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Foucauh’s Romanticism
Dear Editors
The Cahiers du cinema interview
with Foucault on ‘film and popular
memory’ which you published is full
of interest in its discussion of
the possibility of presenting popular struggle in a positive and combative manner. The problems involved in maintaining the autonomy
of popular historical memory against
bourgeois manipulation, and in presenting struggle in terms more
acceptable than those of a hortatory
leftism, call for some further
comment however, both in general
and in relation to some of the
films criticised.

In the interview in general there
was relatively little stress on the
inherently problematic nature of the
concept of ‘popular memory’ – no
reference, for example to the case
with which it can degenerate into
an apoliticised concatenation of
an~cdotes of low life, to be exploited in the interests of a delusively ‘objective’ populism
bereft of genuine perspective (cf.

the profoundly reactionary writing
of historians of France such as
Cobb and Chevalier). ObviouslY
this is a problem of which Foucault
is aware – yet his references to a
generalised popular historical consciousness in France in the 19th
century, kept alive largely through
oral tradition, are hardly reassuring. In fact, such popular consciousness could be intensely local
in scope and limited in perspective,
was often intimately connected with
the mythical projection of a rede~­
er-figure (cf. the vast popularity
of the novels of Eug~ne$ue), as
productive of a Bonapartist as of
a revolutionary mentality; or its
manipulation could contribute to
the development of a reactionary
organicism, for example in the
revival of the myth of the quasifeudal journeyman – com’pagnonnage
as opposed to trade union development. The nostalgic romanticisation of the mentality of the past
has long been a characteristic of
English cultural thinking – it’s
interesting to note that Leavis
and Foucault are not totally dissimilar in this respect!

As for the films under discussion:

the theme imputed by Foucault to
The Sorrow and the Pity, Lacombe
Lucien and Night Porter alike, that
‘there’s been no popular struggle’

in the 20th century, that antifascist struggle was the affair of
privileged individuals, is demonstrably negated by The Sorrow and
the Pity at least. Without going
into the question of how far a
‘panoramic’ documentary such as this
can transcend a liberal-pluralist
passivity with regard to sociopolitical processes, certain moments in the film may be said to
characterise the Resistance as a
significan~x popular movement.

Various aspects of the resistance
are evoked through interview: the
ludicrous right-winger refusing to
convey arms to the Communists, offset by the’ incisive and highly
articulate . stars , of the movement,
Mendes-France and d’Astier; yet
most impressive of all, for me at
least, was the interview with two
old socialist peasants, denounced
by neighbo~and deported by the
Germans, subsequently refusing to
participat~-in what they saw as
sterile retribution.

The relationship of formal, imposed ‘official’ history to popular
consciousness is touched on by
Foucault when discussing Lacombe
Lucien ; what might well be stressed
here is the extent to which the
theme is incorporated in the film
itself. Lucien originally tries to
join the Maquis, but is rejected by
the local mediator of ‘official’

bourgeois republican history, the
vilTage ins’ti tuteur (significantly
bearing the code name Voltaire),
largely because, we get the impression, he has been a bad pupil in
conventional terms. When he subsequently drifts over to the Nazis
and half-consciously betrays
‘Voltaire’ to them, the film,
,rather than presenting us with a
positive hero, comments appositely
on a constellation of factors inhibiting the development, in one
case at least, -of an authentic
popular revolutionary consciousness,
and on the effects of that inhibition. In terms of, the situation
depicted, the Cahiers statement
that the ‘character proves by making
nothing of what’s happening to him,
that there’s nothing worth the
trouble of remembering’ seems as
mistaken and irrelevant as it would
if applied to the protagonist of
Sentimental Education or The Trial.

Again, at the conclusion of the
film, the deflection of powerrelations into a love-relationship,
is not so much an attempt to make
Lucien sympathetic – as Foucault
suggests – as the critical presentation of a dream-situation which
seeks to deny history in both
personal and general terms (Lucien
is shown killing a bird with a
catapult – an image of infantile
aggression which refers back to the
first scene of the film).

