Monday, June 10, 2013

Get Back In your Cave!: Bloom and Heidegger on the Question of Historical Freedom

The Whirlpool's Rim regularly posts such thoughtful things that I want to respond to but almost never actually do, so I don't want to pass the opportunity up yet again when Tony writes: 
I don't wish to derail the discussion of inauthenticity at Seynsgeschichte, but I wonder how Bloom's view of the value of "the experience of living in Plato's Cave" -- that is, of having lived within a defined cultural tradition -- differs from Heidegger's view of the presupposition of gerede and of the inauthentic as harbor of and "condition of possibility" for the authentic. Is it necessary, in the end, to leave the "vagaries of history" behind?
Eliot's Four Quartets instructs us or assures us or dissuades us with the following: "Only through time/Time is conquered"...and, again,: "History may be servitude/History may be freedom"

I think we may profit by wresting these lines in the direction of Heidegger's thought of history...that is, history as of Beyng. Let us employ the distinction often employed in discussions like those of the meaning of categories liberal and conservative, or those which invoke Burke to describe a proper relation to tradition. That distinction would be the one also used by Berlin in his essays on the topic...namely the distinction between negative and positive freedom. The claim from Deneen to which Tony refers above is that, on the level of "the vagaries of history," that is, the level of things inherited or inheritable as opposed to, say, 'ahistorical transcendentals' (e.g. the Straussian concept of Natural right or, at least, the foundations of this concept), Bloom's admiration of positive freedom was superficial and utilitarian. If historical positive freedom, in the sense of having a (respectable, genuine) cave, is to be lauded, it is only because it offers the opportunity of a higher form of negative historical freedom, that is, of a philosophic escape from one's cave --an escape also from history itself. This may or may not be a fair characterization of Bloom's position, but it does seem to resonate with my reading of his Closing. In fact, Closing  can be seen as a whole to be a long argument for the need for Western tradition to be upheld --and to be upheld for the sake of an eventual philosophic liberation from the bondage of tradition. As an aside I must say Deneen is flat out wrong, however, if he indeed (as it seems prima facie he does) conflates Bloom's contempt for a fraudulent notion of "muliculturalism" with a very different contempt for culture in general, which I, for one, do not see Bloom possessing. So-called multiculturalism and the self-defeating celebration of diversity which annihilates appreciation for real difference, Bloom rightly dealt with in a Nietzschean spirit as a thin rainbow sheet loosely covering a stinking carcass of nihilism and consummate cultural oblivion.
But however much credence we can lend to Deneen's characterization of Bloom's liberalism, there can be no doubt that it is at variance with Heidegger, who is often politically pegged as a conservative or by some of his not so secret unadmirers, a fascist. But the difference here is thoughtlessly missed if we stick to these unhelpful and nearly (I do not say "completely") meaningless categories. I would prefer to construe it with the help of another pair of problematic, though less problematic in my mind, categories, namely "negative and positive freedom". Like Eliot's lines above suggest, Heidegger does not see tradition as either a cave of bondage or a springboard for philosophic assent. For Heidegger and Eliot, tradition blindly masters us for better or worse at first, but --and here is the crucial point--it is that same tradition which is to be made the "object" of our positive freedom. Tradition not only must be labored for to be properly inherited --it is itself worth the labor. The ground and source of tradition is the only place where true freedom is to be achieved. History, properly understood, is transcendental and its bond can never be broken, only modified. In this modification, to which I recently referred  in an enjoyable discussion of Sein und Zeit with Jeremiah, as an "existentiell modification of the the existential of inauthenticty", real recovery of the forgetful condition of human existence is made possible ---and it is made possible precisely and only by a posture of anticipating, i.e. by an historical posture. Speaking modally, then, it is really (i.e. in an ontic site) made possible, but is not yet actual. Because of the non-actuality of this reality (a reality which the early Heidegger, still speaking in the tongue of Lebensphilosophie, would call the true and genuine scientific life, a life sprung from a science capable of recovering and returning to life instead of forgetting and objectifying it, a mature living possession of science), Heidegger's freedom cannot be called positive, but it is certainly even further away from the Enlightenment's exhalted "virtue" of negative freedom.  History and forgetfulness are necessary not only to the obfuscation of truth but for the achievement of truth. Nor are they an instrument for its achievement. They are inherent to its finite possession. Indeed, history is the truth in the sense the truth, in being true, historizes; truth is eventual. Inheriting is built into the very structure of truth. In this way, finitude is not simply man's. It belongs more primordially to truth ---to the way truth ITSELF withdraws, that is, withdraws itself.
       Bloom, like Strauss, seems only to have seen Heidegger in opposition to his own idea of a strictly negative historical freedom. Heidegger is, for him, a relativist of the most brilliant sort, or more precisely, Heidegger is an historicist, albeit one of top philosophic caliber. this is because Bloom sees Heidegger promoting and amplifying the Nietzschean mantra of "commitment" and decisionism --i.e. of willing the historical situation to which one has been fated and of considering all truth to be found in this will, and thus to be entirely historically enclosed or "horizonal." But, as I have had pause to remark before, Heidegger does not say this. If, in Sein und Zeit, he thinks of time as "the transcendental horizon for any possible understanding of Being", this is not because Heidegger thinks truth is a function of historical trend. Rather Heidegger is thinking of time and history differently --not as either a flux or a succession of moments (or ages). but rather as concealments of Being itself. Time gives an understanding of Being (Sein) but Being itself, i.e. Seyn as Ereignis, gives time by giving it itself. There is time only by virtue of the granting of Beyng itself. History is of Beyng. Authentic "positive freedom" lies not in willing one's current historical understanding but in binding oneself to what has already in advance given or made possible the understanding of an age...and that is something which such an understanding initially hides or conceals. To simply will one's historical situation is to misunderstand it. Nietzsche's perspectivism prioritizes history over truth. Heidegger, by contrast sees history as a path to truth, but unlike Bloom he also thinks this path to be part of the truth. To discard it as an instrument would be to discard the truth which we are seeking to reach by its means. The only other thinker who can claim this of history is Hegel, but, as I have discussed elsewhere, he does so in a manner violently opposed to Heidegger.