Jonas E. Alexis graduated from Avon Park High School, studied mathematics and philosophy as an undergraduate at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and has a master's degree in education from Grand Canyon University.

Some of his main interests include the history of Christianity, U.S. foreign policy, the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the history of ideas. He is the author of the new book ,Christianity & Rabbinic Judaism: A History of Conflict Between Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism from the first Century to the Twenty-first Century.

He is currently teaching mathematics in South Korea. He plays soccer and basketball in his spare time. He is also a cyclist. He is currently writing a book tentatively titled Zionism and the West.

Alexis welcomes comments, letters, and queries in order to advance, explain, and expound rational and logical discussion on issues such as the Israel/Palestine conflict, the history of Christianity, and the history of ideas.

In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, Alexis asks that all queries be appropriately respectful and maintain a level of civility. As the saying goes, “iron sharpens iron,” and the best way to sharpen one’s mind is through constructive criticism, good and bad.

However, Alexis has no patience with name-calling and ad hominem attack. He has deliberately ignored many queries and irrational individuals in the past for this specific reason—and he will continue to abide by this policy.


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The Order of Things—A Dialogue on Modernity and Michel Foucault (Part I)

No serious intellectual project is possible without metaphysical Logos.

Can any intellectual project really exist without objective morality?

Can any intellectual project really exist or even make sense without objective morality or ontology?

…by Jonas E. Alexis and Steven Wolf

 

Steven Wolf (Ph.D. Harvard) is an historian of early modern intellectual culture and Ottoman architecture and urbanism. He taught seven years at Fordham University in New York City and writes contemporary geo-political analysis, mostly about the Middle East, at CaravansarayPosts.com.

A much-enlarged version of Wolf’s dissertation on Ottoman Aleppo, entitled Ottomans and their Others: Hegemony, Identity, and Signification in Early Modern Urban Culture, is near completion. It employs a Foucauldian framework to mark the differences between early modern and late modern world-views in the three subtitled areas.

Jonas E. Alexis: I was delighted when Professor Steven Wolf told me that he has been following my work since the past two years and has agreed with much of what I have written. I was equally delighted to read his critique of my critique of Michel Foucault, for iron sharpens iron. We strongly disagree on this issue, and we are going to flesh out those ideas in a number of articles.

I am also honored to be discussing these issues with a person like Wolf because he is well versed in logical arguments and counter-arguments. I have had negative experiences in the past interacting with people who don’t understand logic and reason and with people who cannot see how an invalid argument will inevitably lead to a false conclusion. Through those experiences, I eventually came to the conclusion that you simply cannot argue with someone who doesn’t realize that he has posited an incoherent argument. Let me illustrate this.

About a year ago, one correspondent told me that “logic and reason prove nothing” and wrote a lengthy paragraph pretentiously using logic and reason to show that “logic and reason prove nothing.” My response was quite simple:

“In order to say that ‘logic and reason prove nothing,’ one obviously has to use logic and reason–an impressively and fantastically incoherent argument. In fact, if ‘logic and reason prove nothing,’ why should I listen to what you are saying? Are you telling me to ignore your point? If this is so, then you shall have your wish.”

The individual actually ignored his incoherent argument and moved on to posit other illogical statements: “Neither logic or reason can offer more than a system of thought. As such, they are entangled with a specific state of consciousness.”

At that point, I realized that I was in the presence of a person who either didn’t understand the rules of logic or did not want to give up his cherished belief.

My experience with people who keep positing the claim that Jewish behavior is genetic has also been frustrating. I learned that interacting with those people is like talking to an ATM machine. They don’t even make an attempt to respond to the serious problems of their own worldview, even though you methodically point out where the issues actually lie and what those people must do in order to resolve the problems. They seem to think that repeating a statement over and over is actually a substitute for logic and reason.

In short, over the past two years I have learned to avoid long and complicated dialogues with people who are not familiar with logical arguments and consistency and people who are not interested in the truth. So When Wolf sent me his thoughtful critique of my work, I realized that he was a serious scholar and that constructive and productive dialogue is now possible. He has certainly challenged me to go back to some of Michel Foucault’s works and reread them carefully.

