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VeiIs TIe Foelics oJ JoIn BavIs

AulIov|s) Oeovge Avnslvong KeII


Bevieved vovI|s)
Souvce JouvnaI oJ lIe Hislov oJ Ideas, VoI. 57, No. 2 |Apv., 1996), pp. 343-364
FuIIisIed I University of Pennsylvania Press
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Veils: The Poetics of John Rawls
tGeorge Armstrong Kelly
Plutarch recounts in
Sais,
a
holy place
of
Egypt,
the
image
of
Isis,
understood
by
the Greeks to be a version of Pallas
Athena,
bore the
inscrip-
tion: "I am
everything
that has
been,
that
is,
and that shall ever be: no human
mortal has discovered me behind
my
veil."' This recalls a
very
different
god,
Yahweh,
whose claim is also to
compress
all
knowledge
into an eternal
present
and whose
dwelling,
in Solomon's
temple,
is in a
special sanctuary,
the
Holy
of
Holies,
also
guarded by
a veil.
There,
one
might say,
the
similarity
ends. Yahweh is a masculine
diety
("the
father of his
people"), though imagistically
he remains a
space
or an
absence filled
by
a name
("I
Am That I
Am")
indicative of the transcendent
distance of the eternal. Isis is a female
shape imaging
carnal
knowledge
behind her veil
(with
its
Machiavellian,
Baconian
temptations).
Her
truth,
as
Plutarch makes
clear,
is driven
by desire,
truth
being
a "desire for
divinity,"
"a
study
... and work more
holy
than the vow and
obligation
of
chastity
or the
guarding
and
sealing
of
any...."2
The almost certain
wages,
however,
for the
would-be ravisher is unfulfillment and
death,
whereas
Yahweh, having
be-
come the God of the
Christians, promises
eternal life
through
the sacrifice of
his
only-begotten
son and a truth above
knowledge
"that shall make
you
free"
(John 8:32).
Editor's note:
George Kelly
sent in this
essay just
a few weeks before his death
(December 1987),
and indeed before
receiving my response.
The first readers
thought
it
unwise to
publish
it on several
grounds:
it was
cryptic,
oracular, ornately allusive,
intricately
and
ironically
involved with its own
target,
"veils,"
and otherwise uncharacter-
istic of
Kelly's style;
its
argument
was hard to
penetrate
for historians and
political
theorists alike. Worst of
all,
the author could not be asked for clarifications or for the sort
of
changes
which editors and critics often
suggest;
and
so,
as an interested
party (George
was a
good
friend and classmate as well as
colleague
and valued
supporter
of this
Journal)
I was
initially
reluctant to overturn such
expert judgments.
In the
meantime, however,
more
positive judgments
have
accumulated,
and I have decided it would be a
great
loss not to
publish
this
last, obviously deeply
felt effort of one of the most
distinguished
scholars of
our time.
Therefore,
after too
long
a
delay,
we
present
this
essay
with minimal editorial
changes.
D.R.K.
Plutarch, Moralia,
354c.
2
Ibid.,
351e.
343
Copyright
1996
by
Journal of the
History
of
Ideas,
Inc.
George Armstrong Kelly
To the Semitic mind the name
expressed
and
represented
the
power
of the
person:
God was
present
in a
special way
wherever the "Name of Yahweh"
was.3 The content of the
Holy
of
Holies, originally portable
in the ancient Ark
of the
Covenant,
was the two stone tablets of the Law received
by
Moses at
Horeb
(1 Kings 8:9).
God's
presence,
once installed in the
Temple
of
Jerusalem,
was
represented
as "a cloud
[that]
filled the house of the Lord"
(ibid, 8:10;
cf. 2 Chronicles
5:10, 13).
God was
cloud; knowledge
was
duty.
Of the
physical place
of this
indwelling principle
of
knowledge,
Jesus said
(John 2:19): "Destroy
this
sanctuary:
within three
days
I shall raise it
up
again."
The
evangelist explains
that his
metaphor
is transferred to the new
Christian idea of the word made flesh.4 John's
gospel
does not cite the
rendering
of the veil of the
temple,
but the
synoptic gospels
all recount that it
was "rent in twain from
top
to bottom"
(Matthew 27:51,
Mark
16:38,
Luke
23:45)
at Christ's Crucifixion. The idea is
essentially
that
knowledge
as
command and
duty
has been
surpassed by
a
knowledge
that is love in the
crucified revelation of the Son of God. This returns
us, ambiguously,
to the
image
of the
goddess Isis;
for even in Hebrew
scripture
it is foretold: "The
watchmen that went about the
city
found
me, they
smote
me, they
wounded
me;
the
keepers
of the walls took
away my
veil from me"
(Song
of Solomon
5:7).
If there is here a clear
prefiguration
of the fate of both Christ and the
temple,
there is also an echo of the
likely
fate of the harlot
Rahab,
who let
Joshua's
spies
into
Jericho,
had God not saved her from the ruin of that
city
(Joshua 6:17).
The
purpose
of this
essay
is not to dwell on obvious
imagistic
and
psychological
attachments between wisdom and sexual
knowledge,
but
early
notice of this liaison is needed to connect the
philosophical
discourse on veils
with motifs disclosed in
figurative
literature. For the veil that hides the
object
of desire
may
also hide the
reality
of the name or of
naming; preserving
the
veil
may
be a mode of
love, just
as
challenging
it is also. For
example,
when
John Rawls writes: "The
principles
of
justice
are chosen behind a veil of
ignorance.
This ensures that no one is
advantaged
or
disadvantaged
in the
choice of
principles by
the outcome of natural chance or the
contingency
of
social
circumstances,"5 what does his
image
of the veil intend to
convey?
What
exactly
is on each side of this veil? From what
knowledge protecting
the
ignorant?
Is it a kind of
knowledge regarding
which T. S. Eliot could
write: "After such
knowledge,
what
forgiveness?"6
Can the veils of Isis and
of the
Holy
of Holies
help
us to understand Rawls's veil?
3
Roland de
Vaux,
Ancient Israel
(2 vols.;
New
York, 1965),
II:
Religious
Institutions,
327.
4 Cf. Hebrews 10:20:
"By
a new and
living way,
which he hath consecrated for
us,
through
the
veil,
that is to
say,
his flesh ...."
Also,
1 Corinthians 3: 16-17: "If
anyone
destroys
God's
temple,
God will
destroy
him. For God's
temple
is
holy,
and that
temple
you
are."
5
John
Rawls,
A
Theory of
Justice
(Cambridge, Mass., 1971),
13. Hereafter TJ.
6
In "Gerontion."
344
We
have,
it is
said,
outlived an era of
knowledge
or
seeing
whose
major
vehicle,
cast in a number of
discourses,
has been
"representation"
or "the
mirror of nature."7 That is
perhaps true,
in the
large,
if one takes as irrelevant
or as the
production
of "traditional intellectuals"
(Gramsci)
a
contrary
strategy
of
knowledge by "veiling"
or
accepting
the veil as a condition of
highest reality (forms
of the idealist and the
religious traditions).
The
point
is
not
scandalous,
for
many
of the
supreme
achievements of
post-Cartesian
culture are
inexplicable
or (as Bacon would
say) "feigned"
without it. I shall
not,
in what
follows, indulge
in what seems an
increasingly pointless argu-
ment about "scientific" and
"poetic" ways
of
seeing
but shall be
selectively
exposing
the
history
of an
artifact-image
of our culture.
Veiling
is an
essentially religious gesture
in the seventeenth and
eigh-
teenth centuries while
unveiling suggests
science and
enlightenment.
The
association of veils with
religieuses
tells us much. In this
regard
the di-
chotomy
of the veil of Isis and the veil of the
Temple
holds
relatively
stable
(with
the
major proviso
that much
religious thought-stressing
"reason-
ableness"-partakes
of
enlightenment
and
unveiling).
Some
simple
ex-
amples
will illustrate the
point.
When Pascal writes of
God,
he describes him
as "hidden behind the veil of nature that conceals him from us until the
Incarnation, then,
when it was
necessary
for him to
appear,
he continued to be
hidden
by covering
himself with
humanity."8 Montesquieu,
on the other
hand,
makes the characteristic
point
about
unveiling
in his
essay
"Du
gout":
"Art comes to our rescue and lifts the veil behind which nature conceals
herself."9 It is the human
lifting
of the veil that discloses la belle
nature,
which,
in the
place
of Pascal's
God,
has been
dwelling
behind it.
