Radical Love and Existentialism

Daniel Avatar

The existentialist project from Kierkagaard all the way to Sartre portends a liberatory method for the human, a pedagogical praxis for the modern world. The presupposition is clear: modern thought is crippled and unautonomous, and man has been alienated, or cast-away, in a state of existential homelessness. I do not wish to examine the platitudes of Existentialism, I rather wish to examine the fundamental assumptions that existentialism is based on and the effects that foundation has in political terms. The technical arguments and dialectics that spawned the movement are commonly over looked. Most current traces of existentialism are syncretic assembalges of other schools of thought and styles, and it is clear that the movement has lost vitality, in the process, we have lost touch with what it’s assumptions and theory really are.

The critique of existentialism was systemic first, that systems which place their praxis (an originary point or plane to start analysis from) on society, or societal models of change, in particular man depending on other men as the only plausible road to social liberation or autonomy of thought, i.e. Marxism. Due to this climate and the confluence of modern conditions of repression and power, there was a movement to place praxis onto pure being, into a pre-ontological sphere. This was spurned on by the phenomenologists and Husserl’s introduction of the reduction and the reemergence of consciousness as a total focus of philosophy. Yet, undergirding this esotericism was a modern world grown weary of mass movements of the twentieth century.

Whereas the existentialist would ideally be in a position to cultivate individual models of freedom, the overly subjective focus of the existentialist canon became unrealistic, especially as it began to mirror modes of consciousness of mass consumer culture. Adorno’s The Authenticity of Jargon argues that existentialism created a language of false liberation, i.e. existentialism was merely exercising what Marx would consider false-consciousness. Both modes of thought had become purely instrumentalized- meaning was self-generated and once reified would be immediately negated by thoughts instrumental power of mediation of all thought, once this mediation had become natural, positive and negative were reified prior to living experience, individual liberation tehn became an illusion of the existentialist who was employing a system that was unconscioulsy opressing itself in a natural, identifiable way.

Before I present my ideal form of existentialsim, as rooted in the doctrine of radical love as found in Christianity, it is important to investigate the technical ontological arguments that predicated the existentialist point of view:

Existentialist ideas were rooted in an early twentieth century excavation of philosophical thought by the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, who had revolutionized the Kantian transcedental subject and put forth a theory of human experience. This was based on the asumption that modern life caused a disjointing to take place in terms of self-formation, identity, etc. The praxis of existentialism held a belief that was first made coherent by Nietzsche, that meaning in modern life is plagued with nihilism.

Existentialism begins with an individual centered quest for freedom in the world. Yet mans consciousness is inherently free, and there is bases its theory on the idea that inner love, when cultivated appropriately by the individual can be radiated out and in turn solve the central message of Christianity, to love ones neighbor as oneself. This simple truth was never embraced by existentialists who turned love into a realm of pure being, an abstraction. The existentialist claims that the modern predicament causes a revolt of oneself against oneself first, not against others. While the order and sequence is not significant, i.e. I am revolting against this opressive societal construct, or against this persons evil, the object of revolt is significant because the two are completely intertwined. The inevitable revolt against oneself was the angle from which the existentialists prescribed their praxis for modern man.

What draws me to the Christian based mode of thinking, based on radical love was its veering away from the individual turning away to a source of pure being and instead placing a comittment to their own struggle for freedom in themselves through others. It goes something like this: embrace a pure comittment to social liberation of oneself freely (in relation to others as first priority)and that is proof alone that a disillusioned revolt against oneself is an arbitrary focal point to become diillusioned with others also undergoing that same struggle.

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