I Am Not A Hegelian

I am not happy with my last post. I don’t really understand Buckley and his ilk, or his detractors, and I think I resorted to general abstractions to dismiss — “fascist” — rather than play with who he was and what he contributed to the neocon movement. I conflated neocons with neoliberals without explaining why. And, I didn’t speak to his irresistible attraction, now written about by tons of pundits, his affected speech, his flickering tongue, and his sibilant pronunciation of consonants. His preferred mode of transportation was motorbike in NYC, he knew he was privileged and still chose to write about the disadvantaged, and he referred to the Christian Right post-1980s as “accretions” in an interview on public radio.

Georg HegelFor all of those reasons and one more, I am not satisfied with the conclusions of my last post. The other basis of my frustration? I am not a Hegelian. He of the awful master-slave dialectic, and that terrible “p” word pomos abhor: progress.

Hegel saw the slow, steady rise of mankind as a struggle for freedom — a process that liberated the human spirit and drew the human race forward. This struggle was unavoidable, even as the object was always unattainable-an ideal to be approached, but never achieved.

Hegel thought the old world would be destroyed, and on the ruins would be built the new. This is not dual power or reformism, this is apocalypse followed by transcendence and immanence, then mutation into a different species. It’s like punctuated equilibrium instead of evolution.*

An old world is destroyed as a new one rises, [Hegel] noted-citing the arc that bridges the seed and the fruit, and arc which we call the plant. And noting the curious Vedic legend of the dance of Lord Shiva, who created with one foot and destroyed with the other.

This is evident, argues Harpers blogger Scott Horton, in two misadaptations of Hegel — Marx and neocons. The former, I can see. (Is it not problematic that the man that brought us a labor theory of value and so on, also had a social theory of evolution determined by the mode of production? Marx was very much taken with Lewis Henry Morgan’s book on the “noble savages”, the Iroquois.) The latter, I understand less.

I intend to read Francis Fukuyama and search out a history of the neocons before I write my next post on this subject. An unhappy and hesitant subscriber to certain ideas of Marx I may be. But, no Hegelian.

* I meant to say punctuated equilibrium (evolution by jerks) instead of phyletic gradualism (evolution by creeps).

2 Responses to I Am Not A Hegelian

  1. Yvonne,

    Thanks for both of your posts, the one you didn’t like and this one.

    It was great to read your first one last Sunday. I was actually visiting my mother for dinner, who is not remotely a conservative… and she suggested that we watch the Fox News bio on Buckley. I was surprised, since my mother’s politics are more progressive, but had a sort of “warm fuzzy feeling” towards Buckley.

    On the one hand, this warm, fuzzy feeling was for a media sensation from youth, like I have a warm, fuzzy feeling for Madonna and Michael Jackson (or for David Hasslehoff, but only as Knight Rider.) On the other hand, there was stuff about 1956 and the early 60s, stuff I didn’t really understand (because my mother wasn’t explaining it well and it certainly wasn’t on the Fox News bio.) And there were things about how Buckley and The National Review cats could definitely appeal to the wider non-WASP “White Race”, pushes that were going to come to shove in post-WW2 assimilation that someone had to articulate– from what my mother said, early, 1950s “patriots” and what we’d now call conservatives were more successful than leftists in challenging anti-Semitism anti-Catholicism, and focusing anti-Communism towards the Soviet Union and away from the tradition of the Palmer Raids.

    Anyway, this is all from a brief chat with my mom, and comes with no citations or authority… But, a few such chats with 60-70-80 year olds might be much better than reading Francis Fukuyama, go for it… It might be interesting to hear how they perceive the transformations in the meaning of the words “liberal” and “conservative” since the 1950s.

    So, as a general conclusion, I think the question of Buckley and National Review as the founders of what became the Neocon movement does not deserve rethinking. It might be more interesting to consider Buckley as part of the complicated process of American assimilation, the becoming/production of “Americans.”


    PS: A minor word note: punctated equilibrium IS evolution.

  2. Hi Yvonne,

    It was great to hear from you again after so long. I guess you are in Berkeley these days, is that right? I did not get a chance to read your report, but noticed this post about Hegel on your blog. Did you know that I teach Hegel? And I actually wrote an essay that explains this connection between the neo-cons and Hegel. As you guessed correctly, the connection is bogus. Here is a link to my essay – http://www.permanent-revolution.org/essays/end_irony.pdf
    Hope you are well and good to hear from you. And oh yes I am still involved with WBAI and it is just as crazy as ever.

    Alex Steinberg