Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Unearthed from the archives of a particularly worthy blog, to conclude an especially blockquote-laden blogging spell:
"One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as an historical norm. The current astonishment that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This wonder is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history to which it gives rise is untenable."

The target of Benjamin's criticism, the view of history he invokes, subtly indicts not just Marxist and Stalinist orthodoxy, and the Social Democracy of Germany’s erstwhile Opposition, but also their deeper common ground – Enlightenment progressivism, the belief that history is a movement from barbarism to humanism, a belief which Voltaire, for all his radicality and playful cynicism, had recapitulated.

That torture is still possible in the twenty-first century, how should one as a philosopher react to this? Should one be shocked, astonished? Would this make one a better philosopher, a real philosopher? Or should one, with Benjamin, recognise that it is not philosophical to be shocked by events such as this, though we must always be shocked (if we were not shocked then we would have succumbed to the coldness, the blasé personality, which is the norm of bourgeois life). We must be shocked and we must not be shocked.

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