Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 23 April 2015

The Bounds of Free-dom: The Lutheran Re-definition of Classical Freedom in Schelling and Schopenhauer

It is common to oppose the concept of freedom to that of necessity – most notably in the philosophical debate over determinism. Yet freedom is a political notion – the opposite of coercion. Once the notion of freedom is reduced to the opposite of necessity, then it becomes mere “chance” or “hazard” or “contingency” and is reduced to an onto-logical problem. The fact is that, as we are seeking to demonstrate here, there is no such thing as “necessity”, either logical or scientific, so that all “truths” are “contingent”. But the fact that “truth” can be understood as “necessity”- that the “necessity” of logic or science is what makes them “true” - and that “freedom” can be mistaken for “contingency” means that “truth” and necessity can be abused or be used instrumentally for the purpose of political coercion! By this process, “freedom of the will” can be mistaken for a “telos” that, by positing the “systematicity” of life and the world as a “totality”, becomes a quest for “freedom from the will”. This critique of the Western metaphysical concept of freedom, which saw its epitome in the “Freiheit” of Classical German Idealism, is what the negatives Denken has rightfully contributed to our understanding of freedom, whilst at the same time, by denying the existence of “freedom” in a political sense (because it understands freedom only ontologically), it denies the possibility of political freedom or else reduces it to contingency, to superfluity (Sartre’s “de trop”, Heidegger”s de-jection and Dasein as pro-ject). Freedom is understood then as “universal Eris”, as total conflict so that it is no longer a function of the will but the will becomes a function of “freedom” understood as cosmic “contingency”.

Arendt correctly distinguishes between freedom (political) and contingency or chance (ontological), pointing to their discrete opposites – coercion or and logico-scientific necessity or “irresistibility”. But she fails to see that there is nothing “irresistible” or “true” about logico-mathematics and science, that these are contingent, and that therefore these (contingent, arbitrary) conventions can be utilized for the purposes of coercion by erecting “measurable frameworks” of conduct (institutions) that force human conduct and choices into “measurable” channels or behavioral straitjackets. The “irresistibility” of mathesis can ec-sist only as a value, as “truth”, and therefore as a “will to truth” that is “internalized” to coerce human behaviour. This is the “necessity” of mathesis – precisely, a “restriction” or channeling of human freedom understood not ontologically (as contingency, which is categorically not, and can-not be affected by mathesis) but rather politically. (Arendt’s discussion of these matters can be found in The Life of the Mind and Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy as well as in On Revolution. We have reviewed them at length in our “The Philosophy of the Flesh”.)

This transformation of the concept of freedom can be traced most lucidly in the work of Schelling and Schopenhauer who can be identified as the founders of what we call negatives Denken. The negatives Denken understands “free-dom” as the battleground of conflict between wills. For Weber, for instance, the individual will acts freely if it acts “rationally”; and “rationality” is defined as the will’s choice of adequate means in pursuit of its own ends. This “choice” the will makes is therefore con-ditioned by the choices of other wills in conflict with it. In essence, for Weber, rationality is the game-theoretic strategy that is chosen by independent and conflicting wills freely pursuing their irreconcilable ends or wants whose provision is scarce. The “freedom” of the will is de-fined not intrinsically as in the Freiheit of German Idealism but rather instrumentally in terms of the relationship of given means to projected ends. It is “free-dom” in the sense of “room to manoeuvre” (Ellenbongsraum, Weber, in CPW) - to manoeuvre against other wills, that is. Thus, there can be no “freedom of the will” in the objective genitive. It is the will that is a function of free-dom, not the other way around – which means that the “freedom of the will” has no positive universalistic telos or inter esse, but is rather the op-posite, the contrary of this inter esse. For the negatives Denken there is no “freedom” in an ab-solute, idealistic sense: freedom exists only as “contingency”, as the opposite of “necessity”, not of “co-ercion” - onto-logically, not politically! And insofar as there is freedom, as in Schopenhauer or Heidegger, this ec-sists only as “transcendence”, as “intelligible freedom” (even in Kant), - something Nietzsche derided as “astute theology” (vedi his scathing comment on Kant and on Schopenhauer in Twilight of the Idols; and note the etymological link between “theory” and “theo-logy”, traced in W. Jaeger, Early Greek Theology).

