Christopher C.  Robinson

"Where in the world constructed of language is theory, and what has become of the theorist?"
Sheldon S. Wolin


When Wittgenstein looked at a particular neighborhood or form of life in the city of language what he examined were surface details and activities. Activities were performed with adherence to rules that were perhaps beneath the surface, but these subterranean features could be made visible by asking the question, "What is the rule for...?" or by a dispute over a play in a game that requires reference to the rules, or even by a behavioral faux pas that breached a rule or rules resulting in embarrassment. The rules themselves were the product of the activities visible on the surface. They affect the activities with incomplete and indeterminable reciprocity. As products or codifications of activities, the rules demarcate the activity from other activities (chess from checkers, for example), but at the same time these rules have a provisional character. That is, they can be amended, bypassed (with something akin to a "mulligan" in golf or a "do over" in some referee-less street game), or dropped altogether. Indeed, language-games and forms of life come into being and die out transforming what Wittgenstein called "the city of language" in small but distinctive ways. This city of language before us is actually a palimpsest where the surface includes traces of razed structures and older districts buried over by time. Older versions of the city become part of what counts as the bedrock upon which the newer city is built.

Let me begin, then, with the image of the city of language presented by Wittgenstein the author of the Philosophical Investigations as opposed to Wittgenstein the flaneur that walked its pages. Wittgenstein the author is able to take the longer and wider view of the mapmaker; the walker cannot see the organizing parameters of the city from his street-level view but assumes there is a larger logic holding things together.  The author's cartographic description of the city is brief and occurs early in the Investigations to both illustrate the complex and living or incomplete quality of language and to set the dramatic stage upon which the philosophical walker will travel.  Wittgenstein begins by responding to the objection that the language-games he has explored in the first seventeen remarks consist solely of orders (i.e. "Bring me a slab!" PI, 6, 19) A language composed of orders is incomplete, goes the objection. In articulating this criticism, Wittgenstein is repeating his own objection to the one-dimensional picture of language as representational advanced as complete in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Out of this self-criticism, then, Wittgenstein offers an image of language as more than an instrument or set of tools for the production of meaning. This "more than" quality of language is presented by Wittgenstein as unrepresentable and resistant to ontologization (as the "house of Being" for example) because of its dynamic character. The edges or limits cannot be seen from the outside (at least by humans), but they can be experienced or felt from the inside, or imagined and expressed synoptically from the God's-eye standpoint of the author.

One is a tourist even in his or her home city because of development or sprawl that alters the perimeter constantly, and because of the transformations, sometimes subtle and private, within neighborhoods on the inside. Each alteration tells a story.

Our language may be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses. [PI, 18]

At the center is the historical beginning of the city. It is largely unplanned. Buildings and streets were added on as needed, but in a relatively compressed way to maintain convenience and defense in the form of propinquity. Squares fulfilled the need for public gathering spaces where goods could be sold and speeches and pronouncements made, heard, and debated. For a long time, the city was not designed, per se; it grew in accord with the immediate needs of its inhabitants as opposed to some underlying principle or overarching blueprint. Houses, too, reflected this self-organizing feature. As families grew in size and/or prosperity, their homes expanded.

But at some point the mode of expansion and the architecture of new buildings changed utterly. This point is manifested in the line of demarcation distinguishing the old city from the new "boroughs." And this point and line betokens a range of other transformations.  Streets become straight and regular to accommodate new modes of transportation that, in turn, alleviate the physical and economic need for closeness. In the new boroughs there is a marked end to the public square, to the public life we associate with politics, and to architectural uniqueness.

By describing the city of language this way, Wittgenstein evokes a striking juxtaposition of the spontaneity and public-centeredness of the old city with the imposed, efficient order of the new reminiscent of Levittown and Le Corbusier's ultramodern urbanism.ii Apparently, Wittgenstein was looking at the same urban features described by Hannah Arendt in terms of the decline of the public realm and the zoon politikon, and the corresponding rise of the social realm like an unchecked cancer emerging from the economy of the home. Arendt described the growth of "the social" in terms of the erosion of the traditional public/private dichotomy and the supplanting of citizenship actions by the relentless work schedule of animal laboreans and the insatiable consumption of homo economicus.  It leaves me wondering about the adequacy of the philosophical explanation for why Wittgenstein did not travel the neighborhood of politics in his mid-twentieth century city of language. Perhaps he could not walk there because what counted as his political life was now dead or moribund, and not because mathematics, aesthetics, and the psychology of perception held greater philosophical interest for him.  More importantly, this description of the city suggests nostalgia for the old way of life that has been mistaken for an expression of political conservatism on Wittgenstein's part. I consider this conservative appellation "mistaken" because it hides more than it reveals, particularly the political dimension of Wittgenstein's philosophy that places him in a fairly large category of theorists beginning with Weber and Arendt, who struggle intellectually against the public hallmark or apparent telos of modernity: the supplanting of politics by bureaucracy.  A thorough anti-modernism is not to be found in these writers. Indeed, such an orientation is imaginable only in a religious community like that of the Amish or in a Luddite-type movement. Wittgenstein's opposition to modernism occurred from within the throes of modernity. And it was directed at the soporific effects of the authority assigned to scientism by various philosophical schools or circles. It was expressed only occasionally as nostalgia for old, active political forms of life. 

