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Antonio Gómez Ramos

Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

The Case for Judgement

It has been usually held by postmodern thinkers that the current process of globalization and all the events we have witnessed over the past, at least, thirty years refute definitively the modern conception of History. They take History as the great narrative of progress, be it in the Marxist version or in the liberal one (Lyotard 1979). And they are right in that nowadays we cannot be satisfied with the notion of one World History by which modern thinkers, from the eighteenth century on, conceived of Western history and its expansion all over the world ; that kind of universal history which, as Odo Marquard put it, “is universal because it turns all stories into only one history, the unique History of Progress of Mankind” 1 . Instead of that unique History of Mankind, we have many different stories and narratives coming from many different individuals and collectives: postcolonial sto- ries, stories of exile, stories by women, by the poor and immigrants, stories of the losers and those defeated by progress, all of which cannot be inte- grated in one Great History. An optimistic, conservative thinker like Marquard tends to perceive all this as a liberation, inasmuch as those many stories and narratives used and told by everyone come to free us from the yoke imposed by rationalization and progress. They give us our lives back:

“There should be not just one, but lots of histories” 2 , for only in that way can we “have more than just one life and, therefore, many histories” 3 . Such an optimistic view, indeed, might very well be the stance of the well-fed

1 “Eine Geschichte, die universal ist, weil sie alle Geschichten in eine wendet, in die eine einzige Fortschritts- und Vollend ungsgeschichte der Menschheit” (Marquard 1986:


2 “Es darf nicht nur eine Geschichte, sondern viele Geschichten geben” (Marquard 1986: 71).

3 "Nur so können wir mehrere Leben und dadurch viele Geschichten haben" (Marquard 1986: 73)

Antonio Gómez Ramos

European spectator, who savors tastefully postcolonial literature, apprec i- ates Asian food, talks about Lawrence of Arabia or even about the Koran while driving a Japanese car, fuelled with Middle East oil. However, the characters of such narratives, as well as their real authors, know very well that they are not compatible with each other, and that there are many stories because the suffering inflicted on or by each of them is all too much. Nevertheless, the question of how the process of globalization relates to the previous history of the world as well as to the World -history modern thinkers used to think about remains open. Is globalization actually a break with the more or less linear development of progress such thinkers imag- ined? Or is it its natural outcome? Or was it, though not natural, somehow implied in it? Did they ever expect such a world as we have now –as changing, as plural, as fragmented, as disconcerted and as terrible? On the one hand, globalization could be equated with World -history it- self. History became World -history because it became global; and whereas “world history” might be an ideological notion used by politicians and some philosophers of history, globalization was just a fact -though for a long time without a name. It was a fact that cultures and nations were be- coming increasingly interconnected. And, to be sure, it meant a loss for every culture, as it was threatened, even invaded, by other cultures -you might say: all of them were invaded by only one, the Western culture- but at the same time it meant a gain as every culture was enriched by this con- tact with the Other. It is not a matter of computing such losses and gains, and there is probably no point in seeking for some kind of balance. A loss is always a loss and it can never be repaired. What I want to emphasize is that, in this interplay, globalization was the actual process of world history, and so a means to universalization; at the same time, however, that process of universalization necessarily incorporated many particularities which never got universalized and, in the end, rendered any kind of absolute uni- versalization impossible. It is here that the new era starts for Marquard and many postmodern authors. These particularities in universalization might be the reason why, on the other hand, globalization does not belong any longer to World -history, but is rather the outcome of it and, maybe, the very evidenc e of its impossibil- ity. In a global world with many different stories from many different origins, you cannot conceive of something like a unified human History. Each story has its own time, which cannot be absorbed by the supposedly big Time of progress and civilization. On this account, globalization means

Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

giving up the idea of History and learning to live with many different sto- ries. Optimists tend to see that you can live very well with it: the narrative of each story gives you an identity –your own particular identity- with which you can install yourself very comfortably in the world. Pessimists – i.e. critics of globalization - wouldn’t deny this, but they cannot help fee l- ing that each one’s story is continuously threatened by the stories of the others. The latter becomes especially serious if you consider that this is not just a literary competition of narratives, but a struggle for power. Those others’ stories can be stories of immigrants coming to the First World, as the European philistine usually fears; but the Other’s story can also be the old great World-History again, nowadays represented by the G-8 or, if you like, by those statements such as the one Tony Blair made when, address- ing the U.S. Congress, he appealed to History to forgive him for the invasion of Iraq. Ambivalences are not necessarily wrong; very often they are just the way things are. Modernity is ambivalent in itself, as Zygmunt Bauman has suggested, and in order to be modern you ought not to eliminate the am- bivalence, but rather to learn to live with it: even with the possibility of not being modern anymore. The question is whether we have the tools or the concepts to cope with such ambivalence. Can we think rationally of many incompatible stories and hold on to the idea of one World -History which is the History of Mankind, even a rational one? The ambivalence is surely as old as modernity itself, although moder- nity – i.e. modern thinkers – were not aware of it. Immanuel Kant is probably the best example, and I want to explore his case because – and this is my contention – he might be offering the tool we were searching for:

a faculty to come to terms with the plurality and fragmentation of these times. This might seem surprising. If you read Kant’ s seminal essay on the phi- losophy of history, the Idea for a universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, published in 1785, you first get a teleological interpretation of nature and history, just as any Whig would like to think of it. By such a reading, Kant proves himself a naive Enlightenment philosopher, who be- lieves in the possibility of discerning an overall order in human history. That order would be dictated by some secret plan of nature (in itself, a

Antonio Gómez Ramos

modern secularization of divine providence) 4 : in spite of the apparently “ id iotic course of things human” the history of mankind is to be interpreted as the realization of a purpose in nature, which is “to establish a perfect constituted state, as the only condition in which the capacities of mankind can be fully developed” and a world federation that will ensure just and peaceful relations among states. Such a federation would be a cosmopolitan society, and that is Nature's highest intention. Admitted ly, this projection of history “in accordance with an Idea of how the course of the world must be if it is to lead to certain rational ends” (Kant 1784: 385, 24) 5 may seem to be nothing but a historical romance; but this speculation is useful as a “guid ing thread for presenting as a system” the otherwise confused course of history. If you have that thread, you can consider, very much in the spirit of Enlightenment, human development as the refinement of a “coarse, natu- ral disposition” for ethical discrimination into definite practical principle and as the transformation of society “into a moral whole”. Two hundreds years later, we cannot help smiling at these sentences, especially if we remember how much suffering and pain has been brought about by those who thought, and still think, themselves to be in possession of that guiding thread, renamed as “progress” and “modernization”. The price of it has been very high, even if it was justified on account of world history, which was supposed to keep a record on every loss and gain. The gain would be eventually higher than anything else. That was the nice story of progress. To be sure, such losses could not be simply balanced; they would rather pile up in the “dustbin of progress”, as Joseph Conrad ex- pressed it (Conrad 1995, 84), and by the middle of the twentieth century that pile would assume huge dimensions, only visible to Benjamin's angel of history (Benjamin 1977). But the early moderns were not able to see it. And Kant? In fact, Kant was much more ambiguous about history and, probably, about the cosmopolitan society which was supposed to crown that history. Certainly, cosmopolitanism, as “the matrix within which all the original capacities of the human race will develop”, could be thought of as a neces- sary step towards the solution of the “greatest problem for the human

4 The consideration of the Philosophy of History as a secularization was defended above all by Karl Löwith, (1949). An interesting reply came from Blumenberg (1973), Die Legitimation der Neuzeit, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp.