A somewhat similar negation of
history is observable in the last
minutes of Night Porter. Significantly, Max does not – as
Foucault states – starve to death
in his flat, but is killed by his
neo-Nazi associates when he breaks
out of it, having (in a futile
gesture) donned his old Nazi uniform. Attention to the ending here
is more than a matter of detail; it
points to a tli.eme as significant as
that of the erotisation of power on
which Foucault concentrates, and
which places that erotisation in a
critical historical context – that
of the power-relationships of neoNazism (a theme evident in Max’ s

dealings with the pseudo-therapeutic
Nazi group, not ‘ordinary people’

as Foucault implies, but influential
citizens – apart from Max himself,
a significant discrepancy). In
breaking out of the relationship in
the flat – in which he seeks to both
privatise and artificially to perpetrate the power-relationships of
the camp – Max projects his subjective, a-historical and by now
archaic myth of power absurdly onto
(and he and Lucia are destroyed by)
the objective reality of 1957 -, a
reality characterised not by his
obviously sinister Kitsch-Nazism,
but by the substantive interests of
the neo-Nazi group: the re-establishment of themselves in positions
of influence and economic power in
post-war society. By contrast with
them Max is now nothing but a
pathetic remnant, an epiphenomenal
stereotype to’be discarded at will.

In their different ways, the consciously formalised endings of these
films – idyllic in Lacombe Lucien,
grotesque in Night Porter – lead
us to a critical reading of the
central protagonists which goes
against the sense of a conspiracy
against historical understanding
suggested by the Foucault interview. Both films, explicative of
a nexus of historical and personal
relationships and of the characters’

attempt to deny them, are of more
significance tc the Left than would
have been the attempted depiction
of propagandistic heroism.

Yours sincerely
John E Coombes
University of Essex

Eccleshalls Anti-Mysticism
Dear Edi_t.o.l’S
Although we accept the general
drift of Eccleshall’s thesis in his
‘Technology and Liberation’ (RPll)
we would argue that his critique of
writers characterised as ‘subjective
liberationists’ is inadequate and

Importantly, our critique is
directed as much at those authors
who have made little or no distinction between ‘esoteric’ paths of
liberation, and the assimilation
of them by the youth culture in
Western society, as it is against
those materialist and existentialist critics who lump together all
kinds of mysticism as different
forms of opium. In contrast to
Eccleshall, our critique of Roszak
and other subjective liberationists is that in their proposal,of
these methods of escape from
alienation, ‘mysticism’ is itself
mystified. In our view, their
trivialisation of liberation makes
it an easy target for materialist
critics – Marxists and bourgeois
theorists alike.

Before proceeding it is necessary
to state clearly our belief that


Roszak’s solution is not a distortion of the attitude of members of
the youth culture who have gravitated Eastwards. On the contrary,
Roszak’s understanding of mysticism is wholly consistent with contemporary Western- (ab)uses of it.

It is an understanding which does
not so much overcome as reflect
the instrumental attitude towards
mysticism as a means of achieving
personal, egoistic salvation from
the frustrations of the social

By making it the object of an
acquisitive subject, spiritualism
is materialised; the esoteric is
transformed .into the exoteric.

Techniques of mysticism are adopted
as a means of hiring the world
without making payments. Being is
for others, but only indirectly;
at root, others are physically
appropriated – in the name of
mysticism – much in the same way
that labour is appropriated by the
Others are employed
– are objectified – as a collective
resource for confirming the appropriative power of ego. Thus, ego
concretises its illusion of altruistic self-satisfaction in the
reflective affirmation of its love,
its ~ace, its knowledge, goodwill
and understanding; in sum, in its
peak experience.

Westernised in this way, esoteric
techniques become a new and unfathomably appealing way of solving
an old problem: man’s confrontation
with his subjectivity. In Marx’s
terms, such assimilation of esotericism does indeed invite the stigma
of opiate; for such opiates simultaneously expand the objectification
of ego and provide the authoritative
illusion of becoming less egocentric.

Thus, as the symbolic universe of
capitalism begins to have less relevance for youth who have grown up
in a materially abundant and ideologically pluralistic world, the
new symbolic universe of various
Westernised mystic cults provides
a convenient sense of security.

