In the Preface to The Politics of Time Peter Osborne claims that it comprises two books: ʻa book about the philosophy of time which grew out of a book about the culture of modernityʼ (p. x). The reason for this is that metaphysical questions about time and temporality inevitably confront anyone who inquires deeply enough into the concept of modernity. In the light of such questions, Osborne attempts to make explicit the metaphysical assumptions that underlie the cultural and political debate concerning modernity, modernism and postmodernism that dominated cultural studies and continental philosophy in the 1980s.
In so doing, Osborne is exploring an avenue of thinking opened up by the suggestive, if somewhat gestural, opening lecture of Jürgen Habermasʼs Philosophical Discourse of Modernity on ʻModernityʼs Consciousness of Timeʼ. Like Osborne, Habermas touches on Koselleckʼs account of the historical emergence of the concept of modernity, Heideggerʼs Being and Time, Gadamerʼs conservative reinterpretation of ʻeffective historyʼ; and he discusses the philosophical signiﬁcance of the time-consciousness of modernity in Hegel and in Walter Benjaminʼs critique of historicism. Habermas argues that modernity ceases to draw on the normative resources of the past and turns instead to the resources of the present. This concern with the present is constitutive of the project of modernity; and Hegel, preoccupied as he was with the formulation of a self-grounding conception of reason, is seen as the modern philosopher par excellence. As is well known, Habermas thinks that Hegel failed in his attempt, because in his mature work he conceives his philosophy in the metaphysical categories of subject and object, although his early work contains the lineaments of a philosophy of intersubjectivity that holds out the prospect of a more robust way of contributing to, if not completing, the project of modernity.
Despite his critique of Hegelʼs conception of subjectivity, Habermas allies himself with Hegel in two ways: he understands his own philosophy of intersubjectivity as a development of Hegelʼs early work; and he sees it as a contribution to the same modern project of clarifying and mobilizing the normative resources of the present. The signiﬁcance of this move becomes clear when one considers that the ﬁrst-generation Frankfurt School critical theorists understood themselves to be part of a very different project. In its anxiety to break with the present, of which it had every reason to be deeply suspicious, Critical Theory aimed to draw on the normative resources of the future. The norms that would obtain in a future rational society underwrite its criticism of present injustice. This is explicit in Horkheimerʼs early work, and is implicit in most of Adorno and Benjaminʼs writing. The Politics of Time addresses many of these same questions about the time-consciousness of modernity, in a more detailed and sustained argument which draws very different conclusions. These locate Osborne, despite his enthusiasm for Heidegger, Hegel, and phenomenological ontology, ﬁrmly in the tradition of ﬁrst-generation Frankfurt School Critical Theory, for he attempts to establish a materialist and futureorientated conception of political practice. Given the sphere of interests that guides Osborne, one might have expected an extended polemical engagement with Habermasʼs essay; after all, his book contains polemics against just about every other recent or contemporary theorist of modernity, with the notable exceptions of Ricoeur, Heidegger and Benjamin, who are accorded lengthy exposition and attentive, nuanced critique. Although Osborne enrols Habermasʼs support when venting his spleen against the conservative function of ʻtraditionʼ in Gadamerʼs hermeneutics, he does not seriously engage with the Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Indeed, he dismisses Habermas as an ʻorthodox Kantianʼ (p. 32).
One reason for this absence of an engagement with Habermas may be that, apart from the opening chapter, where Osborne has some very percipient and illuminating things to say on the debate about modernity and postmodernity, the theme of modernity is pushed below the surface by the very weighty metaphysical
Time for the futurePeter Osborne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde, Verso, London, 1995. xv + 272 pp., £39.95 hb., £14.95 pb., 0 86091 482 8 hb., 0 86091 652 9 pb.problem of time and time-consciousness. This is the other main difference between them. For Habermas talks about the time-consciousness of modernity, but not about time and time-consciousness as such, whereas Osborne wants to make use of the ʻphilosophical resourcesʼ (p. xiii) of the discourse about time and time-consciousness for the purposes of explaining the culture of modernity.
His overall argument goes something like this.
Time has to be thought both subjectively, as tensed experience, and objectively, as inﬁnite succession. Without the former, experience would fragment into an aggregate of unrelated now points; all acts, physical and mental, would be inconceivable. Without the latter, the relations of before and after could not be intersubjectively identiﬁed and real relations between events would not perdure through time. But subjective and objective time cannot be different times; they mutually support each other and must form part of one and the same time. So what is this totality of which subjective and objective time form part? Osborneʼs deceptively simple answer is ʻsocial ontologyʼ. Just as for Heidegger Dasein is a being whose Being is a question for it, modernity is a being whose Being is a question for it. Just as Daseinʼs temporality is its being-towards-death, so the temporality of modernity is its being-towards-extinction. What this consciousness of ﬁnitude is supposed to do is awaken modernity to the radical openness of the future. This move allies Heideggerʼs analytic of Dasein with Benjaminʼs concept of historical time. Benjamin used the concept of messianic redemption to dispose of what he called ʻhistoricismʼ, a Hegelian legacy that emphasized the continuity between past and present, thereby conﬁning the radical openness of the future within the narrow horizon of present expectation. The twin threats of environmental catastrophe and human extinction have, on the one hand, brought out the social signiﬁcance of Heideggerʼs analysis of Dasein and, on the other, put secular ﬂesh on the theological bones of Benjaminʼs apocalyptic theory of time. A politics of time is supposed to emerge once modernity realizes the dialectical connection between its abstract myth of inﬁnite progress and the concrete lack of political and historical change. Thus modernity is driven back to a concern with everyday life as the locus of what Osborne calls ʻthe social production of possibilityʼ (p. 198).
My reservations about The Politics of Time are of two kinds. The ﬁrst concerns methodology and style. In one sense, it is a strength of the book that Osborne manages to compress so much material into each chapter. He shows considerable insight and dexterity in bringing a formidable and diverse array of material under one theme. Each chapter consists in a self-contained medley of critical expositions of works of contemporary theory which expound or implicitly trade on a conception of time-consciousness. For the most part, I found his expositions lucid and informative in themselves. For example, in the ﬁnal chapter he delivers a crisp cameo critique of the theoretical motivations for Heideggerʼs political accommodation. On certain important matters, however, his analysis is altogether too brief and superﬁcial, particularly in the case of Kantʼs conception of time and history. I also felt that more explanation of the theories of Aristotle, Augustine and Husserl was needed, if only to get the philosophical problems into focus; and that ﬁltering their views through the optic of (Osborneʼs reading of) Ricoeurʼs account of them in Time and Narrative only added to the confusion.
This problem of having to condense the exposition of very difﬁcult theories stems from Osborneʼs chosen method of ʻtheory construction through appropriative critiqueʼ (p. xiii). Perhaps this is not the best way to approach such an intractable metaphysical problem; or perhaps his critical appropriations were not selective enough. Either way, he does not do justice to the complexity of the issues of time and time-consciousness. The constant introduction of new material and the lack of concrete examples makes it difﬁcult to follow his argument. I am still not sure in what sense Osborne takes himself to be advancing a ʻmaterialistʼ theory of time, despite his mention of the Marxist account of the advent of standardized clock-time. On this point, a discussion of the well-known arguments for the ideality of time advanced by Kant or McTaggart would have helped to clarify his position.
This brings me to my second set of worries: the conception of political praxis advanced in The Politics of Time. For I think that Osborneʼs account of time risks bringing metaphysical confusion to the social and political questions he addresses. In conceptual terms Benjaminʼs notion of redemption is problematic enough. Can we make any real sense of the thought that a temporal relation can be constituted by a relation to something outside time? Certainly the threat of human extinction and environmental destruction make sense, but these are in no sense outside time. And, if that is so, the politics of time seems to be saddled with a notion of political and social change of mysterious theological origin.