Veiling,
for
Montesquieu, suggests
a kind of decorous
suspension
of
clarity:
"There are
cases where one must for a moment
place
a veil on
liberty, just
as
[the
Romans]
hid the statues of the
gods" (De l'esprit
des
lois, XII, 19).
The
reference here is to an extreme
case,
bills of attainder in
England:
the
veil,
an
appropriate symbol
for a "law of
necessity,"
is but "for a moment." More
normal in an
age
of
enlightenment
at
grips
with
"superstition"
and "Gothi-
cism" is the incessant
unveiling (X, Y,
or Z
"devoile")
that one finds in the
pamphlets
of the Revolution. The
cognate
term
"unmasking"
will no
longer
mean the divesture of the nun's veil
(a
standard
joke
of
Revolutionary
comedy),
but in Marxism it will make double reference to the
unmasking
of
the
tragic
actor in Attic
comedy (Hegel's "happy consciousness"), whereby
7
Richard
Rorty, Philosophy
and the Mirror
of
Nature
(Princeton, 1979).
8
Blaise
Pascal,
"Fourth Letter to Mile. de
Roannez,"
in Oeuvres
completes (Paris,
1923-31), III,
449.
9
Article
"Taste,"
in
Diderot, d'Alembert,
et al.,
Encyclopedia
Sections,
tr. N. S.
Hoyt
and T. Cassirer
(Indianapolis, 1965),
345. Cf.
Jean-Jacques
Rousseau,
Reveries d'un
promeneur solitaire,
in Oeuvres
completes (4 vols.; Paris,
1959-
), I,
1011-12: "La triste
verite
que
le
temps
et la raison m'ont devoilee en me faisant sentir mon malheur."
John Rawls 345
George Armstrong Kelly
ordinary persons
are
brought
into the
play,
and the
"depersonification"
(persona
=
mask)
of the
legal subject
of Roman
(viz., "bourgeois") property
law.
Marxism runs well ahead of our
story,
but it calls to mind German
intellectual
developments
critical to the matter of veils.
Here,
as is so
frequently
the
case,
Immanuel Kant is a watershed
figure
between
Enlighten-
ment and Romanticism. In a note to the
"Analytic
of the Sublime" in his
Critique of
Aesthetic
Judgement,
Kant writes:
"Perhaps
there has never been
a more sublime
utterance,
or a
thought
more
sublimely expressed,
than the
well-known
inscription upon
the
Temple
of Isis
(Mother Nature)...."'
He
then
goes
on to cite the divine claim with which this
essay began.
A
following
comment is even more
interesting: "Segnerl
made use of this idea
in a
suggestive vignette
on the
frontispiece
of his Natural
Philosophy,
in
order to
inspire
his
pupil
at the threshold of that
temple
into which he was
about to lead
him,
with such a
holy
awe as would
dispose
his mind to serious
attention."
Several
important
and
mildly puzzling things
are
going
on here. First of
all we
clearly recognize
the
enlightenment motif,
the sacred
duty
of the
pursuit
of
knowledge,
for
which, although
Kant does not
say so,
a
prerequi-
site is to enter the
temple
of nature with the final
goal
of
lifting
the veil of the
goddess.
Kant does not allude to
lifting
the veil because his critical
philoso-
phy
has
already
shown that this is not
only
a rash but an
impossible,
undertaking.
The essential
reality
of nature
(the Ding-an-sich)
must remain
ever veiled to the discursive intellect
(Verstand).
It is
only
the law of
duty,
freely
hearkened
to,
that
permits
us access to the ineffable and the
eternal-and this reminds us somewhat of the "cloud" and the Mosaic
decalogue
contained in the
Holy
of Holies.
Still,
the
investigation
of nature
within the
proper
limits of reason is a
praiseworthy
and sanctified task. Both
its rich
promises
and
ever-receding,
ever-veiled ends
inspire
awe.'2 Is there
danger
contained in this awe? The use of the
category
of the sublime
obliges
us to think so.
Segner's pupil
is instructed
by
the oracle to fix his mind
loftily
on the business at hand.
But there is
something
here about Kant's
language recalling
Dr.
Johnson's boutade that one's
impending
execution focuses the mind wonder-
fully. Indeed,
in his earlier account of the
sublime,
Edmund Burke uses the
10
Immanuel
Kant, Critique of Judgement,
tr. J. C. Meredith
(Oxford, 1978),
179n.
I
Johann Andreas
Segner (1704-77),
a
professor
at
Gottingen,
was well-known in his
time for his
writings
on medicine and on mathematics and the
physical
sciences.
12
The account
developed
in this
paragraph
of Kant's use of the Isis
image
and of the
connections he makes between the "terrible"
sublime,
the law of
duty,
and Schwarmerei is
confirmed
by
Kant himself in two little-known
passages:
"Der
einzig mogliche
Beweis-
grund
der
gottlichen Allgenugsamkeit,"
in Werke in sechs Bdnden,
ed. Wilhelm
Weischedel
(Darmstadt, 1956-64), II, 723-25;
and "Vor einem vornehmen Ton in der
Philosophie," ibid., VI,
395-96. I am
grateful
to Peter Fenves for
helping
me to
grasp
the
entire
significance
of the veil
image
for Kant
by calling my
attention to these texts.
346
spectacle
of the execution of Damiens as an illustration of the sublime's
connection with
terror.'3 Kant had of course
carefully
studied Burke and
made notes on him. It is doubtful
here, however,
that Kant had the
image
of a
criminal execution in mind when he wrote these words: a
just
or
unjust
punishment
of a
particular
is not what is at issue. The
danger-the
real
sublime-would seem to
point
to a more
general
extinction of two sorts:
(1)
the
physical
end of the world in a final
conflagration;
and
(2)
the madness or
extinction of the mind in
Schwdrmerei,
in its unbridled
impulse
to
plunge
headlong
into
imperial
nonsense. It is not the sensuous
quality
of Isis to
which Kant makes reference
here;
it is to a more
Mosaic,
if
secularized,
version of the
transgression
of the law. As Kant well
knew,
Yahweh had
made a covenant with Noah and his sons after the Great
Deluge
that he would
never
again bring
destruction
upon
the world. But could man
freely
do this
for himself? What if
justice required
it
(fiat justitia,
ruat
coelum),
or fate
simply
ordained it? Find me ten
good
men in Sodom and
Gomorrah,
Yahweh
had
said; perhaps,
echoes
Kant,
there has never been such a
thing
in the world
as a
"good
will."
And,
as Kant well knew
also,
as a
philosophy
of
nature,
the
possibilities
for the destruction of the
planet
were inscribed in time.
What,
then did lie behind the veil? Was it the
objective
correlative of that
terrifying
sublime?
Segner's pupil
had
every
reason to take his work
seriously.
As a whole the
Critique of
Aesthetic
Judgement
moves in a somewhat
different
trajectory
from this hint of doom. It raises
hope
that the "disinter-
ested"
faculty
of taste and the common
approval
of
beauty
could furnish a
sort of
bridge
across the
abyss
that
yawned
between
phenomena
and
noumena,
between scientific and
practical
reason. Kant
suggested
this
move,
although
his
philosophical scruples prevented
him from
making
it. It re-
mained for Schiller to
develop fully
a
theory
of aesthetic mediation and
aesthetic celebration both on behalf of the artist's claims as a
legislator
and as
a
salvationary
mode of social
therapeutics
for the divided self in a
pluralized
civilization. Schiller's
purpose
was to advance the
"spirit"
of
Kantianism,
while
softening
the harshness of the "letter." No more needs to be said on
this
particular
issue
here, except
to note that an illustrious friend and kindred
spirit
Wilhelm von
Humboldt, impelled by
similar motives of aesthetic
redemption
and
Bildung,
reintroduced the artistic use of the veil
image
in his
essay
On the Limits
of
State
Action, parts
of which were
published
in the
Berliner
Monatsschrift
in
1792,
two
years
after the
Critique of Judgement
appeared.
Humboldt does not see fine art as a vehicle for
lifting
the veil of
nature,
a
la
Montesquieu.
To the
contrary,
"whatever man beholds ...
through
the
medium of the senses ... is nowhere
immediately
revealed to him
[in
its
essence];
even what
inspires
him with the most ardent
love,
and takes the
13
Edmund
Burke,
A
Philosophical Inquiry
into the
Origin of
Our Ideas
of
the Sublime
and the
Beautiful (New York, 1844), part I,
section
7,
51.
