庞蒂论自由 520

庞蒂论自由 520

Provided that this is so, there can be situations, a direction* of history,
and a historical truth: three ways of saying the same thing. If
indeed I made myself into a worker or a bourgeois by an absolute
initiative, and if in general terms nothing ever courted our freedom,
history would display no structure, no event would be seen to take
shape in it, and anything might emerge from anything else. There
would be no British Empire as a relatively stable historical form to
which a name can be given, and in which certain probable properties
are recognizable.


There would not be, in the history of social progress,
revolutionary situations or periods of set-back. A social revolution
would be equally possible at any moment, and one might reasonably
expect a despot to undergo conversion to anarchism. History would
never move in any direction, nor would it be possible to say that even
over a short period of time events were conspiring to produce any
definite outcome.


The statesman would always be an adventurer, that is
to say, he would turn events to his own advantage by conferring upon
them a meaning which they did not have. Now if it is true that history is
powerless to complete anything independently of consciousnesses
which assume it and thereby decide its course, and if consequently it
can never be detached from us to play the part of an alien force using us
for its own ends, then precisely because it is always history lived through we
cannot withhold from it at least a fragmentary meaning. Something is
being prepared which will perhaps come to nothing but which may,
for the moment, conform to the adumbrations of the present.


can so order it that, in the France of 1799, a military power ‘above
classes’ should not appear as a natural product of the ebb of revolution,
and that the role of military dictator should not here be ‘a part that has
to be played’. It is Bonaparte’s project, known to us through its realization,
which causes us to pass such a judgement.


But before Bonaparte,
Dumouriez, Custine and others had envisaged it, and this common
tendency has to be accounted for. What is known as the significance of
events is not an idea which produces them, or the fortuitous result of
their occurring together. It is the concrete project of a future which is
elaborated within social coexistence and in the One* before any personal
decision is made.


At the point of revolutionary history to which
class dynamics had carried it by 1799, when neither the Revolution
could be carried forward nor the clock put back, the situation was such
that, all due reservations as to individual freedom having been made,
each individual, through the functional and generalized existence
which makes a historical subject of him, tended to fall back upon what
had been acquired.


It would have been a historical mistake at that stage
to suggest to them either a resumption of the methods of revolutionary
government or a reversion to the social conditions of 1789, not
because there is a truth of history independent of our projects and
evaluations, which are always free, but because there is an average and
statistical significance of these projects. Which means that we confer
upon history its significance, but not without its putting that significance
forward itself. The Sinngebung is not merely centrifugal, which is
why the subject of history is not the individual. There is an exchange
between generalized and individual existence, each receiving and
giving something.


There is a moment at which the significance which
was foreshadowed in the One, and which was merely a precarious
possibility threatened by the contingency of history, is taken up by an
individual. It may well happen that now, having taken command of
history, he leads it, for a time at least, far beyond what seemed to
comprise its significance, and involves it in a fresh dialectic, as when
Bonaparte, from being Consul, made himself Emperor and conqueror.


We are not asserting that history from end to end has only one meaning,
any more than has an individual life. We mean simply that in any
case freedom modifies it only by taking up the meaning which history
was offering at the moment in question, and by a kind of unobtrusive
assimilation. On the strength of this proposal made by the present, the
adventurer can be distinguished from the statesman, historical imposture
from the truth of an epoch, with the result that our assessment of
the past, though never arriving at absolute objectivity, is at the same
time never entitled to be arbitrary.



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