The passion for equality



Considerations about the book by Vinicius de Figueiredo

For Marilena and Maria das Graças.

Matter of tact

On the occasion of the launch of the book, about which I make this modest comment, in April 2022, the author, in a quick conversation, asks me for a comment. Obviously (by tact?) I nodded. I read it straight away, but I hesitated about what to write: again, a matter of tact. Let me explain: I am not an expert on the subject, which paradoxically requires even more tact. Hence the contradiction: due to lack of tact, and its excess, I postponed this comment, spread it over time, extended it: a whole school of diversions was created around this comment that is now coming to light, very discreetly.

By the work and grace of destiny: this is also the subject. Tact, diversions, grace, we are close by. It is the moral environment that laterally serves to situate us in relation to the theme and problem of the book. Hence, let us reinforce, that it must be approached with a certain tact, pardon the insistence, to avoid and above all avoid the apparent rudeness that the unmade comment suggests, that the non-specialist's comment could suggest.

Em minimum morality (Adorno, 1993) there is another comment that serves me to complete this prologue: for a dialectic of touch (section number 16) Theodor Adorno locates a problem, very close (and not identical, which suits the dialectical way) of genealogy of the moral individual that Vinicius de Figueiredo plays. In the case of Theodor Adorno: the informal space (in an unstable and fluctuating way, but historically located) that is formed between the emergence of the modern individual – we would say, the bourgeois subject – and the archaic forms of authority – and made archaic through the very process that they engender by engendering the bourgeois subject – absolutism.

To some extent, those archaic forms of authority and order would create the condition for their overcoming. There is a social and critical place through which it is possible to locate a specific mismatch between the sociability codes of the old order and the (still emancipatory) possibilities of the modern subject. In this space, tact fits. In this “new” place, so to speak, touch – the objective space of this maladjustment that opens up to a new experience of subjectivity – you see, the objective conditions of a new form of subjective life – a certain inflection becomes possible that unexpectedly brings the individuals rather than pushing them away from each other. It is an imprecise and temporary place through which the modern individual modestly addresses others thanks to this subjective inflection that opens between the archaic forms of domination and the promises of emancipation, when all of this was still possible, as it was a promise.

Today, we know that tact is lacking in every possible way, there is no “education” that can remedy this fatal circumstance. Tact announced this and its reverse, this is the dialectic of tact: the possibility of contact with the other when archaic forms of authority retreated due to the historical process they mobilized, and the imminent impossibility of all human relationships within what would become (and became) the nascent industrial society (Adorno's words, as one can assume). In the imminence of this imminence, tact would be this appeal to subjective equality that had not yet been subsumed into the void of the universal form of equivalence (which no longer has anything to do with any substantive order of equality, which is not properly an equivalence). From this almost epidermal experience of equality, socially and historically located, subjective, precarious and partial, tact.

From there, Theodor Adorno draws a dialectic. A speculative figuration of this appears in Kant and Adorno's quote sounds so precise to us – adjusted to the tactful demands of the text, including Kant's – that we reply: “[Beethoven's regular repetitions after the dynamic developments, the Kantian deduction of the categories scholasticism from the unity of consciousness are, in an eminent sense, “tactful” [taktvoll]” (Adorno, p. 29, 1993).

Let us reinforce: thinking about Kant, precision stands out: an archaizing form, with marked scholastic traits, all the paraphernalia of the so-called architecture of reason and its instances, which have nothing minimalist or plastic, carefully, however, – with tact – inscribes a modern content within itself, new, the formal and negative unity of all representations that supports, so to speak, the representational act to its superstructure. This duality, which in Adorno comes from himself in his fine dialectic of tact, is what interests us most in our commentary, which, as you can see, is intended to be full of tact. Let's continue.

From the fringe of this fringe, comes a very far-reaching critical judgment, which places itself back at the center of the problem, in a dialectical manner (again?): if there is only an exchange of equivalents, how would there be wealth? I pause and take advantage of the opportunity. The problem with Vinicius de Figueiredo's beautiful book is not exactly this, but it goes through this neighborhood. Hence the tact, and let us continue a little more, with tact.