A more pressing problem can be raised apropos an exquisitely apposite typing error in the discussion of Heidegger and Benjamin on ʻ“averageness” (Durchschmittlichkeit)ʼ (sic) – a word which, if it existed, would mean ʻthoroughly Schmitt-likeʼ. Osborne emphasizes the ʻuncanny convergence between Benjamin and Heideggerʼs views on historical timeʼ (p. 175), and acknowledges the problem with their (and Schmittʼs) ʻdecisionisticʼ conception of practice. The charge of ʻdecisionismʼ can be understood as the objection that the notion of an authentic mode of existence, resoluteness in the face of oneʼs ﬁnitude, cannot supply any determinate theoretical constraints on action that could serve in place of moral principles. Since almost any action could, in the right circumstances, count as authentic, Heideggerʼs destruction of metaphysics invites ethical catastrophe. Osborne argues convincingly that Heideggerʼs decisionism alone does not underwrite his political capitulation to authority. The fault lies with his epochal view of ʻrepetitionʼ, which understands the future as the ʻreturn to a new beginningʼ, in the shape of the destiny of a people. Thus, argues Osborne, Heidegger fails to understand the future as ʻradical opennessʼ and thinks of it, instead, as the inauguration of a forgotten past. The real political danger of Heideggerʼs Being and Time, Osborne claims provocatively, is that it is not decisionistic enough (p. 174). More decisionism, not less! Osborne answers the problem by denying that there is one. Surely the problem is and always was, not that decisionism leads Heidegger to a naive identiﬁcation with political authority, but that decisionism permits such a course of action, because it is ethically indifferent. This ʻethical indifferenceʼ is common to Schmitt, Heidegger and Benjamin, who, despite manifest differences, agree on this: that praxis consists in a radically contingent break with all present concerns. Whatever their political allegiances, there is a remarkable similarity between Benjaminʼs messianic motif of ʻpulling the emergency cordʼ of history and Schmittʼs invocation of the ʻstate of emergencyʼ; and it ought to be politically disquieting.
Osborneʼs position is ambivalent. At times he appears to want to condemn any constraint on the radical openness of the future as reactionary or conservative. This view is mistaken. Normative critical theory, like moral philosophy, must be oriented towards the future. But it must also be action-guiding to some extent. It must be able, from the standpoint of the present, to rule out certain practices and actions in the future. At others, Osborne acknowledges that there is a problem with the practical indeterminacy of Benjaminʼs revolutionary conception of politics, and argues that it can be solved by repositioning a politics of time within the ʻeverydayʼ. The solution lies in the dialectical thought that the break with present concerns is immanent to those concerns; the rupture with everyday experience is inscribed within it. Actually, Osborne is arguing that this ʻsurrealʼ texture of the everyday is the solution to the problem of ʻrepetitionʼ. It remains unclear to me that ʻthe mystery of the everydayʼ even addresses the problem of the ethical indifference of a decisionistic praxis.
Finally, there is Osborneʼs conclusion that a materialist theory of culture needs an awareness of ʻthe social production of possibilityʼ. This claim can be understood as a challenge to a thought that runs like a red thread through the political thought of Arendt, Adorno and Habermas: that we think political possibilities as socially produced is not the solution to the absence of political praxis; it is part of the problem. For political possibilities are largely possibilities of doing and acting differently, of different social practices, and these cannot be ʻmadeʼ or ʻproducedʼ like things. The extent to which we think they can only reﬂects the extent to which intersubjective relations have been reiﬁed under modern conditions. Osborneʼs readiness to break with lines of thought now familiar on the reconstructed ʻLeftʼ is admirable in itself, and quite in keeping with his own theory. He is nothing if not controversial. To my mind, however, the reasons that cast a shadow over the utopian content of the model of production are not defeated by the ecstatic vision of the everyday with which The Politics of Time concludes.
A good man fallen among individualistsMichael Rosen, On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology, Polity Press,
Cambridge, 1996. xi + 289 pp., £45.00 hb., £14.95 pb., 0 7456 0595 8 hb., 0 7456 1596 1 pb.
ʻWhat has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the fact that the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority of those who are hungry donʼt steal and why the majority of those who are exploited donʼt strike.ʼ These words of Wilhelm Reich deﬁne, according to Michael Rosen, the question that the theory of ideology seeks to address. In its most developed form, within Marxism, this theory answers Reichʼs question through the concept of what Adorno calls ʻnecessary false consciousnessʼ. The best-known version of this concept is probably Marxʼs declaration in The German Ideology that ʻthe ideas of the ruling class are, in every epoch, the ruling ideasʼ: by means of this ideological domination the exploited are persuaded to accept their exploitation as just.
Rosen pursues a double strategy in this long-awaited book. On the one hand, he traces the historical development of the concept of false consciousness, from its origins in the Enlightenment (De la servitude volontaire, by Montaigneʼs friend La Boëtie, thus, despite providing Rosen with his title, forms part of ideologyʼs prehistory), to its latest development by the Frankfurt School. On the other hand, he undertakes a work of conceptual clariﬁcation and, above all, of philosophical critique. Of Voluntary Servitude, its opening sentence declares, is ʻwritten againstʼ the theory of ideology. It seems intended to allow Rosen more generally to settle accounts with Marxism, and thereby to help establish how ʻegalitarian valuesʼ and ʻprojects of human emancipation, perhaps … even socialist onesʼ, can survive it.
Anyone familiar with Rosenʼs brilliant The Hegelian Dialectic and its Criticism (1982) will know that he brings to this challenging undertaking both tremendous historical erudition and great philosophical rigour. These are displayed most successfully in the chapters where he outlines the historical emergence of the ʻtwo background beliefsʼ which, he argues, ʻprovide the core of Marxʼs answer to Reichʼs question: the belief that societies are self-maintaining entities, and the belief that, in the case of prima facie illegitimate societies, the way in which they do this is by means of false consciousness on the part of those who live in them.ʼ Rosenʼs discussions of Hume, Rousseau, Smith and Hegel are outstanding, as is his sensitive and illuminating treatment of Benjamin towards the end of the book.
Nevertheless, perhaps because of the enormous scope of the project, Rosen is unable to avoid a degree of unevenness in his accounts of individual thinkers. For example, Adam Smith is not the only member of the Scottish historical school to offer a theory of ʻthe connection between economic life, political institutions, customs and ideasʼ, as John Millarʼs Origin of the Distinction of Ranks bears witness. Again, it wonʼt do to criticize Habermas and Foucault for a parallel error they commit in their writings of the 1960s, while ignoring the way in which each later modiﬁed his theory in part to take account of the fault identiﬁed by Rosen.
Omissions of this kind do not affect Rosenʼs overall argument. But his surprisingly inaccurate discussion of Darwin does relate to his central preoccupations. He follows G.A. Cohen in drawing parallels between explanations in evolutionary biology and functional explanations in social theory. There is nothing wrong with this in principle. Rosen, however, tends towards a Lamarckian interpretation of Darwin, attributing to him, inter alia, the beliefs that a species has welfarefurthering characteristics ʻprecisely because they further its welfareʼ, and that ʻthere exists a mechanism – natural selection – which ensures that over time, species come to acquire characteristics which further their welfare.ʼ
Now, of course, precisely what the theory of natural selection does not explain is the acquisition and inheritance of characteristics by organisms: relative to the theory, variations are random, not in the sense that they are uncaused, but that, as Elliott Sober puts it, they ʻdo not occur because they would be beneﬁcialʼ. What Darwin predicts is that where a variation occurs which enhances an organismʼs ﬁtness – that is, its chances of survival and reproduction – and is passed on to its descendants, the latter tend to increase in number relative to other populations. While Darwin thus distinguishes between the causes of ﬁtness-enhancing variations and their role in natural selection, it was Lamarck who argued that evolution consisted in organisms acquiring and passing on adaptations because of their beneﬁcial effects, a goal-oriented process – in Lamarck, writes François Jacob, ʻadaptive intention always precedes realizationʼ – reﬂecting the ʻplanʼ at work in nature to achieve ever greater perfection of biological structure.This slide into a teleological conception of evolution is related to Rosenʼs ascription to Marx of the ʻbackground beliefʼ that, as Cohen puts it, treats ʻsocieties or economic units as self-maintaining and selfadvancingʼ. This belief, which invites us to conceive society as an end-in-itself and therefore to explain its features teleologically, in terms of their contribution to the process of social reproduction, is, Rosen believes, central to Marxʼs theory of ideology. Indeed, he claims that Marx lacks anything amounting to a properly articulated theory of ideology. Instead, we are confronted with a series of ʻmodelsʼ usually governed by a metaphor that substitutes for the speciﬁcation of a mechanism.
Thus The German Ideology offers, in addition to the ʻinterests modelʼ (the idea that capitalist society is kept going by means of bourgeois ideological domination), the ʻreﬂection modelʼ, according to which ideology, like a camera obscura, gives an accurate, but inverted, depiction of social reality. Marxʼs later, more ʻscientiﬁcʼ writings also contain the ʻcorrespondence modelʼ, best represented by Cohenʼs attempt to show that the ideologico-political superstructure is functionally explained by its tendency to reproduce the economic base; and the ʻessence and appearance modelʼ implied by the theory of commodity fetishism, according to which the operations of the market lead participants to perceive the capitalist mode of production in a systematically misleading way.
