It has become pointless to have political conversations lately. Especially among what are otherwise intelligent people. And I am including people who, on many specific issues, agree with me. I am talking about the blind, knee-jerk anti-Bush people.
Now let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not pro-Bush. I opposed his support for increased social spending, his support for subsidies, his educational reforms . . . I could go on and on. But this opposition is substantive – it is opposition to particular things. And it does not prevent me from supporting Bush on things I do agree with him on, like his explicitly changing the policy of the United States regarding our support of dictatorships. Does this mean we have in fact stopped supporting dictators? Of course not. If it requires supporting the current government in Tajikistan in order to have permanent bases to fight al Qaida in Afghanistan and to support the new democratic government there, obviously we will. What should be at issue is whether or not we work to democratize Tajikistan once we are there. But this is not the issue with the anti-Bush people. No evidence of Bush putting democratic governments in Afghanistan or Iraq (or suggestions that this is the first time we have in fact installed a democratic government rather than a dictator of our own choosing since WWII) will suffice. What matters is that in this one instance (and ignoring any contingent reasons why) is that we are in some way supporting a dictator by having a base in his country rather than immediately overthrowing that government – which itself ignores the fact that it would greatly weaken our current position in the region where we are hunting for Osama bin Laden. But practical concerns fall on deaf ears when it comes to the Bush haters. If he is doing it, it must be wrong.
Of course, the anti-Bush people also argue against any military action Bush undertakes. They claim concern for the number of troop deaths, though their every solution would likely (if history is any indication) incur more American deaths. But they only come up with these ideas because they are against Bush’s actions. If they were Al Gore’s actions (ignoring the fact that it is highly unlikely Gore would have pursued any pro-democracy foreign policy – though he would have likely still had bases in Tajikistan to support our actions in Afghanistan), there would be no opposition. It would be "clear" to the anti-Bush people that Gore was doing what was right and just and good. It is only because it is Bush who is doing it that it is seen as bad and wrong and insidious regarding his motives.
Much of this comes from a non-skeptical reading of a lot of anti-Bush literature. Now, every four years, we get a plethora of books praising or condemning the candidates and the newly elected leader. The difference seems to be that now people are accepting all they read at face value – even otherwise intelligent people. It was a former CIA agent who wrote this or that anti-Bush book, so it must be true. Why is there no questioning of motives? At a time when the CIA is under question for its failures leading up to 9-11, is being massively reformed, and is even having much of its power taken away and put into the hands of a new cabinet position – all of which was supported in one way or another by Bush – is it unreasonable to question the motives of a CIA agent who writes an anti-Bush book? Certainly it is better for the agent to attack the President than it is to admit to his, and his organization’s, massive failings. This is pure and simple loyalty to the CIA. Yet too many people (actually, almost everyone) only read what supports what they already believe, what will present them with the kinds of facts that will support what they want to believe, accept it at face value, without question, and will not hear contrary facts, let alone seek them out.
If for no other reason, I cannot wait for Bush to leave office so perhaps a semblance of intelligent political discussion can return. I am tired of people excusing one person or party for all of their idiocies, while hating another for all of the same idiocies. And I am equally tired of people attacking or opposing something a person or a party supports just because that person or party supports it. Bush proposes the same exact social security reforms some Democrats had proposed under Clinton, and now those same Democrats oppose the reforms. Anyone who switches positions just because someone in the other party supports it should be thrown out of office. All they want to do is oppose – they are for nothing. And they are also good for nothing. Least of all actual dialogue.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
It has become pointless to have political conversations lately. Especially among what are otherwise intelligent people. And I am including people who, on many specific issues, agree with me. I am talking about the blind, knee-jerk anti-Bush people.
Posted by Troy Camplin at 3:46 PM
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
I recently found a book by James R. Otteson titled Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life, the goal of which is to synthesize Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which argues for people acting in their own rational self-interest so that everyone may be better off, and his The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which argues for mutual sympathy and community as the sources of morality. In modern American politics, the liberals reject this connection entirely, while the conservatives don’t see any point in even making the connection.
But the connection is there, and it is important to make this connection. Smith was writing in the Scottish philosophical tradition, which developed a much different theory of human nature, including theories of equality and individualism, than did the Continental European philosophical tradition, which included Decartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Heidegger.
