Archive for March, 2017

Mitchell Dean “Four Theses on the Powers of Life and Death”

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Dean, Mitchell 2004. Four Theses on the Powers of Life and Death. Contretemps 5: 16-29.

First Thesis. The right of death is ancient. The power over life, by contrast, is quite new. Its emergence in the eighteenth century has brought the most devastating of consequences. (17)

Foucaultʼs peculiar contribution to the theory of sovereignty is the focus on the right of death. His genealogy here echoes Batailleʼs theme of sovereignty as linked to the denial of the sentiments that death controls. “Life beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty,” states Bataille.9 The implication of this is that sovereign existence is the capacity to live in the present moment beyond the concern for the needs to sustain life. The moral corollary is that “sovereignty requires the strength to violate the prohibition against killing.”10 Bataille claims his defnition of sovereignty has little to do with the sovereignty of states. This is a basic insight. Sovereignty—the power of killing—is today practiced in the biomedical domain by health professionals and administrators, by relatives and carers, and by prospective parents and mothers, all under the watchful guardianship of institutional ethical committees, legal regulation and therapeutic expertise. (18-19)

Second Thesis: It is not merely the succession or addition of the modern powers over life to the ancient right of death but their very combination within modern states that is of significance. How these powers are combined accounts for whether they are malign or benign. (20)

Pace Bauman, it is not simply the development of instrumental rationality in the form of modern bio-power, or a bureaucratic power applied to life that makes the Holocaust possible. It is the system of linkages, re-codings and re-inscriptions of sovereign notions of fatherland, territory, and blood within the new bio-political discourses of eugenics and racial hygiene that makes the unthinkable thinkable. (20)

On the one hand, the economic rationality that provides a limit to government refers before all else to the means of the sustenance of life. On the other, the sovereign individual has rights, especially in the era of international human rights, simply by virtue of merely living itself. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” reads the frst article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If there is optimism in Foucaultʼs approach, it is one that cannot rely on a movement that checks the powers over life. The more liberalism and modern rights movements seek to defend us from the dangers of bio-powers, it would seem, the more they make possible its extension. (21)

Third Thesis. The powers over life are as ancient as sovereign power and law themselves. We do not need to ask for a historical point of connection between the powers of life and death because they are  constitutive of the sacred character of political community. (22)

While Agamben, like Foucault, might reject a concern for who has power within the political order, he holds that it remains necessary to examine the role of sovereignty as constituting the threshold of the juridical-political order. Politics has always been about life, in so far as the good life might be the end of a political community, and questions of basic existence, once satisfed by human association, can be placed as outside properly political concerns. (23)

Where Foucault tends to identify a government of life and the living as a feature of distinctively modern political formations, Schmittʼs view of sovereignty already contains a notion of a power concerned with life. He writes that “Every general norm demands a normal, everyday frame of life to which it can be factually applied and which is subjected to its regulations… For a legal order to make sense, a normal order must exist, and he is sovereign who definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exists.” Sovereignty thus is a structure that decides on what this normal everyday frame of life is and whether or not this normal frame of life is effective. (24)

The relation of exception is one of the ban: in abandoning individuals, the law does not merely put them in a sphere of indifference, but rather leaves them “exposed and threatened on the threshold in which life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguishable.” To be banned is to be placed outside the
juridical-political order that defnes the normal frame of life of a political community. But in the act of being placed outside this order, who or what is banned is included in the power that places he, she, them or it there. (24)

For Agamben, however, homo sacer is not just a fgure uncovered by legal philology of ancient Rome; it is subject to recurrent materialisations in history. These include its paradigmatic manifestation in the concentration camps, notions of universal human rights, the emergence of mass refugee movements from the early twentieth century, those on life-support systems, medical judgments on euthanasia, and in the Versuchspersonen or human guinea pigs of the Nazi doctors. Some might want to say that homo sacer can also be found in the myriad petri dishes, test-tubes and ante-natal clinics of our times. Bare life, is today found—at its most elemental—in the sequences of the letters A, G, C, T, that stand for the chemical bases, the purines and the prymidines, that make up the genetic code. Zoē has found a new representation in the colour-coded sequences of three billion letters of the genome. (26)