John Rawls 347
George Armstrong Kelly
strongest
hold on his whole
nature,
is shrouded
by
the thickest veil."'4 Strive
as he
may,
man is doomed to failure if he seeks to know
pure being
behind
this veil. A more modest
way (the Kantian)
is the more
certain;
and this
involves the
"simple
idea of moral
perfection,"
which
requires
"no other
veil or form."15 But in order for that idea to be "not a mere cold abstraction
of the
reason,
but a warm
impulse
of the
heart,"
it is
necessary
to cultivate
"aesthetic
feeling,
in virtue of which the sensuous is to us a veil of the
spiritual,
and the
spiritual
the
living principle
of the world of sense...."16
Poetry,
for
example,
"clothes not
only thought,
but
sensation,
with the most
delicate veil.""7 The art of
veiling
is the
path
of cultivation and the measure
of
individuality,
of the
truly
human: the "sensuous" is that
veil,
not one of
sense
impressions
but of
feeling (a
la
Rousseau),
not the
imprint
of nature but
the warmth of the
spirit
within it.
Clarity
is not what is
required
here:
light
is
made
twilight,
a diffused
light
whose veiled
rays
are
impregnated by
"the
idea of moral
perfection."
The
goddess
is
appeased by
this harmonious
human
appreciation.
What is the fate of the
adept
who would
challenge
the
goddess
of Sais and
lift her veil-not
only
the fate of a natural
philosopher
but of a
poet
as well?
Schiller's answer is
resoundingly
clear in his "The Veiled
Image
of Sais"
("Die
Verschleierte Bild zu
Sais").'8
The
youth
who
approaches
the
temple
of Isis is warned
by
the
inscription.
He reacts: "Was has ich/Wenn ich nicht
Alles habe?... Die Wahrheit ist die Antwort." His thirst for final truth is so
overpowering that,
tormented in his
sleep,
he resolves to return to the
sanctuary
and do the deed.
Although
no mortal ever lifts the
veil,
he who does
so will
gaze
on truth:
Sey
hinter
ihm,
was will: Ich heb ihn auf.
(Er
rufts mit lauter
Stimm.)
Ich will sie schauen.
Schauen:
Gellt ihm ein
langes
Echo
spottend
nach.
14
Wilhelm von
Humboldt,
The Limits
of
State
Action,
ed. J. W. Burrow
(Cambridge,
1969),
61. H. G. Gadamer
effectively
summarizes the difference between the theories of
Montesquieu
and Humboldt in Truth and Method
(New York, 1975),
74: "And 'les beaux
arts,'
as
long
as
they
are seen in this
[earlier]
framework,
are a
perfecting
of
reality
and not
an external
masking, veiling,
or transformation of it. But if the contrast between
reality
and
appearances
determines the
concept
of
art,
this breaks
up
the inclusive framework of
nature. Art becomes a
standpoint
of its own and establishes its own autonomous claim to
supremacy."
15
Humboldt,
State
Action,
59.
16
Ibid.,
75.
'7
Ibid.,
74.
18
Friedrich
Schiller, Gedichte,
in Schillers Werke
(21 vols; Weimar, 1943-82),
I,
254-
56.
348
The
youth
is struck
"besinnungslos
und bleich" at the foot of the statue.
However,
he is not struck dead.
Instead,
he is condemned
(much
like the
Ancient
Mariner,
but without
hope
of
contrition)
to a
living death, leading
to
a cheerless
early grave, incapable
of
saying
what he has seen but
obliged
to
warn others:
Weh
dem,
der zu der Wahrheit
geht
durch
Schuld,
Sie wird ihm nimmermahr erfreulich
seyn.
Truth cannot be had
through guilt,
the
guilt
of
presumption
and, beyond it,
the
guilt
of lust: it cannot be named. This is the
only
truth that he so
painfully
discovers, leaving
still
highly problematic
the
higher
truth of Isis-a truth of
immortality
that nature denies.
Can such a truth-akin to the Christian
redemptive
truth-be obtained at
Sais? Novalis leaves us the
interesting note,
dated
May 1798,
to his
prose-
poem
Die
Lehrlinge
zu Sais: "He succeeded-he lifted the veil of the
goddess
of Sais-But what did he see?-Wonder of wonders-he saw
himself."19 Novalis
perhaps
uses the word "wonder"
(Wunder)
self-con-
sciously
and
deliberately:
it translates the Greek
thaumazein,
a term used
by
Homer to
convey
the amazement of
recognizing
a
god
in his or her
disguise,
later domesticated
by
Aristotle to
signify
the amazement out of which
philosophy
arose.
Clearly
Novalis is not
suggesting
a formal return to the
"mirror of nature"
interpretation
of truth. He is
suggesting
"self-aware-
ness"
(Selbstbewusstsein)
and a further
development
of idealism that
Hegel
will
carry
out.
From his earliest
writings Hegel
is
preoccupied
with the arcanum or
veiled
sanctuary.
He contrasts cheerful Eleusis with the Hebrew
Holy
of
Holies;
their
significance
is
opposed,
for the
sanctuary
of the
temple
is
something
into which no
ordinary
man can be
initiated,
but
only
a
space
on
which he is made to
depend.20
The Eleusinian
god
could be
pictured
and
worshipped gregariously,
but not defiled
by words;
whereas the Israelites
chattered about their
laws,
but were alienated from sacred
community.
As
regards Christianity,
the
corporeal essentiality
of the second
person
of the
Trinity
bothers
Hegel,
a concern that will
help
him to
shape
his
completed
system. Hegel
can countenance the divine's
veiling
of its nature in the
humiliating
form of a
suffering servant,
but he
complains
that "the veil
stripped
off in the
grave,
the real human
form,
has risen
again
out of the
grave
and attached itself to the one who is risen as God."21 Here the
Hegelian
veil is
the
body (the
"flesh" of the Letter to the
Hebrews);
in the sense that it must
19
Novalis, Schriften (4 vols.; Stuttgart, 1960-75), I,
110.
20
G. W. F.
Hegel,
"The
Spirit
of
Christianity
and its
Fate,"
in T. M. Knox
(ed.),
Friedrich
Hegel: Early Theological Writings (New York, 1961),
193.
21
Ibid.,
293.
John Rawls 349
George Armstrong Kelly
be
stripped
form the
spirit, Hegel suggests
the
audacity
of the Sais
episode-but
in
reverse,
in the sense of a revised
Christology.
In Glauben und
Wissen,
where the Good
Friday image
occurs,
there is a
particularly savage
attack on
Schleiermacher,
with whom
Hegel would, years
later,
have cold but correct
collegial
relations at the
University
of Berlin. It
can
scarcely escape
the
eye
that Schleiermacher means
"veil-maker,"
and it
is
tempting
to
imagine
that
Hegel,
who valued
word-play, appreciated
this
etymology.
He
writes,
"The
virtuosity
of the
religious
artist
[i.e.,
Schleier-
macher]
has to be allowed to
mingle
its
subjectivity
into the
tragic
earnest-
ness of
religion.
His
individuality
must not be veiled and embodied in an
objective representation
of
great figures
and their mutual motion which
is,
in
turn,
a veil for the motion of the Universe in them-as it was in
[the] epics
and
tragedies
which artistic
genius
built for the church
triumphant
of Na-
ture."22
Hegel's point
is that
Schleiermacher,
the
religious
virtuoso,
belittles the
concreteness and
power
of Christian drama and treats his
congregation
like
children, privatizing
them from a common faith with his bursts of
subjective
inwardness. The two instances of "veil" that the
English
translation
records-in a
very murky passage
of the
original
German-are not rendered
by
"Schleier" or "verschleiern" but
by
the
very
close
synonym
"ver-
hiillen." Neither is Schleiermacher
directly
named
(probably
because his On
Religion
was
published anonymously
in
1799). However,
there is no mistak-
ing
the
reference;
and there seems to me little doubt that
Hegel is,
in
effect,
saying sarcastically
that "the veil-maker must not be
(does
not choose to
be)
veiled himself in the
great
universal veil of vital faith." In this case the
body
(of believers)
is the
veil,
not one to be
stripped away (cf. Hegel's
earlier
interest in
Volksreligion)
but to be
applied
to the maker of veils.23
It is in the
Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)
that
Hegel,
in terms reminis-
cent of
Novalis,
confronts the Sais
problem
integrating
it to the
Holy
of
Holies,
the
empty
tomb of
Easter,
and other emblems of
spirit.