Before I continue, let me introduce a concept: the world can be viewed as digital, analog, or both. Digital comes from the Latin digitus, for finger. It is countable and separable – a digit is a number. Number comes from the Latin numerus, meaning number and division, and numerus comes from nom-eso, which also gives rise to the Greek nomos, meaning portion, custom, law, division, and melody. Nom comes from gno, which gives rise to knowledge and noble, and "noble" is one way to translate the Greek to kalon, which means not only noble, but also beautiful, just, and fair. Analog comes from analogous, meaning alike. Analog comes from the Greek ana-, complete, and logos, meaning explanation, collection, discourse, or account. A digital view of the world sees the world as divided, pluralistic; an analog view of the world sees the world as one, unified. As Heraclitus says, "It is wise, listening not to me but to the report [logos], to agree [homologein] that all things are one" (K. XXXVI). The view I am propounding agrees with Heraclitus that physis, logos, and nomos are intimately connected. If dynamic systems such as cultures and economies are both analog and digital, we again have an agonal unity of opposites, a complete account explainable only as parts, giving rise to greater complexity in the dynamic system arising out of their interaction. It is important to understand that the world is neither merely digital/fragmented nor merely analog/continuous in order to both have a clearer, more accurate understanding of the scientifically explainable parts of the world, and for aesthetic, ethical, and political reasons (as suggested by the connection of "digital" to to kalon and nomos). There are important consequences for our aesthetics, ethics, and politics if we hold to this (or any) particular (meta)physical view.
If the world is merely digital, the parts cannot interact. If the world is merely analog, it is indistinct. If it is both simultaneously – analog-unified and digital-plural – it has communication, coordination, cooperation, and co-action among its parts. It has unity in variety, and is thus beautiful.
In Individualism and Economic Order, F. A. Hayek points out the dangers of the digital-exclusive view – showing it can and usually does lead to the analogical view (too fine a texture looks like a solid color). The digital-exclusive view leads to bad games (social systems, economic systems, government), since information cannot be shared among players. A good game-system is one where communication – thus, community – is possible. Hayek says there are two kinds of individualism. One is based on rational philosophy, which started with René Descartes and was further developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Emmanuel Kant, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and the existentialists, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir (I am sure the last three would object to being put in the "rationalist" tradition, but their ideas did not really deviate much from Kant’s). I will call this Cartesian Individualism (the digital-exclusive view). The other is in the Scottish tradition of David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and John Locke, and further developed by Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton (the digital-analog agonal view). Cartesian Individualism sees man as rational; the Scottish tradition does not see man as fully rational, but also, perhaps primarily, influenced by his drives, wants and needs of the moment. These different views give rise to different forms of individualism. Perhaps the best way to show the differences would be to put the two traditions side by side in a table showing the difference Hayek sees between the two, and the consequences of each of these, traditions:
COMPARISONS OF TWO PHILOSOPHIES OF INDIVIDUALISM
the individual is found within the social, leading to free markets
man is not always rational, or even capable of always being rational – man also has impulses and instincts
since man is not rational, he cannot design or plan something like a society or economy
the individual participates in the social (cooperates) through being selfish
"If left free, men will often achieve more than individual human reason could design or foresee" (11).
It is not necessary to find good men to run the society, meaning anyone can play
it is not necessary for us to become better than we already are, making it easy to enter the game to play it
freedom is granted to all
no one group never always wins, which keeps people playing
reason is seen "as an interpersonal process in which anyone’s contribution is tested and corrected by others" (15)
inherently unequal people are treated equally
inherent inequality allows diversity
hierarchical – intermediates encouraged
radical individualism, leading (ironically (?)) to socialism
man is rational and has no instincts and can always control his impulses
since man is rational, he can create through planning the ideal society or economy
individual vs. the social – i.e., selfishness vs. cooperation – therefore need coercion
"social processes can be made to serve human ends only if they are subjected to the control of individual human reason" (10)
only the best can or should run society and make economic decisions – few can play
men need to be improved (presumably made more rational) before a good economy or society can be created – hard to play
freedom granted only to the good and wise
the "good and wise," "rational" rulers always win – no reason to play the game
reason found in the individual, especially in certain "good and wise" individuals
people are made equal in actuality – thus, have to arbitrarily assign tasks
only State and Individual, thus flattening society – intermediates suppressed
The Scottish form of individualism, by being digital-analogical, provides us with a broader, more inclusive set of game rules. Anyone can play the social and economic games – making these systems more complex by containing more parts acting in coordination and cooperation. Man does not have to be "improved" for systems set up using Scottish principles to work as he does for those using Cartesian principles (historical examples of attempts to "improve" man to make him more suitable for "rationally" designed societies include the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, the Terror of Revolutionary France, and the slaughters of millions in the Marxist states of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Cambodia). In the Cartesian view, there is one rationality; but in the Scottish view, there are many, which can often come into conflict.