That being said, let me begin to make some preliminary remarks on Foucault and modern thinkers, and I will expand on those remarks in later articles. Wolf will be able to rejoin as well.

It must be said at the outset that Michel Foucault was almost certainly one of the leading French intellectuals throughout the sixties. By the time of his death in 1984 at the age of fifty seven, intellectual historian James Miller notes that he was “perhaps the single most famous intellectual in the world.”[1]

As Wolf will rightly point out later in this article, the book that actually made Foucault a leading public figure was The Order of Things, which was first published in 1966 as Les Mots et les Choses.

I must say in passing that I do not think that a serious critique of Foucault’s overarching worldview is possible without understanding the difference between epistemology and ontology. In the next article, I will argue that Foucault’s philosophical project is metaphysically incoherent and existentially unlivable because Foucault expressly denies metaphysical ontology and what Hegel would call the “cunning of reason” in history.[2]

As you shall see, Wolf faults me for taking “swipes at the Pragmatist Richard Rorty” and others. But as I will argue in later articles, the reason I attack the philosophical premises of these people is because they are incoherent and logically invalid. Wolf will briefly mention “relativism,” and this is where I will radically diverge from him.

I will also make the case that Foucault formulated his principles not because he could not see that they were metaphysically illogical but because he wanted to live a life that was antithetical to the moral order—another word for what Kant would call “practical reason.”

Like Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Jean Paul Sartre, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, among others, Foucault was living in contradiction. Why?

Because no serious intellectual project is possible without metaphysical Logos, and this has been one of my frustrations with modern thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Ideologically they deny ontology or objective morality exists, but practically they always summon objective morality to buttress their point. For example, Dawkins declares in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life:

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice.

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference…DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we just dance to its music.”[3]

Did you catch that? There is, at bottom, no evil and no good, “nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Yet in 2006, Dawkins presupposed that there are indeed good and evil when he declared that the God of the Old Testament is

“arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”[4]

Whether Dawkins like it or not, he is making moral ontological claims while denying that moral ontology exists. If Dawkins is right in River Out of Eden, could it be that the God of the Old Testament was just “dancing to his DNA”?

There is a vital contradiction here, and that vital contradiction always shows up whenever what G. K. Chesterton calls “the new rebel” denies ontological foundation for morality. “For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind,” says Chesterton,

“and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it… In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men.”[5]

Thinkers who deny morality and its application always engage in undermining their own mines. And this has been going on for centuries. For example, Rousseau talks about educating children, but he abandoned all his children. As some writers have noted,

“The philosopher who preached the vital importance of good parenting showed himself callously ready to abandon all five of his children to an orphanage where, as was often the case then, most of them soon died. Even by eighteenth-century standards, this was outstandingly heartless, hypocritical behavior.”[6]

Similarly, Russell, throughout his life, articulated the view in many of his books that sexual freedom ought to be pursued without moral restraints or framework. That’s how he was able to dump one wife and move to the next like a butterfly moving to the next beautiful flower. As he described it in his autobiography,

“I went out bicycling one afternoon, and suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, I realised that I no longer loved Alys [his first wife].”[7]

That was basically the end of his marriage with Alys. When he was asked about why he abandoned formal philosophy during a lecture tour in America “by the head of a smart girls’ college,” Russell responded, “Because I found I preferred fucking.”[8]

If “fucking” is more interesting than formal philosophy, then Russell inevitably proves that St. Paul was right all along, that many reject Logos in the moral and political order because of sexual deviancy. Aldous Huxley summed it up best in his work Ends and Means:

“For myself, as for no doubt most of my contemporaries, the essence of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation…We objected to the morality because it interferes with our sexual freedom.”[9]

The interesting thing about Russell is that when his own son began to exhibit homosexual tendencies, Russell shunned him off and didn’t talk to him for twenty years.