In responding to those who consider Wittgenstein's reflections on the conventional basis of language and life, and his conception of philosophical activity as descriptive, as indications of sympathy for politically conservative (read: anti-democratic) politics there are three interrelated questions I want to answer in this paper: Does conventionalism eliminate criticism by undermining the absolute standards upon which philosophical judgment relies? Is there an anti-political philosophy of language behind bureaucracy that Wittgenstein helps theorists to analyze and respond to critically? Is the motion celebrated in his work the public criterion of an inner freedom at odds with forces of conformity?

II. Language and Conventions

To call a philosopher or theorist "conservative" is more than a heuristic matter of ideological categorization.  It can be a kind of reputation assassination that eliminates the voice of the so labeled from the discourse of political theory.iii  I will examine this rhetorical tactic as various theorists have applied it to Wittgenstein. But the main thrust of my argument is designed show the spurious quality of the charge as well as the radical character of Wittgenstein's anti-foundational view that human life occurs in a linguistic medium shaped by irreducible conventions.  At the heart of Wittgenstein's view that the forms human life takes are predicated on habits and customs is the contention that what is does not have to be. When facing ethnic strife, sexism, totalitarianism, and other forms of violence and injustice, the utopian dimension of theorizing politics can be emboldened by the idea that change toward justice is not a matter of contravening metaphysical absolutes or rewriting the book of nature; rather, it is a matter, difficult still, of breaking bad habits, altering consciousness, eliminating oppressive institutions, denaturalizing domination, eliminating laws (recognizing they can be eliminated) that disenfranchise traditionally subjugated groups and writing laws that are inclusive and promote democratic participation.iv

For example, we know there is one single, unified biological category called the human race. Yet even the best-intentioned divide humanity up into various races. We have devised a whole vocabulary of "race relations" to heal the breaches between "races." Talking about races in the plural gives biological or natural credence that perpetuate divisions expressed better in terms of ethnicities.  Ethnic divisions, themselves sites of xenophobia and violence, can be healed and coexist peacefully through mutual recognition, respect, and communication. Biological divisions require a far slower, evolutionary process we cannot control. But there are no biological divisions between blacks and whites other than obvious secondary features like melanin content.  Yet this belief in human races and the lexicon that supports and expresses it prove recalcitrant. Speaking of race as though there is more than one among humans is a convention that needs to be and can be broken.  This reform of the way we describe the world is based not only on a desire to express human biology accurately, but also on recognition that this convention is oppressive.

The happy side of conventionalism is that it nourishes the idea of human perfectibility while eliminating the inhumanness of perfection as a goal. There is, as I noted above in the race example, a dark side too.  Wittgenstein saw the world he knew and believed stable (in the Tractatus) prove all too malleable. We are reminded of the fluid character of human identity with each photograph or description of what Primo Levi called the "drowned" or "walking dead" of the concentration camps. Whatever civil, religious, or cultural bulwarks were in place to prevent atrocity and inhumanities, they were shown to be all too conventional in Wittgenstein's Europe. He lived long enough to see that even those rules that gave shape to what it means to be human could be so distorted that the very capacity for trust Aristotle considered the fragile bedrock of political life could be effaced almost completely.

