Religion, Tradition and Modernity

Religion, Tradition and Modernity

If we are overwelmed by the “psycho-dimension” of social transformation,
communicated through “confused minds”, who would hasten to declare social
transformations as psychosis, I think it is worth it to refer to some clear minds
(irrespective of the fact if one shares the attitude or not) who may tell us more
on the subject of the matter. The geographical source of knowledge is irrelevant…
Let alone Europe, even our entire globe may still be”a sick fly taking a dizzy ride
on the cosmos” (cf. Mencken)..The Point is to make it a healthy one…as a subject
and a human agent, by daring to become a “healthy  being “, an autonomous
individual and ultimately a harmonious human-being, capable of conceiving
the world as a common ground, where
every-being and -thing has
the right to exit in a profound manner ….
And there is nothing wrong with modern “messianism”, “religious” without religion 
or political…..It may as well  be a sign of a self-healing process; contrary
 to man’s old brute “heroism” and “patriotism” based on exclusive traditions, which

at the cost of the “other”, compromise universal human values .
– Universal Human values, indispensable for the survival of mankind as a rational species
– Peace, Freedom of Culture, tolerant Faith(be it philosophy or religion) and
Science for Prosperity..

The attachments from and on Gauchet, are  illustrations of clear minds…..
While reading Gauchet’s paper (Redefining the Unconscious), the grain of truth and
its clarity may just keep you smiling, depending on your conceiving dimension and
experience. Why?….It is because things and concepts which touch the truth are,
I think essentialy relaxing and comfortable fitting to our immanent nature
and environment..

Like “The experience of otherness”

(Extract from M. Gauchet, 
Redefining the Unconscious
, p. 17 ff;  
just as an incentive to look into his papers)

“A new mode of experience of otherness is taking shape which is destabilizing
the recognized figure of the unconscious and its culturally established
locations. Above I have made reference to the displacements on the
anthropological level of the experience of the unconscious for the ultra-contemporary
individuals. This is the problem which we encounter in a wider
form. The experience of the unconscious is not a purely personal experience,
it is embedded in a cultural figuration.
In social and cultural terms, the experience of the unconscious is to be
regarded as a specific figure of the experience of otherness in the form of
the otherness of the self. It needs to be resituated from this perspective in a
long history. Human experience has always been an experience of the otherness
of the self. For the longest period of human history, however, this otherness
of the self was understood within and as a function of an otherness
explicitly situated in order to organize the human world in all its aspects:
religious otherness. Otherness defined by the debt and the dependence of
humans in relation to the gods, by the cultural priority of the invisible over
the visible. The originality of the contemporary experience of otherness is
obvious in comparison. One could say: the unconscious is the appearance
which otherness of the self takes on when the instituted otherness of religion
collapses, when the social priority of the invisible dissolves. The result is an
otherness of the self which is solely a question of the self: and this changes
everything.Of what does the living core of this experience of otherness consist,
which we can regard as constitutive of human experience? To make sense
of it I am proposing to place it in an anthropological structure with three
terms: the invisible, the body, truth.

Our experience is the irreducible experience of a doubling. A doubling
into a visible and an invisible part of ourselves. Beyond our visible body
something of our intimate identity withdraws from the visible, moreover, as
speaking beings, we work with the invisible. Wherever we turn we discover
our doubleness. There is no culture which is not constructed around this
division. Its religious interpretation, the ancient interpretation dominant in
human history, translates into an experience of otherness with two poles:
possession and prophecy, to simplify outrageously the taking over of the
body and the gift of truth. On the one side, the experience of one’s body
becoming other, seized by the power of the invisible. On the other side, the
experience of a rapture which fills the spirit with the invisible and gives it
access to truths normally concealed, the wisdom of the gods, secrets of the
beyond or future reality – but for everyone this experience has the familiar
and everyday form of the dream, in which the sleeping body opens the soul
to another world. Where there is religion, that is, religious structuring of the
human social space, there is this double experience of the invisible, in the
strangeness of a body which ceases to belong to you, and in the self-effacement
which yields to a truth which speaks in your place.”……………

“…….the body withdraws from itself and truth manifests
itself despite the self – express the changing face of the ongoing exit from
religion. I can’t elaborate but it is clear that nature gradually supplements the
supernatural and that the other in the self becomes more and more an other
of the self. The discovery of the unconscious is embedded in this sequence,
it is one of its important aspects. It corresponds to the decisive moment when
the subject cannot situate the other, which is still present anywhere but in
the self……..”