The positive side of Agambenʼs thesis is frst that it avoids the recurrent bipolar structure of Foucaultʼs attempts to investigate the character of modern politics and its relation to life. For Foucault, politics can only be approached as the articulation or displacement of the poles of a series of oppositions: the right of death and the power of life, sovereignty and bio-politics, the ʻcity-citizenʼand ʻshepherd-flockʼ games, individualizing and totalizing character of modern powers, techniques of government and techniques of self, reason of state and liberalism, etc. But the point at which they link, overlap, interact, or enter a zone of indistinction is diffcult to discern. Foucault proposes their relations are demonic, but cannot tell us why or how. Agamben proposes a possible topography of the state of exception in which the sovereign ban captures life in the political order but outside the political community, and zoē and bios enter into irreducible indistinction. (26)

Fourth thesis: Bio-politics captures life stripped naked (or the zoē that was the exception of sovereign power) and makes it a matter of political life (bios). Today, we seek the good life though the extension of the powers over bare life to the point at which they become indistinguishable. (27)

If we are to take Agamben seriously, this desire for inclusion may have the effect not simply of widening the sphere of the rule of law but also of hastening the point at which the sovereign exception enters into a zone of indistinction with the rule. Our societies would then have become truly demonic, not because of the re-inscription of sovereignty within bio-politics, but because bare life which constituted the sovereign exception begins to enter a zone of indistinction with our moral and political life and with the fundamental presuppositions of political community. In the achievement of inclusion in the name of universal human rights, all human life is stripped naked and becomes sacred. Perhaps in a very real sense we are all homo sacer. Perhaps what we have been in danger of missing is the way in which the sovereign violence that constitutes the exception of bare life—that which can be killed without committing homicide—is today entering into the very core of modern politics, ethics, and systems of justice. (28)


Francois Hartog “Time and Heritage”

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Hartog, Francois 2005. Time and Heritage. Museum International 57(3): 7-18.

A conference, conceived by the Hellenist, Marcel Detienne, a specialist in comparative approaches, provided the opportunity to resume the concept once again and develop it further, along with another anthropologist, Gérard Lenclud. This was a way to pursue, by slightly shifting the intermittent but recurrent dialogue, which had occasionally faded but never been completely abandoned, between anthropology and history that Claude Le ´vi-Strauss had initiated in 1949. The ‘regime of historicity’, we then wrote, could be understood in two ways. In a restricted sense, as the way in which a society considers its past and deals with it. In a broader sense, the regime of historicity designates ‘the method of
self-awareness in a human community’. How, in the words of Lévi-Strauss, it ‘reacts’ to a ‘degree of historicity’ which is identical for all societies. More precisely, the concept provides an instrument for comparing different types of history, but also and even primarily, I would now add, highlights methods of relating to time: forms of experiencing time, here and elsewhere, today and yesterday. Ways of being in time. (8)

The Places of Memory by the historian Pierre Nora led to the diagnosis of a ‘heritagization’ of the history of France, if not of France itself, to the extent that the shift from one regime of memory to another led us from ‘history-memory’ to ‘history-heritage’. In this respect, the definition attributed by the law of 1993 concerning monumental heritage is remarkable: ‘Our heritage is the memory of our history and the symbol of our national identity.’ Proceeding from memory, heritage becomes the memory of history, and as such, a symbol of identity. Memory, heritage, history, identity, and nation are united in the polished style of the legislator. (10)

However, it is less a question of an obvious, assertive identity, more a question of an uneasy identity that risks disappearing or is already largely forgotten, obliterated, or repressed: an identity in search of itself, to be exhumed, assembled, or even invented. In this way, heritage comes to define less that which one
possesses, what one has, than circumscribing what one is, without having known, or even been capable of knowing. Heritage thus becomes an invitation for collective anamnesis. The ‘ardent obligation’ of heritage, with its requirements for conservation, renovation, and commemoration is added to the ‘duty’ of memory, with its recent public translation of repentance. (10)