Are we talking about the same thing when we examine the apparently entrenched vocabulary of races among humans, on the one hand, and the fragile conventions supporting political institutions and our ideas on what a human being is on the other? Are some conventions closer to the surface of daily life than others and therefore more exposed and vulnerable to change?  Wittgenstein indicates that the answer to both questions is yes by introducing a range of distinctions between surface and depth grammars, framework conditions that undergird language-games, and the perceptual distinction between those things so familiar they remain invisible to us and oppose temporarily the idea that "nothing is hidden" in language. [PI,111,112,126,129] These distinctions do not lead Wittgenstein to advance a series of philosophical techniques for cutting through the illusory surface to get to some more truthful core. [PI,92,126] v

Even features of depth grammar, frames, and invisibles are available for view.  What we are looking at, then, is akin to the problem Socrates faced in his trial.  There were two distinct categories of charges against him: the specific charges of atheism, religious unorthodoxy, and corrupting youth. But then there was the deeper background charge or belief, repeated for two generations by parents fearing for their children's reputation and future in public life, that Socrates was a dangerous influence.  The specific claims, though articulated by voices of influence and power, were refuted easily; but the background claim was plastered thickly enough upon the city's culture that it could not be effaced sufficiently by a single speech on a single day. By bringing the invisible charge to view in the courtroom, however, Socrates set in motion his exoneration – the new set of background beliefs fashioned memorably by Plato that shape our reverence for his teacher. Wittgenstein illuminates the relation between surface and depth in his metaphor of the riverbed:

It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became more fluid.

The mythology may change back into a state of flux; the riverbed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movements of the waters on the riverbed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.... And the bank of the river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away or deposited. [OC, 96-99] vi 

There are large chunks of reality that we agree upon unquestioningly and that impose physical limits on the way we live. [OC, 211] vii Think of the laws of Newtonian mechanics and the physiological isomorphism among humans and higher primates in this light. In Wittgenstein's work where meaning is a product of use, the question we confront consistently is, "How is communication and agreement (or disagreement) achieved given the infinite number of possible word combinations, contexts, and uses of utterances?" The regulative effect of the framing conventions supporting language-games is one answer. The medium through which these largely unarticulated agreements are questioned and perpetuated is language and the loci of these agreements are forms of life and language-games. This is to say two things in Wittgenstein: there is a reality outside of language expressed by grammar in language [PI 371-74]; and we only concur on what it looks like and compose this concurrence through the mediation of language. In this manner, Wittgenstein evades linguistic idealism while striking the conventional and psychological bedrock of this complex weave of language-games we can only assume forms a coherent, dynamic, and edgeless whole we call language.viii

Wittgenstein employs the word "convention" (Abmachung, Ubereinkunft) in three distinct ways in Philosophical Investigations. Two of the three involve criticism of a sort of essentialism that supports and justifies privileging certain claims to knowledge that occur in philosophy. All three also show the intimacy of conventions and the surface activities they shape. That is, the later Wittgenstein renounces his earlier participation in the search for invisible worlds – the "realm" of logical form lying beneath propositions that resembles outwardly Freud's discovery of the Unconscious or the Platonist's conception of an external source of truth. What Wittgenstein presents in his post-Tractatus works is a world where "nothing is hidden" even though some features may escape notice because of familiarity, routine, or the limitations of a particular perceptual vantage point.

The first use of convention occurs in a remark that harkens back to a simple language-game where tools were given proper names. [PI, 15,41] Of particular interest is a tool called "N". What Wittgenstein wants us to see is the conventionality of the supposed symmetry of word to object in the activity of naming. Worker A gives her assistant B the sign for N. But tool N has been broken.  What must B do?  Wittgenstein shows in this remark the synonymous relation between convention and rule, but he also questions the contention that meaning derives from the symmetry of word to object exemplified by proper names. [PI,41] Here meaning can be said to derive not from the use in worker A's utterance, but in the wider context of the language-game itself. N continues to mean something, continues to "be given a place in the language-game" even though it has ceased to exist as a tool for a designated purpose (and it is apparently a one-of-a-kind tool).  Convention, in this remark, reveals an improvisational flexibility that can be said to oppose the regulative effects those deeper conventions or frames contribute to the shapes our forms of life and language-games take, but what we are seeing is a fine example of the polysemic or indeterminate character of rules. Conventions also take on a spatial connotation. They combine or form patterns that, in turn, come to be seen as specific contexts – the sentence, the language-game, the form of life – where meaningful performances occur, disclose aspects of the world, communicate to and affect others, and unify and/or rend communities. Moreover, these spaces are traversable. We come to a language-game with a notion of how to play developed from life in and travel through other language-games.  Traces of memberships in language-games combine uniquely and construct what we have come to call our individual identities.ix

In the second use of "convention" Wittgenstein examines the privileging of sense-impressions as sources of knowledge that also possess the power of prediction.  Our usual way of regarding sense impressions is to afford them depth and inner privacy.  But we know and use sense-impressions through their outward criteria. What Wittgenstein shows here is the language or criteria of sense impressions are in a continuum with or identical to the sense impressions themselves. The implication is that different languages have different sensations or at least express them differently. In this way the occult or inscrutable character of the sense impressions are made visible, and, more importantly, this language of sense impressions "like any other is founded on convention." [PI,355]

