András Gedö on Rationality, History, Philosophy, and Post-History

Reviewed by R. Dumain

András Gedö, “Rationality, History, Philosophy: On the Origins of the Concept of Post-History,” in Reason, Universality, and History: Standpoints on the European Intellectual Tradition, edited by Manfred Buhr and Douglas Moggach (New York: Legas, 2004), pp. 225-240.

The decomposition of that unity of rationality, history, and philosophy which modern thinking had achieved, involved the revolt against reason and history from Kierkegaard and Emerson to Pareto and Rathenau, together with the devaluation of the notion of rationality from Nietzsche and James to Bergson.

*   *   *   *

The conceptions of Max Weber were shaped in the first two decades of the 20th century; in this view not only were rationality and history separated in a radical manner, but rationality was also split. Functional-instrumental rationality, limited and particularised in a positivist or neo-Kantian way, appeared as fatal; the tragedy of ‘occidental culture’, the ‘iron cage’ prospect resulted from the ‘rationalisation of the world’, from its ‘disenchantment’. Max Weber’s conception focused on the consequences of the disintegration of the concepts of rationality and history. This theory moulds the discussions about the concepts of rationality and modernity up till now […]

An essay collection on universalism and the idea or spiritual unity of Europe would normally not interest me, but this one has some interesting material in it. There are essays on German idealism and one on African philosophy confronting Eurocentrism and the need to transcend its own preoccupation, for example. But this essay, the final one in the book, is the one that interests me, and it is quite different from the others.

It begins with the first quote above; later down the page comes the second. While according to Gedö it seemed as if the problem of rationality had migrated to the social sciences, it retained its philosophical character. (Popper and Horkheimer/Adorno are cited, apparently not favorably). Late in the century, the problem became prominent and took on a new character. Joseph Agassi polemicized against the new philosophy of science (e.g. Kuhn and Feyerabend, but also Polanyi) as a deprecation of rationality. In the 1980’s Châtelet assessed contemporary philosophy as the ‘withdrawal of the principles of reason, subject and history’. Reason was ‘historicized in a relativistic’, i.e. ‘irrationalizing’ way, with a tendency toward reversion to myth. (Feyerabend, Foucault, and Hübner are criticized here.) Decades earlier Ricouer had recounted Husserl’s late attempt to grapple with history from the standpoint of phenomenology, a failed task according to Gedö. The societal schizophrenia of rationality and irrationality was given a more extreme formulation by Daniel Bell. ‘Reason’ is eclipsed by ‘Rationalisation’, technical order. From all these examples, Gedö concludes:

Contemporary ‘neo-historicism’ proclaims a rupture between rationality and history by the a priori exclusion of theory from the cognition of history. It reduces history to stories, and thus considers it as “the medium of an experience of contingency”; so it becomes impossible to derive history from the “rationality of actions of their reference subjects”, and this implies in this view the impossibility of comprehending our own history rationally. The ‘revaluation of history’ by ‘neo-historicism’ complies with the post-history concept, just as the post-rationality thesis relies on the received assertion proclaiming the failure of reason. [Footnotes omitted]

He even sees Tocqueville’s view of the United States as an anticipation of the post-historicist perspective, in the idea of stasis or end of history. Both positivism (Comte) and irrationalism (Nietzsche) in the 19th century severed rationality from history. The quotes from Nietzsche negating history are quite interesting. From this:

Reason and history are regarded as conveying sheer negativity—a negativity without dialectics—, and so the deceptive appearance of transcending nihilism is put down to the decline of reason and history, to their falling into the pit of nihil.

Gedö then mentions postmodernism and the influence of Nietzsche on Vattimo and Foucault. The notion of the end of history comes into its own, with Fukuyama’s erroneous assertion of the triumph of liberal democracy, based both on misunderstanding of Kojève and Kojève’s misunderstanding of Hegel.

In Fukuyama’s exposition, the end of history is conceived as the final triumph of liberal democracy. The image of the presumed post-historical condition corresponds, however, to the stereotypes of those myths of crisis from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche through Charles Péguy and Spengler to Heidegger and Arnold Gehlen, which are accusing of democracy, announcing its failure. Fukuyama states: “The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the world-wide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer's demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.” This is, however, the perspective of the reign of an anonymous and disastrous quasi-rationality reduced to instrumental calculation, excluding politics and the choice between different social options: a world of the Weberian ‘iron cage’ and of the Heideggerian ‘planetary rule of technology’. [Footnote omitted]

Gehlen’s post-historical perspective is an apology for conservatism. Capitalism is both in crisis and stable. The end of history coincides with the end of philosophy. This is the conservative version of ‘the negative dialectic of Adorno and Marcuse’.

Marxism’s very origin was bound up with the reversal of nascent post-historical bourgeois notions, i.e.