See related Papers on thoughts in the vicinity of other recent French intellectuals like
Merleau-Ponty, C. Lefort, M. Freitag etc Useful discussions on religion, state, democracy,
law, power and the autonomous individual (the “last drop”) etc. highly relevant to
understand the texture of the Social in a modern community and modernity at all…


” With the individual in the foreground the social gets more careful attention,
but a specific form of attention. In other words, the supremacy of the
individual corresponds to a specific understanding of the social. With the
representation of civil society as a market, society does not get less attention
either. To the contrary, in their relation to the social human beings are no
longer just asked to follow ethical rules, but to try to understand the unwanted
results of their moral or immoral actions, those that do not seem to fit with
what was intended.
Still, the identification of market mechanisms and the marking out of
individuals as social actors raised – in relation to the identification of the
factors of social harmony – the issue of the transparency and autonomy of
the social. Is social harmony best attended with the submission to market
regulatory mechanisms? Is it impossible for the social community to govern
itself knowingly and intentionally?
Even though the disclosure of man’s role in shaping society seems to
be ‘at the price of the degrading relations between men to the status of brute
natural facts’ (Dumont, 1977: 79), the search for regulation principles, factors
and links hidden to the consciousness of social actors represents an autonomous
attempt to clear up what actually holds society together, and to elucidate
the relation between the individuals participating in society and the
society as a whole………………”

“In other words, the identification within the social of a space beyond
intentionality means the possibility to reflect upon the complexity of the
social bond. It is now possible to ask questions like: what is it individuals
owe to their culture? What is it that cultures owe to their members? And
such questions can be dealt with without having to make reference to the
outside of culture.”…………..

….Louis Dumont’s insistence in pointing out the degradation of social
relations ‘to the status of brute natural facts’ can be questioned. Was this
extricating of an autonomous sector of activity within society and this naturalization
of historicity really a kind of degradation, or was it but a moment
of transition from heteronomy to autonomy? Shouldn’t we focus more on
the merits of this transitory representation than on its epistemological deficit?
This lack of understanding we now can perceive in this reduction of the
symbolic to a natural phenomenon: isn’t it precisely thanks to this momentary
simplification that we have been able to identify it? Wasn’t it necessary
to isolate something within society to get rid of heteronomy? Wasn’t it better,
at least at first, to consider this isolated mechanism as something having
more in common with natural phenomena than with the heteronomous
entities in use then? Didn’t it help the transition from heteronomy to
autonomy precisely by showing that another kind of rationality was needed
to understand the nature of the social bond and the forces at stake in it?
Let us answer with Marchel Gauchet that no, it does not have to be ‘a degradation
of the ontological dignity of the social to admit that the unification
and harmonization of private interests depends upon the intervention of a
“natural” mechanism, that escapes human consciousness and human will’”

(Bouchet, the ambiguity of the modern conception, p.43-44)

On tradition and modernity,

“In fact, what we learn from modernity, says Barel, is that we cannot
do without autotranscendence. Somehow, modernity is when society claims
to know that it has to produce its own myths. Traditional societies did not
relate to their myths as if they were their own products. Nevertheless, as
soon as the traditional points of reference are disclosed and disappear, the
community ‘has to give itself new points of reference to put the social at a
distance thanks to which the social creates a distance to itself in order to
keep being able to understand itself or to bear with itself’ (Barel, 1984: 238).”

the ambiguity of the modern conception, p. 47-48)

And, a propos…on “messianism”….the conclusion of Bouchet is comforting:


This ‘Progression from an order to which we are subjected to one which
we increasingly will ’ (Gauchet, 1997: 6) has not resulted in the removal of
the autonomy paradox. Simmel had already warned us a long time ago: ‘the
human being is the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot
connect without separating’ (Simmel, 1997 [1911]: 174). The human condition
is not that easy. ‘Caught between the desire for autonomy (for an autonomous
source of all that is moral, lawful, legitimate) and the realities of his condition
(the plurality of separated existences), modern man is torn by a contradiction
with no solution’ (Manent, 1977: 208). Thus, it becomes clear that ‘a
society that masters itself expresses in so doing the very limits of its mastery’
(Barel, 1979: 271). ‘Power never really coincides with the position it is represented
at. Its mastery of the functioning of the social organization is never
effective’ (Quéré, 1982: 86). In order to perceive itself and work upon itself,
a society has to produce a representation of itself and create a distance to
itself. This is paradoxical. Society produces a mirror to look at itself, but it is
this mirror that sees itself. Or as Castoriadis put it, a democratic society recognizes
in its rules, its norms, its values, and its significations its own creations,
‘whether deliberate or not’ (Castoriadis, 1997a: 340).”

