It has been over one year since I last wrote a piece for my blog but it is not do to lack of content to be pulled from. Reading and pushing the limits of my knowledge ever further is a task that does not slough-off of an individual so easily, this period of inactivity is more due to the ‘pushing-forward’ aspect of research out-pacing the compositional. Throughout the years of blogging I have created a persona that I would hope could echo across the internet and give some consistency to my work. This signature to one’s work can be detected throughout every person’s collection of works, whether they wish to own up to it or not, but there comes a time when one must pause, reflect on the past, and examine the trajectory they are moving in.
A few encounters with books early in the year 2017 led me to make that abrupt halt and let the curious/exploratory reading take over the composition-making side of my intellectual life: reading Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, rereading Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution, and finally reading James Miller’s ‘Democracy Is in the Streets’ (which I did write about). It was within these books that certain ideas and the facts of history suddenly burst into light that I could not ignore any longer: I had been neglecting my own country’s history and the ideas that founded its government. There is a strong tendency on the leftist side of the political spectrum to highlight the negative parts American history and stick to the strategy of denunciation and disdain, ignoring certain characteristic features of nationalism that would only come back to haunt those on the left. Since I have always felt comfortable here on the left – looking forward to a better future on the horizon, intolerant of the systemic flow of wealth and labor – this brought about the need for reflection and even reevaluation.
This is not to say I held and desire to hit the breaks and come to a screeching halt or worse, a full 180 degree turn to the safety of homely traditional values. No, the need to take a pause and reevaluate the general thrust of my projects was precisely to avoid this scenario and perhaps even convince others not to fall into negation and despair at leftist projects – a kind of coming to terms with the affect of disappointment on political terms a la Simon Critchley, but without his retention of Marxism and the project of building hegemony. Richard Rorty’s work has much to offer in this politically-charged arena but pragmatism, and especially Rorty’s interrogative deflationist version of pragmatism, left me wanting. His engagement with Critchley, Laclau, and Derrida at a conference back in the nineties had me rooting against him and in defense of philosophy more generally, which in turn led me back even farther into American thought towards the unfortunately named ‘transcendentalism’ through the medium of Stanley Cavell’s heartfelt and careful analysis of Emerson and Thoreau. It was here in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century among the works of naturalists and classical liberalism that I found resonances with Deleuze’s immanent take on philosophy and William James’ radical empiricism: perhaps a missing link to the past that had been severed during the tumultuous decades of industrial revolution and ideological warfare. Cavell’s claim is that Emerson has exerted a strong though obscured influence over European and American philosophy via Nietzsche and through to Heidegger (with many parallels found in Wittgenstein), and this failure to include Emerson into philosophical culture has been something of a disaster for American intellectual history – perhaps even for the rest of the world due to the US’s world power status.
These were all exciting developments and I look forward to spelling out my understanding of these great works under a vague heading of ‘the meaning of America’ or ‘what happened to American philosophy?’ along with the rest of my research areas. It has become a tangled web of affiliations, resonances, and conflicts though, which has led me to a more nuanced political stance than I had before. Arendt’s championing of constitutional government founded on liberty over and above the more abstract notions of general will or the rights of man led me to the well-trodden path of American revolutionary history and the old English origins of natural rights theory. A contested path no doubt, but one in which yields much insight into not just the functioning of a secular, liberal government but grants passage into a discourse that cannot be neglected. If one doesn’t speak in the language of the nation and doesn’t make the effort to understand the nation’s trajectory, then one will be left on the outskirts of politics in a posture of defiance and hostility. This is a posture one can take, a posture that may even become necessary, but one that will almost certainly lead to disappointment and defeat if held onto indefinitely.
To be clear on this point, Arendt makes a careful intellectual distinction between the intellectual tendencies within the French and American revolutions – a crucial distinction. Within a favorable set of circumstances, the Englishmen of the ‘new world’ understood that they were embarking on an original political endeavor by reestablishing or restoring the ancient rights from a not-so-certain past-time. They succeeded in creating a government with a written foundation that was ‘new’ in a self-conscious sense. The French experience just after the American, on the other hand, tended to be interpreted through a Rousseavian lens that carried over too much from the reasoning of absolutism, such as the holistic notions of ‘the people’, ‘general will’, and historical necessity. Observers viewed with horror the reports of mob violence erupting in Paris and learned the wrong lessons from these revolutionary moments: that the supposedly foolhardy rapture of idealism sets off only another cycle of history whose movements are either preordained or, if not so strongly worded, gripped by a historical necessity determining their course. Such is the era in which Hegel’s dialectic would invade philosophy and bring history (with the real bodies living out their real lives that history purported to represent) along with it into its speculative activity. Such a distinction between the American and French revolutionary experience, separated as it were by a vast Atlantic Ocean, has led to differing understandings of the meaning of the word ‘revolution’ as it is carried on in different contexts. It is through study of the American revolution that I have been attempting to recover a notion of revolution that is in accordance with a leftists vision of bringing about something entirely new, or, by recovering the old sense and spirit of great ideas, I could draw out their transformative power for the present. This would then be a double movement pointing both towards the past (in interpreting history properly or uncovering the true meaning those ideas had for those historical actors) and towards the future (in placing a sense of newness and wonder at its thought).
