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374 13 After Sentimentalism Liberalism and the Discontents of Modern Autonomy Two major problems now begin to emerge, both of acute concern for the Romantics and, uniquely so, for the later Coleridge. First, it is apparent that, far from being an ontology and “source” of meaning, reason by the late eighteenth century is separating from the interiorist framework that, since St. Augustine, had revolved around a rich pallet of human intentionality that includes notions of will, deliberation , judgment, choice, and so on. Instead, by the late eighteenth century reason tends to be conceived as a type of sublimated socialization (in Adam Smith) or as the adventitious, self-organizing logic of a System (in Hegel). In the wake of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, Anglo-Scottish liberalism thus tends to conceive of reason descriptively—viz., by offering various (quasi-sociological) accounts of our complex , impersonal, and economically driven behavior. No longer does the concept of reason exercise a normative function by inducing individuals to dialectically engage and jointly articulate the imperfect rationality of prevailing socioeconomic and cultural practices. Instead, liberalism considers assent to its meliorist narrative and procedural objectives to be purely voluntary and contingent, even as that narrative promises to remedy the self’s ephemeral passions and asocial desires. Second, even as the irrational passions that (beginning with Hobbes) had displaced the metaphysical idea of the will are said to be gradually transmuted into rational self-interest by the superego of the modern marketplace, the resulting “element of reflection and After Sentimentalism 375 calculation” can only ever be concerned with means.1 Classical liberalism tends to merge the idea of the logos with the operation of a strictly interested “understanding” intent on securing those means most apt to help it secure its limited objectives. As a result, the intellectual and spiritual curiosity of individuals and societies­ appears to atrophy to the point that questions concerning ends are themselves­ marginalized as eccentric and more or less irrational. This sets the pattern for­ nineteenth-century religious culture, characterized by a notably subjective and emotivist (anti-doctrinal) turn in religious practice and theology alike, and by the consequent rise of modern denominationalism that leaves religion little more than a reflex of various socioeconomic mentalités or, more feebly yet, as a cult(ure) of mere “opinion ” or “private judgment” (as John Henry Newman was to diagnose it in 1841).2 By the end of the eighteenth century, the shift here summarized leads F. W. J. Schelling, and many of his Romantic contemporaries to express dismay at the chasm between an understanding profoundly transformed by the methodological and scientific advances of the last century, and a model of reason proportionately impoverished. As Coleridge puts it so eloquently, “whatever is achievable by the Understanding for the purposes of worldly interest, private or public, has in the present age been pursued with an activity and a success beyond all former experience … But likewise it is, and long has been, my conviction, that in no age … have the Truths, Interests, and Studies that especially belong to the Reason, contemplative or practical, sunk into such utter neglect, not to say contempt, as during the last century” (AR, 8). In this chapter, then, we will give some consideration to how these shifts manifest themselves in the understanding of rights, action, and freedom—three conceptions central to the modern subject’s self-image and yet, paradoxically, rendered incoherent by the ways in which the liberal-secular nation-state tends to deploy them. As we saw, the passions in Hume’s account appear bereft of any discernible content and as such are destined to expire almost instantaneously because they can only ever occur in, but never (as distinct qualia) register for, consciousness. In response, Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments suggests that the passions may yet be sublated into more focused and communicable interests, provided one is prepared to endorse the behaviorist axioms and conclusions of Smith’s moral and economic psychology . Even then, however, a lacuna opens up that goes largely unnoticed by Albert 1. Hirschman, Passions, 32. 2. On the fragmentation of Christianity into denominations, see Martin, On Secularization, esp. the essays on Pentecostalism and on the “Plurality of Faiths,” 141–170; Berger, Sacred Canopy, 105–125; on anticlericalism in conjunction with secularization and denominational fragmentation, see Gregory, Unintended Reformation, 180–234; Chadwick, Secularization, esp. 107–139; C. Taylor, Secular Age, 352–459; on the anthropological dimension of this shift, see Gauchet, Disenchantment, 162–207; on secular communities...


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