informs us that the "contents of the present collection conform to the Russian edition prepared by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C., C.P.S.U. [Gospolitizdat, 1955.] Translations have been made from the originals." For what it's worth, I cannot find any mention of who the actual translators are.)
First, a clarification about the 'opium' remark might be in order. Today, we tend to see opium mentioned and think of addicts leading perfectly wretched lives thanks to their opiate of choice. This was not how that sentence was read by Marx's contemporaries. Opium was a wonder drug used to relieve unspeakable pain. The unspeakable pain, in this case, is the capitalist system. Marx asserts that once the people have the pain-relieving drug removed they will be able to rise up and end their suffering. Indeed, Marx denies that he attacks Religion in order that people will only feel their very real pain; remove the sedative (Religion) and people will cast off the chains. ...So - what has actually happened?
The Socialist World rose and then fell, leaving Capitalism alone and unbowed. Nothing that has ever risen and endured in History goes away by magic; if a political or religious institution endures it 'deserves' to endure, if it dies it was 'necessary' for it to die. (In dialectics, as indicated above, the terms 'deserve' and 'necessary' refer to contemporary circumstances only.) The real fight, according to Marx and Engels, is against conditions that make religion necessary. To abolish religion while leaving those conditions intact, with no effective way to change those conditions, is both monstrous and impossible. Monstrous? Yes, if it should prove that the chains on Man cannot be thrown off then one fears that flowers must be reinserted into each of the links of the wretched chains themselves. (Otherwise civilization itself might be destroyed by the pain.) Impossible? Indeed. If the conditions that require the consolation of Religion are not abolished then Religion itself cannot ever disappear. That has perhaps been the most telling revelation of our awful post-modernity...
Now, what of today? Why have so many Marxist (and, post-Marxist) thinkers written so many books since the fall of the USSR admiring aspects of Christianity? Because with Marxism occulted all that is left, besides Religion, is Postmodernism, and its absurd obsession with culture and the particular. People like Habermas, Badiou and Zizek have been seen blowing kisses at aspects of Christianity.
A most recent example would be Terry Eagleton, who, towards the end of his latest book ("Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate") says that if, "politics has so far failed to unite the wretched of the earth in the name of transforming their condition, we can be sure that culture will not accomplish the task in its stead. Culture, for one thing, is too much a matter of affirming what you are or have been, rather than what you might become. (p. 165.)" Yes, of course he is right, our world is being destroyed by the self-satisfaction of the various particularities that refuse to change. A bit later Eagleton argues that, "Marxism has suffered in our time a staggering political rebuff; and one of the places to which those radical impulses have migrated is - of all things - theology. (p.167)" Like Marxism, the subject of Religion and Theology is "nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself..."
"What other symbolic form has managed to forge such direct links between the most absolute and universal of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women? (Eagleton, p. 165.)" By comparison, one wonders if even Marxism (to say nothing of the absurdity of postmodernism!) was only a fad that is now dying out...
To underline that this current rapprochement between Religion, most especially Christianity, and Marxism isn't some private fantasy I want to close our consideration of contemporary (post-)Marxists with a passage from Habermas:
"Egalitarian Universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk (p. 150f)." From Jürgen Habermas, 'A Conversation About God and the World' in his book "Time of Transitions" (Polity Press, 2006).
Yes, the current 'Marxists' go further in their admiration of religion than Marx and Engels ever did. But why? What separates Eagleton and Habermas from Marx and Engels? The fall of 'really-existing' socialism; the rise of postmodernism. These contemporary 'Marxists' do not want to live in a postmodern world of global capitalism... - And nothing besides!
Thus Religion, in these precise circumstances, became tolerable; and, in these precise circumstances one marvels that it might become even more than tolerable...(less)
This book, an 'Introduction to the Reading of Hegel', is a collection of transcripts and notes collected and ed...moreReview:
A Brief Note on Tactics
This book, an 'Introduction to the Reading of Hegel', is a collection of transcripts and notes collected and edited by Raymond Queneau, that is the true beginning of the contemporary 'End of History' debate. But can there ever be a final reconciliation between the innumerable factions of human history? "...[H]e [i.e., Hegel] definitely reconciles himself with all that is and has been, by declaring that there will never more be anything new on earth. ('Introduction', p 168.)" Hegel, according to Kojeve, thought that History had come to an end; but the question of course is - exactly what does history 'think' - i.e., do? And that boils down to the question: what exactly is humanity doing? There is a not minor problem with making predictions in public that I would like to mention in this short note; these predictions become but another factor in human interactions. Kojeve, of course, is quite well aware of this; he regarded his 'philosophy' as little more than propaganda for the Hegelian position. This is no modesty, btw, in our posthistoire one can only make propaganda. (Briefly, according to Kojeve, 'History' properly understood ended with Hegel. We live today in a post-history that is nothing but the actualization of Hegelian philosophy throughout the World. When this actualization is complete the Universal Homogenous State then rises.) Thus Kojeve regards (correctly, given his premises) all 'philosophy' today as propaganda. But he has, in my humble opinion. spoken too soon.