Here,
the word
"curtain,"
not
"veil,"
is
used;
but
Vorhang
conforms to German
scripture.24
The
passage
occurs
early
on in the work
(near
the close of the section on
"consciousness")
and
suggests
not a resolution but a
guide
toward resolu-
tion:
It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is
supposed
to
conceal the inner
world,
there is
nothing
to be seen unless we
go
behind it
ourselves,
as much in order that we
may see,
as that there
may
be
something
behind there which can be seen. But at the same
22
Hegel,
Faith and
Knowledge (Albany, 1977),
150-51.
23
My gratitude again
to Peter Fenves for
recalling
Nietzsche's
word-play
in Ecce
Homo
(Werke,
3
vols.;
ed. Karl
Schlechta, [Munich, 1954], II, 1149): "Fichte, Schelling,
Schopenhauer, Hegel,
Schleiermacher
gebuhrt
dies Wort so
gut
wie Kant und
Leibniz,
es
sind Alles blosse Schleiermacher."
24
Luther's Bible translates our "veil of the
temple" by Vorhang
or
Furhang.
350
time it is evident that we cannot without more ado
go straightway
behind
appearance.25
Hegel's meaning
would
appear
to be the
following. Against
Kantian
transcendentalism he
argues
that it is
quite
obvious
(tautological)
that if we
stop
at a curtain of
appearances
which we have ourselves
hung
between our
consciousness and
reality,
we shall see
only
the
appearances.
Yet
philosophy
has the mission and
obligation
to know
reality;
otherwise it is a
fluctuating
and
paltry thing (ibid., Preface).
But
"spirit,"
which will turn out to be the
real
agent
of this
quest,
must first learn to know itself as
spirit through
the
pedagogical voyage
of
phenomenology. Hegel
combines the banal notion
that
nothing
is to be seen behind the curtain because it occludes our
sight
with
the more
perplexing
one that
nothing
is there until we are
there,
as
spirit.
We
must
go
to
see,
but also so that there
may
be
something
to see: ourselves. The
goddess
of nature is no
longer
behind this
veil, threatening
death to
interlop-
ers,
for
spirit recognizes spirit (knows
itself in and for
itself)
as
immortal,
and
recognizes
nature
simply
as its own "otherness." We do not violate
any
divinity
behind the
veil,
because our
apprenticeship
for
worship (no longer
in
the
precincts
of
Sais,
but in the whole
recapitulated experience [Erfahrung]
of
culture)
raises us to
spirit,
at the same time
raising
the veil or curtain
(not
that
the word
aufheben
is
operative
in Schiller's "Veiled
Image"
as well as in
Hegel's
technical
vocabulary).
In this truth we have a true vision of our-
selves: we not
only "gaze" (schauen)
but we "see"
(einsehen).
This is the
culmination and the end of our "amazement."
We
grasp
how
Hegel
has dealt with the
goodness
of nature and with
mortality
and the threat of the sublime. But how has he dealt with the
"sensuous veil" of Humboldt? He has assimilated it to the
phenomenologi-
cal
Bildung
out of which
spirit
arises and has
preserved
or memorialized it in
a secure
quarter
of "absolute
knowing." What, then,
is
Hegel's Christology?
Briefly,
it would seem to rest on two
principles: (1)
The Incarnation is an
absolute moment of the life of the
divine, uniting
God and
man;
in this
respect
God has
already
advanced from behind the veil
(not
a la
Pascal,
assumed a new
one)-or, put
in more
Hegelian language,
"essence must
appear" (Das
Wesen muss
erscheinen). (2) However,
Christ is
substantially
absent from his
community, having
died as a
man,
and has left the
Spirit
in
us,
and with
us,
to dwell
among us,
as he
promised.
This is the
spirit
we are
and that we seek behind the veil.
Such an unorthodox
Christology-through
not
precisely
a
straightfor-
ward
"pneumatology"-has
led some Jewish scholars to claim that the
Hegelian way
leads
logically
to a
pure
and refined Judaic monotheism.26 That
25
Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit,
tr. A. V. Miller
(Oxford, 1977),
103.
26
See Shlomo
Avineri,
"The Fossil and the
Phoenix," regarding
the
Hegelianism
of
Nachman
Krochmal,
in R. L. Perkins
(ed.), History
and
System: Hegel's Philosophy of
History (Albany, 1984);
and comments on this
by
Leo
Rauch,
47-71.
John Rawls 351
George Armstrong Kelly
view
must, however,
be
rejected
not
only
because
Hegel
was most often
scathing
about Judaism but because of his
complex
trinitarian mediations. It
has been more
plausibly argued
that
Hegel
has a doctrine of "the double
trinity."
Be that as it
may,
he would seem to have a doctrine of "two
veils"-a
Golgothan ruptured
veil when the truth of
spirit
was affirmed
above the law of
duty,
a second
peaceful lifting
of the veil
affirming spirit's
secure
possession
of its
sanctuary.
Concerning
the use of the word "veil" in the sense of a
"disguising
or
obscuring
medium or
influence,"
the OED notes: "common in the nine-
teenth
century."
This
frequency
is not unconnected to the
emigration
of
thought
and
vocabulary
of the Goethezeit to
England by way
of admirers like
Coleridge
and
Carlyle. Although
it is sometimes
held,
far less often
by
students of literature than
by
social science
historians,
that the culture of
Victorian
England-empirical, utilitarian,
and
bourgeois-was
at the
antipo-
des of German
Innerlichkeit,
this is
surely
false. J. S. Mill's
System of Logic
(which
itself made concessions to the aesthetic
imagination)
was not the
only
English
Bible. Nor did German
speculative thought
with its notions of
God,
spirit, Heimat, nature,
and the Gothic
simply
fire
up reactionary
and anti-
industrial voices in British
society. Rather, nostalgia
was crossbred with
progressivism
and even socialism in this
translation,
for
Germany
seemed to
many
not
only
a reservoir of
lofty feeling
(as
had been learned from Madame
de
Stael)
but also a
"country
of the mind."
Images
of the veil travelled with
this German
baggage.
The
English development
of veil
symbolism engages poetic myth
and
mystery
as
encouraged by a Schiller or a
Novalis;27
it reconsiders the Biblical
significance
of the
veil,
for which it has its own native
prophets;
it does not
reject
the
Hegelian
notion of the veil
hung
between "us" and "it"
(this
will
be a reference of F. H.
Bradley),28
and it
accepts
the attribution of
"language
as a
veil,"
commensurate with ideas about the historical and "natural"
development
of
language, law,
and custom made familiar
by
the theories of
Savigny
and his
pupils.29
To these
influences,
industrial and commercial
England
adds a new
style
of
veil,
within the
language
of
political economy.
Among
the
great Victorians, Tennyson
is the seasoned
poet
of veils:
they
supply
a
major symbol
to his
sensibility,
his
understanding
of
poetics,
and his
treatment of the
question
of life and
reality beyond knowledge, beyond
the
grave.
W. David Shaw has
masterfully
treated the
philosophical assumptions
of the Victorian
artist, choosing
the title of his work
("The
Lucid
Veil")
27
Independently,
there is also a carnal
symbol
of the veil in
English
"Gothic" novels:
see,
on
this,
Eve
Kosofsky Sedgwick,
The Coherence
of
Gothic Conventions
(New York,
1986),
140-75.
28
F. H.
Bradley, Essays
on Truth and
Reality (Oxford, 1914),
218.
29
See Friedrich Karl von
Savigny,
"On the Vocation of our
Age
for
Legislation
and
Jurisprudence,"
in H. S. Reiss
(ed.),
Political
Thought
of
the German Romantics
(Oxford,
1955),
203-7.
352
from
Tennyson
and
showing how, through
the medium of idealist
philoso-
phy,
the
transcognitive conception
of the veil does battle with the
reflective,
representational theory
of
language
and truth advanced
by
the
empiricists.30
His book
provides
substantial
background
for the
present cursory
account.
Tennyson's
veil is not a static but a
shifting symbol. Although
it can be
"lucid"
(in
the sense that mist at
twilight
is
light-laden,
somewhat like
Humboldt's "delicate veil"
impregnated by
moral
value),
it is also interfer-
ing
and
threatening
like the veil of Isis:
O
life as
futile, then,
as frail!
O
for
thy
voice to soothe and bless!
What
hope
of
answer,
or redress?
