Destroy and Liberate
Political Action on the Basis of Hume
By (author) Oliver Feltham
Publication date:04 June 2019
Length of book:258 pages
PublisherRowman & Littlefield International
In David Hume’s science of human nature every self is located by passions that bind it to groups, repel it from other groups, and rank it on a hierarchy: we call this discovery a ‘topology of the passions’. These bound and ranked selves and groups form the matter of what he called ‘government’, a supposedly neutral model of political action designed to avoid the malady of faction and catapult Scotland out of feudalism into a glorious future as a commercial society, assisted by the application of the new discipline of political economy, a discipline blind beyond its functional measures of privileged variables – the growth of trade, interest rates, wage levels – measures that justify the destruction of all obstacles to the wholesale liberation of the commercial passions. To govern – a new kind of action for a new epoch – is to destroy and liberate. But ever since Hume, government has fallen apart because it fails to take into account the complexity of society as a topology of the passions. It is through a close analysis of Hume’s account of the English Revolution in The History of England that we find an alternative to government: in his ambivalent report on the impact and danger of another model of political action – democratic enthusiasm – wherein to act is to incarnate an idea of commonality. Moreover, it is also in Hume’s History that we glimpse the springs and workings of fortune in politics: models of political action woven together, unravelling, re-woven, any ‘ought’ or any ‘necessity’ foundering in a sea of contingency. We see how the efficacy of a politics is sown together by speech acts and their shaping of time in a topology of passions.