Conservatism and the Definition of the Concrete

Posted by Edward Willatt on Monday, October 5, 2009 Under: Abstract and Concrete
?

I often listen to BBC Radio 4 and recently enjoyed a program on conservatism and the philosophy behind it (the program formed the last fifteen minutes of The Westminster Hour on 4th October 2009).  The point was made that conservatism seems to avoid philosophy because of its dislike of state control and interference, and of abstract theories.  However, what was interesting was the philosophy that has been developed by conservatives.  Naturally, Roger Scruton was a contributor and argued that for conservatives it is the ‘concrete’, ‘given’ and ‘actual’ that matters.  The historical and traditional must be respected so that one can find one’s place within it.  What I found interesting here was less the emphasis upon the role of tradition, which is well documented, and more the definition of the abstract and the concrete that was offered.  Scruton sounded oddly like those who criticise Deleuze for neglecting the concrete, given and actual in favour of the virtual and its resources.  However, Deleuze’s critics argue that he does not provide an account of change or transformation and that we need to emphasise the actual ‘tools’ and means which allow us to achieve social change.  In contrast, Scruton wants to hold onto the actual, given and concrete for its own value.  He wants to conserve the concrete actualities of history and tradition which have created institutions and ways of life that define societies.  What does this say about the concrete?  In a way it doesn’t say a great deal because Scruton does not seek to account for what is ‘actual’ and ‘given’ by calling it ‘concrete’.  Instead he echoes Dr Johnson who kicked a stone in order to ‘prove’ that this object is real and does not need to be related to anything heterogeneous or unfamiliar in order to account for it (he was seeking to refute Bishop Berkeley’s attempt to account for actual, material things by locating them ultimately in the mind of God).  Johnson was mentioned in the program as a conservative philosopher, one who sought to narrow the limits of the state’s legitimate interference in people’s lives.  He and Scruton define the concrete as that which puts us on solid ground, the solid ground of empirical evidence and inherited tradition.  However, this philosophical stance is always at risk of being undermined if this familiar ground is related to what does not resemble it in a philosophical account.  If we seek to account for how anything familiar came about we must at some stage relate it to what does not resemble it.  As Deleuze puts it in Difference and Repetition, ‘to ground is to metamorphosise’.  This refers to processes – which may be social, chemical, physical or biological – that individuate familiar things and thus account for both their differences and resemblances.  The concrete becomes something full of details and particularities that we abstract from when we talk about what is established and given in experience.  This must of course respond to Scruton’s emphasis upon history and its continuity.  An understanding of history that locates history’s singular points in moments of ungrounding or metamorphosis would challenge his emphasis upon continuity and tradition.  For Alain Badiou this points us to the void or evental site which is the source of change and transformation when combined with the truth procedures or fidelities that wager on the truth of events that emerge from this void.  For Deleuze the fullness of the concrete and its rhizomatous connections provide a necessary account of change (the rhizome is a model of the functioning of the concrete in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus).  For such thinkers it is the moments of transformation and intervention in established social situations that must be emphasised if we are to account for what is most familiar, traditional and actual.  In the case of Deleuze the concrete is defined very differently from the conservative tradition and he demands that we consider what the concrete does to our familiar notions of the world.  Does the depth of the concrete ground our notions of the actual or undermine them by showing how unfamiliar the genesis of these notions is?     

In : Abstract and Concrete 



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Conservatism and the Definition of the Concrete

Posted by Edward Willatt on Monday, October 5, 2009 Under: Abstract and Concrete
?

I often listen to BBC Radio 4 and recently enjoyed a program on conservatism and the philosophy behind it (the program formed the last fifteen minutes of The Westminster Hour on 4th October 2009).  The point was made that conservatism seems to avoid philosophy because of its dislike of state control and interference, and of abstract theories.  However, what was interesting was the philosophy that has been developed by conservatives.  Naturally, Roger Scruton was a contributor and argued that for conservatives it is the ‘concrete’, ‘given’ and ‘actual’ that matters.  The historical and traditional must be respected so that one can find one’s place within it.  What I found interesting here was less the emphasis upon the role of tradition, which is well documented, and more the definition of the abstract and the concrete that was offered.  Scruton sounded oddly like those who criticise Deleuze for neglecting the concrete, given and actual in favour of the virtual and its resources.  However, Deleuze’s critics argue that he does not provide an account of change or transformation and that we need to emphasise the actual ‘tools’ and means which allow us to achieve social change.  In contrast, Scruton wants to hold onto the actual, given and concrete for its own value.  He wants to conserve the concrete actualities of history and tradition which have created institutions and ways of life that define societies.  What does this say about the concrete?  In a way it doesn’t say a great deal because Scruton does not seek to account for what is ‘actual’ and ‘given’ by calling it ‘concrete’.  Instead he echoes Dr Johnson who kicked a stone in order to ‘prove’ that this object is real and does not need to be related to anything heterogeneous or unfamiliar in order to account for it (he was seeking to refute Bishop Berkeley’s attempt to account for actual, material things by locating them ultimately in the mind of God).  Johnson was mentioned in the program as a conservative philosopher, one who sought to narrow the limits of the state’s legitimate interference in people’s lives.  He and Scruton define the concrete as that which puts us on solid ground, the solid ground of empirical evidence and inherited tradition.  However, this philosophical stance is always at risk of being undermined if this familiar ground is related to what does not resemble it in a philosophical account.  If we seek to account for how anything familiar came about we must at some stage relate it to what does not resemble it.  As Deleuze puts it in Difference and Repetition, ‘to ground is to metamorphosise’.  This refers to processes – which may be social, chemical, physical or biological – that individuate familiar things and thus account for both their differences and resemblances.  The concrete becomes something full of details and particularities that we abstract from when we talk about what is established and given in experience.  This must of course respond to Scruton’s emphasis upon history and its continuity.  An understanding of history that locates history’s singular points in moments of ungrounding or metamorphosis would challenge his emphasis upon continuity and tradition.  For Alain Badiou this points us to the void or evental site which is the source of change and transformation when combined with the truth procedures or fidelities that wager on the truth of events that emerge from this void.  For Deleuze the fullness of the concrete and its rhizomatous connections provide a necessary account of change (the rhizome is a model of the functioning of the concrete in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus).  For such thinkers it is the moments of transformation and intervention in established social situations that must be emphasised if we are to account for what is most familiar, traditional and actual.  In the case of Deleuze the concrete is defined very differently from the conservative tradition and he demands that we consider what the concrete does to our familiar notions of the world.  Does the depth of the concrete ground our notions of the actual or undermine them by showing how unfamiliar the genesis of these notions is?     

In : Abstract and Concrete 



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