(In this light, the claims of the
Divine Light Mission as hard drug
healers and the appeal of mysticism
to burnt out acid freaks comes as
no surprise.) In Nietzchian terms,
such sources of convenient objectification postpone a confrontation
with the death of meaning.

So far our analysis has depended
upon a notion of two distinct types
of path to liberation: the path
which inflates ego (Stirner’s
‘egoism’) and the path which antiCipates the transcendence of ego.

Briefly, whereas the first path,
in emphasising personal attainment,
absolutises the objectification of
subjectivity, the second path, in
requiring a total commitment to the
liberation of all beings, inhibits
the elevation of self over others.

For convenience, we shall label
the former path of mysticism as
‘reactionary’ and the latter path
as ‘revolutionary’. It is our view
that these paths are conflated and,
consequently, debased by Eccleshall.

we do not find ‘revolutionary’

mysticism to be incompatible with
Marxian philosophy and political


economy. Where such mysticism
differs from egoistically-referenced
reactionary Westernised interpretations of it is in its ability to
provide the members with a method
for converting the garbage of his
(capitalistic) consciousness into
a kind of panoramic awareness
whereby he is able to make sense
of the garbage. Far from equating
mysticism with the ‘transforming
of men and women into abstract
bundles of unactualised and unactualisable potentialities’ (pll) ,
revolutionary mystipism asserts
praxis above all else. However,
where it differs from the praxis of
contemporary Marxism is that it in
no way condones the elevation of
self over others; action is informed
by a considered compassion – a compassion realised in thetransformation of negative emotions (e.g.

resentment, pride, frustration and
aggression). It is a compassion
which recognises those emotions as
defence mechanisms contingent upon
the existential anxieties which
reflect and are reflected in man’s
relationship to nature as an object
world to be appropriated.

Revolutionary mysticism recognises
that the social world is socially
constructed and that any re-building (routine or revolutionary) will
reflect the psychic constitution
of its constructors. Although such
constitution is understood as a
product of socialisation within
alienating structures, revolutionary
mysticism does not launch its
critique at these reified notions
of system and structure. Rather,
the ‘critique’ is focus sed upon the
human consciousness which socially
negotiates and maintains the solidified separation of itself and its

In conclusion, we wish to stress
our fundamental agreement with Marx
in his description of contemporary
social reality as the rule of man
by dead matter. Our development of
this view concerns the simultaneous
unfettering and social recognition
of subj~ctivity. It is our contentipnthat while Eccleshall’s’

criticisms of Roszak, Marcuse an~
Habermas are pertinent, there is a
trivialisation of the problematic
of consciousness in the social
construction of reality.

David Knights
Frank Daniel

Jeff Simm
Hugh WilIoott

Dear Editors
Edmund Burke (RPlO) says that
Wittgenstein espoused a view of
philosophy which is methodologically
conservative. I would like briefly
to comment on these attributions
of conservatism to Wittgenstein,
and to suggest ways in which he
might answer them.

Wittgenstein views people in
societies as belonging to conceptual communities, sharing a form of
life, and in our case, ‘bound together by science and education’.

(On Certainty, 298). In the
Investigations, among other things,

he examined and exposed the linguistic roots of this unity, whereas
in On Certainty he was concerned
with its epistemological roots.

‘Form of life’ and ‘language game’

are notoriously woolly terms.

Nevertheless I do not think that
this woolliness precludes their
utility, and neither, I suggest,
since he makes such persistent use
of both, did Wittgenstein. The form
of life of a miner, for example, is
in many respects significantly different from that of a grouse-shooting Tory peer, and the latter even
more so from a native of Tierra
del Fuego, and yet in significant
respects they overlap as well, all
three having language, bodies,
five senses, and so on.

Now I consider this picture which
Wittgenstein has drawn to be in all
important respects correct. And i f
that is so then it is pointless
to criticise him for having depicted us as more or less committed
to certain conventions, beliefs, and
conceptual frameworks, because that
is just how we are and he is only
telling it like it is. Is it not
undeniable that we need regularity
and continuity in much of our lives,
and exhibit great inertia when
faced with potential disruption?