[…] the bourgeois way of thinking as the limitation of the concept of history and/or its relativization, as the spreading of ahistoricism and antihistoricism, as the renunciation of the concept of reason and/or its positivist fading, as the nihilist view of philosophy together with the post-history thesis. The same historical reality was grasped by Marxism in the materialistic-dialectical renewal of the concepts of history, rationality and philosophy. It did not maintain the same unity of these concepts which was shaped in modern thinking: in that unity primacy belonged to the idea of rationality (a primacy which imparted an idealistic colouring to the concepts of history and philosophy and of their unity, even in materialist views). Marx’s and Engels’ critical reflections on Hegel were joined to their analysis of classical political economy, especially of Ricardo. In his rational understanding of history and in his historical understanding of reason, Hegel had reached the furthermost possibilities of modern philosophy; his idealistic dialectics of history and philosophy were based upon the absolute primacy of reason. The ahistorical view of capitalism in Ricardo’s political economy was mediated through the abstract rationality of the homo oeconomicus, while history was subsumed under this rationality. The Nietzschean and Heideggerian interpretations of Marx, in their attempts to transform him into a thinker of post-history, impute to Marx a concept of omnipotent reason borrowed allegedly from Hegel and Saint‑Simon; these reinterpretations of Marx regard the dialectical and materialist renewal of the concept of history and historicism, the thought of history transcending capitalism, i.e. the overcoming of previous modern historicism, as supporting the post-history thesis: the “revolutionary change of class society” implied allegedly in Marx the end of history on the whole. “The main intention of Marxian science is to prove, out of the peculiarity of capital and its crises, the end of history. . .” Materialist dialectics asserts neither a subjectivized and mythicized view of history, nor a demoting and emptying of the idea of rationality, nor a thesis declaring the end of the history of philosophy. The concepts of history, rationality and philosophy are located here not as membra disiecta, as disconnected limbs or conceptual wreckages announcing the end of rationality and history, and suggesting the coming of a historical and intellectual nihil. Within its own context, materialist dialectics reshapes these concepts by constituting their new unity. The grasping of history, above all of the materiality of nature and society as history, prevails in this renewed unity; the concept of rationality reflects on the historical dialectic of the relationship between reality (including practice) and knowledge. The reason of history and the history of reason are not identical as in the dialectical idealism of reason. The ‘objective logic’ of the non-teleological total process of human history does not consist in the rationality of motives ascribed to the actual individual subjects of actions, (or conceived by them as such a rationality), but rather in the intrinsic necessities of the historical processes and their totalities. Rationality is stricto sensu not an attribute of the objective course of history, but of cognitively grasped history. By means of this rationality one can grasp the historical possibilities, degrees and limits of rational action; one can search for the history of cognitive rationality. [Footnotes omitted.]

Gedö summarizes Marx’s achievement in his analysis of capitalism and concludes:

The new unity of the concepts of history, rationality and philosophy is a consequence of a break with the idealism of reason. In Marx’s materialist dialectics are condensed the materialistically reworked idealistic conceptions of an immanent lawful world history (from Vico through Voltaire and Condorcet to Hegel), and of a history and historicity of reason (from Bacon through Leibniz to Hegel). In it we can see the possibilities of comprehending and reformulating the contents and issues of the idealism of reason which emphasises the ‘active side’ of the cognitive process found in the concept of objective spirit, the objectivation of conceptual knowledge, even the a priori.

Marxist philosophy comprehends itself in the historical process of rationality neither as philosophia perennis nor as a symptom or argument of cultural or epistemological relativism, but as a moment of the historicity of cognitive rationality, as scientific cognition sui generis. The philosophical theory of materialist dialectics, in questing after its own presuppositions and determinations, results and possibilities, difficulties and boundaries, in reflecting upon its own peculiar historicity and rationality, its own position in the historical process of society and knowledge, becomes conscious of its own dialectic, and includes this awareness in its content.

There is more detail that is omitted in this summary of the essay. There are murky spots even in some of the quoted passages. I don’t know what “scientific cognition sui generis” means. This is a minor point. The larger question would be, what is the specification of the lawfulness of history (which is the only ‘rationality’ it can have), granted that there is a development, causality, and contemporary situation that can be analyzed? How do we project from here, given the genuine crisis that we actually face? Where exactly is the putative failure of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse: is it a deficit in analyzing social organization and concrete historical development? It is certainly not an opposition to the acknowledgement and unity of reason, history, and philosophy.

In any case, Gedö goes further here than in his previous analyses of the unity of positivism and life philosophy and its social correlates. Gedö makes an overall case that neither rationality nor historical development can be understood by severing and mystifying the two and ultimately positing a static version of both and of their relation to one another.

András Gedö — Vita (Bibliography)

András Gedö on Marxism after the demise of the Soviet bloc
by R. Dumain

Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy by András Gedö:
Table of Contents
Chapter 2: "The Contemporary Crisis in Bourgeois Philosophy"
1. Neopositivism: Linguistic Philosophy and Critical Rationalism
2. Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)
[3. excerpt] On Max Weber

The Contemporary Attack on Science” by András Gedö

Why Marx or Nietzsche?” by András Gedö

The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature” by András Gedö

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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Uploaded 25 March 2018

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