François Truffaut

In 1968, François Truffaut launched Stolen Kisses (Stolen Kisses), an unpretentious film in form – quite classic in conception – filmed in two weeks, and above all filmed under the shadow of the financial failure of the previous film (La Mariée était em noir, 1967). Under the pressure of bankruptcy of its para-craft production company, Les films du carrosse, Truffaut hoped for some financial success that would give him survival. The film was not a success, it was a resounding success. Hence the enigma: what would that sentimental and clumsy young man, Antoine Doinel, have to do with his peers, furious, in May of that year, 1968, playing cobblestones in the consumer society, The capital (the book) and Coca-cola (the drink) in hand? It is not simple to find this measure, and you have to be tactful.

But see, it's not completely about that, which is a comment for another comment. The question is: how does the problem of touch reappear in this very rich and popular Truffautian manual of sentimental education, the Antoine Doinel cycle? Antoine Doinel, alias Jean Pierre Léaud, enchanted by Madame Tabard, alias Delphine Seyrig, experiences a sudden movement of passions for which he fatally lacks... tact. The young man is a jerk, let's face it. And let's face it: all popular sentimental education aims at this ideal: to informally mediate – through the will – the passions, mediate them through a reflection whose understanding is inscribed in a will, and, thus, reinscribe the soul in the body .

Badly summarized: the “how” of it is a treatise on the passions of the soul. Faced with an episode of the film in which feelings overflow, the person who must direct the passions of the young man in love is Madame Tabard's experience, which Trauffaut films excellently. Madamme Tabard, as a culmination of the love situation, then sent Antoine Doinel the following note, with a gift: “When I was at school, my teacher explained to us the difference between tact and politeness: a visiting gentleman pushes I open a bathroom door and discover an absolutely naked lady. He promptly steps back, closes the door and says: Oh, sorry ma'am. It's politeness. The same gentleman, pushing the same door, discovering the same lady absolutely naked, leaves, saying to him: Oh, forgive me sir. That’s tact.”

She responds, as it turns out, to the lack of tact of the young man in love with the tact of, say, an experienced courtesan. I exaggerate somewhat; however, formally, that's what it's all about: it's a rich and sophisticated gallant episode, within the reach of a measly cinema ticket. With note: Delphine Seyrig, in 1980, directed a documentary about the condition of women in cinema, feminist in conception and execution: You are belle et tais-toi!

Marcel Proust

Let's get back to it. It's not just that. Let us finally complete the constellation that little by little is being formed. Following these intermittences of the heart, at the moment when Madamme Tabard proposes a contract to Antoine Doinel, a relationship now formally mediated, but which does not dispense with tact, they discuss Balzac, The lilies of the valley. For those who practice Balzac from time to time, you know how much this novel does not correspond to Balzac in his best form, in his best moments. However, there is a passion in it that any reader recognizes, the passion of reading in the form of a text that passionately disposes to reading. Through a passionate reading, the status of the text changes. Let's see why, that's our next clue.

When asked once what his favorite book would be, the book he most enjoyed reading, Marcel Proust did not hesitate to answer: The lilies of the valley. Following Marcel Proust's response, there follows a reflection on the act of reading: less the mere content of what is read, more the form that informs the act. He added: no other book had given him the emotion as a reader that the ill-fated Lilies of vale. We know how much Marcel Proust was a reader of Balzac, and there is, in one of his correspondences with Gallimard, then his editor, the observation, somewhat like a prostration, that no one could write a novel after Balzac, as well as the kinship that Proust cultivated and reflected on among the human comedy and the Lost time, two heavy novelistic structures that span the time of the novel like a long duration.

In fact, the Proustian phrase is closer to the Balzacian phrase than to French literature from the end of the XNUMXth century, which is not exactly new. But this is not enough of a clue for so much Pascalian diversionism, which I practice exhaustively here – and the reader wonders: what about the Genealogy of the moral individual in France? I retrace the route and clarify: it is in (o) Lost time the same ambivalence, made prosaic in Truffaut's film, and from which the filmmaker borrows: ambivalence between tact and politeness (education).

