Mearsheimer’s response was The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), in which he subjected several of the liberal pieties of the previous decade to closer inspection. In the wake of the ‘no-fault’ aerial operations of the Persian Gulf War, and the unveiling of the B-2 ‘stealth’ bomber, US military planners believed that they could determine outcomes on the ground with minimal US casualties. The age of air power had been proclaimed many times before – by Giulio Douhet, Carl Schmitt, Arthur Harris, Norman Schwarzkopf – but Mearsheimer insisted that conventional armies would still form the basis of most conflicts in the 21st century. The ‘stopping power of water,’ as he called it, limited the capacity of a state to project power on another landmass for any great period of time. Insular landmasses protected by water boundaries – the US, Britain, Japan – would always be easier to defend than Germany and Russia. It’s possible that Mearsheimer had internalised the unique geographical conditions of US power, a country-continent flanked by two oceans, as the ideal situation of a great power. Even so, he believed that America’s global ambitions were logistically impossible to realise.
He also dismantled the neoconservative assumption that the way to preserve American hegemony was to create a world of liberal democracies, each with its allotted place. He argued that democratic peace theory, which holds that two democracies can’t go to war with one another, was empirically mistaken. In the First World War, a nominally representative democracy (Great Britain) had gone to war against another nominally representative democracy (Wilhelmine Germany). The decade he was examining offered the example of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan – two democracies that had been poised to destroy each other since Partition. There was no guarantee that a world of liberal democracies would be a world of peace. And, as he pointed out, ‘democracies are somewhat more likely than non-democracies to target civilians.’
Jonas’s claim is that modern hostility to immortality is to our own detriment, especially in times of ethical crisis. His way in is, again, through feeling. “And yet, we feel that temporality cannot be the whole story,” because it is man’s “self-surpassing quality, of which the very fact and fumbling of our idea of eternity is a cryptic signal,” he writes. For Kierkegaard, we also feel the weight of eternity yet, it represents an eternal force touching down in the temporal. This generates anxiety as the paradox of the God-man cannot be comprehended by reason. Yet, in Jonas’s estimation, eternity transforms moments of extreme decision where “we feel as if [we are] acting under the eyes of eternity.” Unlike Kierkegaard, these moments under the eyes of eternity revive a sense of agency in individual human deeds rather than a destabilizing angst. Jonas’s moment is one of affirmation where “the moment places the responsible agent between time and eternity.”
This odd feature of our temporal existence where two irreconcilable domains meet reveals that we are active, not passive recipients such that we are “wholly subject and in no way object.” In this way, the moment shares more affinity with Heidegger’s resolute decision. To be sure, Jonas does not fall for the same trap that Heidegger sets for himself—that is, the inability to make temporal discriminations in light of ethical responsibility. That is to say, the only standard by which a decision can be made under Heidegger’s temporality is a Dasein’s attitude towards death. Heidegger then lacks the tools with which to separate ontological and ontic happenings. Because he cannot say precisely what it means for Dasein to own his own death and face it resolutely (for that can only be answered by a particular Dasein) nor can he make a judgment about the content of a historical decision, he is forced to render historical happenings ethically neutral.
Dostoevsky sought to portray the “person in the person.” His “higher realism,” rooted in his Christian faith, sees visible, finite reality as bearing an analogical relationship to an invisible, infinite reality. An analogical imagination recognizes that human persons are creatures, both like and radically unlike their Creator. Created in God’s image, persons are like God in their rationality, freedom, and capacity to create and love. But God is one and persons are many; God is unchanging and persons are mutable; God is infinite and persons are finite. Above all, persons are dependent as their existence is contingent upon God’s. God is not simply another being, but Being itself, the One in Whom all persons live and move and have their particular beings. Our existence as beings does not place us in the same ontological category as God. But the divine is not so utterly transcendent that our own rational conceptions of the good and true and beautiful bear no relation to God. They bear an analogical relation.
Christian faith understands God not only as Being but as Love. God is a unity of three persons bound in infinite, inter-relational, self-giving love. God’s love overflows to form creation and, in time, enters history and a particular place in the person of Christ. In Christ, the believer sees most clearly the image of God’s beauty, goodness, and truth. The infinite Word takes on creaturely flesh and finitude. But Christ’s descent into finitude and death brings forth resurrection, ascension, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As Trinity, God is both One and three differentiated persons; Christ is both God and man, “without confusion . . . without separation” (Dogmatic Definition of Chalcedon). The analogical imagination is built upon the two doctrinal beams that undergird the Christian faith: Trinity and Incarnation. Analogy recognizes the unity in our human plurality: for all our particularity and diversity, we are each persons, and, in analogy to God’s Trinitarian nature, created to be in integral relation to other persons. Analogy recognizes that human love is both like and—given our creaturely, fallen frailty--unlike the Creator’s love.
The second doctrine we find builds upon this notion of educating the soul: ‘learning is recollection’. This is an early theory of innate knowledge. When Meno (Meno 80e) poses this paradox – how can you know or find out about what you have no idea of? and if you did know of what you didn’t know, how would you even recognise this unknown? – Socrates presents an uneducated slave boy with a mathematical problem. After providing him with the tools to solve the puzzle, upon his success, Socrates declares that the knowledge must have been in him all along. The truth “has been in the soul forever… and that means that if there’s something you do not happen to know about right now, or rather, happen not to have remembered yet, you mustn’t be afraid to try and find out about it” (86b). This opens up Plato’s mysticism: Plato argues that the soul is imperishable and lives outside of the material world, until it is born into the body with innate knowledge of truths seen outside worldly experience. Knowledge is therefore recollection of the soul’s past experience.
