It’s common to tell the history of philosophy as a calm passing-on of concepts or at least of questions. There are arguments, sometimes vigorous, but they take place in the proverbial ivory tower designed just to house philosophers. Rosenstock thinks otherwise. Philosophy arises from shock, catastrophe. Trauma forces us into time; trauma may make us speechless. But it’s out of the catastrophe that a philosopher eventually speaks.
Rosenstock sees Socrates’ philosophizing as an effort to deal with the internecine wars of Athens. If only philosophers and philosophy ruled, all could be brought to order. And the point can be generalized: “In Europe,” Rosenstock writes, “each war gave birth to a new philosophy. . . . [Philosophers] are sons of the catastrophes through which they suffered, of the revolutions which towered above the wars and peaces of their times” (quoted in Cristaudo, Religion, Redemption and Revolution: The New Speech Thinking Revolution of Franz Rozenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, 75). This is partly a point about the history of philosophy: “No philosopher ever sat down as if in a classroom to answer the questions of his predecessor. To consider the history of philosophy in this way is insanity. Descartes grew out of the Thirty Years War. He has remained its eternal Privat-dozent. Kant became a philosopher after the Seven Years War. Schopenhauer came to meditation on the battlefields of Napoleon. The Franco-Prussian War forced Friedrich Nietzsche out of mere philology” (quoted on 74).
It is also a point about what’s demanded of us: “When we are confronted by a subsequent catastrophe their philosophy must be changed, must be lived down. . . . The first commandment of the new science runs: the modes of thought of every previous catastrophe must be buried” (75).