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  • Wittgensteinian Slabs

    Philosophical arguments do nothing more than make a question more poignant, either by declaring or questioning. If we take this to be the case, then in remarks 19 and 20 Wittgenstein makes an argument. He raises the problem of what we mean by a sentence or word. He does this by playing with a language, one for which an imperative takes on the form of a word. By asking us what “Slab!” means, he sets us on the path of asking about the sense of words, and where sense bifurcates into possibility. Following along his inquiry, we will come to the new questions he raises. Wittgenstein begins remark 19 by telling us that we can easily and typically conceive of a simple language—one in which each word and sentence has a unitary function. The language of remark 2 does this, wherein “Slab!” just signifies for an assistant to bring a slab to their worker. But in conceiving of this simple language, we quickly run into a problem. In the language of remark 2, one word signifies an imperative. When we conceive of an imperative, we think of a sentence. Yet the imperative “Slab!” consists of just one word, and we cannot explain it further in the bounds of the language of remark 2. To this problem, Wittgenstein writes, “Why should I translate the call “Slab!” into a different expression in order to say what someone means by it? And if they mean the same thing, why shouldn’t I say, ‘When he says ‘Slab!’ he means ‘Slab!’?’” The ‘analysis’ of the word falls apart, for Wittgenstein, because the sense of the term—the imperative—lacks an essential linguistic form. We cannot go further than “Slab!” We can say ‘Slab!’ or ‘bring me the slab,’ and neither is more apt than another in expressing the same sense—they are simply different, incommensurable languages, meeting at this one sense. Wittgenstein seems to be gesturing towards the sense of the word, or sentence, as being its use, and that the units (whether words or sentences) for giving the sense are arbitrary. Whether the sentence is expanded or shortened is irrelevant to the sense given—both forms, in different languages, cause the same understanding as depicted through use. Still, we do not know what is more right: “Slab!” or “bring me the slab”. The question, more abstractly, is this: what is the essential way of expressing the sense of a communication? This problem is akin to using a base number system for the expression of numbers. One can refer to the value 8 in base 10 by saying that the value 8 consists of one set of 8 sets of 100. The same value can be expressed, though, by saying the value 8 consists of 1 set of 23, 0 sets of 22, 0 sets of 21, and 0 sets of 20, thus being expressed as 1000 in a binary number system. ‘8’ is analogous to the sense of “Slab!”. Both lack an essential expression for their communication. Multiple forms of numbers refer to the same value depending on the system, just as the same sense has a ‘truer,’ or less analyzable, expression depending on the language. The analyzed “Slab!” imperative is more apt in the grammar rules of German or English; the mere “Slab!” declaration is more apt (in fact, the most apt, as it cannot be analyzed further) in the language of remark 2. In remark 20, Wittgenstein furthers the problem. He says that we contrast ‘bring me the slab’ to different sentences that could be analyzed from ‘Slab!’ such as such as “Hand me a slab,” “Bring him a slab,” etc. Yet these different sentencs come to mind because “our language contains the possibility of those other sentences.” The content of our analysis is determined by what our language ascribes as potential meaning for this term. The declaration “Slab!” does not contain a multiplicity of sentences. Rather, our language projects the word into a multiplicity of possible uses, thus of possible senses, by virtue of the way that we conceive of sentences in general. Since, in this instance, we think of “bring me the slab” as the primordial expression of the sense given by the imperative “Slab!” we can think of other expanded sentences for which “Slab!” is a shortened version of. The ‘truer’ expression in our language is the long sentence—it contains fewer possibilities in our language than “Slab!” does. A given language projects a multiplicity of more primordial expressions, and thereby a multiplicity of senses, onto nonprimordial expressions—but just as well, a given term can be the primordial form of an expression for a given language. “Slab!” can mean just “Slab!” in the language of remark 2, but in English, it is not primordial; it can signify many sentences. But if we have a multiplicity of more primordial expressions for a given nonprimordial expression, how can the latter refer to one given ‘sense?’ How can “Slab!” in English align with the sense of “Slab!” in language 2? Wittgenstein enters a dialogue with an interloctuer in remark 20 to address this question. His interlocuter remarks, “You grant that the shortened and unshortened sentence have the same sense. —What is this sense, then? Isn’t there a verbal expression for this sense?” Wittgenstein answers with, “But doesn’t their having the same sense consist in their having the same use?” Here, Wittgenstein raises the problem of the ‘sense’ of a phrase, as discussed earlier with remark 19. Now, he directly questions whether the sense of an expression consists in its use. The use of the phrase, as we have stated earlier, gestures towards a common understanding. A phrase cannot have a use without some understanding between those uttering and those hearing the phrase. But the form of this understanding is as yet unclear. Imagine we have two assistants—one knows English, the other knows the language of remark 2. Both are told “Slab!” and both retrieve a slab. Yet the one who knows English understands “Slab!” to hold a potentiality of meanings and can quickly learn that “Slab!” could mean a different command. The one who knows the language of remark 2 only understands “Slab!” to mean “Slab!” and for “Slab!” to mean anything else would make “Slab!” incorrect. Because the two assistants view the word “Slab!” as operating at different levels with respect to the primordiality of expression, they have a different understanding of the imperative. The use is the same—but the use is not as easily shifted between the two. The ‘sense’ may consist in the use, but the rigidity of the sense consists in the structure of the language used. The question we are left with is whether or not the language of remark 2 resembles anything like the language we have. Do we have primordial expressions? Earlier I stated that “bring me the slab” is the more primordial expression beneath “Slab!” for the English language, since it further limits the possibility of what “Slab!” can mean. But even “bring me the slab” can be further analyzed, giving new possibilities to the sense of the sentence: it could mean “retrieve the slab and haul it to me,” “steal the slab and place it at my feet,” and so on. These sentences possess even further possibilities. Do the possibilities of a sentence continue ad infinitum, such that we never get to an expression which cannot contain more than its one sense? In English, is there genuinely something more primordial about “bring me the slab” as opposed to “Slab!”—that is, does the former sentence actually have fewer possibilities than the latter? Does analysis get us anywhere closer to the ‘truer’ expression?