And this ambivalence is given (I have followed here, in very general and rough lines, the arguments of Antoine Compagnon, in a course he gave at the College of France, in the 2018/2019 academic year, Proust essay)due to the difference found between the figure of the artist (polite or simply polite, at most) and the politician (who must have tact, for whom, professionally, education is insufficient without tact). Politics is a craft of tact, but what happens is that this requirement is not just a subjective requirement, there is an objective correlate to this subjective requirement. This is also in Marcel Proust. These ambivalent figures, the artist and the politician, who clash in the halls of the Proustian novel, represent, in turn, the limits of a project that spans the entire French XNUMXth century. Between one and another moral and spiritual vector of behavior, a whole school of the passions of the soul, also, a whole political philosophy.

Republic, revolution

My first hypothesis, preparing myself, finally, to enter into the commentary on Vinicius de Figueiredo's book, is this: would it be possible to mobilize this tact-politeness key to understand the French political and spiritual impasse throughout the XNUMXth century, namely, republic and revolution , republic or revolution, our republic or theirs? Let us note the bottom of the impasse: the passion for equality, both on the side of those who suffer from this passion, and on the side of those who practice it, whose political effect of the debate on equality occurs in an inverted way: the passion for equality demands for those who hold the seniority of command, aristocracy, restraint; for the populace, who led the First Republic, haughtiness.

Let's look at the end of this story, when it already appears as a Proustian debate in a salon. Tact can be understood as the moral correlate of a “center” policy whose purpose is, on the one hand, to pacify revolutionary ardor through the expedients of political technique, on the other, to contain what the mark of inequality would authorize in republican dealings. . This ambivalent movement, we lead, but under the aegis of equality, is the best non-republican version of the French republic, the republic in a moderate key.

Tocqueville's elegance, in recognizing the unavoidable advent of the republic and equality - the new modern French passion, the passion for equality - contrasts with the bad manners and rudeness of Blanqui, the revolutionary vanguard of the revolution of the French Revolution who, in the end From all accounts, it did not come, despite the heroic memory of the First Jacobin Republic. Between one and the other, two political philosophies. In 1948, Blanqui and Tocqueville meet in the hemicycle, in the midst of the revolution, as Tocqueville likes to emphasize, and Tocqueville's judgment, which is aesthetic because moral and political, is unequivocal – “dirty pallor” and the “appearance of a moldy body ”, the terms that describe and define Blanqui (Tocqueville, p. 168, 2011) –, rudeness and tact almost debate, and both lose to his nephew, Luis Napoleão Bonaparte.

Another rudeness wins the bet, that of the nephew, as we know. However, it will be through him, in perspective, that it will be up to the Third Republic to reinstall tact as a political grammar, at a time when revolutionary politics, supreme rudeness, is experiencing the hangover of its failures, especially that of the Commune of 1870. What is the tact as political grammar: it is the political hegemony of the winners who, by recognizing equality as a modern political passion, recognize that the only possibility of a republic after 1789 involves the modulation of this equality, founded and figured in the second half of the XNUMXth century. State centralization, the inescapable form of the French State, is only acceptable under the assumption of equality: the State can even serve some, not that this is exactly desirable, but it must equally subject everyone. Tact is the subjective craftsmanship of this operation whose imperative is objective.

There is, therefore, a transition from the subjective conditions of the issue to its objective conditions. The dialectic of this reappears in the Proustian salons, to which we return. Artists do not aim for equality: they live on difference – subjective – as a form of aesthetic resistance to submission, with the exception that their aesthetic freedom is harmless, even if it makes it seem like it is not. Politicians, trained with the retrospective aim of realizing the Third Republic, trained in the political instrumentalization of the moral degradation of equality, act with tact. Which means that they accept variations in situations through a political retreat capable of deflating and mitigating political passions, above all, the arrogance of the populace, for whom equality is a gain and not a loss.

