The following is Section III of “How the Absolute Might Move” by O.G. Rose
‘Our contemporary age is bringing into popular discussion the Metaphysics of Adjacency under various names — ‘post-metaphysics,’ ‘post-correlationism,’ ‘the end of philosophy,’ ‘the death of the subject.’ A major function of these signpost is to reflect the widespread shift in our sense of truth. It loses its fixity, centrality, independence. It becomes interactive, contextual, adjacent.’ — and so Layman Pascal opens his essay, “Almost Is Good Enough,” and I couldn’t agree more.²³ For me, though arguably Hegel is one of the most influential philosophers of all time, rivaled only by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, strangely at the same time I’ve come to feel as if The Science of Logic was passed over. Hegel’s masterwork feels like it is a text of “Post-Metaphysics” before Modernism, which is to say that philosophy in the 19th and 20th Century missed a turn. For me, The Science of Logic can generally be viewed as a powerful critique and advancement of Aristotelian logic, which ultimately comes to claim that we cannot derive our understanding of the world from a place where we don’t take into account the subject and our historic moment. This brings to mind the debates of Whitehead and Bergson against Einstein, who warned that we cannot simply replace our “common sense experience of time” with the notion of “a block universe” where time is ultimately relative and even illusionary. For Whitehead and Bergson, Einstein was not wrong, only incomplete, and for them Einstein’s oversight could prove extremely consequential. Indeed, it could contribute to the mistake of “autonomous rationality” which I critique throughout my work, inspired by David Hume.²⁴
The Science of Logic is not a text I feel mastery in, and I would turn readers to the work others for a deeper and better reading. Still, I feel comfortable to claim that what I call “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment” algins with Hegel, and that thinkers like Maurice Blondel, Alfred Korzybski, Benjamin Fondane, Paul Feyerabend, Pavel Florensky, Peter Geach, Alfred Whitehead, Henri Bergson, Michael Polanyi, René Guénon, and the like basically following Hegel’s critique of Aristotle and “hard objectivity.” Layman Pascal and Alex Ebert are two individuals I would consider as part of “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment,” which I believe is still occurring, for the line of thought has mostly been ignored. I would also associate the movement with “The Kyoto School,” Nietzsche, “The Scottish Enlightenment,” and Phenomenology, as well as some theological projects like that found in Balthasar — but those are claims I would have to defend. As brought to my attention by Dr. Terence Blake, Francois Laruelle also seems critical, whose “non-philosophy” strikes me as very much aligned with my thinking on “nonrationality.” For Laruelle, all philosophy requires a decision and orientation that comes prior to philosophy, which indeed sounds like my ideas on how we must ascent to a truth before we organize a corresponding rationality. For me, this is the “pre-move” and/or “dialectical move” arguably at the heart of all A/B-thinking.
Critically, “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment” is not Postmodernism, and if anything is more akin to the emerging Metamodernity we see today, which I think is actually a return to Hegel’s Dialectical Thinking (and so we return to Hegel from many angles). I’ve mentioned this to both High Root (O.G. Rose Conversations #80 and #73) and Greg Dember (an expert on Metamodernity), and mainly I have argued that Postmodernity might deconstruct A/A, that is not the same as sublating A/A into A/B. Postmodernity occurs within and according to an A/A paradigm, while “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment” operates according to an A/B framework. Arguably, Postmodernism is what the Modern Counter-Enlightenment admonished would develop if we didn’t transition into A/B, along with “The Meaning Crisis” in general. Yes, there have been benefits from Postmodernism, but I’m not convinced that those benefits can’t also be found in the Modern Counter-Enlightenment. Where Postmodernism is at its best, I find it like the MCE, and so it goes with Metamodernity. Though it depends on who you ask, what strikes me as the main difference Metamodernity and “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment” might be that the oscillation of Metamodernity is an external movement between Postmodernism and Modernism, whereas the MCE suggests an internal oscillation, which is to say things are oscillations, versus suggest that there are “solid things” which oscillate. Yes, the very fact that things oscillate between Postmodernism and Modernism might be evidence that things “are” oscillations (in line with a proof according to Austin Farrer), but there are still notable and technical differences which matter. To put it another way, Metamodernism might explore Hegel’s dialectic as what things unfold “in,” whereas “The Modern Counter-Enlightenment” might more so suggest that Hegel’s dialectic is what things “are”—though again I think there are easily versions of Metamodernism which cannot be described as such.