Stanley Rosen, a student of Kojeve, alludes to this possibility in the title essay of 'Hermeneutics as Politics': "Had he remained silent, he could never have been refuted." How does one end History, possess the final knowledge - and then change ones mind? (On Kojeve's changing his mind see, for instance, the enigmatic 'Note to the Second Edition' in the 'Introduction to the Reading of Hegel'.) But there is more to the problem than that. By revealing the 'necessities' of History long before its final consummation (i.e., the rise of the UHS) he has allowed all enemies of the ongoing globalization to rally to any opposed cause, no matter how ephemeral. But it may turn out that these short-lived oppositional movements are well-nigh innumerable. ...So, exactly what should Kojeve, given his intentions, have done? He should have worked in the French Ministry (Kojeve is the true architect of the European Union, a building block of the World State), brought out the unjustly ignored, and posthumously published, 'Outline of a Phenomenology of Right', and told Queneau precisely where he could stick his class notes. By publishing the technical, legal and economic 'Outline' and keeping his philosophical speculations permanently to himself he could have (perhaps!) prevented his followers from squabbling over issues that cannot even be decided until the UHS rises...
For as Kojeve admitted in a letter to Leo Strauss, "Historical action necessarily leads to a specific result (hence: deduction), but the ways that lead to this result, are varied (all roads lead to Rome!). The choice between these ways is free, and this choice determines the content of the speeches about the action and the meaning of the result. In other words: materially history is unique, but the spoken story can be extremely varied, depending on the free choice of how to act." (On Tyranny, p 256). Thus the propaganda (i.e., 'the spoken story', theory) is not essential, and here Kojeve remains true to his (peculiar) Marxism, what is crucial is 'material' History. By this Kojeve means the technical, economic and legal forces that inexorably (or so it seems) drive us towards the World State (i.e., UHS). Thus Kojeve's propaganda and predictions, best embodied in the 'Introduction', were always secondary. ...Would we be closer to the UHS if the 'Introduction' never saw the light of day? Of course we will never know. But this possibility can never be discounted either.
What has really been puzzling so many readers of the Introduction is the so-called `Japanization' note (p 159) added to the second edition of the Introduction. It is this perplexing note that I would like to address in this review. This note is where Kojeve first admits that posthistory, as he originally conceived it, was contradictory, that if "Man becomes an animal again, his arts, his loves, and his play must become purely natural again." Humans would "construct their edifices and works of art as birds build their nests and spiders spin their webs, would perform musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas, would play like young animals, and would indulge in love like adult beasts."
Truly frightening. -Men as beasts! It reminds one of the myth of Plato's (269bff) Reversed Cosmos in the Statesman; men living as contented animals, growing ever more ignorant under the care of the gods/who Kojeve would say equal nature. But it gets worse! ""The definitive annihilation of Man properly so-called" also means the definitive disappearance of human Discourse (Logos) in the strict sense." After comparing the ruins of language (in posthistory) to the language of bees Kojeve says "[W]hat would disappear, then, is not only Philosophy or the search for discursive Wisdom, but also that Wisdom itself. For in these post-historical animals, there would no longer be any "[discursive] understanding of the world and of self."" The Wisdom gained for humanity by the correct understanding of the ruses of History - Hegelianism/w Kojeve - would be lost forever. Thus there would be no Sages contemplating the History that could only (perhaps!) have led to them.
Then he goes on to say that this view was mistaken, he came to realize (1948-1958) that posthistory was already here and that Americans(!) most closely embodied it. By posthistory he means that all history, since the publication (1806) of the Phenomenology, has simply been the activity of `backward' nations becoming more like what Hegel envisioned for them (embodying the laws/institutions of the French Revolution) and various anachronisms (in all states) being gradually eliminated. Obviously, since 1806, Logos (discursive understanding) has not disappeared entirely from the face of the earth - even in America! (Kojeve appears long after 1806, and he has American readers, and Kojeve is indeed a Sage. ...Whew!) "I was led to conclude from this that "the American way of life" was the type of life specific to the post-historical period, the actual presence of the United States in the world prefiguring the "eternal present" future of all humanity. Thus Man's return to animality appeared no longer as a possibility that was yet to come, but as a certainty that was already present." The problem and contradictions of his first understanding seem to be solved with this second (Americanization) understanding. Discursive understanding endures, the Sages will come, the Circularity of the Whole will be comprehended (if only by the Sages) and Kojeve will be remembered. - Problem solved.
...But he doesn't end the note with that. He next speaks of Japanization - but why? His `contradictory' understanding has been corrected by the above. The possibility of discursive understanding remains; the Hegelian/Kojevean Sages can continue to discuss the History that leads to Them and Their Understanding. So why does Kojeve continue his note? He doesn't exactly tell us why. We need to ferret it out. "Now, the existence of the Japanese nobles, who ceased to risk their lives (even in duel) and yet did not for that begin to work, was anything but animal." But he had just shown, thanks to the `Americanization' thesis, that, strictly speaking, animality would not occur. Why is the `Japanization' Thesis necessary?
