Thursday, February 16, 2012

Paul Nizan watching the watchdogs

My introduction to Paul Nizan was via his indictment of establishment philosophy, The Watchdogs: Philosophers and the Established Order. There was one section that caught my attention at the time, which I then digitized:

Here two different types of philosophy are addressed: a purely technical philosophy, as in philosophy of science, which Nizan has no intention of opposing, and a philosophy that purports in some way to address the human condition, which Nizan indicts.

Rereading this now, I paid more attention to the text and context. An American must read the book through foreign lenses, extracting from what is dated or situation-specific that which can be learned and recalibrated to apply to our current reality.

Nizan's youthful rebellion resonates—as Sartre suggests in his Foreword to Aden, Arabie—to contemporary youth rebellions. This was a youth probably more bourgeois than any we've known, but the rebellion against the bankruptcy of bourgeois society is familiar enough, and thus Nizan's story is both relevant and limited on just those grounds.

I have extracted a few fragments from Sartre's Foreword as well as to references to Simone de Beauvoir where some combination of Sartre, Nizan, de Beauvoir, and Leibniz appears:

Returning to The Watchdogs, note that Nizan's complaint is specifically French. Nizan rebels against a specifically French generalized idealist philosophy which purports to maintain a Platonic detachment from vulgar materiality but which in fact colludes with and is supported by a grimy bourgeois reality. Related to this is the French intellectual rebellion against “humanism”, which would mean something different from what humanism concerns itself with in the anglophone world were it not for the importation of postmodernism. The French secular intellectual religion was a Cartesian hypostatization of “man”, which the left bourgeois intelligentsia of a later generation was intent to put down, a concern that ought to be irrelevant to the rest of us.

In Nizan we also find a familiar yearning to abandon the ivory tower and live a life of action fighting the bourgeois order. Toward the end of The Watchdogs we see Nizan's commitment to the French Communist Party and advocacy of the USSR, which was later to terminate with the Hitler-Stalin Pact, upon which the Communists assaulted Nizan's reputation.

In a fresh extract from this work I aim to highlight the most abstract and extensive in scope of passages illustrating Nizan's perspective:

I've made further notes on this book I hope to make publicly presentable.

Turning to Aden, Arabie, we find a comparable indictment of bourgeois society, based on disillusionment experienced in an exotic colonial locale. In addition to some interesting ruminations, Nizan's writing—in English translation—is beautiful. Here is an extract containing some interesting philosophical reflections and illustrative of Nizan's stylistic excellence:

Additional quotations and comments may be forthcoming. While I have focused on Nizan's more abstract statements, I need to emphasize that Nizan's descriptive powers should not be overlooked.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ludwig Feuerbach 10: science & history

“Anatomy, physiology, medicine, chemistry know nothing about the soul, God, etc. We only know about them from history.” — Ludwig Feuerbach

I haven't sourced this quote. I found it in one of the secondary works I've been reading. It's different from what I've been quoting from Feuerbach, which emphasizes nature, the concrete, and immediacy. But emphasizing nature is not equivalent to emphasizing the natural sciences. Feuerbach's dictum would contradict today's "new atheist" conceit that religion can be read off directly from evolutionary theory and brain science. Of course, we have to know something about the biological underpinnings of imagination, projection, etc. to determine both the basis and propensity for the idealistic inversion of reality, but I've been arguing along similar lines: we can't understand these supernaturalist concepts from raw physical science alone, excising real history.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ludwig Feuerbach 9: Lectures

Concerning the political views stated in these lectures, only this brief observation. Aristotle has already said in his Politics—which treats of almost all our present‑day problems, though of course in the spirit of antiquity—that it is necessary not only to know the best form of government, but also to know what form is suited to what men, for even the best form of government is not suited to all men. Thus I wholly agree with those who from an historical point of view, that is, a point of view taking account of space and time, regard constitutional monarchy—true constitutional monarchy, that is—as the only form of government that is practicable, suitable for us, and therefore reasonable. But when it is maintained that monarchy is the one and only absolutely rational form of government, regardless of space and time, that is, of this particular time (even a millennium is a particular time) and this particular place (even Europe is only one place, one point in the world), then I protest and maintain that the republic, the democratic republic is the form of government which reason must recognize to be consonant with human nature and therefore best, that constitutional monarchy is the Ptolemaic system of politics while the republic is its Copernican system, and that in the future of mankind Copernicus will therefore triumph over Ptolemy in politics just as he has already triumphed in astronomy, even though the Ptolemaic system was formerly represented by philosophers and scholars as unshakable “scientific truth.”

— Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, translated by Ralph Manheim (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), Additions and Notes #16, pp. 336-337.