Saturday, September 14, 2013

The root of all Hegel

The former Mrs Bunyip came to the conclusion that the Professor’s poorer attributes of character outweigh the good, a conviction that became so entrenched all efforts to persuade her otherwise amounted to a gross waste of breath and spittle. It was a philosophical clash, essentially, for hers was the perspective of Aristotle, who saw the static and the immutable, while a much-misunderstood Bunyip took the Hegelian view that the act of becoming is at the essence of human experience and betterment. This can be rather difficult thing to explain when plates are flying and your favourite watch has just been thrown into the fish pond, and it became clear soon enough that citing time spent at golf club, trout stream or, most contentiously, down at the mooring, was always going to be rejected as valid evidence of a dawning graduation to a higher state of awareness and, ideally, a mode of conduct integrated into the  freedoms conferred by responsibility within the framework of an enlightened domestic polity

Hegel’s good like that. He can be read in support of just about any contention, as thinkers as distant from each other as Karl Marx and Francis Fukuyama have demonstrated by perceiving in his opacity sharp delineations that have been so handy to their opposing arguments. Unlike a poor Bunyip, these feats of philosophic derring-do were performed without the distraction of a Calabrian mother-in-law’s spite and vitriol.

Yes, philosophy has its place (even when of little practical use), so it has been interesting to observe the New Establishment’s horrified reaction to our incoming federal government’s intention to strip its pursuers of a little ARC grant cash. Well, rather a lot of cash, actually.  At the reliably unhinged Daily Life, where he recently opined on the merits of crowd-sourced pornography,  moonlighting Radio National webpage editor Daniel Stacey has taken up the case of his former teacher, Sydney University’s Professor Paul Redding, whom he credits with making his mind the magnificent thing it is today. No surprises there. If your companions on the page are Clementine Ford and Kasey Edwards, a duck will appear intelligent – nay, gifted – by comparison.  In any event, Stacey writes:
I remember studying Paul Redding’s course on Hegel’s Elements ofthe Philosophy of Right. It was the clearest explanation of social institutions I had ever heard – how they are made and what they mean. Rather than rehearse the typical foundational myths, Redding’s patient teaching deciphered the project of democracy and society, and taught me more about the true obligations and responsibilities of citizenship than scouts and organised sport and years of private education in Catholic schools.

In my paper for that class I remember quoting James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and bonding with Redding over what a painful reminder Joyce's book was for anyone who had grown up in stultifying Catholic institutions full of guilt and doubt and misinformation.

With a Catholic about to move into the Lodge and this being Fairfax, the gratuitous and rather baffling reference to the wickedness of the Roman church needs no further comment. Get used to it, and expect Fairfax organs to soon offer reader discounts on membership in the Orange Lodge. 

Just what, exactly, Redding taught Stacey was not explained. Was it Hegel the Toady, the statist sycophant denounced by liberal contemporaries as having sold out for personal gain and security to Prussian authoritarianism, or the man who emerged in subsequent scholars’ reviews and re-appraisals as extolling the primacy of conscience and the moral spirit? While Stacey is convinced the Hegel has landed, none can be sure -- Stacey least of all, one gathers -- in just which tree he is currently nesting.

At the ABC, more of the same, this time courtesy of Miram Cosic, who is no less adamant in declaring Professor Redding’s ruminations essential to the future of Australian democracy. By the way, here are some of them. Enjoy! 

One thing neither of Redding’s advocates mentions, curiously, is the cost to the taxpayer of his chin-stroking, which is a rather large sum indeed. Similarly, the Silly’s education correspondent, Josephine Tovey, also neglects to mention the many zeroes on the ARC cheque which drew the Coalition’s attention to Redding's labours.

For the record, the sum he received for plumbing The God of Hegel's Post-Kantian idealism is $443,000. That is roughly the cost of a modest family home in one of those outer suburbs, where few people read Fairfax newspapers or extoll, ABC-style, the unqualified merit of gold-plated philosophical inquiry. 

An innocent coincidence, obviously, because three authors would surely not have omitted mention of the ARC grant's generosity on purpose, would they? Indeed the defences of Redding and his work are themselves proof positive of the need for the public’s broadest possible exposure to the insights of the greatest minds. Had Stacey, Cosic et al been properly educated, they would have recognised an opportunity to invoke Descartes and really impress the bogans who rise every morning, go to jobs many do not like and surrender significant portions of their earnings to support Professor Redding’s cogitations.

