Poverty and plebs in Hegel

Carlos Zilio, Ignored Identity, 1974
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By ALEXANDRE DE OLIVEIRA TORRES CARRASCO*

Commentary on the newly released book by Hernandez Vivan Eichenberger

“Two things I admire: the harsh law – covering me – the starry sky – within me” [Orides Fontela Kant (reread)].

The work in question – notable in many ways, and the object of this modest presentation – Poverty and Plebs in Hegel, by Hernandez Vivan Eichenberger, poses several questions and not minor ones, in order to confirm in the reader the suspicions of these poorly naughty lines. These questions are oriented from an organizing core, whose latent singularity permeates the entire text, and from which we intend to borrow its effects, such as an analogy, a miniature analogy, if the image allows us, of the text's own movement by Eichenberger.

Without suspense, and we note, moreover, Hegelian philosophy does not keep suspense either for the beginning or for its end, but above all for the “middle” in which it happens; and without suspense, we reiterate, there is a methodological purpose that guides the text – which runs through it from end to end, and lies between the assumption and the latent, we risk it –, and, more than a purpose, it is something like a methodological proposal, whose good reading would give us a key not only to understanding the “proprietary motif” of the text, but also to the key problem it touches on in Philosophy of law, by Hegel, object-text of Eichenberger's investigation.

The problem, which organizes Eichenberger's exposition, revolves around the speculative syntax of the central objects of philosophy of Law, namely, the State, the will and freedom, and their limits, that is, the way in which its process of effectuation, of realization, let it be said, would produce or unfold in a heteroclite element, the plebs – not exactly unforeseen but residual e necessary. Therefore, at the center of the text, there is a decentering, a kind of speculative discomfort, a discomfort that reappears in other texts by Hegel, with greater or lesser emphasis, as scrutinized by Eichenberger.

It is not surprising, then, that for so many commentators of the critical fortune that Eichenberger diligently recounts, it will be the Philosophy of law one of the most compromising texts of Hegel and his heritage, especially if we note that in recent times, ours, we witness the return of various shades of “contractualism”, under the most varied guises – which not by chance revives “the most instincts primitives” by a reader who was more dissatisfied with the air of the times. The powerful Hegelian offensive against contractualisms based on a so-called free “will”, but which is only “abstract”, puts a lot of critical water on the common sense of “will” and “freedom”, and not only on these elements as it should be highlighted.

As it only happens in movements steeped in Hegelianism, right and left will say, there is a serious risk here of losing the thread, sometimes the skein.

Let's not lose either one or the other. See the following passage: “Our aim is to show how the examination of the plebs in Philosophy of law it is aporetic. This stems from the fact that the conceptual appearance of the plebs does not receive adequate treatment for the contradictions outlined there. That is, the plebs appears, at this point, as an unavoidable remnant produced by the contradictions of market societies. There are, summarily said, two homologous outputs here: the refusal to accept the aporia, because simply “Hegel did not want to exhaust the theme in his exposition”; or else accept the aporia for historical reasons, eventually forcibly connecting the concept of plebs to that of proletariat, for example. We would like to distance ourselves from both resolutions, although, it is worth noting, they are influential solutions that are present in many commentators who were vital to the realization of this work. The aporia that we think we have noticed requires that we broaden the point of view of analysis to include other works by Hegel in order to gather clues that can renew the treatment of the question”.[I]

Further on, Hernandez does not shy away from specifying the nature of the treatment (methodological, of course) that he gives to Hegel's text: “we will not stick to a linear structure in this work. The starting point is the Philosophy of law and everything else is illuminated from the problematic found in it. In this sense, the movement that leads this work will be progressive and regressive, beyond and below the Philosophy of law".[ii]

Here, our starting point, and our point is just this (the dialectical spirit obliges: the beginning is the end, the end is the beginning): the way in which Hernandez gives formal treatment to the matter of his work, ends up for disclosing its contents. Let's explain: the aporetic sense that describes Hernandez is not the end, it is the beginning of the problem, and of a problem with more than one entry. It translates what best characterizes Hegelian philosophy: the moment when it does not allow itself to be understood by the syntax of understanding. Better: it will be at the limit of the good (of the best) history of philosophy that the properly speculative nucleus of the Philosophy of law.