  • Collecting Time

    Abraham Joshua Heschel begins The Sabbath with a bold declaration: “life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” He writes that we should focus more on the realm of time where “the goal is not to have but to be.”1 For Heschel, we ought to be concerned less with having and more with being. Unto this end, he recommends that we observe the Sabbath, which offers “an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than dissipate time.” His prescription, poetic as it may be, makes little sense. He elucidates it a bit, claiming that the Sabbath allows us to “stand still and to embrace the presence of an eternal moment.” But his statements remain confusing. What does it mean to collect time? How can we be in time without space? What is an eternal moment; how does “eternity utter a day?” To address these questions, we must investigate the nature of time itself. To be collected to make a mended life, time must be something which can be scattered and put together to make a whole, like the segments of a wheel line. Time must have units: individual parts which can both cohere and be separate. To allow us to only be in time, time must be for the sake of itself. It cannot be mediated through anything else, and we cannot access it through another realm; otherwise, we would be in that other realm. We need an account of time which has units and is unmediated. Kant offers an account of time which has units. He begins by describing time closely with space; while space is “the form of all outer appearances of outer sense” and “makes outer intuition possible,” time is the “universal condition of the possibility of appearances,” and “nothing other than the form of inner sense.” Space is the form of everything outside of us. Time allows for us to conceive of their possibility, to bring these outer appearances inside of us. Kant goes on to describe time as “the mediate condition of all outer appearances.” For Kant, time is instrumental in allowing space to unfold within us. This instrumental quality is all that time is, in Kant’s eyes. He writes, “the representation of time [as a line] is itself an intuition, since all its relations can be expressed in an outer intuition.” Time is something that we only see unfold in outer intuitions, or in space. As a “line progressing to infinity,” with a “series that is of only one dimension,” time is seen as a set of “parts of successions” of outer intuitions.7 Time, to Kant, is a single dimension that inner sense flows through which we find by examining how appearances in space relate to one another in a successive manner. As a single dimension, time is a homogeneous medium for him. Things in time can be measured against the one dimensional line of time, and succession can be identified. Its “parts” are discrete units.7 It can be broken up into sections that can move around, such as seconds or days. These sections can be conceived of as wholes, for they have a beginning and end. Time, as contained parts of time, can be complete. Kantian time is a realm that allows outer appearances to potentially exist, but is only intuited by means of those appearances. The succession of those appearances allows for time to be conceived of as a line with units. Most notably, Kant notes that time is “the way of representing myself as object,” and not an object itself. Time allows for “myself” to have relations to outer intuitions, or the appearances of outer things. For Kant, time exists for the sake of space. It allows us to conceive of space, and is only understood through space. The line, the way we understand time, is in itself a spatial rendition of time, comprehended by the succession of things in space. Time can be broken up into parts, or segments of this line, which can be seen as discrete units, or wholes, just as space can be broken up into inches and feet. Time bridges us to space by making us an object and allowing space to unfold within us. Because Kantian time is primarily concerned with space, or outer intuition, his account of time is ‘outer.’ We shall refer to it as ‘outer time.’ Kant’s outer time allows us to see time as something to be collected. If it is made up of parts, then these parts can be stitched together into a larger whole. But his account of time is still primarily concerned with space; one cannot be within Kantian time without being in space, without concerning oneself with objects of space. We need a different account of time in order to understand it as something which one can be within without space. Bergson offers a necessary alternative account of time. To him, when we think of time, it appears to us as Kant describes. But we live through time in a different manner. Hence, for him, there are two ways of understanding time: time as projected into space, which he calls ‘homogeneous’ or spatialized time, and time as we experience it, which he calls ‘duration.’ Duration is how we live through time, and is required for us to construct spatialized time. To Bergson, we typically think of time as spatialized, which Kant does, even though it is experienced as durative. First, we will trace Bergson’s account of duration, and then we will see how spatialized time emerges from it. Duration consists of consciousness holding a “multiplicity of conscious states.” This multiplicity is qualitative, rather than quantitative, which means that “consciousness makes a discrimination [between states]...without any further thoguht of distinguishing them as several.”10 There is not a set of many conscious states in duration; rather, states “succeed” one another by “melting into one another and forming an organic whole.” Different states “interpenetrate” one another.11 Successive states do not simply follow one another as they would in a line. Rather, they accumulate and affect one another, such that they cannot be separated nor be seen as identical. Because states cannot be separated, duration lacks units. Bergson writes, “duration properly so called has no moments which are identical or external to one another, being essentially heterogeneous, continuous, and with no analogy to number.” Unlike Kantian time, duration cannot be broken up into segments because there are no identical parts within it, precluding units. One moment in duration is not the same as any other; each moment is experienced differently because of the other moments which inextricably affect it. A moment now is different from a moment three minutes ago, because in those three minutes, my experience of ‘a moment’ has shifted. As a non-homogeneous medium which we, in consciousness, move through, duration is distinct from Kantian outer time. We shall call it ‘inner’ time as it is concerned only with internal states of consciousness, not with objects of outer sense, and does not need outer appearances to exist. However, Bergson does not entirely dismiss Kant’s notion of time. Rather, he relegates it to merely a kind of time, which he calls ‘homogeneous’ time. To describe homogeneous time, Bergson first identifies space as a homogeneous medium. He writes, “space alone is homogeneous, objects in space form a discrete multiplicity, and every discrete multiplicity is got by a process of unfolding in space.”9 Space, to Bergson, is a homogeneous medium where objects can exist as both wholes in themselves and parts of a whole; as units. Homogeneous time, to him, is “the space employed for the purpose [of externalizing states in relation to one another].”10 Externalizing states from one another converts states of consciousness, the non-discrete units of duration, into entities analogous to objects in space. States, inseparable in duration, are separated to become discrete units in homogeneous time. Time appears like space in homogeneous time. To Bergson, we typically conceive of time spatially because of motion. He writes that, with motion, “we have a series of identical terms, since [we have] always the same moving body.” Observing motion, we “know the same objecting cause is at work, [so] we cut up this progress into phases which we then regard as identical; and this multiplicity of elements no longer being conceivable except by being set out in space, since they have now become identical, we are necessarily led to the idea of a homogeneous time, the symbolic image of real duration.” Because states in motion appear identical to us, but time passes between them, we assume that successive states are identical and discrete. In reality, states in motion are not identical; each moment in motion is a synthesis between “former positions” and “actual positions.”12 Regardless, we extrapolate the appearance of identical motion into the passage of time in general because of our “insatiable desire to separate.”11 Motion allows us to think of non-discrete states in time succeeding one another. When we conceive of time through motion, we spatialize it. This is how we normally ‘think’ of time. Our inner sense of time is separate from space. It is not experienced through discrete succession, as Kantian time is, and is not homogeneous. It is experienced only through the melting of continual psychic states which are constantly one whole. From the non-homogeneity of duration, Bergson concluded that “there is neither duration nor even succession in space.”9 Each exists only within duration, and the latter can only be projected into space. Our inner sense of time is entirely separate from our sense of space. We do not sense time through space. Kant, to Bergson, “substitutes the symbol [of real duration] for the reality [and] perceives reality only through the symbol.”11 Spatialized time is just a cognitive symbol of duration. Duration, then, is never ‘for the sake of’ space. It is not necessary for us to cognize space, and we can live through it without space. It is always whole, not requiring space to complete or see it. Because it is whole and needs nothing else, we can live for the sake of duration. It is an end in itself. Bergson’s account of duration offers an account of time for the sake of itself, unconcerned with objects of outer sense. But inner time lacks the completion of outer time. Outer time, by having units, allows us to extract ‘complete’ segments from it. It has parts to be collected. Inner time, by lacking units, cannot be ‘collected’ as such; it is always a singular whole with no parts. Inner time is always incomplete, as each state is constantly melting into the next while duration perpetually unfolds; it never ends. In order to ‘collect’ time for us to solely be within, we need a unity between inner and outer time. We need an account of time which allows for it to have units and be complete, as outer time does, while always being for the sake of itself, as inner time is. Heschel offers this account by means of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is just one day of the week, one repetitive unit in the cyclical repetition of seven days. Yet, for Heschel, this one day is what the weekdays are for the sake of. The Sabbath, by virtue of being one day of seven, extends into each day and imbues it with meaning by giving them an end. Imbuing every other day with its spirit, the Sabbath permeates throughout the entire week. All days are sanctified by the Sabbath. Yet the Sabbath remains a unit, one day of seven. The days of the week remain there to be collected, while each moment throughout the week attains spirit. As a “moment of eternity,” the Sabbath possesses the qualities of both inner and outer time. Eternity is the totality of time; time strives towards eternity, for Heschel. As the end and consummation of time, eternity completes time, just as outer time is complete by virtue of the finite succession of segments. Eternity is a temporal telos, a telos within time that time itself strives for. It makes time one total, coherent whole. The moment being of eternity implies that each moment, imbued with the spirit of the Sabbath, possesses the completion of eternity. Each instant is complete. But each moment, as a moment, possesses duration. Because the moment of the Sabbath is unconcerned with space, for Heschel calls it a time to ‘be in time’ and not space, it is purely durative. It is unconcerned with space, for we do not cognize it through space. We imbue it with meaning in itself, carrying the weight of all the states we bring to it. Since we refuse to project this moment into space by being in time, we exist in eternity duratively. By uniting the moment with eternity, Heschel allows for time to be for the sake of time itself, by being both unconcerned with space while striving towards eternity, and also be complete. “Collecting” time to make life coherent, then, is to allow for each day to carry the weight of eternity. It is to gather the days into one. Unifying all days under the collection of eternity, Heschel coheres time. He aims time towards an end within time; towards eternity. With each day carrying the weight of eternity, each moment possesses the end of time itself. To live in collected time is to allow each moment to be the fulfillment of the end of time. By making the end of time eternally present in every discrete day, the Sabbath unifies inner and outer time. It completes time, retains it as units, while allowing for time to be for the sake of itself. We began by asking ourselves how we could collect time in order to make life coherent and to be in time without concerning ourselves with space. Collecting time implied discrete units of time, unified and made complete, so we approached the question by thinking of outer time. Outer time, as depicted by Kant, gave us a sense of time which allowed for it to be collected, but failed to allow time to exist for its own sake. To find a time which exists for its own sake, we forayed into inner time as described by Bergson. His account told us of a time which exists purely for its own sake and not for space, but his inner time lacked the capacity to be collected. To answer how time could be collected and lived in for the sake of itself, we found that we had to unify inner and outer time. We, then, returned to Heschel, who told us of the eternal moment, and of an eternity which utters a day. Because the Sabbath is one day out of seven, it is a unit. Yet it dissipates its spirit into all other days while remaining a day on its own. In this way it unifies inner and outer time. By dissipating its spirit into all days of the week, the Sabbath allows for all moments to possess the spirit of eternity. As moments of eternity, these moments possess the durative qualities of Bergsonian inner time, allowing them to exist for their own sake, tend towards the end of time, and retain the completion of eternity. The Sabbath allows for all moments in time to exist for themselves while retaining the discrete units of days, enabling each day to be collected while every moment possesses their ends in themselves. To collect time, then, is to live with the force of eternity, the end of time, at every moment.

  • Arendtian Power Seized by Violence

    Summing up her second chapter in On Violence, Hannah Arendt writes, “power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” Further distinguishing power and violence, Arendt notes that power is always legitimate, while violence never will be. Power and violence both refer to “man’s rule over man,” but in two seemingly contradictory ways. Power, for Arendt, is a potential; an “ability to act in concert.” This means that power can exist as a potential and never be exerted. Power is in itself impotent; it does nothing. As an example of impotent power, Arendt writes of the French student rebellion, which she calls “a textbook case of a revolutionary situation that did not develop into a revolution because there was nobody, least of all the students, prepared to seize power.” How can power move from a potential to an actual event? If, for Arendt, power is a potential that exists in a group, what does it mean to seize it? How does one seize it? Seizing power implies a movement of power from potential to action. It also implies leadership. Someone’s hands must grasp the energy of power. To seize power, one must have authority from the group, trust enough for the group to follow. This authority allows for one to guide the group’s latent energy into action. But this authority can only be attained through an act of violence, which posits “One against All,” thereby making power explicit. Violence reveals the group divisions which undergird power—it allows the group with power to recognize itself through the violent actor. Contrary to Arendt’s thesis that violence and power are opposites, we find that violence is necessary for power to turn into action; power alone does nothing. Violence may not create power, but it allows for power to enact its capacities. Seizing power is that which transforms a revolutionary situation into a revolution, a powder keg into an explosion. But what does it mean to seize power? Arendt defines power as the “human ability to act in concert...and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”3 Power is a potential energy, an abstract group that is “kept together” by the capacity to act together. To “seize” power, then would be to latch onto this potential, to direct this collective energy into an action committed in concert. But what constitutes the capacity to guide this power? An immediate answer would be political institutions, which Arendt calls “materializations of power.” But political institutions can only be such materializations on the basis of authority. Arendt defines authority as “unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey;” it can belong to either a person or office. A group obeys one with authority. Thus authority is what allows a person, or office, to guide power into an action by guiding the group. But how does one attain authority? How does authority come to be in a revolutionary context, in a context where the powerful group is unified only by a willingness to act in concert, not by adherence to any particular authority—where the powerful group is amorphous? An amorphous powerful group, such as a revolutionary one, gives authority to one who enacts violence. To explain why, we must first define our terms through Arendt. Arendt identifies five different common terms which refer to the domination of man over man (power, strength, force, authority, and violence) and delineates between each of them. We have already defined power. Arendt calls strength as an individual property, but does not define it; we can refer to strength as the individual potential to act, as opposed to power’s collective potential.3 An action based on strength or power exerts force, which is the “energy released by physical or social movements.”6 Arendt refers to violence as the multiplication of strength by implements. An act of violence, then, is an individual release of force, amplified by implements. Violence posits “One against All” in its most extreme form. Fundamentally, it delineates the agent of violence from the one receiving the force. It defines the agent in negation; the agent of violence is not a part of the group that they are acting against, thereby creating a different group which, in their singular violent act, consists of just themselves. The violent act creates the “I” which is against “them.” By creating the “I” against “them” through this violent action, the agent of violence shows, in actual reality and not merely in potential, that there can be a group that exists against “them.” If the powerful group is one linked merely by their ability to act in concert, then they are connected only by what they are willing to act upon. The group, and thereby its power, exists only in relation to what they are against. The latent potential energy of the group with power, the revolutionary group posited against “them,” sees that its power has a place in reality. The group sees the “I” exerting force, through an act of violence, in the same direction that they would exert force. Their power, dormant until this moment, finds an example of its release in this act of violence. The violence of one depicts the capacity of the power of all. Fundamentally, violence, or strength with implements that releases force, makes the distinction between two groups explicit. Power is the substance of the division between two groups, for they would never act together in concert; they would only act against one another, in two different concerts. Violence reveals this division through the action of one person. By releasing force, he makes explicit what powerful divisions exist based on the actions they do to one another. In demonstrating that the “I” can represent the group with power through his use of violence, for “I” revealed the group to itself, the “I” gains recognition for its act. The “I” gains authority; he seizes the power of the group. An individual’s violent act creates the authority which seizes power. Arendt posits that violence cannot lead to power, but fails to discuss how power moves into action. In discussing French student rebellion, she hints at the “seizing” of power as a way of moving power into action. “Seizing” implies an aggressive act, one which latches onto an energy and guides it—it implies the creation and following of authority. By exploring Arendt’s terms of domination, we found that authority, for a powerful group, is created by the violent act. The powerful group exists only insofar as it is willing to act in concert; such action is constrained to what the group would act upon or against. The violent act reveals the group to itself. It posits “One against All,” demonstrating, through the release of force, the opposition which constitutes the powerful group. By revealing the group to itself, the “I” who committed the individual violent act proves that he can lead the group. He already represented it in his violent action; the group would just add more force. Violence is needed to bring power into action. Violence allows for power to be seized by authority, and authority offers power’s energy the guidance to exert its force. By failing to articulate how power leads to action, Arendt overlooks the vital role violence plays in power. Only by such a gap can she claim that violence and power are opposites. But we see that, instead, violence is integral to power actualizing itself.

