Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Thibodeau - Bouton's 'Le procès de l'histoire. Fondements et postérité de l'idéalisme historique de Hegel'

"According to Bouton the issue of history should be understood in regard to two opposite views. The first one, which could be called the thesis, holds that history -- i.e., the temporal becoming and unfolding of the life of human beings, individually and/or collectively -- is something meaningful, intelligible, and should somehow be thought of as an evolutionary progress heading towards a certain goal or end. In contradistinction to this, the other conception, which could be designated as the antithesis, claims that history, because it is submitted to time and becoming, is meaningless rather than meaningful, unintelligible than intelligible, irrational than rational. According to this view, history is certainly a becoming, albeit a chaotic and fragmented one. It ought therefore to be more accurately conceived as an oscillatory movement of progress and regress. Now this opposition, claims Bouton, is in reality much more complex than the mere assertion of these two irreconcilable conceptions. Indeed its complexity becomes apparent when one, for example, asks the defender of the thesis: What is the driving force of history? For Bouton, there are two possible answers to this question: The first maintains that history's sense is beyond human understanding. It has its source in either God -- which is the principle founding the providentialist conception of history -- or nature -- which is the principle founding the "naturalist" view of history. The second answer to this question maintains that history's sense is rather the product of individuals and peoples, the result of human action, freedom, and reason. This view can then be called the "practical" or "rationalist" conception of history.
Analogously, the antithesis is also double-sided. The senselessness of history can either be attributed to a force or a power that escapes human reason -- a fate or a destiny -- or it can be thought of as the result of man's irrational and destructive behavior. This last view might well be designated as the "pessimistic" conception of history. According to Bouton, these two double-sided conceptions form what he calls -- using a Kantian terminology -- the antinomy of history. Thus it is precisely this antinomy that will be at the core of the different philosophies of history that emerge in the context of the French Revolution. Of course, it is this same antinomy that he will use, so to speak, as a conduit for his analysis of these philosophies. And for Bouton -- this is the larger claim that he seeks to make in this book -- the emergence of the Post-Kantian, and, more specifically, of the Hegelian philosophy of history marks the moment where history will cease to be understood as an overwhelming power which people are submitted to -- whether it is "Fate", "Nature", or "Providence" -- and will instead be thought of as something made by human reason, action, and freedom. This moment, which in his view is epitomized by Hegel's philosophy of history, coincides with what he describes as "une montée en puissance de l'idée de liberté"" - NDPR.

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