The negatives Denken replaces the Idealist Freiheit which, as we have seen, turns by reason of its “systematicity” into a quest for “freedom from the will”, from its “arbitrariness”, with the conversion of this teleological “freedom” into an instrumental “free-dom”, one that is intended not as a telos, as an common human aspiration or inter esse, but rather as its opposite, as “contingence”, a mere lack of conceptual or material “necessity”; and thus it conceives of the Will as an antagonistic “universal condition” (Schopenhauer’s Weltprinzip, Nietzsche’s Wille zur Macht) as the obverse of Kant’s Dinge an sich.

The de-struction of the telos of “freedom” invites and elicits the destruction of any “system”, of any teleological “rule” by means of “the exception”. For the negatives Denken the exception is not what con-firms the rule, not Hegel’s negation that is meaningfully re-absorbed by the “negation of the negation”. (We are extending to ontology a notion applied by Carl Schmitt to politics, see his The Concept of the Political. And see on this point, the insightful confrontation of Schelling and Hegel in B. Matthews’s Introduction to Schelling’s Positive Philosophy, and S. Zizek’s The Abyss of Freedom). No such “repechage” is possible. Instead, it is the exception that determines the very essence of the rule, the “truth” of the system, by de-fining its limits. Schmitt quotes from Kierkegaard (in PT, p15): “The exception explains the general [the rule, the system] and itself.” Yet if the exception “explains the general”, it can do so only if it “de-structs” the general or rule or system – if it negates the “system” as a “totality”, as “truth”. Any attempt to erect the system to a universal application – as the Sozialismus, the Left, seeks to do in politics – will result only in the suppression of any “free-dom” that remains beyond the grasp of the system and within the purview of the exception. Schmitt writes (op.cit., p.15):

It would be consequent rationalism to say that the exception proves nothing and that only the normal can be the object of scientific interest. The exception confounds the unity and order of the rationalist scheme.

Here the negatives Denken can conceive of the will only as a destructive force that “works” or “uses” the world only in the sense of “consuming” it – because the opposite, the will and its Arbeit as the “creation” of “wealth”, would entail the possibility of a “common-wealth”, of an inter esse common to all wills, and not merely a subjective “greed-dom” or appetitus. (See on all this, our “Capitalist Metaphysics”.) This de-struction of “truth”, of the telos of freedom, entails also the de-struction of Reason and the Ratio as the summum bonum of humanity, as the Platonic Good. (Useful in this context is G. Lukacs’s Die Zerstorung der Vernunft – but Lukacs takes for granted the whole notion of a Marxian-inspired Ratio-Ordo.) In this perspective, not only can the Logic not be a “science” as in Hegel and even in Kant where synthetic a priori judgements are made “possible” by Reason, but it becomes a mere instrument of the intellect – this last understood as mere perceptions or intuition (Anschauung) or sensations (Empfindungen) in accordance with causality and the principle of sufficient reason. Yet in much of the negatives Denken - from Schopenhauer to Weber for instance -, the attachment to scientific intellect and logical rationality, albeit conceived as instrumental faculties, remains steadfast. Later, Nietzsche will ridicule this simplistic faith in “the intelligible character” and scientific and logical rationality, although it was his “Educator” Schopenhauer who first insisted on the purely “instrumental”, non-theological, ontological status of logic (see G. Piana, ‘Commenti su Schopenhauer.’, 2).



It is not necessity that is opposed to freedom, then. Freedom is a politico-ontological, hence “ethico-political”, concept that can only be opposed to coercion. The true opposite of necessity is chance. Yet, because everything of which we are conscious can only ultimately be attributed to chance – because of the contingency of being (Heidegger’s Dasein) -, “necessity” is a highly-charged term that is used to mask human activities that involve coercion: necessity, if it exists, can do so only as an instinct, as “dire necessity”, the preservation of life (as in Hobbes’s dira necessitas). (The definitive ontological and epistemological proofs against “necessity” start with Nietzsche [Uber Wahrheit und Luge through to Jenseits von Gut und Bose], through to Weber [The Methodology of the Social Sciences], and then Heidegger [Sein und Zeit].) The sphere of economic activity and production – disguised as the sphere of necessity like all other forms of “science and technology” – is the major form of coercion in capitalist societies. (The inability of the sharpest critical minds from Arendt [On Revolution], to Cacciari [Liberta’ e Tecnica] and Zizek [The Abyss of Freedom], on the tracks of Heidegger’s late-romantic notion of Technik [cf. the hideously anti-humanistic Brief am Humanismus], to understand this is hard to believe. Arendt [also in The Life of the Mind and The Human Condition] still clings to scientific “necessity” and logical “irresistibility”, whilst Cacciari and Zizek never go beyond Heidegger’s basic premise of Da-sein.)