By means of the description of this speculative core, which Eichenberger aims at the plebs, as if shrewdly going around its object, such is the concept presented in the paragraphs ranging from 243 to 248. In this small interval of the text, beginning and end of his effort , he locates the way in which the problem of the plebs is structured, in an aporetic way. The plebs is what, from the reverse of the prose of the world – of the world of prose – the deformation that the history of philosophy imposes on it, remains as a kind of unassimilable fringe of a process to which it is tributary and which it produces as residue. The question becomes: what prose is it, what philosophy?

Be it residue or remainder, the plebs will be on the edge of the modern process of realization of freedom and which constitutes the properly modern meaning of that same freedom – neither free will nor “free will” taken as an abstract particularity, even though these figures carry in themselves the announcement of the modern meaning of experience, the awareness (of oneself) of separation, as opposed to the non-scission of the human being, in the ancient world. Here it is, among the moderns, without spirit, without negativity in the proper sense, the plebs as that which escapes the ethical realization of the spirit, even if it is an effect of the latter, in its deformed way, so to speak, a necessary result of a process that, by demands for recognition, forbids that same recognition.

Before we are accused of some kind of sleight of hand (the infamous dialectic as animal life of the paralogisms of reason), I explain it better, once more: Hernandez, deliberately – therefore, aware of the limits, material and formal, that this imposes on him – reduces the his problem to a critical genre, he therefore accepts the methodological imperative of the discipline. This does not end the question: it opens it up through the limits that these other limits impose on it. It is through the negative limits of the genre – our good old history of philosophy – that it touches the speculative limits that the plebs impose on the fury of totalization so modern, too modern, in Hegel.

Here he encounters and we encounter again the Hegelian problem, in a substantive sense, namely, the fate of the dialectic, which, as it should, remains presupposed in his work. Or to put it another way: the negative that it mobilizes gives it the reverse side of the dialectic: it would be what the history of philosophy cannot present, only describe, what Hegel does not represent, but necessarily presents (presentation: exposition in speculative sense)? Therefore: the reverse of dialectics in the discipline of understanding? Reinforcement: the abstractly negative of the history of philosophy gives us the truth of the image of a telescope: the strength, the power of a light that has already shone. What if she still shines? Therefore, his “regressive and progressive” effort, combing the Hegelian text side by side, obeys a negative maxim: as if the prose of the world (a remarkable Hegelian expression, whose enunciation, emerging and submerging in the history of thought, from the nineteenth century to elsewhere, takes me almost immediately to Balzac and his Lost Illusions) was the mere world of prose. Now, this is the critical and abstract effect that this clipping produces (known to be): it transforms Hegelian prose into a prose of itself, for better or for worse. The next step is to give the dialectic the air of rhetoric, and turn against it the well-known blows of critical discourse.

Hence the aporetic effect, a word we insist on, whose methodological meaning enunciated by Eichenberger in the first pages of the book, unfolds in the most substantive element of the path: the “negative” mark of the plebs (it would be better, in speculative language, to give the positive as a label), floating – a speculative way of aiming at the aporetic, but in a specific sense, that of “floating meanings”[iii] – is the key meaning in Eichenberger's understanding of the problem, and, allow us, reader, in the contribution he gives to the state of the problem, and which can be understood as a logical-speculative limit, the frontier that the Hegelian text crosses when read with the abstract lens of the history of philosophy. The important thing: there is no demerit in this, against any sensible appearance, it is simply our specific way of superimposing the genre “philosophy” to the genre “history of philosophy”.

