History (Justin's) and "actualism"

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sat Apr 8 23:01:31 MDT 1995

On Sat, 8 Apr 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> Is history progressive?  Is not this our debate?

Yes, recalling what I mean that. I claim that history has a long term
direction, towards increasing emancipation, and that this is objectively
an improvement, i.e., progressive. The facts are linked on my account, the
former being part of the evidence for the latter.

> Justin, it seems to me that you have backed down from your initial
> assertion that history is progressive (there were no congentences in
> your initial assertions),

Without having looked ath the original posts I can't be sure, but I think
there were probbaly no necessities in them either, just a claim phrased as
above, extensionally.

 it can be regressive, but at the same time
> you suggest such regression is for moments of history, the long-run
> history can be viewed as progressive.  Am I even close to
> understanding your idea here?

> Regardless; even if you can say history is always progressive (which
> seems not to be your premise);

You are right. It's not.

 progressive in the long-run (which
> does seem to me your premise): or contingently progressive

Both of these I hold.

, in a quasi-
> progressive way

I don't know what this means.

 (also at times seemingly your stance); the
> provocation of historical change is due to a human propensity against
> domination, a resistence against oppression.  Are we O.K. so far?
Yes, pretty much.

> You have assumed what you should have proved, namely the propeller of
> history being resistence against domination.

No, the claims that there is resistance, and that it can move histiry
towards emancipation, do not assume that the resistance will or must
always or generally or indeed ever succeed in bringing about greater

  In other words there is
> some sort of mechanism what seems to move history along
> ((micro-)directional or otherwise), hopefully toward emancipation
> and self-determination, what allows you to assume this to be
> resistence?

This depends on a combination of observation, namely that resistance
occurs--"this history of all hitherto existing societies, etc."--and
hypothesis, namely that people tend to act in their group interest, which
explains the observation.

 This here is your "ether" in my view.  And with it,
> history remains contingent on everything else which you capture in
> your term (un-)stability).

I don't understand this.
> You have only "proved" or "demonstrated" what you assumed, namely
> domination will find a resistence.  What does this tell us about
> emancipation.  With all the contingences, seemly (to me) not much at
> all.

What the tendency of domination to produce resistance tells us is that
regimes of domination will tend to be unstable in a way that emancipatory
orders, without domination, are not, because the latter have no domination
to resist. That gives us a reason to prefer the latter if stability, as
evidence of justice, is a desideratum. Moreover, resistance is a mechanism
which tends to undermine regimes of domination and replace them with
emancipatory orders, so our preference is not idle. In a phrase, what the
claim you says tells us little in fact tells us is that there is hope for
a better world.

> Bhaskar calls such accounts "actualism," whereby the *real* mechanism
> is reduced to the *actual* manifestation.  In other words, as I see
> our account you have "observed" the historical phenomena of
> resistence against domination, wherefore you give it the status of
> the *real* mechanism behind the phenomena.
No, as I say, the explanation of resistance is interest-based group
action, a fundamental human motivation. The observed phenomenin are a
result of this.

> But, you are worse still then an "actualist," for you claim that in
> the long-run history is progressive (assuming the propensity), but
> would not history always appear progressive, depending on one's point
> of view and reference.

Since the whole point of my project is to deal with relativism based on
group perspective I can hardly be accused of not having thought of this
worry. Sure, dominant groups will thjink that tendencies towards
domination are progressive. But on my story they will be wrong, sinbce
they accept that their regimes must be just, while the instabnility their
domination produces shoes these regimes are not just.

 In other words, a genocide of ideology could
> occur (seemingly your measurement of this would if a resistence were
> to re-emerge, possibly re-establishing the old ideology); what of
> genocide of culture? or a genocide of race?

A good question. I gave it a lot of thought, then realized that justice
requires a reconcilitaion of interests, which is inconsistent with
genocide. ALso the resistance doesn't has to be by the group affected, but
may be by others who resist in solidarity.

 This is what I call the
> "Victor's Illision."  Whereby, history always appears progressive
> from the point of view of the victor (for you as long as it is
> stable).  Hans E. is quite correct to point out this to be quite
> conservative.

If stability is due to force and not to justice, the resulting order in my
account is not just, and its attainment is not progress.

> Am I correct to understand you that your account of history
> *necessarily* does not want to take such issues into account when
> measuring progress?

No, since I do take them into account.

  In other words, is emancipation or liberation,
> or the over-coming of domination the measurement of your notion of
> progress (I seriously doubt if stability captures such concepts).
Emancipation is one measure of progress, the only one I consider in my

> You have assumed or "observed" a human propensity against domination.
>  This for you is some sort of (historical) "objective standard."

No, I take it to be a fact on which we can, with some complicated
argument, base a standard.

> this is so, why not truely make this our objective standard, not only
> in your epistemological notion of history, but of your ethical
> standard.  Something like, 'if their is resistence, there must be
> domination, hence, lets re-constitute (the problem).'
I don't follow you here. The complicated argument I mention is an argument
for an ethical standard, one of justice.

> We could also ask a Bhaskarian-like transcendental question.  If
> world history is governed by resistence against domination, 'what
> must human beings be like to resist domination?'

My answer, very briefly: creatures who tend to act on their group interests.

  It seems attempts
> to answer such a question my point us toward instituting a self-
> consciousness into your less-than-conscious mechanism of --
> resistence.

Look, I don't object to self-consciousness or deny that it comes to pass.
I just don't require it in my account. Resistance comes about with or
without it. If resistance produces self-cs too, so much the better. Lukacs
thought it did.

--Justin Schwartz

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