  • The Tragedy of Decolonial Violence

    Rebellion, and all the violence it entails, is a tragic act. In his essay The Rebel, Camus demonstrates that one who says ‘no’ and fights for himself is destined to die. In fighting for himself, he introduces a violence that ceases only with death. He will die either at the hands of his oppressor, or by becoming an oppressor in murdering his oppressor; his violence dictates this destiny. But is it truly the case that any man who rebels, who enacts violence, is destined to die? Can violence be a formative act, which only affirms oneself without implying destruction? At a surface level, Fanon seems to give an account of such a rebel. For him, the colonized subject, the man who rebels against the colonist, “emboldens” himself and forms “a nation already indivisible” in committing violence. But even the colonized subject, with his violence, is a tragic figure. Fanon’s colonized subject, too, is fated to die from the atmosphere of violence—to either die as an eternal rebel, in a constant war against colonialism, or to die in eternal subservience to his colonist. Either way, Fanon’s colonized subject is doomed by his mere situation. Camus defines a rebel as “a man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.” The rebel says no and stands up for himself. On the “conviction that he ‘has the right to,’” he affirms that there is a limit, a limit resting on a principle.1 This principle is universal. Camus writes, “it is for the sake of everyone in the world that the slave asserts himself when...a common has infringed on something in him...which is common ground where all men—even the man who insults and oppresses him—have a natural community.” Any man possesses, within him, the transgressed limit. Any man would say no. The rebel is just in the place to do so. On behalf of all humanity, he refuses. The act of rebellion, or rebelling, is done with an attitude of “All or Nothing.” Rebelling is “place[d] above everything else and proclaims it preferable to everything, even to life itself.”3 The rebel becomes constituted by rebelling and nothing more. He “wants to be ‘all’—to identify himself completely with this good of which he has suddenly become aware and by which he wants to be recognized...or ‘nothing’; in other words, to be completely destroyed by the force that dominates him.”3 He is willing to “accept death” for his act.3 In the desire to affirm himself, the rebel will use any means necessary. He will transgress the universal limit he set against the transgressor to make him stop; he will become another oppressor in the opposite direction. He will act against humanity by harming the other, perpetrating the wrong done to him. As Camus writes, “if [the rebel] retreats they must accept death; if they advance they must accept murder...Rebellion pleaded for the innocence of mankind and now it has hardened its heart against its own culpability.” The rebel, for Camus, is a tragic figure. He has “only one way of reconciling himself with his act of murder if he allows himself to be led into performing it: to accept his own death and sacrifice. He kills and dies so that it shall be clear that murder is impossible.” In saying ‘no,’ the rebel introduces a violence that ceases only with death. He is doomed to die. He will either die at the hands of the oppressor, or posit a limit to the transgressor’s oppression. After positing the limit, he will do anything, even murder, to affirm his humanity. But rebelling, in this way, transgresses the very limit that the rebel used for rebelling. Thus, to affirm humanity and the limit he set, he must die too. The rebel will die to save humanity, or at least cry for its salvation; he is both a martyr and tragic figure. He, or someone else, must say ‘no’ to himself in order to stand behind saying ‘no’ to the transgressor. The rebel, for Camus, possesses tragedy—fated to death by the motion of violence. An example of a tragic rebel is the colonized subject that Fanon describes. For Fanon, the colonized subject must rebel; he is fated to because of the structures of colonialism. Colonialism, structurally, is a “world divided in two,” for Fanon.9 The two worlds are the colonized and colonist sectors. The colonists have paved roads, stone and steel—it is “built to last.” The colonized live in “the shanty town,” in a “world with no space,” where the land itself feels transient.7 The colonized look upon the colonist sector with a “look of envy.” This envy feeds into a “state of rage,” a pot of libidinal energy kept just below boiling. The rage grows out of the colonist’s violence: the dehumanizing language of the colonists, the poverty imposed upon the colonized, the theft of land and bread. This violence continues during each day spent under colonial rule. Born into an atmosphere of violence, the colonized sublimate their rage, accumulating from violence and envy, into myths and dances. But eventually the energy will be directed against the source of tension: the colonists. “After years of unreality,” writes Fanon, “the colonized subject, machine gun at the ready, finally confronts the only force which challenges his very being: colonialism.” The colonized subject confronts the reality which causes his tension—he stops dancing, stops mythologizing and dances, and faces the colonist. Following the arc of history, he rebels. To this, Fanon writes: The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and mode of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.10 The colonized subject, for Fanon, will take history into their own hands—they will rebel with proportional violence; they will say ‘no.’ Rebellion says ‘no’ to the colonial order, latent with violence, and vows to destroy it. The colonized subjects, now rebels, desire not the “status of the colonist, but his place.” What is this place? The land of the colonist’s sector. How does he seek to attain this place? By “demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory.” To fulfill their desires, the rebels seek to destroy the colonists and all the violence they employ, all the structures that keep the rebels impoverished and separate. They will destroy the colonist’s roads, the colonist’s people, the colonist’s values, and convert it all into their own land. Destructive violence is creative. “This violence,” writes Fanon, “constitutes [the colonized subjects’] only work.” He goes on, writing “each individual represents a violent link in the great chain...Factions recognize each other and the future nation is already indivisible. The armed struggle mobilized the people, i.e., it pitches them in a single direction, from which there is no turning back.”14 The colonized subjects recognize their solidarity only through the act of violence, because it is their “only work,” or the only action in concert that they can take while colonized. All other action is impotent to the colonists, who, in their concrete buildings, care little for the cries of bread and land; these cries are not action because of their impotence. The rebels “recognize each other” in the motion of the direction of violence, their only possible direction. The recognition formed in the violent act births national consciousness, “already indivisible.” The “deployment of violence” is how the colonized subject “discovers reality and transforms it.” He recognizes reality and moves to transform it; in doing so, he discovers the reality of his national solidarity. Violence creates the nation. Violence both creates national consciousness and posits the ‘yes’ limit of violence—that the colonist’s violence is too much for any human to bear. The colonist’s violence, though, can only be addressed by the one political action of the colonized, which is violence. They resist because of the violence of the colonized; they respond with a violence proportional to the violence received. In rebelling, the colonized strives to transgress the limit they created. Yet the colonized must respond with their decolonial violence, for this is what the colonial order fates. The colonized are born into an atmosphere of violence. They do not introduce it in their ‘no.’ Their ‘no,’ rather, responds to the atmosphere of violence with a simultaneously destructive and creative violence. What does decolonial violence lead to? It strives to destroy the colonial political order by demolishing the colonist’s sector. The colonists eventually leave; they can withdraw from the hellish landscape of reciprocated violence and return to their mother countries. After violence eliminates the colonists, after the liberation struggle ends, decolonial violence continues unto different faces of the enemy. “Following national liberation they are urged to fight against poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment. The struggle, they say, goes on. The people realize that life is an unending struggle.” After expunging the colonists, the colonized are left with lingering problems, problems handed to them by the violence of the colonists. Hunger, poverty, illiteracy—all of these struggles remain from the colonists dividing the colonial world in two. Though their violence is “cleansing,” stripping them of their rage and envy, the colonized have more filth to sanitize than their selves. The colonial political order remains, though the colonists flee. Colonial structures, built to be eternal, leave their foundations, awaiting destruction. The colonized want nothing less than to demolish it all. The task of demolition is immense. “The apotheosis of independence becomes the curse of independence,” writes Fanon. Once granted independence, the colonized must strive to purge the effects of colonial structures. Violence continues against a faceless enemy, one who cannot transgress. The colonized no longer fight the colonists; they fight colonialism. The colonized die in this fight—the fight against underdevelopment, corruption, poverty—a fight that descends unto them once the colonists depart. Nobody is there to help them. The nationalist leaders are “left with no other choice but to turn to their people and ask them to make a gigantic effort. These famished individuals are required to undergo a regime of austerity, these atrophied muscles are required to work out of all proportion.”17 Finding itself under, “new management,” the nation must “start over from scratch,” but their efforts “cannot be sustained for long at such an infernal pace.” The newly liberated nation is fighting a losing war following their rebellion. The colonists have two options in facing this war. The first is that they can “give in to the terms of the former colonial power,” who “take advantage of their strategic position” and become an “economically dependent country.” Under these terms, the nation finds a new death. They admit, once more, to subservience, without the building tension of the everyday violence of colonialism. They remain colonial at a distance, like baby chicks who wait in their nest for their absent mother to periodically feed them. Limp, weak, and dependent, this nation grows impotent—too weak to grow on their own, yet too removed to build the tension to explode once more. They wait patiently for their death, chained to their colonists. The nation falls and the rebels die in oppression. The other option is to continue the unsustainable fight against colonialism’s lasting effects, and call for the “crucial help of the European masses.” They retain their nationalistic fervor, asking for rehabilation and reparation for the violence done unto them for so vast a time span. Fanon demonstrates this option in writing his essay On Violence. He maintains the force of nationalistic libidinal energy in his writing. He declares “the colonists never ceases to be the enemy, the antagonist, in plain words public enemy number 1.” With regard to rebellion, he writes, “at the very moment when they discover their humanity, [the colonized subjects] begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory.” Fanon demonstrates the necessity of energy by means of his poetic, antagonizing, forceful language. But this language is present only in the first section of On Violence, the section describing the rebellion which thrusts the colonists out. In the next section, titled “On Violence in the International Context,” his tone shifts. He writes, “The Third World has no intention of organizing a vast hunger crusade against Europe. What it does expect from those who have kept it in slavery for centuries is to help it rehabilitate man, and ensure his triumph everywhere, once and for all.” The colonists are no longer “public enemy number 1” to whom sharp weapons are aimed. They are, rather, a group who can offer their “crucial help.” At this point, after the revolution that he describes, Fanon needs the sustenance of the colonists. He asks for it directly—but he asks for it following a forceful account of nationhood, implying that the nation, independent, is asking for aid, not dependence. But nothing beyond Fanon’s cries, impotent as the cries before the concrete building, impels the Europeans to give this aid. The essay ends with this call for help, not an account of action; the cries are not heard. Regardless of the option chosen by the nation, they are doomed in the war which follows rebellion. They will either die fighting and begging, as Fanon demonstrates, or grow impotent under a new, removed colonial rule, subject to oppression unto death. Fanon’s colonized subject, as a rebel, is fatefully doomed. He is a tragic figure. For Fanon, he is destined to rebel. The conditions of colonial rule ensure this happens. His rebellion is an enactment of history; it is only a matter of time until he rebels, only a matter of time until the colonial rule falls. He builds up libidinal energy as he receives the constant violence of colonial rule. Eventually, he says ‘no more.’ He picks up his gun and commits the only action he can do. He enacts violence; the nation forms out of recognition in action; the nation enacts violence as one. The colonists eventually leave—they always can, for they have another country to return to, while the colonized do not. The colonized nation transgressed the limit in shooting, in the murder of the colonists until they departed. But they cannot kill themselves. Rebellion has not yet ceased. Though the colonists physically depart, their structures do not—colonialism leaves lasting struggles for the colonized nation, and brings them to a new war. Violent energy redirects towards these struggles, but the energy dwindles with the loss of colonial tension, and the struggles are too great for the colonized nation to conquer alone. The nation, in its “All or Nothing” against the colonists, is doomed to die in one of two ways. It either dies in the war against lasting colonialism—in famine and undevelopment, or it dies in losing their nationhood to a new, removed colonialism—economic dependence on the colonists. The colonized subjects perish at the structures of colonialism either way—either fighting against lasting colonialism, or in the yoke of economic dependence. Both the rebelling nation and the colonized subject are born out of rebellion. Both are perpetually drowning in violence. Both are destined to die in the hands of colonialism. Camus defines a rebel as a man who says ‘no.’ Camus shows that, once the rebel has identified the universal limit to his oppression, he will die. His death comes from violence, violence born out of saying ‘no.’ He will either die at the hands of his oppressor, who continues to transgress the limit, or he will kill his oppressor, transgressing the universal limit that he set, and die because he transgressed that universal limit which he murdered for. Fanon’s colonized subject, an example of a rebel, demonstrates this fated death to be true. He is already immersed in the violence of colonialism. He must enact violence against the colonists. Colonialism is fated to its own demise, and the colonized subject must be the agent. The only way to end colonialism, which is the only action the colonized can take, is violence. In this violence the rebels find each other; they form a nation. The colonized must kill the colonists, driving them out, to end his oppression. But even after the murder, violence remains ingrained in the postcolonial situation. The liberated nation finds itself fighting against the famine and destroyed infrastructure left behind by colonialism. It either dies fighting this war, thereby falling to the oppressor’s hands while begging for his help, or it dies by becoming economically dependent on their former colonists, becoming subservient once more, losing nationalism in a distant colonialism. The rebels die under the yoke of colonialism regardless, never consummating their rebellion, never annihilating the enemy. Fanon’s rebel is a tragic figure—his violence, a tragic violence gifted to him, drags him to death. The rebels either remain rebels forever, constantly on the brink of death while crying for salvation, or live on, ending their rebellion and nationhood in a subservient oppression unto death.