In recent years, the surge of patrimony, in phase with that of memory, has grown to a scale that reaches the limit of what could be ‘everything is heritage’. As memories are increasingly claimed or demanded, everything could be considered heritage or liable to become heritage. The same inflation seems to reign. As ‘heritagization’ or ‘museifization’ always approaches closer to the present, it had to be stipulated, for example, ‘that no work of a living architect could legally be considered as an historic monument’.14 This is a clear indication of the present historicizing itself, as mentioned above. (12)

[…] the most authentically modern today would be the historical past, but according to modern standards. Only the facades are preserved. (12)

The museified gaze is thus directed towards that which surrounds us. We would like to prepare, starting from today, the museum of tomorrow, assembling today’s archives as if they were already yesterday’s, caught as we are between amnesia and the desire to forget nothing. For whom if not for ourselves, in the first place? (14)

[…] the contemporary surge of heritage is distinguished from earlier movements by the rapidity of its
expansion, the multiplicity of its expressions and its highly presentist nature, even though the present has taken on a wider meaning. The memorial takes precedence over the monument or the latter turns into a memorial. The past attracts more than history; the presence of the past, the evocation and the emotions win out over keeping a distance and mediation; finally, this heritage is itself influenced by acceleration: it
should be done quickly before it is too late, before night falls and today has completely disappeared. (16)

[…] a future which no longer remains to be conquered or made to happen, without hesitating, if necessary, to brutalize the present. This future is no longer a bright horizon towards which we advance, but a line of shadow that we have drawn towards ourselves, while we seem to have come to a standstill in the present, pondering on a past that is not passing. (16)

Alain de Libera “When Did the Modern Subject Emerge?”

Libera, Alain de 2008. When Did the Modern Subject Emerge? American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 82(2):  181-220.

A fair assessment of late ancient and medieval views on the subject is essential for any reconstruction of a history of subjectivity with the subject. Such an assessment, I suggest, is best made in two steps: 1) a discussion of Heidegger’s account of the dominance of the subject in the modern age, and account that is based on the distinction between “subjecticity” or “subjectness” (Subiectität) and “subjectivity” (Subjektivität); 2) a study of the genealogy of Nietzsche’s alleged grammatische Gewöhnung. The two steps are intimately connected: the distinction between subjecticity and subjectivity and the “grammatical habit” constitute two major components of a conceptual scheme I call “mental attributivism”, whose rise and fall deserve a very thorough archaeological scrutiny if we are to understand what exactly happened to the “subject” in early modern philosophy. (186)

To begin with, let us focus on Heidegger’s account of what he calls the “emphatic positing of the subject in Modern Age.” The term Subiectität, which is rendered as “subjecticity” or “subjectness” in English translations, has a precise meaning: at first blush it points to the very quality of being a subjectum, ontologically speaking; that is, according to the meaning of the Greek hypokeimenon, which it translates, to the quality of being “that-which-lies-before, which, as ground, gathers everything onto itself.” (186)

[…] Heidegger does not limit himself to saying that with Descartes man is conceived as a subjectum; he pushes further by asserting that within Descartes’s metaphysics man “comes to play the role of the one and only subject proper.” (187)

Subjecticity thus becomes subjectivity: being is no longer merely created being (ens creatum); it is “certain being, indubitable, truly thought,” in a word: “representation” (ens certum, indubitatum, vere vogitatum, cogitatio). The Cartesian shift from subjecticity to subjectivity may be summed up in four major claims: “1) Man is subject in the sense of representing I-ness; 2) The beingness of beings is equivalent to representedness through and for the I-subject; 3) Truth means the same as secure conveyance of what is represented in the self-representing representation: truth is certitude; 4) Man is the measure of all beings in the sense of the presumption of the de-limitation of representing to self-securing certitude.” (Heidegger, Nihilism, 136-7) (188)

