Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part IV, Chapter 3, "The Nolan: The World as God's Self-Exhaustion"

Bruno's fundamental point of conflict with the church: the Incarnation. To be an adequate expression of God, the world must be infinite. There can be nothing held back that could be added later to fulfill or redeem the world. Moreover, the infinite world has no privileged center which could be the scene for such a redemption. Nor can there be a privileged time at which such a singular event can break in.

However, Bruno doesn't have the uniformly infinite conception of time that he has of space. He sees time, or at least the realization of reason in time, as cyclical. This falls short of making a place for his own liberatory pretensions, much less of providing for modernity's self-understanding of the epochal transition at its birth.

Bruno is not consistent in this view of reason in history, however. He's sees the ability to even arrive at some astronomical knowledge, for instance, as dependent on long durations of observation -- of time in which a tradition of observation is carried out, and so reveals otherwise hidden astral motion. This approaches modern conception of a collective subject in scientific inquiry. Bruno associates this cumulative aspect of inquiry with the metaphor of the ages of man -- our era is already an old one because it draws on all that has come before.

Bruno's reception of Cusa -- behind borrowed forms and means of expression, there is a different systematic logic. Cusa is asserting plurality against a levelled-off Aristotelian tradition -- recovering voices like Epicurus and Protagoras and even admitting the perspectives of other religions. Bruno puts forth criticism of both ancient and Christian religion using the criterion of morality.

(Isn't this picture of shared content but different systematic logic the opposite of Blumenberg's general thesis about the epochal transition -- that there was a shared structure of questions for which a different content of answers was provided?)

Cusa is preoccupied with the threat of theological voluntarism and absolutism to the assurance of stability in the world. Bruno resolves this by taking the world as the exhaustion of God's possibilities.

561: "The problem with which the Cusan had struggled and with which every attempt to come to terms with the late medieval crisis had to deal -- stabilizing the world in the face of its being put into question by theological absolutism -- now is no longer dealt with by means of a relation of image to original, but rather by means of a congruence between divinity and worldliness."

Bruno directly contradicts the view of creation developed and refined in medieval thought -- that creation is God's restriction to a single possibility. This finds a way out of the late-medieval crisis of theological voluntarism and the arbitrariness of creation.

Creation for Bruno is boundless, and contains an infinite number of worlds; all possibilities are realized in it. There is not room in this infinite creation for a supplement in the form of the Incarnation, as there was in Nicholas of Cusa's world whose potential had not yet been fully realized (although this aspect of not being fully realized is only apparent, because time, which provides the gap between creation and completion is an artifact of the human spirit).

(In the course of this comparison (565) Blumenberg recognizes that in this case the epochal transition is revealed in a common set of assertions for which different systematic sets of questions are provided.)

Bruno's rejection of the idea of divine 'personhood' is related to the infinity of the world as well. Nicholas retains divine personhood, but must also retain a finite world as the locus which the (singular) begotten second person completes. For Bruno, nothing that contradicts simplicity is divine. So the medieval attribution of personality to God -- originating in Augustine -- cannot stand. There is no divine self-consciousness, no will. This means God does not will creation and choose what to create; rather, creation is a manifestation of God's nature with nothing hidden or held back. So everything possible must exist, which means the world is infinite and uncentered.

For Bruno, these qualities or the world apply not just to space but also to time. It is a real infinite dimension in which change is always occurring, and thus in which infinite possibilities can come to exist. The reality of time makes it possible for the world to be the infinite correlate -- the immanence -- of the divinity.

The reality of time anchors the fundamental motion of everything in the world, in which only the whole is at rest. This vision of an infinite world with everything in motion within it coordinates Parmenides and a radicalized Copernicanism. There is ultimate uniformity of the world; everything is in motion and changing without any privileged center of that movement.

Nicholas - lack of proportion between creation and divine nature requires the Incarnation to bridge the gap for human salvation. Bruno - lack of proportion between human and divine nature precludes the Incarnation, but God can be immanent in nature because it is infinite, and hence in proportion to Him.

Bruno's Copernicanism challenges an essential metaphysical premise of the medieval scholastic system -- that movement is transmitted from the outer heavens to bodies on the motionless earth. Instead, the earth is already in motion, and the apparent motion of the heavens is really a result of the earth's own motion. So there is no place for astral determination of earthly action.

Even Aristotle's conception of weight, which is supposed to show the affinity of bodies for rest in their proper place, is relativized to a plurality of worlds and turned to the purpose of serving a theory of the internal motion of those worlds.

Bruno breaks from Aristotle's teleological conception of motion -- movement from potential to reality -- to embrace a cyclical view -- potential to real and back to potential to free up space for other actualizations. Motion is fundamentally circular or cyclical, but not perfectly so, since it is infinitely elaborated and complex. But here he transforms Cusa's doctrine of imprecision -- in the absence of unfulfilled teleology, infinite elaboration is no longer a mark of the unbridgeable difference between the actual and transcendent, but rather of the realization of God in the world.

In contrast with Plato and Aristotle, where movement is measured against an absolute and finitely periodic time defined by diurnal motion, time is infinite and formless and movement is seen as the necessary condition for the measurement of (relative) time.

Bruno is akin to Leibniz in seeing worldly bodies having the origin of their motion within themselves, and seeing apparent causal relations as mere synchronicity of independent motion. But Leibniz rejects the reality of infinite space and time and the principle of indifference implicit

in it to preserve the idea of a purposed creation and a personal relation to God -- in this sense he marks a regression from Bruno.