To this extent Wittgenstein’s
views are, or attempt to be, purely
descriptive. However, much of what
he says has a prescriptive flavour,
and these were the aspects of his
philosophy which Burke was discussing and criticising. Wittgenstein
does argue that truth is conventional: that the validity of beliefs and
the correctness of procedures involved in a particular form of life
may only meaningfully be assessed
from within, by someone who participates ~ that form of life; that
a certain conceptual perspective is
the result of a specific epistemological standpoint and is only
assessable by someone who shares
that position. Stated thus it is
clear why it seems to Burke et al
that espousal of this view entails
‘an (almost) endlessly hospitable
relativism’. But bearing in mind
what I have said above, the epistemological positions of people
whose world-pictures conflict in
places are unlikely to be totally
distinct, and I think it not unreasonable to suggest that no
people on this planet, with the
possible exception of those suffering (or perhaps, after Laing, enjoying) extreme mental derangement,
hold world-pictures which do not
intersect at some fairly basic level. If this is so then there is
in all cases some foothold which
may be explodted to foster communication and mutual evaluation.

wittgenstein’s relativism is not
as thoroughgoing as Burke makes
out. Wittgenstein presents a picture of measured progress giving
way to occasional revolution.

Some features of this picture are
certainly conservative and gradualist but to call them this is not
to criticise but to describe, because it purports to be descriptive of how things are, not prescriptive of how they ought to be.

Social inertia being what it is
revolutions are resisted and hence
infrequent. The small caucus
which always provides the spark for
a popular revolution must be fully
aware that a successful revolution
will only come about if there prevails a profound dissatisfaction
wi~ the status quo.

In a sentence whose political profundity
makes it strangely incongruous in
its context of a discussion of
Cantor’s leap into transfinity,
Wittgenstein wrote:

The sickness of a time is cured

by an alteration in the mode of
life of human beings, and it was
possible for the sickness of
philosophical problems to get
cured only through a changed mode
of thought and of life, not
through a medicine prescribed
by an individual
~emarks on the Foundations of
Mathematics, pS7)
Finally, since so much emphasis
has been laid on Wittgenstin’s idea
of philosophy as ‘leaving everything
as it is’, with its apparent implication that Wittgenstein was a man

utterly removed from the Radical
Philosophy ethos of socially relevant activity, I should like to
remind you of Wittgenstein’s bitter
reproach to Malcolm:

What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you
is to enable you to talk with
some plausibility about some
abstruse questions of logic etc.

and if it does not improve your
thinking about the important
questions of everyday life?

Peter Nowlan


Hegel’s Politics
Schlomo Avineri: Hegel’s Theory of
the Modern state, Cambridge
University Press, £1.40
Writers on Hegel’s political
thought have time and again asserted that he was an extreme authoritarian, an exponent of stateworship and thoroughgoing political
repression. Russell, who held that
Hegel’s philosophy of the state
‘justifies every internal tyranny
and every external aggression that
can possibly be imagined,l, or
Popper, who proclaims ‘the identity
of Hegelian historicism with the
philosophy of modern totalitarianis~’2, may be taken as representative of this view. On the other
hand it has been argued that Hegel
is closer to liberalism or even
radicalism than his critics suppose. 3
At the opposite extreme from Popper
is Marcuse, who sees in Hegel the
origins of ‘critical theory’ and
traces the ideological roots of
German fascism not (as the antiHegelians like to suppose) to Hegel
but to the various branas of ‘positivism’ which came to dominate the
philosophical scene after Hegel’s
death. 4
Avineri’s Hegel’s Theory of the
Modern state offers a formidable
defence of Hegel against the charge
of totalitarianism. Drawing not
merely on the Philosophy of Right
but also on Hegel’s political
writings, his Jena manuscripts of
1802-6 and a wide range of documentation regarding his life and
political outlook, Avineri sets
out to ‘restore a more balanced
view of Hegel’s political thought’

(p239). His defence is successful: the prehistoric crudities of
the Hegel-as-totalitarian view do
not survive detailed examination.

