A modest plea for enlightened catastrophism

A modest plea for enlightened catastrophism
A modest plea for enlightened catastrophism

How, out of the interaction of individuals, can the appearance of an “objective order” arise which cannot be reduced to that interaction, but is experienced by the individuals involved as something which determines their lives?

This is the ultimate mystery of the so-called human or social sciences. The great theoretical breakthrough of Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s recent book The Mark of the Sacred is to link this emergence of what Lacan called this “big Other” to the complex logic of the sacrifice constitutive of the dimension of the sacred – that is, to the rise of the distinction between the sacred and the profane: through the sacrifice, the big Other, the transcendent agency which sets limits to our activity, is sustained.

The ultimate function of sacrifice, however, is to legitimize and enact a hierarchical order (which works only if it is supported by some figure of the transcendent big Other). It is here that the first properly dialectical twist in Dupuy’s line of argumentation occurs: he explains how hierarchy implies not only a hierarchical order, but also its immanent loop or reversal. True, the social space is divided into higher and lower hierarchical levels, butwithin the lower level, the lower is higher than the higher.

An example is provided by the relationship between Church and State in Christianity: in principle, of course, the Church is above the State; however, as thinkers from Augustine to Hegel made clear, within the secular order of the State, the State is above the Church (in other words, the Church as a social institution should be subordinated to the state) – if it is not, if the Church wants directly to rule also as a secular power, then it becomes unavoidably corrupted from within, reducing itself to just another secular power using its religious teaching as the ideology to justify its secular rule.

Dupuy’s next, even more crucial move is to formulate this twist in the logic of hierarchy in terms of the negative self-relationship between the universal and the particular, between the All and its parts – that is, of a process in the course of which the universal encounters itself among its species in the guise of its “oppositional determination.”

[Extract. Appeared in ABC on July 11th 2012.]

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