...Hmmm. The Japanese had experienced the End of History by isolating themselves for 300 years. But they kept a nobility! America hasn't done that. (Is this why Japanization is superior to Americanization? It keeps a nobility? Is this merely a sop to 'exceptions' + sophists that will not become Sages? But why even bother with a concession? Can History actually be restarted - remember, according to the `Americanization' Thesis History has already ended - again?) How did Japan keep a nobility? Through snobbery! Kojeve says there is no Religion, Morals, Politics in the European or historical (by this he means the dialectically expansive Hegelian) sense in Japan. Are we to understand by this that there is "Religion, Morals, Politics" in some non-European, non-historical sense?
The last sentence made us pause; the next sentence makes us stop. "Bur Snobbery in its pure form created disciplines negating the "natural" or "animal" given which in effectiveness far surpassed those that arose, in Japan or elsewhere, from historical Action - that is, from warlike and revolutionary Fights or from forced work." What exactly does Kojeve mean here by effectiveness? How could Snobbery surpass in effectiveness the "historical Action" so unforgettably understood in Hegel's Phenomenology? ...Examples of Snobbery (which are "peaks equaled nowhere else") listed by Kojeve, which one would hope answer our question about effectiveness, are Noh Theater, the tea ceremony and the art of flower display!
I do not mean to sound like a Snob :-) but all this (Noh Theater, etc) does seem to somewhat lack the drama and import (to say the least!) of Hegel's Phenomenology or even Kojeve's commentary. ...So, what is the effectiveness that Kojeve speaks of? He continues by saying that "all Japanese without exception are currently in a position to live according to totally formalized values-that is, values completely empty of all "human" content in the "historical" sense." What Kojeve is indicating is that some form of humanity (values) is still possible after history ends, after no one any longer Fights or risks their life. There still is perfectly gratuitous suicide - hari-kari - but as Kojeve points out, this suicide "has nothing to do with the risk of life in a Fight waged for the sake of "historical" values that have social or political content."
Again, we ask, why does Kojeve find all this so effective? Japanization seems, if anything, thanks to its ahistorical nature, to be the exact opposite of effectiveness from a Hegelo/Kojevian perspective. Kojeve continues, "This seems to allow one to believe that the recently begun interaction between Japan and the Western World will finally lead not to a rebarbarization[!] of the Japanese but to a "Japanization" of the Westerners (including the Russians)." We need to be more than surprised when Kojeve refers to the Westernization of Japan as a rebarbarization. The rebarbarization that Kojeve is speaking of is the bringing of Japan into line with the Hegelian/Kojevean History. ...One is left wondering if Kojeve believed his theory as little as Leo Strauss did.
...Or perhaps only the human consequences of his theory are what troubled Kojeve, not its correctness. "Now, since no animal can be a snob, every "Japanized" post-historical period would be specifically human." But how can the animal Man, as Snob, remain Human when he no longer Fights or Works? Kojeve, in the penultimate sentence of this note says, "To remain Human, Man must remain a "Subject opposed to the Object," even if "Action negating the given and Error" disappears." For the Sages there is no longer Error in posthistory because there is no more historical change. (Man does not live temporally any longer, now, at the End of History, he lives spatially, he is only another piece of nature.) But how can man live non-temporally?
Kojeve ends this note thusly; "This means that, while henceforth speaking in an adequate fashion of everything that is given to him, post-historical Man must continue to detach "form" from "content," doing so no longer in order actively to transform the latter, but so that he may oppose himself as a pure "form" to himself and to others taken as "content" of any sort." This then, of course, is what Kojeve means by the "effectiveness" of `Japanization.' The Sages keep their discursive understanding of the Circularity of the Concept while the `nobility' (exceptions, sophists) unfortunate enough to live at the End of History will continue to struggle, but fundamentally only with(in) themselves. There will be exactly zero Historical import to these struggles. History has ended but the struggle for recognition, in an entirely non-Historical sense, continues thru Snobbery. Thus we have Absolute Knowledge and (a rather peculiar) Humanity at the same time. Kojeve thus sets the table, in the `eternally present future' of the End of history, for us to always have our cake (our Humanity) while eating it (Knowing this Humanity in a complete, absolute, unchanging and adequate manner) too. ...This is what Kojeve is pleased to call `effectiveness'.
At this point some minor observations may be in order. This note we have been considering is an addendum to a note that began on page 157. The paragraph that the first (or original) note attempted to clarify had at least one remarkable statement (p 156) in it: "The Real resists Action not Thought." If this is true (and I believe it is) we see another example of the effectiveness of the `Japanization' thesis. While material/institutional History may End exactly as Hegel/Kojeve say it will end it would seem there is more than one way to `discursively understand' this End.
Kojeve had indicated something similar to this in an earlier letter to Strauss (Sep 19 1950) that says:
"Historical action necessarily leads to a specific result (hence: deduction), but the ways that lead to this result, are varied (all roads lead to Rome!). The choice between these roads is free, and this choice determines the content of the speeches about the action and the meaning of the result. In other words: materially history is unique, but the spoken story can be extremely varied, depending on the free choice of how to act."
