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

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

the privilege of turn 1 (revised)

Anthony, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1670-1713) was born into a title that had been given to his grandfather, the first earl, who was the giant of the family. The First Earl was one of the grandees who designed the proto-whig culture that opposed James II, and brought about his downfall. He was the patron of John Locke, whom he first employed as a physician, then encouraged as a patron, used as a pamphleteer, made the entremetteur for his son, Anthony, the second earl (who married the woman Locke found for him) and finally employed to tutor his grandchildren. By chance (although it is a chance that one is not surprised at in class bound Britain) two of the English philosophers, Shaftesbury and Mill, could claim to be entirely educated by the reigning English philosopher that preceded them – respectively, Locke and Bentham.

The third earl Shaftesbury dutifully followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – his father seems to have been an entirely ineffectual man – in promoting the Whig policy, first under William, then under Anne. On becoming the head of the house after his father’s death, he took over the running of the family estate, too. All of these burdens destroyed his health. He begins a typical letter to the manager of his estate, John Wheelock, in November 1703, like this:

“I am sorry to hear all things are so low and tenants so disheartened. The greater must be my frugality and care to repair the great wounds I have made in my estate. I shall keep in my compass of ₤ 200 for the year that I stay here [in Holland], and if this does not do it shall be yet less, and the time longer, for I will never return to be as I was of late richly poor; that is to say, to live with the part of a rich man, a family and house such as I have, and yet in debt and unable to do any charity or bestow money in any degree.” In another letter that same year, he writes:

“I should have been glad to have lived in the way that is called hospitable in my country, but experience has but too well shown me that I cannot do it. Nor will I ever live again as I have done and spend to the full of my estate in house and a table. I must have werhewithal to do good out of my estate, as well as feed a family, maintain a set of idle servants entailed upon me, and a great mass of building yet more expensive. If my estate cannot, besides my house and rank, yield me five or six hundred pounds a year to do good with (as that rank requires), my house and rank may both go together, come what will of them, or let the world say what they will, they shall both [be] to ruin for me...”

In the next decade, fighting a mysterious sickness and bouts of ‘melancholia”, Shaftesbury, like many indebted British nobles, economized by remaining for long seasons on the Continent. In his last journey to Italy in 1711, when he was deathly ill with shortness of breath – he’d been told, or believed at least, that the coal fires of London were to cause for his asthma, and was going to stay in Naples to breath the air there, and because it was cheap – he writes to Wheelock:

“As good a husband as I have been (and my wife surely the best housewife as well as wife, nurse and friend that ever was known in her whole sex), I have not been able to keep with the expense proposed, but have expended at least a hundred pund a month by Bryan’s reckoning, I fear I shall be little able to diminish it. But it will not be, I trust in God (and can surely presume), much beyond this present compass. If I live my family and paternal estate will not (I hope) be prejudiced by this remittance out of it for my subsistence...”

It was while in Naples that he completed the book that made him famous: Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times.

LI has been reading one essay from that mass: ‘Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of wit and humor’. Shaftesbury’s reputation rather waned in the twentieth century, until Gadamer mentioned this essay in Truth and Method, since, of course, Gadamer’s book is concerned, in part, with the analysis of common sense. Both Gadamer and Habermas instigated an interest in the formation of the public sphere in the Enlightenment that has produced ever swelling torrent of books and articles, and Shaftesbury was revived, to an extent, as a spokesperson for sociability.

Myself, I’ve been struck by the discrepancy between this secondary literature and Shaftesbury’s writings. The secondary literature might persuade the reader to regard Shaftesbury as a sort of philosophical etiquette writer, decorous, a bore. But reading Sensus Communis and, especially, Shaftesbury’s notebook - which he entitled Askemata, or exercises, but which was published as the Philosophical Regimen – I’ve been struck, instead, by Shaftesbury’s near madness. His Philosophical Regimen, which has sunk into total obscurity, is a document that is as strange in its way as Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno. John Stuart Mill fled to the Lake Poets for relief from his early teaching. Shaftesbury fled to Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, and yet one can still hear the voice of his tutor in the dense cloud of question marks and comments.