Remarks like this have contributed to Wittgenstein's reputation as a behaviorist.  This is an inaccurate label.  Wittgenstein is an anti-Cartesian who opposed systematically the mind/body duality and the conception of identity as residing in an ineffable mental substance.  Wittgenstein held that we do indeed have (what we take to be) an inner life, but the medium for this range of activities including thinking, judging, dreaming, intending, and so on, is the very same language we use to converse. The language of our inner life has no claim to greater truthfulness or closeness to a methodical absolute like Descartes's cogito. Yet, the availability of the language of our inner life to others gives rise to deep experience of the integrity or humanity of others. If the erosion of trust that occurred in the twentieth century can be reversed, then this conventional language that dissolves solipsism in its various philosophical and psychological guises is where the remedy resides.x

The third use of convention is similar to the first, but takes on a truly rich existential cast.  Where the first posits an identity between rules and conventions, and the second between conventions and criteria, the third exposes the sublime in conventional seeing and description. [PI, II, p. 172]

In this use of convention, Wittgenstein embarks on a discussion of the perceptual performance he calls "seeing as." We look at a painting of a triangle. "A triangle can really be standing up in one picture, be hanging in another, and can in a third be something that has fallen over." [PI,II,p.171] To see a triangle as standing, or hanging, or as having fallen over, is to experience a change of aspect in the painting. Clearly, nothing has changed in the pictures of the triangles in question. The change is in the perceptual experience expressed as "Now I see it as..." "Could I say what a picture must be like to produce this effect?" Wittgenstein asks. "No. There are, for example, styles of painting which do not convey anything to me in this immediate way, but do to other people. I think custom and upbringing have a hand in this." [PI,II, p.172]

Failure to see the triangle as something, in this example, therefore, is not an indication of the pathology Wittgenstein describes as "aspect blindness," which is the visual equivalent of tone deafness or humorlessness. We might not notice a change of aspect for a number of reasons. There are paintings, and here I am thinking of Rene Magritte's work, that seeks to produce the effect of an aspect change. The juxtaposition of an image of a pipe with the sentence "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" is a particularly famous example that challenges the representationalism of the upper half of the canvas and, indeed, of art.  Is this a pipe? No. It is an image of a pipe. Or, no, there are many different types of pipe. Or, perhaps, this is a philosophical example of a self-referential sentence where the word "this" is certainly not a pipe. And so on.

What does it mean to say that I ‘see the sphere floating in the air' in a picture? Is it enough that this description is the first to hand, is the matter-of-course one? No, for it might be so for various reasons. This might, for instance, simply be the conventional description.  [PI,II, p.172]

Conventional in this remark might be a synonym for "normal" and "ordinary," or even pejoratives like "hackneyed" or "trite." But Wittgenstein has noted earlier the creative or idiosyncratic effects of custom.

Can description ever be "simply" conventional? Yes, in the sense that I might produce a description that provokes no challenge from any reader or listener. This is the sense of convention critics employ when contending that Wittgenstein's philosophy is conservative. But in Wittgenstein's world, conventional description turns on the larger movement he calls for within philosophy away from the abstract, icy frictionless of metaphysics and toward the walk-able world of ordinary language and usage. This ordinary language is mainly a therapeutic idea that Wittgenstein applies to philosophers to give them a sense of direction toward the human and inexpert.xi The image of the relation between metaphysics and ordinary language is unfortunately and infelicitously dualistic. Elsewhere, Wittgenstein cautions against conceiving the possibility of ideal and private languages.  Whether we are speaking of symbolic logic, mathematics, or the eccentric communication that occurs between long married couples or identical twins, these languages are extrapolations of ordinary language. And, so, because of the impossibility of stepping out of language into something else, all languages are, in effect, grounded in the ordinary. Their relations to one another are rhizomic rather than hierarchical. When Wittgenstein writes, "what we do is bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use," he is describing his own critical project that aims to reform philosophy. [PI, 116]  He seeks to re-think philosophical activity as an enterprise that accepts the inescapability of ordinary language and tries (but never achieves) to "command a clear view of the use of our words." [PI,122, 125]

To attain this "clear view" (a physical impossibility that serves nevertheless as a goal) is not an epistemological project that results in a privileged knowledge of the essence of language and language use. Nor is it a matter of transcending the prejudices, inaccuracies, and uncertainty of everyday language to achieve an Archimedean vantage. The clear view of uses that produce meaning involves travel into the plurality of language games that compose what we think of as language.  Because this plurality is not reducible to some underlying, unifying grammar, what might be termed a "conventional description" of a painting, an action, a book, or anything that requires understanding might be orthodox in one language-game and viewed and responded to as novel, provocative, humorous, or absurd in another.

