Ostensibly we are free. It is a claim that was stated clearly in the 18th century, though in a double manner, as ontological freedom by Kant together with factical unfreedom and the resulting inability to know the in-itself, and as freedom as an ‘inalienable human right’ together with the obviousness with which that inalienable right was alienated daily, not only in the most overt slavery of all time, but in the slavery of those who were overtly freemen. But the 18th century as the ‘enlightenment’ is itself merely a superstition, a superstition of the most superstitious age in history.
The ease of clarity both in Hegel, who immediately followed and Leibniz, who immediately preceded the supposed enlightenment demonstrates not only that, but far more, if thought through sufficiently, which means first dispensing with the great superstitions cemented, if not actually invented, during the ‘enlightenment’.
Freedom was known and stated even more clearly and far more overtly than by any ‘enlightenment’ author in the 13th century by Meister Eckhart, the ‘master’ theologian, who simultaneously demonstrated both freedom and mastery, destroying the inquisition in argument on more than one occasion.
It was known, perhaps without the same force of clarity, or in a less aware way, by Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. Or perhaps even known with the same clarity, though not stated as overtly.
One can go back further to St. Augustine, who fought the experience of freedom from the moment he experienced it, as did St. Paul, as, most certainly, did the man we call ‘Jesus’.
Taking a different path from Augustine to his other inheritances: Plotinus, the great culmination of the first beginning in Plato and Aristotle; the determinations of that beginning in the pre-Socratics as the beginning of the various metaphysical hegemonies determining ‘reality’ of the series that Leibniz, fully aware of his position, was the last.
Those hegemonies have always operated, not by the ‘covert judgement of reason’, but by the principle of reason, which however couldn’t be formulated until Leibniz, but was always instead the judgement of covert reason, an ambiguous judge of ambiguity.
The formulation expresses nothing other than that founding, always already redoubled ambiguity: between reality and the real; between what’s true ‘in reality’ and in-itself; between a man and mankind, between the true as determined by the symbolic relations of reality, itself structured by the current hegemonic phantasm, that which has currency through a given epoch and then passes away, loses currency, and the ‘simple’ true, or the Truth.
“Nothing Is Without Reason”. Four words that constitute a famous principle yet are never quoted accurately, because they don’t clearly state whatever the one quoting wants them to. Four words whose ambiguity is formulated very precisely as ambiguity. Nothing in the statement implies which word ought to be stressed, yet if none are stressed, it’s strictly meaningless. If any or any pair is stressed, the meaning depends on which, or on which pair. The care taken with the formulation prohibits from taking any one way of saying it as ‘the’ meaning, since each meaning made clear when the stress is made determinate could be expressed more clearly, on its own. It can only be taken as implying all, or the difference between each, or both. The principle of reason is not univocal, cannot be made univocal.
How do we understand freedom today? Has the turn proceeded far enough for us to feel the freeing claim of the other face of technology? The passing of the last god hasn’t yet occurred, but the passing of the last god only confirms what is known such that it is known in an undeniable manner. The two-faced god is not technology, though it needs technology, and always has, to be two-faced. We understand that we are supposedly free, as represented. But then is only our re-presentation free? Is freedom ontological without being in-itself or is it inalienably alienated?
Or is it only insofar as it is also for-itself, as Hegel put it? Undoubtedly. If seeing the ‘true’ world, the ‘reality’ of metaphysics, as a sham, how can we be free in the apparent world? Nietzsche’s admonition that the apparent world disappears with the true world is also indubitable. Yet despite the disappearance of both we are only as Inderweltsein, being-in-the-world, as Heidegger notes. And this is also without doubt.
We retain the contradiction that freedom is not free. That ‘bourgeois freedom’ is only for the few. That the majority are in thrall to the very few. At the same time, if any of us is not free, none of us is free. The master/slave dialectic demonstrates that the bourgeois freedom of the few is in fact the inverse of freedom, that the master is less free than the slave. Yet how can one be less free than unfree?
Behind ostensible freedom we have the appearance of slavery and its inversion as ‘reality’, the redoubled ambiguity of the repressed, which can only be repressed insofar as it is known and cannot be repressed if it must be known. Reality is thus the true façade. It is the true, but only what is true ‘in reality’.
What’s behind the true façade? More Oz? More Wonderland? Or simple freedom? The freedom of truth as freedom in truth? If the latter, what maintains the façade of reality as the true façade, the façade of unfreedom?
If the passing of the last god makes the freeing claim indisputable, the line too obvious to deny as well as its already having been crossed, who before that is disputing? Who is denying already having crossed? Ourselves? Who is our self?
Das Man, the they, which is our own self in its everyday mode of slipping away from itself, is also discourse, interpretation and understanding in the mode of ambiguity. Everydayness, the common world of common sense, is the locus of the ambiguity that pervades our experience of ourselves, which if disambiguated is always an experience of freedom.
But how is freedom, disambiguated? Without hegemony by what could the success of our free actions be measured? Does failure need to be measured?
Freedom, disambiguated, is tragic.
The first beginning culminated in philosophy, but began in poetry, the poetry of the great tragedians. And the great comedians, since comedy is not the opposite of tragedy but one that’s left unfinished.
Tragedy is likewise freedom: freedom to fail. We cannot succeed without hegemony, we can only not fail, or with Beckett, fail better. Hegemony takes away the freedom to attempt, or at least hides it. Each time we attempt we only have a probability of not failing.
Since the probability of failing is not zero, it is only a matter of time before it becomes one. Change becomes us. Eventually, failure becomes us.