Rosen briskly disposes of each of these models in turn. The interests model treats the working class as a passive object of manipulation. The metaphors informing the reﬂection and essence and appearance models dis-integrate on closer inspection. The correspondence model presupposes the idea, already encountered, of ʻsociety as a self-maintaining systemʼ. This concept, however, in turn depends on an analogy between persons and societies. But while we intuitively treat individual human beings as coherent and autonomous entities, ʻwe do not have a commonly agreed “ folk sociology” to match the “ folk psychology” by which we explain peopleʼs everyday beliefs and actions.ʼ
Many of Rosenʼs criticisms of Marxʼs models are well taken. But it is not clear that they inﬂict fatal damage on the theory of ideology. The interests model has more life to it than he suggests, provided we stop regarding the exploited as simply the passive recipients of rulingclass ideas and treat social consciousness as the outcome of an active struggle between the classes. Gramsciʼs notion of ʻcontradictory consciousnessʼ, a composite – indeed compromise – formation containing beliefs corresponding to the interests of divergent classes, is particularly suggestive in this context. Taking this line would mean dropping what is sometimes called the ʻdominant ideology thesisʼ, expressed in Marxʼs assertion that ʻthe ideas of the ruling class are … the ruling ideas.ʼ Yet, although Rosen is careful to dissociate the concept of ʻnecessary false consciousnessʼ from that of a ʻdominant ideologyʼ, and indeed to deny that it requires that false consciousness be ʻthe sole meansʼ whereby unjust societies are reproduced, he gives no consideration to this possible strategy.
The reason for this failure lies, I think, in the emphasis he lays on Marxʼs ʻbackground beliefʼ in society as a self-maintaining system. Rosen argues that both the existence of this assumption, and the extent to which even the later Marx remains dependent on Hegel, are shown by the way in which ʻthe Grundrisse presents an account of capitalist production as a self-unfolding process with capital as its subjectʼ, an account also implicit in Capital. Now the presence of strongly Hegelian motifs in the Grundrisse is familiar enough. Both Edward Thompson and some of the Althusserians he smote in The Poverty of Theory drew attention to them. Much of the work of the German ʻcapital-logicʼ school was vitiated by the tendency to take up the hints offered by the Grundrisse, and treat capital as a secularized version of the Absolute Idea, necessarily actualizing itself through its contingent empirical manifestions.
Rosen, however, ignores the series of systematic conceptual recastings which Marx undertook in the decade 1857–67, during which he wrote ﬁrst the Grundrisse, then the 1861–63 Manuscript, and ﬁnally Capital itself. Perhaps the best discussion of the general direction these changes took is provided by Jacques Bidet in Que faire du ʻCapitalʼ? (1985). He notes that in Capital Marx lays far greater stress than in his earlier economic writings on ʻstructuresʼ – empirically identiﬁable mechanisms arising from class relations and from inter-capitalist competition – to explain the global ʻtendenciesʼ of the system, where previously he had been prone either to deduce these tendencies directly from the abstract concept of ʻcapitalʼ, or to derive them ʻdialecticallyʼ through some piece of word-play. Consequently, Capital does not rely on the idea of capital as a self-maintaining system to anything like the extent that Rosen claims it does.
He does not notice these changes perhaps because he seems to share the belief of analytical Marxists (or ex-Marxists) like Jon Elster that the only alternative to treating social structures as the unintended consequences of individual actions is to hypostasize society as a Hegelian macro-subject. But this is plainly false. While rejecting the functionalist conception of society as a self-maintaining system, several contemporary theorists have sought to conceptualize social structures as, in Anthony Giddensʼs formulation, ʻthe unacknowledged conditions and the unanticipated consequencesʼ of human action. Such a position, though incompatible with methodological individualism, is consistent with different substantive social theories, ranging from Giddensʼs neo-Weberian sociology, through Roy Bhaskarʼs marxisant ʻCritical Realismʼ, to Erik Olin Wrightʼs and my own variously orthodox Marxisms.
Rosenʼs failure to consider this line of thought may reﬂect the malign inﬂuence of Elsterian rational-choice theory. This inﬂuence is certainly evident in his alternative to the theory of ideology. ʻCompliance without false consciousnessʼ occurs in unjust societies thanks to the free-rider problem. In other words, the exploited do not rise up against their oppressors, not because they believe their exploitation is just, but because it is instrumentally rational for each to let others incur the risks involved in revolt, since any individualʼs participation will make no difference to the outcome.
This ʻanswerʼ to Reichʼs question, outlined in a couple of pages, is, to say the least, feeble. It does not begin to explain recent mass revolts – for example, the Iranian Revolution of 1978–79, the Polish strikes of August 1980, and the South African township insurrections of 1984–86 – all of which developed spontaneously, in times when the costs of rebellion were still very high. Like Elster, Rosen stresses the vanguard role played by minorities of ʻnon-instrumentally motivated agentsʼ (East European dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s, for example), but, in thus highlighting the limited role of instrumental rationality in explaining collective action, he unintentionally draws attention to what a clumsy tool rational-choice theory is.
Maybe the root of the problem lies in Rosenʼs earlier book on Hegel. There he argues that the dialectical method necessarily leads, pace Engels, to mystifying and idealist consequences. It seems to be the drive to exorcize social theory of any taint of Hegelian idealism that has thrust Rosen into Elsterʼs arms. Lenin called Bernard Shaw ʻa good man fallen among Fabiansʼ. Well, Of Voluntary Servitude is the work of a good man fallen among methodological individualists. Their inﬂuence ensures that, for all its undoubted strengths and incidental pleasures, the bookʼs overall argument must be accounted a failure.
Freud against WittgensteinJacques Bouveresse, Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious, trans. Carol Cosman, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1995. xx + 143 pp., £22.50 hb., £9.95 pb., 0 691 03425 7 hb., 0 691 02904 0 pb. Donald Levy, Freud Among the Philosophers: The Psychoanalytic Unconscious and its Philosophical Critics, Yale University Press, New Haven CT and London, 1996. 189 pp., £18.50 hb., 0 300 06632 5.
As Jacques Bouveresse informs us, Wittgensteinʼs brief and scattered remarks on psychoanalysis do not add up to a ʻthorough and systematic critiqueʼ (p. 3). Wittgensteinʼs attitude to psychoanalysis seems ambiguous; he calls himself a ʻdisciple of Freudʼ (ibid.), and yet psychoanalysis is a ʻdangerous and foul practiceʼ (p. xix). His ambivalence reﬂects a profound pessimism about the role of science in our culture. Tellingly, Bouveresse reports that Wittgenstein ʻhesitated over whether the real problem was with psychoanalysis itself or rather how it was used … in an age like oursʼ (ibid.). Wittgenstein is a harsh critic of the pretensions of psychoanalysis to scientiﬁc status; and this may lead us to think that he should be aligned with those philosophers of science, like Karl Popper and Adolf Grünbaum, who have been equally scathing about Freudʼs scientiﬁc shortcomings. But as both Bouveresse and Donald Levy stress, this would be a mistake. Wittgenstein wishes to resist the scientistic approach to understanding human beings which he thinks psychoanalysis exempliﬁes.
He has two main objections to psychoanalysis.
First, that Freud elevated the characteristic sin of philosophical theorizing – the tendency to think that understanding something means deriving some essence from a typical or central case upon which a general theory can be erected – into a scientiﬁc principle. Second, that the kinds of theories Freud provides only appear to be scientiﬁc. What they actually do is redescribe the phenomena of mental life in a way that makes sense to us and which we ﬁnd attractive and convincing, notwithstanding Freudʼs contention that we resist the repellent nature of psychoanalytic truths. Indeed, for Wittgenstein, the fact that such ideas repel explains their peculiar ʻcharmʼ: we feel such things must have great signiﬁcance.
Psychoanalysis thus provides a mythology, which can impose a pattern on our lives and give signiﬁcance to what is otherwise meaningless. It tells a story to which we respond: Yes – it must be like that. This is quite different from explanation in a real science, which provides objective evidence for testable causal hypotheses, the bases for genuine predictions. None of this is present in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a persuasive enterprise, both in the wider world and on the couch. Freudʼs readers are seduced by the sensemaking charm of his constructions; while the patient on the couch assents to the truth of interpretations – assent being the main criterion of their truth for the psychoanalyst, Wittgenstein thinks – because of the analystʼs powers of suggestion.