Behind the
veil,
behind the veil.31
(In Memoriam, LVI, 25-28)
This is
not, however, exactly
an Isis situation. What threatens is not an
inscribed
challenge-a
dare-but an
unanswered, perhaps
unanswerable
question-the meaning
of
life,
the
recovery
of the
dead,
which has not been
satisfied for
Tennyson by
the
clarity
of the Crucifixion and the revelation of
the
Holy
of
Holies,
but must still be
sought-if anywhere-behind
a veil of
nature. And as Shaw
notes,
in
Tennyson's working
of this
poem
the dead
Hallam is reconstituted in life as a
comforter, having previously
been
imaged
as a veiled statue.
There is another stanza
by Tennyson
which
suggests
that the
lifting
of the
veil from what is of true value is the work of chance and devotion:
All
precious things,
discover'd
late,
To those that seek them issue
forth;
For love in
sequel
works with
fate,
And draws the veil from hidden worth.32
("The
Arrival" from The
Daydream)
Diligence, loyalty,
the
voyage
of
deepening knowledge,
the
quest-all
these
are
Tennysonian
themes launched at the
target
of the
veil,
but one should
add,
by
veiled means-the
power
of
memory
contrived in
language.
According
to
Augustine's
Christian
teaching,
the "veil of
language"
was
inimical to faith and truth: embellishments of rhetoric and of
poetic
conceit
distracted the believer from the
simplicity
of the
gospels.
"The veils
hanging
before the entrance of schools of literature,"
he wrote,
"are not
honoring
secrecy
but
pointing
to a fabric of error"
(At
enim vela
pendent
liminibus
grammaticarum
scholarum sed non illa
magis
honorem secreti
quam
30
W. David
Shaw,
The Lucid Veil: Poetic Truth in the Victorian
Age (Madison, 1987).
31
Tennyson,
Poems
(New York, 1883),
442.
32
Ibid.,
275.
John Rawls 353
George Armstrong Kelly
tegumentum
erroris
significant).33
But the
Victorians,
if distant heirs of
Augustine's
own
rhetoric,
were not slaves to his
precaution. Moreover,
it
came to be
argued
that
language
was not a
tapestry
woven
by poets,
but a
shared medium of social life.
"Language,"
declared the
philologist
F. Max
Miiller in a lecture delivered in
1861,
"is like a veil
that, hung
too over the
eyes
of the human mind ... was
hardly perceived."34
We have seen that
Tennyson's poetics
treated
language
both as a veil and
as an
optical
means. Max Miiller intends
something quite
different. For
him,
language
is a veil
precisely
because it is
not, grosso
modo,
a
spontaneous
product
of the human
imagination:
it is not
parole,
it is
langue.
It is a veil
largely unperceived
because its
development
is almost
purely
unconscious or
"natural"-if
human,
then
beyond
the
scope
of human
intent,
a
collective,
not an
autonomous, project,
not within the
optical range
of the mind. We use
it,
we
speak
laws. If this sounds
very
much like the
image
of commercial
society
constructed
by Ferguson,
Adam
Smith,
and
others,
a world of trans-
action "created
by
human action but not
by
human
design,"
this
may
be no
accident.
However,
the intentions of historical
linguistics
are
powerfully
distinct from those of
political economy
in two
ways:
the "laws" of lan-
guage
are historical or diachronic
(e.g.,
Grimm's
law,
Werer's
law),
and
they
are
national,
not
cosmopolitan.
Arguably, George
Eliot was one of the best informed
persons
of her time
over the
range
of German literature and
thought.
The translator of Feuer-
bach's Das Wesen des Christentums was
uniquely gifted
to draw
upon
variants of the veil
image
discussed above. She knew Max Miiller's work and
was
appreciative
of it.35
Indeed,
as Peter Fenves has
brilliantly
shown in a
recent
article,
her
story
"Janet's
Repentance"
from the collection Scenes
of
Clerical
Life is,
at the level of
symbolic structure,
a demonstration that "the
more an individual can
express
himself within
society
... because
society
and
language
resist
manipulation....36
Human social
history
comes close to
being
"natural
history" (cf.
a similar
judgment, though
from a different
angle, by
Flaubert: to Louise
Colet,
31 March
1853;
to Mlle.
Levoyer
de
Chantepie,
18
March
1857)37
on the
Savignian-Miillerian
account,
because the
unperceived
veil of
language
forbids the individual
manipulation
of
expression.
George
Eliot also inherits from the
Schiller-Novalis-Hegel
"Sais" tradi-
tion,
in which the veil
performs
another kind of
operation.
"Your
German,
it
is
said,"
she tells us in one of her
essays,
"cannot write about drama without
33
The
Confessions of Augustine,
ed. J. Gibb and W.
Montgomery (New York, 1980),
22.
34 F. Max
Miiller,
The Science of
Language:
Lectures Delivered at the
Royal
Institute
in 1861 and 1863
(2 vols.;
New
York, 1891),
I, 36.
35
Gordon S.
Haight (ed.),
The
George
Eliot Letters
(9 vols.;
New
Haven, 1955), IV,
8.
36
Peter
Fenves,
"Exiling
the
Encyclopedia:
The Individual in 'Janet's
Repentance,'
"
Nineteenth
Century Literature,
40
(1987),
425.
37
Gustave
Flaubert, Correspondance (9 vols.; Paris, 1926-33),
II, 154; IV,
164.
354
going
back to the
Egyptian mysteries...."38
And it
appears
that her own
drama as an artist was
similarly implicated.
In her curious
story
"The Lifted
Veil"
(obviously echoing
the thematics of Schiller's "Das Verschleierte
Bild")
she
presents
a
protagonist
Latimer
who, Sais-like,
is driven
to,
and
even
predicts,
his death
by
means of a "double consciousness"
(not
distant
from a certain
pathological employment
of Selbstbewusstsein-a
capacity
that
lingers ironically
between
deception
and
clairvoyance).
Eliot's notion of
the double consciousness is further clarified
by
a
passage
from some rather
pedantic
and
condescending
remarks about her in Herbert
Spencer's
Autobi-
ography
(he
was for about a
year,
described
by
the author as "a more active
year,"
a
frequent companion
and
perhaps
her
lover):
"She
complained
of
being
troubled
by
double consciousness-a current of self-criticism
being
an
habitual
accompaniment
of
anything
she was
saying
or
doing:
and this
naturally
tended towards
self-deception
and self-distrust."39
"Double consciousness"
might
be for the artist a terrible
feeling
about
inadequacy
of talent before the demands of
fulfillment;
or it
might
mean
simply
the intellectual's lot: to
have,
in the words of
Camus,
"a mind that
watches itself." At either
level,
this
split personality (cf. Benjamin
Con-
stant's
dedoublement)
is not
easy
to
manage,
and cried for resolution. There
is
every
reason to think that
George
Eliot
experienced
both these tensions at
once and
expressed
them in her
story,
whose final effect was
liberating.40
Latimer,
the hero of "The Lifted
Veil,"
is
clairvoyant,
like the
inscrip-
tion of Sais. Since he is doomed to lift the
veil,
he must die:
knowing
not
only
that but when he will die motivates his
narrative;
he is somewhat in the
position
of Schiller's doomed
"Lehrling."
When Latimer "lifts the veil of
nature" from his fellow human
beings,
he is seized with horror
by
the truths
he
discovers,
for he is
party
to their states of consciousness: the dead are
awakened
only
to
carry
out their selfish and criminal
designs.
But
beyond
this,
Latimer is an artist who is
prevented by
the veil from
creating
or
"seeing":
had this not been
so,
he could have fulfilled himself. He sees
(is
clairvoyant)-but
had he been blind
(like
Homer or
Milton),
he would have
achieved works of art. He cannot
go
behind the curtain and find himself there
as
"spirit."
His damnation is to see
only floating shapes
of what
Hegel might
describe as a disordered "Geisterreich." This is the
story
of
George
Eliot's
struggle
with her own sense of
worth;
but it is also her
interpretation
of the
artist's
problem
with his
veil,
seen from the
perspective
of the doom of Sais.
When,
after
many transactions,
"The Lifted Veil"
finally appeared
in
Blackwood's
(in
1859-the
year
of Marx and
Darwin),
it was
anonymous;
38
George Eliot,
"A Word for the
Germans,"
in T.
Pinney (ed.) Essays (New York,
1963),
389.