5 The second page number refers to the English edition.

Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

species”, which is that of “attaining a civil society which can administer justice universally”, and the federation of nations that Kant envisioned along with it might just be a projection of the desire for perpetual peace he so neatly described 6 . Like many projections of good intentions, it actually concealed -less in Kant himself than in a Western society developing under the flag of progress- many lower desires, which included, above all, greed, vanity and cruelty. Kant himself was a little bit more skeptical about it. As Hannah Arendt suggested, progress itself, the dominant conception of the eighteenth century, was for Kant a rather melancholy notion; “he repeat- edly stresses its obviously sad implications for the life of the individual” (Arendt, 1992 : 75). 7 Something of this can be found already in the Idea for a Universal History, where Kant remarks on the necessity of conflict for any progress in history, and points at the contradiction between progress – the secret purpose of nature – and the dignity of man. He finally under- scores the contradiction that the past generations seem to have wrought, without getting any benefit from their sacrifice, in favor of the last genera- tion. But the Idea for a Universal History was not Kant's last word on the is- sue, and what he still had to say did not allow for such an optimistic reading. The Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History (1786) ex- plains how culture – in Kant's terms, the ability to choose ends and the skill to realize them – is given to human beings by nature for them to develop and to achieve happiness. Kant also explains how the discrepancy between both the capability to choose ends and the skill to realize them provides for both the progress and the ruination of culture. Nature wants happiness for humans, but culture, that is, the means humans received from nature in or- der to achieve their purposes, can never bring happiness to them, “for it is not his nature to stop possessing and enjoying at some point and be satis- fied” (Kant, 1790 : 388, 318) 8 as Kant says in the third text I'd cite in this connection. In § 83 from the Critique of Judgement, “On the Ultimate Pur- pose that Nature has as a Teleological System” 9 , Kant explores the idea of

6 Kant, I. (1795)

7 See also White, H. (1973), who also remarks on the irony within Kant's (and other Enlightment thinkers') belief in progress.

8 “denn seine Natur ist nicht von der Art, irgendwo im Besitze und Genusse aufzuhören und befriedigt zu warden”.

9 Kant, I. (1790). In quotations, the first page number refers to the German edition, the second one to the English translation.

Antonio Gómez Ramos

considering culture as the ultimate purpose of human history. He makes clear too that there is a culture of skill (Geschicklichkeit) which develops man's natural capacities under formal conditions that promote his aptitude for purposes in general. Such skill can only be developed through inequa l- ity among humans, as they are always driven by their amb ition, lust for power and greed, (Ehrsucht, Machtsucht, Habsucht) so that the “trouble increases with equal vigor as culture progresses” and a “splendid misery” is linked with the development of natural dispositions in the human species. At any rate, the purposiveness of nature on this score would be fulfilled by ordering man’s relations in a “whole called civil society”, “where the im- pairment to freedom which results from the mutually conflicting freedom [of the individuals] is countered by lawful authority” (Kant 1790: 391, 320) 10 . This would require a sort of “cosmopolitan whole”, “a system of all states that are in danger of affecting one another detrimentally” (Kant 1790:

391, 320) 11 . And to the extent that such a cosmopolitan whole does not ex- ist, war is unavoidable. In any case, as Hannah Arendt underscored, Kant was interested in the abolition of war, i.e. in a state of perpetual peace, not because he wished the elimination of conflict and its atrocities, but rather because only in such a cosmopolitan whole could man realize all its capac i- ties as a rational being (Arendt 1992: 75). A scholar writing on Kant should clarify more carefully the mutual im- plications of culture, nature and history in these texts by Kant (see Wood 2001; Makkreel 1990). But the point of this paper is rather to emphasize that the “cosmopolitan whole” Kant describes is not, and could not be, something really existing at some point at the End of History – not even by way of an infinite approach, as you might conceive of it on the basis of the essay on Universal History. It has, nevertheless, some sort of reality. In Kant’s terms, cosmopolitanism is not a constitutive, but a regulative princ i- ple. In accordance with such a principle, each individual should direct her actions towards “the progressive organization of the citizens of the earth within and towards the species as a system which is united by cosmopolitan bonds” (Kant 1798: 333). The “cosmopolitan whole” rather than a factual end or goal of human history, then, is a mere idea which regulates our re-

10 “wo dem Abbruche der einander wechselseitig widerstreitenden Freiheit gesetzmäs-

sige Gewalt in einem Ganzen, welches bürgerliche Gesellschaft heisst, entgegengesetzt wird.”

