Reflecting on "What is Wrong with us?"

 More in the context of “What is wrong with us”?

….as an introduction to his thoughts I like his essay on
The Dissolution of Society within the `Social'(1)….Very reasonable and all-round .
It is unfortunate that there is no english translation of his main work,

Dialectique et Société.

See some extracts below.

 >From the book review: A Phenomenology of Spirit for our Times
Frédéric Vandenberghe

….Michel Freitag, the spiritus rector of the ‘École de
Montréal’, has been working in relative isolation on a massive dialectical critical
total social theory that is so general, complex and systematic that it can easily
match – and perhaps even encompass! – those of Hannah Arendt, Jürgen
Habermas, Anthony Giddens, Niklas Luhmann, or Alain Touraine for that
matter, who supervised his dissertation on the theories of development in the

The basic idea of the general theory of symbolic practice, understood by Piaget and Arendt as a
developmental relation of objectivation, is that every practice is always already and
inevitably caught in a web of representations (of the world, society, the other and
the self ) and (cognitive, normative and aesthetic) significations that functions as
an a priori and transcendental order of determination that regulates and unifies
the practices, which reproduce society in turn. By introducing culture as a transcendental
virtual totality that a priori forms, informs and regulates the symbolic
practices that produce and reproduce society while drawing on the symbolic order
and actualizing some of its representations and meanings, Freitag has successfully
forged a dialectical connection between the regulation of practices and the reproduction
of society that simultaneously establishes an internal connection between
agency and structure, the latter being ‘not only the medium, but also the result’
of the signifying practices.
The ‘double dialectic’ between agency and structure, which has just been
presented in an ontological and synchronic perspective, forms the basis and the
starting-point of a developmental theory of the modes of regulation of practices
and the reproduction of society. Re-analyzed in a historical and diachronic
perspective, the ideal-typical description of a society that is conceived as a
community of language that functions ‘like a language’ reappears now, formally,
as the first mode of reproduction of society, the ‘cultural-symbolic’ one, which,
‘sublated’, will be succeeded in modernity by the ‘political-institutional’ one and,
subverted and tendentially abolished, in postmodernity by the ‘decisional-operational’


‘The Dissolution of Society within the `Social’
Michel Freitag

This article provides a general, theoretical reflection on the decline of
the normative dimension in postmodern societies. Modern societies were the
first to recognize themselves as societies, that is, to reflect explicitly on
the normative basis of their constitution. With the decline of modernity,
societal integration, which was based in part on the collective solidarity
borne of an idea of Justice, has dissolved into merely ‘social’ forms of integration,
legitimized in terms of a claim to operational perfection. At a purely
epistemological level, this results in a profound misunderstanding of the
subjective and unitary character of society and social action. The article ends
in a plea for the recovery of a reflection on values, understood not just as a
change in values, but as a change in the relation to values, necessary to
confront the irreducible plurality of the world.

And his philosophical resume’…..(my italics and bold)

One has spoken of the disenchantment of the world, of a loss of meaning, of
a life become absurd. The death of God was proclaimed, and barely fifty years
later that of the subject. Are we truly dead as subjects, or only weakened,
‘cretinized’? What then was this now defunct God? We are told that we have lost
our illusions, but what were these illusions? Were they really illusory? If there is
no ‘foundation’ (always a spatial and ultimately realist, substantialist and positive
metaphor) where previous societies believed, whether in the gods, the fleeting
intimacy of individual consciousness, or the Reason at the center of that
consciousness, does this really mean that we are without foundations, that we are
falling in Abgrund, into the abyss?
The problem we are now confronting is not ‘complicated’: every adolescent
has to resolve it to become an adult. In conceptual terms, it comes down to the
question of the reality of ‘transcendence’, which entails that of the validity of
norms. For the justification of norms is rooted in a transcendental dimension of
existence, even as this ontological dimension grounds their claim to an a priori
validity relative to the formal autonomy of particular social practices. The question,
then, concerns the foundation or mode of constitution of this societal a
priori; it is the question of society itself, understood as having an identity and
normative dimension, and as a real totality that is simultaneously objective and
subjective. Unlike the prophet, it is not up to the sociologist or philosopher to
determine which values should exist. S/he can, however, demonstrate the value
of values and the importance of ends, because this is precisely what s/he does
when she fixes her reflexive gaze on human, social and historical action, and
considers a person’s or society’s mode of existence.

What is involved is a question of ontology bearing on the irreducibly normative
‘mode of being’ of human (read: contingent) reality, and the fragility inherent
in the ‘mode of being’ of value. Note that it is not the mode of being (our
mode of being as social beings) that has changed, but only our manner of representing
it. Until now all societies have given themselves, through the ‘debt of
meaning’, an indirect view of their transcendental constitution and, in consequence,
their ontological actuality. By projecting outwards their inner consciousness
of themselves (at first in a concrete, and then an abstract manner), they were
not – whatever might have been said – deluding themselves as regards their
nature. On the contrary they were duly recognizing, in an entirely realist manner,
the ontologically transcendental character of their existence. In a sense, they were
only looking at themselves in a mirror. True, the mirrors were broken; but being
just mirrors, what they reflected did not, thereby, fall to pieces. And what were
these mirrors? At bottom no more than the reflection’s ‘reification’.
And the
reflection is still with us: it is immanent to our capacity to see and think,

and isfundamental to our liberty.
 It is neither a matter of reviving ‘old’ values, nor ‘producing’ new ones, but of
establishing a new relation to values that will no longer be mediated by reflection’s
reification. What is involved is the attainment of a new, direct consciousness
of our reflexivity, one that needs no longer be guaranteed by its alienation,
that is to say, by the alienation of ourselves as reflexive beings. Instead ofsuccumbing to ‘nihilism’ – which is nothing more than ‘illusion’s illusion’ (that
is, the illusion that it is just an illusion and an arbitrary one at that) – we can
a new relation to values. This relation will no longer be prophetic or
dogmatic, but reflexive and pedagogical; in it the ‘value of value’ will be immediately understood, since it will be recognized ontologically and experienced existentially.

But this implies, relative to both modernity and tradition, a sort of
ideological revolution, if by the latter one refers not to how being is,
but to how it is conceived (and one could add, to approach Hegel a little,
how it arrives at its self-understanding).


…..The most immediately pressing object of our consciousness, the
objective stratum of human-social-historical reality (one might remember here
the Socratic dictum ‘know thyself ’) is normative through and through, since it
can only exist as an objective reality in its self-affirmation.

..I am claiming here the spirit of a pre-modern common sense 

where the ‘true world’ appears as the ‘world’s wealth’, the world of a contingent multiplicity, an inexhaustible diversity of particular beings 
and forms and their enchanting harmony, a world that possesses 
ontological beauty and offers us an epistemological welcome.

…………….Thus the adventitious existence of each living species, 

each language and culture, each person in her or his liberty in 
society, and of the ‘world’ understood as an ontological space 
for the diversity of existents, their cohabitation, relations
and ‘harmony’.


……….What is involved is, for the first time, assuming responsibility 

for our ‘authority’, in the entirely new situation resulting from the increased importance of technique, 
whether turned towards the transformation of the ‘external’ world, or the ‘self-production’ of society,
that is, everything considered, of ourselves. Because, as we now realize, we are the ones responsible
in the last  instance, we cannot assume such responsibility without a new 
consciousness of the ontological value of existence in both its subjective 
and objective dimensions. What is required, then, is a new consciousness 
of the hierarchy immanent to being, where the affirmation of identity is 
valid only in its respect for difference, a respect rooted in the recognition 
of a common belonging that already encompasses even……

…………… By ‘inscribing’ wealth, multiplicity, harmony and beauty 

 in the ontological field of ‘being’ and ‘truth’, I am simply repeating, 
if in a pompous, laboured manner, what has always spontaneously
been recognized by common sense. But the latter has been downgraded 
by science, and by technique’s claims to ‘creativity’. Here perhaps is the nub of the problem: 
how could the knowledge, intuition and certitude of common sense allow itself to be 
completely marginalized ontologically (that is to say, cognitively, aesthetically and 
normatively)by a knowledge and certitude that can only connect with 
the ‘true world’s reality’, while still relying on common sense, as it remains an abstraction 
from the latter?
Common sense, which immediately affirms not just the cognitive but the normative
and aesthetic value of its judgements, has become restricted to the ontologically
inessential realm of ‘private life’, even if, within that realm, it is exalted
by contemporary psychology and personalist ideology. And even if this ideology
lays claim for both itself and its object to the singular nature of personal subjectivity,
identified with being’s ultimate ontological truth.


…..We must instead become conscious of the ontological
reality ‘unveiled’ by their critique of ideological reification. Here too,
behind the purely critical form of its implementation (and by way of it), an
‘unveiling of being’ can acquire meaning and value, should we prove 

capable of effecting its ontological recovery, as an ‘enhancement of being’ within an immemorial, indefinite process of transmission.


More  on Postmodernism …Habermass…….etc. ……and…..Michel Freitag

This entry was posted in standard. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s