On the way towards “modernity”, that is why I want to assert that,

Besides this, the craving of Man for heavon or  the void is totally  normal and lies in his utmost primordial nature to resolve  it (at least to try).  It is the most intim and natural drive of the human condition,  which forms the dialectics and the morphology of his cultural  development. (My last Email) 

On  “Democracy as Socio-cultural Project”  (as presented by Gauchet), Doyle, p85 ff

“There is, as Gauchet puts it, a kind of law which governs this birth of
sovereignty from religious subservience: the greater the Gods, the freer
human beings become (Gauchet, 1997: 51). This law informs the dynamics
of transcendence, which gave birth to the project of autonomy and allowed
the holistic or heteronomous universe to evolve into something radically
different. Christianity, Gauchet asserts, is the decisive moment of rupture. It
overcomes the fundamental contradiction of monotheism between the exaltation
of human submission to God and the legitimation of spiritual rebellion
against the sinful world (Gauchet, 1997: 767–78). The divine is so Other
that it can only reveal itself in human form. In Christianity, otherness, the
non-coincidence of the divine and the human, is accepted and radicalised:
the refusal of the world such as it is becomes the basis of the need to act in
the world. Salvation is to be gained through the transformation of reality.
Material existence is now integrated in the religious experience. For Gauchet,
the Reformation in fact fulfilled what was latent from the start. Christianity
must therefore be seen as ‘the religion of the exit from religion’, the religion
which made possible the birth of modern sovereignty.
Gauchet’s political history of religion not only adds to Lefort’s theory
of the symbolical transformation underpinning modernity, it also opens onto
an analysis of the beginnings of this transformation in early medieval Europe.
As the Church evolved into a centralized and specialized organization with
aspirations to the global spiritual leadership of society, it worked in fact
towards its own demise by facilitating the emancipation of earthly kingly
power. Against the universalism of papal ambitions another type of legitimacy,
directly consecrated by God, was asserted, that of the nation (Gauchet,
1997: 90, 156). This other legitimacy reversed the imperialistic logic of global
expansion. The principle of universality was redirected inwards and
deepened: primitive universal sovereignty gave way to the sovereignty of the
modern state, which subordinates universality to the territorial particularity
of the nation. The human community thus acquired an invisible form of permanence,
which was represented through the king’s ‘two bodies’: the king
is dead, long live the king! (Kantorowicz, 1955).
The monarch ceased to be the living incarnation of the unity of heaven
and earth. Although his power was based on the idea of divine right, his
presence in fact attested to the separation of the human sphere from the
divine. Imposing a social order from above, the monarch now symbolically
represented the internal identity of the collective body outside of any reference
to divine otherness. Building on this significant break, monarchical
absolutism then paradoxically facilitated the emergence of a new egalitarian
dynamics. As Gauchet points out, it is no coincidence that contract theories
appeared when power defined itself as absolute: the absolute state established
the principle of a voluntary creation of society by itself, which radically
subverted pre-modern hierarchy (Gauchet, 1997: 85 ff).”

In other words, the reverence of tradition (promoted by “confused minds”)
in the last analysis entails a pre-modern hierarchy and heteronomy;
whereas absolute monarchy is the transition of the Social ending up in its own demise.

“For Gauchet, as for Castoriadis and Lefort, modernity is to be understood as a
shift away from the subordination inscribed in heteronomy, to the fulfilment of
human sovereignty in autonomy. If the project of autonomy has for Gauchet,
as for Castoriadis, both a collective and individual dimension, for Gauchet it also
specifically incorporates the historical constitution of the self as a rational subject.

Whilst The Disenchantment of the World focuses mainly on the birth of the state,
it also discusses the connection that exists between it and the birth of the individual
as subject. Thus Gauchetformulates a dynamic conception of modernity as a tension
between processes of individual emancipation and socialisation, which leads him to
define the project of autonomy differently from Castoriadis, as the project of
a radically new society, the society of individuals. For Gauchet, modernity is
the advent of a new form of humanity which is moving away from the
gregarious humanity of heteronomous culture.”

*****Extracts are from the following Essays********************



Claude Lefort, Marcel Gauchet and the French Debate on Modern Autonomy

Natalie Doyle



Marcel Gauchet




Dominique Bouchet

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