The field in which we operate is our democratic society. The ideal democratic system includes, of course, the various levels of government, but it also encompasses every other organized part of society, including the neighborhood, family, workplace, political party, voluntary or nongovernmental organization, transnational corporation, Internet, and a variety of multilateral organizations. Operating within such a spectrum of responsibility progressively demands the most that individuals can give. Instead of requiring full mastery at the outset, this system establishes conditions under which human beings can achieve their full potential, through their participation, their education, and their receipt of the benefits which the system can produce. ( Craig Eisendrath, At War With Time, 277)
One can make a rational decision about an immediate individualistic concern, one about a long-term individualistic concern, one about one’s family, one for social organizations (i.e., churches, schools, businesses), one for one’s city, county, state, and/or country, one for one’s friends, one for strangers, etc. – all of which could come into conflict (something could be rational for the individual, but not for the family, etc.). This recognizes that individual decisions can and often do effect and affect others through the different levels of society between the individual and the state.
If we take the Scottish view that a person’s knowledge and interests are limited, making our actions limited to a tiny sphere of influence – our family and friends, our churches, schools and businesses, the intermediate social groups the rationalists suppress and the Scottish encourage – we see a highly complex society emerging: the individual influences small social groups, the small social groups influence the individual, and both interact to influence larger social groups, which feeds back to the smaller groups. There is a series of nested hierarchies where each person acts as a digital element, acting in a digital-analogical way, communicating information to other digital elements to create smaller cultural subsystems – the digital elements – of the larger culture. The same individual can have an effect on a school, a church, a business, and a local government, each of which will have larger effects on society at large. More people have more influence over society. And man does not have to be "improved" – the worst can be canceled out by the best. In what other country than the United States and other Western-style democratic republics does it really not matter who the President or Prime Minister is? – any mischief the American President may want to make is more often than not counterbalanced by two houses of Congress, a Supreme Court, and the voters’ opinions (these same voters who can vote the President out after four years if worse comes to worse, or vote in a different party during midterm elections). These principles, upon which the free market is based, are "an effective way of making man take part in a process more complex and extended than he could comprehend" (Hayek, 14-5). Perfect knowledge is not needed to participate. One can have a considerable amount of uncertainty, and still do well. We can reduce uncertainty through education, increasing our own individual knowledge, but we are still left with a plethora of things which we will never have the time to learn.
There needs to be a way for individuals, with their limited information, knowledge, etc., to enter into a highly complex game, to be able to participate in the game itself. The way to allow someone into a highly complex game is by not having barriers to their entering and playing the game in the first place. And, if you do choose to play, and take large risks while playing, you should be able to reap a correspondingly larger reward. To have a good game,
any workable individualist order must be so framed not only so that the relative remunerations the individual can expect from the different uses of his abilities and resources correspond to the relative utility of the result of his efforts to others but also that these remunerations correspond to the objective results of his efforts rather than to their subjective merits. (21)
And the game must not be constructed of iron-clad laws, but of flexible rules (not too flexible, as those of pragmatism, nor too rigid, as those of absolute principles, both of which, as opposed to the idea of general principles, cannot create a system, since principles are the strange attractors, and neither pragmatism nor iron-clad absolutes create attractors). These are also good guidelines for creating works of art and literature, and for writing works of philosophy, theory, and criticism.
