Bacon & Identity-- Homer, Sophocles, Plato

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Tue Feb 16 15:09:38 PST 1999

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> that to say X is a pre-history of Y seems too Hegelian for me (for it
> suggests the unfolding of Y is already incipiently present in its original
> seed X), though I recognize that X must serve as materials (in this case
> ideological materials) to be used by those who make Y.

I would certainly agree with this qualification. Perhaps one of the greatest risks in "using history" is that historical explanation, the distinction between actual explanation and only naming what needs to be explained, gets lost in a mass of empirical detail. Much, perhaps nearly all, of the material provided by all the posts in this thread I would place under the heading of "naming what needs to be explained" rather than under the heading of explanation. I had this partly in mind when warning that the remarks on Sophocles in particular were very possibly (probably) anachronistic.

The passage cited from Plato, however, and other passages could be cited, really does demand explanation. Does a defense of the rightness of class society (and the *Republic* was one of the earliest if not the earliest self-conscious defense of that sort) exert individualist pressure (Chuck Grimes's Egyptian illustrations might also suggest this), or were there special features of Athenian life in the fifth century that gave an early shove toward individualism, even in a writer so strongly (in Kenneth Burke's terminology) "tribal" as Plato?

But let me return to underline Yoshie's point that any understanding of history that saw capitalism as somehow always "there," straining to burst the fetters as it were, would also lead towards seeing capitalism as an eternal expression of an eternal human necessity. This was Adam Smith's assumption. Under the tender exterior of Odysseus beat the capitalist heart of gold.


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