Finally, Russell was also able to change his views on virtually every serious subject without an apology or an explanation.[10] So, when Russell dropped formal philosophy, which is inextricably linked to Logos, he lost any moral and intellectual compass and was wandering in the sea of confusion. It is no wonder why Russell lived a life of despair, while his daughter, Katherine Tait, was able to make peace with the Christianity that Russell had attacked incoherently.[11]

It is almost the same thing with Foucault. His philosophical formulation—or his rejection of moral ontology—was largely a function of his private life, which takes us to the world of sadomasochism and bathhouses in California, where Foucault had a fascination with, in his own words, “the overwhelming, the unspeakable, the creepy, the stupefying, the ecstatic.”[12] Foucault said:

“The private life of an individual, his sexual preference, and his work are interrelated, not because his work translates his sexual life, but because the work includes the whole life as well as the text.”[13]

He said again: “The key to the personal poetic attitude of a philosopher is not to be sought in his ideas, as if it could be deduced from them, but rather in his philosophy-as-life, in his philosophical life, his ethos.”[14] With respect to his book Madness and Civilization, Foucault admitted that he “had had a personal, complex, and direct relationship with madness” and “also with death.”[15]

To Focault, sadomasochism is “the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure, which people had no idea about previously….Complete total pleasure…for me, it’s related to death.”[16] This fascination with “complete total pleasure” to the exclusion of morality and practical reason was indeed extremely important to Foucault himself. He said:

“The Faustian pact, whose temptation has been instilled in us by the deployment of sexuality, is now as follows: to exchange life in its entirety for sex itself, for the truth and sovereignty of sex. Sex is worth dying for.”[17]

Foucault died for sex in 1984. My dear friend Wolf did not want to discuss Foucault’s private life, but as we have already seen, Foucault himself would almost certainly have disagreed with him on this point. We just can’t talk about King Kong without mentioning the monkey. At the beginning of The Order of Things, Foucault rhetorically asks,

“Can one speak of science and its history (and therefore of its conditions of existence, its changes, the errors it has perpetrated, the sudden advances that have sent it off on a new course) without reference to the scientist himself—and I am speaking not merely of the concrete individual represented by a proper name, but of his work and the particular form of his thought?”[18]

I would maintain something similar. One cannot fully understand Foucault’s philosophical project without making reference to his own personal life and his rejection of moral ontology, and to simply disconnect Foucault’s moral life from his intellectual enterprise without serious justification is not wise. As E. Michael Jones rightly observes:

“The intellectual life is a function of the moral life of the thinker. In order to apprehend truth, which is the goal of the intellectual life, one must live a moral life. One can produce intellectual product, but to the extent that one prescinds from living the moral life, that product will be more a function of internal desire—wish fulfillment, if you will—than external reality.

“This is true of any intellectual field and any deeply held desire. In the intellectual life, one either conforms desire to truth or truth to desire.”[19]


Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

What’s in a Name? The Strings that Pull

Steven Wolf: I am grateful to Jonas Alexis for inviting me to a dialogue to be hosted by VT, which I have followed for years. I introduced myself to Jonas in an email appreciative of his journalism, but critical of philosophical tendencies that crept up at the ‘corners’ of his work and emerged especially in his summary critiques — which I thought both unjustified and unfair — of a number of people whose contributions to critical thought I greatly admire. Michel Foucault took center focus.

It is too reductive to say that I will defend positions usually understood as “post-modern” or “post-structural”, and that Jonas will look at things from a Christian and Kantian perspective, but that should give a general idea of the basic shape of our discussion. However, it could also be said that I will be defending the “traditional” episteme against the “modern” version.

All the same, our sympathies are greater than our differences, as should finally become clear. This points directly to something I will want to emphasize: we all should look more to our ‘resemblances’ than our ‘differences,’ not only for the sake of more ethical relations with neighbors, but also for the sake of securing more holistic understandings, insight, and knowledge about the world which birthed us.

Most apropos of the current discussion, seeking common ground across all manner of cultural divide is the only effective remedy to the divide-and-conquer techniques employed by NWO elites. The manipulation machines of Soros et al depend upon inculcating a narrow and debased sense of “identity” among the masses, then giving them a yank. “Identity politics” never serves the ‘identities’ it supposedly represents. The VT audience is mostly savvy to this, thanks in part to articles by Jonas Alexis and other writers.

What is generally lacking is the larger historical perspective. We might remember, first of all, how “nationalism” was thrust on populations by 19th cent elites to make a subjected population forget to whom it was subjected and then willing to go off as cannon fodder to serve the elite’s financial and industrial interests. When men went off to war in the Middle Ages for religion or yet more blatant forms of asset-stripping, they had a much better idea than we do of the flows of wealth and were better able to procure a share.

