Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Temporary Introduction

The Magistrates Should Be Elected by the People, a 1798 essay by Hegel in which he writes:

Peaceful satisfaction with the present, hopelessness, and patient acceptance of an all-too-vast and omnipotent fate have given way to hope, expectation, and courage to face the new. A vision of better, juster times has come to life in the souls of men, and a longing and yearning for a purer and freer destiny has moved all hearts and alienated them from the present reality."

And yet he delineates between "everyone who, in the midst of change or in preserving the old, seeks only his own limited advantage or the advantage of his class" and "men of nobler aspirations and purer zeal", recognizing the inextricable implication of the former in the political order of the present and locating the possibility for change within the disaffection of the latter, those already ideologically dislocated from the present.

The importance of this distinction becomes evident in Hegel's existential diagnosis of conservativism: "If a change has to happen, then something has to be changed. So banal a truth needs to be stated, given the difference between fear which must and courage which will; for whereas those who are driven by fear may well feel and admit that change is necessary, they nevertheless display the weakness, as soon as a start has to be made, of trying to hold on to everything they possess."

Conservativism then as a tension between public and private imaginations, a tension between a recognizance of what change society must undergo and a failure to reimagine the self within this new future. To extrapolate, liberalism becomes the locus of Hegelian courage, the point at which public and private imaginations become synchronized and coherent, perhaps even interchangeable.

It is this project of liberalism, more than two centuries later, that I hope this blog can address, with all the apocalyptic urgency of Hegel's own essay. ("The feeling that the political edifice as it still exists today cannot be sustained is universal and profound. The anxiety that it may collapse and injure everyone in its fall is also universal.")

This blog is, in some way, an effort in imagination itself, an attempt to invent the discursive practices, the languages and the ethical infrastructures that will allow liberalism to accumulate cultural significance. This includes philosophical discussions, musings on culture, analysis of the political melee, but especially conversations that attempt to synthesize these diverse elements of our community's collective imagination into something of a coherent, though constantly and necessarily shifting, nexus of thought.

In particular, I hope we can begin to bridge the gap between private and public belief, between theory and praxis, and move beyond the various aporias and sites of apathy that have plagued young academics since that imaginary moment in which meaning dissolved and we were forcibly entered into the post-industrial, post-modern, apathetic world.

More to come later, but hopefully this offers a meaningful introduction to the project at hand.