Bootstrapping, Self-Binding, and Other Metaphors of Antifoundationalism

In Images of History, Richard Eldridge deploys the metaphor of “bootstrapping” to describe the possibility of a mutually constitutive interaction of historical understanding and reflection on political ideals outside of and beyond the notion of a completed theory or teleological development. Although “bootstrapping” does considerable work in the book, it remains relatively unthematized in itself. This article explores the concept of bootstrapping in both Eldridge's book and in a number of disciplines. In doing so, it aims to make three critical observations. First, while Eldridge rightly seeks to energize our sense of historical openness, the argument is usefully enriched by the adjacent field of political theory, where “boot-strapping” is often paired with “self-binding” to describe how self-creating processes might be arrested and stabilized. Second, Eldridge's use focuses on individual dispositions, but the concept of “bootstrapping” points to the need to pursue understanding of collective processes of self-institution. Third, when extended to the natural world, “bootstrapping” calls for scrutiny of the relationship between human self-creation and nature as a site of emergence and self-organizing phenomena.