I pause, and explain. The history of philosophy as a discipline – among us, let's anticipate – is constituted through an amalgamation of Kantian (Cartesian in spirit, we would say) and Hegelian motifs. As such, it is a modern discipline and brings with it, formally, what Hegel would call the awareness of separation, given in modern experience from the pen-and-ink drawing that makes the I think Cartesian view of what comes to be understood with subjectivity: the unilateral point of view of the foundation constituting the original experience of the self – the foundation of the self is the separate self just as the foundation becomes what separates from the founded, in this dawn of philosophy Modern. It so happens that, for a practical effect, for the purpose of constituting a discipline and, above all, a university practice – a distant ideal of the XNUMXth century, after the French Revolution, an ideal in relation to which Hegel did not feel alienated or alienated – it was made It is necessary to incorporate at least two heterogeneous elements: the idea of ​​a history of philosophy, on the one hand; the condition of this history of philosophy to be specifically negative, on the other hand.

The Kantian negative element – ​​the transcendental and its mysteries – should neutralize the positive elements of triumphant Hegelianism, totalization through the absolute spirit. If, on the one hand, Hegel would have been the first to clearly pose the problem of a history of philosophy, at the moment when the western sense of history is discovered in its maximum evidence, after the French Revolution, it will also be he who will give unprecedented status to the topic “history of philosophy” (let's face it, recurrent since Aristotle). It will be with this ease that he constitutes the elements of the constellation of his philosophy of the philosophy of history. In doing so, and faithful to a certain modern spirit, however, he does so positively, since each philosophy, by maintaining itself as a relative truth denied by another philosopher – another philosophy –, totalizes itself in relation to the absolute, positive spirit that stems from of the accumulation of negativity in this story. Such an arrangement would place us, the Kantians would say, openly caught in what they would regard as a return to uncritical metaphysics, to dogmatism, again in the watery region of uncritical metaphysics, which is likewise the region of conflict of philosophies, causing, unexpectedly, , depending on the criticism, that dialectics finally converges with rhetoric – we would inadvertently pass, what is more serious, from Heraclitus to Protagoras.

What action should be taken in relation to this, the international university students would ask? A history of philosophy that, being abstractly negative (in the Hegelian sense of abstract) would not be impregnated by a positive to accumulate, would not totalize (in speculative language) because it does not accumulate negativity (it does not totalize philosophy in a certain philosophy or in philosophy). , rather, dissipates negativity – which would lead us to more than one skeptical reason to reframe the problem, therefore, to a history of philosophy that only repeats itself as an indeterminate negation of itself. Hegel, not without reason, would see in this the exhaustion of the genre (its inability to totalize in an epoch). Here is our tradition on the move: tourism in the history of philosophy is serious (and negative) work, the framework of the scientific approach that remains for us, and without resignation, let us recognize the part that belongs to us.

Before, however, the tinges of melancholy (the melancholy of a story that ended badly, depending on the version) overwhelm us, let us move on to the other side of the mystery, to the Philosophy of law.

Hegel's final text, The Philosophy of Right (the english reform project it was only published in full posthumously), the fruit and effect of its ancient maturity, reveals itself to be astute as hell. Not so much because it bears witness, and it bears witness empirically and transcendentally, to an extraordinary historical cycle that characterizes the modern experience par excellence, from the French Revolution to the Restoration, from the division of labor to the rise of the British Empire and with it modern capitalism. But because it can give theoretical and speculative treatment to this testimony from the speculative point of view that gradually (the work of the negative) is constituted from Phenomenology of Spirit.

In this, everything indicates that Hegel was faithful to the spirit of system (I wouldn't know how much to specify, and every question also goes there), even if few realize the specific meaning of the notorious spirit of system in Hegel and reduce it simply to the dogmatic. Here, the laziness of understanding.