The ideological role of “the sphere of necessity” (economics, science and technology) in industrial capitalism is aimed principally at narrowing the range of democratic choice available to citizens as against the “consumer choice” imposed by the violence of capitalist industry with its “rational expectations”:


(b) It can be demonstrated in still another way that indeterminism, to be consistent, would have to cripple our efforts and abilities. If events in external nature did not turn out in accordance with necessary laws, could we count on them? Could our mighty technological achievements have taken place without our utilizing the laws of nature? Certainly not; only our knowledge of these laws gives us such power, and this power grows in proportion to our knowledge. We would be powerless in the face of the phenomena of the will if they did not unfold in accordance with necessary laws. We would then neither know such laws nor be able to employ them in order to achieve our aims. No matter how long we were acquainted with a  person,  we  could  feel  no  certainty  as  to  his  future  behaviour.  Everything we experienced previously would be merely coincidental. Correspondence among the cases observed would not rest upon a single underlying cause, nor would a habit that has arisen construct incidentally a concomitantly determining principle. Promises that we make or that are given us would not offer any security, for regard for a particular agreement would no more be a determining ground for future action than would habit. But along with the possibility of rational expectations about our mutual relations we would also lose every sort of orderly union between people. The whole of human society would be destroyed. No long-term undertaking would be possible; the most powerful force on earth, the human will, would become unpredictable, and everything would be so completely veiled in doubt and darkness that no one would be able to form a plan even for himself, let alone one requiring assistants for its fulfilment. (Franz Brentano, The Foundation and Construction of Ethics, p.165.)


Because Brentano takes social cohesion as the resultant of “individual decisions”, he must then postulate that individual wills are “causally determined” and therefore not “free”. And because he understands “freedom” exclusively as the province or attribute of individual wills, he is then unable to account for social cohesion (what we call “social synthesis”), so that he unwittingly reverts, as he does above, to the collective “human will”! If the free-will advocates were right, argues Brentano,


the most powerful force on earth, the human will, would become unpredictable, and everything would be so completely veiled in doubt and darkness that no one would be able to form a plan even for himself, let alone one requiring assistants for its fulfilment.


Brentano senses that even if individual wills were causally determined – indeed, we say, especially if they were so! - this could still not explain the possibility of society, let alone its actual existence! For why should wills that are individual be pre-determined or pre-ordained to collective harmonious social action (much like Leibniz’s monads)?


What makes social cohesion possible is not the predictability of wills taken individually or ontogenetically but rather the inter-dependence of human needs (not “necessity”!) due to their phylogenetic nature – which is not contrary to their being “free” in an ontological and then in a political sense. In contrast to Brentano’s position, both Marx and Weber agreed that it is this very Sozialisierung or “rational expectations” – this very “need”, not “necessity”! - that confutes determinism as the scientific basis of individual decisions, because it shows that in fact it is the phylogenetic attributes of species-conscious human beings – the non-individuality of human needs, whether understood in a constructive sense (Marx) or in a conflictual one (Weber, Schmitt’s “friend and foe”) – that makes possible the co-ordination of social labour through decisions, whether democratic or authoritarian, that are ineluctably political and therefore “free” at least in an ontological sense. (The further elaboration of these complex matters can be found in our Schmitt and the Concept of the Political, in Part Two of our Weber-buch, and in Part Three of our Nietzsche-buch, respectively from political, sociological, and ontological perspectives.)


