Kantian Gloom-Watch: Gloom by any other name…

Today’s Kantian gloominess comes in two translations. First, here is the quote that adorns a certain famous liberal blog:

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.

While Kant’s reputation as a bad writer is overplayed, it should ring warning bells when it seems that he has formulated something quite so pithy. So, here is a rather more accurate translation I have adapted from Isiah Berlin:

Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be framed.

Kant, Religion Within The Bounds Of Reason Alone, Ak: 8:23.

2 thoughts on “Kantian Gloom-Watch: Gloom by any other name…

  1. If you really read the “news” there are plenty of reasons to be gloomy—the times are truly dark.

    I am half through The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. It is a very eye-opening book. And also a very depressing one in that she describes an almost unstoppable process of BRUTALISM that has been taking over the entire world in the last 30 years.

    Systematically destroying social and cultural structures in the name of “freedom”. Freedom that is for the rich and powerful, especially foreign corporations, to steal everything.Meanwhile millions of people become impoverished.

  2. Well, I’m no fan of neo-liberalism, to put it mildly. I haven’t read Klein’s new book but have seen her talk a few times (most recently in July) and have read her Fences & Windows and No Logo. From reading the reviews, I am sympathetic to what seems to be her central thesis: that all manner of crises present an ‘opportunity’ for capitalist restructuring of economies through the imposition of conditionalities on aid, political and military pressure for ‘reform’, and so on. The devil, of course, may be lurking in the details.

    As for Kant’s relation to all this, I think his gloomy philosophical anthropology is ambiguously placed. On the one hand, it incorporates some of the pessemistic assumptions common to conservative and liberal approaches to the individual, but he also breaks with a mechanistic, utilitarian, means-ends model of rationality too. In the end, I suspect that thinking about social relations in primarily Kantian terms nudges us along the road to neo-liberalism less than, say, Hobbes, but more so than, say, Hegel’s more sanguine approach to the social world.

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