Michel Foucault gave us the most cogent view of the process by which elites slowly gathered the resources and expertise to manipulate and order large masses through their identifications, and through organizing education and “knowledge” selectively and in their own interests. In order to instrumentalize people’s sense of identity, it was necessary to simplify them and harden them, and divert the lower classes’ healthy suspicion of their ruling classes onto some “other.”

My academic expertise is not philosophy, but architectural history and theory. I am no expert in Foucault either, but I found his history of “epistemes” — explained below — to be profoundly useful for interpreting my own findings about the development of architecture, urbanism, and architectural theory in the Ottoman Empire and in Europe between the “Renaissance” and the “Enlightenment.”

My interest in historical transitions led me to study many conceptual and cultural border zones and crossroads, both spatial and temporal, including those between East and West, Christian and Muslim, medieval and modern, and architectural practice, theory, and philosophy. This wide purview grants me the larger perspective not permitted to an ‘expert’, the fetish-object of modern academics.

From this perspective, I consider the Renaissance to be the culmination and supreme expression of the culture of the Middle Ages, not a ‘new’ period, as most have been taught. It was ransacked by the Enlightenment for the parts that pleased the later period, but, as Wordsworth lamented, “they murder to dissect.” This accords with Foucault’s take on the period.

This historical judgment may surprise those who are convinced the Middle Ages were the “Dark Ages.” Well, in some parts of Europe it was pretty dark in some times, but mostly that demeaning period-term is the prejudice of an urban civilization against a rural culture.  I bet you also didn’t guess the Ottomans had a “Renaissance” either, or rather, ‘a brilliant 16th century cultural efflorescence, did you? Or that Ottoman officials wrote brilliant “architectural theory”?

Historical obfuscations are a crucial part of all victors’ narratives. But “identity” obfuscations reached a new level in the “Enlightenment,” a period that might better be termed, “The Great Darkening”, or something similar. Thus, I find much to dispute in the work of Kant, Jonas’ oft-cited source. I believe instead that in the pre-modern age, in a ‘traditional’ age, literate and illiterate culture alike had a better idea than our own about some very big questions.

Episteme

What most made sense of my historical findings was derived from an interpretation of history that overlaps in Michel Foucault, Charles Taylor, (the great Canadian Catholic philosopher who wrote Sources of the Self), Martin Heidegger (Being and Time) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method).

The commonality in this group lies mainly in their overturning the shibboleths and false icons upon which Western modernity has built its own self-image, and the image of ‘its other’ — whosoever its ‘other’ happens to be at the time. It also rests upon these philosophers’ glimpses across an historical divide that was erected like a barrier to dim and distort the brilliance of past cultures and an invented civilizational divide that was set up to glorify the West, the victor with global reach that wrote most histories used to “educate” us.

The above-mentioned authors, and others, were among the few to peer past the ‘matrix’, and each did so only partially. But Foucault’s research ranged more widely than any of the others, and his outline of the historical progress of different “epistemes” is the most comprehensive model of these profound shifts in our basic sense of identity and our basic sense of the world’s ‘intelligibility’ (or not, if you prefer.)

‘Episteme’ is Foucault’s term, introduced in Les mots et les choses/The Order of Things, (1966). By this he means much more than “epistemology”, the philosophical specialization concerning “knowledge.” Episteme referred to “an epistemological space specific to a particular period.” It did not refer to formulated epistemology which is really a modern discipline, rife with modern prejudices, but rather to a period’s epistemic “conditions of possibility”  — what might possibly be thought and maintained — across a wide spectrum of fields of inquiry and investigation.

‘Episteme’ focuses on the common assumptions of a period, often unproven or unprovable, and the most basic beliefs about the self and the world, whether addressed thematically or only implied. These lay in agreement down below both sides of all the most notable arguments of the day and across the many knowledge-fields.

The idea of “episteme” has many points of relation with Thomas Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm” brilliantly promulgated in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), but it works at a yet wider and deeper cultural level. Kuhn’s work was primarily about what was considered to be “scientific” in different ages, and reflected on the arbitrariness of our assumptions about ‘progress’ and the common belief that we modern men (alone) have developed infallible and objective criteria of truth.