Ganze s, d.i. ein System aller Staaten, die auf einander

nachteilig zu wirken in Gefahr sind ”.




Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

flections and inspires our actions. Up to this point, we can take current in- terpretations of Kant here for granted. However, regarding our initial considerations on History and the place of the globalization process within it, it is interesting to note that the regulative idea of cosmopolitanism was not given from the beginning. It emerges with the processes of civilization, and cannot be conceived outside of the splendid misery of the progressing culture, as Kant describes it in the § 83 of the Critique of Judgement. The idea of a cosmopolitanism through which the world -citizen is herself con- cerned with everything that goes on in the world and does not restrict her mind to the tribe or the country to which she belongs, emerges only as long as culture detaches itself from nature and produces the fine arts, science, the refinement of taste (Kant 1790: 392, 321), alongside all sorts of evil that, from war and repression to cruelty and inequality, seem to accompany culture. It is the very progress of culture to catastrophe at the same time as it develops the “natural tendencies” of humanity towards a cosmopolitan society. Now, not much imagination or historical knowledge is necessary in order to realize that our present globalizing world is probably the highest performance of that splendid misery ever seen. Technological development, luxury, unprecedented wealth, famines, poverty, brutality and the so-called “humanitarian catastrophes” are, taken together, the experience of our time. But there belongs to the same experience a cosmopolitanism that finds ex- pression in growing internationalization and multiculturalism, as well as in those waves of solidarity across countries when a catastrophe happens in a far and foreign region, or else in the surprising formation and vanishing of something like a global public opinion (think of the massive opposition to the Iraq war all over the world). Never before was there such truth to Kant's description in Perpetual Peace, “that a violation of rights in one place is felt through-out the world, [so that] the idea of a law of world -citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion” (Kant 1795: 45, 105) 12 . And never before was the world so far away from any perpetual peace. At his point, one can come easily to the conclusion that a modern thinker like Kant already had many intuitions as to what the world would look like when Modernity reaches its full development and changes into Postmodernity. Since such intuitions came from his lifetime experience, you could also say that there is already a lot of Postmodernity in Modernity itself when you look at it very thoroughly. At least, “you must have been

12 The second page number refers to the English edition.

Antonio Gómez Ramos

postmodern in order to be really modern”, as Lyotard said. But the point of these remarks is not to determine which label we should attribute to Kant, but to explore the way that Kant proposed to cope with the contradictions of this splendid misery and to account for the regulative functions of cos- mopolitanism. That way was the faculty of judging, Judgement, conceived of as a political, and not merely aesthetic, faculty. The reconstruction of Kant’s unwritten political philosophy was under- taken by Hannah Arendt in her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. She did it in a manner that was in fact suggestive, but found criticisms and sharp objections coming from some of her most fascinated readers. 13 Arendt makes clear that the cosmopolitan citizen is, for Kant, the citizen capable of critical judgement because she thinks with what Kant called an “enlarged mentality” (erweiterte Denkungsart): someone who is capable of “thinking from the stand point of the others”. Only she who can think from the standpoint of the others, can “detach himself from the subjective per- sonal conditions of her judgement, which cramp the minds of so many, and reflect upon his own judgement from an universal standpoint” (Kant 1790:

§ 40). Kant calls this capability the “maxim of judgement”, and it is the second faculty required for common sense (more exactly, for the sensus communis). The first maxim is the maxim of understanding – “to think for oneself” (Selbstdenken) – and the third one is the maxim of reason – “to think consequently". The second maxim is the only one including "the oth- ers", and that is the reason why judgement is precisely, according to Arendt, the faculty actually at work in political life, although Kant only wrote on it from the aesthetic point of view. The aesthetic significance of Judgement consists in the fact that, through it, you can claim that something is beautiful without appealing either to general rules or to your own private feeling. On the contrary, judgement, reflective judgement, is, above all, the faculty to think the particular and contingent, that is, to relate a particular meaning to a general meaning that is not given beforehand. In principle, reflective judgement goes in a direc- tion opposite from deduction – or to determinate judgement, as Kant calls it – where one derives a particular case from a universal law or a general rule, as modern science is supposed to do. This is why it has been recently claimed that reflective judgement is the faculty we should explore in order to bring about new subjectivities and thinking patterns in a postmodern

13 Wellmer (1985), Habermas (1982), Ricoeur (1998), Beiner (1992)

Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

world where all general rules which supposedly ruled modernity have bro- ken down and we have to deal with particularities and contingencies. 14 What Hannah Arendt stresses in her reading of Kant is that this realm of particularity, fragmentation and contingency, the lack of any necessary law or rule being generally valid for every standpoint is, in fact, the realm of the political. Reflective judgement, therefore, in spite of its origins as mere taste, is the political operation par excellence. Judgement is social, because you always need the plurality of the others. You can certainly think by yourself and for yourself, when you are alone. When you judge, however, when you state something to be right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, you need the plurality of the others: you expect them to agree with you, although there are no concepts to prove that you are right. To achieve that, you must use your imagination and mentally shift your own ground to the standpoint of the others in order to eventually reach the "universal standpoint" accessible only to the enlarged mentality (erweiterte Denkungsart). This universal standpoint, which is the standpoint of no-one and, therefore, literally non-subjective, is the space where a plurality of mankind finds a possible self-representation. Many debates on Arendt's conception of judgement have dealt with the question of the actual place judgment has within human activities. 15 It seems clear that, at least for the late Arendt, judgement has nothing to do with thinking, because humans only think when they are alone and retreat from the world. Nor has it to do with acting, since it is not the actor, but the spectator who judges. Kant could make sense of human history as progress by appealing to the “sympathy, bordering on enthusiasm” he and many of his contemporaries felt for the French Revolution. But, as he liked to em- phasize, it was the spectator, not the actor, who felt that enthusiasm. Only by looking at events, and above all, by looking back on them -that is, somehow, always only too late- can we know what was right or wrong. Certainly, this means a limitation for judgement, especially if you expect it to be a full guide for trouble-shooting, so to speak. But the whole matter can be considered the other way round: “The public realm is constituted by the critics and the spectators, and not by the actors and the makers” (Arendt

14 see Ferrara, A. (1998) Reflective Authenticity. Rethinking the Project of Modernity, London, Routledge.

15 Ricoeur (1998), Wellmer (1991), Beiner (1992), Villa (1999)

Antonio Gómez Ramos

1977 : 262) 16 , and it is in this public realm where a representation of what is going on actually takes place. In my view, such a representation has two important features. First, being a product of judgement, it is necessarily plural, because it takes into account the diversity of judges and spectators and expects their approval in their diversity. We don’t have one ultimate representation (and that was the delusion of modernity as the one and only world-history), but rather many of them, often incompatible with each other but also demanding each other's attention and even approval. Sec- ondly, such a representation is necessarily reflective: it doesn’t refer neutrally to an object outside, but depends on the capability of the spectator to “detach herself from her own subjective point of view and reflect upon her own judgement from an universal standpoint”. One might fear that such a universal standpoint, which ought to provide the global representation of the public realm, is actually the kind of Univer- sality that modern Reason has been trying to impose through the narrative of world history and progress. Modern Reason, however, was never some- thing of a reflective judgement but, if anything, a determinate one, since it tried to subsume every case under a general law. On the contrary, what the reflective judgement sketched by Kant and Arendt accomplishes is to rep- resent a particular -an event, an individual, a concrete story- as a general meaning for which that particular has an exemplary validity. The universal realm where such representation takes place is not at all a unitary, compact one; being the standpoint of no one, it is not as much a unity as the poss i- bility for every particular to come to an appropriate representation that can demand the approval of others, or, to put it another way, which can find its spectator. Indeed, this view is not without real dangers. It is not an accident that the age of globalization can be defined as the society of the spectacle, and that the whole splendid misery of globalization projects itself as a huge spectacle running on television around the clock: G-7 summits, the pope's travels, Olympic Games, princesses’ deaths, African famines, Middle East wars, and so forth. Spectators without judgement find an easy way through it. But – such is the theoretical hope I want to suggest – this doesn’t rule out the possibility that there might be a sort of spectator able to judge be- yond the spectacular. And she would be the real world -citizen, altogether