[…] from Descartes onwards up to Nietzsche himself one must consider “the subjecticity (not subjectivity) of the essence of man as the foundation for the objectivity of every subject (everything which is present).” (190)

The modern age is “the age of subjectness,” in which “every analysis of the situation is grounded, whether it knows it or not, in the metaphysics of subjectness.” The metaphysics of subjectness is not reducible to the ontology of “subjectivity” in the sense of “subjectivism.” To be a subject is “to be in the subject-object relation”; to be in that relation “is what constitutes the subjectness of the subject.” (190)

Let me first define what “subjecthood” is in traditional (that is, late ancient and medieval) philosophy. Inherence and predication are the two components of subjecthood. The notion of subjecthood links that of which there can be predicates, the so-called “logical subject,” and that in which there are accidents, the so-called “physical subject.” According to this distinction, Heidegger’s claim should be rephrased as follows: the modern subject emerged when this sub-jective pattern – the subjecthood of the physical subject, which is a substrate for accidents in a change, and at the same time, the subjecthood of the logical subject, which is a substrate for the predicates in a proposition – was extended to the human mind, to a mental subject, thus subjecthood becoming subjectivity. (194)

Let me define what I will hereafter call “mental attributivism.” By “mental attributivism” I understand any interpretation of the soul (or thought, or understanding, or mind) that contains or implies an assimilation of mental or psychic activities, operations, or dispositions to attributes or predicates of a subject defined as an “ego” or an “I”. (195)

The only Cartesian contribution to the emergence of the subject in its modern, “Cartesian,” sense – that is, the first-person relationship between thought and existence, not to say personal identity – is to accept the general axiom that we cannot conceive an act without a subject (that is, Nietzsche’s grammatische Gewöhnung) and to reject, as contrary to all linguistic usage and logic (contra omnem loquendi usum omnemque logicam), the idea that every subject should be material, when logicians and others commonly assert that some substances are spiritual, others corporeal. This is not enough to allow one to consider Descartes as the “father of modern subjectivity.” Descartes’s claim is that there are incorporeal substances – let us say incorporeal subjects. This claim is not primarily concerned with the idea that the thinking thing should be I as a subject – subject of thought, thinking subject. It is concerned with Hobbes’s thesis according to which the expressions “incorporeal substance” or “incorporeal subject” imply a contradiction – in other words, that to say that “x is an incorporeal substance” amounts to saying that “there is no x” […]. (200)

In the Explicatio mentis humanae Regius had argued that there could perfectly be a single subject for thought and extension, intended as two different modes of the same substance. To prove his thesis, he claimed that “there is no reason why the mind should not be a sort of attribute co-existing with extension in the same subject.” For Descartes, this was the second and apparently the last opportunity to deal with the question of subjecthood. To Regius’s claim Descartes responds that “attributes which constitute the natures of things,” as thought and extension do, “cannot be said [to be] present together in one and the same subject; for that would be equivalent to saying that one and the same subject has two different natures – a statement that implies a contradiction, at least when it is a question of a simple subject … rather than a composite one.” (201)

[…] some of Descartes’s most fundamental claims: 1) thought and extension are not two modes of the same substance; 2) they are essential or main or principal attributes of two different substances: mind and body; 3) two different modes can inhere in the same subject; 4) two essential or principal attributes cannot have the same subject; 5) each substance has only one essential or principal attribute; 6) there is no subject common both to thought and extension. (201)

Man is such [a composite] entity: “That which we regard as having at the same time both extension and thought is a composite entity, namely a man – an entity consisting of a soul and a body.” This was exactly the thesis that Descartes had expressed in the Sixth Meditation: Peter Strawson’s two-subjects theory. Man is not his soul. Man is not his mind. Man is a subject composed of two substances, mind and body, which are the simple subjects, substantially different, of principal or essential attributes that are in each case unique: thought and extension. (202)

Thus, there is no “Cartesian subject” in Descartes, both because the Cartesian theory of mind and thought lacks a concept of subject – this was the core of Hobbes’s criticism – and, paradoxically, because there are too many subjects in his philosophy: mind and body, the two substances whose composition constitutes the composite entity called “man.” (203)

