Friday, August 15, 2008

The Permanence of the State

I have always considered the Faustian bargain to be in regard to the pursuit of knowledge. Faust bargained with Mephistopheles because he believed his pursuit was so interesting that he would never want it to stop. Was Faust pursing knowledge or was he also pursuing pleasure? In any case, it wasn’t a matter of his seeking eternal permanence, but of his not wishing to go on with his pursuit. Could such a cessation also be considered transcendent? I wouldn’t call it that. I would say it would mean that he had found something so wonderful that nothing beyond it would be desirable.

The Blake idea may reflect the Christian injunction against idolatry. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” meaning, don’t let anything get between you and God. If you love something so much that you want to think about or enjoy nothing else, then where is there room for God?

I don’t think anyone is claiming that the modern state seeks immobility; although some might see a hint of that in Fukuyama’s End of History. But upon closer examination, it wouldn’t be immobility in any practical sense. The forms of Liberal Democracy could be changed about as needed. That they could not be changed to their opposite wouldn’t mean they were immobile. Interestingly, one of the books in Princeton’s New French Thought series is The New Social Question: Rethinking the Welfare State by P. Rosanvallon. I dashed off to find a review thinking Rosanvallon might be intending to abandon the Welfare State, but not so. He merely wants to fix its defects. It is still the ideal (permanent?) state as far as he is concerned. There are problems with it as it presently exists, but they are not so great that they can’t be fixed or that some other form of the state might seem preferable.

I don’t believe that Christianity has opposed change. Gauchet argues that it hasn’t. In fact this is one reason that Christianity is superior to Islam: It works well with change. Gauchet argues that the Modern State would not have been possible without Christianity and its accommodation to change. Of course one can’t sweep up all Christian denominations in this generalization. Gauchet would have Catholic Europe in mind; although he has studied the European Reformation. And American Dispensationalism while not specifically opposing change believes (or typically believes) that the return of Christ is so close that change is irrelevant.

Lawrence Helm

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