So in response to the query of exactly one reader, here is a somewhat expanded account of part of the rest of my comments at the APSA on Kojeve and Strauss. Most of the changes are directed toward explaining and partly vindicating Darwinian Larry. They are too complicated, though, to do anything more than tick off the BIG THINK audience.

Two other random comments: I’m more than a little worried about the Republicans (beginning with Cruz) taking such a strong and exceedingly risky stand against ObamaCare now after not campaigning much against it in the last election. AND I saw the show THE GOLDBERGS. It was an artistic failure (not that funny and, as Pete says, terrible as nostalgic sociology), but it has good characters and character actors and so promise for development. It is sort of a riff from THE WONDER YEARS, a tough act to follow.

Anyway:

Bloom actually—in spite of himself—shows us what’s wrong with Kojeve. All HISTORICAL thinking—all thinking based on the radical distinction between impersonal nature and historical (or personal) freedom—is based on Rousseau’s state of nature. But Rousseau’s account of “natural man” (who is not man properly so-called) is empirically incorrect. Darwinian Larry, for example, says that Rousseau’s account of human evolution from hunter- gathers and so forth has a lot of truth to it. But his account of who we are “by nature” as isolated, emotionally self-sufficient (or ungregarious) animals doesn’t. We are, as the evolutionary psychologists say, “eusocial” animals by nature, a big-brain species that has flourished or dominated better than, say, the chimps because we’re comparatively so cooperative.

Larry speculates that Rousseau’s error comes from his dependence of the account of nature in Lucretius. That modern evolution owes a debt to that philosophic poet’s account of evolution is surely true. BUT the Straussian view that Rousseau radicalized the individualistic, unrelational foundation of Hobbes (and Locke) seems even more true. If we are by nature individuals or loners, then the social or cooperative tool of complex language that distinguishes us from the other animals couldn’t have developed. That would mean natural man, from our social view, was emotionally stunted and dumb almost as dirt. Natural man’s soul was completely flat, and he was unmoved by love and death. And he was completely content with what he had—which was pretty much his own body and his fertile natural environment and nothing more.

The ideas of History and The End of History (and even the Kantian realm of freedom) were built on what Rousseau knew was an unempirical foundation. Natural man—and the attempt to detach the sweet sentiment of existence from allegedly alienating sociality—was almost as much a Rousseauean invention as “the citizen.” On the basis of the invention of “natural man” Rousseau concludes that all relational life is a “social [or political] construction.” He attempts to create (with disastrous results) a modern version of “civic unity” as a human or Historical approximation of the lack of alienated restlessness (or lack of History) of “natural unity.” The proper antidote to “History” is always the view that we are relational beings by nature, and are “hardwired to be happy” in being relational or loving persons.

Bloom describes sophisticated Americans as if they had returned to Rousseau’s state of nature. They are emotional solitaries unmoved by love and death, have flat souls, and so forth and so on. But the truth is that that those Americans live a long distance from the nature Aristotle and Darwin (not that Aristotle=Darwin, as Larry claims) much more correctly describe. The techno-American—the allegedly clever, competent specialist without heart—is moved more than ever by fending off the nature that aims at his extinction. He works so hard not to be replaced that he doesn’t generate replacements. One result is the natural disaster called the birth dearth (which Boom misses, of course). Unlike Rousseau’s natural man, he can’t loosen up enough to have unprotected sex in utter indifference to any natural consequences. The techno-American seems both strikingly unrelational yet highly self-conscious. Because consciousness is always knowing with, we can conclude that he much more relational—or is full of relational longings at least—than he first appears.

So the truth is today’s sophisticated Americans can’t be accounted for very well according to either the Rousseauean or Darwinian views of who we are by nature. Rousseau does account for much of who we are these days through his criticism of bourgeois alienation (the so-called FIRST DISCOURSE, which in my opinion is the Rousseau most relevant for us) and struggle for status. But that means we remain really, really HISTORICAL BEINGS, from his view.

More to come.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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