Friday, June 28, 2019

Frankfurt School on Religion

Habermas says that Adorno had only a negative dialectic. That's true enough. As I've noted before any true adherent of Marx could only have a negative dialectic. (Full disclosure: I'm not entirely convinced dialectic is a "thing". If we used to think one way and now we think another way does it necessarily follow that there was some process that took place?)

I suggested in the first class that the critique if Weber, an almost obsessive critique, we find in Habermas and in Alasdair MacIntyre serves as a way to mask something. That is, it helps these thinkers hide from themselves that they have broken with Marx. Up until someone might reasonably have said, that’s all very interesting but what has it to do with the subject matter of this course?

Moving very quickly. For Marx, the reification of consciousness was a purely negative matter. A false consciousness, that’s Engel’s term, arose when ideology provided a hermeneutic that masked the real, and less admirable materialist motives that underlay power structures. A revolutionary ideology could have no direct access to truth, that is to a hermeneutic that would describe reality as it was. This would only available after a revolution lead by a class of people, the proletariat, who had been stripped of all potential for this false consciousness by capitalism.

We forget but, for Marx, capitalism’s destructive force was ultimately a positive thing: 

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
And it’s worth nothing that Marx shares this position with both the liberal Pope Francis and anti-liberal Catholics such as Patrick Deneen. That is to say, they all agree that capitalism in a liberal democracy will result in the profaning of all that is holy. The difference is that Marx thinks this is a good result and Francis and Deneen think it a bad thing.

Marx remained firmly committed to praxis, the philosophy of the deed. Its as only when a class so freed by this destructive force that it was free of ideology came and then set up a new state based on nothing but its interests as a class, that a new ideology could come along. The

For Marx the goal was obliteration of religion. For Habermas, the goal seems to be the transforming of religion with something that resembles it in some key ways. Thus his belief in some sort of positive dialectic.

What is gained by calling the activity of discussing issues, changing our minds, coming up with new ideas a dialectic? 

Think of the starting point of Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic. There is conflict between two people. One submits and the other makes him their slave. But why does this happen? The weaker person could have chosen to fight to the death. The stronger could elect to always kill those he conquers. Why does a relationship get established? Is there a philosophical answer to this?

The same is true of any relationship. Two people are on a bus. They might or might not start a conversation. They might or might not agree to continue it once they get off the bus. They might or might not agree to meet at a future date. Why do they choose one and not another option? Is there any reason to believe that there is actually an answer to these issues.

Habermas says, “Mead offers only a vague description of the evolutionary point at which symbolically mediated interaction appears.” That doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is that Habermas seems to believe that anything more might be possible.

The sacred

 A few years ago there was a news story about a teenage girl who had a great love for big cats. Hoping to eventually have a career working with them she had started a job where she cared for them. She loved the cats and they seemed to trust her. One day, however, one of them (I think a tiger) killed her. 

The large cats showed the same behaviour pattern towards this girl that they do towards the young of other prey. If a young antelope wanders in amongst lions, the lions will ignore it until they are hungry. Then they kill it an eat it. The young are easy to kill so there is no need to act immediately.

The large cats don't reason this through. That said, what they do makes rational sense. Cats need protein. Teenage girls are a good source of protein and they are easy to kill if you're a large cat.

We humans, on the other hand, are appalled.  For us this is a horrific event. Something that shouldn't have happened.

That seems to me a good example of what the sacred does for someone like Durkheim/Habermas. It establishes a line where no logical reason for there to be a line. Friends aren't food even though, strictly speaking, they meet all the biological requirements to be food and a tiger, where she present, might well demonstrate this to us in terms we would never forget.

Thus the sacred provides a  binary distinction: you never eat other human beings because they are sacred. There is no rational ground for this. It would make more sense to say this is the rational ground for everything else.

I was puzzled, however, that Habermas quoted Durkheim to the effect that an absolute separation of sacred and profane as required. That seems dubious at best. The whole point of a sacred is to transform the profane. Profane comes from "fanum" meaning a sanctuary temple. To be pro-fanum literally means to be in front of the temple. 

There are people who act as if he sacred needs to be protected. Indeed, some people who regard themselves as traditionalist Catholics act as if Jesus needs constant protection. They are, to be blunt, wrong. 

In any case, Durkheim, assuming Habermas has read him correctly, seems to be operating on a rather impoverished understanding of sacredness.

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