This spiritual dimension of equality oscillates as the movement between classes oscillates: its subjective dimension is inscribed as a moral, spiritual, aesthetic and political attitude through which the point of view of the political agent when subjected to power can mean mere subjection or emancipation, this variation is also the content in dispute, after 1789: everyone must submit to the sovereign, who is, ultimately, everyone, but class differences give differences in political content to this subjection. Here, the enigma of the general will, not only that, but also the enigma of the rigorosome of Kantian morality, which fed on Rousseau.

The revolution updates archaic content in a modern form, which is modern before being bourgeois. Enlightened criticism, also an effect of the changes in French society in the second half of the XNUMXth century, would function as a radicalism that does not exactly subvert the form, but rather takes it up, under certain limits, to give it new – and “true”, as critical – content. The impasse, theme and problem of the republic in France, in the XNUMXth century, when dealing with this process that it inherits, the bourgeois updating of a modern form, is the typically French problem of the meanings of equality: the way in which equality can take on the meaning political of one of the popular tyranny of equality, or be neutralized by the mediations and bureaucratic and political apparatuses of bourgeois technique, without ceasing to be this modern passion par excellence, from a French point of view, obvious.

It is in these terms that a dialectic of touch can be understood; mode of investigation, through an anthropological correlate, of the centrist and republican program that disputes the 1870th century with the radical and plebiscitary experience of the First Republic. We know that what remains – almost by exclusion – for the political elites – survivors – to carry out day-to-day political life after the revolution and after a century of institutional instability, after the massacre of the XNUMX Commune: a lot of political tact.

Genealogy of equality

This theme, which is vast and more complex than what has been exposed so far, is the end of a story, from the point of view of the writer, whose moral genealogy, made by Vinicius de Figueiredo, diligently follows and measures, and can be understood as its beginning. This genealogy of equality in its moral and political dimensions, the beginning or even the origin of these impasses of the French XIX, certainly gives it the moral and political grammar, which in the XIX serves very critically for Tocqueville, from whom we take the measures, whose ideal republicanism described in the middle of the century would only be carried out by the Third Republic, at the end of the century. If the political tact of the XNUMXth century is the new treatise on the passions of the soul that the French political elites must make after the Revolution and after the Revolution must become a regime, the First Republic, the restoration, the constitutional monarchy, Bonapartism, tested and failed, the Paris Commune is because it reactualizes, neutralizes, in a certain sense, and politically mediates the passion for equality that indelibly marks the French turn from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth.

Tocqueville, in the heat of the Revolution of 1848, is the one who says: “On that occasion, I made a reflection that to this day has frequently presented itself to my mind: in France, a government makes a mistake every time it takes selfish passions as its point of support. and the exclusive interests of a single class. This can only work in nations that are more interested and less vain than ours; Among us, when the government thus founded becomes unpopular, it happens that the members of the very class in favor of which it became unpopular prefer the pleasure of criticizing it like everyone else, to the privileges that the government guarantees them.” (Tocqueville, p. 80, 2011).

Criticizing his own class, and understanding how the passion for equality completely took over the political debate in the decisive second half of the XNUMXth century, Tocqueville knows that it is impossible to resume this same debate in terms other than those consecrated by equality, but there are ways of doing so. mitigate so as not to fall into what he considers Blanqui's demagoguery. Here's the tact.

Blaise Pascal

Let's go back to the antecedents: from this background context, from which we started, the movement that the book describes is quite understandable, which goes from the important morality, which Vinicius de Figueredo locates in Descartes and Corneille, to the courtly demotion typical of the turn of the XNUMXth century to the XNUMXth century, marked by anonymous and prosaic frugality, with its moral correlates, present, for example, in Watteau's painting and in the thematic relegation of composition, typical effects of mannerism. This movement, which follows the absolute emancipation of the French State under Louis morals and metaphysics of those (all of us) who, immediately and initially, are equal in misery – which can also be understood as a specific variation of Machiavelli's reception in France.

This double adjustment is what completes the picture. Equality, which at first is a relegation to the prosaic, in the Mannerist way of portraying frugality and entertainment, incorporates, in a second moment, a speculative and metaphysical dimension, equality in poverty, an effect, as we know, of incommensurability of the infinite with the finite glossed to exhaustion in Pascal, surpassing any metaphysical measure other than that of the impossibility of measurement. Pascal, in his own way, replaces the Cartesian will, heroic in effect, substantive enough to subject the passions to reflection, with a pastoral of grace, in an Augustinian reading. The interiorly divided man, the Augustinian matrix from which he starts, is only reunited by the work of grace, for which there is no human measure.