For the bourgeoisie to disguise coercion under the cloak of necessity, it needs a set of ideological tools that allow it to define social reality, and freedom in particular, in a way that emarginates conscious democratic choice from the concept of freedom so that it becomes all but irrelevant to our conception of social reality. It is not sufficient for the bourgeoisie to impose the rule of capital, the wage relation: it must also present this rule as a Mussen (Must), a choice made necessary by its “scientific rationality”, which makes it also a Sollen (Ought).


For how else could choice, which implies the absence of logical or scientific necessity, become a matter of scientific inquiry unless it could be travestied as a “necessary choice”? Herein lies the key to the otherwise oxymoronic Robbinsian definition of “economic science” (cf. Lionel Robbins, Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science) as “the science of choice”. With Brentano and his psychologism (rational expectations), we are already at the origins of the Austrian School, marginal utility (Menger), and finally neoclassical economics (Walras). (Note that Brentano’s strict determinism cannot even be compared to Windelband’s idiographic/nomothetic distinction, because this last presupposed the existence of free individual choices but distinguished different “levels” of social scientific analysis, - the individual biographic level for the idiographic and the collective level for the nomothetic. The aporetic nature of this divide – how can the historical turn to scientific when we shift our focus from individual to society? - was exposed by Weber in Roscher und Knies and F. Hayek in The Counter-Revolution of Science.) The trick lies in the well-hidden metaphysical-ethical assumption of bourgeois economics, disguised as “rigourous science”, that the “welfare” (read, self-interest) that “individuals” (read, fictitious atomised economic “agents” who in fact do not “act” at all – cf. my Schumpeter-buch) can extract out of “limited” or “given” or “scarce” resources (but why “scarce” unless we assume that “in-dividuals” are even possible and that their self-interests are limitless?) is maximised (but how if self-interests are inscrutable except through “the market” which leads to the vicious circle: individuals decide market prices and market prices reflect their true decisions because they are made through the market mechanism?) through the application of rationally and scientifically-selected “choices” of, again, “limited and scarce” (on what criteria?) methods of production.


The question arises: how has this complex if inglorious feat come to pass? How could freedom be transformed from a positive notion, a common human aspiration and universal goal or interest – an inter esse (common being) -, into a negative notion as the resultant of endless and inextinguishable conflict between irreconcilable “self-interests”?




The ultimate impenetrability of the Object, of the Kantian thing-in-itself, means that no Subject or Ego armed with whatever Reason will ever be able to reconcile appearance and reality, operari and esse. All that we know are appearances (Vorstellungen), because Reality is a qualitas occulta that com-prehends the totality of appearances as their meta-physical foundation, their sub-stratum, but no empirical Subject or Ego or other entity from within Reality can either initiate or even com-prehend them for the simple reason that Reality is neither their causa causans, nor is it their “totality” or “sum” of appearances, - again, because Reality is categorically different as their sub-stance, their being, their esse!  In other words, the basis or ground of Reality is not something that can be derived from within its ec-sistence, its mani-festation, its ap-pearance, its epi-phenomenality, but rather it is something that is the very foundation of these. Yet this is the very dual purpose that the Subject is called upon to serve in Kant’s transcendental idealism as comprehension of the Object through its Reason and as agency upon the Object through its Freedom or auto-nomy.


But how can the Subject be able “freely” to initiate and comprehend Reality when it is an empirical part of this Reality subject to the very “laws of Reason and nature” to which every other being is subject? If indeed the thing-in-itself is knowable only through phenomena or appearances, then there is no way in which even the totality of such appearances can ever, first, causally affect the thing-in-itself, and second, be able to comprehend it – and least of all can any Subject or Ego that is part of Reality be able to initiate or comprehend it! The two entities – Subject and Object – and the appearances that are the product of their interaction (the Subject’s perception of the Object) are categorically distinct, wholly heterogeneous, and can therefore never affect each other. Either the Subject is yet another thing-in-itself, in which case it is an operari subject to the necessity of natural laws and has no free will, or else it is an autonomous entity that is neither a Subject nor a Reason (that is, an entity conscious of itself, an id-entity), but one that constitutes, is immanent to, the very Being (esse) of Reality.