The similarity between this note (in a letter) to Strauss and the remark quoted above is that material history is unique (because the Real resists Action, erroneous action is purged by the very Real process of History) but the difference is that in this letter Kojeve seems to be insisting that speech follows the (material) results of Action. This is in fact contradicted by the statement: The Real resists Action not Thought. This says, for those that have ears to hear, that even though (or if) History ends exactly as Hegel/Kojeve say it must end there is no guarantee that the discursive (ahem) `understanding' of this unique and necessary End will be `correct' - by `correct' I merely mean Hegelo-Kojevean.
This is perhaps where the `effectiveness' of the `Japanization' Thesis really lies. Whatever `chatter' arises - after the unavoidable Unique + Necessary End of History in the Hegel/Kojevean sense - among the non-Sages can be understood as a form of Snobbery! Even a non-historical Religion/Politics/Morals, as Kojeve indicates in the Note (P 161) to the Second Edition, would seem to be possible! Thus the Japanization Thesis is not merely a concession to the exceptions/sophists that cannot (or will not) become Sages; it is also (more profoundly) a concession necessitated by the fantasy-like nature of thought itself. The material (and institutional) End of History, as envisioned by Hegel/Kojeve, may well be unavoidable and unique but, given the fact that the Real doesn't resist Thought, exactly anything can be said (or thought, which inevitably becomes speech) of this unavoidable End. And the Sages, at the end of this Unique History, point to the chattering sophists/exceptions and they say - Snobbery! The only unanswered question these Sages now face is can these thoughtful fantasies, when spoken, restart History? Or to put this another way, is it thru these thoughtful snobbish dreams that Mastery, in the Historical sense, re-enters the world? (less)
In the end it will be seen that the greatest enemy of capitalism was always democracy, i.e. the will of the people. Once the people turn anti-...moreComment:
In the end it will be seen that the greatest enemy of capitalism was always democracy, i.e. the will of the people. Once the people turn anti-capitalistic, under the influence of a disaffected intelligencia, there is absolutely nothing that can stand against them. Schumpeter at one and the same time believes that Capitalism is the most adequate description of economic reality and that it is doomed. How is this possible? - But it is exactly as the Savior of the Christians said so long ago: 'Man does not live by bread alone.' Capitalism provides bread but lacks drama, romance, myth; that is why economic 'irrelevancies' and 'irrationalities' like (say) Communism and Christianity can never be (entirely) won over or destroyed. - What Capitalism cannot deliver will be discovered, or created, somewhere else. Eventually, one of these discoveries or creations will end the Capitalist era.(less)
Jacob Klein is often describes as a 'Straussian' - but of course this is perfectly untrue...moreReview:
A note on 'pre-political' Esoteric Practices
Jacob Klein is often describes as a 'Straussian' - but of course this is perfectly untrue. Leo Strauss and Klein (and perhaps even Alexandre Kojeve too) either stumbled upon the practice of pre-modern philosophic esotericism on their own and/or while in contact with each other. Well, this last is an exaggeration too, it is more likely that Kojeve picked it up from the other two rather than his arriving at it entirely on his own as an original insight. Now, all three of these thinkers had been exposed to the greatest song-and-dance man (i.e., Martin Heidegger) of twentieth century philosophy in their formative periods and thus his maneuvering was a great influence on them all. Besides this, Strauss was deeply influenced by several non-Christian Medieval Philosophers (e.g., Alfarabi, Averroes, Maimonides) while both Klein and Kojeve seem to have been almost entirely innocent of the influence of these Falasifa.
In the letters exchanged between Strauss and Kojeve ('On Tyranny', Revised and Expanded Edition, U. Chi. Pr., 2000) we see the regard and respect these two thinkers had for Klein. For instance, in the letter of 8/22/48 Strauss says of his interpretation of Xenophan that "I know of no one besides yourself [i.e., Kojeve] and Klein who will understand what I am after...' (p. 236). This respect for Klein was shared by Kojeve: in a letter of 3/29/62 Kojeve says, "Except for yourself [i.e., Strauss] and Klein I have not yet found anybody from whom I could learn something." (p. 307). There are, by the way, several amusing asides about Kleins almost legendary indolence. I share one example that might be apropos here: "Klein claims to have finished his book on the Meno -only three more months for checking on the footnotes- but since he has said more or less the same three years ago I believe I shall have to wait another lustrum for its appearance." (Letter of 5/29/1962, Strauss to Kojeve, p. 309).
Well, Klein was, in fact, as Strauss divined only 'about' finished (the published date, 1965, is three years after the amusing remarks of Strauss above) but the result, this book, was well worth waiting for. Now, why has this book been in print for 40 odd years? -Because the 'Meno' dialogue is so popular? To be honest, I rather doubt it! It is because the 'Introductory Remarks' at the beginning of this book contain one of the best brief discussions of how to read Plato -that is, how to take into account Plato's esotericism- that I am aware of. In fact, if a novice were to ask me where to first learn of Plato's art of 'cautious writing' - this is the first book I would send him to.