Form for Bruno not external to matter, but produced from it. But matter never has a final form, a destiny; ceaselessly throwing off forms and taking new ones. Man has no special nature, but simply an intensified ability to go beyond nature, to create new forms. This limitless ability to create anew through work -- which is an infinite process not completed in any individual -- makes man like God. Contrast to Cusa, for whom being like God is a definite ideal which is ever more closely approached -- here the infinite process itself of taking man away from animal nature is what makes man like God.

593: "The great symmetry of man becoming God and God becoming man, which the Cusan had set up against the conflict that was breaking out between the medieval consciousness of God and the new consciousness of self, had been destroyed by the third element of the system, the no longer limited world, which Nicholas himself had introduced, with caution, to balance the transcendent infinity."

Blumenberg concludes with an analysis of the conflicting models of pagan metamorphosis and Christian Incarnation. Stories of metamorphosis were prolific, the transition from God to worldly was portrayed as easy and common, but this was also received by the philosophical critique of myth as evidence of deceit, of the immorality of the Gods. Incarnation was exceptional, singular, and it was above all important to remove suspicion of being simply another myth, to guarantee its reality. This guarantee provided a privileged status for man as the motive of the Incarnation. But nominalism removed this privilege by dissolving any claim of human entitlement to the Incarnation, making it a pure act of grace. In this context, Bruno's reassertion of the model of metamorphosis provided a new guarantee, but only of the world, not of man's privileged place in it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: "Conclusion: Meeting the Challenge"

Steps for restoring a balance of political power

1) rebuild the breadth of labor unions -- but this will have to be done largely after balance is achieved rather than as a prerequisite. It is impossible to pass the new laws and issue the regulations needed for a labor revival while Republican extremists are in control.
2) Use the internet to organize opposition. Fundraising, e-mail lists, blogs. Powerful and flexible tool for coordination.

Republican corruption and overreach have created an opening for restoration of political balance.
1) Remove barriers to increased voter turnout.
a) Reform voter registration: implement same-day registration; get rid of requirement to re-register after moving; restore voting rights for ex-felons
b) Make election day a national holiday

2) Increase the proportion of competitive elections
a) Put redistricting in the hands of non-partisan panels
b) Split state electoral votes by district as well as state (neither this or the preceding should be done only in Democratic states, however -- that would be "unilateral disarmament")
c) Create pure open primaries with top two vote-getters advancing to general election
d) Require free TV and radio airtime for federal candidates
e) Take constituent service out of the hands of Congressmen and have it performed by non-partisan ombudsmen (strongly disagree with this: the vested interest of politicians in reelection gives them a stronger incentive to perform constituent service well, and the incumbency advantage this provides is bearable).

3) Increase transparency and accountability
a) Restore the Fairness Doctrine
b) Start an American tradition of Question Time for the President before Congress
c) Provide a simple yearly prospectus of government spending every year (perhaps with tax returns)
d) Restrict use of closed rules in the House and make sure that existing rules for conference committees can only be waived with a two-thirds vote.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 6, "The Center Does Not Hold"

Political scientists and pundits generally expect centrists to hold sway. This has not happened because the institutional moderating forces have not been as effective as expected.

1) voters -- not only are voters poorly informed, but this ignorance is not random. Republicans strive to make sure voter ignorance is tilted in their favor, which has diluted the effectiveness of voters without strong ideological affiliations as a moderating influence.

2) opposition -- the Democrats are simply not as unified and organized as the Republicans. Senior committee members more autonomous. Campaign funding often depends on special interests with an agenda that cuts against liberal policy. Moderates vulnerable to Republican framing. Lack of institutional control means there is little ability to reward loyalists, while Republicans can reward those who stray. Disproportionate significance of Republican-leaning small states in Senate apportionment creates a large segment of vulnerable Democratic Senators who are especially hard to keep in line.

3) media -- decreasingly effective in exposing the actual effects of Republican policies because of a) focus on entertainment over substance, b) "he-said she-said" model of objectivity, and c) herd mentality in deciding what issues are worth covering. The parallel right-wing media universe also plays an important part in distorting coverage.

4) Republican moderates -- intimidated and bought off.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 5, "The Republican Machine"

New Republican power brokers (Norquist, DeLay, Rove) are a key to the direction of American politics.Two key facts: (1) their politics is extreme; (2) their power is not necessarily a function of official positions.

The new power brokers have created the high degree of centralization and coordination in conservative politics. From their role as middlemen between activists, politicians, and lobbyists,they impose discipline on all of them to foster a unified (and extreme) agenda. They control the access of interest groups and lobbyists to politicans and legislation, and they also control the access of politicians to campaign money and leadership posts. They determine how much apparent independence supposedly moderate Republicans can show in order to strengthen their electoral prospects.

The coordination makes possible several kinds of "backlash insurance" to protect vulnerable incumbents from the consequences of supporting an unpopular far-right policies.
1) Agenda control - control what comes up for debate in Congress, keep popular and more centrist or liberal issues from getting a hearing, use unified public relations campaign to frame how the issues are presented in the media.
2) procedural manipulation - protect Republicans from unpopular votes on bills by using legislative rules. In the House, Republicans use a closed debate rule to quash moderate of liberal amendments to bills. This can't be done in the Senate,but conference committees are abused in a way that makes the original Senate bill irrelevant, so that Senators can safely vote for popular amendments that will be stricken from the final law.
3) Policy distortion - design legislation so that relatively trivial but popular aspects are most evident (e.g., front-loading middle-class tax cuts) while more significant and very unpopular right-wing measures are obscured (e.g., phase-ins and sunsets for tax cuts that mostly affect the very rich to hide their true extent).
4) Throw lots of money behind incumbents who are still at risk despite other measures.