Did Enlightenment Legitimize Aggression? Research Time, 03/04/2014

Some of my posts about Karl Mannheim have discussed how he critiqued philosophy, but his historical origin story for what he calls the modern concept of ideology constitutes a critique at the core of the cornerstone of philosophy as a tradition and discipline.

That modern concept of ideology Mannheim considers has an accusative sense. When one says someone acts out of an ideology, it’s an accusation that he has a false perspective on the world. He tells his own disguised state of nature story with this concept, where he locates a primal form of this accusation in the opposition among individuals and societies. One simply, from a partisan perspective in any conflict, whether violent or trivial, believes that one’s opponent acts from false beliefs. When one considers one’s enemies, they’re always thought to act from malice. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be your enemies, would they?

Mannheim then levels an accusation of his own at Enlightenment-period philosophy, clearly implying Kant in particular, but implicating the entire movement. As a revolution in thinking, the Enlightenment put the activity of the subject as the unifying activity of the entire world. Whether this is expressed in a literal metaphysical sense of ontological idealist philosophy, or the ethical model of philosophical thought as self-guided or self-legislating maturity, it still measures the world by man. Under this philosophical circumstance, ideology is not a problem, but its expression simply a mark of immaturity.

Until Hegel’s philosophy took this model of a subject as the unifying action of the world and historicized it. In Mannheim’s interpretation of this philosophy, to slam the world-unifying subject into the history of that world marginalizes the individual and cuts it off from any central metaphysical role. The development of subjects only happens through the development of cultures through historical processes, whether those cultures are delineated according to class, ethnicity, or state. So individuals have lost their place in the original Enlightenment model to become expressions of collective identities. When we accuse someone of acting according to some demented ideology in this context, we accuse that person of, in the structure of their very existence, being incapable of seeing the world aright.

Underpinning Mannheim's writing seems to me like an
investigation into improving the world.
But none of this would have happened if the contingent social world had not been stripped away from mainstream philosophical conceptions of the world in the first place. Understand the world as the collision and bonding of a complicated aggregate of singular individuals in deep and multifaceted relationships, in terms of population thinking, in other words. How would you consider an enemy who was thinking through an ideology? As someone who grew up with a bad education system and still believes too much of it. Thinking this way, we can be opposed to someone without seeing that opposition as essential. Our opposition can be understood as contingent, and so solvable, or at least tractable. Peace is conceivable. 

Under the conception of individuals as expressions of their cultures? These people are inseparable from their ideology. Barely worth calling people. Here is Mannheim’s profound accusation of philosophy: in forgetting the contingent social world to replace the essence of man with a transcendental subject, we have come to forget the ethical force of an existing individual life. Essential demonization becomes possible when the singular individual is subsumed into a collective identity of any kind. 

Remember that Mannheim was a German exile in Britain writing my edition of Ideology and Utopia in the years leading up to the Second World War.

No comments:

Post a Comment