Contained        -          Uncontained
Receptive         -          Formative
Uncover           -          Create
Imitate              -          Imagine
Complete         -          Incomplete
Preserve           -          Innovate
Fixed                -          Plastic
Closed              -          Open
Past                  -          Future
Old                   -          New

John Locke made clear that the new political and economic system he proposed in his Second treatise of Government, liberalism’s foundational text, would result in a different ruling class. In one of its key chapters, “Of Property,” he divided the world into two sorts of persons: the “industrious and the rational” and “the querulous and contentious.”

In the world of prehistory, he wrote, both kinds of characters might have existed in some number, but a subsistence economy marked above all by absence of private property made it impossible to tell them apart.

In such a world, each person gathers only enough food and requirements for each passing day, and any differences of talent, ability, and promise are wholly unrealized. Locke offers the Indians in the Americas as an example of such a “pre-history”: subsistence societies in which neither "industriousness and rationality” nor "querulousness and contentiousness” can become salient.

In such a world, a potential Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is so busy hunting or fishing for each day's meal that his potential goes wholly unrealized.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.136

Forms of oppressive “opinion” were mainly manifest in everyday morality—what Mill witheringly criticized as “Custom.” While Mill at times argued that a good society needed a balance of "Progress” and “Custom,” in the main, he saw custom as the enemy of human liberty, and progress as a basic aim of modern society.

To follow custom was to be fundamentally unreflective and mentally stagnant. “The human faculties of perception, judgement, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is a custom, makes no choice.”

The unleashing of spontaneous, creative, unpredictable, unconventional, often offensive forms of individuality was Mill's goal. Extraordinary individuals - the most educated, the most creative, the most adventurous, even the most powerful - freed from the rule of Custom, might transform society.

“Persons of genius,” Mill acknowledges, “are always likely to be a small minority”; yet such people, who are “more individual than any other people,” less capable of “fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides,” require “an atmosphere of freedom.”

Society must be remade for the benefit of this small, but in Mill’s view vital, number. A society based on custom constrained individuality, and those who craved most to be liberated from its shackles were not “ordinary” people but people who thrived on breaking out of the customs that otherwise governed society. Mill called for a society premised around “experiments in living”: society as a test tube for the sake of geniuses who are “more individual.”

We live today in the world Mill proposed. Everywhere, at every moment, we are to engage in experiments in living.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.145-6

For Cassirer the unity of culture across the separate spheres inter alia of science, technology and art is given by the human capacity for symbolic self-expression, our capacity to create whole worlds of objective meaning.

Cassirer derived from Kant this image of the human being’s constructivist or formative powers of world-making. Heidegger by contrast insisted on the image of the human being as gifted with a receptive openness to the world. Receptivity is the attitude which allows things to appear rather than challenging them forth.

The two normative images of humanity thus describe two fundamental relationships to the world, spontaneity and receptivity, and thus two fundamentally opposed understandings of technology, tied in the case of Heidegger to an originary ontology of disclosure and in the case of Cassirer to a ‘modernist ontology of construction.’

If Cassirer offers us a modern answer, it is not one premised on a distinction between ancient and modern technology. On the contrary, the very first use of tools set in train an ongoing process of revealing as unconcealment, that is, the uncovering of what is present but hitherto concealed in the world.

The nature waiting to be shaped and given form by technology is thereby revealed as essentially incomplete. From the beginning technological ‘discovery’ signifies the experimental path of formation and transformation mediated by the essential plasticity of nature.

The spirit of technology therefore resides for Cassirer in its capacity to reveal the latent in nature, waiting to be actualized. This spirit requires an attitude capable of withdrawing from a given reality in order to posit the possible.

Cassirer terms this ‘possibilization’ of the world ‘the greatest and the most remarkable achievement of technology.’

Modern art ‘discovers’ the spirit of creation, hitherto concealed by the doctrine of imitation, just as in turn the recognition of human creativity announces the metaphysical need of the moderns to discover the new and bring it forth.

The work of art, but also the work of technology, become ontologically original once the closed cosmos of tradition is left behind.

And what this signifies […] is nothing less than the displacement of nature by art and technology, which now express the exemplary possibilities of human being as creativity. The modern spirit is in this sense ‘after nature’: imagination takes the place of the imitation of nature, technology emancipates itself from the model of physis to become the evolutionary supplement of nature.

[David Roberts]
'Technology and modernity: Spengler, Jünger, Heidegger, Cassirer', Thesis Eleven, 2012, p.26, 31-2

[William James’s] uncertainty about the moral value of submission and self-surrender illustrates the difficulty of carrying on an essentially theological controversy without its theological context.

Even more than Emerson and Carlyle, James believed that this context could now be dispensed with. In its absence, however, Emerson’s affirmation of the goodness of being would tend to be construed either as fatuous optimism or as the product of an emotional need for absolute security and reassurance, while heroism, on the other hand - notwithstanding James’s warning that “mere excitement is an unworthy ideal” - would degenerate into Nietzsche’s “will to power.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 294

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