The skill in desire and aversion is knowing how to preserve the practical self from dissolution. — OAKESHOTT
As will one day be elaborated in a dissertation, Machiavelli’s eponymous Prince lived — and killed — by surfeit of this virtu; Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet killed and died out of deficit. Nietzsche positioned himself between (and, necessarily, above) the two. Our present-day mini-Nietzsches, in unprecedented strings of miniature failures minute-to-minutely rationalized, have succeeded in dragging the Nietzschean media via down from the high road. They are both more laborious and more neurotic managers of the self than Nietzsche ever was or could be. To his reflexive homo faber they are animal laborans, their democratic-farmer-labor party full of all-too-human beasts of burden, working the yoke beneath preposterously too-high piles of individuality. Our craptacular factories of self-expression stand to Nietzsche’s art of the self as the nudie statues arrayed outside The Seventh Veil stand to Michelangelo’s David. But these productions must be differentiated from Nietzschean, or any philosophical, inventions. “On the individual,” Dr. Ceaser remarks,
I acknowledge your [i.e. Dr. Hancock's] point about Hobbes’ “invention” of the individual. And yet, an invention was perhaps needed to free humans of an overbearing community that subordinated the individual too much to a place in the community and the cosmos. Hobbes perhaps helped to break those chains, albeit perhaps by consigning us to another set of them. Still, every time some new communitarian tries to shove us too back under the warm bosom of the “we,” I rejoice again at a spirited defense of the “I,” knowing in the end that it will be one’s own death and not Charles Taylor’s, much as it might be nice to share it.
Charles Taylor’s is the driest defense yet of the communal wet crotch. Taylor’s would be the era of Bacchae who have learned to play nice, pets housetrained in the transgressive art of sharing in the ways in which we are not to be shared. Decisive in these domestications is Taylor’s prescription of Catholicism as a more promising pantheistic therapy for individuals than Protestantism, which died on his reading of suicidal disenchantment. Ruled in cruel irony under the tyranny of secular order, in an ultimate experience of individuality Taylor’s atomized Protestant individual should convert: into a faithful celebrant of the All of a comprehensive community that comprehends, in celebrations, even its antitheses.
It is most illuminating that Taylor’s pantheistic or pagan Catholicism gibes more as a description of a practical production than an invention of abstract reason. It is billed as the last refuge of frustrated individuals everywhere — who, like Hobbes’ individual, are not inventions. Anyone looking to correct the course set by Hobbes—Oakeshott—Taylor is, I think, stuck doing so from within Oakeshott’s understanding of what political philosophy does: first, provide an anatomic portrait of an already-present practical production, and, then, build a vision of order possible on the terms of that production. In Oakeshott’s language, Hobbes built a political philosophy cognizant of, and consonant with, the already-present character of the moral life as one populated with individuals. Burrowing too deep into that life, like seeking to leap out of it, tends toward madness; a society which adopts individuality as its moral ideal produces too many Hamlets and too many Machiavellis.
But it also produces many, many mini-Nietzscheans or petit-Napoleonic souls, functional and domesticated well enough on liberal terms to ‘preserve’ for ‘long enough’. Neither failed practical selves on the level of Hamlet nor all-too-successful ones on the level of Machiavelli’s prince, these individuals seek fugitive ‘full experiences of individuality’, as Tocqueville understood and Mill so problematically intimated. Mill may be more of an Aristotelian than I am. I know Martha Nussbaum is. Nothing against Aristotle; but that line of Strauss’s about Nietzsche’s ‘responsibility’ for the third wave of individuality suggests an eerie resonance or contemporary reanimation of the flourishing- and capabilities-happy sage. Nobody minds Platonic ‘highness’ nowadays — let the philosophers trip out to philosophy; everyone minds, and wants, Aristotelian ‘fullness.’ Unenviable philosophy — unlike facility, felicity, and fraternity — is supremely resistant to democratization. The desire to make every individual be as self-satisfied as Aristotle seems from the outside poses a paramount threat to our liberal regime. “For my part,” Dr. Hancock remarks,
I am not a robust Aristotelian by any means, but I am more so than James (and certainly more than Hobbes and Oakshott). That is why I am fundamentally a Tocquevillean: an individualist trajectory defines modernity, but there is no such thing as the simple “individuality” that is the premise of Oakshott, Taylor (and Poulos?).
I am interested, along lines suggested here, in ‘problematizing’ individuality and the individual (two different things). Part of the problem is that we individuals, practical productions that we are, have conjured forth a very enchanting, if not enchanted, ghost — the ‘full experience of individuality.’ This fever-vision is not a vision of a pre-existing or pure thing, but as a vision it is no less real than any other. And it does embody, or it has inherited, a longing so human as to seem human by nature: the longing to unite the experience of eternity in the experience of novelty, to overcome the very categories of ‘transcendence’ and ‘immanence’. The individual as we know him and her today has their work cut out for them, for we must attempt to satisfy this longing, if at all, within secular time and in an age of equality. The individual is thrown, as Tocqueville tells us, back upon his or her own resources, mind, body, heart, and soul; meaning, the longing to unite eternal and novel experience must apparently be accomplished somehow ‘on individuality’s own terms’. However much the pathologies of individuality as the fever-dream of the individual typify our contemporary predicament, and however much (as Dr. Hancock reminds us) someone other or something higher always predates the individual’s fever-quest, I too rejoice at a spirited, anti-Taylorian reaffirmation of the irreducible I. That I, as I read it, exists as something and someone ontologically prior even to ‘the individual’. The individual who realizes this, and lives that realization, is to be differentiated, in defense of individuality rightly understood, from the individual who does not.