39
Herbert
Spencer, Autobiography (2 vols.; London, 1904), I,
459.
40
George Eliot,
"The Lifted
Veil,"
in The Works of
George
Eliot
(24 vols.;
Edinburgh, 1878-85), XXIII,
257-342.
My colleague
Neil Hertz
points
to Eliot's
important
use of "double consciousness" in Daniel Deronda, ch. 51.
John Rawls 355
George Armstrong Kelly
and it has never received the attention it deserves. Veils and the double
consciousness are a hallmark of Eliot: and this
story
features them with
singular
effect.
The veil continued to have a
power
in
English
letters. Let us finish this
part
of the discussion with one brief
example.
At the end of the
gripping
detective novel The
Valley of Fear,
its narrator Dr. Watson relates: "We all
sat in silence for some minutes while those fateful
eyes
still strained to
pierce
the veil."41 Even the
positivistic
Sherlock
Holmes,
as rendered
by
his
spiritu-
alistic creator A. Conan
Doyle,
is
captive
to that ancient
image
while
contemplating
the criminal network of the
incomparable
Professor
Moriarty
(whose eclipse
will be in the sublime
setting
and sublime moment of the
struggle
at Reichenbach Falls-a "veil" or "curtain" of
water).
The foundation of
political economy
as a "science" with "laws"
par-
takes of the same
general impulse
as
enlightenment's unveiling
of nature to
create, alternatively,
a belle nature relieved of
particular
blemishes or a
physical
science ordered under law-like
regularities.
It
requires
the abstract
creation of a new
deity
called
Society
that
displaces
Yahweh's commands
with a
multiple,
but
reliable,
statistical
arrangement
of human tendencies and
"interests,"
a
psychology amounting
to a hidden or "veiled" order. This
version of nature was
not,
of
course,
won without a concerted effort to subdue
the
unruly passions
of human
"projectors" by
a new domestication of
conduct released from God and mandated to
Society.
A.
O.
Hirschman has
given
us the
plot
of this
story
in his
perceptive
The Passions and the
Interests; J. G. A. Pocock has further
probed
one sort of resistance to the
mania of veiled
"public
credit" within the discourse of classical
republican-
ism.42
In such a
precarious science,
it
might
be
expected
that
implications
of a
veil
might
arise. It was not the intention of the founders of the "science of
society"-and
of
political economy-to
make their
subject
arcane,
but it
would be the role of their critics to claim that
they
had done this. Here Marx
deserves
pride
of
place.
His attack
was,
from the
beginning,
launched
against
the
commodity-money-commodity cycle.
Marx was a sort of humanist
prophet
before he became a convert to the
deity
of
Society
with its economic
liturgy
of class
struggle.
In 1844 the
immortality
of
money prepossessed
him:
"It
changes fidelity
into
infidelity,
love into
hate,
virtue into
vice,
vice into
virtue,
servant into
master, stupidity
into
intelligence
and
intelligence
into
stupidity."43 Money,
for
Marx,
was the
veil,
the
symbolic
creator of the
41
Arthur Conan
Doyle,
The
Valley of
Fear
(332),
in The
Complete
Sherlock Holmes
(New York, 1930).
42
See
especially
J. G. A.
Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and
History (Cambridge, 1985),
69f,
113f.
43
T. S. Bottomore
(ed.),
Karl Marx:
Early Writings (New York, 1964),
193.
356
"inverted world"
(verkehrte Welt),
"the confusion and
transposition
of all
natural and human
qualities."44
We should not
forget
here that
Hegel's
remarkable
exposition
of the "inverted world" occurs in the
passage
imme-
diately preceding
his
challenge
to
"go
behind the
Vorhang"
in the Phenom-
enology.
Marx's
way
of
going
behind the veil in
bourgeois society
in 1844-his
"unmasking"-was
twofold:
(1)
to reveal
money
as
something
that "con-
founds and
exchanges everything";
and
(2)
to disclose
(like
other
socialists)
a
specific
connection between
money
and
carnality, reviving
the Isis innu-
endo with bitter
irony.
As he and
Engels proclaimed
in the
Manifesto
of
1848:
On what foundations is the
present family,
the
bourgeois family,
based? On
capital,
on
private gain.
In its
completely developed
form
this
family
exists
only among
the
bourgeoisie.
But this state of
things
finds its
complement
in the
practical
absence of the
family among
the
proletarians,
and in
public prostitution....45
The
bourgeois
is
carnal,
and seeks his
pleasure among
the wives and
daugh-
ters of the
working class,
who are
sold,
who have no
family.
The
bourgeois
is
also
rich,
or in a
position
to become so: a veil of
money
in the "inverted
world" rules all his
arrangements.
The
community
of
property
and of women
are the
logical
results of an unveiled
humanity.
The "verkehrte Welt" is also the world of
religion
for Marx
(one
might
say
it includes both the old
religion
and the new
one).
There is an excursus on
this in the first volume of
Capital
before Marx returns to his insistent
topic
of
the
"magic
... that surrounds the
products
of labour as
long
as
they
take the
form of commodities."46 "The life
process
of
society,"
Marx
declares,
"which is based on the
process
of material
production,
does not
strip
off its
mystical
veil until it is treated as
production by freely
associated
man,
and is
consciously regulated by
them in accordance with a settled
plan...."47
Later
on he
expostulates
about the
"magic
of
money."48 "Every commodity,"
he
declares,
"on
becoming money, disappears
as a
commodity...."49
As he had
put
it in
1844, money
is a
mediating
and
"genuinely
creative
power"50:
it
mediates and creates
surplus
value as a middle between two
points
of
commodity
valuation in the
capitalist system
of
exchange.
And "that this
44
Ibid.
45
K. Marx and F.
Engels,
The Communist
Manifesto (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1955),
27.
46 Karl
Marx,
Capital (New York, 1936), I,
87.
47
Ibid.,
92.
48
Ibid.,
105.
49
Ibid.,
124.
50
Marx, Early Writings,
192.
John Rawls 357
George Armstrong Kelly
one-sided character of
money's
motion arises out of the two-sided character
of the
commodity's
motion is a circumstance that is veiled over."5'
Money
veils,
and its action is veiled. For
"[money] exchanges every quality
and
object
for
every other,
even
though they
are
contradictory.... [It]
is the
general
inversion of
individualities, turning
them into their
opposites
and
associating
contradictory qualities
with their
qualities."52
It is a veil that makes the
unjust possible.
It sells the bodies of
proletarian
women to
bourgeois volup-
tuaries. It transfers commodities from
capitalists
to
buyers
without
regard
for
a
just
value or for the
rightful
owner of that value.
Marx's "veil of
money"
or
"magic
of
money" might
seem more
poetic
than scientific. For
example,
on the
performance
of actual socialist societies
it is doubtful that
money,
as a function of
production,
can be
"consciously
regulated [by freely
associated men]
in accordance with a settled
plan."
But
the status of
money
also remained elusive for the "classical"
political
economists. Nassau Senior wrote in conviction of the intrinsic
regulatory
power
of
money.53
But J. S. Mill dissented:
There
cannot,
in
short,
be
intrinsically
a more
insignificant thing,
in
the
economy
of
society,
than
money....
It is a machine for
doing
quickly
and
commodiously
what would be
done, though
less
quickly
and
commodiously,
without
it;
and like
many
other kinds of machin-
ery,
it
only
exerts a distinct and
independent
influence of its own
when it
gets
out of order.54
Money
has no Marxian diabolism
here;
but there is an unease in
expressing
the
rapport
between
money
and commodities
represented,
commodities that
historically begat money-and,
in mercantilist
theory,
were frozen within it.
Mill sees it as a kind of
vanishing point
of the
substantial,
a "mere unit of
calculation ... a
money account,
called macutes."55
Money
seemed
ungraspable
within the
principles
of economic
theory,
a
mere convenience for the efficient movement of the world's
goods
and
services.56 In textbooks of economics it was like a veil drawn between the
entities of
commodity
and
capital (or credit).
In this embarrassment of
definition there were
suggestions
that Victorian
linguistics
had not been
without influence on economic
theory. Rogers
writes in his Political
Economy: "[T]he
functions of
money
in the act of
exchange present
a close
51
Marx, Capital, I,
129.
52
Marx, Early Writings,
193.
53
Nassau William
Senior,
Three Lectures on the Value
of Money (London, 1840),
8-
10.
54
J. S.
Mill, Principles
of
Political
Economy (London, 1940),
bk.
III,
ch.