The key characteristic of an MCE thinker is a critique of A/A that leads into A/B, and there are additional thinkers I love but whom I’m not sure if they are MCEs or not. Ivan Illich, Susan Sontag, Philip Rieff, René Girard, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Kurt Gödel, John Nash, and Marshall McLuhan are such examples, for though McLuhan understood that technology organized our thinking, I’m not sure if I would say that he directly critiques A/A in favor of A/B. Illich similarly grasps how “the medium of school” organizes our notions of “being educated,” which is a recognization of the relation between “nonrationality/truth and rationality,” as Sontag makes similar points about photography and “medical metaphors.” Girard is aware of how rationality after “the scapegoat” leads to ever-greater escalation with the possibility of nuclear war, and Horkheimer with Adorno made a convincing case for how the Enlightenment led to “total war.” Kurt Gödel is an interesting case, for he grasped that “a total system which grounds itself axiomatically” was not possible—a powerful move against A/A-thinking—and yet was ultimately a Mathematical Platonist, leaving me unsure where to place him. I feel similarly about John Nash, the father of Game Theory, who seems to have realized “the incompleteness of rationality” but for the sake of the Modernist Project (Game Theory is often said to “increase rationality,” not unveil the need for “nonrationality,” which for me is a terrible mistake). Regarding all of these thinkers, my references to them as MCEs will likely be blurred and uncertain (do forgive me).
I’m not sure if all these geniuses are focused enough on negating/sublating A/A to be considered MCEs versus only sharing overlap. Philip Rieff and Peter Berger are incredible, but what we see in their sociology is an examination of why Postmodernity is not an adequate response to Modernity in terms of sociology, which “points to” MCE, but at the same times doesn’t necessary fall under the category of MCE. Honestly, there is a part of me that wants to include them under the MCE label, but at the same time I don’t want the label to do be too broad to the point where it simply includes anyone who critiques Modernism and the Enlightenment. I adore Paul Virilio, Hayden White, and Charles W. Mills, but though all these thinkers profoundly critique “autonomous rationality” and A/A-thinking in favor of an acknowledgment of the role of the subjects, systems, race, ideology, and the like, I’m not familiar with any of these thinkers specifically critiquing A/A for A/B. That is the key move which distinguishes MCE from Postmodernity, for while Postmodernity might deconstruct A/A, MCE negate/sublates A/A into A/B. All the same, it still feels right to think of Virilio, White, and Mills as having something to do with the MCE, so I have no hard position (perhaps I should make a distinction between “MCE light” and “MCG hard”).
Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, Marcuse, Fanon, Beauvoir, and others are all Postmodernists, regardless how much I like them, precisely because they deconstruct A/A, all of which is useful but also incomplete. Though I respect him, Deleuze is unique in that he argues for “autonomous and/or essential difference” versus an “autonomous and/or essential unity” (A/A), which is to say Deleuze provides a metaphysics of A/A, B/B, C/C, D/D, E/E, etc., which is arguably an improvement over “autonomous A/A,” but it’s also not “different in kind” from Aristotle and is ultimately just the most extreme and logical end of Postmodernist deconstruction of A/A. Deleuze particularly refuses “epistemologies of representation,” which indeed means for me that he denies himself the resources needed for his critique of A/A to be negated/sublated into an affirmation of A/B. A very focused critique on A/A or “identity” for me defines MCE, and though the best Postmodern thinkers indeed critique identity, it often comes from a negative place of understanding that rationality can be problematic, but that’s different from a positive case for why A/B is the case. That positive case is what I’m looking for, without which a thinker can only be Postmodern, perhaps Metamodern. Generally, MCE includes Postmodernism, but Postmodernism doesn’t include MCE.