This is the fundamental starting point of the critique of Kant’s summation of Western philosophy that will give rise to what we call here negatives Denken. The earliest statement of this critique is to be found in Schelling’s critique of Kant and then extended with significant modifications and additions by Schopenhauer. Kant had sought to bridge “the Gap”, the anti-nomy, between the thing-in-itself and appearances, between noumena and phenomena, by invoking the “necessity” of a regulative principle that (a) could initiate such phenomena (what Kant called Grundmass or Aristotle’s causa causans) and thus serve as an autonomous Subject, and (b) could be their immanent sum-total (what he called Inbegriff) without thereby being deducible from such a “sum” or “totality” on pain of degenerating into “a bad infinite”. The chain of causality to which the thing-in-itself is bound cannot be abstractly deduced a priori from a false infinity “at the end of which” there must be a “transcendental” substance or category that can “com-prehend” it as its toto genere (categorically) “op-posite” ob-ject (Gegen-stand, standing against the Subject) - that is to say, a Subject whose Freedom and Reason, upon which Kant relies, can then found both Pure Reason as the rational entity and Practical Reason as the “ethical moment” of Pure Reason whereby the “free will” is “governed” by “rational rules” that lead to the “Categorical Imperative”. To indulge in such abstraction is to posit axiomatically and quite unjustifiably, without a shred of empirical evidence, the very “conclusion” that we are seeking to prove.


But how is it possible for a regulative ideal to execute such a foundational role? This question becomes even more acute when Kant demands that this unconditioned totality support and determine all the things of the world “as their ground [Grundmass], not [merely] as their sum [Inbegriff]”(B 607).61 It is hard to overestimate the extent to which this distinction shapes Schelling’s thinking. For in distinguishing between the necessary ground and the Inbegriff of all things “that follow from it”(A 579/B 607),Kant makes clear the difference between an original unconditioned necessity and a derivative yet still unconditioned “sum-total of all possible predicates”(A573/B 601). But in demanding an original status for this necessary being, Kant sets for himself a goal that appears impossible to achieve from within his negative science. For an original ground cannot be reconciled with the regulative function of an ideal, which, as an ideal, is much more suited to delivering the sum-total of all possible predicates as the result of an ongoing process of determination. Moreover, it would appear that [39] an unconditioned ground must be more than merely possible, that it must be actual, that is positive [be empirically and intuitively rather than logically located], if it is to serve as the ground and basis for the determination of all things by reason. This absence or lack of an actual positive basis to support and receive all possible predicates is what Schelling calls “a hole in Kant’s critique,” which he believes his positive philosophy can fill, and indeed, with system resources Kant himself provides, yet fails to employ consistently (II/3,168).
Accepting Kant’s claim that only an unconditioned ground can supply reason with a systematic “unity of the grounds of explanation”(A 612/B 641), it follows that this idea itself cannot be the result of an additive process, since such a process would be never-ending, generating instead only what Kant calls a potentially unconditioned ground. An actually unconditioned ground, in contrast, provides an absolute measure, which Kant calls a “Grundmaß.”62 Such an absolute measure is categorically different from the members of the series it initiates and supports, insofar as it is the starting point of a process “to which other members” of that series “are subordinated”(A 417/B 445). As Kant makes clear in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, an Absolute of this kind lies jenseits (beyond) any external reflective measure that depends on relative comparisons. As unconditioned, this Grundmaß is a measure “that is only equal to itself.”63 Kant describes how this works in his account of how the sublime generates a fundamental measure whose scope and force exceeds our powers of conceptualization. Calling this unlimited force “exuberance” [das Überschwengliche], Kant states that it is, “as it were, an abyss” for our conceptual powers, insofar as they “fear to lose themselves therein.”64 While what Kant here describes is the encounter of our reflexive faculties with the sublime, the functional purpose of this Grundmaß in the third Critique parallels that of the unconditioned ground of the transcendental ideal in the first: both supply a ground that is jenseits [beyond] the series they ground, and which serves as the unifying and thus absolutely positive starting point of the reflective process of negation qua determination. Applying the very same terms in Berlin, Schelling goes a step further and maintains that the ground of explanation, and thus of reason, cannot itself be immanent to reason’s operations. It must instead be jenseits of the series it grounds, so that this ground can be neither reflexively appropriated nor conceptually articulated, since per definitum it must precede our discursive analysis of it. (B. Matthews, Introduction to Schelling's The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, pp.38-9.)