The privileged object of Philosophy of law, free will (freedom and status correlated to that), at first glance, looks like anything but “free will”. The key to good reading lies precisely in this “at first sight”. The obvious thing to say is that modern experience, a substitute for the awareness of separation, is precisely its non-adherence to the immediate. The corollary of this non-adherence, the foundation of subjectivity, in terms of Philosophy of law, is that free will, in correlation with freedom, is only mediately posited, only given institutionally.[iv] Freedom, not to be merely abstract, indeterminate negation, and here all the controversy that also crosses Philosophy of law, about Hegel's judgment regarding the First French Republic and Jacobinism, also rests on this speculative operation.

Freedom in the proper sense must be given as determinacy, not with abstract indeterminacy: the Jacobin ardor, for example. As a determined moment of the concept, therefore, the freedom that Hegel speaks of is the modern sense of the state that emerges from the French Revolution. Hence the crux of the Hegelian critique of Rousseau: the general will, object and effect of the legitimate contract, is nothing more than a particular will, from the Hegelian point of view, or a common will, which brings together individuals as such, does not allow the constitution of the state goes beyond the limits of particularity (and of understanding, that is to say).

Under the Philosophy of law, this will is a hypostatized will, whose radicality – of foundation and effect, the unrestricted and necessary foundation of the legitimacy of the social contract through a particular adhesion – is a direct result of its lack of substance (lack of substance is absence of work of the negative), in yet another operation typical of French illustration, whose specific mark stems from the very specific fact that in it the modern content combines with an archaic or pre-modern form (acute diagnosis of Phenomenology of the Spirit, about a debauched Nephew and his adventures, and who reappears, in a different guise, in the late critique of French ideology, an eccentric task of certain left-wing Hegelian circles).

Now, will and freedom are only realized when the State is given as a presupposition for their realization. Which means that there is no way to think of the modern state as an effect of a free will that preceded it (even logically), whose fictitious form of a contract became the canonical configuration, but precisely the opposite: it is the position of the state, moment of the spirit, which makes free will possible, as a condition of possibility, since it only becomes effective “institutionally”, and, by extension, freedom itself becomes effective as negativity within mediation.

Negativity – freedom, in this case – must take place in and through mediation. This is the “institutional form of negation” that Vladimir Safatle speaks of, and that we identify (we believe with him) as the speculative nucleus of the Philosophy of law. It will be this core that operates the tension between the negative inscribed in an institutionality that must handle, despite itself, the demands for freedom and recognition that this negative imposes on it. In this rearrangement, the particular is realized in this inscription to the law, and not against the law and the institution, Hegel's moderate conservatism is all there, and for the best speculative reasons. Hegel's counter-intuitive position takes place as we take contractualism (and its relations, which are sophisticated, depending on the starting point, with natural law) as the common grammar of modern political experience in the passage from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century.

Abusing it, we would say: it is the political philosophy of the Old Regime in which the private will could intuitively be substantive in the will of the sovereign and thus serve as the foundation of the State and power. Hegel takes up this more or less consecrated political vocabulary (since Hobbes, at least, but we can go back a little further and find it again in Machiavelli, for example) and subverts it (the name of this, let us remember, is dialectics): this is the “second nature” (the world of the spirit as second nature that realizes freedom), so present in Philosophy of law, and which is one of the entrances to understanding the reordering of the problem that Hegel imposes. The ethics (Ethical Life) this second nature is given: freedom can only be a substitute for this second nature (and not the ill-famed state of nature, as natural law says) which is realized in the measure of the modern and current realization of the spirit.

“Reality no longer presents itself as a raw data refractory to freedom, but as “the world of the spirit produced from itself, as a second nature”.[v] Therefore, it is a question here of understanding the process of objectifying freedom crystallized in the institutions in general that express it: “The 'system' of ethics is not a mass of rules linked to each other, but rather a common self-understanding in development (' Spirit') that can 'take body' in institutions and people”.[vi]

The phenomenon that Hegel describes has an unexpected concreteness if we realize that he witnesses the vigorous process of technical division of labor that ends up releasing previously unimagined productive energies, and that has as its theoretical corollary the political economy, of which it is based. attentive reader. Therefore, freedom here is what is underway in these concurrent processes of technical division of labor and political revolution, whose visible effect, at the dawn of the XNUMXth century, is a unique process of rationalization of the world.