“The Scottish Enlightenment” and “The Counter-Enlightenment” are the traditions upon which the Modern Counter-Enlightenment continues, and for this reason we can see Isaiah Berlin as also playing a critical role in the development of awareness regarding MCE. The field of psychoanalysis is particularly interesting to me regarding this topic, for thinkers like Lacan and Zupančič both understand the trouble with “autonomous rationality” and suggest a need for Dialectical Reasoning, but that would put them in the camp of “Returning to Hegel,” though perhaps not MCE. I’m not sure, which brings me to the unique case of Slavoj Žižek, in whom Postmodernity and MCE overlap and mix. For me, the Žižek who I am most attracted to is the Žižek of Less Than Nothing, which is very much a MCE text. The book emphasizes The Science of Logic, which we have indeed argued is foundational (perhaps without being recognized) of the MCE, and in Žižek we see a critique of “self-relation,” which is the ontological expression of “A = A.” Both Dr. Cadell Last and Trey at telosbound have recorded incredible presentations on Žižek, and I will let them make my case for me, but ultimately my point is that to claim that we do see the MCE in Žižek, who perhaps was the first person to realize that grasping The Science of Logic could be aided by a profound incorporation of psychoanalysis (which indeed can lead us into A/B).
I realize that many Hegelian scholars disagree with Žižek’s readings of Hegel, but even if that is true I still see MCE in him (and I’m a fan of Harold Bloom’s emphasis on how “strong misreadings” can advance thought). Now, I do think the political, cultural criticism, etc. of Žižek are more Postmodern than MCE, hence why Žižek is easily considered “a Postmodern Thinker.” But I think taking this to far can be a mistake, for we can miss how Žižek can be fit into a conversation on our need to consider MCE. There is indeed a Postmodern Žižek who is more deconstructionist, but I believe Less Than Nothing is a book of the Modern Counter-Enlightenment and should be read as such (and testament to the uniqueness of The Science of Logic). A reason why I think it is important to see Žižek as a MCE thinker and not just a Postmodernist is because the word “Postmodern” has come to mean something comical, ironic, “not serious,” and the like, and if we associate A/B-thinking with Postmodernism, I’m afraid it will similarly come to be seen as “silly” and “non-disciplined.” This is not the case, but associations have power, and I’m afraid something similar might apply with the word “Metamodern.” It feels “Post-Postmodern,” which risks seeming “ultra-silly” and/or “new age,” and though I realize this is not the case, there is a real risk. It doesn’t help with this association that Žižek is quite the character, which though something I personally love, admittedly his performative nature can be used as further evidence that Postmodernism is a joke compared to “enlightened science” (A/A). If Postmodernity is then connected with opposition to A/A (and then there isn’t a distinction between “deconstructing A/A” and “negating/sublating A/A into A/B), then as a result all thinkers who critique A/A can be seen as “jokes.”
Please do not mistake me as saying that MCEs are necessarily “the best” philosophers or my favorites — that is not my point. My aim is to define differences between “Postmodernists who overlap with MCE,” and more independent MCE thinkers. Also, the thinkers I have named in this piece are not meant to be “the only” MCEs (there are easily many more), and there are also other thinkers like Berdyaev, Martin Buber, C.S. Peirce, Dostoevsky, Hayek, and Austin Farrer that might fall under the category, but I’m not sure enough yet to include them. There are also thinkers like René Guénon who I have included but who might not fit, but Guénon’s critique of quantity in favor of quality aligns with Hegel’s thinking in The Science of Logic, and quality is inherently A/B versus A/A. I also see thinkers like John D. Zizioulas as being “what follows” if A/B is the case, but Zizioulas himself (to my knowledge) doesn’t contain a critique of “A = A,” only of individualism in favor of “communal ontology.”