  • The Threat of Equality in Tocqueville

    On page 457 of Democracy in America, Tocqueville writes that there is a “complete and eternal equality which seems to threaten democratic societies.” How can equality, the basis of democracy, be democracy’s own threat? There are two great equalizing forces in democracy: law and nature. Law and nature in democracy are at odds with one another. Both are equal: all men are equal before the law, and all men are subject to nature. Both are unequal: law and nature affect each man differently. By means of natural inequality, men succeed in different ways, yet equalizing laws “continually brings the citizens back to a common level from which they are continually escaping.” Democratic law strives to leave all men to be unequal by nature alone, but for that to occur, it must counterbalance natural inequality. Since each man falls back into equality, despite his greatest efforts and best genetics, he resents democracy. The equality which enables democracy threatens it. Nature operates on every man, but its effects bring out inequality. Tocqueville writes, “all [enlightened men living in a democracy] conceive of the idea of bettering themselves. Being free they all attempt it, but all do not succeed in the same way…Natural inequality being very great, fortunes become unequal as soon as every man exerts all his faculties to get rich.” Every democratic citizen does all they can to get rich, which they see as bettering themselves. Unlike an aristocracy, they lack the privileges of law—they are equal in the legal capacity to get rich, so law is not a factor in their fortune. Thus every citizen exerts the same amount of energy and only natural differences determine who succeeds. One man may do the same thing as another, yet somehow “nature” selects one to succeed. All men are equal before nature—they are each subject only to her force—yet her force elicits success in some and not in others. The methods are the same; results differ. Law strives to make effects equal. In order for men to be subject only to nature, the law of inheritance “continually brings the citizens back to a common level from which they are continually escaping.” The act of getting rich is determined by nature. Law struggles against nature to prevent fortunes from building up; if fortunes built up, without the inheritance law, then law would replace nature in enabling inequality. To retain legal equality, which affirms nature as the sole arbiter of inequality, law must negate nature. All men are subject to law, just like nature, but it makes them equal in outcomes rather than opportunity. It acts differently upon the rich man and the poor man. One goes up and one goes down, both in the name of equality. We have two equalities: one of nature and one of law. Law draws men back to a common level, acting unequally upon each man. Nature allows all men to deviate from their common level, but to different directions and extents. Tocqueville writes that a “complete and eternal equality” seems to “threaten democratic societies.” Which of these two equalities threaten societies? Tocqueville’s solution to the ambiguous threat of equality is to “give privileges to none, but equal enlightenment and independence to all, and to leave each man to make a place for himself.” He elaborates the effects of this solution, stating “Natural inequality will soon make itself felt, and wealth will pass spontaneously into the hands of the most capable.” Tocqueville clearly privileges natural “inequality,” or the nature as the sole arbiter of inequality, over legal inequality. The threat to democracy is the law which tends to bring all men to a common level, the equality of outcomes. He wants opportunities to be equal, with “equal enlightenment and independence to all,” such that nature differentiates men. Inequality is good only if it comes from nature. The conditions which allow democracy threaten it. Its law sets the ability for all men to be equal; the law of inheritance, the laws of equal privileges in government. These laws allow for men to be subject only to the inequality of nature. Yet these laws must step on nature’s unequalizing force to maintain democracy’s enabling conditions. Inheritance drags men down so that law, the retention of inheritance, does not become a new basis for inequality. By dragging men to mediocrity against the face of nature, democracy causes men to resent it. Democratic law forces men to be equal, threatening democracy itself.

