13 January 2010

The self-fulfilling prophecy

It is a commonplace that the ancients did not engage in the enterprise we call "the philosophy of history." The thinkers of the Aufklärung (the "Enlightenment") were accordingly the first thinkers to actually engage in the philosophy of history, which consists in an attempt at discovering the essence and end of what is understood as history. The possibility of engaging in the philosophy of history presupposes an understanding of history that presents history to us as an object for philosophical inquiry. The ground for the possibility of the objectivity of history is not questioned by the majority of those who engage in such work. None of the simple French progressive thinkers (nor their modern counterparts) ask themselves what the nature of their relationship to history must be to determine its essence to consist in progression. Equally blinded to the essential ground are those who reverse the ground of the position of the progressive thinkers and claim that the end of history is unknowable, since they are operating under the same idea of the nature of history that their opponents are. For it is clear that the philosophy of history, whether actually possible or not, must take its place as a historical development in a concrete and mutable historical context. This immediately renders the naive optimism of the French enlightenment, and the equally naive scientific progressivism of our modern civilization, as clearly invalid (if nonetheless possibly "true").

Hegel's greatness consisted precisely in the apprehension that the philosophy of history did not exist separately from history itself. This confrontation between subject and object, which would have shattered the philosophy of a lesser thinker, instead led Hegel to the dramatic conclusion that not only must the philosophy of history itself be historical, but, more asountingly, that the essence of history is itself historical. This means that the philosophy of history bridges the gap between a descriptive "theoretical" discipline and a proscriptive "practical" discipline. Put another way, the truth of history is suspended into a future which arrives in the apprehension of its inevitability. The question of whether history (or for that matter anything at all) is now as Hegel says it to be is irrelevant in light of the coming of the infinite end of history. The philosophy of history is the creation of history itself.

Marx completes this motion by the mythologized fabrication of history. The Greek myths were suspended in the past, but the modern myth of the philosophy of history projects a past with a view towards the future. Thus Marx spins his fairytale of the time before private property, knowing full well that such a time never existed. Indeed, his entire interpretation of history in light of private property and class struggle is patently false, but this falsity (in light of the true meaning of the Marxist doctrine) can be completely consummed by the possibility of its truth. History ceases to be an attempt to produce an "accurate" record of events and becomes the most powerful tool in the arsenal of the revolutionary, who reconstructs the past to become an appropriate foundation for the future he seeks to bring about.

Thus the philosophy of history assumes the role of the self-fulfilling prophecy. In an essential form, this motion constitutes the distinct difference between ancient and modern philosophy; a difference controlled by the ancient beginning even as this beginning is increasingly concealed. The metaphysical determination of "subjectivity" as the ground of essence, wherein modern philosophy decisively diverges from ancient philosophy, is the ground for the possibility of the philosophy of history.

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