Traditions and histories empower, and so for me linking the thinkers I have named with “a legacy or continuation of the Counter-Enlightenment” strengthens their case. Postmodernity is a reaction to Modernity more than a traditional alternative to Modernity, hence why I further want to distinguish the Modern Counter-Enlightenment. The father of all Counter-Enlightenment thinking seems to be Giambattista Vico, with thinkers like David Hume and G.W.F. Hegel inheriting his line of reasoning (and Hegel taking it to its extraordinary (non)logical end). Obviously, theologians earlier than Vico critique materialism and “autonomous rationality,” but it is in Vico that we see a critique of Newtown and Descartes, who are arguably the fathers of Modernism (it’s interesting to note how Vico critique the geometrical method of Descartes like Whitehead critiques Einstein’s use of geometry — or at least that’s how I understand it).²⁵
More can be said on the Counter-Enlightenment, such as how the thought overlaps with Burke and Tocqueville, how the later Wittgenstein might have realized how logic eventually reaches a point where “nonrationality becomes logical,” how the Heidegger who emphasizes “clearing” seems to understand the destructive power of “autonomous rationality” (and “clearing” makes me think of prehistoric man entering a forest clearing and hearing lightening to birth language in Vico), how Hans Gadamer suggests it is only in art that we might realize “the nonrational horizon” which organizes a historic moment — on and on. In this way, there are parts of notions in thinkers that align with the MCE, only for the same thinker in the next book to slip back into Modernism. For this reason, it can sometimes be problematic to suggest a thinker “is” MCE or not, because it possible for an individual to slip in and out of the tradition. On this point, I would like to emphasize how MCE is not primarily a period of time but a line of thinking, mainly the critique of A/A. We often can be lead to believe that intellectual movements correspond with periods of time, and though that is true, the time period is secondary to the line of thought itself. Yes, Modernism happens with the Industrial Revolution during a particular historic period, but the time period is second to the kind of thinking itself. Furthermore, though I have noted how Rieff and Berger might not be thinkers of the MCE, at the same time I cannot help but associate them with it, seeing how profoundly their thought points to the need for MCE thinking to help us escape the pitfalls of “autonomous rationality.”
The majority of Post-Hegelian philosophy has been either Heideggerian, Deleuzian, Foucauldian, or Derridean, and though validity can be found in all this thinking, I would like to stress that this thinking isn’t equivalent to the MCE. It is not primarily an expression of The Science of Logic, and though it can be “worked into” MCE, it is a different tradition. Yes, my work on Philosophical Developmentalism suggests a way to position Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Buber into Hegel, but again this must be “worked.” If we “develop into” I/Other, we have made “The Absolute Choice” and entered into A/B, thus the MCE, and so interpreting Modernity and Postmodernity into Hegel is a way we can return to the MCE.
Polanyi emphasized how thinking comes after belief and knowledge; Peirce suggested belief is primarily a matter of avoiding intellectual discomfort; Paul Feyerabend stressed that science advanced not by the scientific method but creative and even irrational risk; Rieff understood how “autonomous rationality” deconstructed the societal “givens” needed to avoid totalitarianism — all of these are examples of critiques of Modernism, and the originating thinkers should be respected as such. But to be a thinker of the Modern Counter Enlightenment, I am searching for a clear negation/sublation of A/A, stable identity, being, and the like, for this is the foundational work that must be done for an “alternative tradition” to arise alongside and counter to Modernism. And for me there is no clearer example of this then The Science of Logic by G.W.F. Hegel.
²³Allusion to “Almost Is Good Enough” by Layman Pascal, as can be found here:
²⁴For more on Bergson and Whitehead, please see the incredible YouTube channel, “Footnotes2Plato,” from whom I have learned much:
²⁵For more on the incredible Vico, please see my discussion with Davood Gozli and John David, “Giambattista Vico & the New Science,” as can be found here:
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I really enjoyed this survey. I think that there is a
power in tracing the lineage of an idea as opposed to the back and forth of thinkers. It allows us to lay over top of the notion, that a man can have an idea, a cooperating notion that an idea can have men. I think we would do well to look at the corners that philosophy ‘didn’t take’ because I expect we will find a landscape of thought that is much more ecological than that; where frameworks for knowing live with (fight, fuck, trade and travel) one another.
To me though, it doesn’t make sense to worry about how an idea or its association would make it ‘seem’, especially if that seeming is silly. On the one hand my mind says, ‘that’s more a fear than a thought.’ On the other, fearing an appearance prioritizes an inauthentic representation of an idea, and that seems like no good way to relate to ideas in whom we find a good measure of truth. Those kind of camp-games are themselves silly anyways. No one ever ‘seems’ smarter by making someone else ‘seem’ silly.