An example of good game rules are our "traditions and conventions . . . [which] evolve in a free society and . . . , without being enforceable, establish flexible but normally deserved rules that make the behavior of other people predictable in a high degree" (Hayek, 23). Most social rules should be those agreed upon and practiced by most of the people most of the time, enforced by subtle social pressures, not the use and threat of physical force. "In the social sciences the things are what people think they are. Money is money, a word is a word, a cosmetic is a cosmetic, if and because somebody thinks they are" (Hayek, 60). They are rules because we agree they are – they are socially constructed. With these kinds of rules, those we find in the free market, we have various choices – while with orders or iron-clad laws, we get no real choices. Any choice is better than none. "It is better to have a choice between several unpleasant alternatives than being coerced into one" (Hayek 24).
A word of caution: just because the world has a socially constructed element, it does not follow that all the world is socially constructed. To claim it is brings us to the problems with pragmatism, where no system at all can be constructed. Hayek says pragmatism is "the preference for proceeding from particular instance to particular instance," where the rule-maker "decides each question "on its merits""(1). With pragmatism, expediency and compromise lead us "to a system in which order is created by direct commands" (1). "Without principles we drift," and we are led "to a state of affairs which nobody wanted" (2). Pragmatism makes it possible to change the rules with each move in the game – imagine a game master watching a game being played between two people, and changing the rules whenever he wished. This would lead to the players in each move trying to gain the game master’s favor. They would try to bribe the game master rather than play the game. If this sounds like how big business is conducted, with the government as the game master, we can see why. How much money do businesses waste trying to influence "pragmatic" government officials? With basic principles, everyone is clear what the rules are and that they cannot – or are very difficult to – change. The game players concentrate on the playing of the game itself rather than coming up with strategies to influence some game master. With the use of general principles, the game master can all but be done away with.
The world Adam Smith envisioned was thus one where people cooperated because they worked in their own self-interest – but not exploitatively. Free market systems work because we have sympathy for others, and we want to engage in actions where "if you do something good for me, I will do something good for you," versus the way governments necessarily act: "unless you do something good for me, I will do something bad to you." Governments only help foster community when they prevent individuals and groups from engaging in the latter type of behavior. Those who try to dissolve community bonds and flatten out the natural hierarchies that develop in a culture only seek to create a situation where people are loyal only to them, and not to the series of smaller groups to which they belong. Those who adopt the Cartesian view of humankind are interested only in ruling others. That is why they oppose free markets and the creation of true communities.
Posted by Troy Camplin at 5:19 PM
The exclusively digital approach to aesthetics, ethics, and politics is better known as postmodernism, pluralism, and multiculturalism. While this approach has been a necessary corrective to the analogical world view, if we take the digital view to its logical conclusion, and reject the analogical as a constituent part of the world, all it can do is create alienation – among different races, different cultures, between men and women, and, if we take Quine’s view that we never actually understand one another, among each and every individual. If we take what Quine says in a very limited way, he has a point, but an extreme view makes the mistake of thinking that if there is any noise – ambiguity – in communication, we cannot communicate; whereas information theory says we need noise if we are going to have any communication at all.
An analogical view may lead us to collectivism, including communism, but an exclusively digital view leads to the alienation found in postmodern radical individualism. The consequence of this digital world view is postmodernists telling us we cannot understand one another. Men cannot understand women, and vice versa. Different races and cultures cannot understand each other, we cannot understand anything that happened in the past, and there is the suggestion that we cannot really understand each other. The consequence of this is an increasing fragmentation of society, creating warring factions (men vs. women, minorities vs. majorities, secular vs. religion), and increasing distrust among people.
Many postmodern theorists have observed that one of the features of modern Western culture is its increasing fragmentation and alienation, a favorite theme of many Marxists. It is ironic that some of these same critics are the very people making the problem worse. If we cannot understand one another, we are incapable of projecting ourselves into another’s situation. While this is literally true in a factual sense, it is in another sense not true at all. We can and do have empathy for others, basing that empathy on related experiences. While I may not understand perfectly an intellectual woman’s complaint that most men do not take her seriously as a thinker, I do understand the sting of not being taken seriously, especially when I know I know more about a subject than the person who is not taking me seriously as a thinker. Only if we can place ourselves in another person’s situation can we develop the empathy needed to be moral or to effect any sort of positive social change.
