Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Contradictions of Political Modernity? (in process)

Association with the French philosopher Michael Löwy from his article 'Politique et histoire: Retour sur Hannah Arendt', review of the book 'Hannah Arendt: une juive. Expérience, politique et histoire' by Martine Leibovici.

In a rather friendly reappraisal of the 'political' work of Hannah Arendt, Löwy touches upon some issues of the first order in his review of Leibovici's book; as great deal of literature has been devoted to Arendt in the English and French speaking world the interminable seas of discussion on some key points of Arendt's philosophizing are in vogue today and at no other time has so much confusion reigned - as it is the case with any canon, in particular at the axe of an age whereby historical philosophy is slowly being relegated only to the scholars and the majority of the speakers dare address the audience in the 'I' of hermeneutic philosophy; as Goethe would have repeated himself today by saying 'to the things themselves', with the risk of interpretive freedom that hinders the accuracy of philological and comparative work for the sake of 'commonality'; a language in philosophy that might enable students of philosophy to engage in discussions with one another unburdened by traditions and scholarly canon. This tendency is by no means philosophical, but rather springs from the undercurrents of 'free speech', with all the charges that go in hand with such an engagement.

It is already out of fashion to ask the question of 'what's Arendtian about Arendt? where's the system?'; for she allegedly refused to integrate her philosophy into a coherent system and with the exception of her first and last book ('The Concept of Love in Augustine' and 'The Life of the Mind') she refused to refer to them as philosophy of any kind and opted for the label of 'political thought'; yet she lived up to the nature attached to philosophy since Plato in that her thinking was entirely resultless and not seeking truth - an almost uncanny tendency to altogether avoid metaphysics and that has been proven by more recent philosophy to be an entirely impossible enterprise, e.g. Deleuze and Levinas. At the same time she did keep a keen eye on the 'light of the public' where political events unfold and remained contientiously committed to their critique with an interpretive tool springing from somewhere else, today almost unanomimously referred to as her 'phenomenology of the social world'. The term, while remarkable and new, is greatly misleading in the light of two particularly Arendtian problems. Her troubling accounts of the concept of the world and her deliberate decision to leave the social question out of political reflections, the former one of her most interesting features (philosophically) and the latter undoubtedly her greatest failure (politically).

Because of her belief (and mine) in the end of the tradition, there was no possible alternative but a fragmentary 'system', namely unlinked reflections that in the eternal recurrence of their topicality and development link to one another in such a way that certain objections can be raised in the empirical sense. Metaphysics stood long dead by then and no willy-nilly most modern philosophers (since Hegel) have 'avoided' metaphysics but have unknowingly indulged in them not without 'blaming' their predecessors for being 'metaphysicians' and setting themselves to 'correct' the philosophical mistakes of the past. No better example of this than Heidegger, whose thorough 'shaking' of the hothouse of Aristotelian metaphysics as presented in his early work was entirely 'turned inwardly' later on with the possibility of either recanting everything said after his magna opera 'Being & Time' or as it was the case, returning to the metaphysics of Aristotle and Leibniz in his later work enframing the concept of 'Being' in an almost untouchable aura of 'sacredness' that echoes back to Protestant mysticism and the Aristotelian tradition of Christian theology. Metaphysics is no strange household for Arendt, who in despite her distaste for the idea even, worked on theoretical models of the faculty of the 'Will' (quintessential for two of her favourite thinkers, Augustine and Duns Scotus) that rely on unmovable assumptions.

Yet her metaphysical inclinations were of a different kind than those encountered in the long history of Western philosophy (despite the tautology one has to face when speaking of 'time' and 'history' in classical metaphysics, something as contradictory as the interlapse in between metaphysics and positive logic, encountered in the age of Rationalism - one of the greatest peaks of metaphysics. The historical distinction is unknown to philosophy prior to the historical hermeneutics of Hegel, alas! Eternity is broken!), they were of a fragmentary kind; no doubted inherited from two well-known sources, the concept of history in Walter Benjamin (as present in the 'Theses on the Philosophy of History) and the 'temporality' of the Heideggerian system. Arendt reflected upon political institutions on the light of this rather curious methodology; but the Wizard of Oz behind this tendency is found in the non-hierarchical nature of her musings. As a paradigmatic parallel one cannot help thinking about the concept of 'everyday life' found in Max Weber, Mannheim and in Marxist thinkers like Lukàcs and early Ernst Bloch - a hierarchical edifice of the 'life-world' (a concept I suspect inherited from the 'life-philosophies', Bergson and Dilthey) present in the 'everyday' that no doubt hearkens back to Hegel's own 'everyday' from both 'The Phenomenology of the Spirit' and 'Philosophy of Right'. The subsequent generation presents a more diversified concept of the everyday that agrees with Leibniz's own view of the modern world, 'one with just as much great diversity as great unity'; this is perceiveable in the own 'everyday' of Henri Lefebvre, Michael Foucault, Ágnes Heller and Ernst Bloch. The 'everyday life' is beyond recognition, an abstract term, and at that one for an infinite number of 'mathematical operations' that occur in the social world, but upon the conditioning factors of contingency, this therefore obscures the possibility of systematic accounts of the concept that as in the Greek concept of history coined by Herodotus and Thucydides ('to tell what is', legein ta eonta, without reference to the 'event' lost in between past and future encountered everywhere since Plotinus through Heidegger) is an anticipatory concept, meaning that it already engages in 'prediction', but the prediction would be rather be left to 'desire' than to 'forecast'; metaphorically speaking this is of very little importance... but as Arendt knew well, it is definitely not in the realm of action.

