The Particular Logic of Modernity
A friend once said to me that he would be glad to discuss postmodemity if only he knew what modernity meant. There are so many descriptions. We’re all modern: Modern society, modern art, modern philosophy, modern science, modern technologies. The reformation, the wars of religion, the American revolution, the French revolution, the Paris Commune, the world wars. Civil society, capitalism, the liberal state, the procedural state. Luther, Galileo, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Manet, Cézanne, Rawls, Warhol. But also Novalis, Nietzsche, Heidegger and the German cultural conservatives. Derrida, Bataille, Levinas, Pynchon. And so forth. Here is Robert Pippin’s enumeration of what he sees as the common features of modern societies: The new conception of nature required by modern science; the post-Cartesian notion of mind as subjective consciousness; a political world of passion-driven but rationally calculating individuals, or a “post-Protestant” world of individually self-reliant, responsible agents; a new political language of rights and equality; and, most of all, a common hope: that a secular, rational basis for moral and political order could be found and safely relied on, could inspire the allegiance and commitment necessary for the vitality and reproduction of a society. (I2) Hegel had his own theory of modern life and thought, centering around the culmination of spirit’s teleology in objective and absolute spirit, based on the logical patterns of the movement of spirit’s development. Modern times brought decisive liberations and completions, but also permanent tensions, and a loss of immediate rootedness in a natural or social home. Modern selves are strong enough to be bei sich in the midst of modern tensions and negativities, but it takes work and maturity to deal with the inner complexities of modern thought and the built-in tensions of modern institutions.
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