Alexandre Kojčve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics
(Summary of Basic Themes)
1. Right and Left Nietzscheans
Drury describes postmodernism as a contest between the Left and Right- wing disciples of Nietzsche. On the left she focuses on Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, and Michel Foucault; on the right, she focuses on Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom and Francis Fukuyama. Drury shows how all these thinkers share Kojčve's picture of the world. According to Drury, Kojčve's philosophy of history has the effect of historicizing, Hegelianizing and dramatizing Nietzsche's insights. Kojčve has bequeathed to postmodernism a dark picture of the world as the incarnation of the march of reason in history. But it is a cold, soulless, and uninspired rationalism that rules over the world. In this rational wasteland everything wild and wonderful, sublime and splendid has been totally banished. In this totally disenchanted world, the only glorious actions left are destructive. As a result, postmodern politics is radical and deadly.
2. The Philosophy of History at the Root of Postmodernism
There is a great deal of interest in postmodernism, but no recognition of its roots in the thought of Alexandre Kojčve. Uncovering these roots reveals an entirely new picture of this intellectual movement. What emerges is a fascinating philosophy of history that explains the source of postmodernism's deadly logic. Drury describes it as a Manichean dualism and a dark romanticism. What she means is that it is a philosophy of history that begins with a radical opposition of man and nature, reason and madness, masculine and feminine, master and slave ends with the total defeat of one set of dualities. This transfiguration of Hegel's dialectic into a radical dualism is the work of Alexandre Kojčve. He has taught his postmodern followers to see the world in terms of the absolute and irreversible triumph of an arid rationalism. By the same token, he has bequeathed to them a profound nostalgia for everything that reason has banished. As a result, they celebrate madness, crime, power, and mastery. This involves a celebration of what Drury criticizes as a perverse conception of masculinity that pervades postmodernism on the right as well as the left.
3. Postmodernism is not a Leftist Movement
Postmodernism is generally believed to be rooted in a profound philosophical skepticism that has led to a celebration of the meaninglessness and eclecticism that manifests itself in novels, films, fashions, art and architecture. Its image is generally frivolous and light. Politically it is regarded as a philosophy of liberation intent on unmasking the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism, with its attendant regimentation of life, subtle oppressions and exploitations. And while all this is true, Drury argues that postmodernism also has a dark side. Contrary to popular belief, Drury claims that postmodernism is not a philosophy of liberation. On the contrary, postmodern writers such as Michel Foucault and Georges Bataille decry the excesses of modern freedom; they long for the forms of power that made transgression and revolt perilous and glorious; they long for the prohibitions and taboos that made sexuality exciting and intense. The new light that her work sheds on postmodernism leads to the conclusion that the enthusiasm with which liberals, Marxists and leftists have embraced postmodernism is highly inappropriate.
4. Gratuitous Violence
One of the themes of Drury's book is that the gratuitous violence of the contemporary world mirrors the values enshrined by Kojève's philosophy of history. Kojčve believed that, what made man human was his capacity to negate the given world and to create something new. But at the end of history, there is nothing new it in the name of which we can negate the present. As a result, Kojčve surmised that man has sunk into a life of animality and consumption; he thought that man has been subsumed into the bosom of nature or the predictable order of things. Indeed, Kojčve was the first to announce the death of man-- an ominous phrase that has been echoed by French intellectuals from Claude Levi- Strauss to Michel Foucault. In an effort to escape from this dark conclusion, Kojčve hit on the idea of the acte gratuit of existential fame. The idea is that only human beings are capable of committing a totally gratuitous, surprising, purposeless, and totally unpredictable act, especially an unmotivated crime or suicide. If the death of man is to be avoided, it is necessary to recognize the value of man's capacity for unemployed or purposeless negativity. It seems to Drury that this view of man's humanity mirrors the drive-by shootings and the purposeless crimes that characterize our postmodern world.
5. The Global Village
Kojčve picture of the world as a global village, or a universal and homogeneous state cannot be dismissed tout court. We do indeed live in a global village in which the speed of travel and communication has succeeded in homogenizing cultures and values to a large extent. And while this trend is not altogether wholesome, Drury believes that by inculcating profound contempt for everything universal, the Kojčvean sensibility fuels the virulent nationalism, tribalism, and parochialism that is an equally significant feature of our world.
6. Drury's Criticisms
Drury believes that evil is never attractive to human beings and that it must take the high moral ground if it is to have any appeal. This is precisely why a deconstruction of the current trends in European philosophy is necessary to reveal the dark core at the centre of what otherwise seem like high-minded ideas. Drury launches a radical critique of the Kojčvean legacy as it manifests itself in the postmodernism of the Right as well as the Left. She decries the Manichean dualism, the perverse conception of masculinity, the celebration of madness and violence, the pre- occupation with recognition, the abhorrence or everything universal, the radical rejection of the present, and the Nietzschean conceptions of culture, politics, and power. By the same token, she warns against the smugness of rationalism, which leads to the mistaken belief that there is a single true, right and good moral order that can be discovered by reason and that is applicable to all mankind at all times and places. She concludes her book by sketching the beginnings of a philosophical position that is as Hegelian as it is Platonic.
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