The Liberal Void

Levi Bryant posted this week on Epicurean ethics. He ends with a great question – (paraphrased) what does Kantian ethics have that ancient ethics was missing?  The answer is that Epicurus does not lack modern ethics, but rather he lacks recent history. The problem with ancient cosmologies of the void is their ahistorical tendency. In his College lectures, Foucault highlights a contradiction between liberalism and democracy. These two values were found to be incompatible, because liberalism facilitates wealth concentration which wrecks the equality needed for democracy. There is a question about whether cosmological materialism may be linked with liberal neutrality, which is an undemocratic element smuggled in the guise of democracy. The critique of modernist neutrality is a motivating problem for Francios Laruelle along with all of phenomenology.

Levi wrote a book called the Democracy of Objects. If that book has any mistakes, then perhaps they belong to its dark double which is called the Liberty of Objects. The critique of liberalism is about whether it can metabolize the by-products of its own neutrality. By positing three hypothetical orders, the point of Borromean theory is presumably not to keep them distinguished, but rather to consider them all at once. This all-at-once may suggest something singular and democratic, which may also concern some aspects of religion. We’ve been playing take-it-or-leave-it with religion, but perhaps the issue is what aspects are worth keeping. Perhaps most important is the legacy of the sublime event – the event which establishes the limits of representation, such as the greatness of the great, or the smallness of the small… the event can be a condition of symbolic adequacy.

Lucretius denounces “religion” just as he invokes the Pagan gods. Lots depends here on the distinction between polytheism and monotheism. Does this term “religion” designate Semitic monotheism? That could point to an archaic politics. Perhaps the poem is not so much anti-religious, as it rather takes sides in a religious conflict. To Levi’s question (paraphrased), why do we need Kantian categorical ethics if the ancient’s didn’t?, the simple answer could be that the ancients all had religions of various kinds, and categorical ethics is a remedy for symbolic inadequacy corresponding with the absence of religion.   

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One Response to The Liberal Void

  1. In the United States, at least, the dominant formations of Christianity have overwhelmingly promoted capitalist economy and social organization, siding with those forms of politics that bring assault workers, the poor, the family, and so on. One can always evoke what scripture says, but that’s really not relevant to the social and political facts. All that is relevant is religion as a sociological institution and how it actually has functioned and continues to function. Moreover, your remarks about Lucretius here are odd (as are your remarks about objects in my book; you need to review the sections on mereology as clearly you miss the point that for me social systems are instances of objects as well). In Lucretius, as embodied beings, we are embedded in a broader ecological and social world. As a consequence, part of living a good life requires forming the right sorts of communities. Finally, you should note that Kant’s moral theory is essentially contractualist. That is, it articulates the basic ideology of the neoliberal capitalist subject insofar as it formulates the basic framework for property rights and whatnot.

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