In the description of the mens-notitia-amor triad (On the Trinity IX, v, 8) the doctrine of the circumincession of the Persons of the Trinity is evoked even more directly in order to conceptualize the mutual indwelling of mens and its acts: “The mind, love and knowledge … each is a substance in itself, and all are found mutually in all, or each two in each one, consequently all are in all … These three, therefore, are in a marvelous manner inseparable from one another; and yet each of them is a substance, and all together are one substance or essence, while the terms themselves express a mutual relationship.” This is exactly what the Aristotelian hypokeimenon pattern would not and could not allow. Yet in the Middle Ages, the two conflicting patterns – the perichoretic and the Aristotelian – merged into a single one, giving rise to the concept of a mental subject, mentally active, in a modern sense. (206)

Arguing against Augustine, the Peripatetics posited the existence of a potentia subjectiva in order to demonstrate the existence of “a subject of knowledge acts that are oriented toward objects.” According to [Peter] Olivi, this conjecture, which certainly would look to moderns lie a decisive step toward subjectivity, lacked what the Augustinian model was meant to supply: self-certainty, certitudo infallibilis sui esse […]. Indeed, it actually says nothing about the ego or the I; it makes it possible to posit that my acts have a subject, but it does not establish that I am that subject. (207)

In order to arrive at the self-certainty of the moderns, one would have to take one more step: assume that I can directly intuit that I myself am the subject of my acts. One should, in a word, go back to Augustine’s perichoretic conception of the soul and adapt the “peripatetic” language of subjecthood to it. […] that would precisely mark the beginnings of “subjectivity,” or at least one of the preconditions for those beginnings. I think that this is the step taken by Peter Olivi when he expressly makes the perception of my acts depend upon “my prior perception of myself as subject of those acts.” This leads him to formulate the theorem that “in the perception of my acts, the perception of the subject itself [that is to say, of me as the suppositum of my own acts] comes first according to the natural order of things” […]. (207)

According to Olivi, the subject is perceived first because “according to the natural order of things, the subject is perceived before the predicate is attributed to it as such […]” – a psycholinguistic fact. With this claim, the “subjectivation” of the mind is now complete in every dimension, including the assumption of the linguistic or logical form of predication, which is backed up by the introduction of the word ego into the analysis of linguistic communication. (208)

From a modern point of view, Olivi’s subject satisfies all the requirements set forth in ego-based psychology. It meets the requirement of a doer for every deed. Olivi’s theory states that if there is thinking, there must be something that thinks. But it also establishes that I am this something. There is a grammatical move, a logical move, and a theological move. (209)

[…] if the equivalence of hypostasis, suppositum, and individua substantia (a Thomistic commonplace) is granted, the principle that actions belong to subjects brings about everything required for a concept of person or personality. It makes possible the interpretation of man as subiectum which Heidegger considered to be the exclusive trademark of Cartesianism. Such a concept includes three main elements: subsistence, individuality, and rationality. They are combined by Thomas in the following way: every substance is a suppositum, every suppositum is an individual (an individual substance), but it is not the case that every individual (individual substance) which is a suppositum is a person: only the supposita having dominion over their own actions, which can act of themselves (that is, rational individuals) are persons. (210)

The core argument is the principle actions belong to singulars. Nothing can act or be acted upon but a singular. […] That is the reason why human beings are called persons. There can be no persons but subjects which can act of themselves, that is to say, which can both be considered and consider themselves as subjects-agents of their own actions. (211)

[…] the axiom actiones sunt suppositorum cannot be found in Aristotle. It is an adage formulated in the Middle Ages on the basis of the only genuine Aristotelian axiom, stated in Metaphysics, Book I, chap. 1 (981a16-17): “actions and generations are all concerned with the individual.” (213)

The obvious meaning of the principle (which is also mentioned in Politics, 1267b23-1269a29, esp. “for what is written must be universal [in nature], whereas actions are concerned with individuals”) is that actions and generations bear on individuals, or that what results from an action or a generation can only be an individual. In the statement that every action is of an individual, “of” must be read as an objective genitive, meaning “about,” peri, circa. (214)