Studies show orangutans, a distant cousin, can putting themselves into others’ minds. If food is placed out of reach of a caged orangutan, and a person is brought in with a bucket on his head and placed near the orangutan’s cage, without hesitation the orangutan will take the bucket off the person’s head and physically point the person in the direction of the food. The orangutan knows the person cannot see the food if he has a bucket on his head. How could the orangutan know this if it could not project itself into the mind of the person with the bucket on his head? This is a cognitive feature of the great apes, including humans, whose ability to do this developed even more with the advent of language. "One of the common ancestor species of all the living great apes and humans was the first in which individuals realized that others had viewpoints and knowledge different from their own, and could build up novel sequences of actions" (Richard W. Byrne, Tree of Origin, 169).
This ability is why were are capable of telling stories – including fiction. To say we cannot (or should not) do this is to say we are (or should be) cognitively less complex than the other great apes and place us on the cognitive level of monkeys. This attitude goes beyond being merely anti-human, to being anti-great ape. It is anti-language since "Evolution of language would be impossible in a species in which individuals could not imagine that other individuals know things that they do not know themselves" (Byrne, 172). The consequence of this anti-theory-of-mind view for literature has been the creation of a shallow sort of minimalism that avoids letting the reader know about anything more than the actions of the characters, on this theory that we cannot know what others think – so the author should not bother to tell us what his characters think, since he cannot even know. If they think at all.
Postmodernism creates social ruptures – it is anti-social in nature. It puts up barriers between men and women. Postmodernism’s radical individualism says there is an abyss of difference between men and women. The collectivism inherent in the Franco-German individualist tradition, whose egalitarian individualism attempts to eliminate all difference, suggests there is no difference between men and women. Specifically, women have been told they should be more like men. This has created an identity crisis in many women. They are told by their culture (which has been influenced by the pro-masculinizing gender feminists) they should be one thing, and by their biology and psychology they should be something else. I fear American women will soon face a tragic crisis, which can only be headed off if women are allowed by this culture to be women in the fullest sense, and not made into either men or relegated into some sort of submissive role, as we had in the past, and as we still find in many cultures around the world.
Postmodernism, far from being a solution to this crisis, only makes the problem worse. And gender feminism, by insisting that there are no fundamental behavioral differences between men and women, only reinforces the prejudice that differences are inherently bad and unequal. It is those feminists who perpetuate the belief that femininity is inferior. Despite what they think, it is not. American culture in particular is sorely lacking in femininity – not the cultural myths we once held about how women should act, but natural femininity, which can come about in a more inclusive, open culture – this lack is primarily the fault of the gender feminists, who insist that our genetic differences make no difference. This is creating the groundwork for a tragic situation, where women are pushed by culture to go beyond their own physis without even trying to understand their physis (vs. the myths of their physis). One hopes we learn the outcome through works of literature, including plays and film, rather than within society itself.
This anti-social element is found not only in relations among men and women, but among races and cultures too. I welcome the emphasis on multiculturalism, as it creates the potential for a much richer, more complex American (and world) culture, but the way postmodernism practices it creates a number of problems. What are we to do with a culture that practices clitorectomy? Or oppresses women? Or practices genocide? Are we to just consider these a legitimate part of the rich tapestry of humanity? Postmodernism’s insistence that we cannot judge anyone – particularly other cultures – puts us in a serious dilemma in considering these situations. I think there are few who support genocide, but how can one come to say genocide is wrong if one does not make some sort of judgement, or insist there is some sort of universal we should be guided by? I asked Cynthia Haynes (a self-identified postmodernist) this question, and she told me the only thing she does not tolerate is intolerance. But isn’t the intolerance of intolerance itself a universalizing view? One assumes she (and other postmodernists) wishes everyone was intolerant of intolerance. But if one wishes for such an overarching view, one’s entire postmodern world view collapses (of course, the very fact that postmodernism is a world view and, thus, a grand narrative, makes it collapse, imploded by its own hypocrisy).
Postmodern multiculturalism will not work. But we should not return to a "melting pot" view either. Why not a mixture of the two, maintaining cultural identity while integrating everyone into, for example, the American (or, better, world) culture? This view presumes there are more than two societal levels – the individual and the culture/state – which goes against the Franco-German philosophical tradition leading to postmodernism. It is possible – I would say preferable – that there is more than just the individual and her culture. Why can’t a person be an individual, a member of a family (nuclear and extended), a member of a community, a subculture, an organization (if not several), including churches, clubs, schools, etc., an overarching culture, and a citizen of a state, a country, and the world? If there are this many levels between an individual and the government, the government’s power over that individual is weakened, and the influence of that government (and any who wish to influence that government, the culture of a country through the government, etc.), is greatly weakened – which may explain why many pro-statist postmodernists oppose this view.