Under the background of this moral arc and its somewhat abrupt change of meaning, the context is also present in Vinicius de Figueiredo's book: the crushing of the Fronde, the unprecedented centralization of sovereign power in the luminous figure of Louis XIV, the new condition of the aristocracy as a state employee. This is the modern figure, the absolutist State, which precedes the bourgeoisie as a modern class. The heyday of absolutism (modern political form, without modern content), and of the most absolutist of all absolutisms, the French, produces its spiritual reverse, if heresy is allowed, and Jansenism becomes the popular philosophy of equality. We are all miserably equal, and subject to the most centralized of European states.

A secular theodicy

It is these conditions that make it possible to draw the last figure from our album: the illustration and displacement of equality (and inequality) to the world of men, through something like a secular theodicy in which the pair equality and inequality become mediated by history as a necessary and critical element that informs reflection on the present.

It is through the critical use of history that equality comes to be thought of as a political presupposition for action on inequality, and moral equality whose foundation was theological, comes to be understood through a political inequality whose foundation will be historical. In this new rearrangement, the radicalism, with a grain of salt, of the French illustration, in which equality is thought without concrete mediation, as this mediation was suppressed by the centralization typical of the French absolute State, and the formal effect of this agency of elements, the formal oscillation that best characterizes it, the descriptive oscillation always between the concept and the image.

Rousseau, in this sense, has unique spiritual acuity: he is the one who best gives the truly spiritual design of the debate: the general will, as we anticipated, is the most modern content possible when thinking about the modern form that precedes it: the French State.

The final question would be: how to think about that State, a modern acquisition, through the necessary touchstone of equality, the element that makes it possible to criticize society in its relationship with sovereign power, in the context of the second half of the XNUMXth century? It would be the case to assume that this same form, the French State, anticipated the problem of equality in a localized way when the heroic pretensions, virtue and privileges of the aristocracy, and their spiritual correlate, the relevant morality, were lowered, fatally defeated in the Frond? Let us reinforce: if this is the best question, Rousseau will be the one who gives the best answer to the strictly political meaning of the problem.

Through this light drawing we make, you can see how much the book advances, with tact and elegance, its theme. But you have to notice something else.

Descartes and Foucault

Having reached the theme of the book and its design, I arrive without first making another stop or prior detour, already within the problem, so to speak: Descartes and Foucault. A stop that has repercussions on the political problem of the XNUMXth century, of which I made a quick and sketchy drawing.

In fact, the book begins by opening a divergence in relation to the way Foucault reads the problem of madness in Descartes (the famous passage from 1a. Meditation) from his History of Madness (but with important derivations in Words and Things for the definition of the classical age, and the status of representation, of which it is correlated). The first impression about the issue, when reading The passion for equality, was that not only did I agree with the disagreement opened by Vinicius de Figueiredo, but there were additional reasons for my agreement. Therefore, out of respect for tact, I needed to organize this order of reasons so as not to mix my reasons with those of the author, which would be clearly rude.

Let us begin by observing how remarkable it is that the classic problem of the relationship between the soul and the body, which practically defines the way in which Cartesian posterity is read, and almost how Cartesianism itself establishes itself as a reading tradition, arises from a very specific angle of reading, which we risk saying, is the effect of a displacement, perhaps unexpected, of the Cartesian text. Let's say, starting from Vinicius de Figueiredo's hypothesis, but whose conclusions are ours and not his, that we can suppose that the Cartesian theme of the relations between the soul and the body becomes more abstract and, at the limit, is crossed by something like an arbitrariness of interpretation, the more distant we become from the moral environment from which it emerges, that of the relevant morality.