Well, we modern men alone have presumed to know so much, – at least this much is true. More fairly put, modern men have known more and more about less and less. That is only an unfortunate accident of bureaucratic democracy, says the usual view. No, I argue, even beyond Foucault, and against Max Weber, that was the plan of our hidden patrimonial rulers.

In fact, the power structure of the West did not change in its ‘family’ structure one iota when we went ‘democratic’, though banksters joined the ranks of blueblood. Rather, our corrupt patrimonial elites simply left the stage and the blame to someone else, and dove more deeply into the dark, now that all eyes were off their real wealth.

Foucault’s astounding breadth of meticulous research was concentrated on three areas of knowledge studied over three periods of history. It is impossible to name these fields precisely or accurately, since their fields of inquiry and basic assumptions changed so much.

But in a nutshell, these fields concern each period’s ideas and practices about A) the natural world, B) the world of human signs, especially, how a ‘sign’ like a word or a symbol is supposed to work, and C) the principles of market, money, and exchange. He studied these three fields over three periods in Europe: the Renaissance (15th-16th CE), the Classical period (17th-18th) and the Modern (19th and 20th.)

Episteme underlies the ‘coherence’ of a period’s views and can be detected in the configuration of its most common epistemological leaps. This ‘coherence’ is just assumed of course, that is, we can say that its principles are axiomatic. But for critics, like Foucault, to say that our “orders of things” are unproven and unprovable, in some profound sense circumscribed by our culture, does not mean that a deeper, even divine Order does not lie back there, somewhere.

It is only to say that men presume too much when they pretend to God’s omniscience, especially in interests of wielding it, omnipotent-like, over a neighbor. Modern epistemology always strove to think and act as if it were outside the universe looking in at something it could ‘grasp’ like a hammer. In modernity, the most valued knowledge is useful, instrumental knowledge. You start to get the shape of the modern episteme when you figure out who shaped it. Soros is the last of a lineage that long has ‘civilized’ us.

Episteme runs deep. It is made up of a set of common ontologies, that is, assumptions about what is, and about what makes a thing a real thing. It also deals with how people and things and the world are supposed to relate. It governs basic assumptions about knowledge, or what passes for knowledge, and whether knowledge rather than, say, wisdom, is the real aim of intellectual effort. Though rarely thematized as such, epistemes are not passive grids, but ‘productive’ of what is deemed knowledge in a given cultural period, they “ground a period’s positivity.”

Episteme therefore also forms the foundations for different historical cultures’ preferred kinds of intellectual ordering, its grids and frames, its Excel sheets, thus the English title, The Order of Things. The original French title, Le mots et les choses, ‘Words and Things’ points instead to probably the most important, if most difficult, area of epistemic change. Basic notions about what ties words to things differs radically now from what we all believed up till the 17th century or so. I will call this “signification”, but that is a term that technically should be used only for the latest, Kantian, version of the idea.

Epistemic Reversals in History: Identity Reversal

In my historical study, I used the ideas of epistemes over a different cultural intersection, extending it into the late medieval and early modern Islamic east, and showing an even wider breadth of applicability. I studied the practices of architecture and urbanism, and especially the written theory of these fields, across two cultural zones, the Ottoman Empire and Italy-France, and across two periods, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

In Foucault’s formulation, two epistemic “reversals” were critical, and this accorded with my own research, though I did not carry it so far forward in time. The first and greatest rupture may be placed around 1650 and — very indicatively only — be connected to Descartes, the first “modern” philosopher. The second may be placed around 1800 and its intellectual shifts coincide with the influence of Immanuel Kant.

This has many features. I will discuss first the reversal in the way “identity” was conceived, whether of a person or a thing. In the traditional view, identity was complex, permeable, fluid, and to a certain extent, self-creative (at least for the ruling classes). In the modern world, human identity was conceived increasingly as hard and fixed, and ultimately composed of a single, simple ‘essence.’

Importantly, this epistemic shift did not happen in a vacuum, nor was it propelled by an internal telos of ‘progress’ and ‘evolution’. In the end, hard and fast identities — whether of people or things — were easier to handle for a bureaucratic culture. The scary thing is that people and things are indistinguishable on spreadsheets.

