I had the opportunity to share some themes from my forthcoming The Reponsibility of Reason at Yale in September. A very able graduate student (Lucas Entel) responded to my work, providing a deft summary as well as some valuable questions.
Now this is fundamental political philosophy, in condensed form and addressed to those who want to discuss how our Postmodern Conservative position (neither simply Thomist nor quite Straussian or Burkean — and certainly not modern-materialist) might articulate its depths – with apologies in advance to those looking for something of more direct and accessible practical application (go to the next post, or the previous).
“Professor Hancock makes reference to a dualism or tension between two dimensions of human existence, a tension that aligns our internal dispositions with the theoretical, with transcendence, possibility and freedom on one side, and our external ones with the practical, with immanence, actuality and authority, on the other. The former leads to alienation or homelessness, whereas the latter is conducive to being-at-home. This, in turn, throws light onto why, in the political realm, modernity and democracy cannot fulfill the void left by tradition and aristocracy.
”According to Professor Hancock, Tocqueville’s fundamental insight is that human meaning happens in a field defined by the fundamental polarity between free, transcendent possibility and concrete, authoritative actuality. Modern democracy tends at once to drive these poles apart and to evacuate the space between them such that it collapses; the radical emancipation of one pole from the other releases the energy from their normal tension into a compulsion to fusion. Such a tendency, it goes without saying, does not modify our basic condition. It does not abolish the human need to concretize abstract longings.
”It does, however, degrade the forms that such a concretization adopts and leads, not to an overcoming but to a perversion of our condition, which threatens to dehumanize humanity. The radicalization of transcendence that results from the fusion of the two poles must therefore be countered with a responsible understanding of reason’s transcendence, one that would be fully aware of the inescapability of the polarity between transcendence and immanence, the possible and the actual.
”The challenge is immense, but it seems the stakes could not be higher. In Professor Hancock’s terms, thinking is always preceded and exceeded by being. This excess transcendence is configured along two axes of significance, vertical and horizontal, which are determined by freedom as self-affirmation and the rule of reason, in the first case, and by the calling of reason by something or someone other (which underscores the responsibility of thinking) in the second. The freedom of this second dimension is humble openness to the possibility of negating the present in the name of justice. It demands responsibility because the negation of the present can potentially become more prideful than vertical pride. But the vertical and horizontal axes cannot operate without the other, since self-affirmation would be reduced to mute sameness and pure openness could never being affirm itself.
”Professor Hancock starts his enquiry with Plato, in this case with the idea of the good in the sixth book of the Republic. The good is the ground of both being and knowing. To know any natural being is to be aware of the possibility of knowing and aware of a larger whole of which we are parts, an awareness, therefore, that concerns both the possibility of knowing that is the goodness of thinking and the larger whole that is, the thinking of goodness. And this initial moment of self-awareness of thinking, the realization of the existence of both the thinking part and the whole as well as their mutual relation — a yoke, Hancock argues — is the beginning of the responsibility of reason.
”Our openness to the whole takes place in space and time, in a given language, and it is therefore fundamentally political. An account of the whole is of necessity built on a politically charged vocabulary. The yoke between being and knowing must somehow be both thought and enacted as a yoke between the Good and the goods of common, practical human existence. This is the theoretical-practical ground from which all responsible thinking and the thinking of all responsibility must issue.”
[Part II to follow, with questions.]