Levy tackles Wittgensteinʼs criticisms as part of a wider project: clarifying the notion of the unconscious in Freud through removal of misunderstandings perpetuated by previous commentators. Thus he analyses the positions of a number of critics besides Wittgenstein, chief among them being William James, Alasdair MacIntyre and Grünbaum. The closest of these in spirit to Wittgenstein is William James, who attacked the idea of the unconscious before Freud. James seeks to resist the reduction of consciousness to non-conscious mental ʻatomsʼ (ʻmind-dustʼ, in his phrase). Levy is able to show that the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious is not reductive in this way. MacIntyre and Grünbaum, on the other hand, offer full-blown positivist critiques of psychoanalysis. Either the unconscious is an unobservable and nonexplanatory metaphysical construct (MacIntyre); or psychoanalysis is unable to test its hypotheses according to strict inductivist standards ʻon the couchʼ (Grünbaum). In either case, psychoanalysis fails to furnish a scientiﬁc justiﬁcation of its claims. Levy shows that these complaints, in common with those of Wittgenstein, do not present an adequate picture of the Freudian unconscious; they misunderstand that Freudʼs unconscious cannot be separated from the phenomena of transference and resistance – phenomena which can only be properly characterized within Freudʼs general theory of the mind and its development, and which can only be observed in the free associations of the patient in the analytic setting.
Bouveresse sets out to give a uniﬁed exposition of Wittgensteinʼs comments on psychoanalysis, and in so doing he too extends the discussion to encompass the views of others. Both books could serve as introductions to issues in the philosophy of psychoanalysis; neither presumes detailed specialist knowledge on the part of the reader. So it appears that we have here two similar treatments of the same subject matter. But the methods and results, the whole style of thinking, of each writer differ greatly.
Levy makes a number of important new contributions to the debate around these topics, which signiﬁcantly advance the argument. In contrast, Bouveresse remains within the orbit of Wittgensteinʼs thought. He is content to endorse Wittgensteinʼs positions in toto and to recruit arguments from a motley array of recent hostile critics of psychoanalysis to bolster them. But psychoanalysis is currently receiving a lot of favourable attention from analytical philosophers (the tradition to which Bouveresse and Levy both belong, Bouveresse having made a reputation over the years as that rarest of philosophical animals, an ʻanalytical Frenchmanʼ). This work, associated in particular with Marcia Cavell, Donald Davidson, Sebastian Gardner, Jim Hopkins, Jonathan Lear, Thomas Nagel and Richard Wollheim, sees psychoanalysis as an extension of the kind of explanation of motive and action employed in everyday ʻcommon-senseʼ psychology. Explanation by ascription of beliefs and desires in common-sense psychology is supplemented and extended in psychoanalysis by invoking mental states with different, more primitive features, which it was Freudʼs achievement to have discovered.
Levyʼs book is potentially continuous with this development. Indeed, he provides in passing what is in effect a summary of it (p. 92). Bouveresse, though obviously aware of such ideas, gives them no part to play. This is regrettable for two reasons, one of them deeply ironic. First, the common-sense extension view stakes out a middle ground between (everyday) explanation by reasons and (scientiﬁc) explanation by causes, which Wittgenstein thinks are confused in Freud. Bouveresse grants, following Davidson, that reasons can be causes, but denies that this helps psychoanalysis, which pretends that it has a scientiﬁc route to causal explanation. But this does not admit the possibility, now generally acknowledged, that there can be motivating mental causes which are not reasons, and that citing such motives in explaining behaviour is a properly psychological form of causal explanation, as Freud always said it was.
The irony lies in the fact that one of the main precursors of the common-sense extension view is Wittgenstein. The basis of ascription of mental states in common-sense psychology is interpretation: the conditions which make interpretation possible – the grounding of interpreter and interpretee in a shared world which is logically prior to the subjectʼs identiﬁcation of her inner states – being ﬁrst described by Wittgenstein. Bouveresseʼs book thus has important limitations.
Adequate discussion of Levyʼs arguments exceeds the scope of this review. In particular, however, I would single out his treatment of Grünbaum. Levy articulates a generally held and just appreciation of Grünbaum in saying that he has written ʻby far the most important philosophical rejection of the scientiﬁc credibility of Freudʼs work ever to appearʼ (p. 129). All the more signiﬁcant for psychoanalysis, then, if Grünbaumʼs critique can be overthrown. Levy offers a deﬁnitive refutation. This and the whole book deserve the widest and most careful attention.
Internally realLinda Martín Alcoff, Real Knowing, New Versions of the Coherence Theory, Cornell University Press,
Ithaca NY and London, 1996. x + 240 pp., £25.50 hb., 0 8014 3047 X.
Alcoffʼs Real Knowing is an attempt to span the socalled continental and Anglo-American philosophical divide. Her explicit aim is to present an epistemological theory which can both provide the grounds for a normative, evaluative theory of knowledge and explain the interconnections between knowledge, power and desire. As part of this project, Alcoff attempts to demonstrate how a coherentist epistemology can answer problems of justiﬁcation, without reducing truth to justiﬁcation. This can be done, she argues, by retaining but revising realist commitments.
When we try to understand what someone says, we presume that what they say makes sense; and this idea of ʻmaking senseʼ is the key to Alcoffʼs argument. First, we assume that the speaker can and will attempt to provide a coherent account of his or her own experience. Second, we presume that the experience itself provides material which can sustain a coherent account. Third, we will consider new information justiﬁed to the extent that it coheres with, or increases the coherence of, the general picture. If we eschew naive realism, or consider experience to be already an effect of an interpretative scheme; and if we believe that we, in the attempt to understand, are also interpreters – then it appears that we are caught in an uneasy position. But it is at this point that Alcoffʼs attempt to bridge analytic and continental traditions is at its strongest. She argues that Foucaultʼs idea of a discursive practice can be employed to understand that both speaker or text, and reader or interpreter, are part of the same tradition, that there is an internal or conceptual dependence between terms such as truth, justiﬁcation and belief, but that truth is still irreducible to justiﬁcation. Within the Foucauldian account, a statement is held to be true, or a unit of knowledge, when it ﬁts, or coheres with, other units or statements which are all formed in a regular manner by a discursive practice.
Thus Alcoff can explore a concept of realism which is, in a sense, contextual. We can accept both that claims to know something are actually about something (experience), and also that the experience is produced or organized through the discursive practice – as are our ways of presenting, representing or analysing that experience. Coherence works as a theory of justiﬁcation because the discourses constitute the objects of which we speak in a regular manner, and criteria for truth and falsity are ways of reasoning internal to each conceptual scheme. Given that we can talk about a discursive ﬁeld, we can also talk about subjugated and dominant knowledges and their differential relations to power. Because there is no overarching scheme or framework, we can argue that truth is irreducibly plural. Taking on the problem of ʻaboutnessʼ – the irreducibility of truth to justiﬁcation – Alcoff draws from Putnam a version of internal realism which can support a non-reductive account of a mind-independent world. First, ʻthe worldʼ underdetermines theoretical descriptions, so that there can be a plurality of theoretical schemes. Second, although experience determines the truthvalue of statements, experience is itself part of an interpretative scheme. Lastly, truth-value is dependent on the ﬁt between experience (as interpretation) and theoretical description.
The concluding chapter is an argument for the idea of plural truths and a rejection of the claim that this results in an absolute relativism. The argument runs like this: truth-claims concern the ﬁt between experience and theoretical description; different schemes will have different truth variables; disagreement between schemes does not prove incommensurability; therefore conﬂicts can be resolved (at a local level). The most productive, true, theoretical description will be one which aims for adequacy: a coherent and comprehensive account of the constellation of elements that make up experience.
The argument in Real Knowing is basically of the transcendental deductive kind: given x, p must be true (as the condition of x), where x is understanding rather than knowledge or belief, and p the principles of coherence and discursive formations. Aside from general problems with arguments which take this form, there is a further problem concerning internal realism. To take an example suggested by Alcoff, both Marxism and neo-classical economic theories are comprehensive, but incommensurable, schemes for analysing economic behaviour. The difﬁculty, as I see it, is that within either scheme beliefs will be considered true or false depending on whether or not they maximize coherence and thereby explain experience. Alcoffʼs suggestion appears to be that the falsity of one scheme will be ﬁgured in terms of its inadequacy. This ﬁguring will take place at a local level, and will be based on a lived dissonance between experience and theoretical description. Although internal realism is supposed to accommodate the idea that ʻthe realʼ constrains our theoretical descriptions or analyses, we need a harder, or more detailed, empirical theory to make sense of the concept ʻinadequacyʼ. Following on from this, a more thorough assessment of the differences between subjugated and dominant knowledges would have been useful, as this distinction is used to bypass difﬁculties associated with theories of false belief, false consciousness and ideology.
On the whole, Real Knowing is an impressive, astute and clear guide through difﬁcult and complicated arguments from both traditions. Alcoff manages to demonstrate the commensurability of concerns, interests and questions which run through philosophers as diverse as Gadamer, Davidson, Blackburn, Quine, Putnam and Foucault. It is unlikely that the arguments for internal realism will convince many purist Anglo-American philosophers. Similarly, some postmodernists may ﬁnd the form of argument question-begging and this might lead them to describe the drive to maximize coherence – for Alcoff, the drive to resolve conﬂict – as yet another example of the authoritarian drive to truth. Luckily, however, few of us are so ʻpureʼ. By gleaning the best from feminist empiricism and feminist standpoint theories, Alcoff manages to present a coherent account of justiﬁcation and truth, without reducing one to the other, and offers an insight into the grounds of real knowing directed towards future practice.
Unworldly modelsMichael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996. x + 592 pp., £45.00 hb., 0 19 827532 3.
This is a large, ambitious and very rewarding book. It supplies a comprehensive survey of the central political ideologies of the past two centuries: liberalism, conservatism and socialism. Feminism and green ideology are brieﬂy discussed at the end of the study. At the same time Freeden defends a particular approach to the study of ideology which is exempliﬁed in the survey. He takes his stance in opposition to two other approaches. One is that which represents ideologies as organized doctrines of little or no intellectual merit, to be understood solely in causal or functional terms. The other is the approach of political philosophy which evaluates any theory in pure and abstracted terms of truth or rightness. On both approaches an ideologyʼs conceptual character is simply neglected, as irrelevant or absent.
Freeden sees ideologies as ʻparticular patterned clusters and conﬁgurations of political conceptsʼ. Each ideology has a shape which is given by the relationships between what Freeden terms ʻcoreʼ, ʻadjacentʼ and ʻperipheralʼ concepts. Within the core of liberalism, for instance, is the concept of liberty; the concept is ʻdecontestedʼ – that is, given a clear single meaning. Adjacent and peripheral concepts are further from the core, but it is central to Freedenʼs approach that the relationship between an ideologyʼs concepts is not simply ʻlogicalʼ, but also cultural and historical. Thus, concepts at the edge of an ideology are not simply those at the furthest intellectual remove from its core but also those that deﬁne an ideologyʼs engagement with the world of politics – particular policy proposals, for instance. Each ideology has its own ʻspeciﬁc morphologyʼ in which the main political concepts – liberty, equality, democracy, and so on – assume their place. Freeden offers the metaphors of a map or road grid within which a given number of towns are situated, and of a room within which a common pool of furniture is placed. On his approach the political theorist can engage with and understand the distinctively ideological structure of political ideas, without adopting the stance of the political philosopher who constructs unworldly pre-scriptive models out of such ideas.
The approach is immensely illuminating. One not only sees the ideational architecture of each ideology; one can also recognize what one might call the higher-order features of each architectural style, the intellectual temperament of an ideology. Thus, liberalism displays a self-critical spirit which encourages ﬂexibility in the arrangements of its conceptual furniture. Conservatism, on the other hand, organizes its concepts in response to its perceived ideological opponents. It is a ʻmirror-imageʼ ideology of reactive self-awareness. Socialism, ﬁnally, is an ideology structured as a critique of the present which projects an imagined, but yet to be actualized, future.
There are minor cavils. It might have been interesting to see nationalism treated as an ideology in its own right. It might have been more worthwhile to extend the treatment of feminism in its ideological function of deconstructing the existing political language, than to pair it with the very young and incomplete ʻgreenʼ ideology. However, it is in relation to political philosophy that Freedenʼs work is most revealing. Freeden identiﬁes a dominant Anglo-American political philosophy which is mainly liberal in its allegiances. Not only is such philosophy charged with being insensitive to its own ideological character; it is blind to the history and morphology of the particular ideology – liberalism – of which it is the latest instalment. Freedenʼs target here is the American East Coast Rawlsianism which has launched a thousand doctorates. Freedenʼs approach allows him to make telling points. For instance, philosophical liberalism is famously subject to a communitarian critique for its neglect of community. Yet strong conceptions of community and the common good did, as Freeden claims, have a solid pedigree in the American liberal tradition. That trail has gone cold as the philosophical variant of American liberalism has cut itself off from its own ideological history. In consequence, philosophical liberalism has also denied itself the political potential and usage a richer American liberal ideology might possess.
The relationship between an ideology and political philosophy also broaches one very crucial issue. In concentrating on the structure or syntax of an ideology, Freeden is careful to bracket the question of its truth. At one point (p. 310) he is explicit that since the book deals with ideologies, not political philosophies, his interest lies not in the ʻrightnessʼ of one approach but in how that approach relates to existing ideological systems. Political philosophies which forget that they are ideologies thereby jettison their politics – that is, a grounding in ʻadjustable social practicesʼ. However, there is a converse problem. As Freeden says, ideologies are not only power structures that manipulate human actions, but also ʻideational systems that enable us to choose to become what we want to becomeʼ (p. 553). Ideologies which forget that they are political philosophies may thereby sacriﬁce their claim on us to change the world in a certain prescribed way. It seems too simple to suggest, as Freeden does on his last page, that the evaluative investigation of ideologies can readily be ʻsuperimposedʼ on the bookʼs ﬁndings. Any system of political thought must combine an adequate reﬂexivity about its historical, cultural and political conditions of possibility with a warranted normativity – that is, a compelling claim upon us to realize its ideas. Doing that is an immensely complex task. The outstanding merit of Freedenʼs work is that he has shown what political philosophy presently lacks, and has done so by demonstrating that ideologies should not be dismissed as merely the ʻpoor cousinsʼ of philosophies. Both political theory and political philosophy have a great deal to learn from this book.
Engels in his own rightChristopher J. Arthur, ed., Engels Today: A Centenary Appreciation, Macmillan and St Martinʼs Press, London and New York, 1996. xiv + 214 pp., £40.00 hb., £14.99 pb., 0 333 63324 5 hb., 0 333 66531 7 pb.
This centenary collection usefully steers between two extreme responses to Engelsʼs role in the development of Marxism, neither attributing all errors and crudities in the ofﬁcial doctrine to his baneful inﬂuence, nor merely portraying him as playing second ﬁddle to Marx. However, its main focus is not an attempt deﬁnitively to settle Engelsʼs relationship to Marx, but rather a review of what in Engelsʼs works still occasions debate. This includes his views on class struggle and ʻscientiﬁc socialismʼ, philosophical naturalism, feminist issues, and political economy. While there is some unevenness in the collection, it succeeds in its aim of showing that Engels had views which warrant critical discussion.
Terrell Carver and Andrew Collier discuss Engelsʼs views on the politics of class struggle, arguing that he should be seen as a democrat. Terrell Carver notes that Engels could only enter into an uneasy alliance with other supporters of secular democratization in Europe. He suggests a parallel between the struggles of 1848, in which Marx and Engels participated, and popular revolts against Communist rule in Eastern Europe, claiming that both were crucially inspired by a demand for constitutional government, which, for all its limitations, ʻimplies power sharing with citizens [and] respect for them and their viewsʼ (p. 23). I doubt this. Hayekʼs constitutionalism, for example, seems rather to imply suspicion of citizens and their views. Constitutionalism as such can be seen as a device to restrict appropriation of wealth through political power. It has democratic overtones when directed against feudal lords, but not as a safeguard against redistribution of wealth by popular majorities.
Andrew Collier absolves Engels of responsibility for subsequent retreats among social-democratic parties from social revolution to reform and, ﬁnally, to mere management of capitalism. Collier asks whether socialist revolution is indeed necessary or possible given its prerequisites, and then proceeds to show what Engels contributes to this question. According to Collier, Engels makes ʻtwo main tendential predictions: that the proletariat will grow as a proportion of the population; and that military technology will shift the balance of forces in the stateʼs favourʼ. He also makes ʻthree main constraint predictions: that socialism cannot be brought about without a revolution, that revolution cannot be made without the organized support of a large majority, and that revolution cannot be made against the militaryʼ (p. 40). Collier ﬁnds that these predictions are supported by historical evidence, but criticizes Engels (and Marx) for failing to appreciate that revolutions are ʻalways exceptionalʼ (p. 42). His summary (pp. 43–4) stresses Engelsʼs ʻexemplary realismʼ, thus leading into the issue of philosophical naturalism.
Various aspects of this topic are covered by John OʼNeil, Ted Benton and Sean Sayers. Ted Benton considers what can be learned from Engels about the prospects of a realignment of red and green politics. He claims that Engelsʼs The Condition of the Working Class in England demonstrates a link between the class position of the English working class and the poor health and environment it suffered, and thus can be seen as a foundational text for an ecological socialism. Sean Sayers, meanwhile, argues that Engelsʼs non-reductive materialism is the viable alternative to idealism and physicalism (equating this with the mechanistic materialism that Engels rejects). For Sayers, as for Davidson, this position asserts that all ʻmaterial things are physical in natureʼ, yet denies that ʻall material phenomena are fully describable or explicable in terms of physicsʼ (p. 159). However, Sayers rejects Davidsonʼs ʻanomalous monismʼ because it gives a ʻnon-realist account of the mental standpointʼ (p. 161). This charge might stick for the mental, since on Davidsonʼs account what counts as a correct mental description or explanation is partly determined by a presumption that others mostly believe and think rationally as we do (the ʻPrinciple of Charityʼ). But the charge may not hold for other areas, such as biology; or even for the view that the mental is ʻanomalousʼ, if that is simply a consequence of denying determinism.
The collection is balanced by some serious criticisms of Engelsʼs views. While applauding Engelsʼs vision of how men and women might live, Lisa Vogel argues that he fails to integrate his various sources into a coherent theory of the oppression of women. She suggests a need to go beyond socialist feminism to a critique of Marxism. If, however, historical materialism can be interpreted sufﬁciently broadly to contain approaches such as Christine Delphyʼs, it may be that feminism needs only to reject timid, conventional Marxisms. Chris Arthur argues that gratitude for Engelsʼs contribution to Capital should be tempered by recognition of the muddles involved in his concept of ʻsimple commodity productionʼ and his attribution of a ʻlogico-historicalʼ method to Marx. Arthurʼs claim that theory need not recapitulate history is well taken. He also shows that value can be a fully developed social relation of production only under capitalism. His further assertion that categories such as ʻvalueʼ cannot apply to pre-capitalist commodity exchange relies, less plausibly, on claiming that labour time has a ʻnecessaryʼ inﬂuence only on capitalist exchange.Engels Today provides useful food for thought now that the work of Marx and Engels is no longer, as a matter of course, engulfed in ideological fall-out from the collapse of Communism.
Whose last words?
Jean-Paul Sartre and Benny Lévy, Hope Now: The 1980 Interviews, trans. Adrian Van Den Hoven, with an introduction by Ronald Aronson, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1996. 135 pp., £15.95 hb., 0 226 47630 8.
ʻItʼs other people who are my old age. An old man never feels like an old manʼ, protests the seventy-ﬁveyear-old Sartre. The recall of the famous ʻHell is other peopleʼ is one of the few ﬂashes of the old brilliance to be found in these interviews, ﬁrst published in the weekly Nouvel Observateur only weeks before Sartreʼs death in April 1980. His interloctor is his young secretary Benny Lévy, the rabbinical reincarnation of the Maoist chief formerly known as Pierre Victor.
The interviews immediately provoked controversy and were given a hostile reception by the Sartre ʻfamilyʼ. Simone de Beauvoir, in particular, was vitriolic, accusing Lévy of ʻabductingʼ and manipulating an old man who no longer had the intellectual strength to defend himself. In his very informative, but perhaps over-generous, introduction Aronson argues that, in Beauvoirʼs view, respecting the new direction that Sartre appears to be taking here would imply disrespect for the Sartre she had known in his prime. He then asks why Sartre should not be able to change in yet another direction. The question is legitimate, as is the reminder that the image of Sartre which emerges from Beauvoirʼs autobiographical writings is a highly contrived and controlled one. To claim that Hope Now is one of the few occasions on which Sartre can be seen actually working with someone else and being contested is more dubious; Lévyʼs questions are often aggressive and he tries too hard to keep his own hands clean. The criticisms of Sartreʼs fellow-travelling would, for instance, be much more palatable if they were accompanied by a self-critical reﬂection on Lévyʼs starring role in the tragi-comedy of French Maoism. Some of the retractions prompted by Lévyʼs questions are startling. Sartre is now critical of his notorious endorsement of the use of a cleansing violence in his Preface to Fanonʼs Wretched of the Earth. Whilst it is true that the piece has not aged well, it is hard not to see Sartreʼs admission that he found it ʻunpleasantʼ to be against his own country as a surrender to the collective amnesia surrounding the horrors of the Algerian War. It is heartbreakingly sad to see Sartre retreating from his honourable position of old.
The central issue addressed in these interviews is that of constructing new foundations for the Left after the eclipse of Marxism. Sartre and Lévy explore the possibility of a new ethics of fraternity and look forward to a future in which each person will be a human being, and in which collectivities will be equally human. Parties will give way to mass movements with deﬁnite and speciﬁc goals. At times the discussion is alarmingly abstract and divorced from political realities. The rise of Mitterrandʼs Socialist Party and the electoral victory of 1981 may well have resulted in new disappointments, but it is perverse to see them as signalling the demise of political parties.
The references to an ethics of fraternity would simply be a banal coda to Sartreʼs political evolution, were it not for the discussion of messianism, and particularly Jewish messianism, in the ﬁnal interview. In Anti-Semite and Jew, which, it now transpires, was written without any recourse to documentation or research, Sartre claimed that the Jew would ﬁnally discover that he is ʻa manʼ and not merely a creation of the anti-Semite. Sartre argues that the Jewish vision of the end of the world as resulting in the appearance of a new world, and in the emergence of an ethical existence in which men live for one another, is an essential ingredient in any revolutionary politics.
The reappearance of religious themes, and of positive references to monotheism, are commonplaces of French political thought from the so-called New Philosophers onwards. Yet it is still surprising to ﬁnd Sartre subscribing to such ideas. If the comments made by Lévy in his Afterword are a faithful reﬂection of Sartreʼs thinking, the old atheist was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah – the reign of man and of the universal. Was Sartre being overinﬂuenced by a dialogue with someone who went so rapidly from what he now calls ʻmilitant stupidityʼ to religious Judaism? Is this the authentic voice of the dying Sartre? Beauvoir claimed that Lévy brought pressure to bear on the blind Sartre, who ﬁnally gave in from exhaustion and agreed to his secretaryʼs arguments. If that is true, Lévy appears not to have changed; Foucault is likewise reliably reported, in the very different context of a discussion of ʻpeopleʼs justiceʼ, as having surrendered to the unrelenting arguments of the then Pierre Victor … out of exhaustion, to make him happy, to shut him up. Despite Aronsonʼs attempts to argue that these interviews reperesent a new departure for Sartre, some doubt must remain as to their authenticity. Just whose last words these are is far from certain.
Rhetorical rotunditiesStanley Rosen, The Mask of Enlightenment: Nietzscheʼs Zarathustra, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995. xviii + 264 pp., £35.00 hb., 0 521 49889 9.
The title of Rosenʼs trenchant critique of Nietzscheʼs Zarathustra refers to ʻthe role of rhetoric in the revolutionary movement known as the Enlightenmentʼ. Rhetoric, we are told, is the means by which dangerous philosophical truths are hidden behind noble lies, and Nietzsche, as the subtlest of rhetoricians, is cast as the most dangerous revolutionary of them all. Having stripped away the smiling rhetoric of rational progress, Nietzsche dared to expose not merely the latent grimace of scepticism and materialism, but the far deeper terror of the certainty of chaos and ʻthe eternal return of the sameʼ. Finding himself face to face with the horror of nihilism, he too felt constrained to fashion a revivifying rhetorical mask. Anthropomorphizing force into will and ﬂux into freedom, he sought to conceal chaos behind creativity, notwithstanding the rigid determinism of an eternal return which spurns the rhetorical rotundities it illegitimately spawns.
The focal point of Rosenʼs book is Zarathustraʼs ʻdouble rhetoricʼ: a dual invocation of subjective freedom and absolute necessity which juxtaposes exoteric exaltation and esoteric despair. Indeed, it is the tenacity of Rosenʼs hold on the equivocal character of Zarathustraʼs discourse – its ʻincoherent synthesisʼ of creative overcoming and amor fati, free will and determinism – that constitutes the principal strength of his inquiry. Rosen shows how the nihilism required for the destructive preliminary stage of Zarathustraʼs revolutionary ideology necessarily precludes the allimportant creative stage. He further shows how the correlatively dual role of will to power, as ever-shifting ground of fragmented subjectivity on the one hand, and deﬁning act of integrated subjectivity on the other, is inherently ʻselfʼ-defeating. As Rosen astutely concludes, Nietzscheʼs attempt to derive individual signiﬁcance from chaos is like trying ʻto pull a rabbit out of an empty hatʼ. The failure of Zarathustraʼs teaching is thus seen to lie in a double rhetoric which ﬂourishes and founders on its internal contradictions. While the destructive determinist instinct in Zarathustraʼs doctrine of the eternal return ﬂourishes in hearts hard enough for nihilism, the creative ﬂourish of the vulgarized doctrine luxuriates in swampy hearts yearning for salvation. In the former, wisdom conﬁnes life; in the latter, art reﬁnes wisdom and thereby reanimates life. In both, the ʻlived wisdomʼ which Rosen locates at the core of Zarathustraʼs prophetic mission falters on the common disjunction between theory and practice.
What Rosen fails to mention, however, is that the split between theory and praxis is in no greater evidence than in the person of Zarathustra himself; nowhere is the pathos of personal failure more affecting, especially if one sees in Zarathustra partial projections of his author. One must of course be mindful of the boundary between work and author, blurred though it is by the ﬂuctuations of chaotic ʻsubjectivityʼ. But while Nietzscheʼs hermeneutic tool of ʻbackward inferenceʼ from the work to the author would reject any simple identity between Nietzsche and Zarathustra, it would consider equally untenable Rosenʼs representation of Zarathustra as ʻthe expression of Nietzscheʼs loneliness purged of its purely subjective or personal elementsʼ. To portray a tragic and psychologically complex ﬁgure, a man torn apart by violent inner conﬂict, as ʻthe highest and purest aspect of Nietzscheʼs spiritʼ, is to rob Nietzscheʼs most cherished (and to my mind, most personal) work of its clumsily masked confessional content. Rosenʼs sanitized spiritualization of Zarathustra diminishes not only the latterʼs all-too-human weaknesses, which bar his way to self-overcoming, but the speciﬁc allegorical signiﬁcance, persistently overlooked by Nietzsche scholars, of the kindred spirits (the ʻhigher menʼ of Part IV), who strew the path of his inner journey. It is surprising indeed that a critic who places so much emphasis on the spiritual perceives neither the clear connection between the spirit of Romantic pessimism (personiﬁed by Schopenhauer) and the soothsayer, nor that between the spirit of Romantic art (personiﬁed by Wagner) and the sorcerer. Consequently, Rosenʼs reading of Part IV of Zarathustra is by far the weakest section of the book.
Even more surprising, however, is Rosenʼs failure to connect the subtlety of Zarathustraʼs double rhetoric with the forked tongue of his cunning serpent. For if, as Rosen claims, ʻserpents are a metaphorical expression of … the wisdom of deceit and poisonous attackʼ, and Zarathustraʼs serpent is a metaphor for cunning intelligence, then the latterʼs intrinsic relation to Zarathustraʼs rhetorical duplicity is self-evident. Furthermore, Rosenʼs claim that, ʻas personiﬁcations of natural force (including the human spirit), [Zarathustraʼs] animals do not represent [his] personal subjectivityʼ is seriously undermined by Zarathustraʼs prior claim that the spirit is a tool and toy of the body. Once again, Rosenʼs hermeneutic bent towards the abstract and the spiritual deprives Zarathustra of his quintessentially human characteristics.
These reservations aside, Rosenʼs The Mask of Enlightenment is the most penetrating interpretation of Zarathustra to have appeared in recent years.
Sacred factsRobyn Ferrell, Passion in Theory: Conceptions of Freud and Lacan, Routledge, London and New York, 1996. viii + 118 pp., £35.00 hb., £10.99 pb., 0 415 09019 9 hb., 0 415 09020 2 pb.
In Robyn Ferrellʼs account of psychoanalysis, Freud was a committed empiricist who evolved a theory that challenges the premisses of the empirical sciences. Brieﬂy, her argument runs as follows: as early as The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), when his theorizing starts to becomes recognizably psychoanalytic, Freud offers two hypotheses: the ﬁrst, that the primary mental item is not the sense-perception but the hallucination; the second, that the wish, originating in the body, is more basic than the thought. The consequence is to disturb the assumption ʻthat the objective view is a valid – or even a possible – intersubjective referenceʼ (p. 29). The real can no longer be equated with the external objective world that is taken as a yardstick by the sciences. It is not so much that scientiﬁc empiricism – the reference to neuro-physiology, chemistry and so on – is disqualiﬁed; it is rather that the foundational objectivity apparently guaranteed by the reference to the external world is put into question.
The question which Freud goes on to raise in respect of any theory – and that includes not only empiricism but also his own metapsychology – is whether it can avoid projecting unconscious desires, in the shape of its concepts, back onto the material it is using the concepts to organize. On this view, theory would always be an elaborated kind of secondary revision (to use the term applied to the narrative that the dreamer imposes on the elements of his/her dream), informed by interior psychic structures. This does not mean that we cannot make legitimate distinctions between hypotheses. (In Freudʼs example of geology, it is plausible to assume that the core of the earth is molten rock; it is not plausible to assume that it is strawberry jam.) It does, however, entail that theory is never completely free of unconscious desire. Science and reason cannot be neutral, in the sense of disconnected from their source in unconscious, desiring psychical reality – which means, ultimately, their source in the body.
It is not until the very last pages of the book that we discover where the argument is heading. When science claims, implicitly or explicitly, that it has access to the most ʻrealʼ kind of reality, what we are witnessing, in Ferrellʼs view, is the religion of our times. Science itself ʻis a species of theology … the description of fact is the sacred writing of the contemporary world, and that world worships where things are taken literallyʼ (p. 98). On this interpretation, ʻfacts are expressive of contemporary desireʼ (ibid.). So real is the ontology produced by science, Ferrell writes, that we do not see that this reality is a theological one. The desire that empiricism embodies is for the objective real to be unrelated to our desire, whereas for psychoanalysis, without desire there would be no connection with the world at all. Love is ʻan epistemological relationʼ (p. 99) (which is why transference is not just a phenomenon of clinical work, but a key concept in psychoanalytic theory). For empirical science, the subjectivity of the observer has to be neutralized, ʻﬁxedʼ, in order to establish the validity of the scientiﬁc observation. That is all well and good, says Ferrell, provided we remember that the neutralization of the subject-pole itself corresponds to a desire. The same problem arises, of course, in psychoanalysis when it aspires to be scientiﬁc. The recurring clash between the essential mobility and destabilizing power of the id and the need for both epistemological stability and therapy is often thought to be exempliﬁed in Lacanʼs eventful career and contradictory heritage.
It makes sense to see Ferrellʼs short study as belonging in many respects to the genre of the philosophical essay: offering a series of reﬂections which are often pithy and epigrammatic in expression. Its rhetorical qualities are simultaneously seductive (the pleasure of seeing complex ideas condensed so satisfactorily); demanding (in the effort required to consider whether the condensation is accurate, or whether one needs to question further); and an obstacle (the condensation is a barrier at those points where one is not in a position to do the unpacking). Its account of Freud is remarkable in its conciseness and pertinence, although I imagine the book will leave the sceptics unconvinced and believers conﬁrmed in their views. But part of Ferrellʼs point is that we cannot be literally dispassionate about any of our theories: neutrality is not an option.
Ulster defence mechanismJohn David Cash, Identity, Ideology and Conﬂict: The Structuration of Politics in Northern Ireland, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996. x + 230 pp., £30.00 hb., 0521 55052 1.
Under capitalism, says the Communist Manifesto, ʻall ﬁxed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away.ʼ Not, apparently, in Northern Ireland; nor in those numerous other countries where the so-called ʻethnic revivalʼ increasingly dominates political life. How are we ʻto comprehend the persistence and regeneration of ideologies of ethnicityʼ (p. 6)? This is the question Cash sets out to answer. The difﬁculties we have in answering it are, he believes, due to defective theories of ideology. This he sets out to remedy in the ﬁrst part of the book. In the second he puts his own theory to work in explaining the ideological formations of one particular ethnic group: Ulster Unionists.
Cash deﬁnes ideology as ʻa dynamic and relatively autonomous system of signiﬁcation, communication and subjection which operates by constructing a social and political order and subjecting individual human beings to cathected positions within this orderʼ (p. 70). His objection to existing theories of ideology is that they are either too sociological, and therefore unable to treat it as operating autonomously through the activity of individuals; or too psychological, and hence disabled from appreciating its role in structuring intersubjective relations. Cash seeks to overcome this duality through an appeal to Giddensʼs theory of structuration, whereby the structure of social systems is both the medium of individual action and the effect of it. The structuration of ideology is, Cash claims, governed by unconscious rules which should, so he questionably infers, be speciﬁed in psychoanalytic terms. Thus the Kleinian paranoid-schizoid position gives rise, as a defence mechanism, to dehumanizing or persecutory ideological formations; the depressive position to an ambivalent one which, unlike the former sorts, is able to treat its objects as whole people with good and bad aspects, so that ʻthe capacity for reality testing, vis à vis the prior positions, is greatly enhancedʼ (p. 88).