Speaking abstractly, identity became ‘essentialized’ in modernity. In the modern world, the ‘essential identity’, – of people or objects — is expressed only by distinguishing it from the “accident” that overlays and sullies that essence. In architecture ‘structure’ and ‘ornament’ once related organically, now were sundered ontologically. Finally, ornament, or accident, had to go. To ‘get better’ the modern man “purifies”; he sculpts and subtracts. By the same token, the ‘expert’ is the most respected ‘sage’ we have in the modern world. A bunch of them in Brussels, unelected, rule Europe.

The Renaissance ego does not subtract but adds on in order to achieve its most virtuous state. The Renaissance man is plethoric, multiplicitous, skilled in many arts, — a man of court, most characteristically.  Renaissance society still typically cultivated ‘wisdom’ rather than ‘knowledge’. Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, and Michelangelo are well-known Renaissance men in the West, but equally brilliant Renaissance men frequented Muslim courts as well, like my oft-sourced favorite, Gelibolulu Mustafa Ali, Ottoman historian, poet, critic, frustrated financial bureaucrat, and the period’s most brilliant political and architectural theorist.

I show in architectural theory and practice what Foucault explained as a wider cultural phenomenon. Identity in the Renaissance was “plethoric”, fluid, mutable, permeable, and complex — it was considered so, not just ideally — but also ontologically. It naturally resisted ‘bureaucratization’, and ‘instrumentalization’ and for that, identity had to be simplified and hardened, so that it might be ‘grasped’ from above.

As a surprising aside, I should note there were some brilliant Renaissance women as well, geniuses in multiple fields, though far fewer. Renaissance society, an overtly “patrimonial” society, was deeply gendered and yet more deeply classist. Classism only increased in modernity, but the bankster class now pulling our strings hid behind a facade of ‘parliamentarism’ and ‘democracy’. Thus, contra Weber, the proper term for understanding modern political systems is not ‘democratic’, but ‘obfuscated patrimonialism’.

The great deception was set up in the so-called, self-attributed “Enlightenment”. It began when Descartes dumped all previous knowledge as suspect of superstition. He began over, as he imagined, from the ground up. The corporate professional also brooks no ‘superstition’ or ‘traditional belief’, except when he plops down exhausted in front of the big screen.

The new middle class that would take over the actual functioning of the world was a product of an “enlightened” educational institution that was based on principles of imprisonment. (Foucault’s Discipline and Punish). The academic “disciplines” were separated, because the bureaucratic state, already completely under the thumb of pernicious financial interests by 1830, could have no place for anyone but professional experts, professionals who couldn’t see past their next paycheck. Not the Rule of Law, but the Rule of Lawlessness, characterizes modernity, but to say this bluntly offends the superstitious sensibilities of “Democrats” and “Republicans” alike.

Signification Reversals

There also were major historical reversals in the way “identity” could be signaled with a symbol or a sign and what the link between them entailed.

In the modern view — let’s call it the ‘traditional-modern’ view  — words correspond to things and statements made with words are either correct or incorrect, right or wrong. Traditional-moderns follow Descartes in believing that human signs, symbols, words, and so on, are “mental” constructions, that we ‘make them up in our heads’ and that there is no actual connection outside our collective heads to what they ‘represent.’

This is a consequence of the original Cartesian division between the ego cogitans, the knowing, thinking, mental self, and the res extensa, the extended, material world. This philosophical novelty, Cartesian dualism, has had the most profound and deleterious historical consequences.

Historically speaking, Cartesian dualism stripped consciousness and also the sign out of the world, and made “man” their sole possessor. This most basic ontological divorce between knower and known is the original modern alienation, a second Expulsion, though not from Eden. It also presented an unsolvable epistemological dilemma to all later Western ‘thinking selves’: how an extended, material world could be understood with ‘mental signs’ in the non-extended mind?

This was not a problem in the earlier period, because ‘mind’ had not come into ‘man’s possessions’, nor had the powerful ‘sign’ yet been so appropriated.

In the Renaissance, or traditional view, human signs were like the signs of Nature and the signs of God. God and Nature speak in signs and ‘signatures’ that work through ‘resemblance’ and so does humanity. (Modernity foregrounds “difference.”) The lion’s roar reveals its strength while the walnut indicates its utility for the brain by its shape. God shows his anger with a threatening gesture, like lightning, and his love with a sympathetic one, like a good harvest. Logos, too, used to be a property of the world, not “man.”