It so happens that this process produces its reverse and the news we have about it is riddled with noise: listen to the plebs. Noises here signify the biased treatment that Hegel intends to give to the problem, which he recognizes as characteristic of modernity.

In an almost prophetic passage (as if poverty and misery were not the age of capitalism) something like this is said: modern societies are rich, but not rich enough to end poverty.

With all the care that Eichenberger takes to separate poverty from plebs – whose meaning and moral scope differs from mere poverty –, the undeniable fact is that there is a process that takes place between civil society, whose bourgeois nature leads to an infinite development of particularity and the State, holder of the universal precisely because it institutionalizes the negativity of the particular, which produces a spiritless by-product, a kind of necessary rest of the process, the plebs.

The therapeutics proposed by Hegel – be it colonization to mitigate the population surplus, be it charity, be it war or the worst of solutions, revolutions – seem, as external solutions, really therapeutic for a chronic problem, averse to the totalization of the spirit , even more so if you take into account that there is a “rich commons”.

In this regard, this exemplary passage is worth mentioning, in which Eichenberger, when investigating the critical fortune on the plebs problem, presents the positions of Frank Ruda, without actually adhering to them.

The mob, indignant and dissatisfied, accuses society, the government, etc. and declares the state of civil society and state order to be a state without law.”[vii] This “positive” bias of the plebs escapes Hegel entirely. However, this indignation of the plebs results in a contradiction. This is because she removes the pattern of her criticism from the very law that she denounces as particular: “Because, on the one hand, its lack is not recognized as an injustice by the existing law and, on the other hand, it judges it to be an insult to the law, a injustice; he, at the same time, judges that the given rule of law is not a rule of law. As the law does not support his judgment about injustice, he experiences the loss for him of being in his right, that is, legality as such. That is the reason for their indignation.”[viii]

This “right without rights”, that is, the claim that society must support the maintenance of its existence even without work, is, however, a particular claim, which does not advance towards universality. This is what Ruda calls resentment, namely, the pretense of establishing a norm that is valid for oneself without being valid for others: “Sustaining a right that fundamentally does not complete the conditions of possibility of being a right – for being merely particular – for being a right without a right is the basic structure of what can be called ressentiment in Hegel.[ix]

It is clear that Ruda takes a step forward, which is not for us to evaluate here. What is no less important is the extent to which the aporetic treatment, through which Eichenberger constructs the problem, is illuminated by contrast with Ruda's treatment of him. It would be something like the following: there is a speculative step that Hegel did not take and without which the plebs lose their possibility of intelligibility. This step that our author sometimes finds in other commentators, sheds light on his own, and in contrast, we readers vary our own past: now the plebs is at the center of the dialectic – and may even be the means of resuming the task of criticizing the dialectic that the dialectical tradition itself ended up demanding from its legatees – sometimes the plebs is its fringe and the criticism takes place through understanding, something not alien to the Adornian project of a negative dialectic.

What Eichenberger shows from this painting are not Hegel's mere hesitations and the more or less external proposals that he lists to deal with the plebs. They are the variations of the object itself, the more objective effect of the disruptive processes that constitute modernity itself, our time, a time when freedom led us to the loss of substantial links with shared forms of life. The plebs is still a radicalization of this process (and the word gutter). The corollary of what we called therapeutics, and which we indicated a little above, is still suggestive: perhaps from there one can imagine the tracing of a line that goes from contemporary populisms, in which the “universal” needs to “enchant” all the particularities, to the tasks, requirements of universality, which the State must handle – which the displacement of populations in the classic form of neocolonialism of the XNUMXth century, a no small matter, represents as an index.

Let's go to the end.