  • American Anxiety

    The American, incessantly restless, seems to find a home in his eternal buzzing. On pages 609-611 of Democracy in America, Tocqueville describes the American as both having “gravity,” drinking at home rather than partying, while also doing “everything in a hurry.” How can the American be measured and brash at the same time? Pride, to Tocqueville, is the source of this duality. In pride the American finds repose in himself, hungry to be great—but precisely this pride pushes him to lose himself in the possibility of how to be great. Submerged in his two worries—one to be great and one about how to become great—the American’s repose is the cause of his restlessness. His gravitational pride brings about his agitation. Pride is the home of the American. It causes his “gravity,” the tendency for him to remain within himself. Tocqueville writes, “In democratic countries even a poor man has a high idea of his personal worth. They find it pleasant to think about themselves, and gladly suppose that others are looking at them too. This disposes them to measure their words and their behavior carefully and not to let themselves go.”2 The American feels eyes watching him at all times. He dresses himself for this show, keeping his “self” close, while “measuring” that which others can see. Believing that he has great “personal worth”—that he will one day be great—he bears the weight of the value of his entire life by retaining himself. Because he wishes to become great, he finds a rest in himself, so none will ever think less of him. The American thinks he can become great because, around him, he sees others flourishing in many ways that he could also take up. “In a democracy,” writes Tocqueville, “if necessity does not urge a man to action, longing will do so, for he sees that none of the good things all around him are completely beyond his reach.” He projects himself onto the men around him and sees that he could do anything. He becomes serious because he is “habitually preoccupied with some dangerous or difficult project.” Though he knows he could be any flourishing man around him, he is constantly endeavoring upon one path to success. His pride unfolds as constant projection—on a path to later become great. The American is on one path at any given time, but in his mind he knows that there are several before him. Tocqueville writes, “in aristocracies every man has but one sole aim which he constantly pursues; but man in democracies has a more complicated existence; it is the exception if one man’s mind is not concerned with several aims at the same time.”3 Pride can unfold in a broad multiplicity of projects; the American can undertake many different tasks to become great. He could work in industry, carpentry, farming, politics; each produce successful men. Because the American faces such a great amount of possibilities, he finds himself anxious about what he should do. Even while woodworking, he worries about whether he should campaign instead. The American is both anxious to prove himself and anxious about the vast array of possibilities of proving himself. Tocqueville summarizes the double anxiety of Americans on page 610: “No men are more attached to their own way of life, which would lose its savor if they were relieved from the anxieties which harass them. They love their cares more than aristocrats love their pleasures.” The American finds rest in his fundamental desire to prove himself, which brings him to the constant rush of his various cares. His “way of life” is projection—a way of living unified only in name. At home in himself, he finds his “self” constantly dissolving into different callings. But he holds himself close in the gaze of others—so he gathers up his projects, carries himself in a reserved, dignified fashion, pretends he is on one path; yet within his mind, he remains anxious to be seen as great, and anxious about how to become seen in this way. The very drive to be fixed and successful in the eyes of others gives the American double anxiety.

  • Minorities: Revolutionary Agents

    Great revolutions will grow rare, to Tocqueville, because there will be nobody for the great mass to face. In democracy, large class antagonisms have fallen. Wealth is hidden and no man can harm another without somehow harming himself. Tocqueville, though, maintains that democratic nations are not safe from democracies—rather, they “ward them off.”3 For him, only minorities will execute revolutions. The reason for his account is that only minorities are aware of themselves as a people, and not just a person. Democratic men “forget” the public until the public faces them. They unite with other men only in the antagonism of the atomized mass. Since minorities are conscious of themselves as people, only they can form the antagonisms necessary to execute a revolution. Revolutions need a recognition of inequality. “Every revolution which has changed the shape of nations has been made to consolidate or destroy inequality,” writes Tocqueville. Revolutions occur when a critical mass takes account of an inequality and wants to change something about it. Historically, revolutionary antagonisms rested on wealth. “Either the poor were bent on snatching the property of the rich, or the rich were trying to hold the poor down.”1 Each class recognized their enemy through the disparity of wealth—then they antagonized the other. Revolutions of the past rested on the appearance and recognition of a wealth disparity. In democracy, financial disparity is hidden. The rich are “scattered and powerless,” and their wealth is “invisible.”1 There is “no longer a race of poor men…[nor] a race of rich men”1 and the mass of citizens, interwoven without class distinction, “would hardly know how to attack [men] without harming itself.” Because wealth is not apparent, class antagonisms based on wealth disparities cannot appear. Classes grow homogenous: an individual man is implicated in all other men. Revolutions cannot come from a large mass of citizens, because any given large mass extends throughout the entire population. The single class has no opposite to antagonize. Yet within this large mass, “every man tends to live apart, centered in himself and forgetful of the public.” Though each individual man is implicated in the race of all men, he lacks a constant consciousness of himself as part of that race. A rich man, displaying that he is rich, can never escape his class. A classless man forgets class altogether, so he forgets other men. The single class cannot combine to carry about a great revolution, for it has no enemies—but it cannot combine to defend itself either, since each man forgets the public. When everyone is everyone, nobody is everyone. Minorities are a class conscious of itself because “public opinion brings immense weight to bear on every individual.” The mass fails to see classifications between men. Minorities, though, are ideologically separated from the mass. They see themselves in opposition to public opinion, a public opinion which they cannot escape. Individuals in the minority identify with one another on the basis of their opposition to public opinion. Political antagonisms in democracy no longer concern wealth, for wealth is invisible; rather, they rely on ideology. The minority identifies with others on an intellectual basis. The majority forgets to identify with others altogether. Tocqueville writes, “in democratic societies it is only small minorities who desire revolutions, but the minorities may bring them about.”3 The mass does not defend itself, for it cannot recognize itself. Men in the majority do not combine. Antagonism is brought about by minorities, who are the only people conscious of other men—of being with other men. Only minorities can bring about radical shifts in social structure, because only minorities radically act in concert.

  • Contractual History: The Proximity Between Men

    What proximity do American men have to one another? Tocqueville constantly turns this question over throughout part II of Democracy in America. On pages 574-577, he explicates an illuminating liminal case of men’s interactions. He gives an account of the relationship between the master and the servant in democratic societies. The master and servant, once unified by history and mores under aristocracy, now turn to nothing but a contract to keep them together. Since the servant always knows he can “become the master,” he only offers his master his body and not his soul—for if he gave him his soul, he would close the possibility of becoming the master, thus revoking the equality granted to him by democracy. The contract, in replacing history as the link between master and servant, holds their souls apart. They cannot unify their interests. In aristocratic society, the master and the servant unite their souls into one. Though they belong to different classes, “time in the end binds them together. Long-shared memories unite them, and however different they be, yet they grow alike.” The two unite through history—they share generational links, coevolving through time. The master “comes to think of his servants as an inferior and second part of himself,” causing him to “take an interest in their fate,” and the servant too “see themselves in almost the same way….sometimes identify[ing] themselves so much with the master personally that they become an appendage to him in their own eyes as well as in his.” The servant, “trained from infancy to thoughts of obedience,” primed to see himself as nothing but subordinate and ready to give his soul away, offers himself to the master.2 The master graciously accepts—the two unite their interests and blend their wills. Democratic society eliminates both the servant’s priming of obedience and the historical bond between families. Rather than see himself as fundamentally degraded from infancy, the servant thinks he “may at any time become the master, and he wants to do so.”1 There is no hierarchy beckoning the servant to offer his soul to the master. “Within the terms of the contract,” writes Tocqueville, “one is servant and the other master; beyond that, they are two citizens, two men.”1 The master and the servant see one another as full equals. One is a ‘master’ and the other a ‘servant’ only in terms of paper. Their hierarchy is just a contract. The master and servant are indifferent to one another. Neither “see a profound difference between them” and they “hardly ever have common interests.” Their “bodies constantly touch, but their souls remain apart.”4 The master and servant care little for the will of the other, though their physical . By means of this indifference, the servant retains his soul—he does not give up his interests to that of the master, remaining independent outside of the contract. Clutching his soul at a distance, the servant keeps the possibility of “becoming the master.” He remains equal to his master by caring little for him, by remaining separate yet similar to him. In democracy nothing but the contract binds the servant to the master. The contract replaces history in binding the master and the servant together, constituting the content of the tie of their dynamic. Obligation fails to penetrate beyond motion—contracts can only go as deep as what servants do, and not what they think. The bond of the contract, by remaining at the level of the body, must be a transient tie. It cannot unify the two men’s interests.

