Sunday, March 18, 2007

DeKantstruction - Part Two

Throughout his essay Kant can’t make up his mind whether to be an officer or a priest. Whether to rally the troops, brandish the sword, and charge ahead, or open his arms, pat the cross and stay humble.

He starts as a revolutionary and ends as a reformist.

The tension in the text comes from the concept of subjugation. The central motto is not sapere aude, but rather Don’t argue, get on parade! and Don’t argue, believe!

Subjugation demands authority. Guidance. But guidance is never exercised without power. And subjugation shows itself in many forms: the self-incurred version which we have thought a lot about on this blog in the question, Why do people desire their own repression? and the subjugation as a consequence of authority and power.

Etymologically, subjugation is “bringing under the yoke” and Kant refers to this in his phrase “the yoke of immaturity” and in his frequent use of farming imagery where the self-incurred immature, lazy and cowardly men are compared to “domesticated animals” and docile creatures on a leash”.

But the subjugators are also subjugated (as Kant himself is in his role
as officer and revolutionary)
it would be very harmful if an officer receiving an order from his
superiors were to quibble openly, while on duty, about the
appropriateness or usefulness of the order in question.
He must simply obey. But he cannot reasonably be banned
from making observations as a man of learning on the errors
in the military service, and from submitting these to
his public for judgement.
Likewise, as the priest and reformer
a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation
in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves, for he
was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is
completely free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his
carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken
aspects of those doctrines
But what of the philosopher?
Here Kant is acutely aware of hedging his bets. After first lavishing
praise n
Frederick the Great - We have before us a brilliant
example of this kind, in which no monarch has yet surpassed
the one to whom we now pay tribute.
- he humbly subjugates
himself to being satisfied with “a lesser degree of civil freedom”.
A high degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people's
intellectual freedom, yet it also sets up insuperable barriers to it.
Conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom gives enough room
to expand to its fullest extent.
In the end he turns into a naturalist and sinks into ecological imagery
without a trace of the harsh dichotomies he proclaimed in the beginning
once the germ on which nature has lavished most care - man's
inclination and vocation to think freely - has developed within this
hard shell it gradually reacts upon the mentality of the people, who
thus gradually become increasingly able to act freely
(more to come)


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