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Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan continue to delve into philosophical issues raised by our interview with Fukuyama. Chiefly, he recommends a "creedal national identity" as a solution for tribalism. Does this work?
More abstractly, Fukuyama takes this "demand for recognition" issue as coming from Hegel (or rather Kojeve's interpretation of Hegel, which is much easier to understand than reading Hegel directly; see our discussion of Hegel's master-slave dynamic), and seems to claim in The End of History that this dynamic whereby one puts one's life on the line in a struggle for recognition not only gets the ball rolling with regard to historical political systems (which contra Hobbes don't begin with a "contract" but with domination) but also is constitutive of human self-consciousness itself. To recognize yourself as someone with an inner life may also necessarily mean that you recognize yourself as having an innate dignity, which then should be recognized by others.
The focus on thymos also gives us a different perspective on ethics: To make any ethical claim is not just to point at an external rule of conduct, but (in many cases, at least) to make a dignity claim, i.e., to assert oneself (which could amount to asserting one's group) as a determinant of value. For instance, many opponents of gay marriage still supported full legal equality through civil unions for gay couples. This was not enough for proponents, who wanted social recognition, while opponents specifically wanted that recognition denied. This was less about the opponents being mean-spirited than wanting their world view (their group, their beliefs) to be the entity that was defining what is to be officially declared as being of value. So while "identity politics" seems like something not really of much centrality to philosophy to you, the notion of identity may well be pretty central to ethics and mentality itself.
There's also the question of how ideology infects political theory: F. was a student of Bloom, and we dismissed a lot of Bloom's grousing as old-man conservatism and claimed that one can recognize (as Bloom was arguing) the value of Western Great Books while still not being as critical of liberals as he was. Fukuyama has himself been called a former neoliberal (former because he didn't like Bush/Cheney's war-mongering); does this affect his judgments regarding what we should be aiming for in the area of civic unity? To what extent do his political beliefs really come out of his analysis as opposed to shaping the analysis itself? Is there a fundamental difference between a philosopher and a political commentator such that one really can't be both?
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End song: "Cornerstone" by Richard X. Heyman, as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #61.
Image by Solomon Grundy.
Why is this narrative that is presented by (non-Marxist) dialectical conceptions of history or genealogical conceptions of history and the political subject always taken as an assumption without question? Isn’t it rather myopic? For example, we have this picture of the aristocratic norm being this paradigm that then shifted to a new paradigm, socially and politically speaking – where these social and political paradigms are mediated through cultural conceptions. So an entire view of political organisation and historical understanding with the aim of explaining the world by formal conceptions of how people relate to political processes via their historically determined umwelt is derived from one very narrow yet seemingly definitive representation of history, which is itself an ideologically motivates reading. For example, why is an ‘aristocratic’ worldview that relies on a psychological view of the motivations behind aristocratic political organisation and demands the truth of a past historical situation? It seems that in doing so, one is taking a small percentage of the population as the truth of human culture at a given period of social organisation, at the exclusion of everyone who is not represented in that paradigm. And this view justifies the particular over the universal which is self-deception to the general analysis. To put it bluntly, it’s as if one reads a history book that only (and can only) detail the goings on of so-called great men, of kings and scholars and land owners and aristocrats, of some period in history and forms a view that this represents in general human beings as such in this period, all the while forgetting that, say, peasants existed in this period and there’s almost no historical data in relation to their humanity and communities etc. But then that’s fine because serfs don’t right history because their serfs, by nature they don’t create history. Even though they did – the only dialectical recognition is the recognition that in fact the master is valorising by his relation to the slave… Is it any surprise that messy, overdetermined and non-cohesive groupings of historical processes get leveled down and delimited into a narrative that ends up justifying the current political paradigm one ideologically professes?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Who exactly are you channeling here? The jargon is coming fast and thick.
F’s basic story that I think you’re pointing at is the movement from royalism/feudalism to the (legal) recognition of everyone’s individual dignity.
I think you’re trying to argue that this legal recognition isn’t actual, de facto recognition, which can only be achieved in the absence of economic exploitation, is that right? And so F’s story, which starts by talking about elites (kings/nobles) sees the “end” of history in capitalism, which is its own kind of elitism.
Well, this “Identity” book wasn’t actually about the dialectical character of history, which is why we didn’t talk about that apart from just explaining that “end” is teleological and not chronological. I think a lot of the point of our discussion is trying to get at what “recognition” actually entails, and we (if not F) are open to the idea that this must involve something greater than legal recognition (see our previous interview with Liz Anderson on egalitarianism).
As far as I can tell, I didn’t use any jargon (aside from ‘dialectical’ and ‘umwelt’, but I assumed those terms in their basic sense would be familiar to everyone participating in the podcast…). I thought I used fairly simple language for the most part and not highly specialised terms of art that would be confounding. And I wasn’t trying to ‘channel’ anyone . . . Perhaps you just didn’t see the point? In any case, I’ll try and be a little clearer but succinct still:
Both the manner in which you speak about – and the manner in which Fukuyama speaks about – political theory and history – not just in specific instances of him discussing the dialectical character of history, but in general (and in a way that informs this discussion of ‘identity’), involves taking particulars and abstracting them into historical or epochal realities of political consciousness. You then get something that is discussed in idealistic terms, something like the ‘zeitgeist’ of the times. (I’m not trying to use jargon, think of this in ‘common sense’ terms.) And when we talk in this way, we say things that then *seem* very sensible – the political consciousness of the age moved from A to B; the history of political organisation changed from, say, the ‘aristocratic worldview’ to, say, a ‘representational democratic worldview’, to an ‘identitarian’ one… And then these historically situated political systems are then analysed with recourse to psychological explanations. This is how the political as such is discussed in an abstracted manner that lends itself to the kind of narratives evident in this episode. I wasn’t trying to say anything about legal recognition. The point is that this abstracted view seems to be behind everything being talked about and yet it seems very much motivated by a representation of history and political power that ignores material reality – hence my point about what is presented in history books, etc. It is as if we come up with these abstracted notions that are attempts to *describe* the political, and its historical situatedness, that ignores the material reality of history and political power (for instance: abstracting and generalising from a particular that only, can only, represent one particular class), and we then use this to inform our judgements in regards to how things have changed and our judgements in terms of a more prescriptive or normative claims in political theory of political philosophy. Everything is motivated by the representation or description of a totality, but it is a totally that necessarily *leaves stuff out* – what it leaves out is *necessary to* the thing taken as the totality.
I didn’t think this was a particularly controversial point. I’m not sure I can really express it any clearer in this context, so I’ll just leave it at that. But I guess, if I’m channelling anything… if you don’t believe in things like ‘world spirit’ or the like, you have to start looking at other ways of accounting for politics and the seemingly homogeneous political systems that are historically determined? Which gets you to something like the non-abstract reality of human beings and social organisation as the starting point – but this comment has now veered from the content of the podcast episode so, yeah., let’s just say my comment is superfluous.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, and sorry if I came off annoyed the first time. Any reading in the philosophy of history area or something like that you’d recommend to help us explore this?
Wondering if Wes cares to finish his thought about thumotic development and the development of healthy narcissism from a more pathological position.
Had me intrigued how this movement might assist in creating better communal health? (thinking especially about narcissistic regimes and those individuals/parts that may be most open for communication with the larger social organization)
Wes Alwan says
Thumotic development is just the way I would describe any alteration in character, a large component of which consists of identifications and introjections (this is an idea Freud elaborates in “The Ego and the Id”–the Superego is the domain of character, and is constructed of identifications); and I think psychological problems have their ultimate source in problems of character. Identifications and introjections function as schema for dispositions to think, feel, and behave in relations to others and ourselves (they are the basis for Aristotelian hexei and associated virtues/vices). Altering them requires therapeutic re-habituation, and is notoriously difficult.
Luke T says
Starting to audition for a self nominated guest-blog on the PEL website. Well, anyway, here’s my first attempt out of the gate.
Receiving well all constructive feedback. An embedded-hyperlinks version, of same, is available upon request.
The Puzzle of ‘Athymia’
Famed political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s most recent publication – Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) – conspicuously places the ancient Greek concept of spiritedness (thymos) in the stream of contemporary debate over identity politics, and argues persuasively for its operation at the individual human (isothymatic) and group (megalothymatic) levels.
In doing so, Fukuyama not only offers us a novel explanatory model, to account for fresh and notable political retreats from liberal, democratic pluralism (the protagonist and victor of his End of History thesis, published some 26 years before), but also uncovers – along the way – a buried riddle, of what might be called ‘pre-conscious identity politics,’ or the sometimes observable and conspicuous lack of individual and group dignitary demands.
Though seemingly not the chief focus of his current intellectual arc, Fukuyama makes a concessionary nod to this absence, specifically from minutes 55:10 to 56:56 of a January 2019, recorded book interview he did with the hosts of The Partially Examined Life (PEL Episode #209 – Part One). To wit, if we accept that most persons, and cultures and societies, exhibit symptoms of individual or group-based thymos, and more especially after having been exposed to their potential, what do we make of the same cohort previously not apprehending such conceit?
Put another way, is there something that exists out in the world that we may call ‘pre-isothymic’ or ‘a-thymic’ in character, and which largely represses the urge to basic human dignitary demands, for such time that these demands are not overtly, or incidentally, triggered by outside events and actors? What does an unselfconscious social world look like, in other words, and whereby does the individual, and his identity group, pass from non-entity to discernible social or political category?
Possibly this line of inquiry seems abstruse, but I submit – on the contrary – it is rather important. Why so? Because absent a discrete sense of iso- or megalothymia, entire populations of individuals can be (and arguably have been) taken completely for granted, written out of traditional historical and political narrative, and written out of historic philosophical discourse, to boot.
Whereby such a claim? Well, insomuch as there ever were not public terms, or imagination, to capture the telos of an undifferentiated mob, the latter arguably remains the post hoc footnote, or oversight, of the recorded and socialized history of man. This unexpressed, inexhibited will – on at least some’s account – then becomes the dark blindspot of human experience, and rumination or speculation towards as much, thought experiment, and considered inquiry into its circumstances, are simply preempted and rationalized when the gaps become apparent, and so much later down the documentary road.
It is the frustration and perplexity Whiggish liberals face when contemplating never-conceived, much less minimally-realized, social and political movements, uprisings, causes, and general boilings-up from the anonymous masses. Indeed, so far as human dignity is something we contemporaries imagine to be universal in scope, if so far only achieved in disparate clumps, the riddle of these unscheduled exhibits (e.g. countless agglomerations of unredeemed slaves, indifferent populations of downtrodden proles, and the marginalized citizen’s nonchalance toward their right to vote) introduces a paradox inelidable by conventional theories on agency and self-regard.
Simply put, if the sentiment to iso-thymos would have never occurred to me in the first place, how do we reconcile Plato’s tripartite theory of the soul – even figuratively – with claims to universal human dignity? I mean, think about it. Absent direct testimony to a principal support of this three-legged stool, we are left with a fairly deflationary and socially-disembodied, atom-sized, selfsame image; us the bipedal caveman making its way through a perplexing and contingent world.
Nothing has been so much said yet of the desiring and calculating elements of homo sapiens sapiens, however, which remain alive and well in our Platonic model of man. Whatever highly sophisticated, sensation-fulfilling machine we might finally constitute, however, it’s precisely the utility-maximizing straw man that Fukuyama, Mark Linsenmayer, and other skeptics of Neoclassical homo economicus, are each seeking to be disabused of.
In the apparent face of observable and non-trivial ‘athymia,’ consequently, how are our universal dignity conceits preserved, and a coherent, human social-nature story still told? The answer: Fashion a new category to our narrative paradigm, imagining a pre-isothymic, or perhaps latent iso-thymic, disposition to potential future self-estimation.