Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Overcoming Of Unreason. Part II

The historical Enlightenment is a concept. And we can do "the linguistic turn", go Wittgensteinian on it, and bear in mind the fallacy of representation power of language. Let's instead go historical: who was Kant writing to? In all probability he was addressing the 2 percent of the population that belonged to the nobility. But what did central Europe look like at the time in the late part of the 18th century:

The pattern of Europe's social organization, first established in the Middle Ages, continued well into the eighteenth century. Social status was still largely determined not by wealth and economic standing, but by the division into the traditional "orders" or "estates," determined by heredity and quality. This divinely sanctioned division of society into traditional orders was supported by Christian teaching, which emphasized the need to fullfil the responsibilities of one's estate. Inequality was part of that scheme and could not be eliminated.

Although Enlightenment intellectuals attacked these traditional distinctions, they did not die easily. In the Prussian law code of 1794, marriage between noble males and middle-class females was forbidden without a government dispensation. In cities, sumptuary legislation designated what dress different urban groups should wear so as to keep them separate. Even without government regulation, however, different social groups remained easily distinguished everywhere in Europe by the distinctive, traditional clothes they wore.

Since society was still mostly rural in the eighteenth century, the peasantry constituted the largest social group, making up as much as 85 percent of Europe's population. There were rather wide differences, however, between peasants from area to area. The most important distinction at least legally was between the free peasant and the serf. Peasants in Britain, northern Italy, the Low Countries, Spain, most of France, and some areas of western Germany shared freedom despite numerous regional and local differences. Legally free peasants, however, were not exempt from burdens.

The nobles, who constituted about 2 or 3 percent of the European population, played a dominating role in society. Being born a noble automatically guaranteed a place at the top of the social order, with all of its attendant special privileges and rights. The legal privileges of the nobility included judgment by their peers, immunity from severe punishment, exemption from many forms of taxation, and rights of jurisdiction. Especially in central and eastern Europe, the rights of landlords over their serfs were overwhelming.

Kant was an aristocrat, however puritan in his daily life, who was a supreme concept-maker in true Deleuzian fashion. And as such we should approach him and his concepts. He was an Utopian, a dreamer who nevertheless heralded a vision of equality and intellectuality.

He was not only privileged, but also narrow-minded.

Are we still?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kant was not an aristocrat. Kant's father was a saddler.

However,Kant was employed by the aristocracy-- and I would say Kantian philosophy is in the service of the aristocracy. That this is so true may be why you have mistaken Kant for aristocrat.

Kant works for the aristocracy and therefore Kant is my enemy.

I must add--I think it is of extreme importance to respect one's enemies.

Is one narrow-minded to be able to identify an enemy and to say what one sees? No, I do not think so.


7:30 PM  
Blogger Orla Schantz said...

Valid point, Yusef.

Of course, Kant wasn't an aristocrat by birth but rather by status and position.

Kant is not my enemy, rather a representative of a "free spirit" in a bureaucratic strait-jacket.

But he was certainly Nietzsche's enemy, "that most deformed concept-cripple of all time" as he called him.

Why the need for enemies, anyway?


6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, for one thing I disagree about Kant being a concept maker in true Deleuzian fashion (though I've never denied Kant to be a concept creator.)

Beyond the bureaucrats' own infinite capacity for self-flattery, is there such a thing as a free spirit in a bureaucratic strait-jacket? If one has a free spirit, why don the apparatus of such intimate servitude? Hasn't one made a choice AGAINST the free spirit in wearing that garb? (No matter how much one may subsequently bicker and complain?)

Oh yeah, Kant is a free-spirit and as a matter of fact, Kant promotes a purely formal notion of freedom. Only one problem, is there such a thing as purely formal freedom? Is there such a "real" thing as purely formal anything? And what if there isn't? What are the people who go around promoting such not AS IF it were real? Would you call such people your friends? Apparently a lot of professional philosophers would, but then again a lot of professional philosophers have forgotten why they loved wisdom, and why donning a bureaucratic strait-jacket is the antithesis of philosophy, if anything is.


10:14 PM  

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