Evil, Unconscious, and Meaning in History. Outline of a Phenomenological Critique of Utopian-Historiodicial Politics

Politics presupposes an understanding of meaning in history, according to which it manages the actions that accord with or serve this meaning (as an ultimate good). The aim of this paper is to examine the process by which meaning in history is formed, as well as its character. To do this, I employ suitably modified phenomenological analyses of intentional consciousness to bring them as close as possible to the thematic of the psychoanalytic unconscious. I first try to sketch the basis on which the modern problem of meaning in history arises and the fundamental responses produced by modern philosophy. Then, I delineate two basic understandings of meaning in history as developed by the founders of Phenomenology, Husserl and Heidegger, which are surprisingly close to those of modern metaphysics. Next, I draft the process by which the topic of the unconscious surfaces in the context of difficulties faced by critical epistemology in its effort to penetrate the unperceivable folds of reality, which should be acknowledged as a precondition of experience but also of action and ethics. After this, a brief phenomenological account regarding action and praxis in response to evil is presented as a specific concretization of this philosophy after its vaccination with the thematic of the unconscious. Next, I examine MerleauPonty’s final, although ultimately failed, attempt to construct a phenomenological proof of the possibility of objective knowledge regarding historical meaning. In addition, I consider how persistent maintenance of the ideologically optimistic reading of history simply concocts political action that crucially exposes humanity to the danger of perpetrating what Arendt called “banal evil.” The question, then, is whether Phenomenology can offer a non-nihilistic understanding of existence, action, and events in history. I argue that a cautious non-Marxist and de-Messianized reinterpretation of Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), in tandem with an Aristotelian analysis of praxis and Kantian-Arendtian “common sense,” offers a sober, perspectivist, realistic understanding of the place of humans in the cosmos and of the historical course we happen to take in it.