Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Arthur Melzer, Historicist?

Melzer, like his forebear Leo Strauss, certainly does not like "historicism." The trouble with with both men's complaints about the topic is that they appear to heave in a bin a gallimaufry of thinkers ranging from people who simply take history and culture seriously to the most postmodern of relativists. Does Edmund Burke really belong in a bucket with Michel Foucault? Husserl with Derrida? Was Michael Oakeshott's attack on "rationalism" really an esoteric attempt to make philosophy subservient to practice, an idea that on the surface Oakeshott emphatically rejected?

But ironically, Melzer at points in his text lays himself open to the charge of "historicism," to regard ideas as a "manifestation of their times." For instance, he writes, "Specifically, we have a systematic tendency to misunderstand -- or rather, to dismiss and forget -- that conflict [between philosophy and politics] because the whole form of state in which we live was invented precisely in order to obscure or eliminate it" (p. 173). Given the broadness of the brush with which he colors thinkers as "historicist," won't it coat him here as well?

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