Why? Because Klein gives an extremely acute explanation (and demonstration) of the ancient way of employing esotericism as a method (and a necessity!) of 'soulcraft'. Klein begins the Introductory Remarks by acclimating the student to the notion that the Platonic dialogues are dramatic encounters and not some sort of failed Aristotelian treatise. (It is shameful how many academics still think that it is a great pity that Plato did not write Treatises!) It is in the intercourse between the actions and speeches of the participants in these dialogues that Plato's meaning and intentions emerge. Klein correctly tells us that the dialogues "intent is to imitate oral instruction." In order to do this Plato writes mini-dramas that subtly indicate more than they say.
A means of doing this is irony. But Socratic Irony was not the same as the older types of irony. "The old Irony of the tragic or comic reversal of fortune they perfectly appreciated. But this new kind, which had a trick of making you uncomfortable if you took it as a joke and of getting you laughed at if you took it seriously? People did not like it, did not know what to make of it. But they were quite sure it was Irony." Socratic Irony, unlike the irony of the theatre, intends to force you to reveal yourself. Uncomfortable? - You should be! Plato is neither simply telling a story nor, less simply, lecturing us on philosophical issues; - Plato is trying to get us, dear readers, to reveal our very souls!
Thus Klein says that for any statement to be ironical in the Socratic sense "there must be someone capable of understanding that it is ironical." Socrates "is not ironical to satisfy himself." We are all called upon to be 'silent participants', not 'indifferent spectators' of these dialogues. Klein correctly adds that, "a (Platonic) dialogue has not taken place if we, the listeners or readers, did not actively participate in it..." The Socratic Dialogue is a form of writing that must be completed by our active, but dialogically silent, participation. But why should we participate?
Klein quotes a scholar, "The dialogues are dramas in which the destiny of the human soul is at stake." But to the scholar Klein here quotes the give and take in the dialogues is only a sport of curious aesthetic appeal. Klein will have none of it: "We have to play our role in them too. We have to be serious about the contention that a Platonic dialogue, being indeed an 'imitation of Socrates,' actually continues Socrates' work." The dialogues are notorious for their many difficulties (aporias) and it often seems Plato had no solution at all. But "we are compelled to admit to ourselves our ignorance, that it is up to us to get out of the impasse and to reach a conclusion, if it is reachable at all. We are one of the elements of the dialogue and perhaps the most important one."
Now, this must not be taken to mean that "the dialogues are void of all 'doctrinal' assertions." But a Platonic doctrine is not a philosophical system in the modern sense. "The dialogues not only embody the famous 'oracular' and 'paradoxical' statements emanating from Socrates ('virtue is knowledge,' 'nobody does evil knowingly,' 'it is better to suffer than commit injustice') and are, to a large extent, protreptic plays based on these, but they also discuss and state, more or less explicitly, the ultimate foundations on which those statements rest and the far-reaching consequences which flow from them. But never is this done with complete clarity." It is we who supply the additional clarity by engaging in philosophy. Thus Klein warns us away from fitting Plato's dialogues into some scholarly developmental scheme or reducing it to some technical vocabulary. These are but shadows that the history of Platonism has thrown. But, as Klein correctly says, "it is the familiar that Plato is bent on exploiting."
But he is exploiting the familiar through written words. And written words are, according to Plato, inherently playful; that is, imitative. (See the Phaedrus, and also Sophist 234b, on this theme.) Written texts "cannot defend themselves against misunderstanding and abuse." They resemble living thought but, like statues, they are dead and do not respond to changing circumstances but always maintain the same stance. This is why Plato wrote dialogues in which it is necessary for us to participate; he hoped that by doing so he could make his dialogues resemble living thought. "In brief: a written text is necessarily incomplete and cannot teach properly." In the Phaedrus we learn, according to Klein, that the best texts, "in addition to being playful, can serve as 'reminders' [...], that is, can remind those 'who know' of what the written words are really about."
"Now, Phaedrus and Socrates agree that spoken words can be clear, complete, and worthy of serious consideration provided they come from one who 'knows' - who knows about things just, noble and good - and who also knows, as Socrates insists, how to 'write' or 'plant' these words in the souls of the learners, that is, possesses the 'dialectical art' as well as the 'art of healing souls' which enables him to deal discriminatingly with those souls and even to remain silent whenever necessary." Now, this last is also why Plato writes in a dialogical manner; not only to engage in the great soul-shaping work of philosophy, but also in order to remain silent when necessary. But how can a dialogue do both? It can't "if the written text is to be taken in its dead rigidity." But it can if "the written text gives rise to 'live' discourse under conditions valid for good speaking." Again, the Platonic dialogues demand our active participation in order to be successful.