Put in other words, Kant’s regulative or transcendental ideal cannot account for phenomena (be their raison d’etre as initiation and comprehension) nor can it be derived from them because (a) it is categorically different from these phenomena, and (b) it cannot be immanent to them, least of all as their “totality”, which would result in a “bad infinite”, because such immanence would prevent the transcendental ideal from initiating and comprehending them. Kant’s Grundmass can neither initiate phenomena in a causal sequence (as an Aristotelian causa causans), nor can it com-prehend them as their as their totality or sum (Inbegriff) because it cannot at one and the same time be reflectively conscious of them and yet be immanent to them! In other words, if it is to initiate phenomena and their connection, the Subject or Reason cannot comprehend or be immanent to them, and if it is immanent to them, then it cannot comprehend them reflexively as their initiator, that is, transcend them as a conscious entity, as an identity –; it cannot be their Subject or Grundmass and Substance or Totality or Inbegriff at one and the same time. Thus, in Matthews’s summary, and this is a crucial point,


[i]t is reason’s demand for a positive existing being of unconditioned necessity that ultimately forces reason to acknowledge its inability to ground itself from within its own sphere of reflexive thought, a failure of self-grounding which occurs when reason’s compulsive movement comes face to face with the necessary concept of that which groundlessly exists, and before which nothing can be thought. This is what Kant calls the abyss of human reason, and what Schelling terms das Unvordenkliche: “that which just exists is precisely that which crushes everything that may derive from thought, before which thought becomes silent, and before which reason itself bows down” (II/3,161).It is perhaps here that we can see most clearly Schelling’s inversion of the modern ordering of the cogito to being….(Matthews, loc.cit., p.48)


The Grundmass that Kant was searching for must be a substance that sub-tends reality and appearances – the world -, but it also cannot possibly be theorised as a Subject or an Ego-ity, a Self, an id-entity – in other words, as an entity conscious of this Ground, because to be conscious of the Ground, of the Substance of the World, would be equivalent to being able to view objectively – by being immanent to the object viewed - what is necessarily a subjective “view” (a-spect, An-blick). Reason itself must logically presuppose that existence, being, comes before its conceptualisation, before thought; reason itself must have, literally, a raison d’etre, a reason for being that is first and foremost the reason of being. In Schelling’s own words,


Existence, which appears as accidental in everything else, is here the essence. The quod [the that] is here in the position of the quid [the what]. It is thus a pure idea, and nonetheless it is not an idea in the sense that this word enjoys in the negative philosophy [i.e. rationalist Western metaphysics]. That which just is [das bloß Seyende] is being [das Seyn] from which, properly speaking, every idea, that is, every potency, is excluded. We will thus only be able to call it the inverted idea [Umgekehrte Idee], the idea in which reason is set outside itself. Reason can posit being in which there is still nothing of a concept, of a whatness [Latin, quidditas], only as something that is absolutely outside itself (of course only in order to acquire it thereafter, a posteriori, as its content, and in this way at the same time to return to itself). In this positing reason is therefore set outside itself, absolutely ecstatic. (II/3,162–3)76 (Schelling quoted in Matthews, loc.cit. at p.50)


But this being cannot be some “thing” that stands still in time; nor can it be the mere idea of “being” as an abstract entity; instead, it must be our actual experience of being. Although inverted, Schelling’s “inverted idea” still remains an idea; and although ec-static, it still remains within the ambit of reason. But this ec-stasis is not derived from “standing outside” the idea of reason that is derived from the interaction of the perception of reality– our representations of it - and its regulation by Reason: it actually comes from penetrating the materiality of the thinking process – the being of thought, which is the experience of existence or ec-sistence or, better still, our awareness or intuition of existing (vivo ergo cogito [Nietzsche], not cogito ergo sum [Descartes]). This awareness or intuition, because it precedes thought and reason, is not and cannot be consciousness, which is still in the sphere of thought, of cognition: it is rather awareness that is closer to intuition, and therefore to the conative, not cognitive, human experience of existence!


