ON THE GENEALOGY OF JUSTICE: LANGUAGE, TIME AND DEBT

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The Making of the World

It seems that tragedy is on shaky ground every time man appears not to be. Enlightenment thinking, that epitome of human self-assertion, is essentially optimistic, especially in its modern variation. Reason, objectivity and disinterestedness are on the side of the unfortunate, or can at least be employed to ameliorate their fate. Spinoza wrote that whatever seems to the virtuous individual ‘impious, horrible, unjust or disgraceful, rises from the fact that he conceives these things in a disturbed, mutilated and confused manner, and on this account he endeavours above all to conceive things as they are in themselves’.14 Where godly justice disappointed, mystified or enraged, human reason would create a better world.
This is possible because, to quote Spinoza again, ‘in the universe there exists nothing contingent’, a lack of fortuitousness that makes the world untragic. If nothing could have happened other than it did, there is no point in lamenting it. On the contrary, one should try to understand it. After all, who needs tragedy if a little knowledge can make the world just? Philosophy itself has its roots in man’s utopian attempt to conquer Fate with knowledge. Where the gods were, there Justice shall be. In antiquity – at least after Plato – philosophy claimed that it could safeguard man against tragedy.
For Plato the goal of the good life is to become rationally selfsufficient, impervious to circumstance, essentially sealed off from events and other people. Plato does not imply that this will prevent terrible events from happening to the individual in rational self-control, but rather that these events cannot deprive the self-possessed individual of his self-control, his sense of well-being and being at
home in the world. Socrates, in particular, is not simply not a tragic figure, he is decidedly anti-tragic. The Stoic Socrates of the Symposium stands calmly in a snowstorm – oblivious to external circumstances and quite the opposite of Lear who rages against the elements. Plato appears to have set out to create a character to whom tragedy could never happen. Through the subsequent history of ‘Platonism for the people’, this dream continues. For although Fate, like the dead God of FW 108,15 still manages to cast its shadow over human thought for a very long time, it formally comes to an end with the anti-fatalism of Christianity. With the death of fate arises the possibility of what will eventually become the modern liberal subject. The early Church Fathers wrote ‘contra fatum and contra mathematikos – that is, against the astrologers, the learned predictors of fate’, as protest against the excuse of fate in ethical matters. For fate is really God’s rival in matters of omnipotence and divine love.
Tatian writes: ‘We Christians are raised above heimarnene and know only one Lord, who never strays’.16 After the Renaissance, this ‘God’ is replaced with the ‘subject’ – a fiction implicated in power games even to a greater extent than the God of the Middle Ages. In the twentieth century, this dream of a highly rationalized (now also de-sacralized and highly technologized) culture with a firm grasp of, and control over, practical problems was brutally deflated. Michel Foucault wrote that ‘humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination’.

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CHAPTER 1: TRAGEDY CONTRA JUSTICE
CHAPTER 3: ON THE GENEALOGY OF JUSTICE: LANGUAGE, TIME AND DEBT
CHAPTER 4: SUBJECTIVITIES AND OTHER PRISONS
CHAPTER 5: THE RETURN OF THE TRAGIC

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