- Post-Modem Meditations on Punishment: On the Limits of Reason and the Virtues of Randomization (A Polemic and Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century)
- Social Research: An International Quarterly
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 74, Number 2, Summer 2007
- pp. 307-346
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Bernard E. Harcourt Post-Modern Meditations on Punishment: On the Limits of Reason and the Virtues of Randomization (A Polemic and Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century) Enlightenm ent is m an’s emergence from his self-incurred im maturity. Im m aturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding w ithout the guidance of another. —Im m anuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ‘W hat is Enlightenm ent?”’ (1784) IN A N ESSAY B E A RIN G T H E SAME TITLE, M IC H E L FOUCAULT READ KANT’S text against the backdrop o f his critique of reason, published just three years earlier. It is precisely at the m om ent that we assert ourselves as m ature beings, Foucault observed, that it is m ost im portant to recog nize the limits of reason. “It is precisely at this m om ent that the critique is necessary, since its role is that of defining the conditions under w hich the use of reason is legitimate in order to determ ine w hat can be known, w hat m ust be done, and w hat may be hoped” (Foucault, 1997: social research Vol 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 307 308). Foucault w arned us, w ith Kant, that reliance on reason beyond its proper bounds would m erely set the clock back: “Illegitimate uses of reason are w hat give rise to dogm atism and heteronomy, along w ith illusion” (308). The careful and critical use of reason, in contrast, is w hat enlightens and leads forward, out of the shadows of illusion. But it could only do so by relying on itself. The m odem period would thus em brace a strong conception of self-reliance—carefully bounded by critique. Foucault also saw in Kant’s essay a new philosophical attitude consisting of genuine reflection on the “present”—a turning of the m ore traditional, eternal gaze of the philosopher onto the contempo rary m om ent, and, w ith that, an associated task of theorizing knowl edge in relation to current times. Foucault dubbed this “the attitude of m odernity” and located it later in the writings of nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors, starting foremost with Charles Baudelaire. “By ‘attitude,’” Foucault wrote, “I m ean a mode of relating to contem porary reality; a voluntary choice made by certain people; in the end, a way of thinking and feeling; a way, too, of acting and behaving that at one and the same time m arks a relation of belonging and presents itself as a task” (Foucault, 1997: 309). This attitude brought together philosophical inquiry and critical thought focused on contem porary historical actuality. Philosophical training and reflection would now apply them selves to the contem porary m om ent—m ost notably, the French Revolution—and concentrate on the task of reasoning through the present. Foucault saw in Kant the origin of a m odern attitude that would ran through Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Dürkheim, Rusche, and Kirchheimer. In another essay bearing the same title, Jürgen Habermas adds: “Surprisingly, in the last sentence of his lecture Foucault includes him self in this tradition” (Habermas, 1994:150). Once again, the attitude ofm odernity trium phed over the critique of reason. In these pages, I argue that the two strands that Foucault identified in Kant’s essay—the crucial m om ent of critical reason and the m odem attitude—collided throughout the nineteenth and tw enti 308 social research eth century, and that the m odem attitude repeatedly prevailed. Even w hen the m odem s were engaged in the m ost critical of enterprises, the attitude gained the upper hand and offered new ways of conceptual izing and m aking sense of the present, consistently beyond the limits of critical reason. Never daunted by those warnings about illusions, never chastened by the foolish excesses of earlier generations, m odem think ers continued to theorize contem porary historical actuality beyond reason’s bounds. I propose th at we finally abandon the m isguided attitude of modernity. It will mean, no doubt, leaving m uch to chance and random ization. This...