Introduction: Fatalism in Times of Universalized Assthetization
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1 Introduction Fatalism in Times of Universalized Assthetization Heaven which wants! We never know what Heaven wants or doesn’t want, and perhaps Heaven doesn’t even know itself. —Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master Nothing, less than nothing, without any further determination. This book will argue that any rationalist should start from this assumption in order to conceptualize freedom. Fatalism, the pure fatalism it will defend, aims at abolishing freedom in all prevailing senses of the term. The motivation for beginning this book in such an apparently unappealing way is linked to a diagnosis shared by many contemporary thinkers, namely that “freedom” became (or is) a signifier of disorientation. As a result the signifier freedom can function as a signifier of disorientation, that is, in an utterly repressive way. But how could one not be in favor of freedom? In an age when freedom functions as a signifier that enables the dismantling of all forms of social protection, it is important to understand how freedom effectively works. The fact that today people often get only temporary job contracts , for instance, is presented to us as an opportunity to freely explore different job opportunities. Similarly the implementation of universal health care in the United States was attacked by stating that only in the absence of such a system is one free 2 · Introduction to choose the health care one actually wants. We may recall here what Karl Marx had already claimed in the first volume of his Critique of Political Economy. Within the exchange relation between the worker and the capitalist, there “is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.”1 The name of the utilitarian philosopher indicates what is constitutive of the series of these concepts.2 Later Marx and Engels stated even more explicitly in the Communist Manifesto, “By freedom is meant—under the present bourgeois conditions of production—free trade, free selling and buying.”3 The freedom of most people consists in their freedom to sell their labor power (which appears to them as simply a necessity, given that not doing so would endanger their ability to subsist). The freedom of the capitalist, on the other hand, consists of freely buying another person’s labor power. There is, then, a fundamental equality among the two groups of free agents involved in this exchange—yet one profits from this arrangement, whereas the other has no choice but to engage in it. But what are the conceptual foundations of this arrangement? I will argue that one fundamental conceptual maneuver that is necessarily involved in turning freedom into a signifier of disorientation is the tendency to understand freedom in terms of a capacity that one has. However, by defining freedom as a personal capacity, we turn freedom into something that a person has and owns—something that is someone’s property and can be invested in multiple ways. But there is another consequence of this definition of freedom. As soon as we understand freedom as a capacity (that may be realized whenever and in whichever way), we assume that freedom is not only a capacity but also a possibility. But by understanding freedom as a possibility, we conceive of it as already being real and actual in the form of this possibility (that then can be actualized). Reduced to being Introduction · 3 a capacity, freedom already has its reality (maybe even its full reality) in its possibility. With this conceptual move, freedom as possibility is identified with freedom as actuality. This, however, is a conflation because it leads to the idea that freedom is already real without actually being realized. Against this conflation, which is, as I will argue, fundamentally Aristotelian in nature, this book will attempt to exorcise the last remaining bits of Aristotelianism from contemporary thought. To put it simply, this book seeks to be fundamentally anti-Aristotelian. In philosophy this feature of Aristotelianism has recently become a common thread of even the most opposed camps: on one side, people start from the assumption that human beings are always already inscribed into a space of reasons (and thereby cannot but realize reason, since any step they take occurs within this space); on the other, people assume that being as such is dynamic and allows for certain realizations. Both sides identify being with time as the ultimate version of possibility and thereby are both radically Aristotelian in nature. One name for the conceptual conflation at...