Thinking about the panic and unimaginable sums involved in the shaky European economy of late, I am reminded of the book An Eye for an Eye by Law professor and Norse saga scholar William Ian Miller. This may not seem an obvious book to shed light on the European Union, but bear with me. The E.U. is the fruit of the labors of statesmen and intellectuals and bureaucrats, Nietzsche's "exceptions," as Joe likes to call them, in trying to bring to realization the tendency Nietzsche named when he said that "Europe wants to become one" (BGE 256). Of all these thinkers, Kojeve stands out as a genuine philosopher. Kojeve's influential interpretation of Hegel held essentially that in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel had correctly described the course and driving motor of history: mutual recognition, which became a possibility only under liberal democracy. Well, strictly speaking, Kojeve seems to have been an agnostic about this; he called himself a Stalinist. It was Fukuyama, of course, who argued that the toss-up Kojeve had seen between the rival (left and right) interpretations of Hegel had been clearly decided by the 1989 collapse of communism. History had ended; our understanding of justice as mutual recognition is complete. All that remained was to concretely establish de facto what Hegel had already described de jure. This Kojeve had devoted his life to doing, essentially laying the foundations for the spreading far and wide of the Code Napoleon. His own thinking on the question was given in his Outline of a Phenomenology of Right.
Kojeve's thought is infamously challenging, and my "sketch" above is a caricature; but my post is not about it anyway. Miller's book is more or less the opposite of this: a fairly unflinching "anti-theory" of justice. "Anti-," he says, because it is specific not general; it is actually very much like a Nietzschean "genealogy." (And indeed, it was by following a link on the Nietzsche Blog run by Brian Leiter that I first found Miller's book, an entry in a compiled list of the best philosophy books and papers of 2000-2009). Miller's book ought to be read and thought seriously about by anyone reflecting upon philosophy in "the City," as Joe likes to say. It is an extended meditation upon the history of lex talionis, the justice of retribution; the specific metaphors it depends upon and the specific practices it entails. The body, Miller points out, remains the focal point of lex talionis and the societies of honour in which it functions. Miller never mentions Fukuyama, Kojeve, or Strauss, but if one wants to grasp what Fukuyama means in The End of History & the Last Man by thymos from the old Greeks, one could do a lot worse than reading Miller.
Indeed, though he hardly advocates a return to the bad old days of behanding or blood feuds, Miller makes a very strong case that we have sublimated our ways of "getting even," specifically by reducing damages to money, to our detriment, partly because we no longer can speak with a good conscience about retribution. Since any notion of justice as "getting even" hinges upon valuation (because any penalty I pay you for a wrong I caused must be reckoned--valued--as "equal" somehow to the wrong), thinking of justice depends crucially on values in general, and Nietzsche was (once again) just calling it like he saw it when he said that the crisis of his day, and ours, was precisely a crisis of valuation. Our contemporary monetarization of justice, in the shape of fines and "damages," is clearly a blunt instrument at best, and a strong case could be made for its being a wholesale evasion. I'm even tempted to say that the (near?) shipwreck of the Euro zone is a direct consequence of the attempt to force a false consensus of values by way of the idols of the marketplace, as though spending a single currency could make E pluribus unum. I'm not a neocon or even a paleocon, but I am struck by the recent observation of George Will, the public intellectual of the American right who I respect the most, that the bridges and monuments on the Euro are fictitious and precisely "utopian," and his diagnosis of what this means. In particular, Will contends,
If money represents, as Emerson said, the prose of life, the euro reflects a determination to make European life prosaic. It is an attempt to erase nationalities and subsume politics in economics in order to escape from European history. The euro pleases dispirited people for whom European history is not Chartres and Shakespeare but the Holocaust and the Somme. The euro expresses cultural despair.One need not go this far, but clearly the debate over the identity of Europe and its "others," in particular its Arab and Muslim others, turns obsessively if subliminally upon the possibility of saying who "we" are and what we value, which in the end is the same thing.
Nietzsche dreamed, in Zarathustra's discourse to the tarantulas, of the delivery of humankind from revenge. I am still a long way from having thought all this through, but clearly the Christian notion of forgiveness suffered in the West from being brought under the ruling metaphor of the law court, rather than the hospital. I do not want to argue in any simplistic sense that "Europe's woes" are to be attributed to the loss of its religious culture. But I am quite sure that the picture of God the righteous judge could not survive the Code Napoleon. Not for the first time, I am moved to reflect that what the church needs is more Buddhism. But more real Christianity would do, too.