Philosophical-Historical Triangulation: Sartre-Hegel, Research Time, 15/09/2013

Another part of our experiment, an inconsequential joke at Hegel’s expense for a Sunday post. 

Throughout one chapter of Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre returns repeatedly to different parts of his analysis of the French Revolution. He conceives of the Terror as a kind of institutionalized paranoid violence, the ability to expel anyone from the revolutionary community. A radically fast converter of friend to enemy. But remember Friday’s point about betrayal: the new enemy is always a brother and the object of love. The Terror is a social machine, constituted from the actions and relations of a community of individuals. Its purpose is to identify traitors, but it’s gone a bit wonky, and the people who themselves are the machine don’t catch on to what they’re doing wrong just yet.

He calls an institution with this power the Sacred, a term that clearly evokes religion and religious institutions. In a later chapter, he discusses membership in the Catholic Church as a phenomenon of giving someone the freedom to leave it. He discusses parents saying that they’ll baptize their child at birth, expecting him to decide for himself what religion to follow: Catholicism, or to be an atheist like his parents. Sartre has adopted the Hegelian tradition; he is writing a dialectical philosophy, after all. But here is a massive departure from Hegel which I think I should take seriously as I research this tradition of thinking about history.

For Hegel, a uniform religion which drove the personal, political, and social morality of the people was essential for a culture/state (by this point in Hegel’s conception of a culture’s development toward highest reason, the two are now synonymous) to achieve harmony among its parts and with reason. This struck me as being very important to Hegel’s thinking. Surely a dialectical tradition would have to follow the logic of the dialectic, following the unity of the people from a community to a culture to a state to a religion.

I make a hash out of a complicated philosophy, I admit it. But hyperbole aside, I think it’s a legitimate question when you research the development of philosophy, and do philosophy yourself, to ask what it means for one thinker to follow the tradition of another. How far can a thinker depart from his ancestor before we no longer call him an ancestor?

For one, religion is one of the penultimate developments of a society's harmony and uniformity with reason. For the other, religion is an evocation of institutionalized violence on social scales, and a simple lifestyle choice on familial scales. I certainly know which of the two visions I like best. But it's interesting to see the departures in figures that are considered, at least with this book, to be in the same tradition.

1 comment:

  1. On your last point, you might think of misprision, the notion that authors inevitably misread their influences/ productive misreading.

    The difference between Hegel and Sartre is to my mind a classical consensus vs. conflict set of expectations. Hegel is uncomfortable with conflict and wants to explain it away; Sartre is uncomfortable with consensus/ conformity and wants to explain that away. Sartre's productive misreading of Hegel is to assume that there is some positive dimension to extraneous conflict in Hegel's imaginary.

    Now that I write that, I'm not sure how useful the concept it.

    But you haven't posted for today, so that's all you'll get!