Seeing Without Judgment, Composing, 11/09/2017

The last Perry Anderson book I read was his latest one, The H-Word. It was a good historical source of ideas about a concept that I want to use in Utopias.

Any philosophical book about how to overcome the ecological and humanitarian disaster of our current economic system has to deal with global power dynamics. How do these creatures called states relate to each other?

I’m not going to go through The H-Word in the same detail as I went through Anderson’s other works that I read a while ago. It inspired an interesting chain of thinking, though I’m not sure much ultimately came from it.

As much as I have many valid criticisms of Justin Trudeau's government
(the hypocrisy, the half-measures, the sad superficiality of his entire
communication strategy), I have to admit that I'm proud he's done
one thing. He's encouraged Canada to become more loved around the
world. Granted, I think this might be easier for him, given the
very large contrast we have in our powerful neighbour's leader.
Here's basically what I got from that book. It was a good summary of different ways the concept of hegemony has been used in political thinking over the years. I have a good list of basic ideas for those. Ultimately, all 2500 years of thinking about hegemony has revolved around the relationship of military power and cultural influence in a country's global prestige and leadership.

That's a key dynamic in global politics, and the book inspired some great thinking on my part about fear and love as forces in how people think of different parts of the world. Of course, I'd rather be loved than feared. It only makes sense to be loved.

Yet ultimately, that was it. I don't have to write a two-week string of posts about this concept, because I understand it very well already. My take on global power and hegemony is that it's better to be loved than feared. I already figured that out reading Machiavelli. Even The Prince.

I did learn a lot from Anderson's voice, but my old friend Mike commented the other day about his view of Adorno’s ideas. And he was right – Anderson seemed sure, but too quick to make such a huge judgement about the entire philosophy. It’s easy to mistake certainty in a person’s voice for correctness. He might have been a little too pithy.

Here’s an example to show you what I mean. The other day, I cracked open Gilles Deleuze’s last book What Is Philosophy? for the first time in a while. He speaks in very quick and certain terms about fundamental aspects of very complex and profound thinkers.

Yet I trust what Deleuze says more than I do Anderson.

Perry Anderson is a historian. The task of a historian is to investigate what has happened in the past, and stake a clear argument about what happened. Anderson speaks in truth claims.

He peeks his head out from the shadows
again. "Remember, do what I did."
The problem is that he largely discusses philosophy that way too. Anderson writes that the Frankfurt School’s political thinking was based on a metaphysical blend of Heidegger’s existentialism and Friedrich Schelling’s Christian metaphysics of salvation applied to nature.

He intends to sum up the complex and complicated works and writing careers of four legendarily complex thinkers – Schelling, Heidegger, Adorno, and Max Horkheimer – in one sentence. Okay.

I contrast Deleuze with Anderson, and I find he isn’t speaking about these different philosophers in the same way. He’s not interested in summing up the whole corpus of a thinker in a few concise words.

Deleuze speaks about other philosophers casually when he’s just mentioning a particular concept or idea. When he’s been talking about that idea for a while without mentioning whose work it first appeared in. They’re his examples.

He’s not trying to make some profound pronouncement on their work. When Deleuze does make profound pronouncements, they’re usually the length of an entire book. He got profound talking about Kant over about 80 pages. About Spinoza, over 600. Hume, Proust, Leibniz, Foucault each got around 200 pages.

In the books that aren’t specifically about some particular thinker or small set of thinkers, Deleuze just uses them and concepts from their work as examples to make a more abstract point. Those are the books that are about developing concepts of his own.

Anderson was useful in tracing the evolution of marxist philosophy over time, and he encouraged interesting reflections on my own part about the relationship of theoretical knowledge and work to community activism.

But he’s very much a historian. When I’m researching and formulating ideas for Utopias, I’m a philosopher. That’s all.

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