As if to underscore the lived, changing nature of well-written philosophical texts Klein reminds us that after the myth of the origin of the cicadas in the Phaedrus "we hear Socrates interpreting freely the speeches he himself made, assuming the role of their 'father', that is, supporting and defending the truth in them, adding to them, omitting the doubtful and changing their wording..." How Socrates treats his earlier speeches is how we are to treat Socratic dialogues, we are to continually interpret and, when necessary, reinterpret them. We are to treat the dialogues as conversations in which we must participate in order to get anything out of them. We are, when properly engaged in a Socratic dialogue, attempting to understand Socrates, Plato, philosophy and ourselves.
This soulcraft that Klein is here, at the beginning of the 'Introductory Remarks' to his 'Meno' book, speaking of has utterly nothing to do with the parroting of some doctrine. "Words can be repeated or imitated; the thoughts conveyed by the words cannot: an 'imitated' thought is not a thought." Indeed, in reading and interpreting a Platonic dialogue we reveal who we are. Treat the dialogues, and yourself, with the thoughtful seriousness they deserve.
So we see that Klein, here in the 'Introductory Remarks', has given us a masterful explication of an ancient esotericism too often today forgotten; an esotericism focused on individual soulcraft and not merely or exclusively on political philosophy. It is important to realize that these two esoteric strategies are not entirely in harmony. But what of Klein and Strauss? Are they in harmony? I think the major difference between the two is the medieval philosophers, especially Farabi. He was the first (see especially his 'Attainment of Happiness' e.g.) to use esotericism almost exclusively to manufacture 'politically useful' philosophical artifacts without (seemingly) even the slightest concern for soulcraft. Strauss follows Farabi in this; also, like Farabi (see the 'Philosophy of Plato', e.g.) Strauss gives an entirely political reading of Plato.
Whenever we see Leo Strauss speak of 'Platonic Political Philosophy' we need to immediately add that this Platonic political philosophy has been filtered through Alfarabi. So then, do Klein and Strauss simply disagree about the Platonic Art of Cautious Writing? No, of course not, that would be an exaggeration. Of this notion of readers of Platonic Dialogues as 'silent participants' in the dialogues Klein says that "it certainly obtains whenever Socrates himself is the narrator of the dialogue." But what of the dialogues (e.g., Sophist, Statesman, Timaeus, Laws) in which Socrates is not the principle speaker? Are the principle speakers (Eleatic Stranger, Timaeus, Athenian Stranger) in these dialogues primarily engaged in the art of soulcraft like Socrates? Or, are they, like Farabi and the medieval falasifa, primarily engaged in what might be called social damage control and 'philosophical' artifact making? Insofar as they are doing the latter one can perhaps be forgiven for saying that the split between Socrates' esoteric Platonic soulcraft and Farabi's esoteric political Platonism was already known to, and anticipated by, Plato himself.
Now, Klein isn't oblivious to the difference between esotericism as politics and esotericism as soulcraft. Indeed, even in the latter part of the 'Introductory Remarks' that we have here only begun to consider, he goes on to broach the subject of political esotericism. For those interested in Klein's take on the latter I can recommend his detailed study 'Plato's Trilogy' which includes a discussion of the Eleatic Stranger in 'The Sophist' and 'The Statesman'. I give 'Plato's Meno' five stars for the discussion, defense and demonstration of the ancient esoteric practice of soulcraft, which today, is too often forgotten.(less)
A Note on the Impact of this Important Book and the Milieux in which it First Appeared
Today, after the rise of postmodernism and t...moreReview:
A Note on the Impact of this Important Book and the Milieux in which it First Appeared
Today, after the rise of postmodernism and the never-ending expansion of theory in the academy, it sometimes seems as if there are innumerable interpretations of Nietzsche. But it was not always thus. Generally speaking, way back in the sixties and early seventies, those of us who read Nietzsche seriously were influenced by only a handful of interpreters (the 'Nietzsche Interpretation Industry' as we know it today had yet to rise); mostly, the staid existentialism of Karl Jaspers ("Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of His Philosophical Activity"), the sobriety of Walter Kaufmann ("Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist"), or the analytically minded work ("Nietzsche As Philosopher") of Arthur Danto. For us, this anthology carried the force of revelation! Today, postmodernism may almost seem old-fashioned, if not yet quaint; but back then Deleuze, Derrida, Klossowski and Kofman were quite new to most of us - and, to be completely honest, most of us barely had any knowledge of Heidegger himself!
Oh yes, of Heidegger's view of Nietzsche there was certainly no end to intimations and rumors; but remember, his epoch-making lectures on Nietzsche had yet to appear in English. Heidegger's "Nietzsche" first appeared (again, in English) as four hardcover volumes that were published separately, if memory serves, throughout the early 1980's. The paperback anthology that we are here reviewing first appeared in 1977. Indeed, I believe that even Heidegger's seminal essay, "The word of Nietzsche: 'God is dead'", only first appeared (in translation) that very same year, in the collection of Heidegger's essays titled "The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays".
