17 October 2007 Christianity and the Terror, or: More Zizek-Bashing
Slowly moving through the preface to For they know not what they do. Continuing to be disappointed with how badly Zizek mishandles Hegel. From page xliv:
Hegel has nothing to do with such a pseudo-Hegelian vision (espoused by some conservative Hegelians like Bradley and McTaggart) of society as an organic harmonious Whole, within which each member asserts his or her "equality" with others through performing his or her particular duty, occupying his or her particular place, and thus contributing to the harmony of the Whole. For Hegel, on the contrary, the "transcendent world of formlessness" (in short: the Absolute) is at war with itself; this means that (self-)destructive formlessness (absolute, self-negating negativity) must appear as such in the realm of finite reality. The point of Hegel's notion of the revolutionary Terror [in the Phenomenology] is precisely that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom.
We correct: Bradley (and the British Idealists generally) were not bad readers of Hegel when it came to political philosophy. (Robert Stern's paper on the British Idealists and the "concrete universal" is excellent, here.)
Hegel was very much concerned, from his student days up through his mature System, with the possibility of life in a society as a harmonious existence, of being reconciled to the world and to one's life in it. Early-on, this takes the form of a Romantic idolization of Greek life as a sort of naturliche Harmonie; by the point of his Jena writings, Hegel had already become critical of this tendency in the thought of his contemporaries. (Holderlin, who had been Schelling & Hegel's roommate at the seminary in Tubingen, is a fine example of this tendency; the Greece of Holderlin's Griechenland is a heap of Romantic claptrap.) Hegel came to the conclusion that the sort of thoughtlessly harmonious existence the Greek citizen was held to have had with his city was impossible after the inward turn of Christianity, the rise of civil society, the dawn of the Enlightenment, republican ideas in politics, etc. -- natural harmony was incompatible with the idea that "man is and ought to be free".
If a modern man was to be reconciled to his world, then it could only be through a moralische Harmonie, a harmony which was not merely given but which was comprehended in thought; a man had to not merely be an harmonious part of his society, but had to recognize this harmony, had to comprehend his own existence (including what is most "inward" and private for him, such as his feelings & religious sentiments) as being integrated with the whole of life. The bulk of Hegel's criticisms of his contemporary society make the complaint that it does not make sufficient allowance for this reconciliation to become possible; the life of private individuals is too abstract from the affairs of the state (or the church, or various other social organizations), or else the state (or the church, or various other social organizations) does not make sufficient allowance for the free self-determination of individual actors to do as they judge best. Hegel does not think that moralische Harmonie is impossible; on the contrary, the possibility of this harmony is the highest achievement of modern civilization (and its philosophical handmaiden, Hegel's System, is directed towards helping this Harmonie come about more fully). This is the "end of History": with modernity Spirit knows its world as its own product, comprehends what is given to it as always already implicitly Spirit, as capable of being rationally comprehended, and the social world of "Objective Spirit" is a place where Spirit can feel "at home with itself in its other", where the individual peculiarities of a particular subject are recognized as determinations of the "universal" of society, and not something over and against it.
Zizek is one hundred eighty degrees wrong about Hegel's "the Absolute": it is not a nihil, a "transcendent world of formlessness", or any other ding-an-sich-like transcendence. Hegel's Absolute is not the Schellingian "night in which all cows are black"; the Absolute is the most contentful thing there is. The Absolute is a concrete universal; it has its being, its truth, only in the particular determinations ("moments") which make up Hegel's system -- those which make up the triad of Logic, Nature, and Spirit. The Absolute is not "at war with itself"; the Absolute particularizes itself in the asunderness of nature and returns to unity with itself in the reconciliation of asunderness with unity. To put it in religious terms, the Father begets the Son, and they are united in the Spirit of charity which proceeds from both; God creates a "fallen" world of disorder, enters into it in His only Son, and the world is reconciled to God through the life of the Spirit; the sinful individual, separated from God, becomes an adopted child of God in the community of the Spirit. The Absolute does not wage war in the divine comedy.The "absolute, self-negating negativity" of the Terror is a moment of history, just as the Fall of Adam is a moment in the Christian story of salvation-history.
For Hegel, the Terror is an exemplar of the "abstract universal": in "absolute freedom" one refuses to recognize any "given" content as adequate to the universal, to Reason, --thus the purely formal "Supreme Being" of the French Revolution, and its trumpeting of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" while the actual state was rank tyranny of the lowest sort. The "point" of Hegel's reference to the Terror is not "that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom" (for this would apply to everything Hegel includes in his System), but that the Terror shows what happens when the drive for the Universal in human life takes a utopian form, trying to build everything up anew out of pure thought rather than recognizing and cultivating what is already rational in human life. The Terror of "absolute freedom" occurs in the Phenomenology at the close of the section on the Enlightenment, which is also the section on Pietism -- on faith and reason, so to speak. The Terror is just the flip-side of theocracy; in theocracy subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is what is given from On High; in the Terror subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is abstract "Reason". It was thus prescient of the French revolutionaries to build a temple to the idol of Reason, for this is what they viewed it as: a god to replace the unreasonable Christian one... Posted by Daniel at 10:08 PM Labels: Caster, Hegel, Zizek 2 comments: