Thank you for this reading list--I think I'll really try to take a crack at it in the months to come.
The more I think about the issues that we're discussing, the more I can't help but feel that it is incumbent on every student of philosophy in our day and age to determine for himself the answer to the question: was Hegel right?
Btw--when I first came to this website about a year and a half ago, you were regularly discussing Hegel and it was one of the things that attracted me to the blog. So I know you've studied Hegel to a certain extent, whereas I really don't know much more than the thumbnail sketch--though every time I come across synopses of Hegel's thought I always feel the fascination of it.
Could I trouble you to recommend a book or two on the subject?
My comment was too flippant and you're quite right that the relation of liberty, tyranny and wisdom in Hegel is complex. It is enough to be reminded of the role that figures like Alexander and Napoleon play in the "slaughter bench" of history to demonstrate that.
Nevertheless, would it be correct to say that phenomena like tyranny, imperialism, militarism, etc. are, for Hegel, the instruments whereby liberty and wisdom are wrought into being in the course of history--that is, they are the means and never the end?
And would it be fair to say that, if Hegel wasn't right about that, then even the liberal democratic capitalist order at the end of history is really just another dead end?
liberty and tyranny do not coexist
Yes, Miguel--but I don't think Hegel would disagree.
Unfortunately for us all, if Hegel wasn't right, tyranny (or at least the Counter-Enlightenment) may be exactly where we're headed.
Everything depends on whether the novus ordo seclorum really is the new order of the ages.
Would it be fair to say that you can see the United States cum Enlightenment Project going either way?
On the one hand, you can see it working out (at least manageably so) in accordance with the intention of the founders as depicted in the quote from Gordon Wood above--or as Hegel, Kojève, or Fukuyama each in their respective ways forecast?
On the other hand, you can as well see that it might end badly, even disastrously, a la Nietzsche or Heidegger?
If this would be a fair characterization of your perspective--that you are holding or trying to hold two very distinct possibilities in view, without deciding in favor of the one or the other, but simply being aware of them as possibilities--then I think it would go a long way to accounting for the unusual nuance and perspicacity of your analyses.
However, when we speak of Hegel, Kojève, and Fukuyama we're ultimately talking about Hegel, the most brilliant of the "Enlightenment as absolute difference" theorists. If Hegel isn't largely right, then the notion of the Enlightenment as an irrevocable paradigm shift wouldn't seem likely.
I paraphrase the last sentence of your comment above, which seems to be an allusion of sorts to Hegel: The final outcome of the new order "might not be something we or anyway I can derive directly from its concept."
I thank you for this extended reply, which is as interesting as your pieces customarily are.
If I understand you correctly, you're suggesting that the United States--perhaps from the very beginning, from the very founding--was intended to be a polity that would be in a state of permanent long-term cultural revolution, so to speak, and that this state of affairs would give the regime the chance to be an everlasting regime, one that would not deteriorate into its inferior type a la classical political philosophy.
In other words, the regime would somehow be self-transformative and thus, paradoxically, abiding and permanent. If the regime can itself manage the transitions and transformations of state and society, then it might escape the hitherto inevitable cycle of the regimes.
You have recourse to a vivid and striking analogy--you liken our regime to a man who is continually inoculating himself against various diseases. And while he does gain extraordinary life-extension as a result, he is perhaps nevertheless deteriorating inexorably and painfully. Now if this analogy is valid (I find it compelling myself), the implication for our regime--our state and society, our body politic--is rather creepy.
If the "natural" condition of any regime (per the classics) is to be mortal and thus to transition into another sort, our regime's quest for immortality is not only anti-natural and bizarre, but stores up tremendous and ultimately irresistible tensions that portend, as you suggest, an apocalyptic finale. The demise of the man who's extending his life far beyond the natural lifespan is liable to be far worse than that due to ordinary old age, which is bad enough as it is.
Now, just to be clear, I didn't quite say that the doctrine of equality simpliciter has our country in its tight grip, but that the doctrine of racial intellectual equality does--though perhaps that's a distinction without a real difference. That doctrine is a key component in a system of premises that is intended to validate one of the greatest transformations that the regime has ever undertaken to bring about (and I do believe it is being engineered by the regime--it isn't just "happening")--that of turning the polity that was formerly overwhelmingly white (with a relatively small black cohort) into a hodgepodge. It seems to me that this is the transformation that will prove to be unsustainable and self-destructive.