Thus, the most important moments of social reality, that is, the most threatening and therefore repressed, penetrate psychology, the subjective unconscious, but are transformed into imagine collective, as Freud demonstrated in the Zeppelin lectures. He places it in that series of archaic images, whose discovery Jung borrowed from him, in order to detach them completely from psychological dynamics and employ them normatively. Such imagery it is the current form of the myth that expresses the social in ciphered form: Benjamin's conception of dialectical images intended to discern them theoretically. Myths are such images in the strict sense, for the metamorphosis of the social into an internal [hey Inwendiges] and apparently timeless makes it false. A imagery, literally understood and accepted, is necessary false consciousness. The shocks of art, accustomed to such imagery, would especially like to explode that untruth. On the other hand, the myths of modernity are the truth, insofar as the world itself is still the myth, the context of archaic obfuscation. This moment of truth can be read in many dreams: even in the most intricate ones, something true is sometimes discovered about our acquaintances, that is, something negative, free of ideology, like what is under the control of the waking state. People are like in dreams, and so is the world.[X]

The image of a philosophy, strictly speaking, must function as a reducer, not as an amplifier, enclosing it in a finite and poor form, its shadow, as opposed to the things themselves, the very philosophy from which it derives. It's not always like that. Perhaps, these days, even more than before. The good history of philosophy demands that “the” philosophy be lost: fingers go, rings remain. Therefore, he gives us his best image, that of philosophy, and depending on the quality of the direction, he gives us his best angle. The image of philosophy is what time allows us to retain from being non-substantive, what is detached as a “myth” from its own historical time. Someone has already said, not without reason: some small rectangle of acetate and silver nitrate sometimes has the power to save the honor of every royal.

Post festival. Adorno, by recomposing the meanings of the dialectic and giving it a notable amplitude, provides us with the last clue: the image as the negative of the real can give us the rare experience of truth free from ideology, which he assimilates to the functions of the self and of the vigil, in the deep passage we borrowed. Between non-identity and its determinants, and the beautiful image that Eichenberger's work gives us, we are left with both, because, curiously, they converge. Here, the work on the concept only begins when Minerva's owl flight ends. Even the flight being circumflex, in another starry sky.

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

 

Reference


Hernandez Vivan Eichenberger. Poverty and plebs in Hegel. São Paulo, Editora UFABC, 2021, 298 pages.

 

Notes


[I] EICHENBERGER, Hernandez Vivan. Plebs and Poverty in Hegel, Doctoral Thesis, mimeo, p. 8.

[ii] Idem, ibidem, p. 9.

[iii] See FAUSTO, Ruy. Sur le concept de Capital. Idée d'une logique dialectique. Paris. L'Harmattan, 1996.

[iv] See SAFATLE, Vladimir, “The Institutional Form of Negation: Hegel, Liberty, and the Foundations of the Modern State”. Magazine Criterion, vol. 53, no. 125, June 2012. The argument in the next paragraph is essentially borrowed from this article.

[v] Philosophy of law, §4, p. 56; W7, p. 46.

[vi] SIEP, Ludwig, “What does it mean: «superación de la moralidad en eticidad» en la 'Filosofía del Derecho' de Hegel?”, in: COLL, Gabriel Amengual (Org.), Studies on Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right'. Madrid: Center for Constitutional Studies, 1989, p. 189. Apud EICHENBERGER, Hernandez Vivan. Plebs and Poverty in Hegel, Doctoral Thesis, mimeo, p. 15.

[vii] RUDE, Frank. Hegel's Rabble – An investigation into Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Great Britain: Continuum, 2011, p. 60.

[viii] RUDE, Frank. Hegel's Rabble – An investigation into Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Great Britain: Continuum, 2011, p. 61.

[ix] RUDE, Frank. Hegel's Rabble – An investigation into Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Great Britain: Continuum, 2011, p. 61.

[X] ADORNO, Theodor. “On the relationship between psychology and sociology”, p. 135. In: Essays on Social Psychology and Psychoanalysis. Trans. Verlaine Freitas. Publisher Unesp. São Paulo. 2015.

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