Along these lines another bomb-shell hit me in the summer of 2017 in the form of a book named Nature’s God by Mathew Stewart, which draws a genealogy starting from the fomenting of the American revolutionary war back to the classical republican writings from Locke, Machiavelli, and classical republicanism; the heretical pantheist works of John Toland and Spinoza; and as far back as the anti-Christian legacy of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things.
These are all new developments that I felt needed to be assessed and incorporated into my thinking during the very strange rise of the Trump administration. Things on the spectatorial stage of American party politics seemed to be spiraling out of control just as I felt the need to reassess my own trajectory, so I chose to take a breather rather than try to keep up with media landscape whose temperature was reaching a boiling point. His campaign struck populist tones in a very unsettling chord, disrupting an American political center that is widely despised. In keeping with my leftist sentiments, there is much to be hated in bigoted demagoguery and much to oppose in jingoistic politicking in the service of empire. Still, the focus of my political commitments lies in re-centering American politics around a non-imperialist and eco-friendly center in something like a general harmony with the earth. The main worry lies with my fellow constituents of the left persuasion remaining stuck in a posture of resistance to the Trump administration that will celebrate a false achievement in the return of a neoliberal center. In fact, it appears that this administration has fallen back in line after internal cabinet power struggles and a full debriefing on the current mechanisms of American power-projection abroad and economic austerity at home (and abroad also for that matter). American politics needs a general reorganization and something like a Green New Deal, along with a major pivot in foreign policy towards a non-aggressive, non-interventionist diplomacy. It is this general consensus of Washington that should be the target (as it is among much of the population) and it must be targeted with a positive plan to be placed before the people besides the resistance to the status quo. Making such a positive plan requires communicating with the nation at large and not with mere polemics.
The current make-up of the world in terms of power and allegiances is ripe for transition. It is at moments of crisis that a return to first principles becomes prudent and effective. Understanding what the American revolution meant for the world and for its own newly created people can help us pivot from the realist confines that work to determine our national policy at present and re-imagine our future. This could look something like an idealist turn in politics and renewed influence of great principals in making the world, and the earth in which it lies, a better place. Such is a utopian hope that doggedly persists in American literary and philosophical traditions and which I would like to flesh out. Such a hope remains fantastical the more one studies geopolitics and embraces the reason of the state (raison d’etat) as locked into policy for the near future. Geopolitics will be essential in plotting out the ways in which different nations can and cannot play the great game of international relations, but there is always the lurking presence of sudden shift that will change the rules of the game. In keeping with the occupy moment as an origin for my own political awakening, I will keep an eye on the manner in which a totally unforeseen event can change the course of history and the world. As the saying goes: “Another world is possible!”
I also remain committed to the research for new reforms of the monetary system, both national and international, and the history of such attempts to do so. There is a lesser-known history of passionate debate on the money question in America and it is in this near-forgotten history that I see the best chances to transform the political economy of the twenty-first century. Populism, it is not widely known, was a term invented for a group of mid-west and southern farmers trying to take back control of the issuance of money, as it happened during crucial moments of American history. Our government currently does not issue its own money and instead leaves it up to private banks to decide how much money is issued and how it is allotted, which is in turn based on credit disbursement (and hence our heavily debt-based economy). Another money is possible.
And then there’s my love for the fantasy genre and its potential to provoke and inspire the imagination. More examination of works of fiction and fantasy are lined up as well. I’m eyeballing The Big Lebowski (not a fantasy I know) for a look at the Coen brother’s thinly-veiled rumination on the fallout of the disintegration of the New-Left, or the ‘post-left’ if you will, the Russo brother’s brilliant fusion of contemporary superhero cinema and 70’s spy-thrillers in Captain America: Winter Soldier, and the Christopher Reeve era Superman movies and his symbolic representation of America’s global security peacekeeper (vs. Superman’s original role as a great depression-era journalist exposing wealthy corruption).
So there is more to come for this blog and I hope to get through these projects soon.