The medieval adage, however, states just the opposite. Actiones sunt suppositorum means actions are “of” individuals in the sense of subjective genitive, which denotes “the person who makes or produces something or who has a feeling,” as in dicta Platonis, “the utterances of Plato,” or timores liberorum, “the fears of the children.” (214)

The Leibnizian suppositum is some one who has a biographical definition. I am not a thinking thing “outfitted with the quality of thinking.” I am not even the one thinking I am I. I am an I, this I, a singular I: a subject including a set of action-attributes that make him/her an individual episode in the (best possible) world story. Leibniz’s new conception of the “subject” does not merely consist in equating suppositum, substance, and individually subsisting being. It is also firmly grounded in a set of agency principles. One is the principle stating that “actions belong to the suppositum.” Another is the principle maintaining that subjects are denominated by their actions, acts or activities: subjectum denominatur a propria actione. This is Leibniz’s praxeological answer to the Hobbesian ontological principle according to which “an essence is that accident for which we give the thing – the subject – its name,” the scholastic Accidens denominat proprium subiectum. The third principle states what one could call “metaphysical attributivism”: Praedicatum inest subiecto. (218)

Reinhart Koselleck “Crisis”

Koselleck, Reinhart 2006. Crisis. Journal of the History of Ideas 67(2): 357-400.

[…] “crisis” also meant “decision” in the sense of reaching a verdict or judgment, what today is meant by criticism (Kritik). Thus in classical Greek the subsequent separation into two domains of meaning – that of a “subjective critique” and an “objective critique” – were still covered by the same term. (359)

Above all, it was in the sense of “judgment”, “trial”, “legal decision”, and ultimately “court” that crisis achieved a high constitutional status, through which the individual citizen and the community were bound together. (359)

From this specific legal meaning, the term begins to acquire political significance. It is extended to electoral decisions, government resolutions, decisions of war and peace, death sentences and exile, the acceptance of official reports, and, above all, to government decisions as such. Consequently, krisis is most necessary for the community, representing what is at once just and salutary. For this reason, only one who participated as judge could be a citizen. For the Greeks, therefore, “crisis” was a central concept by which justice and the political order could be harmonized through appropriate legal decisions. (359)

[…] medical theory of crisis, which originated in the Corpus Hippocraticum and which Galen (129-99) firmly entrenched for about fifteen hundred years. In the case of illness, crisis refers both to the observable condition and to the judgment (judicium) about the course of illness. At such a time, it will be determined whether the patient will live or die. This required properly identifying the beginning of an illness in order to predict how regular its development will be. Depending on whether or not the crisis led to a fill restoration of health, the distinction was made between a perfect crisis and an imperfect crisis. The latter left open the possibility of a relapse. A further distinction, between acute and chronic crises, has led – since Galen – to a temporal differentiation in the progression of illnesses. (360)

With its adoption into Latin, the concept subsequently underwent a metaphorical expansion into the domain of social and political language. There it is used as a transitional or temporal concept (Verlaufsbegriff), which, as in a legal trial, leads towards a decision. It indicates that point in time which a decision is due but has not yet been rendered. (361)

At all times [whether legal, theological or medical use] the concept is applied to life-deciding alternatives meant to answer questions about what is just or unjust, what contributes to salvation or damnation, what furthers health or brings death. (361)

Although the metaphor of the body or organism has been applied to the community since antiquity, it was not until the seventeenth century that the medical concept of crisis was applied to the “body politic” or to its constituent parts. Thus in 1627, Rudyerd used this term during the battle between parliament and the absolutist crown: “This is the Chrysis of Parliaments; we shall know by this if Parliaments life or die.” A little later, at the time of the civil war, the word became anglicized, lost its exclusively medical meaning, and perhaps began to refer more to its theological roots. In 1643, for example, Baillie wrote: “this seems to be a new period and crise of the most great affairs.” This expression became generally established, while increasingly acquiring religious connotations. (362)