Cash combines this psychodynamic account with aspects of Kohlbergʼs cognitive-developmental theory to devise rules governing the structuration of identities and relations in Northern Ireland. He discerns four modes of ideological reasoning: two corporate ones which constitute persons by their ethno-religious category, the instrumental through shared objectives and the afﬁliative through allegiance; and two liberal ones, the conventional and the post-conventional, which constitute them as citizens and as human beings respectively. The suitability of the corporate modes to the dehumanising or persecutory positions, and of the liberal to the ambivalent one, is evident. Terms like ʻProtestantʼ and ʻRoman Catholicʼ thus have a different signiﬁcance, depending on whether the corporate or liberal modes are employed, and incorporate either exclusivist or inclusivist constructions of the social world. This is the basis of Cashʼs ʻdepth hermeneutic of Unionist ideologyʼ (p. 111).
Cash rejects both pluralist explanations in terms of the continuity of ethnic identities, and modernization accounts which sharply contrast the rational pursuit of group interest with irrational ethnic regressions. Instead, he emphasizes the ﬂuctuations in Unionist ideology, attempts at inclusivist policies towards Nationalists alternating with exclusivist reactions to political crises. Through analysis of speeches by Unionist politicians he identiﬁes the changes from liberal ambivalence to corporate dehumanization or persecutory anxiety and back again.
If the strength of Cashʼs theory of ideology is to be judged by its power to explain Unionist politics, then it cannot be judged a complete success. His somewhat one-dimensional account does not take us far beyond recording the readily observable affective reactions of Unionists to political events. Although he dwells on the paradox of a Loyalism which deﬁes British authority and asserts a right of self-government, his scheme fails to elucidate what Britishness means to Unionists. Nor does his downplaying of their Protestantism as just a potentially exclusionary label help capture their complex identity. But it is his reluctance to look outside his conﬁningly pathological framework that is ﬁnally unsatisfying: Nationalists are described as exclusivist when, for them, ʻthe enemy was trying to continue with its regime of oppression and discriminationʼ (p. 154). But it was, wasnʼt it?
This last criticism survives, even if we grant that it would be unfair to judge Cash by his failure to shed light on a situation whose explanation is nearly as intractable as its resolution. There is a good deal of independent interest here, including useful discussions of Althusser and Habermas on ideology. Its application is at least a serious attempt to get beyond the usual journalistic banalities.
Suspicion and faithAlan How, The Habermas–Gadamer Debate and the Nature of the Social: Back to Bedrock, Avebury,
Aldershot, 1995. xi + 251 pp., £37.50 hb., 1 85628 179 5.
It is a pleasure to ﬁnd a book where one disagrees, sometimes profoundly, with the author, but which one still feels able to praise. This is an excellent text. It is written clearly and – an all too rare phenomenon – with the reader and his or her sensibilities in mind, rather than as a display designed for the satisfaction of the author. It does what it sets out to do, no more and no less, and bears the stamp of a good teacher and a careful thinker. I can see myself referring students to it for some time to come and I am sure that I will be referring myself to it as well. It is the best account of the Habermas–Gadamer debate that I have found.
The author announces his prejudice for Gadamer at the beginning and tries to show that in the debate between the two, Habermas is guilty of the greater misinterpretation. In the process of demonstrating this, he does us the service of succinct summaries of the origins of the dispute in the Adorno–Popper controversies, and of the main themes of Gadamerʼs Truth and Method. He offers the best account of the concept of ʻapplicationʼ available, and a useful account of the differences between Gadamer and Peter Winch. When faced with teasing out the Habermas–Gadamer debate myself, I react as I might if I were asked to separate two gridlocked Sumo wrestlers. How himself deals with it as a contest over four rounds, carefully describing the punches and scoring the points, arguing that Gadamerʼs hermeneutics is capable of producing critiques of ideology, that the emphasis on tradition does not entail obedience to authority, and so on. Yet I ﬁnd I am not convinced by these arguments.
In his introduction, How calls on a distinction made by Ricoeur between a hermeneutics of suspicion and a hermeneutics of faith, which seems to me to be a very clear way of distinguishing between the contestants; and towards the end he recognizes the possibility – perhaps the necessity – of being able to move from one to the other. But he also wishes to defend Gadamerʼs conception of language – the basis of faith – in a way that leaves me uneasy. Language becomes the source of sociality, which is fair enough, but also the way the world discloses itself to us, and this is too close to a theological conception to be accepted uncritically: ʻIn the beginning was the word … and the word was God.ʼ I am not sure that Howʼs defence of it is actually compatible with his more even-handed assessments. Everything – and perhaps especially the subjective and the individual – is absorbed into such a conception which, in a strange paradox given Gadamerʼs intentions, produces in theory a form of totalitarianism where there is no room for critique. Language can be many things – a link with Being, an instrument, a reﬂection, a self-revelation and a persuasion. But it can also be an enemy, something which strips us of our intuition, and with which we must struggle.
There is one sentence in which How opposes the two thinkers in a typically succinct way: ʻGadamerʼs most basic attitude orients him towards seeing the connectedness between things, ﬁnding complicity even between oppositions. Habermasʼ attitude actively heightens dualisms, for example setting off reason in direct opposition to traditionʼ (p. 166). Yet these are precisely the moments of dialectical thought – the separation and contradiction and the bringing together. If we seek only connectedness, we move towards mysticism, and there is no development, nothing new emerges; if we seek only contradiction, we move towards fragmentation. We need to hold on to faith and suspicion at the same time and move between the two, giving each one priority in turn. Perhaps the most important thing about this book is that it stimulates thinking about these issues in an accessible way.
UnengagedVéronique M. Fóti, ed., Merleau-Ponty: Difference, Materiality, Painting, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1996. 201 pp., $55.00 hb., 0 391 03904 0.
The editor introduces these twelve essays by suggesting that the need for exposition of Merleau-Pontyʼs work has now passed, and that what is required is a dialogue with him in the context of recent postphenomenological and post-structuralist philosophies. For members of the Merleau-Ponty circle, from one of whose conferences these papers are loosely derived, this is probably true; and they have indeed taken the injunction against exegesis to heart. It is possible to imagine some intriguing debate surfacing during their meeting, but as a collected volume the book does not work well because there is no real engagement with Merleau-Pontyʼs texts, or any sense of the overall project on which these writings bear, or of how they relate to subsequent developments in continental philosophy. The task of the editor should surely have been to provide some such overview and contextualization, but instead Véronique Fótiʼs introduction merely offers a brief summary of each article. She does, however, divide the contributions according to what she sees as the three main issues to be confronted: difference, materiality and painting.
Fóti registers surprise that among these MerleauPonty scholars, the question of materiality seemed to incite the most interest, and the essays in this section do offer some suggestive explorations of matter vis-àvis Merleau-Pontyʼs ontological category of the ﬂesh. Here materiality loses its inertia and opacity to appear as inexhaustible rather than impenetrable; as a ﬁeld of forces and a style of existing, rather than Cartesian extension or Kantian spatiality. Olkowskiʼs reading of Merleau-Ponty through Bergson is especially provocative in this regard. Somewhat confusingly, the editor also concludes that difference is the ʻfocal problematicʼ of these scholars. However, this part of the collection is the least satisfying. It is never made clear by any of the writers in what sense they are using difference, and it often seems to amount to no more than a skimpy comparison between Merleau-Ponty and some other thinker (such as Nietzsche or Derrida). Fromanʼs ﬁnal remarks on similarities between ﬂesh and différance, for example, are interesting but the issue is touched on much too sketchily.
The ﬁnal category, on painting, seems a rather less obvious priority, but reﬂects Fótiʼs own interests. Intriguingly, she notes that the conference was held in conjunction with an exhibition of post-Abstract Expressionist art and in her own piece she relates the works on display to Merleau-Pontyʼs own writing on painting, noting that it offers probably the most sensitive yet audacious discussion of this topic to come out of contemporary continental philosophy. In many ways I found this to be the best piece in the collection, since it combines a real engagement with Merleau-Pontyʼs work in this area with some innovative ways of applying, extending and criticizing it.
Situating his interest – primarily in Cézanne – within broader French concerns with vision and his own ontological inquiries into the appearing of the visible as a phenomenology of perception, Fóti ﬁnds a tension in Merleau-Pontyʼs work between ʻperceptual originʼ and ʻpureʼ or ʻdifferentialʼ nascency, or as she also puts it, between ʻfoundational unityʼ and ʻungrounded creative differentiationʼ. It is in the latter – predominant in The Visible and the Invisible, which returns us to the generativity of the ﬂesh with its ʻplay of energies in irresoluble tensionʼ – that she ﬁnds the possibility for an oblique extension to, and theoretical resource for, the abstract painting of which Merleau-Ponty was himself quite dismissive. Given the rather difﬁcult yet superﬁcial treatments most of these pieces offer, it would nevertheless be preferable for readers to return to the original texts, whose elegant prose is too often merely parodied here in strings of metaphors without any real guiding purpose.