A Note on Gabriela Basterra’s The Subject of Freedom. Kant, Levinas (New York: Fordham UP, 2015). By Alberto Moreiras

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This note does not measure up to a review, and it does not intend to. I simply want to point something out, controversial as it may be. The Subject of Freedom takes its initial bearings on an intricate examination of several antinomies of reason as presented by Kant in the first Critique and goes through Kant´s practical philosophy (essentially through the second Critique and Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, although there are references to other texts) into some key issues in Levinas’ later thought as represented by Otherwise Than Being.   The discussion includes the debunking of some influential positions on Kant´s ethics, such as Dieter Heinrich´s.   Basterra is interested in showing how Kant´s critical categories must be subjected to the scrutiny of a post-structuralist understanding of reason as essentially connected to language rather than to the forms of spatio-temporal intuition.

The significance of Basterra’s book is the critical double turn that consists in presenting Emmanuel Levinas’ thought as a philosophy of freedom in the Kantian sense, and, conversely, Kantian thought as a philosophy of auto-heteronomy. The implications of this double move for political thought are significant: essentially, but still rather superficially, The Subject of Freedom gives us a chance to understand the Kantian-Levinasian subject of the political as a non-liberal if still republican subject, and consequently gives us the chance to revise our notions of democratic republicanism through an alternative understanding of ethico-political subjectivity. This is revisionist in terms of the dominant traditions in political philosophy that have linked Kantian republicanism with a mostly liberal, or perhaps liberal by default, conception of both subjectivity and the political.

But there is a more daring task for interpretation. Once through Basterra’s analyses, and thanks to them, it is legitimate to wonder whether Kantianism is as securely established in autonomous subjectivity as it has been presumed.  Or whether Kantianism, in its ethico-political articulation, opens necessarily onto a radical critique of subjectivity—this would be a stumble, a scandal in Kant’s path, or in the path of Kantianism, hence of modern philosophy.   And, conversely, it also becomes legitimate to wonder whether the path of freedom does not necessarily go through a renunciation of the liberal notion of the subject, which is of course also the modern one.   Not that a new image of the subject needs to be formed as a consequence—rather, another game opens up, which goes through the difficult terrain of wondering whether there is, after all, a subject of freedom, as opposed to a freedom beyond the subject.

 

 

 

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