Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism

Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism

Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism

Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism


The status of the modern age has long been debated, but since post-modernism, it has assumed centrality as if it were the issue of philosophy. Gardner brings a new approach to the problem of modernity, based on theories of Rene Girard and others. While modernity is commonly seen as an ideological project or interpretation of Being, Gardner sees it in terms of the structure of human relations and their impact on philosophy. The decisive feature of the modern world is what Tocqueville called equality of conditions, which has wrought a revolution in the self-image of the individual and in one's dealings with others. But, in the process, it has replaced old myths--debunked by the Enlightenment--with new ones of its own invention. Hence emerged the myths of freedom--of the autonomy of the self or the spontaneity of passion, or later, of emancipation or authenticity--from Descartes to Heidegger.

Gardner probes the central issue: To what extent have philosophers clarified these myths, or, perhaps, succumbed to their illusions. This inquiry attacks the major dogmas of contemporary criticism--such as the primacy of the question of technology, or of the quarrel of ancients and moderns. It restores the philosophical legitimacy of anthropology, both in opposition to Heidegger's ontology and to the deconstructive retreat into an idealism, and in contrast to classical political philosophy. This provocative analysis will be of interest to philosophers, political theorists, and others dealing with the problem of modernity.


In the general chaos mighty empires have arisen only to meet with imme
diate doom, heroes have emerged momentarily to be hurled again into ob
scurity by bolder and stronger rivals. It was a revolution beside which the
French Revolution was child’s play, a world struggle beside which the
struggles of the Diadochi appear insignificant.

The German Ideology

This book is the result of several years of research in a mostly French tradition of “anthropology” that broadly shares a Tocquevillean inspiration; I apply it to some key episodes in philosophy from Descartes to Hegel. My aim is to expose the underpinnings of philosophical radicalism in thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, but to do so indirectly, by clarifying crucial aspects of the modern world, more perspicuously revealed in early than in later modern thought. This leads to striking, not to say devastating results.

Initially it was motivated by the observation that continental thought after Kant is riddled by internecine rivalries. a certain vanity which is peculiarly modern has worked seductively on philosophers and easily wears an ideological mask. To put it crudely—but not falsely—from Fichte or Hegel to Heidegger (and after) intellectual culture often presents the appearance of a contest for mortal divinity, an almost superhuman prestige. This passion or some-

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