7, para.
3,
482.
55
Ibid.,
484.
56
William
Stanley Jevons, Money
and the Mechanism
of Exchange (London, 1875),
13-16.
358
analogy
to the functions of
language
in relation to
thought."57
J. Shields
Nicholson
repeats: "'money,'
with few
exceptions,
is as essential to the
exchange
of commodities or services as
language
is for the
exchange
of
thought
or ideas."58
Money, then,
was a kind of
semiology
of the
economy.
Did this further
mean,
a la
Miiller,
that
money
enclosed the "natural
history"
of
exchange,
as a veil too close to be
perceived;
or did it
mean,
a la
Hegel,
that we need to
go
behind the veil of
money-the
intricate veil of "civil
society"-to
discover ourselves?
About
forty years,
A. C.
Pigou,
one of the
leading
students of Alfred
Marshall, published
a brief book for the
layman
called The Veil
of Money,
in
which he
explains:
In the
years preceding
the first world war there were in common use
among
economists a number of
metaphors,
all of a like
general
tendency,
about the role of
money. "Money
is a
wrapper
in which
goods
come to
you": "money
is the
garment draped
round the
body
of economic
life"; "money
is the veil behind which the action of real
economic forces is concealed." The
mercantilists,
it was
said,
in
their
blindness,
mistook
money
for
wealth;
we must not do that. We
must
strip
off the
garment,
tear
away
the
veil,
look
through
the
thing
to the
thing signified....
59
It must be said that this "Plutarchian moment" of
English political economy
does not
exactly
deliver unveiled
promises. Pigou
concludes
indecisively
that
"money clearly
is ... but
[is]
not
merely
a veil...."6 The veil is conceived of
as a
"garment
...
[that
]
became a Nessus shirt." He
proposes
a
theory
of
interdependence:
"as the economic
body
alters ... the veil that
shrouds,
or the
garment
that
enwraps it,
alters it also."61
Money
is conceived more a
"gar-
ment"
(perhaps
a
carapace)
than a
"veil,"
to fit the
body
of economic
life,
although
its fit is
presumed
to "result from
given changes
initiated in the
body
and what reaction
they,
or the lack of
them,
in turn
produce [depending]
on how the
garment
is constructed."62
Up
to
now,
we have been accustomed to
regarding
the veil as a kind of
straight curtain, opaque
or
translucent,
that
impedes
normal
representational
vision or refracts it into a new mode of
penetration.
But here the veil has
become
analogous
to a
garment
or a
wrapper-a
bill of
lading
on a
cargo
or
box for merchandise or a
designer's
dress.
Threatening,
if it does not fit the
57 J. E. T.
Rogers,
A Manual
of
Political
Economy for
Schools and
Colleges (Oxford,
1876),
22.
58
J. S.
Nicholson, Principles of
Political
Economy (2 vols.; London, 1922), II,
90.
59 A. C.
Pigou,
The Veil
of Money (London, 1949),
18.
60
Ibid.,
25.
61
Ibid.,
27.
62
Ibid.
John Rawls 359
George Armstrong Kelly
commodity
or the needs of
exchange,
to become a "Nessus
shirt,"
it no
longer
functions as a
Ding-an-sich,
a limit
daring transgression,
or an occlud-
ing
device
protecting
the
sanctuary
of
dangerous
truth. It has become a veil of
economic fashion or convenience
and, equally,
a
self-sustaining
veil of
ignorance.
The "veil of
ignorance" brings
us to
Rawls,
who
regards
his
hypotheti-
cal device as a
necessary
accoutrement to the rational choice of
principles
of
a
just society by
its
founding
members.
My point
will not
(mainly)
be to
criticize Rawls's
method,
but to
attempt
a
genealogical interpretation
of his
contrivance.
Of the numerous criticisms
(for
the literature is
endless) lodged against
A
Theory of Justice,
one of the most
specious
is that the author
ignores history.
The book is in fact a sort of
congealed history.
Amid all the abstract
conditions and
postulates
that Rawls
proposes,
the sensitive reader
recog-
nizes and
responds
to a
history
of the
theory
of
justice
written en sous-
entendu. That
impression,
of
course,
becomes even more certain if one takes
into account Rawls's later revision of what once
might
have seemed a
theory
with transcendental claims into a rationalization of the ethos of modem
constitutional
democracy (a species
of
regime
with a
development
and a
history): see, especially,
Rawls's "Justice as Fairness: Political not Meta-
physical."63
That retreat from
"universality"
to
"generality" axiomatically
makes the
prescriptions
of A
Theory of
Justice
contingent upon
common
understandings,
not
grounded directly
in a variant of Kant's
practical
reason.
But the
point
is not
important
to our
argument-inasmuch
as the veil is in no
wise abandoned. It
simply provides
us with a
stronger justification
for
approaching
Rawls as we
do, through
the
history
of an
image.
For Rawls did not introduce the veil of
ignorance casually or,
as it
were,
merely functionally.
The immediate notion
may
have come from
Pigou
and
his
predecessors
in
political economy;
but behind them there is a rich
"phenomenology"
not unlike the one I have been
describing,
from which the
metaphor
descends. The culture of Rawls is the culture
through
which the
veil
passes,
more
specifically
the culture of Hellenic and Hebraic
classics,
seen
through
the
Enlightenment
and
through
German
idealism, through
Victorian
literature, English political economy,
and their
legacies.
Since
Rawls has absorbed and
textually impounded
all
this,
we should not be
surprised
to find Richard
Rorty, writing half-admiringly, half-disparagingly
of this text:
It is a book which descends
straight
from
Kant, Mill,
and
Sidgwick.
The same book could have been written if
logical positivism
had
63
John
Rawls,
"Justice as Fairness: Political not
Metaphysical," Philosophy
and
Public
Affairs,
XIV
(1985),
223-51.
360
never existed. It is not a
triumph
of
"analytic" philosophizing.
It is
simply
the best
update
of liberal social
thought
which we have.64
This is
certainly correct,
so
long
as we do not take
Rorty's
evaluation to be a
statement of his own
pragmatism.
If after a
long
slumber of creative confi-
dence
(cf.
the "veil" of
George Eliot) political
theorists
suddenly
made this
work a focus of adoration and
dispute,
it was
because,
in
England
and
America, they recognized
that the task of
Kant, Mill, Green,
and Hobhouse
was
again being
shouldered
by
a
formidably
cultured writer. Without the
benefit of
clerisy,
theorists elsewhere have
joined
this
swell,
as much in awe
of tradition as from admiration of
analysis.
The Rawlsian veil is a case in
point
of how this idea
might
be construed.
The
veil,
it must be said at the
outset,
is one of
specified
or
stipulated
ignorance,
intended to insure
justice
as "the result of fair
agreement
or
bargain" (TJ, 12).
"Fairness" is a kind of
symmetry
of rational
morality,
fraught
with constructive
potential
but
initially impoverished
in content. It
incorporates
what Rawls takes to be Kant's view of
autonomy,
a choice of
principles
of action "as the most
adequate expression
of
[one's]
nature as free
and
equal
rational
being" (TJ, 252)-i.e.,
a
"kingdom
of ends" that is
somehow within
us,
not
merely "regulative"
but "constitutive" for
pur-
poses
of the
primal
civil act. Fairness would
appear
to assume the
capacity
of
a sense of
justice,
the
disposition
to decide on its first
principles,
and a
determination to abide
by
them in the further articulation of social rules and
institutions. To this is added Rousseau's
precaution
that "each
necessarily
submits to the conditions that he
imposes
on others"
(Contrat social, II, iv).
The comment that this is a
"kingdom
of ends" constitutive of
(ust) society
is
not causal: the mission is
unanimity,
and the
"original position"
is described
as "the
point
of view from which noumenal selves see the world"
(TJ, 255).
These are rather
peculiar
noumenal selves.
Though they
are conceived of
as "rational and
mutually
disinterested"
(TJ, 13)
and hence
they
do not
"suffer from
envy" (TJ, 143;
cf. Rousseau's
amour-propre): "they
know
that in
general they
must
try
to
protect
their
liberties,
widen their
opportuni-
ties,
and
enlarge
their means for
promoting
their aims whatever these are"
(ibid.).
One could
perhaps
call them liberal noumenal selves on the basis of
these attributes and also because of their
temporal facility
for
donning
the
veil of
ignorance
and
subscribing
to
society
at
any given
moment
(TJ, 138).