Postmodernism’s anti-social view of humanity makes it anti-human. Humans are a social species, like all the great apes (even the apparently solitary orangutan will socialize when food is abundant), most monkeys, lions, elephants, dolphins, and wolves. Social species are different from and have more complex behavior than herd or schooling species, like antelope, sheep, or sardines, in that there is little to no bonding among the members of the herd. Individual members are less likely than social animals to aid unrelated or distantly related members of the herd. It seems postmodernists wish to make us act more like herd than social animals.
Posted by Troy Camplin at 5:17 PM
Calling someone a "fascist" or a "Nazi" is beginning to become meaningless. All you have to do is disagree with anything a leftist believes, and you are immediately slapped by them with one of those labels. However, this is not what Richard Wolin is doing in his book "The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism."
In this book Wolin is looking at historical fascism, and the influence of fascism on much of what passes as philosophy nowadays. He identifies fascism with counter-enlightenment thinking. Since Wolin is clearly a scholar of Continental philosophy, Enlightenment philosophy is for him primarily that of Voltaire, Diderot, and the other thinkers of the French Enlightenment. The reaction to the Enlightenment came in several forms, from Romanticism to various forms of racism and nationalism. It is when the Nietzschean form of Romanticism (or, at least, sections taken out of context) was combined with ideas of racism and nationalism (one cannot really object on the grounds of reason that this is a contradiction, since Nietzsche both hated anti-Semites and nationalism, since the people who combined them were enemies of reason) that the various forms of fascism were born – the most commonly known being Italian fascism and Nazism. The author does an excellent reading of Nietzsche as the 20th century thinkers have misread him, noting only at the end of his chapter on Nietzsche that they were in fact misreading him.
Wolin spends each chapter covering different thinkers. But before we get to the ones he does cover, I think I should mention the one thinker he does not cover at all in his own chapter: Martin Heidegger. It may seem odd that Heidegger, who said that reason was an adversary to thought, was an actual member of the Nazi party, and who never recanted his Nazism nor apologized for what the Nazis did, should be left out, especially considering the fact that it is Heidegger’s ideas that have influenced postmodern thinking more than any others – including perhaps Nietzsche’s. However, Wolin is interested in exposing those we do not normally see as fascists. And besides, Heidegger’s associations with the Nazis are well documented – most recently in Charles Bambach’s book "Heidegger’s Roots."
So let us talk about those Wolin does talk about.
The first unexpected name to arise is Carl Jung. It may seem odd as first glance to include Jung, who was, after all, Freud’s handpicked successor at one time. However, Wolin shows several of Jung’s writings that were explicitly anti-Semitic. Further, Jung had a 10% quota on the number of Jewish psychologists who could join his Analytical Psychology Club of Zurich as regular members, only doing away with it in 1950. Jung also apparently thought of his famous ideas of the archetypes as being specifically Aryan in nature, and that Jews especially do not have them, or at least have them only weakly. The reason for this was that Jung saw the archetypes as essentially pagan in origin. Further, Wolin points out that "Jung eagerly cooperated with the Goring Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy, accepting the presidency of the Nazi-run General Medical Society for Psychotherapy and serving as editor for its journal, the Zentralblatt fur Psychotherapie" (74). The fact that Jung headed a Nazi society for psychotherapy and cooperated with Nazi psychological research should concern anybody. It’s no wonder he was considered for war crimes after World War II.
The next surprise – and even more surprising – is the case of Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose mentor was none other than Heidegger. Certainly, this association is hardly enough. Karl Jaspers was a friend of Heidegger, but did not join the Nazis in any way. But Gadamer apparently decided to associate himself with the Nazis just to further his career (which only raises the question of who should be condemned more – Heidegger for actually believing in Nazism, or Gadamer for using what the Nazis were doing to further his own career), by signing pro-Hitler petitions, voluntarily enrolling in a Nazi political reeducation camp, joining the National Socialist Teacher’s Association, and volunteering to give lectures in Nazi-held Paris in order to help convert the French intellectuals (who were not given any other choice but to attend). This is most damning when we consider the fact that one did not have to become a member of the Nazi party, or associate with them at all, to work in the universities.
