The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Chapter 5: “The Emancipator and His Monkey”
Posted by Robert C. on February 12, 2010
There is a lot that I loved in this chapter. In general, I agree with Ranciere, that emancipation is something that cannot be guaranteed by the establishment of an institution. In fact, I think this is a very useful chapter in terms of thinking about the Apostasy in Mormon theology: in a sense, Christ’s failure to establish a lasting church, in the Old and New worlds, attests to Ranciere’s main point of this chapter.
But where does that leave us in terms of thinking about the Church as an institution, and efforts to establish Zion?
That’s the main question I would like to discuss on this thread. I’m inclined to think that there are lots of interesting and productive discussions to be had regarding better and worse institutional practices (and this is closely related to my discussion at the end of the chapter 4 discussion with Joe regarding Habermas, since Habermas addresses many of the same concerns in his worry about “colonization of the lifeworld” in his Theory of Communicative Action, Vols. I & II).
Here are a few other random thoughts and questions:
1. Families. Ranciere makes several fascinating comments about families in this chapter, as being different than institutions. I wish he elaborated on the sense in which families are different than societies and institutions. Can anyone help me as to why this isn’t just an arbitrary distinction? What is fundamentally different between families and institutions? Can we have ward families in the church, or only ward institutions? What would be the difference?
2. Monkey? What’s the significance of monkey in the title of this chapter? I’m likely missing something obvious here, so any help is appreciated.
3. Republican strawman and thinking organizations. I think there are actually many interesting similarities between, say, a Jeffersonian, limited-government kind of Republicanism/Federalism, and Ranciere’s thought. Ranciere does not seem interested (here or elsewhere, from what I’ve read) in serious engagement with political thought that calls for a limited role of government. Similar thinking has been done regarding organizations more generally. This is disappointing to me, since I think that there are many situations where we should think about the “institutional”/organizational/familial traditions, norms, principles, structures and precedents that we are setting, that will have persistent effects, and I don’t think Ranciere is helpful along these lines. Again, this is probably not really a fair criticism of Ranciere, since he’s a philosopher and not a social theorist (and he’s in France where there’s a different political culture than in the U.S.). Nevertheless, I think his writing risks a dismissive attitude toward this kind of thought, which I think can be very productive.
4. Parental hierarchies? Ranciere is critical of rank and hierarchy, and criticizes “paternal” leaders (p. 118). But, again, this leaves me puzzled wondering about how families are different? Is it OK for a father to paternal, but not for a leader? Why or why not? For Mormons and Christians, there is a rich way to pursue this question, since Jesus is, in so many ways, our Father, and yet he allows himself to be crucified. And so we get this idea of servant leadership where the chief among us is the servant of all. My question, then, is the extent to which this idea can be instituted in families, organizations, communities, classes, etc., etc. I think I’m less pessimistic than Ranciere, or at least I’m inclined to think that he has a very specific and narrow notion of institutions and society in mind.
5. Wars and revolutions, good and evil. Ranciere talks about wars and revolutions, and about good and evil on page 117. This is rich. I’d like to think about it much, much more. It got me thinking about war in the Book of Mormon, and the establishment of the judges in place of kingship. How might we appropriate Ranciere’s insights to reading these parts of the Book of Mormon?
6. Families can’t be trusted. I loved this critique of paternal attitudes toward education on page 121. Again, however, I think this is more a part of conservative, limited-government political discourse in America than Ranciere seems to want to acknowledge (though I’m quick to forgive him of this since he’s a French philosopher). I’d love to see more engagement of Ranciere’s ideas and this kind of conservative/classical-liberal (or anarcho-capitalist—was it Rob who mentioned a similarity with Ayn Rand previously?) political thought.
7. The strength of opinion’s weakness. Ranciere talks about the strength of opinions and axioms in a couple different places in this chapter (e.g., 123-124, , harking back to previous chapters. Great stuff!
8. Institutional baptism. The invocation of the baptism imagery (top of p. 126) is fantastic. Reminds me of some of the less-inspired attitudes I’ve seen among missionaries….
9. Proper names. Is Christianity a proper name in the same sense that Jacotot is? How can this help us think about the way we take upon ourselves Christ’s name at baptism, or a new name in the temple?
10. “Curb the liberty.” Joe’s other post on free agency made the passage on p. 130—about society wanting to “curb the liberty to learn” so as to focus on the best methods of explication—really jump out at me. (Again, though, how different is this than political thought that gave us our inspired Constitution?)
11. Unequal society of equal men. Ranciere talks about this reversal of attitudes of progressivism, which tries to establish the equal society of unequal men, on p. 133—also fantastic!
12. Interested in all discourse. The universal interest/love of the panecastician, as described on p. 136, is superb.
13. Seek and not find? Can we take Jacotot’s following claim as a viable scriptural hermeneutic, or is there an underlying tension here with Mormon doctrine? “Seek the truth and you will not find it, knock at its door and it will not open for you, but that search will serve you in learning to do. . .” (138).