If we apply this idea back to Plato’s dialogues, we find that innate knowledge does not simply concern arithmetic, but also knowledge of moral virtue, and of goodness in itself. Perhaps you noticed that in steps 1 and 3 of the dialogical pattern I gave, it was not Socrates but Laches and Nicias who proposed definitions of bravery. And step 4’s definition is a combination of Laches and Nicias. So this definition would come from them, not from Socrates, who only claims to be a midwife to their knowledge. So where did this definition come from? Plato would argue that these answers come from the souls of those open to philosophy, and that their wise discussion triggered the remembering of the innate idea.
The essential truths Plato is interested in knowing are what we translate as ‘Forms’ or ‘Ideas’ (eidon in Greek). Put simply, the Forms are objective eternally-existing templates of all that can be known about. But we live in a world of particulars, and what we experience everyday is an imperfect mixture of the Forms, so obscuring them from us, so that we must seek them. Plato would expound on this idea most clearly in the Symposium, with his ‘Ladder of Love’ analogy, where he describes the search for true beauty as a continual process, experiencing a multitude of associations and discarding the naive aspects until reaching a core of truth. Seeing beauty in bodies moves up to seeing beauty in minds; which moves to art; and communities; finally arriving at knowledge of the Form of Beauty ‘in itself and by itself’, whereby “gold and clothing and good-looking boys and youths will pale into insignificance beside it” (Symposium 211 b-d). The lasting impression I obtain from this, is that we can aspire to transcend the here and now in knowledge, since even flawed dreams draw us closer to the truth.
The truths remembered may not be perfectly-remembered truths. However, a theory of recollection demonstrates that all individuals, regardless of gender or social position, have the power to vanquish falsehood with reason, and so all are capable of becoming virtuous. However, Plato’s ethics cannot flourish in a world of commercial needs and political realism. For education to transcend the particular and aspire to grasp the essential truths of existence, a reconstruction of society of utopian proportions will be required.
As I read Yuk Hui’s enormously complex argument, he claims that we are now in a position where we can see what is of value in the Thesis only after we fully dwell within the Antithesis. This leads us to the generative idea of “multiple cosmotechnics.” First, what does Hui mean by the peculiar word “cosmotechnics”? “It is the unification of the cosmos and the moral through technical activities, whether craft-making or art-making.” That is, a cosmotechnics is the point at which a way of life is realized through making.
The point may be illustrated with reference to an ancient tale Hui offers, about an excellent butcher who explains to a duke what he calls the Dao, or “way,” of butchering. The reason he is a good butcher, he says, it not his mastery of a skill, or his reliance on superior tools. He is a good butcher because he understands the Dao: Through experience he has come to rely on his intuition to thrust the knife precisely where it does not cut through tendons or bones, and so his knife always stays sharp. The duke replies: “Now I know how to live.” Hui explains that “it is thus the question of ‘living,’ rather than that of technics, that is at the center of the story.”
This unification — of making and living — might be said to be the whole point of Daoism. Though the same theme is woven through certain Confucian texts and the I Ching, it is particularly notable as the incessant refrain of the Daodejing, or, as it is more commonly called in the English-speaking world, the Tao Te Ching. The title means something like “The Classic of the Virtue of the Way” or “The Classic of the Way and of Virtue.” In both cases “virtue” (Te) should be understood as something close to the Latin virtus or the Greek aretē, meaning a kind of excellence, an excellence that has power.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Art and Faith, and I would argue one of the most appealing aspects of Christianity itself, is the insistence that though the world is broken, its brokenness is the basis of its rebirth. Just as the resurrected Christ, resplendent in his perfected body, still bore the wounds of his crucifixion, and just as the kintsugi cup becomes brilliant with its gilded fractures, so the world is made perfect through its imperfection, not in spite of it. The very idea of “brokenness,” Fujimura tells us, implies a crass utilitarian dichotomy between useful and useless. “By honoring the brokenness,” he writes, “the broken shapes can somehow be a necessary component of the New World to come. This is the most outrageous promise of the Bible, which is at the heart of the Theology of Making: not only are we restored, we are to partake in the co-creation of the New.”
Although the experience of time’s duration is unrecoverable, its ghosts can be reanimated by the persistence, allure, and rediscovery of objects in space. A pressure cooker on a cabinet above the stove, unread books on medieval art from a university course stuffed into a childhood bedroom, the crockery set inherited from an aunt. But when such objects are gathered together without context, we perceive the absolute flatness of time lived and lost, of life displaced.
A perfect incarnation of one type of storage would collect together all the guilty, festering objects from all the spaces in one’s life and concentrate them in flat, spent time and neutral space. Many storage tenants do this, to some degree. It is a place that does not hold the past in some straightforward balance between preservation and deterioration. It can hold the past as well as the future—that is, a past life to which we may hope to return, or objects with little connection to our past lives but essential to an imagined future, to improvement, or at least to change. It is a place of aspiration.
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