Now, all these essays in this Nietzsche anthology before us can, to greater or lesser degree, be considered part of the post-Heidegger Nietzsche response. That is to say, they are postmodern. But it would not be correct to say that this book is merely dated. Three contributors appear here who, I believe, still have not had any book translated into English: Jean Granier, Henri Birault, and Paul Valadier. Of these last, I found Jean Granier especially interesting, and if you haven't seen his work I would recommend this collection for his two essays alone.
Looking back, there are only two authors who I am surprised to find missing from this superb collection. The first is Georges Bataille. Like Heidegger, his work was formative to many of the contributors to this volume. His book on Nietzsche ("Sur Nietzsche, volunte de chance") first appeared in the forties. I think it would have been useful if an excerpt from it had appeared in this volume. (Of course, Bataille's book now appears in English as "On Nietzsche".) The other surprising omission is the two great Nietzsche essays ('Nietzsche, Freud, Marx' and 'Nietzsche, Genealogy, History') of Michel Foucault. This strong collection of essays that we are here reviewing would've been improved by the inclusion of either of these essays by Foucault. Fortunately, both of these essays have been collected in the anthology, "Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954- 1984". The first essay contains his famous ruminations on these three 'Masters of Suspicion', while the second nicely demonstrates the difference between Nietzsche and Foucault's understanding of genealogy. The difference, I believe, boils down to the difference between psychology and history...
Now, since we are looking at the reception of this book back in the seventies, there are several important authors whose books were available, but, to my embarrassment, I had yet to encounter any of them at that time. More knowledgeable readers would have already read them. Of these, I would venture that the most important are Karl Löwith and Joan Stambaugh. Löwith's book, "From Hegel to Nietzsche", had appeared in English in the sixties and it gives us a first-rate discussion of the transformations philosophy endured in the nineteenth century. Joan Stambaugh's briiliant book, "Nietzsche's Thought of the Eternal Return", appeared here in the early seventies but, disgaracefully, I only became aware of it in the new millenium. Both of these authors were also very aware of Heidegger.
The table of contents for the 1977 first edition of this book (which I have in front of me) is as follows:
Preface, ix; Introduction, xi;
Part I. Main Themes, 1;
Nietzsche and Metaphysical Language, Michel Haar, 5; The Will to Power, Alphonso Lingis, 37; Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?, Martin Heidegger, 64; Active and Reactive, Gilles Deleuze, 80; Nietzsche's Experience of the Eternal Return, Pierre Klossowski, 107; The Limits of Experience: Nihilism, Maurice Blanchot, 121;
Part II. Oblique Entry, 129;
Neitzsche's Conception of Chaos, Jean Granier, 135; Nomad Thought, Gilles Deleuze, 142; Nietzsche: Life as Metaphor, Eric Blondel, 150; The Question of Style, Jacques Derrida, 176; Perspectivism and Interpretation, Jean Granier, 190; Metaphor, Symbol, Metamorphosis, Sarah Kofman, 201;
Part III. Transfiguration, 215;
Beatitude in Nietzsche, Henri Birault, 219; Eternal Recurrence and Kingdom of God, Thomas J.J. Altizer, 232; Dionysus versus the Crucified, Paul Valadier, 247;
Select Bibliography, 263; Notes on Contributors, 265; Index, 267;
Of course, some of these authors have become quite famous, or, if you prefer, notorious, over the subsequent decades. Heidegger, Deleuze, and Derrida all went on to become virtual 'rock stars' even in the Anglo-American philosophical world. I believe that of the above translated essays, only the ones by Heidegger and Derrida had appeared earlier in English translation. Other contributors who were especially important to me were Klossowski, Kofman and Blondel. Perhaps a few words on them will be in order because everyone and her brother has read Heidegger, Deleuze, and Derrida.
Klossowski's contribution was excerpted from his book, "Nietzsche et le Cercle Vicieux", 1969. Much later this book was translated as, "Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle". The essay in this anthology before us is intelligent; he presents a very coherent and compelling understanding of Eternal Return. "What is at first sight the most crushing pronouncement -namely, the endless recommencement of the same acts, the same sufferings- henceforth appears as redemption itself, as soon as the soul knows that it has already lived through other selves and experiences and thus is destined to live through even more. Those other selves and experiences will henceforth deepen and enrich the only life that it knows here and now. What has prepared this present life and what now prepares it in turn for still others remains itself totally unsuspected by consciousness. (p. 117.)" Heraclitus said that you cannot step into the same river twice. Nietzsche, as here interpreted by Klossowski, seemingly claims that you cannot even (perhaps more clearly, 'should not') really remain yourself from one step to the next! However, it was the 6th chapter ('The Vicious Circle as a Selective Doctrine') of his book that I found to be most profound. "As Nietzsche's thought unfolded, it abandoned the strictly speculative realm in order to adopt, if not simulate, the preliminary elements of a conspiracy", we read in the Introduction to Klossowski's book. This 'esoteric' conspiracy is compellingly alluded to, even adhered to, but also avoided in the amazing sixth chapter. I strongly recommend reading the book after reading the essay.
