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THE ONTOLOGICAL OBSESSIONS OF RADICAL THOUGHT1 Stephen Gardner University ofTulsa Rather than make an inventory ofthis hodgepodge ofdead ideas, we should take as our starting point the passions that fueled it. François Furet (4) Any synthesis is incomplete which ends in an object or an abstract concept and not a living relationship between two individuals. René Girard (Deceit 178) Karl Marx offers two observations which I take as the point of departure for a critique ofthe anti-liberal historicism in thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Marx himself. The first is that the modern project of emancipation presupposes that "man is the supreme being for man," and the second is that modern equality gives rise to its own type of relations of /«equality, indeed of "master and slave." I will not interpret these observations as Marx himself did, in economic terms. Instead, I use them as clues to uncover the kind of human relation implicit in but also hidden by the ontology of freedom on which radical historicism rests. By ontology offreedom, I mean the view that "being" is historical and grounded in radical freedom or contingency. For this theory, history is a process ofcreation ex nihilo, a power traditionally reserved for God. Such atheory is advanced in different forms by Heidegger, Nietzsche, ' I thank the Earhart Foundation and the University ofTulsa for their support for the project of which this is a part. I also thank Jim Williams and Jake Howland their comments. 2 The Ontologica! Obsessions ofRadical Thought and Marx, as the key to a radical critique of bourgeois society. Thus the ontological obsessions ofanti-bourgeois ire. I suggest that the fascination ofthe radical critique ofbourgeois society with historical "being" reflects the transformation of human relations by "equality of conditions," in the sense of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French sociologist and student ofthe democratic soul.2 As modern equality subverts the old orthodoxies, human beings tend to seek their gods in each other, as models of "freedom." And so there arises a "master-slave" psychology from the impact of equality, legitimized by romanticism and the modern cult ofEros. This, I suspect, is the effectual truth offreedom in Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Marx.3 René Girard offers a classic description of this psychology in his analysis ofthe modern novel, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, to which I am indebted throughout this paper. As regards that book, my general thesis—applicable not only to Marx but also to Heidegger and Nietzsche—may be stated as follows.4 Girard's analysis of the literary characters Don Quixote, Julien Sorel, Emma Bovary, Raskolnikov, and others is in effect a devastating if indirect critique of modem radical thought, or the pursuit ofradical freedom. Modern novels, he argues, tend to divide into two types: either "romantic" or "romanesque." The latter reveal the romantic illusions of the modern psyche, rather than merely reflect them like the former. "Romanesque" novelists such as Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Proust are great because they uncover the human relations behind romantic passions and the theories that legitimate them. The "romanesque" novel is a Socratic labor of selfknowledge in which the author emancipates himself from his own past romantic illusions. In effect, it exposes the fictions associated with the modern novel itself. The "romantic" novel, to the contrary, abandons self2 By "equality of conditions" is meant the de-legitimation of accidents of birth such as aristocratic lineage (or today race, gender, or ethnicity) as limits on one's social ambition or destiny. It is equivalent to the rise of vocational choice. 3 For a development of this theme in the context of early modern thought (Descartes to Hegel) as an indirect critique of the radical critics from Marx to Heidegger and after, see Stephen Gardner, Myths of Freedom- Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism. 4 Cesareo Bandera, in The Sacred Game The Role ofthe Sacred in the Genesis ofModern Literary Fiction, also makes a "mimetic" critique of Marx, stressing his work as seeking to restore a sacrificial mythology as the bond ofsociety, an attempt at the basis oftotalitarianism (see his Appendix). The Ontologica! Obsessions ofRadical Thought3 knowledge for the platonic pursuit of "authentic being."5 It offers us "romantic...


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