Charles De Koninck and Slavoj Žižek, Dialectical Materialism and David of Dinant

Charles De Koninck points out that the difference between dialectical idealism and dialectical materialism is largely an illusion.

The absolute idealism of Hegel is really more materialist than the materialism of Marx. For Hegelian being, being an extreme of indetermination, has much more the character of matter than the matter of the physical order; it is infinitely poorer than prime matter. (On the Primacy of the Common Good, Appendix IV)

Hegel famously taught that the essence of spirit is freedom and that this makes it the opposite of matter.  By saying that he is already saying that its essence is a kind of indetermination, but he sees this kind of indetermination as something which spirit has to attain: “Spirit begins with its infinite possibility, but only its possibility”. That is to say, it begins with the indetermination of pure potency–and that is the very definition of matter. This is why De Koninck compares Hegel to David of Dinant, “who most stupidly posited that God is prime matter.” To say that potency is prior to act is to turn everything upside down, to posit a kind of non-being as the cause of being.  It would follow that everything else is turned arond: plurality is prior to unity, for example. Some of our contemporary dialectical materialists are perfectly willing to draw these conclusions. Witness the uproariously funny Slovenian Marxist Slavoj Žižek, my favorite atheist:

Plurality is prior to unity (This is part of a longer lecture that is very much worth watching; it includes the funniest elevator joke of all time):

Non-being is prior to being:

What makes the “most stupid” position of Dinant so fatefully attractive in Hegel or Žižek? De Koninck argues it is the Promethean glamour of freedom:

For if I am dependent, my being is referred to something else which I am not; I cannot exist independently of something external. I am free on the contrary, when my existence depends upon myself (wenn ich bei mir selbst bin). (Hegel)

The “violence of metaphysics,” that contemporary continental philosophy is so obsessed with, seems to be nothing other than the fact that metaphysics sees us as determined by something (or Someone) greater than ourselves. As De Koninck puts it, “We are not dealing with purely accidental errors of a thought […] these errors have their roots in desire.”

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