Let me explain: it is only within the, let's say, “cultural” scope of a relevant morality, which preserves the intelligibility of certain heroic elements, that a will can be understood in a substantive enough way to function as a remedy for the passions, as long as that informed by reflection. There is, in this framework, and speaking of Descartes' philosophy, a metaphysical measure of the will and in the will, capable, even, of making the debate with Spinoza much more lively than one would suppose from Spinoza's reception of Descartes, in The principles of Descartes' philosophy, a book in which the change in mode of exposition, a notable methodological inversion – from the analytical method to the geometric method – changes the nature of the object and the metaphysical problem. It goes too far there.

I rephrase: the specificity of the moral problem in Descartes (from which Vinicius de Figueiredo very diligently takes the moral emphasis) passes through a moral understanding of the problem of the relations between the soul and the body, and, consequently, through a moral reading of the problem from the moral context of relevant morality, which implies assuming a substantive character (in a non-Kantian way) of the will and its consortium with reflection, and not reducing this problem to a merely gnosiological problem, a reduction in which Foucault take your ride.

Let us explain: why, in the first meditation, would it not be both the question of reason and its other, madness? If this is not an exact issue, it is not, as what is at stake is much more than the moral dimension of the will, which once assumed implies a commitment to moral reading for the adequate readability of the text. What would mean, in this context, “meditation” itself: not only a displacement in relation to current life, for the purposes of metaphysical research, but, above all, a moral intensification of the will to compensate, so to speak, this displacement of adherence to life through the displacement of adherence to common sense. It is required that one not take the other as merely insane, even if his speech is insane.

Better: prior to the gnosiological problem of reason and madness, there is the moral problem of a will capable of informing itself through reflection – even if one thinks wrong, as is the case in the First Meditation. From a good angle, it is easier to see that Descartes is much closer to Spinoza than to Kant, which seems obvious, but this proximity means a moral qualification of the proximity itself, in a broad sense, which is not so intuitive.

The infinite character of the will has more metaphysical elements that constitute it than merely arbitrary or negative elements, the relations between soul and body mediated by a reflection that is substantive and informed by the will indicates an operator not yet emptied by some transcendental significance. These are the metaphysical conditions, including from the point of view of substantial union, that are capable of offering positive conditions for the exercise of virtue and knowledge.

In this sense, with a grain of salt, Sartre (with his Cartesian freedom, key to his reading of Descartes, in a known text) is closer to Descartes than Foucault who reads the Cartesian moral problem by reducing it to the mere problem of a reason which almost obligatorily must empty it of metaphysical meaning, reading it almost, if not practically, in the manner of a critical problem. And this takes me to my reasons for the problem, which in my accounts add up to Vinicius de Figueiredo's reasons. From the famous presentation to the American edition of The normal and the pathological, by Georges Canguilhen (and its variation as an article in Revue de metaphysique et moral – see Foucault, 1985) Foucault popularized his version of the duality of the organized life of the spirit in France based on the cleavage philosophy of the subject (or of meaning) / philosophy of the concept. What remains to be clarified is that this cleavage presupposes a unity to which very little light is always given.

The fact is that Foucault is a divergent effect of the same process or episteme, which in turn, puts this cleavage, transmuting it into a subject part the technical-methodological debate on gender that cousinism (Victor Cousin) inaugurates in France through the problem of a philosophical history of philosophy. It will be through this constitutive question that this modern (post-critical) and recessive figure that is the philosophy professor is established. Once the figure is materially and immaterially constituted, the terms in which debate takes place within this (discursive) genre that posits these figures will be updated over the course of almost two centuries, even though they are normally analytically separated, occasionally operating in unity, but producing a discursive difference within the same conditions of enunciation, until the subject is practically exhausted, which seems to be where we have arrived.

Thus matters are organized between the self and its categories, on the one hand, and the categories and the self, on the other hand. What I want to suggest is that the discursive frameworks through which Foucault thinks are, at the outset, the same (although they are through an intradiscursive difference) as those that Sartre thinks, the difference occurring within the genre that founds these same discursive conditions. These same enunciation parameters have a limit of use – translated as the maximum I can read with this speech. There is a limit to readability that excessive confidence in its uses – excess will, in fact – can obscure.