Wolin begins his section on the French thinkers’ associations with fascism with a chapter titled "Left Fascism," which deals with the ideas of Georges Bataille. Bataille, whose influences included Nietzsche and the Marquis de Sade, is considered by many to be the father of poststructuralism, out of which we get postmodernism. Bataille was closely associated with Left Fascism, which he identified as his ideology, and which seeked to unify fascism with an even stronger version of socialism. He was anti-reason, anti-civilization, anti-ethics, pro-violence, and promoted the most perverse, unreproductive sexuality (these things are not hidden or hinted at, but are explicitly stated by Bataille, or explicitly shown in his fictional works).
The next two figures Wolin covers are less clearly associated with fascism.
Maurice Blanchot was a writer, who wrote articles against what he called the "inhuman Declaration of the Rights of Man," and who saw the "only solution to a dysfunctional republicanism" as a "fascist-type insurrection" (192). He also thought there was an "international conspiracy of communists, Jews, and capitalists" (Heidegger said that Germany was caught in the pincers of capitalism on one side, and communism on the other, both of which he said were metaphysically identical). His literary theories also became one of the cornerstones of poststructuralism – joining him with Bataille.
The most interesting person included in this work is Jacques Derrida, whose idea of deconstruction has led us into the postmodern era. Leaving aside Derrida’s attempts to deconstruct the Nazism of both Heidegger and Paul de Mann (to show they weren’t really all that fascist after all), and the fact that Derrida’s primary intellectual influences are Nietzsche and Heidegger, the connection to fascism seems, at first glance, weak. Certainly, Derrida is anti-reason. But for a long time, deconstruction was accused of being nonpolitical. Derrida’s response to this is what is interesting. He first responded by saying that deconstruction is in fact "hyper-political," particularly in its critique of democracy. His attacks on natural law also undermine the very foundations of democracy, on which democracy is founded. He also opposed the ideas of Law and Justice, saying that "justice, as opposed to law, always pertains to the case at hand in its irreducible individuality" (234). While there may be something to this, this should not, as Derrida suggests, mean we should do away with law. What is most interesting is that Derrida gets this idea form the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, who proclaimed that "the exception is more interesting than the rule" in his book Political Theology. He wants justice that is not grounded in law – which means he wants the rule of man, not the rule of law. Another problem with dealing with justice through the lens of the exceptional is that what we end up with is crisis "justice," which allows precisely for dictatorial decrees.
Wolin ends his book with a chapter on anti-Americanism, which he identifies precisely with anti-Enlightenment thinking. America is everything Europe was not: it has no racial foundations, the laws are based in reason rather than tradition, there is no nation to speak of, but rather federation with a fluid hierarchy (as opposed to the strict egalitarianism supported on the Continent, which has resulted in the periodic desire to eliminate those who will not fit into the egalitarian ideal state), it is a liberal capitalist state, individualistic, and free. Some of these things are still true. Wolin identifies current anti-Americanism in Europe with Heidegger’s, whose ideas on America were so purely intellectual, that they had no basis in reality. Certainly, Heidegger never traveled to America to learn anything about it. And because America is capitalist, and in Europe Jews are associated with capitalism, the anti-Semitism that still runs through Europe contributes to anti-Americanism. We see anti-Americanism in the present day, among postmodern thinkers such as Baudrillard, who claims that in America we believe in a "hyperreality" made up entirely of media-generated images, which have replaced reality. He sees America as a negative utopia. He has also expressed a great deal of joy over 9-11, and he is joined in this sentiment by Slavoj Zizek, who claimed in his book "The Desert of the Real" that "America got what it fantasized about," in our movies. In other words, we got what we had coming. Neither is concerned with morality in their commentaries – only with their interpretations of things. Which all too often have nothing to do with reality – and almost never have anything to do with reason. Anti-Enlightenment thought, which reached its worse manifestations in Nazi Germany, continue on – but with Wolin, it is no longer unchecked or unchallenged.
Posted by Troy Camplin at 5:15 PM