Resemblance, that which ties the word to the thing in the traditional view, runs through the very constitution of the traditional, or Renaissance, cosmos. Indeed, the interdependent relations of Microcosm and Macrocosm nicely illustrate the idea of resemblance in action, but Foucault cautions that resemblance far exceeds the contours of that cosmic pattern.

I’ll close with an introductory passage from The Order of Things:

“It was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of representing them. The universe was folded in upon itself: the earth echoing the sky, faces seeing themselves reflected in the stars, and plants holding within their stems the secrets that were of use to man”… “… representation—whether in the service of pleasure or of knowledge – was posited as a form of repetition.” (p. 17)

This is one reason “identity” is so fluid and open-ended in the Renaissance. It is part of a universe of reflecting mirrors whose only true Identity is God.

In my next installment I would like to speak more about Foucault’s characterizations of the Renaissance and modern epistemes, and eventually, I would like to make an extended contemporary example of the way shifts in ‘identity’ and ‘signification’ allowed for a most egregious global deception: Turkish Patrimonial Boss Erdogan’s supposed “neo-Ottomanism”.

This is “Ottoman” exactly the way George Soros is interested in an “Open Society”, but requires, moreover, some widespread, and ludicrous if-it-weren’t-so-tragic historical ignorance in order to fool its public. So universal are the ridiculous assumptions that they often fool even Erdogan’s critics into supporting his fantasy.

This is the perfect way to see ‘epistemes’ at work. And folks, there is no deep “civilizational divide” between Islam and Christianity, or the East and West. The only divide that counts now should be obvious to VT readers at least.


[1] Quoted in James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 13.

[2] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

[3] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 133.

[4] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Penguin, 2006 and 2016), 51.

[5] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), 52-53.

[6] Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson, Philosophers Behaving Badly (London and Chicago: Peter Owen Publishers, 2004), 16.

[7] Bertrand Russell, Autobiography (New York and London: Routledge, 1998), 150.

[8] Quoted in Rodgers and Thomson, Philosophers Behaving Badly, 94.

[9] Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for their Realization (London: Chatoo & Windus, 1946), 273. Huxley mentions that la Mettrie formulated his materialist worldview because it “interfered” with his sexual freedom. La Mettrie declared that “nothing is absolutely just, nothing absolutely unjust. There is no true equity, there are no absolute vices, no absolute greatness and no absolute crimes.” Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Machine Man and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 157-158. Huxley proved to be right, for La Mettrie rapturously declared in The Voluptuousness: “Pleasure, sovereign master of men and gods, before whom everything disappears, even reason itself, you know how much my heart adores you, and all the sacrifices it has made at your altar.” Quoted in Lester G. Crocker, Nature and Culture: Ethical thought in the French Enlightenment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963), 359.

[10] See Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, ed., The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 401-402; see also Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), chapter 8.

[11] See Katherine Tait, My Father, Bertrand Russell (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1975).

[12] Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault, 27; see also Didier Eribon, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 314-317.

[13] Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault, 19.

[14] Ibid., 9.

[15] Quoted in Ibid., 113.

[16] Ibid., 9.

[17] Ibid., 243.

[18] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), xiii.

[19] E. Michael Jones, Degenerate Moderns: Modernity as Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior (South Bend: Fidelity Press, 2012), 15.

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Posted by on December 18, 2016, With 961 Reads Filed under Of Interest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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One Response to "The Order of Things—A Dialogue on Modernity and Michel Foucault (Part I)"

  1. almostvoid  December 19, 2016 at 12:02 am

    Rippa. Tear the brain apart through dialectical directed denouement of the facile academic intellect that deludes itself when thinking that it is engaged in anything other than because of the effects thoughts have on deeds justified by the selfsame dialectical meltdown when not concurrent with reality per se so that the intellectual is reduced to qualifying the quanta so out of reach of mere notional rationality itself a subset abstracted from reality and contributing absolutely nothing but more figmented fractured realities incomplete of the big picture in which we after all gestate. alone. surrounded by the void.

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