For other reasons (as Montaigne would say) Vinicius de Figueiredo reaches the same result: Descartes' intelligibility involves restricting the legibility that we, his post-critical readers, take as our mental habit to read him through the context in which he made it legible, both morally and metaphysically speaking. The text also depends on the place where it is read, and the place of the reader. Descartes is naturally not illegible, on the contrary, his excess of readability can also deceive the good reader, and even the very good reader.

“Not that Descartes ignores the existence of different discourses and, therefore, different ways of ordering the world. But, quite possibly, the sieve of these differentiations does not pass through the original partition of reason and unreason, as Foucault supposes at the beginning of History of Madness in the Classical Age (1961). The simple fact that the madman is no less a producer of beliefs than the common man – whose evidence, precisely, will be examined in the “First Meditation” – makes Foucault's thesis that the exclusion of madness carried out in Meditations completely discredits the language of the insane” (FIGUEIREDO, P. 43, 2021).

That said, it is worth noting how much the way of reading inscribed in the book The passion of equality exemplary – mobilizing Guenacia and Beyssade almost to show – which is not the end of the book – how much, for example, the idea of ​​the strict separation between soul and body can be merely submission to a reading that is also post-critical and somewhat less Cartesian than an informed reader of the XNUMXth century would assume, a reader who does not exist, but who with some consideration we can imagine that he reads, since he read Descartes and, finally, existed. Reflection and will that substantially mediate the famous separation, and this substantive mediation, in Descartes, inaugurates, so to speak, the moral problem of which Vinicius de Figueiredo makes the genealogy.


Let's conclude. French essayism of the XNUMXth century – concept and image as a new speculative form of public debate, effect and assumption of the way in which historical reflection informed genres of discourse, but informed them through a commitment to the present, and not to the past as such – and these constituent elements begin to serve the present, giving an origin and a secular destiny to the equality inherited from the demotion of important morality, already riddled with the speculative density of Jansenism and Pascal.

Also in another way, French illustration is updated, helped, which will become a habit, by English essayism, a recurrence that runs through, at least, the second half of the XNUMXth and reaches the end of the XNUMXth, together, naturally, with Elizabethan theater, the proper form of English impropriety, which always left Voltaire perplexed, but which would naturally serve, in that specific and rich context, the second half of the XNUMXth century, for the best French purposes. This critical model – history from the present, an English essay breaking the monumentality of French prose, composition of the concept with an image that escapes it as a concept (which persists and reappears in the XNUMXth century, in another context) – served to bring the foundations of equality for the political debate, giving it the status of a political passion, the passion of equality.

What Vinicius de Figueiredo's book shows elegantly, with an almost modest prose, that works excellently, as it derives its best effect from its own theme, and not from some formal mabalaism. Starting, as part, from the antecedents of political equality and the way they were deeply rooted in the French moral (and even metaphysical) debate of the long XNUMXth century, and the way in which that debate not only shaped the typically political debate that followed it, but also It served as great material for XNUMXth century adventures.

This equality produced one of the greatest effects in European history, including the French Revolution, which had repercussions, in a different sense than the American Revolution, on the Haitian Revolution, another American revolution. The moment following the Revolution of 1789 is one of the most complex: how can we escape the Revolution without escaping this decisive passion, which for a moment was global – global in the European way – the passion for equality?

That is why the aristocratic memory of the XNUMXth century liberals serves and comes in so handy, they who were the first historians of the French Revolution: it is the memory of the brutal relegation they suffered in the Fronde and, since then, spiritually ruminating on solutions and ways out of that end of the line.” heroic”, we arrive at Tocqueville’s formulation: “The ancient French aristocracy, which was more enlightened than our middle class and endowed with a esprit de corps much more powerful, he had already set the same example [defending equality instead of defending one's own interests, AOTC]: he ended up thinking it was in good taste to censor his own prerogatives and cry out against the abuses he was experiencing.” (TOCQUEVILLE, p. 80, 2011).