In your last paragraph, however, you imply that, while you think the contradictions of the regime will result in its collapse, the true causes of its collapse will not be the visible antagonisms that confront us in the news or in our everyday experience, but higher and deeper causes hidden from view.
You speak of the type of regime under which we live as needing, even requiring, criticism. According to you, if that criticism ever comes to an end, then it's "lights out" for the regime. But mustn't we distinguish between mere criticism, which, though directed against the regime, is substantively false or uncompelling and thus doesn't pose a serious challenge; and true criticism, which brings the nature of the regime authentically to light? Your own critique of the regime, which is inscribed throughout this website, is philosophic--which means that it aspires to be both true and wise, and not merely critical. If you have come close to succeeding in your aspiration, and I believe you have, then that philosophic criticism poses a very real challenge to the regime.
That challenge, though very real, may of course be purely theoretical. That is to say, in the light of reason the regime is plainly revealed to be questionable, even absurd, so beset with internal contradictions that it must eventually topple after a long and fascinating run; but the critique can't be translated into any program of reform--perhaps because the critique itself must remain necessarily incomplete due to the limitations of human wisdom, but more pertinently because the audience of the critique is extremely narrow due to the limitations of human intelligence.
Whatever the case, the critique is intellectually stimulating and makes for fascinating reading. I look forward to your upcoming posts.
“Since most regimes are in fact defective, and hence based on untrue assumptions of one kind or another, most laws, being dependent on the regime, lack evidence. If the basis is questionable, what is derivative of it must also be questionable.” ~Leo Strauss
Mr. McLeod: As always, a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. I especially appreciated the thought concerning whether it might not indeed be preferable to be a slave prospectively ascending to freedom rather than to be a ward of the welfare state descending to irremediable dependency--a thought that seems to me to depend on the ancient distinction between the noble and the base, a distinction that is hardly grasped these days.
From the time of the founding, the explicit rationale of our liberal democratic regime has increasingly shifted from liberty to equality. This closely tracks the thesis that in a democracy (which is the rule of the demos, the rule of the working class) the more excellent rationale, which is liberty, masks the less excellent, equality. As time goes on, the regime's esoteric basis can be made more and more explicit and the political virtue that formerly lent an air of excellence to an otherwise mediocre project can gradually be retired.
The specific manifestation of equality that has our country in its tight grip and that your post references is the doctrine of racial equality--which is more specifically the doctrine of racial intellectual equality. This doctrine is an offense to the untutored, commonsensical mind, to which it seems obviously untrue. Which offense in turn offends the sophisticated and/or sophistical mind, to which it seems, not obviously true, but, let's say, rationally true. Whether the rationalism of sophisticates can triumph over the deliverances of common sense remains to be seen.
In your piece, you critique these ostensible liberals' attack on instances of free speech from the standpoint of liberal free speech doctrine, thus criticizing them for their hypocrisy. This is rhetorically effective, but I'm curious whether you intend genuinely to uphold the doctrine of free speech in an absolutist or "libertarian" sense. One might suppose so, since you prominently quote Spinoza's abstract argument that only deeds be censured and not words.
Can any regime at all, especially liberal democracy, tolerate extensive discussion of the inadequacy or defectiveness of the regime itself? Let us keep in mind that when thoughtful people have spoken in the past of the virtue of the doctrine of free speech, they have always had primarily in mind critical speech concerning the regime itself--or at least I thought so. But that doesn't seem plausible or viable, given that the only transformation which a liberal regime can undergo is an illiberal one. That is to say, if free speech extensively criticizes the liberal or libertarian basis of the regime and that criticism gathers strength, the liberal regime is liable to be transformed necessarily into an illiberal one.
Given these issues--the paradox of free speech turning against the liberal regime and the problem that abstract doctrines of equality pose to the everyday realm of common sense, where we actually live out our lives for the most part--is it possible in your view that what we are witnessing and living through in this present time is a kind of internal contradiction (in something like a Hegelian sense) of the liberal state, which portends a crisis of the collapse of that state?