3.05.2002

That I emerges from we is, as you have observed, recognized and celebrated in Vietnamese society. I emerges from we in American culture, but the recognition is tenuous. Indeed, if de Toqueville's observations still pertain, no I emerges from we in American political society. The forces of conformity -- the tyranny of the majority -- are too strong. Nevertheless, we have a rhetoric of rugged individualism issuing from the Jacksonian Era that was sustained through the 19th century, nourished by transcendentalism, and challenged severely by the Great Depression. Individualism continues to resonate as the foundational agency animating American liberalism. When I approach Wittgenstein, I do so with the aim of teasing out the nascent strands of anti-liberalism in his thought. Some confuse this anti-liberalism with conservatism. But I can think of no more radical a political enterprise than de-naturalizing the individual, while illuminating the conventions undergirding all forms of human life. The political consequences of Wittgenstein's critique of metaphysics, his opposition to ontological and epistemological dualism, and his return to the "rough ground" of ordinary language, is what I have been working through. Politics is a neighborhood Wittgenstein did not travel through in his exploration of the city of language. But he could have. I extend Wittgenstein into politics with the sense that politics as a form of life, as a distinctive language-game and set of conventions, is threatened with extinction. Politics emerged in history -- Aeschylus gives us the drama of its creation -- and it can have an end in history. Bureaucracy appears to be the form of life most likely to supplant politics.

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