This is the aspect, that of the Will, that Schopenhauer will develop, moving from Schelling’s still idealistic stance to a more physiological, naturalistic and materialist and immanentist position. For the moment, we shall limit ourselves to this formalist and idealist residuum in Schelling’s critical advance on Kant’ transcendental idealism. For Schelling, again, understands his inverted idea as the result of the “logical” priority of existence over thought, of experience over theory: given that even thought must have a certain “materiality”, then the ec-sistence of thought as a faculty must be prior to its conceptual or “discursive” development – intuition must be prior to Reason. (Cf. on all this, our critique of Cacciari in “Aesthetics vs. Aesthesis” in relation to “art as the problem of philosophy”.) Not only, but this very “primacy” of existence over thought must also create an “abyss”, a chasm, a Fichtean hiatus at the very core of theory and Reason – a “hole in Kant’s philosophy” and in rationalism tout court. It is this “abyss”, this impossibility of grounding thought and reason in their own essence – because, remember, existence is now the essence – that determines instantly the contingency of thought, the ineluctability of “chance”, of “risk” – and therefore, for human beings, of “freedom”. Here is Matthews:


The wish of rationalism for a perfectly complete and unchanging system of thought promises for Schelling nothing less than the nightmare of absolute [54] boredom. What is stronger than thinking? Wonder, amazement, ecstasy: all are volatile and ambiguous catalysts capable of breaking through the mediation of reflective thought, and thereby actually tying directly into our existence.
Herein lies the connection between ecstasy and alterity: reason’s encounter with both entails the risk that accompanies all real freedom, a risk that in turn is the necessary condition for a philosophy that is not mythic, … [and thus] like its political counterpart, ideology, silences present and future debate by locating certainty and closure in the non-historical and thus static now of eternity.

With this inverted idea, […] Schelling provides us with his final draft of the premise missing from Kant’s critical edifice, a premise of brute existence, whose alterity to thought provides Schelling with the actual conflict and opposition necessary to drive a real dialectical process. This process’s trajectory of development betrays the unpredictable markings of living freedom. And it is precisely from the perspective of this chaotic field of the reciprocal interaction of thinking and being that Schelling aims his critique of Hegel’s mythic animation of the logical concept. (Matthews, pp.54-5)


Because freedom is understood here in its raw facticity, as naked intuition, as “brute existence”, it follows that such freedom must precede all thought, all conceptualisation – and therefore also all consciousness – because the primary quality of consciousness is precisely its presumed discursivity and logic (cf. Wittgenstein). But as consciousness, as reflective thought, this con-scientia would entail the human ability to isolate positively a common goal, a common being, a human inter esse. Precisely because Schelling, and Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard after him, posit freedom as a universal state that precedes all reflexive thought as brute existence, this freedom in its crude immateriality, in its meta-physical ether-reality, in its total absence of corpor-reality, can exist only as “conflict and opposition” – but this time not, as in Hegel, as a dialectical process intrinsic to thought and therefore subject to the strict Logos – the extrinsication of the Idea in history – but rather as raw, contingent, abysmal “un-consciousness”:


That primordial deed which makes a man genuinely himself precedes all individual actions; but immediately after it is put into exuberant freedom, this deed sinks into the night of unconsciousness. This is not a deed that could happen once and then stop; it is a permanent deed, a never-ending deed, and consequently it can never again be brought before consciousness. For man to know of this deed, consciousness itself would have to return into nothingness. For man to know of this deed, consciousness itself would have to return into nothing, into boundless freedom, and would cease to be consciousness. This deed occurs once and then immediately sinks back into unfathomable depths; and nature acquires permanence precisely thereby. Likewise that will, posited once at the beginning, and then led to the outside, must immediately sink into unconsciousness. Only in this way is a beginning possible, a beginning that does not stop being a beginning, a truly eternal beginning. For here as well, it is true that the beginning cannot know itself. That deed once done, it is done for all eternity. The decision that in some manner is truly to begin must never be brought to consciousness; it must not be called back, because this would amount to being taken back. If, in making a decision, somebody retains the right to re-examine his choice, he will never make a beginning at all,” (F. Schelling, Weltalters, quoted in S. Zizek, The Abyss of Freedom, p.32).


