Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"the vagaries of history"

Patrick Deneen on the misinterpretation of Bloom's "conservatism":
Bloom relates that "I found myself responding to the professor of psychology that I personally tried to teach my students prejudices, since nowadays—with the general success of his method—they had learned to doubt beliefs even before they believed in anything . . . One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation." Bloom's preferred original title—before being overruled by Simon and Schuster—was Souls Without Longing. He was above all concerned that students, in being deprived of the experience of living in their own version of Plato's cave, would never know or experience the opportunity of philosophic ascent . . .

Bloom was prone to obtuseness about this fact because, at base, Bloom himself was not an admirer or supporter of the multiplicity of cultures. Indeed, he was suspicious and even hostile to the claims of culture upon the shaping of human character and belief—including religious belief. He was not a conservative in the Burkean sense; that is, someone apt to respect the inheritances of tradition and custom as a repository of past wisdom and experience. Rather, he was at his core a liberal: someone who believes that the only benefit of our cultural formation was that it constituted a "cave" from which ambitious and rebellious youth could be encouraged to pursue a life of philosophy.
I don't wish to derail the discussion of inauthenticity at Seynsgeschichte, but I wonder how Bloom's view of the value of "the experience of living in Plato's Cave" -- that is, of having lived within a defined cultural tradition -- differs from Heidegger's view of the presupposition of gerede and of the inauthentic as harbor of and "condition of possibility" for the authentic. Is it necessary, in the end, to leave the "vagaries of history" behind?

4 comments:

Pseudonoma said...

Eliot's four quartets instructs us or assures us or dissuades us with the following: "Only through time/Time is conquered"...and, again,: "History may be servitude/History may be freedom"

I think we may profit by wresting these lines in the direction of Heidegger's thought of history...that is, history as of Beyng. Let us employ the distinction often employed in discussions like those of the meaning of categories liberal and conservative, or those which invoke Burke to describe a proper relation to tradition. That distinction would be the one also used by Berlin in his essays on the topic...namely the distinction between negative positive freedom. The claim from Deneen above is that, on the level of the vagaries of history, that is, the level of things inherited or inheritable, as opposed to say 'ahistorical transcendentals' (e.g. the Straussian concept of Natural right or the foundations of this concept) Bloom's admiration of positive freedom was superficial and utilitarian. If historical positive freedom, in the sense of having a (respectable, genuine) cave, is to be lauded, it is only because it offers the opportunity of a philosophic escape from it...an escape also from history itself. This may or may not be a fair characterization of Bloom's position, but it does seem to resonate with my reading of his "Closing". In fact "Closing" can be seen as whole to be a long argument for the need for Western tradition to be upheld...and to be upheld for the sake of an eventual philosophic liberation from the bondage of tradition. (Deneen is flat out wrong, however, when he conflates Bloom's contempt for a fraudulent notion of "muliculturalism" with a very different contept for culture in general which I, for one do not see Bloom posessing. Multiculturalism and the self-defeating celebration of diversity Bloom rightly dealt with in a Nietzchean spirit as a thin rainbow sheet loosely covering a stinking carcass of nihilism and consummate cultural oblivion.

Pseudonoma said...

But however much credence we can lend to Deneen's characterization of Bloom's liberalism, there can be no doubt that it is at variance with Heidegger, who is often politically pegged as a conservative or by some of his not so secret unadmirers, a fascist. But the difference thoughtlessly missed if stick to the unhelpful and nearly (I do not say "completely") meaningless categories. I would prefer construe it with the help of "negative and positive freedom". Like Eliot Heidegger does not see tradition as a on either a cave of bondage or a springboard for philosophic assent. For Heidegger and Eliot, Tradition blindly masters us for better or worse at first, but --and here is the crucial point--it is that same tradition which is to be made the oject of our positive freedom. Tradition not only must be labored for to be properly inherited --it is itself worth the labor. The ground and source of tradition is the only place where true freedom is to be achieved. History, properly understood, is transcendental and its bond can never be broken, only modified. In this modification, which I refer to, citing SZ, as an "existentiell modification of the the existential of inauthenticty", real recovery of the forgetful condition of human existence is made possible ---and it is made possible precisely and only by a posture of anticipating, i.e. by an historical posture. It is really made possible but is not yet actual. Because of the non-actuality of this reality (a reality which the early Heidegger would call the true and genuine scientific life --sprung from a science capable of recovering and returning to life instead of forgetting and objectifying it) Heidegger's freedom cannot be called positive, but it is certainly even further away from the Enlightenment's "virtue" of negative freedom. History and forgetfulness are necessary not only to the obfuscation of truth but for the achievement of truth. Nor are they an instrument for its achievement. They are inherent to its finite possession. Indeed, history is the truth in the sense the truth, in being true, historizes. Inheriting is built into the very structure of truth. In this way, finitude is not simply man's. It belongs more primordially to truth ---to the way truth ITSELF withdraws, that is, withdraws itself.

Pseudonoma said...

Bloom, like Strauss, seems only to have seen Heidegger in opposition to his own idea of a strictly negative historical freedom. Heidegger is, for him, a relativist of the most brilliant sort, or more precisely, Heidegger is an hisoricist, albeit one of top philosophic caliber. this is because Bloom sees Heidegger promoting and amplifying the Nietzschean mantra of "commitment" and decisionism --i.e. of willing the historical situation to which one has been fated and of considering all truth to be found in this will, and thus to be entirely historically enclosed or "horizonal." But Heidegger does not say this. If in SZ he thinks of time as the transcendental horizon for any possible understanding of Being, this is not because Heidegger thinks truth is a function of historical trend. Rather Heidegger is thinking of time and history differently --not as flux or succession of moments or ages. but rather as concealments of Being itself. Time gives an undestanding of Being But Being itself...i.e. as Ereignis, gives time by giving itself. There is time only by virtue of the granting of Being. History is of Beyng. Authentic Positive freedom lies not in willing one's historical understanding but in binding oneself to what has already in advance given or made possible the understanding of an age...and that is something which such an understanding initially hides or conceals. To simply will ones historical situation is to misunderstand it. Nietzsche's perspectivism is prioritizes history over truth. Heidegger, by contrast sees history as a path to truth, but unlike Bloom he also thinks this path to be part of the truth. To discard it as an instrument would be to discard the truth which we are seeking to reach by its means.

Tony said...

Thanks very much, Pseudonoma.

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