Indeed, they
are noumena
guided by
rational choice
theory: "they
would
prefer
more
primary
social
goods
than less"
(TJ, 142),
and
they
are
clearly
inhibited
by
the fear that "more
might
mean less." The function of the veil is
to further determine the noumenal selves to choose so as to
"get
the desired
result"
(TJ, 136), preventing
the outcome from
being
affected
by
"force and
cunning (ibid.).
64 Richard
Rorty, Consequences of
Pragmatism (Minneapolis, 1982),
216.
John Rawls 361
George Armstrong Kelly
The constraints of the veil are these:
... no one knows his
place
in
society,
his class
position
or social
status;
nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural
assets and
abilities,
his
intelligence
and
strength,
and the like.
Nor,
again,
does
anyone
know his
conception
of the
good,
the
particulars
of his rational
plan
of
life,
or even the
special
features of his
psychol-
ogy
such as his aversion to risk or
liability,
to
optimism
or
pessi-
mism. More than
this,
I assume that the
parties
do not know the
particular
circumstances of their own
society.
That
is, they
do not
know its economic or
political situation,
or the level of civilization
and culture it has been able to achieve. The
persons
in the
original
position
have no information as to which
generation they belong.
(TJ,
137)
What the noumena behind the veil do understand can be described as the
formal idea of
things:
"...
they
know the
general
facts about human
society.
They
understand
political
affairs and the
principles
of economic
theory: they
know the bases of social
organization
and the laws of human
psychology.
Indeed,
the
parties
are
presumed
to know whatever
general
facts affect the
choice of the
principles
of
justice" (ibid.).
Aside from the
knotty problem
of
determining
what
exactly
constitutes a
"general
fact,"
Rawls's noumenal
selves are
certainly
relived of the
predicament
of the recurrent
Hegelian
figure
"who would not
go
in the water until he had learned how to swim."
From behind this
veil,
in their
"original position,"
Rawlsian individuals
choose their two
founding principles
of
justice,
which take
priority
over all
other institutions or
practices
that
society arranges
once the veil has been
lifted and liberal
pluralism
ensues. This is not
very
different from the
perspective
of natural
law, except
that these are
"principles,"
not "laws"
-in the absence of a
lawgiver-and they
are conventional
(if inviolable),
not
natural.
Yet who has
placed
the veil? The theorist. And
why
has he so
placed
it in
front of these noumena in their
"original position"? Perhaps
there is also a
"veil
theory"
that we would want to examine. In his own
words,
this theorist
wants to
"get
the desired solution" from an
originary point
of
pure
human
autonomy.
The social noumena are to be used
"deontologically";
but the
theorist himself is
"teleological."
Yet he chooses the
opposite path
from that
suggested by
Kant in
constructing
a universal
history,
of
"trying
to see if he
can discover a natural
purpose
in this idiotic course of
things
human." Rawls
does
this,
even
though
these "creatures ... have no
plan
of their own."65 But
he does
it,
in
part,
because
they
have no
(mutual, species) plan
of their
own,
and because their individual
plans,
if
immediately
revealed to them in social
65
L. W. Beck
(ed.)
Kant on
History (Indianapolis, 1963),
12.
362
transparency,
would add
up
to sound and
fury (to history),
not
justice.
The
most severe
prophets
of
autonomy
have often been the most alert to the
travesties of the
phenomenal
human condition.
Rawls's noumena are not
just
"rational
beings"
but also "human be-
ings"
who
require
the
discipline
of the veil above and
beyond
their rational
attributes
(e.g.
lack of
envy)
in the
"original position."
Behind the veil
they
have
phenomenal
doubles whose flesh once
seen,
whose desires
known,
would be
corrupting
to the discourse or
practice
of
justice. Although "they
can make a rational decision in the
ordinary
sense"
(TJ, 143),
can
they keep
it in full view of their real selves or the selves of others? As Kant writes in
another context:
"[Man]
need not wait until he finds out
through
bitter
experience
about the hostile attitude of the other man."66 That
is,
in
fact,
why
political
societies are formed and
why
Kant
assigns
man the
duty
to leave the
state of nature and the
right
to
compel
others to do so.67 Rawls has discarded
that useful fiction and substituted his
"original position"
so
that,
one sus-
pects,
a
"kingdom
of ends" can
operate
to
found,
rather than
merely inspire,
life inter homines.
Through
the
solemnity
of their noumenal
"bargain,"
social selves
might
be
expected
to be more honor-bound to
justice beyond
the
veil.
As
just pointed out,
these
parties
are
human,
at least to the extent that
they
know
"general
facts" and
aspire
to
"primary
social
goods."
This
is,
as
I have
argued,
a kind of concession of
noumenology
to
liberalism,
but it also
reinforces the
suspicion
that these
people already
have a
history
of
sorts,
perhaps
somewhat like that of the inchoate
peuplade
that Rousseau
assigns
to
the ministrations of the heroic
lawgiver
(Contrat social, II, viii),
but with the
express
difference that these are "wise
horses,"
not incultes.
History,
of
course,
is
contaminating
to
reason;
and one can
imagine
that
it, too,
is
placed
behind the veil of
ignorance
in this Scenario. For
memory
is not
among
the
rational attributes that Rawls mentions. Here
again,
Kant is
instructive,
when
he writes: "the
subject
should not be
overly
curious about
[the origin
of the
supreme authority]
as
though
the
right
of obedience due it were
open
to
doubt."68 These noumenal selves have in fact been abstracted from
origins
which it is not wise to search out
(this
seems
totally
clarified
by
Rawls's 1985
revision).
Here Rawls and Kant
agree:
but the veil of
ignorance
does
duty
for
the
hypothetical imperative.
Throughout
his brilliant
work,
Rawls's tone is measured and
graceful,
instructive, hopeful.
But there is a
darker,
more chthonic
aspect
to what lies
behind the veil. Of the alternatives we have
canvassed,
there is the Hebraic
law-not to be countenanced
here,
for Kantian
reasons;
for it is the denial of
autonomy (self-legislation),
not
placed
on the hither side of the
veil,
and of
6 Kant, Metaphysical
Elements
of
Justice
(Indianapolis, 1965),
71.
67
Ibid.,
76-77.
68
Ibid.,
84.
363 John Rawls
George Armstrong Kelly
the
liberty
that becomes man's
freely
chosen-not
granted-first principle
of
justice. Beyond
this
possibility,
there is the
abyss
of nature and
mortality:
Rawls's noumena
are,
in a
sense,
the
apprentice-guardians
of the fatal curtain
as well as selves
who,
bound
by
their
bargain
of
justice,
will be
equipped
to
go
behind it. If
they
were to
go
there before
reaching
their "fair
agreement,"
or if the veil were to be
peremptorily lifted,
what would
they
find?
They
would,
as
Hegel suggests,
find
themselves-pluralized
creatures of strife and
desire,
a
multiplicity
that
unity
cannot
contain,
a swarm of
uncooperative
wasps,
a
congeries
of consumers with no
single currency,
a babel of life-
plans-everything
Latimer saw and shrank from. The two formal
principles
of
justice,
subscribed to before the
curtain,
are Rawls's
noumenology
ante-
cedent to the
discursive, centrifugal dangers
of a
phenomenology
which,
unregulated,
would be
fraught
with "bitter
experience."
The veil of
ignorance
is also a "veil of
language"-fixed
in such a
way
that social members can communicate "in an ideal
speech
situation"
(to
use
Habermas's
phrase)
before
becoming exposed
to the
language
of the
tribe,
weaving
the one
language
into the others as if
through
a Humboldtian
"delicate veil" or a
Tennysonian
"lucid
veil";
a
tegument
so close to the
mind's
eye
that it is
hardly perceived
in the
passage
into the world of social
appearances. And,
as a
language veil,
it would also seem to
convey
this
philosopher's response
to the crisis in social science and social
thought-
which
Rorty
believed that Rawls had
passed
over.
Finally-and
this
may
come as the
greatest surprise-the
veil of
ignorance
is a "veil of
charity."
It
is
not,
to be
sure,
a Christian
Veil,
for Rawls
always speaks
in the tones of
agnostic
humanism.
Nonetheless,
if this veil cannot
signify
"love one an-
other,"
at least it cautions
"protect
one another and be
protected"
from the
worst of
yourselves
and from the
dangers
of all dissemblance. The veil
may
only
be
parted
when a
temple
can stand. But how shall we name what is in the
temple?
364