The Heideggerian reflex of this conception of freedom is made patently evident by Hannah Arendt’s almost identical reprise in On Revolution:


206 On Revolution - Arendt
It is in the very nature of a beginning to carry with itself a
measure of complete arbitrariness. Not only is it not bound into
a reliable chain of cause and effect, a chain in which each effect
immediately turns into the cause for future developments, the
beginning has, as it were, nothing whatsoever to hold on to; it is
as though it came out of nowhere in either time or space. For a
moment, the moment of beginning, it is as though the beginner
had abolished the sequence of temporality itself, or as though the
actors were thrown out of the temporal order and its continuity.
The problem of beginning, of course, appears first in thought
and speculation about the origin of the universe, and we know
the Hebrew solution for its perplexities - the assumption of a
Creator God who is outside his own creation in the same way as
the fabricator is outside the fabricated object. In other words,
the problem of beginning is solved through the introduction of
a beginner whose own beginnings are no longer subject to
question because he is 'from eternity to eternity'. This eternity
is the absolute of temporality, and to the extent that the beginning
of the universe reaches back into this region of the absolute,
it is no longer arbitrary but rooted in something which, though
it may be beyond the reasoning capacities of man, possesses a
reason, a rationale of its own. The curious fact that the men of
the revolutions were prompted into their desperate search for an
absolute the very moment they had been forced to act might
well be, at least partly, influenced by the age-old thought-customs
of Western men, according to which each completely new
beginning needs an absolute from which it springs and by which
it is 'explained'.


The emargination of freedom from a positive human goal capable of conscious identification and pursuit to a negative pre-reflexive “human condition” (as in thinkers from Pascal to Kierkegaard to Heidegger and Sartre) is something that we shall enucleate and expose in our study of Schopenahuer’s cognate metaphysics of experience.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Europe Eviscerated

"L’Europa che non osa, che vola sempre più basso forse nell’illusione di mimetizzarsi e sparire dai radar nazionali, non li ostacola ma li aiuta. Dovrebbe bastare questo a farla riflettere, a farle ritrovare la strada di un’integrazione seria ed equilibrata a vantaggio di tutti i suoi Stati membri. Invece ovunque regna l’utilitarismo gretto. Niente leadership. Di questo passo, volontaria o no, la deriva è assicurata," (Adriana Cerretelli, Il Sole 24 Ore)

(The Europe that does not dare, that flies ever lower, maybe under the illusion to hide and disappear from nationalist radar screens, does not challenge but instead aids them [nationalisms and populisms]. This should suffice to make it reflect, to make it find again the road to a serious and balanced integration to the advantage of all of its member states. Instead everywhere rules the grittiest utilitarianism. No leadership. At this rate, voluntary or no, the shipwreck is assured.)

It is impossible to put into words the feelings of revulsion and disgust mounting to vaulting despair infused by the suicidal behaviour of European national bourgeois elites. For the third time in less than one hundred years this redolent miasma of worms, this incalculably despicable rotten and sodden mass of miserable maggots - from Merkel to Berlusconi and now even Renzi, no less than the poseurs making a travesty of socialist ideals in Greece - are leading our sacred Europe to the brink of internecine war and dissolution, all in the name of "reforms" and "rigour" that serve as the thinnest veneer for their ubiquitous "grittiest utilitarianism", for the narrowest, most sordid of self-interests. One is almost tempted to raise one's finger to the sky and thunder out like the friar padre Cristoforo did in Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, in condemnation of Don Rodrigo's interference with a young couple's love: "La maledizione di Dio cadra' su questa casa!" (the curse of God shall fall over this house!).

Deep breath. What I am trying to do here is to reflect on the more subterranean and subtle transformations in the Western approach to the concept of Freedom that have led to the dominant ideology of the capitalist bourgeoisie, what we know as liberalism or in Germany as Ordo-liberalism - an ideology based on the neat separation between "the sphere of necessity" (the market economy) and "the sphere of freedom" (public opinion or "life-style" or, if you like, Lady Gaga and George Clooney). What is presented to us as "the science of economics", and what therefore marks the outer bounds of our "freedom", of "what we can do and hope" (Kant), now rules over our daily lives connected by a long thread running all the way to the Europaplatz in Frankfurt and to the City of London - a rigmarole made up of financial jargon and fiscal austerity.

The aim is to find a conception of freedom that may serve as a sword to cut through the veils of economese and as a guide to light the path to political action. The next piece will be titled "The Bounds of Free-dom". Cheers to all our friends.