The argument of the book is not,
however, merely negative. Avineri
contends that Hegel is ‘the first
major political philosopher who
attempted to confront the realities of the modern age’ (loc. cit.)
and, once again, documents his
view. with much fascinating material.

In what follows I shall look first
at what he has to say on the
‘totalitarianism’ issue. Many of
Avineri’s points bear repeating
since the misconception they are
directed against is still preval-

ent. I shall then consider his
own account of Hegel’s social
thought and criticise it not,
indeed, as regards its general emphasis but because of its incompleteness in certain important

(i) Is Hegel a totalitarian?

In· 1818 Hegel became professor of
philosophy in Berlin, thereby – his
critics claim – setting the seal
of philosophical approval on the
restoration Prussian state which
had emerged following the defeat
of Napoleon. His Philosophy of
Right, published in 1821, is said
to deify the Prussian state by
seeing in it the embodim~nt of
Absolute Reason. His harsh condemnation of the putatively iiberal
Jacob Fries and his hostile attitude to the student fraternities
(Burschenschaften) are viewed as
attempts to curry favour with the
authorities by springing to the
defence of the political status

In all this there is more than a
little truth; and it is a truth
which no defender of Hegel should
lose sight of. However, taken as
it stands it gives a distorted
image of Hegel since it leaves
out all that makes his position
intelligible and fails to take
account of views held by him at
other periods of his life.

The story of Hegel and Schelling,
then students at Tllbingen, celebrating the French Revolution by
planting a ‘liberty tree’ is well
known. AyinerD points out that
Hegel welcomed the defeat of
Prussia by Napoleon’s armies at
Jena and quotes (p63) his famous
description of Napoleon as the
‘world-soul’. Hegel’s rectorship
of the Nuremberg Gymnasium he
interprets as a period of participation in the social and educational’life of a Germany transformed and modernised in the
aftermath of the French victories.

He notes that Hegel had no time
for the chauvinistic outbursts of
German nationalism in 1813 – as
might·indeed be expected given
Hegel’s view that ethnic or cultural ties have no part in the
formation of a modern state. 5
Regarding the acceptance of the
Berlin professorship in 1818, he
argues that ‘the Prussia with

which Hegel became associated .••
was a reformed Prussia, as it
emerged after the Napoleonic wars
from the modernising and liberalising efforts of von Stein and
Hardenberg. Among the states of
post-181S Europe, Prussia was
surely one of the relatively enlightened ones’ (pl16). Bearing
in mind the press censorship set
up by the Carslbad Decrees of 1819,
one would not want to exaggerate
the extent of this ‘relative enlightenment’. However, support for
Avineri’s general reading of the
situation comes from a particularly
astute commentator on German politics and philosophy: Heinrich
Heine, writing as early as 1833. 6
Avineri casts interesting light
on Hegel’s Berlin period itself.

Fries, whom Hegel criticised,
emerges not – as is so often
supposed – as a champ-ion of liberalism but as a violent antiSeIDite. And the student fraternities opposed by Hegel ‘prefigured
the most dangerous and hideous
aspects of German nationalism’

(pl19) – a point which has also
been made by Marcuse. 7 Finally,
it is pointed out that Hegel’s
last political essay, his discussion of the English Reform Bill,
itself fell foul of the Prussian
censor – a strange occurrence
given Hegel’s semi-official philosophical standing.

Turning to the Philosophy of
Right, Avineri’notes that in a
number of respects – its advocacy
of political representation and of
trial by jury, its support for
Jewish emancipation – this work
shows itself to be more than a
mere ideological reflection of the
existing Prussian state. Hegel,
he maintains, offers a model of
the state which is no totalitarian
monolith but, rather, involves ‘a
differentiated and pluralistic
structure’ (p172i see also·p168).

The relation of the individual to
society is mediated by m~ership
of social class and of voluntary
organizations (the ‘corporations’):

it is in this flexible and nonauthoritarian sense, Avineri
suggests, that Hegel regards the
state as ‘organic,.8 Finally, it
is argued that there is nothing
‘militaristic’ in Hegel’s views on

war. 9
Avineri’s discussion of Hegel’s


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