The critical sharpness of the observation, known and socially located, comes from the fact that political discourse is constituted as a discourse of equality, through a process so profound and with such “spectacular” effects, that is, visible and rhetorical, that even the aristocracy , when opposing the King, against whom he could have had countless dissatisfactions, but who owed him enormous privileges, he was unable to generate any other speech than this, which, unexpectedly, highlighted, through equality, not only the bourgeoisie and its vanguard, equally to the populace, however paradoxical it may be.

Tocqueville corrects and critically corrects this, but not without first accepting the condition of French political passion, the passion of equality. Of course, in this reckoning, it remains to be mentioned how equality, idea, value and moral foundation, crosses the French bourgeoisie that made a Revolution, and then adjusted to every form of retreat and government commitments together with aristocracy, in the best bureaucratic and regressive sense of the term. It turns out that also in this case or from this point of view, which is remarkable, the passion for equality prevails.

In another comment on Vinicius de Figueiredo's book, Hernandez Vivan Eichenberger suggests a comparison that is not without interest, and here the pun is really unintentional: “I return, not by chance, to the subtitle of Passions and interests: Political arguments for capitalism before its triumph by Albert Hirschman (Peace and Earth, 2000). Mainly because in some sense it seems valid to me to think The passion for equality as something close to a “double” of Hirschman’s book. If Hirschman was committed to the long concatenation of ideas that would come to underlie the notion of “interest” as the precondition of the very idea of ​​the social benefits of trade and accumulation, Figueiredo is attentive, on the other hand, to the notion of equality as if it developed from its genesis in the abbey of Port-Royal through the profound displacements that would flow into Rousseau. What is the similarity then? In both cases, it is about telling a story of ideas that came to conquer the world before their effective realization in major social, political and legal structures. The essential difference lies in the fact that, according to Figueiredo's expression, he himself organizes his investigation in the “French hand” of this process, while Hirschman in the “English hand”. (Eichenberger, 2022)

When taking Hirschman's book, in the commentary by Hernandez Eichenberger that we also indicated, the French meaning of a passion for equality becomes even more emphatic: political grammar, in France, did not allow one to think of interest, in its English sense, as a modern element of the political problem and its tasks.

All of this is offered to us in the book by Vinicius de Figueiredo, from which I took some liberty to think a little more. Not just any freedom.

The last one finally. Among so many findings in this book, Vinicius de Figueiredo's analyzes of Watteau serve as our conclusion: “It is important to note that the Pilgrimage to Cythera It does not represent an isolated investigation of the universe of intermittences that surround human action. On the contrary, the painting reveals an inclination that animates a significant part of Watteau's work. We almost never come across what, for lack of a better name, could be called the “main action”. Instead of chasing the game, what we see is the hunters resting; instead of the bloodthirsty or epic battle, the soldiers pause; instead of the spectacle, the interval in which the actors, in their characteristic costumes, differ for an instant from the types they represent. (FIGUEIREDO, p. 138, 2021)

Also in this closing commentary, our commentary, we remain between the actions, in the wings, between the acts of the play, almost in the minimum interval of the silent caesuras, of Racinian verses, oscillating between the themes of the book, digressing in the same way as by Watteau, remembering, furthermore, that there are doubts about the meaning of the pilgrimage, whether the pilgrims, anonymous and bereft, arrive on the Island or return to the Continent. This place of absence of “main action” served us to better frame the profound question with which the book ends. What else do we not know about equality? Like the pilgrims of Cythera, we no longer know exactly whether equality is coming or going.

*Alexandre de Oliveira Torres Carrasco is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP).


Vinicius de Figueiredo. The passion for equality, a genealogy of the moral individual in France. Belo Horizonte, Relicário, 2021, 276 pages. []


FIGUEIREDO, V. The passion for equality. Belo Horizonte: Reliquary, 2021.

TOCQUEVILLE, A. Souvenirs of 1948. São Paulo: Penguin&Companhia, 2011.

FOUCAULT, M. La vie: l'experience et la science. Revue de Méthapysique et de Morale. Paris, no. 1, January-March, 1985.

ADORNO, T. Minima Moralia. Sao Paulo: Attica, 1993.

EICHENBERGER, HV Unusual paths to equality. Listening. Magazine of Politics and Culture.

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