  • Tocqueville's Democratic Man: An Individual and a Nation

    How can we describe the identity of the American individual? In Democracy in America, Tocqueville grapples with the fundamental tension of identity intrinsic to the democratic citizen. The democratic citizen must be original. His birth offers him no connection to men outside of his household. He identifies with nobody else. At the same time, the equalizing force of democracy tugs men towards homogeneity. Each democratic individual resembles all others. Is the American a product of the nation, or is the nation, in turn, a sum total of different individuals? Tocqueville’s philosophy of history, in which both general causes and individual choices account for action, portrays an individual agent who contains both his own choices and the tendencies of the nation at large. For Tocqueville, the general causes of American democracy are set into motion by individuals—the Puritans and their choices—who create the conditions for individuals to make choices in turn. By instituting local government, the Puritans set the stage for Americans to be both themselves and an expression of the entire nation. They allow for American culture, and the political questions therein, to be national and homogenous, while the political effects of culture are local, contingent on men’s individual choices regarding their immediate self-interest. Through the examples of indigenous genocide and slavery, we see that Americans take on American questions in their own individual ways, as expressed through local action. On page 494, Tocqueville describes two flawed methods of recounting history. In one, historians focus excessively on great individuals and their choices; in the other, they focus excessively on ‘general causes’ and not enough on people. Tocqueville discusses his own historical method here, writing, “I think that in all ages some of the happenings in this world are due to very general causes and others depend on particular influences. These two kinds of causes are always in operation, only their proportion varies. General causes explain more, and particular influences less, in democratic…ages.” In explaining America, both as a social and historical phenomenon, Tocqueville strives to offer us an account which combines the particular actions of individuals with causes beyond men. Both individual choices and general causes—forces above the individual—shape history, or the account of where actions come from throughout time. Tocqueville writes of a democratic age. Thus, in his account, general causes should explain most actions. Still, he retains great actors at the birth of all general causes of American life. For Tocqueville, America’s great agents are the Puritans. He writes, “I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan.” The Puritans formed the New England colony which set the rest of America into motion. New England was something genuinely different in kind from all of history. He writes, “the foundation of New England was something new in the world, all the attendant circumstances being both peculiar and original.” As creators of something new, the Puritans follow no trend. The choices made in creating New England were peculiar to them alone. Nobody else could have done it—their actions are not general. Through their “peculiarity” and “originality” in forming New England, the Puritans acted as individuals. In birthing their civilization, Puritans offered the original principles for all of American history to follow. Tocqueville highlights this influence, writing, “all the general principles on which modern constitutions rest…are recognized and given authority by the laws of New England…These pregnant principles were there applied and developed in a way that no European nation has yet dared to attempt.” By creating the first townships, Puritans, in their individual act, created the general causes in which America would move for the rest of history. They planted the principles of local governance at the heart of America. Tocqueville insists upon Puritan influence throughout his contemporary analysis of American culture. On page 46, he writes that the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom, two forces beyond any individual man—two general causes influencing history—flow from the founders of New England. Later on, he claims that “fixed ideas about God and human nature are indispensable to men for the conduct of daily life…chief object and one of the principle advantages of religion is to provide answers to each of these primordial questions.” New England offered the very spirit which permeates the first principles of everyday life of all Americans to come. It gave Americans religion as an axiom. This axiom has proven indispensable to every descendant therefrom. Puritanism even graced the arts. Tocqueville writes, “[Puritanism] was simple in its forms, austere in its principles…it was therefore naturally unfavorable to the fine arts,” before concluding that “Americans do not cultivate the arts.” Tocqueville notes that, “Puritan founders of the American republics…professed a special abhorrence for the stage,” and cites this as a reason for the lack of American theater. The tastes of Puritans both created the first principles of everyday life of Americans to come while shaping the scope of their highest expressions in the arts. They continue to influence the cultural sphere of American life. New England operates as the fount of American culture from which American life emanates. Tocqueville writes that “northern principles spread first to the neighboring states and then in due course to those more distant, finally penetrating everywhere throughout the confederation…New England civilization has been like beacons on mountain peaks whose warmth is first felt close by but whose light shines to the farthest limits of the horizon.”3 The character of the entire nation emanates from the beacon of the North. This occurs primarily through the mechanism of migration: As they mingle, the Americans become assimilated; the differences which climate, origin, and institutions had created among them become less great. They all get closer and closer to one common type. Yearly thousands of northerners spread out through all parts of the Union; they bring with them their beliefs, opinions, and mores, and as they are more enlightened than the men among whom they come to dwell, they soon rise to the head of affairs and change society to their advantage. This continual emigration from the North to South singularly favors the fusion of all provincial characteristics into one national character. So the civilization of the North appears destined to be the norm to which all the rest must one day conform. Americans begin in the North, both historically (from Puritans) and imminently (from European immigrants arriving to the North). These northerners leave the north; they fill the nation; and since they are the source from which the nation is filled, they bring all other Americans closer towards them. National character homogenizes with the incessant migration of northerners—indeed, a ‘national’ character exists only because of this general tendency towards being more like the North. The continent is constantly replenished with northerners who continually beckon their new neighbors to be like them. Northerners can only fill up America, bringing the whole nation closer to one character, because American land is empty. Tocqueville calls America a “deserted land waiting for inhabitants,” where “man advances so quickly that the wilderness closes in again behind him. The forest has only bent beneath his feet and springs up again when he has passed.” No individual location holds meaning to a particular person, so no ties hold them to the land. The stretch of the continent lacks content—it lacks people and it lacks stasis. Thus, America is a space for incessant movement: The European [goes] to dwell on the transatlantic coast, while the American who was born there moves off in turn into the central solitudes of America. This double movement of immigration never halts; it starts from the depths of Europe, continues across the great ocean, and then goes on through the solitudes of the New World. Millions of men are all marching together toward the same point on the horizon. Northerners are continually produced. They fill out the empty land, heading towards a point which none can see clearly, obscured by distance. American land facilitates the manufactured northerner’s “double migration” to nowhere, nothing more. Both America and its land are homogeneous—the land is all empty space, and the Americans become northerners in culture. Yet when we look at each particular man, we find that he is characteristically original. In his own eyes, he is non-reproducible. Tocqueville calls the American “narrowly shut up in himself,” listening to none, and “from [himself] makes the pretension to judge the world.” The American, equal to all his peers, has no reason to listen to others. His character is his own; he “forgets [his] ancestors…clouds [his] view of [his] descendants, and isolates [himself] from [his] contemporaries.” Somehow, the American is both a homogeneous figure born of New England which fills the entire continent, and is an individual uninfluenced by everyone before, after, and around him. He is both culturally national and just himself. His identity is in a fundamental tension between these two levels. Yet the nation stemmed from the New England township, where Puritans first instilled American principles. Where has the township gone in our consideration of the American’s identity? Americans are politically local. Their actions together are contained to immediate concerns. They do not pertain to the nation. For the democratic man, “all [his] interests pertain to those near himself.” He elects his municipal representatives to execute public duties—he himself sometimes serves his community—“because union with his fellows seems useful to him and he knows that that union is impossible without a regulating authority.” He loves the township, as it allows him to get things done that he could not do otherwise. The township and the state work together to perform “social duties,” such as opening roads, maintaining police, creating schools, and more.15 “The [sovereignty] of the states is natural; it exists on its own, without striving, like the authority of the father in a family,” because without the authority of the local government, men could not live at all. Local government, like a father, nourishes the American. It creates the infrastructure which enables him to be himself. His love for local government is “nothing but an extension of individual egoism.” The American cares and acts for the local government because it, like egoism, deals with his immediate concerns. To engage in the township, he doesn’t have to deal in an abstract future or best interest; it deals with him directly, now. Thus his identification with his local area is nothing more than an identification with his imminent desires. The local area itself does nothing for his identity. American politics, carried out primarily locally, is also an extension of self. Americans act on local scales but inherit their political concerns from national cultural phenomena. Tocqueville writes, “there are matters which are of a naturally mixed character; they are national insofar as they concern all individuals composing the nation; they are provincial insofar as there is no necessity for the nation itself to provide for them.” For an example of this kind of issue, we can look at Tocqueville’s account of indigenous genocide. Here, the American notion of “civilization” clashes against the “uncivilizable” indigenous people. Each individual American, as an American, conceives of himself as “civilized,” in a hierarchical position to tame the “uncivilized.” Thus he seeks to either “bend [indigenous people] to his will or destroy them.”18 The American government itself took no direct action on the relationship between indigenous people and Americans. They did not take land, nor did they protect land; they “allowed encroachments” while stating that any American on indigenous land is subject to the law of the Natives and not the Americans. The result was that Americans themselves took displacement into their own hands. Tocqueville writes: A few European [American] families occupying widely separated points succeed in chasing all the wild animals forever from the whole region stretching between these points…they come to a decision; they depart, and following the tracks of elk, buffalo, and beaver, leave to these wild animals the choice of their new homeland. So, strictly speaking, it is not Europeans who chase the natives of America away, but famine. Rather than systematically approach indigenous Americans, European American families, in a united act, indirectly drove Native Americans off of their land. Americans sought to “destroy” the indigenous Americans—so each family drove their immediate enemy off. As if in a township, they collectively took a political act into their own hands. They expressed national culture in a local action. They pushed indigenous people off their land in pursuit of their immediate self-interest; but such a push stems from the fact that they strive to “civilize” the nation. Tocqueville’s depiction of the relationship between white and black Americans demonstrates another instance where a national cultural phenomenon unfolds as a local political problem. As a national axiom, there is an “insurmountable gap between the American Negro and the European.” This gap is not merely legal—in being “insurmountable” it extends into every corner of life. Two facts affect the way that Americans engage with the Negro: “in the United States people abolish slavery for the sake not of the Negroes but of the white men,” and “the farther south one goes, the less profitable it becomes to abolish slavery.” In the North, the abolition of slavery makes sense in terms of the immediate self-interest of white men. They profit more and ennoble their labor, while being able to retain “race prejudice…stronger [than] in those states [which] have abolished slavery” because of how few blacks there are. In the South, the problem is far more complicated—it is “a question of life and death.”24 Immediate elf-interest is not easily calculable. There is more profit from slaves than in the North and, if slaves were freed, their vast numbers would create a revolt powerful enough to end the rule of white men. Thus, slavery is preserved in the South and abolished in the North. Both local areas encounter the same cultural problem; they confront it differently, as it serves their immediate self-interest. Americans are culturally national and politically local. The problems which local politics takes up are born of culture. How to build schools, how to maintain liberty, how to engage with indigenous and black people—these are each questions stemming from the fact that the man in the township calls himself “American,” yet each question is dealt with only in local government. Thus any given place in America is effectively the same—it deals with the same things, just in a different way. The individual American expresses himself as a national product through local means. The questions he takes up are American, but the way he deals with them are his own. Tocqueville, in giving a picture of the American landscape, elucidates the dialectical tension that drives history. He shows how the seeds of America are present within its birth—a birth given by just a few people. The Puritans created New England, whose principles grew into American culture. Puritans gave birth to America, but Americans are simultaneously giving birth to themselves on the basis of the principles which Puritans set in motion. Americans have broad American problems which descend from Puritan principles and northerners. Within those problems they make individual choices in their local communities. Thus Tocqueville fulfills his notion of history. For him, general causes—being American and holding the principles contained therein—accounts for most of men’s actions, but at the local level, the actions of particular people take charge. Indigenous genocide and slavery found its question in America and its expression in Americans—as does any question which local politics confront. The American, in any action, expresses both himself and the entire nation.

