“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, July 07, 2003

Bollettino

Stephen Nadler, in a review of Jonathan Israel's Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650�1750 published in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, expresses the core idea of the Radical Enlightenment as being derivative, ultimately, of the thought of Spinoza -- or at least an interpretation of the thought of Spinoza:

"As Israel demonstrates at great length, and through the examination of a large variety of thinkers and an enormous body of published and archival material, �the essence of the radical intellectual tradition from Spinoza to Diderot is the philosophical rejection of revealed religion, miracles, and divine Providence, replacing the idea of salvation in the hereafter with a highest goodin the here and now�. The providential God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is an anthropomorphic .fiction, and sectarian religion nothing but organized superstition. And then there is the secular conception of eudaimonia, along with a rejection of monarchy (or even oligarchy) in favour of democracy."

We like to think of ourselves as the children of Spinoza, too -- that is, we subscribe, in broad terms, to the above program. So we were surprised, a couple of days ago, to be accused of having a soft spot for theocracy. A friend of ours who shall be nameless has very strong, negative feelings about the present party in power in Turkey. It is, she claims, the reincarnation of the Virtue party, and stands for the revival of an Islamic state. Now, we think she is probably right about a central current in the government of Erdogan; however, we think he probably pursued the only possible path in the lead up to the War. Our friend thinks he screwed the pooch -- he should have aligned Turkey, as is the tradition, with the U.S. The Turkish hesitancy was a definite signal to the Islamic states that Turkey is moving in the direction of Shar'ia.

To us, there's a certain ... well, vulnerability in the ideological shields available to a person of liberal sensibilities confronted with the revival of the theocratic impulse. The critical impulse that we have nourished has fed upon attacking and analyzing a secular order --- so we read our Dostoevsky, we read our Foucault, we concentrate upon the damage wrought by the erection of Western superstructures that enrolled populations in an order of production and exchange that was wholly alien to the symbolic order that proceeded it, etc. etc. But we thought the imp in the pre-capitalist, pre-enlightenment impulse was dead -- we thought we were dealing with treated pathogens. We thought ... or we didn't think, that God had been chased pretty thoroughly from the polis.

Apparently, he hasn't.

However, it won't do to retreat, to recapitulate the old gesture of totalitarian secularism. We know the wound there too intimately. That the theocratic direction of the party in power in Turkey is limited by the military is a scandal; it is a scandal, specifically, of the radical enlightenment, a failure in the core of the program. The scandal is shaped, as so often, by the utter corruption of the secular powers, socialist and capitalist alike; and by the brute force of the powers of coercion. In Iran, the convergence of stupid force and massive fraud was the outward shape and inward character of the Shah's regime. As Enlightenment collapses like an old Sadean fouteur in his castle of horrors, outside the forces of anti-Enlightenment turn ugly.

So -- we want to do something typically LI-ish, and examine the work of a French libertine from the seventeenth century, M. Gabriel Naude. Naude was the author of one of the first books of library "science" -- Advis pour dresser un biblioteque. He was also the author of a short treatise on the art of the coup d'etat, a phrase he invented. And finally, he wrote a book against the witch hysteria,
Apologie pour tous les grands hommes qui ont est� accusez de magie

The combination of info geek, demystifer, and authoritarian is, well, all too contemporary. Naude isn't as well known as his friend, Gassendi, but he was certainly known to humanists at the time. The book on libraries was translated by John Evelyn. The book on the politics of the coup d'etat was, if not read, at least practiced, in part, by Louis XIV.

As you know, we often promise to bite off more than three or four men with real jobs and libraries can chew. But we think we'll do this post some time.

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