Although we can presuppose that many scholars were familiar with those [juridical and theological] meanings, it appears that the primary point of departure for the expansion of the term into political and economic sphere was the medical usage. (365)

[…] the metaphorical extension of crisis into the German vernacular entered first through political rather than economic language. Thus Pierer in 1845 points to the political but not yet economic application of the term. At the same time, however, French lexicography already provides a comprehensive article on “crise commerciale” and gives it parity with “crise (médicine)” and “crise politique“. (366)

In Germany, however, such an economic application was not made until 1850 with Roscher’s article in the Brockhaus’s Gegenwart (The Present), in which he writes of “production crises considered with special reference to the most recent decades.” (367)

“Crisis” was used appropriately to describe concrete civil war situations that divided the loyalty of citizens. Pleading along this line, Count Reinhart, in a petition to the King of Westphalia, used the term to prevent him from carrying out summary executions. On the other hand, he could apply the same term in 1819 – “political crisis” – to a mere change of cabinet in Paris. (369)

The spectrum of political applications thus ranged broadly. “Crisis” marked external or military situations that were reaching a decisive point; it pointed to fundamental changes in constitutions in which the alternatives were the survival or demise of a political entity and its constitutional order; but it could also describe a simple change of government. The common use of the word had neither been validated nor sufficiently enriched to be elevated into a basic concept. (369)

From the second half of the eighteenth century on, a religious connotation enters into the way the term is used. It does so, however, in a post-theological mode, namely as a philosophy of history. At the same time, the metaphor of illness as well as the associational power of the “Last Judgment” and the “Apocalypse” remain pervasive in the way the term is used, leaving no doubt as to the theological origins of the new way in which the concept is constructed. (370)

[…] the concept of crisis can generalize the modern experience to such an extent that “crisis” becomes a permanent concept of “history”. This appears for the first time with Schiller’s dictum: “Die Weltgeschicte ist das Weltgericht” (“World History is the Last Judgment”), the impact of which cannot be overestimated. Without actually taking over the term “Last Judgment”, Schiller nonetheless interprets all of human history as a single crisis that is constantly and permanently taking place. The final judgment will not be pronounced from without, either by God or by historians in ex post facto pronouncements about history. Rather, it will be executed through all the actions and omissions of mankind. What was left undone in one minute, eternity will not retrieve. The concept of crisis has become the fundamental mode of interpreting historical time. (371)

Another variant lies in the repeated application of a crisis concept that represents at the same time – like the ascending line of progress – a historically unique transition phase. It then coagulates into an epochal concept in that it indicates a critical transition period after which – if not everything, then much – will be different. (371)

As it pertains to historical time, then, the semantics of the crisis concept contains four interpretative possibilities. 1) Following the medical-political-military use, “crisis” can mean that chain of events leading to a culminating, decisive point at which action is required. 2) In line with the theological promise of a future Last Day, “crisis” may be defined as a unique and final point, after which the quality of history will be changed forever. 3) Somewhat more removed from the earlier medical or theological semantic spheres, are two new historical (or temporal) coinages. The first uses “crisis” as a permanent or conditional category pointing to a critical situation which may constantly recur or else to situations in which decisions have momentous consequences. 4)The second new coinage uses “crisis” to indicate a historically immanent transitional phase. When this transition will occur and whether it leads to a worse or better condition depends on the specific diagnosis offered. (371-372)

All of these possibilities reveal attempts to develop a single concept limited to the present with which to capture a new era that may have various temporal beginnings and whose unknown future seems to give free scope to all sorts of wishes and anxieties, fears and hope. “Crisis” becomes a structural signature of modernity. (372)

Chateaubriand similarly uses the term as a key concept essential to all political parties: “In this moment of crisis no one can say “I will do something tomorrow” without having foreseen what tomorrow will bring.” Everyone is equally in the dark. All therefore must seek to discover the origins of this crisis, one’s own situation in it and the path to the future. This was to be his task. He compared all earlier revolutions with the ongoing French Revolution. For him, “crisis” is the point at which the present situation intersects with universal historical conditions that must first be understood before a prognosis could be offered. (376)