The predictable nature of history works perfectly fine under the assumption of a cyclical concept of history but it already irrational (and non-rational means not quite the same) and engaged in the sooth-saying of antinomian versions of Messianism; those that either inform you in advance of who/what the Messiah is or necessarily warn you that he will never arrive, at least not in 'this world' (as though we had a clear account of what this concept entails when we've done away with the 'cosmos' as soon as philosophy exists, the shift from cosmological to anthropological representations of truth). Hermeneutically speaking the 'everyday' can be traced back perhaps as far as St. Augustine and the interrelations/events that surround the so-called 'Christian times' described in his Sermones, philosophically the concept is foreign to the world of the natural philosophies (that are not our current philosophies of science) and is perhaps of very little importance before the 'discovery' of burgeoise property relations inherited from the rising social science during the age of positivism. The 'everyday' coupled with history, are the spaces of immanence par excellence and therefore what I would call, the 'stumbling block of trascendence'; an absolute immanence like that of the modern world has become in itself the space of trascendence so that one of the manifold accounts of 'Modernity' is the attempt to 'trascend' the human world in order to repair its fragility. But the human world cannot be repaired without being destroyed, or at least radically modified so that linguistic problems arise anew.

This is where Arendt proves an interesting discussion partner, because whichever talk about metaphysics held today leads unavoidable to street talk about the rise of Modernity and Auschwitz - the greatest achievement of the 'social contract'. Not in vain did Nietzsche remark how the obliteration of the 'true world' will lead to the disappearance of the 'apparent world'; so that philosophically we are condemned to live in a duality that truly is a monism reified into two different apparatuses, the metaphysics of the 'lower forms' (political science) and the metaphysics of the 'higher forms' (theology) and the divorce between the 'formness' inherent to human life is as dangerous as the Cartesian doubt that divorces thinking from being in order to assure the 'accuracy' of both, but out of this Promethean enterprise there can be no other result than the most radical atrophy of both. The radical separation between the organized religion(s) and the state which became soon enough the Enlightenment religion and thoroughly preached by its annointed priest: The definition of the modern state laid down by Hegel's late philosophy. This separation is by no means curious, it springs from the disappointment of Hegel with the previous model of politics based on the political and social reality of Athens; therein there's a total unity (or rather unicity) of the realms of religion, philosophy, art and morality, yet as exemplified in the Greek tragedy (and later in the death of Socrates) there's no space for the 'individual'; the perfect synthesis of the aforementioned realms nullifies the 'moment of decision' that fails in all modern ontologies and that by means of persuasion engenders the mass man of the Totalitarian regime - one that has no private space nor public space, he remains suspended in an 'anti-world'. This model precludes the moment of 'pathos' inherent to any existential decision; the 'pathos' of Kierkegaard is not the 'peitho' of Plato; and in Plato himself the 'peitho' (persuasion) that works under the rubric of mythologies (like in the famous Diotima story in the Symposium) is not an illustrative philosophical character, but rather a theological one in the sense that Plato gave to 'theology' in the Republic - the education of the elites to rule over the mobs.

Hegel experiences this disappointment after his radical political writings during the 'road' of the Phenomenology from consciousness to the absolute knowledge. Yet it is true that absolute knowledge is not the 'end' of the phenomenology but rather the middel way of its movement through the 'Spirit'; but he also recognized that the 'Spirit' is not the 'nous' of Parmenides and that the concept is in its entirety Christian. Therefore I would be inclined to conclude from this that lastly Hegel fails to make up his mind on whether the 'absolute knowledge' is in religion or in philosophy and accordingly the Phenomenology of the Spirit concludes with 'Golgotha' and the Resurrection; laying the foundations of the political life of the 'community' in a historical event, what would appear absolutely non-sensical to Kant and that even today would bother any philosopher concerned with ethics, so that instead the locus of the 'Phenomenology' is displaced onto metaphysics again and by no means unproblematic to reason in the sense of Logic (a 'science' that surprisingly did not know a name until well into modern times). The solipsism trades locations with history and viceversa, and the dialectic is helplessly unable to find a solution to this problem, lest it were to deny itself to make space for facts. And here we speak about the facts of reality in its lack of reality, so that the manifold images of earthly existence cannot be broken into a statement of philosophy, regardless of whoever is claimed to be dead. In Hannah Arendt's thinking about politics a paradigm of this kind comes out in the open, first under the guise of the paradox of freedom found in the Kantian version

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