16 Arendt adds: “and this critic and spectator sits in every actor”.

Reflecting Upon the Splendid Misery

different from the tourist who travels through the world as though it were a theme park. To such a judicious world -spectator (Weltbetrachter), the space of rep- resentation is a conflictive space of irreconcilable narratives. Because she is capable of an “enlarged mentality”, she can see the fragmentation of the different stories clashing in the globalized world. Through judgement, that is, by imagining the general meaning in the particular story she is con- fronted with (usually a story of losses in History) she develops a sense for the particular pain of the others and can perceive what went unnoticed in actions. It is as though the Kantian enthusiasm before the French Revolu- tion had been transformed into the horror felt by Benjamin's Angelus Novus gazing at the past. 17 If this comparison holds -and I agree that it is in principle not that obvious-, that transformation could tell us a lot about what has happened in Modernity, about the combination of splendor and misery. In any case, enthusiasm and horror are certainly different, though not unrelated states of mind. Only she who can become enthusiastic can also become horrified. For both, you need to be a spectator with judgement. To be sure, judgement does not reconcile the many contradictions in globalized Postmodernity. Such contradictions are very likely irreconcil- able in themselves. In any case, judgement does not act: it only represents particulars and establishes general meanings and values in its representa- tion. It does this through that kind of self-reflectivity that creates an universal, non-subjective standpoint. The representation takes place then in a public realm where all voices – and cries – really sound and are heard. It usually happens that the representation becomes a big non-reflective spec- tacle shown on television, where contradictions are played down in a neutral succession, regulated by the market, of terrible news and splendid films. Unavoidable as that is, it can also happen that a reflective judgement begins to work in this succession and restores succession every contradic- tion to the particular story from which it comes. She who can do that is the real cosmopolitan.

17 Was that too, perhaps, the horror the spectator inside Conrad's Kurz exclaimed at his death?


Antonio Gómez Ramos

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Critique of Judgement, Indianapolis, Hackeet PublishingCompany. Translated by W. S. Pluhar]. -----------(1795) “Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf” (AK VIII, 341- 86) [English Edition On History]. -----------(1798), Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, (AK, VII, 117-333) [English edition, 1978, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, tr. Victor Lyle Dowdell, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press]. Löwith, K. (1949), Meaning in History, Chicago, Chicago University Press. Lyotard, F. (1979) La condition postmoderne, Paris, Minuit. Makkreel, R. (1990) Imagination and Interpretation in Kant. The Hermeneutical Import of the Critique of Judgement , London, U. Chicago Press. Marquard, O. (1986), Apologie des Zufälligen, Stuttgart, Reklam. Ricoeur, P. (1998), Le Juste, Paris, Seuil. Villa, D. (1999) Politics, Philosophy and Terror. Essays on the Thought of Hannah Ar- endt, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Wood, A. (2001) Kant's Ethical Theory, Oxford, Oxford UP. Wellmer, A. (1985), Endspiele. Frankfurt, Suhrkamp. White, H. (1973), Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century, John Hopkins University Press.