[…] Herder employs the decisive concept of crisis: “since for a variety of reasons we are living in the midst of such a strange crisis of the human spirit (indeed why not also of the human heart?), it is up to us to discover and assess all the inner forces of history rather than continue paying homage to a naive idea of progress.” (377)

“Crisis” plays only a peripheral role in the German Idealist philosophy of history in which the spirit (Geist) that drives reality naturally triumphs over any acute crisis. But the concept of crisis assumed a central place among its heirs, the Young Hegelians (Junghegelianer). This praxis- and action-oriented philosophy seeks to achieve that freedom, the absence of which is the object of its critique. At odds with reality, that critique is pushing for a decision, which, historically understood as “crisis”, is already pre-programmed and prepared. (384)

Because it is able to see the direction of history, this critique is propelling the crisis. In Bruno Bauer’s words: “History … will elevate to power the freedom which theory has given us and thereby create the world in a new form. … History will take of the crisis and its outcome.” Judging history correctly will determine whether the problems of state, church, and society demanding a decision can be solved in practice. The concept of crisis thus remains within a philosophy of history calling for the execution of tendencies revealed through critique. (385)

[Lorenz von Stein, Geschichte der sozialen Bewegung in Frankreich von 1789 bis auf unsere Tage, 1850]: “Throughout Europe there is a sense that the present condition cannot last much longer. Powerful and terrible movements are coming to the fore; no one dares to predict where they will lead. Hence no one has the right to offer a magic formula for the future.” […] The 1848 Revolution, which announces “the sovereignty of industrial society”, is merely one “act of that mighty crisis.” As with Saint-Simon, von Stein’s concept of crisis is drawn from an all-encompassing view of history which sees the revolutions of the nineteenth century as steps in the transition toward industrial society. At the same time, Stein prognosticates only two alternatives: a just social order or collapse. Thus his theory of the three epochs contains a decidedly eschatological component. (385-386)

[of Burckhardt]: The wars of the nineteenth century were only a part of this larger crisis, into which the forces of democracy and material ambitions, lust for power, and intellectual utopias all merged. But the “principal crisis” will come only with the convergence of technology, wars, and social revolutions. “At that point, the main decision must come from the nature of humanity itself” (thus transforming once and for all the metaphor of the Last Judgment into and anthropological and historical category). (388)

Surely our concept would never have become a central concept had it not acquired an additional interpretive content that reflected and experience increasingly common in daily life: economic crises. In Germany these were initially due to the costs of the wars against the French, to agrarian surpluses, as in 1825, or to failed harvests, as in 1847. But from 1857 on, economic crises were increasingly viewed as global occurrences caused by the capitalist system itself. (389)

From the 1840s on, the economically-based concept of crisis permeates the growing literature of social criticisms – coming from all political and social camps – that had begun to flood the market. “Crisis” was well suited to conceptualize both the emergencies resulting from contemporary constitutional or class specific upheavals, as well as the distress caused by industry, technology, and the capitalist market economy. These could be treated as symptoms of a serious disease or as a disturbance of the economy’s equilibrium. This undoubtedly prompted Roscher, in 1854, to coin the general formula: these are crises “the changing substance of which may take changing forms. Such crises are called ‘reforms’ if they are resolved peacefully under the auspices of the established legal system, but ‘revolutions’ if they produce changes violating the law.” Thus, in the economic sphere as well, “crisis” had been elevated into a historical “super concept” (Oberbegriff) with which to analyze the challenges of the century. (391-392)

“Crisis” remains a catchword, used rigorously in only a few scholarly or scientific contexts. Schumpeter denies its utility even for political economy, which is why, in his analysis of business cycles, he gives “no technical meaning to the term crisis, but only to the concepts of prosperity and depression.” (397)

The concept of crisis, which once had the power to pose unavoidable, harsh and non-negotiable alternatives, has been transformed to fit the uncertainties of whatever might be favored at a given moment. (399)