Another contributor to the famous collection of essays called the `New Nietzsche' was Eric Blondel. The essay in this anthology is a translation of, "Nietzsche, la vie et la métaphore". Later, Blondel would write a book "Nietzsche: le corps et la culture" that also would find its way into English. The essay in our anthology, as well as the book, is very good. One might describe his position as a 'semi-postmodern' discussion of the intersection of body and culture in the texts of Nietzsche that is quite informative. What I especially liked about his book was that he not only sets himself against `systemizers' who wish to find in (or give to) Nietzsche a Logos (like, I suppose, Heidegger) but also those interpretations, like those of (I think) Derrida and perhaps even Kofman, where "under the pretext of `textuality' the text found itself desubstantialized or rather deprived of substance. (p. 9 "Nietzsche: the Body and Culture".)" Instead of words, images and metaphors merely referring to themselves, endlessly over and over again (the typical postmodern gesture!), Blondel argues that, "in Nietzsche images are interpretations of something, metaphors of the body. (op. cit., p. 10)" ...Imagine that; Nietzsche is actually speaking of something! Who knew!?! I have always found Blondel's combination of psychological and cultural analysis with philosophical interpretation superb. After the essay in this collection, also have a look at his book. He deserves to be read more often.
Now to the last of the three contributors that I wanted to here mention, Sarah Kofman. She has another important postmodern understanding of Nietzsche. (On a side note I have been looking for a copy of the translation of her well-regarded 'Explosion' -a commentary on Nietzsche's "Ecce Homo"- for several years and I am still looking for it.) Among the contributors to this important collection her work ('Nietzsche and Metaphor') on Nietzsche has been unfairly neglected by most readers in the Anglo-Saxon world. It seems that here she is much better known for her work on feminism and psychoanalysis and also the Holocaust. Often thought of as a `Derridean' because of an abiding interest in metaphor and interpretation, she is really too original to fully deserve either the designation or the accusation of discipleship. Also, be sure to check out the appendix of her book which is a study of Jean Granier's Nietzsche. The final sentence of this study needs to be turned over carefully: "Everything Sacred is introduced by man, and Nietzsche's philosophy is no humanism." For Kofman, "Nietzsche is indeed an atheist".
And with that, I would like to turn to the very 'touchy' subject of Nietzsche's (ahem) 'mysticism'. That, broadly speaking, is the subject of the third section ('Transfiguration') of our anthology. Now, Nietzsche of course and quite obviously has repudiated the monotheists and their Creator-God. But is it correct to place Nietzsche among our contemporary 'New Atheists'? One really does wonder about the accuracy, and indeed, the sanity, of placing an author who could triumphantly shout of himself, "I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus - I, the teacher of the eternal recurrence", towards the end of 'The Twilight of the Idols, or state that "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it--all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary--but love it" (in Ecce Homo, section 10), among the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.
Of course, none of our contributors here argue that Nietzsche is a 'believer'. However, they find, in their different ways, that religious sentiments (in some sense) live on in Nietzsche's doctrines of amor fati, Dionysus, and Eternal Recurrence. These are intended by Nietzsche to be beyond any secular understanding. In this vein, after reading the three final contributions to our anthology, one might turn to Bataille ("Theory of Religion") and also Stambaugh ("The Other Nietzsche") for some more insight into the 'other Nietzsche' and his uses.
I have reviewed this book using my old Dell Publishing 1977 edition. But I have examined the latest edition in the store and I believe the only change is that the Bibliography has been expanded and updated. These essays whetted my appetite, back in the seventies, for a Nietzsche wholly unlike the academic Nietzsche that one usually encountered in the academic literature of the time. Today one wonders if all these postmodern tendencies have become but another orthodoxy waiting to be overthrown. Five stars for a brilliant collection of essays that shook Nietzsche Interpretation to the foundations back in the seventies.
The 'Discourses' are a mystery to many people only acquainted with 'The Prince'. Their initial 'surface' reading had convinced them that ol' N...moreComment:
The 'Discourses' are a mystery to many people only acquainted with 'The Prince'. Their initial 'surface' reading had convinced them that ol' Nick was on the side of a strong Individual (Prince, King) ruling through his virtù. But this was only at the surface! If you go through the 'Prince' a second time, searching for any mention of the aristocrats (Barons, Dukes, Factions, etc.) you will be amazed how Machiavelli never seems to have much respect for them. They always get in the way! There are only two 'subjects', two possible authorities, in Nick's political writings: the Prince and the People. Here, in the 'Discourses' discover what our author meant by a People. After reading both the Prince and the Discourses, several times, one should then turn to Leo Strauss and Gramsci, both of whom are very sharp on Machiavelli.(less)
Orthodoxy, for Lukacs, is above all, fidelity to method. If 'research had disproved' every one of Marx's theses he tells us that he would stil...moreComment:
Orthodoxy, for Lukacs, is above all, fidelity to method. If 'research had disproved' every one of Marx's theses he tells us that he would still be a Marxist if they had been disproved for 'scientific' (i.e., Marxist) reasons! Such was the importance of method to Lukacs. ...But isn't method always thus? - A faith for people without faith?(less)