  • The Atemporal Demonic

    Vigilius Haufniensis, the pseudonym of Kierkegaard writing The Concept of Anxiety, turns towards the demonic at the end of his exploration of the psychological state preceding hereditary sin. The demonic, for him, constitutes the state which flees from inheritance. It closes itself off from the good. By precluding a relationship with the good, the demonic prevents the individual from becoming himself. But how does the demonic sever the individual from his humanity? Temporality bridges the individual with his humanity; through the moment, the individual is both himself and the human race, allowing both sin and the good to permeate through him. He coheres himself through the moment. The demonic, however, is the sudden—it posits itself as being atemporal, thereby severing the individual from all coherence, making him utterly impenetrable to anyone, including himself. Because his being is shut off through the sudden, the demonic individual cannot express anything. He is drawn towards expression yet fails at every attempt. The atemporality of the demonic prevents him from becoming a human being. The moment unfolds the consciousness of sin which enables one to become good. Vigilius describes the moment as “that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other…whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time.” In the moment, the instant—that instantaneous point of time before an individual—presents eternity, and eternity dwells in each instant. Eternity is constantly present through the moment. In anxiety, the hesitation preceding hereditary sin, the individual understands himself in a similarly ambiguous way. “The individual has a history,” writes Vigilius, and “he is at once himself and the human race.” The individual becomes aware of hereditary sin as a problem as he realizes these two ambiguities. He possesses the history, the eternity, of each man’s first sin—the weight of this eternity bears upon him constantly. He knows of all sins prior and to come. At the same time, he has not yet sinned. Anxiety, for him, is simultaneously qualitative and quantitative. It quantitatively builds up with eternity—he holds the weight of all sins—but only in an instant does he accept it as his own. This instant belongs to him alone. None can reproduce it—hence it is a qualitative leap; in one instant he is not anxious, in the next he is. In this sense the individual is both “himself and the human race.” When the individual realizes this awareness—becomes aware of his capacity for sin—his instant becomes the moment. Eternity, history, belongs to him, while his “time,” the instants through which the world appears to him, remains within him alone. His time carries eternity and eternity is accessed through time. In acknowledging his double-carrying of sin, knowing that he has carried evil, the individual tacitly acknowledges that he can and should become good. The moment coheres time and eternity. Truth itself maintains this coherence. Vigilius writes that “truth is for the particular individual only as he himself produces it in action.” Vigilius clarifies that, in truth, “a person will in the deepest sense acknowledge the truth, will allow it to permeate his whole being, will accept all its consequences.”3 When the individual comports their “whole being” into a deed, he produces truth through action. To do this, he must act with “earnestness,” or the “originality with which [the individual] returns in repetition.” The individual’s truth is non-reproducible; he offers it the originality of his being, clarified to him through repetition. It cannot be general, for that “increases the scope and quantity” of truth while abstracting its clarity, precluding the individual from living it out. Truth is a deed cohered both by the individual’s individuality—the fact that he is himself, originally producing the deed—and by him repeating the actions affirming it. The individual coheres truth. He lives in the moment; for the individual in truth, deeds contain the eternity of repetition while constantly being original in time. Language is the highest form of truth’s coherence. For Vigilius, “the content of freedom is truth, and truth makes man free”3 and “freedom is always communicating.” Truth, by allowing the man to express himself, makes him free. He expresses the earnestness that he alone possesses. Truth, then, is constantly disclosing the free individual through action. Language achieves this disclosure most directly. “Language,” writes Vigilius, “the word, is precisely what saves;”6 later, he writes, “disclosure is the good, for disclosure is the first expression of salvation.” In speaking, one communicates with the good to save them. He makes a report to He who saves. He can only verbally justify himself in a way that is good—otherwise his justification is nonsense. Language forces the individual to be as coherent as possible. His report is to be heard in a universal way, one which all must understand, unlike his deeds which belong to himself alone. Disclosure in language is essentially ethical; speech is only in the terms of the good that everyone hears. The converse of the good is not evil. In calling something evil, we disclose it to the good, priming it for salvation. The demonic opposes the good—it flees from the good. Defined by “anxiety about the good,” the demonic subsists in a fundamental tension: it is posited by the good—by anxiety of it—yet by virtue of its anxiety, it flees the good. It cannot act towards it, for it lacks certitude and earnestness in its anxiety. Instead it hesitates before it, hiding. Vigilius characterizes the demonic further as “inclosing reserve,”8 “the sudden,” and “the contentless, the boring.” In turning away from the good, it is “inclosing reserve.” By this Vigilius means that the demonic cannot communicate in any way. The good begins with disclosure. Because the demonic flees the good, it flees expression. But how can the demonic remain inexpressible—what does inexpressibilty mean? To grasp the inexpressibility of the demonic, we shall delve into its temporality. The demonic is the sudden. The tension between the demonic and the good produces its ‘suddenness.’ Vigilius accounts for the sudden as “always due to anxiety about the good, because there is something that freedom is unwilling to pervade.” The demonic individual possesses something within him which he cannot comport towards his action. He simultaneously feels a draw to the good, for the demonic is grounded in the good, but the “freedom” in his goodness cannot penetrate his fleeing, demonic self. Because he cannot penetrate himself, he finds himself in a contradiction of action. “Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that this might be brought about from the outside, that this might happen to it. ” writes Vigilius.7 He wants to account for himself, but his account finds its limit in the demonic element he possesses. He cannot account—thus he cannot act. For him, time cannot be the moment. His deeds cannot comport his whole being, because he hides himself; truth cannot find repetition, because it does not know what remains constant; he cannot find himself as a man. He cannot find himself as the human race, either, for freedom cannot penetrate the demonic element within him—he cannot call it himself, or his humanity. History fails to account for him, and so does he. His temporality lacks both time and eternity. The instant for him is always different from other time—his instants are instantaneous. The demonic, as the sudden, is essentially atemporal. Since the demonic is atemporal, he is utterly inexpressible. There is no coherence for him to express. What comes out of the demonic sounds like “indolence that postpones thinking, as curiosity that never becomes more than curiosity, as dishonest self-deception…etc.” Vigilius also writes that, “inclosing reserve is precisely muteness.”6 But the “muteness” of the inclosing reserve is not silence. Inclosing reserve communicates in a way that negates communication. It is “involuntary disclosure.”9 Vigilius offers a portrait of the communication of the demonic individual; met with the accusing silence of an interrogator, holding him for a crime, he bursts in random spurts of words. His words cannot come together. “Communication,” writes Vigilius, “is the expression for continuity, and the negation of continuity is the sudden.”9 The demonic is not merely silent, for silence can be read—he destroys language, disclosure, and expression, in his sudden expression. In doing so, he makes himself entirely unknown. The demonic is untruth. He is “contentless, boring” because he cannot be filled up with anything. Any reading of him is destroyed by his discontinuity. His being, inexpressible, removes him from being either himself or the human race. Removed from his being, his time is atomized as the sudden. Atomized time renders him incapable of becoming. He is no one, says nothing, and does nothing. Truth cannot touch him. Lost in instants without moments, the demonic cannot face himself as a man.

  • Limiting Recognition: Buberian Disclosure

    The I dwells between two worlds: that of the “I-It” world and that of the “I-You” world. The I first dwells in the You world. Through the You world, another being colors everything we see. The I discloses its worlds to the You—then they share the I-You world. By acting within the shared world, the I and You form a relation. For Buber, however, this relation is fleeting. But why? What destroys the I-You relation? To address this question, we look at the child. He is a pure You which precedes the I. The child recognizes himself as an agent—then he becomes an I. The I creates the I-It world to extend itself. Recognition—seeing oneself—ends the pure You. Recognition of a deed, then, attributes it to the I. It removes the deed from the I-You world by turning it into an action in the I-It world. After the child has seen himself, he becomes a man whose recognition constantly subsumes the You. He possesses the I—now he must balance his double-dwelling. ​​How is the I to properly live between two worlds? For Buber, the fleeting I-You relationship gains by virtue of the I-It world. Yet by possessing the I in full, both as an I and in the I-It world, the man enters into relations with full depth; it can enter into the I-You world. Deeds done in the I-You relation outlast the fleeting disclosure of the I-You relation; these deeds penetrate further into disclosure when the I is possessed. Recognition limits the I-You relation, but it allows its deeds to be stronger. Thus Buber, in calling us to live in both the I-It and I-You worlds, asks us to limit our impulse for recognition; to hold a dialogue with the pre-meditation of thought. One enters a You by saying I-You. When entering into the You, the other being “is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes….Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.” The entering individual sees the world illuminated by the relation alone. The relation exceeds sight, as it enables it. He is filled up with another. There is no emptiness between them. Because I-You is spoken with another being, it consists in mutual disclosure. By disclosure, I mean that both the I and the You bear one another’s world. They contain each other—they do not see each other. The You is a “form that confronts me I cannot experience nor describe; I can only actualize it. And yet I see it, radiant in the splendor of the confrontation, far more clearly than all the clarity of the experienced world…as what is present…And it is an actual relation; it acts on me as I act on it.” The immediate world before both the I and the You contains one another. They cannot see anything without reference to the other. Since they share their world, any act that one does alters the world of the other. The shared acts within the shared world constitute a relation. Buber writes, “direct relationships involve some action on what confronts us.” Relations come through in deeds done upon the shared world. To clarify the content of a relation, Buber depicts the relation of love. He writes, “Feelings one has; love occurs. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love. This is no metaphor but actuality: love…is between I and You.” Love is a particular kind of relation. As a relation, man enters into it—love is a dwelling for him, for it subsists in a disclosed world. The relation subsists in his actions within this world. Buber distinguishes love from other relations by writing that “love is responsibility of an I for a You.”4 Love, as a relation, is the set of actions done in the light of the relation of fundamental disclosure; as love, these actions bear the tie of responsibility. Responsibility, the characteristic of love, causes the I and the You to inhabit the deeds of the other with whom one is disclosed, not just to act within the same disclosed world. But for Buber, “every You must become an It in our world.” Disclosure cannot be maintained. The shared world collapses—love is destined to lose its context. Buber writes, “even love cannot persist in direct relation; it endures, but only in the alternation of actuality and latency.”5 The world decays into oscillation, sometimes dormant and present at different times. Only the deeds in “actuality” persist through the flickering of the world. Given that the You never lasts, how does the You affect the I? What happens when a You becomes an It? To differentiate between the It and the You, we shall look at the child. Both the I-It and the I-You emerge from the child. The child initially is the You without the I—he lives in others constantly, but as a drive which never rests in one being for long. Buber describes the child as constantly “longing for relation,” with a “cupped hand, into which the being that confronts us nestles.” The child constantly reaches out to be filled by Yous. He possesses an “innate You,” the inborn will to be filled. Through his drive, he shows that the You occurs—it is not brought forth. Buber writes, “the development of the child’s soul is connected indissolubly with his craving for the You, with fulfillments and disappointments of this craving.” It child incessantly strives, and on some occasions, a You latches on. Then the drive turns, the You fades, and another You appears. The drive never summons the You—for if it did, the striving would never be disappointed. Both the You and the child must reach out for connection to land. The child is purely the You, always filling himself up with others. The child discovers the I through recognition, which destroys him as the You. On page 80, Buber describes the process of recognition which annihilates the child. He writes: Man becomes an I through a You….To be sure, for a long time it appears only woven into the relation to a You, discernible as that which reaches for but is not a You; but it comes closer and closer to the bursting point until one day the bonds are broken and the I confronts its detached self for a moment like a You—and then it takes possession of itself and henceforth enters into relations in full consciousness. The child’s “I” is “woven into” the You, as a seeker, until one day it “confronts its detached self for a moment like a You.” He discovers himself as the universal thread, as the vessel of others, and he stares at himself, disclosing himself to himself. By recognizing himself as a You, he attains the I. He is now a seeker. His seeking becomes a problem. His deeds no longer dwell purely in another. In this sense, his relations attain full consciousness. He was not in his deeds—now he is. Yet by recognizing the deed itself, by seeing the “I” implicated, he converts the world-light of the You into one which corresponds to the I. Seeing the fact that the light illuminates, rather than seeing through the light itself, he adjusts his gaze. The I subsumes the You. His relationality becomes unsustainable. After recognizing the I, the I-It relation becomes possible.7 The You becomes someone who enables I to act. When the I recognizes the You by recognizing itself, the You becomes an It. Recognition converts the You into the It. The I incloses continually. The I-It perpetuates the I’s inclosure. Buber writes that “The I of the basic word I-It…has only a past and no present.” He also writes,“[the It-world] is somewhat reliable; it has density and duration; its articulation can be surveyed….it permits itself to be taken by you.” The I of I-It is past, reliable, arranged. The I nominates the It-world into being—there is no other who draws out being, no between-ness to be held. The I of the I-It selects its orbit, it writes—the It-world is mediated through the I alone. The I-It, then, cannot be said. It can only be written or thought. Its expression must be summoned by the I alone. The I-You, however, is essentially speech. As a relation, it can only exist as the deed between. Speech flees as does the disclosure between the I and you, but the words hang in the air as an artifact of what has been. The words of I-You reflect the deeds of the relation. In speaking the I-You, the relation gains life—the I-You opens the world to which the I and the You disclose. The child moves from calling out to thinking. He loses his pure You and attains an I. Yet only with the meditation of thought are true conversations possible; he can only form an I-You relation with an I. Concluding part 1, Buber writes, “Without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives with that is not human.” Life needs the restful arrangement of the I, extended through the I-It. Without the I-You, however, the I remains within itself, never speaking, disclosed to nothing. Buber calls us to speak and then think—to move without self-awareness, and then remember it later. We are to limit our recognition—to see ourselves less. In maintaining the I-You at spurts, we are to act without recognition of acting, out of relation, possessing others within us until recognition inevitably conquers our deeds. The act, done in full self-possession without recognition, outlasts the relation. But the act is all we need.

