Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The General Will

"the Unconditional is related to all finite things, yet it is not one among them or all of them taken together. Moreover, it 'stands over against' all things of the finite world (including the concept of God) and at the same time is the dynamic ground of existence and meaning."
-James Luther Adams' introduction to Paul Tillich's essay collection, What is Religion

Adams' description of Tillich's idea of infinity, essentially, seems meant as this mysticality that is a direct connection to the natural world and through it to this beyondness that is always present in mystical teachings. The serious mysticism has always been the source of the most profound knowledge and wisest judgment that humanity has ever developed, it strikes me. The lives and teachings of the mystics have always been the source of true moral examplarism. Perhaps more attention should be paid, but I'm already getting away from myself.

There will always be more to say about the place for true saints and mystics in the future of humanity (I predict and hope), but what I wanted to jot down here was what this idea of infinity as a thing lacking all conditions kind of knocked loose in my head about the comparisons here to Rousseau's general will.

This idea that the infinite is not just the collection of all finite things made me think about this idea that is at the heart of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract, which is this idea of the general will. The general will is what the sovereign (which in his formulation was the collection of all persons in a commonwealth [1762]) aims to express through its gov't. Or what the gov't is supposed to help create for the people. Or something. But the general will is not simply the collection of all the particular wills of each individual person within this commonwealth; it's more than just what people want and get and have and keep.

It's just about here that I have to strike out on my own from Rousseau as it's been some five years since I read the material, but this connection that Adams makes about Tillich's thought (and I'm very excited to start reading the man himself tomorrow or the next day) of the Unconditional as this rerepresentation of religious experience. An attempt to recapture the individual spiritual experience at the heart of what religion was always supposed to be about. This idea of infinity is a way to try to experience the reality of this that lies behind the symbol. If that symbol actualizes this experience of knowledge and being of the infinite, then perhaps you can access the general will. That's not Roussseau's point. Nor, would I say, is this spiritual route the only access to this kind of unconditional social good. (And really how did this idea of the social [with its ism] become so hated and despised because of autocratic, dogmatic, fairly idiotic 'Communism'? Is that really the smartest move for us as a, ya know, society?)

A point here is, as Pemulis says, the map is not the territory. I think people get confused sometimes. I know I do, and I'm pretty much going to have to stop now cause I'm getting numbness in two of the fingers on my left hand. And that's starting to freak me out. Remind me to tell you about my current attempts to find an orthopedist thru my so amazingly awesome it's universally reviled company-wide private insurance plan. Stopping now, shooting pains in my arm.

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