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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Are men free to choose this or that form of society? By no means.-- Marx and Engels.

Almost a full year ago I noted the following quote as potentially useful for "analyzing the concept of freedom:"

"The subject's fundamental nature is to overturn all external constraints, and then to realize that this is a futile and irrational activity."-- HEGEL'S PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT: AN INTRODUCTION, Larry Krasnoff, p. 65.

 I find Hegel so very nearly unreadable that I cannot say whether or not Larry Krasnoff's interpretation of Hegel is accurate or not.  But even if it is not, Hegel may be the philosopher's "Rorschach Test," in which "the left" and "the right" can read whatever they want.  In THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN, Frank Fukuyama simply stated that, in following Alexandre Kojeve's interpretation of Hegel, he might not be accurate to Hegel in every regard, but he was at least accurate in following a construct he called "Kojeve-Hegel." 

Off the top of my head, I would say that Krasnoff's summation of Hegel sounds overly pessimistic as to the futility of the subject's "overturning all external constraints."  However, even if Krasnoff is not accurate to Hegel, his view is tenable, and is somewhat mirrored by a similar statement by Leslie Fiedler.  I have not been able to locate the precise quote, but the sense of it is that at all times the human spirit will seek to overturn every form of "law" that human culture can devise, no matter how well conceived that law may be.

Certainly the man most associated with overturning Hegel, Karl Marx, did not subscribe to Krasnoff's pessimism.  For the founder of economic determinism, the logic of societal evolution would eventuate in a society of equals.  I doubt that Marx believed that this society would be immune to rebellion by those who disagreed with its parameters.  But he certainly did not believe that their ability to rebel was a key aspect of the human will, for human beings did not possess "free will" as such. 

Krasnoff and Fiedler, albeit in very different ways, advocate a form of agency in the human subject; an ability to choose, even when one makes the wrong choice in a given situation.  For Marx the wrong choice no more connotes freedom than the right choice, but the right choice is validated by the impersonal forces of economics and history.

Literary elitism, as I've observed before, depends on a similar view.  We may never be truly free, but those who know that they are not free have reached a superior level of cognition to those who are unaware of the fact.  In canonical literature one sees this dichotomy in a work like Nathaniel West's 1939 DAY OF THE LOCUST, where protagonist Tod Hackett, no matter how tormented by his self-awareness, is esteemed above the rioting crowds of the dream-hungry mob.  In artcomics we see it as the distinctions Daniel Clowes makes in GHOST WORLD between Rebecca, who eventually becomes part of the unthinking mob, and Enid, who retains her alienation from culture.

In Part 4 I will address pluralism's vision of freedom.

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