Let me end this with a quote from one of the letters about said tutor. This is to one of Shaftesbury’s admirers, Michael Ainsworth, June 3, 1709:

It was Mr. Locke that struck the home blow: for Mr Hobbes character and base slavish principles in government took off the poison of his philosophy. ‘Twas Mr. Locke that struck at all fundamentals, threw all order aand virtue out of the world, and made the very ideas of these (which are the same as those of God) unnatural, and without foundation in our minds. Innate is a word he poorly plays upon; the right word, though less used, is connatural. For what has birth of progress of the foetus out of the womb to do in this case? The question is not about the time the ideas entered, or the moment that one body came out of the other, but whether the constitution of man be such that, being adult and grown up, at such or such a time, sooner of later (no matter when), the idea and sense of order, administration, and a God, will not infallibly, inevitably, necessarily spring up in him.

Then comes the credulous Mr. Locke, with his Indian, barbarian stories of wild nations, that have no such idea (travellers, learned authors! and men of truth! and great philosophers! have informed him), not considering that is but a negative upon a hearsay, and so circumstantiated that the faith of the Indian danger may be as well questioned as the veracity or judgment of the relater; who cannot be supposed to know sufficiently the mysteries and secrets of those barbarians: whose language they but imperfectly know; to whom we good Christians have by our little mercy given sufficient reason to conceal many secrets from us, as we know particularly in respect of simples and vegetables, of which, though, we got the Peruvian bark, and some other noble remedies, yet it is certain taht through the cruelty of the Spaniards, as they have owned themselves, many secrets in medicinal affairs have been suppressed.”


Chuckie K said...

Since you have remarked on the satisfaction of receiving comments, I cannot let this post remain without response.

Unfortunately, I have nothing to say germane to the topic. At the risk of diminishing that sociable satisfaction I would wish this comment to induce, let me simply say with regard to "the formation of the public sphere" that one cannot form a public sphere per se. One can only form a public and a private sphere simultaneously. For the sake of argument, I will suggest that in fact the only motive for forming a public sphere is to promote the formation and the plausibility of the private sphere. And the private sphere is, of course, the notorious domain of happiness. We wouldn't want mockery there, would we?

roger said...

Mr. CK, you are certainly right about this: "the formation of the public sphere" that one cannot form a public sphere per se. One can only form a public and a private sphere simultaneously." At the same time, when Engels, for instance, speaks in the forward to the Condition of the Working Class in England, he uses something like Habermas' notion of the public sphere:

"Schließlich habe ich noch zwei Bemerkungen zu machen. Erstens, daß ich das Wort Mittelklasse fortwährend im Sinne des englischen middle-class (oder wie fast immer gesagt wird: middle-classes) gebraucht habe, wo es gleich dem französischen bourgeoisie die besitzende Klasse, speziell die von der sogenannten Aristokratie unterschiedene besitzende Klasse bedeutet - die Klasse, welche in Frankreich und England direkt und in Deutschland als "öffentliche Meinung" indirekt im Besitze der Staatsmacht ist."

Public opinion naturally means private opinion too, of course. But what is interesting is that opinion, here, is made the equivalent of classes - which tells me, at least, that the idea that classes are ultimately defined by their place in the system of production is not the case for Engels, at least. Private opinion as a matter of state power is a pretty good way of describing the the private rumors and posItioning going on at a court - say Catherine ii or Louis xiv. In this way, public and private are redrawn. When Herzen remarks, about the memoirs of Catherine ii, that the amazing thing about them is that the state exists for the state alone - there is no concern whatsoever, or even lipservice, paid to the nation, the people, etc. etc. - he is spotting a very striking phenomenon.

However, as I hope you gathered from my little post, I am ultra suspicious of the way the "public sphere" has been tossed around as the conventional wisdom of the moment.