  • Can We Choose to be like Abraham?

    Should one act like Abraham? This question lives behind Fear and Trembling, in which Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes de Silentio explicates the problem of faith as depicted by Abraham’s actions. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac: his only son, the best he has, and his one limb stretched towards eternity. Abraham silently takes his son to the top of Mount Moriah, ready to sacrifice him, before God commands him to give a ram up instead. He keeps his son in the end. Yet he was prepared to give everything up, to commit a murder which nobody could ever understand, all for a command from God which only he could hear. The deed he was to commit would prove nothing but “personal virtue”—that Abraham’s will was God’s will. But did Abraham choose to unite his will with God? Did he have to undergo the anguish of deciding to slaughter his only son? Did this command force him to make such a choice? In this essay, I argue that Abraham did not make a choice to sacrifice Isaac. His faith rests on the fact that his devotion to God lacks any choice. He never had to decide whether or not to sacrifice Isaac, because he knew that he would not give him up, that he never would have to—Isaac would return to Abraham’s arms regardless of whether or not he was sacrificed. Abraham’s act of faith is only a choice under an ethical framework—for Abraham himself, it was nothing; Abraham’s faith, too, exceeds choice; it cannot be chosen. We cannot ‘act’ like Abraham, because we do not have agency to be what Abraham is. Abraham’s problem is the teleological suspension of the ethical. He is called to do something ethically unjustifiable to prove an absolute devotion to God: to kill his son, reasonless, to prove faith. Johannes defines the ethical by writing, “the ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which from another angle means that it applies at all times.” The ethical is the deed which anyone can do at any time—it is what is right, justified, and legible. Abraham’s relationship to his son is clear: “In ethical terms, Abraham’s relation to Isaac is quite simply this: the father shall love the son more than himself.” He ought to take care of his son before himself. His faith cannot precede his duty, ethically. Yet, to prove his devotion to God, he had to take on a different end than acting ethically. Johannes writes, “Abraham’s citation is different. By his act he transgressed the ethical altogether and had a higher τέλος outside it, in relation to which he suspended it.” To act with his relation to God as his end, Abraham had to suspend the ethical as his purpose by explicitly transgressing it. His task, and his problem, is to put his relationship to God over his duty to his son. This “purely personal,” selfish move, is ethically illegible—yet Abraham must do it. When living under the framework of the ethical, one feels anxiety when called to transgress it. This anxiety unfolds as a hesitation which allows the ethical to overtake the transgression. Johannes begins his analysis of Abraham with the Exordium, in which he portrays four scenes in which Abraham dwells in the ethical during the sacrifice. He feels anxiety and ruins the slaughter by his hesitation. In the first, Johannes writes, “Abraham’s face epitomized fatherliness…He seized Isaac by the chest, threw him to the ground, and said… ‘Do you think it is God’s command? No, it is my desire’…But Abraham said softly to himself, ‘Lord God in heaven, I thank you; it is better that he believes me a monster than that he should lose faith in you.’” Johannes, caught up in his ethical fatherly relation, ruins the sacrifice because of his anxiety. He loses the sacrifice as a pure relation to God, instead making a legible excuse to his son so that his son maintains faith. The second situation is different: “Silently [Abraham] arranged the firewood and bound Isaac; silently he drew the knife—then he saw the ram that God had selected. This he sacrificed and went home. From that day henceforth, Abraham was old, he could not forget that God has ordered him to do this…[his] eyes were darkened, and he saw joy no more.” Abraham does not ruin the sacrifice by speaking. He ruins it because he cannot fathom a relationship with a God who tells him to transgress the ethical, causing him to loathe and fear God. The third situation depicts an Abraham who loathes himself: “He could not comprehend that it was a sin that he had been willing to sacrifice to God the best that he had…and if it was a sin, if he had not loved Isaac in this manner, he could not understand that it could be forgiven.” He cannot fathom a relationship with God, not because of God’s ethical imperfection, but because of his own—he cannot be forgiven, a forgiving he only cares for under his ethical mindset. In the fourth situation, Abraham hesitates during the slaughter: “When he turned away and drew the knife, Isaac saw that Abraham’s left hand was clenched in despair, that a shudder went through his whole body.” His hesitation, expressed in his clenched hand, causes Isaac to lose the faith—if his father doubts God when following his direct word, how could he ever follow God? In each of these situations, Abraham, concerned with the ethical, feels anxiety because of his ethical mindset. His anxiety ruins the direct relation. Abraham, in reality, feels no anxiety, no doubt, and expresses no hesitation in sacrificing Isaac. Johannes writes: And there he stood, the old man with his solitary hope. But he did not doubt, he did not look in anguish to the left and to the right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty who was testing him; he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him; but he knew also that no sacrifice is too severe when God demands it—and he drew the knife. The Abraham who sacrificed Isaac in actuality felt no need to think about others, to concern himself with Isaac’s faith. He did not doubt God or his command, and he felt no tension between the ethical and God’s will, for the latter had absolute precedence. Because he had no ethical concerns, he had no doubt—so the sacrifice went well. Abraham experiences no doubt or anxiety because he maintains that, despite the sacrifice of the best, he will have his son. He believes he will get his son back by virtue of the absurd. He has no reason to believe, but his dogmatic faith in God calls him to think he will return with him in this life. Johannes writes, “The absurd…was and continues to be an impossibility. The knight of faith realizes this just as clearly; consequently, he can be saved only by the absurd, and this he grasps by faith. Consequently, he acknowledges the impossibility, and in the very same moment he believes the absurd.” Abraham, as a knight of faith of sorts, recognizes that it is impossible for his son to return after he kills him. He grasps onto his belief through faith in the face of impossibility. Johannes writes, “it takes a paradoxical and humble courage to grasp the whole temporal realm now by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith. By faith Abraham did not renounce Isaac, but by faith Abraham received Isaac.” By sticking to the impossible, through faith, Abraham continued to have Isaac—not merely that God gave him back, but that, in his faith, Abraham never loses Isaac. Isaac remains with Abraham as long as Abraham wills him back through the absurd, regardless of his death. Abraham’s willing for Isaac prevents him from doubting the command during the sacrifice. This lack of doubt explicitly contradicts the ethical doubt when called upon for sacrifice, as the ethical individual will not maintain such faith in an absurd notion. The ethical is the universal—the universal cannot rest on a principle of negation, a principle which is no principle; the ethical cannot rest on the absurd. Abraham’s faith is absurd, thereby never making contact with the ethical. Johannes writes, “By virtue of the absurd to get everything, to get one’s desire totally and completely—that is over and beyond human powers, that is a marvel.” The universal human simply cannot will by virtue of the absurd in the way Abraham does. It is “beyond human powers;” that is, human faculties cannot bring about this will. Abraham possesses something—his faith in the absurd—we cannot, with human agency, attain. Since Abraham feels no doubt, he experiences no choice regarding the sacrifice. Once commanded, he moved to do as he was told. There was no hesitation in the act. The lack of doubt which Abraham possesses affirms his faith—for if he doubted the command, he would have to do so because of ethical concerns. If faith were a choice for Abraham—that is, if Abraham had doubted and then chosen to sacrifice—he would not be faithful. He does not make a movement when called upon to sacrifice Isaac. The movement would be too late, and the sacrifice would be ruined. The sacrifice merely proves that Abraham lacks all doubt, through faith in the absurd, something which human powers cannot muster up. We cannot choose to be like Abraham, because if we are choosing, we have already failed to be like him.

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