You know how it goes: I think therefore I am entitled to your money.

It is lucky for Professor Redding that he never encountered the former Mrs Bunyip in one of her more strident episodes of rampaging philistinism. A well-aimed vase or flying knife and the public purse might be fatter to the same degree that Sydney University's faculty had been diminished.

Australia and the common good would have been so much the poorer for that.

UPDATE:  Always worth a listen:



  1. I'm curious to know why paid employees of universities need to be given money for them to do some work. Not that humanities research pondering the nature of existence is work. I do it every night in bed before going to sleep. It costs nothing.

    Pedro of Adelaide

  2. The Old and Unimproved DaveSeptember 14, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    An older Protestant's view on this runs as follows:

    1) I don't understand most of what the Professor just said.

    2) If your wife is a Registered Nurse, nothing gets you off the hook for misspoken words faster than the offer of a foot rub. Those gals spend all their shifts on their feet. Listen and learn, young blokes.

    3) While I can't speak to the Calabrian, I would venture that there's nothing like marrying into the Hibernian ... if you've got the stamina.

  3. Ah!Hah! Redding is just my man. I have recently finished a new biography on Marx. My eyes glazed over, my brain went haywire, as page after page, Hegel's utterings were explored and his influence on Marx confirmed. Does Redding have a help line?
    Then there were the Young Hegelians. A group you would expect to find tacked onto a Senate ballot paper.

  4. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.September 14, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Prof, I too once pondered to the point of despair about Hegelian idealism and who got it right if it wasn't Hegel himself. It can still bother my days and consume my nights if I am not careful. Actually, I blame it all on my first husband who, like me in my early days, was something of a philosophical enquirer on life's path (I have it all under control now). Unlike me though, he was also a real philosopher, with all sorts of prizes to show for it; heading up towards being in the nature of Professor Redding, indeed. How similar we are Prof, because I can share with you now my epistemological surprise at how dramatically demonstrable philosophical discourse could become when my spouse's late nights writing of his PhD thesis in the library became revealed as languid bedding sessions of wine and roses with yet another lady who was not me. He slammed doors and I threw ornaments after him into them, in a dialectic that made its point materially without intensive funding. So it can be done, Prof. You and I are living proof of that.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Lizzie, but it sounds like the Hirsute Hibernian does you proud. I Perhaps we need a Kubler-Ross to plot the milestones of a dying union: Offence, Anger, Revenge, Regret, Justification and, after all that, the re-emergence of just enough Honesty to sweep the path clean for the arrival of Acceptance.

      There! Think I've just outlined a best-selling self-help book.

    2. Da Hairy Irish Ape is indeed a treasure, Prof. Thankfully, he has an extremely faithful nature if well fed (in particular, he likes his oats). He also has many other admirable attributes, not the least of which is the ability to sing The Philosophers' Drinking Song after five whiskeys and to never miss a line or a beat of it in so doing. As a one-time chorister, he manages to keep in tune too.

      Therefore, with this encouraging bedrock for marital bliss second time around, I trust I will never need your admirable new self-help book. Take heart though Prof, because in my view, you may soon find yourself a rich man, given the general state of modern marriage, including its intended new entrants from the community that has already stolen another lexical item that we heteronormatives used to use, like marriage itself indeed, to indicate a state of cheerful happiness.

      I advise online publication; you can decide for yourself on whether to offer a free set of steak knives with every purchase, in order to give self-helpers something tangible to hang on to, but that might leave you open to legal liability in the event of failure of your project for some purchasers who may utilise these implements in a manner unbefitting to the final stage of Acceptance.

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  6. The phrase "debating the number of angels which could dance ensemble on the head (or tip?) of a pin" was developed by theologians observing philosophers attempting to debate the existence of God.


  7. Sounds like you married my first wife Prof.
    I found out that it is a very good idea to duck when unbreakable ashtrays come flying at you head high. Also discovered was the fact that they have a tendency to explode mightily when coming into forceful contact with an exposed brick wall.

  8. It is interesting that that two contenders for the ALP leadership also went to Catholic schools. Shorten to the Jesuit Xavier College and Albanese to St Marys Cathedral College.

    Lets see if the anti-catholic smears are applied to these two that were applied to Abbott.