The descriptions Wittgenstein conceives as issuing from the philosopher's concern with "seeing connexions" and "finding and inventing intermediate cases" involve critical discernment and peripatetic action. [PI, 122] Recognizing the perceptual activity and legwork that leads to philosophical descriptions is the beginning of a response to those who regard Wittgenstein's work as conservative and therefore outside the province of political theory. Generally, the conservative charge against Wittgenstein's philosophy emerges from a static or even aspect blind reading of our ordinary relation to language-games.

III. Calling Wittgenstein a Conservative

Political theory as an activity begins with the question that exposes an inner affinity with anarchism: Are politics and government necessary? Once the question is raised what was invisible, the conventionality or historicity of politics as a form of life, is made visible. Also brought to view is theory's critical regard for tradition. Human beings are not hardwired for politics; the polis is not natural or necessary. Rather, political life and government are recognized as convenient, traditional, and relatively just ways of organizing ourselves collectively. But it was not always so. And it might not always be so.  Aeschylus's Oresteian Trilogy is a dramatic re-presentation of the emergence of political society in an explicitly juridical form from the collapse of an older tribal order founded upon and animated by an increasingly untenable definition of justice as vengeance. Plato's Republic articulates an argument for the necessity of a Noble Lie to hide the convenience and arbitrariness or untruth at the base of any political order.  The veil of illusion produced by the lie works to impose the stability of absolute truth on a conventional order, here a city, which undergoes change with every birth and death. As Plato shows, this works well for the citizens of this political society, but philosophers and theorists cannot sustain the inner logical contradiction of a truth polis founded upon deception. The kalliapolis is a victim less of eugenic miscalculation than a logical implosion that illuminates the essential tension between truth and politics. This becomes the reason for philosophers and theorists to step outside the city: Truth must be protected from the corruption of politics.

For our purposes it is enough to see and acknowledge the historical origin of politics. The consequence is equally clear: If politics has a historical origin, then it could have (or has had) a historical terminus. Wittgenstein provides insight into the consequences of this temporality for the activity of theorizing politics in the twentieth century. Broadly, the argument I will cull from Wittgenstein is that if politics has ceased being the predominant form of order and has become a mode of resistance against bureaucratic formalism and statism, then the activity of theorizing politics has to be similarly transformed from a fixed perceptual stance to a traveling perceptual performance.xii

One reason Wittgenstein is not accepted as anything more than an "underlaborer" or clarifier of language in the discourse of contemporary political theory is because both detractors and sympathetic readers have labeled his philosophy "Conservative".xiii  The charge of conservatism drives the thought and thinker so categorized to the periphery of the activity of theorizing politics. "The truth of political theory is political freedom," wrote Franz Neumann in a statement that is emblematic for those identified as critical theorists. "From this follows one basic postulate," he continues. "Since no political system can realize political freedom fully, political theory must by necessity be critical. It cannot justify and legitimize a concrete political system; it must be critical of it. A conformist political theory is no theory."xiv There are two points to be made here in response to Neumann. First, his characterization of political theory's relation to political freedom is eloquent and accurate. This is true also of the conclusion that "a conformist theory is no theory." But, second, this identification of theory and political critique gives rise to the rhetorical tactic plied against Wittgenstein. What I will show is that Wittgenstein's theorizing is not conservative; his descriptivism entails and even demands a life devoted to non-conformity; and the conventions he exposes at the base of all human languages is the source of political and critical freedom.

The charge of conservatism has been cast against Wittgenstein in both existential and philosophical terms.xv Often these terms are employed indiscriminately so that an anecdote about Wittgenstein's personal conservatism is read into his remarks on what a philosopher can do (describe the world) and should avoid trying to do (providing theoretical explanations for phenomena). I tend to disagree with both applications of conservatism to Wittgenstein, but I stage a more energetic defense of his philosophy.

For some critics of Wittgenstein, his philosophical worldview is dominated by a nostalgic and ideological desire to return to the Vienna fin-de-siecle that encouraged his industrialist father's financial and assimilative successes. It has been argued by the cultural historian J.C. Nyiri and the philosopher G.H. von Wright, a student of Wittgenstein, for example, that Wittgenstein's aristocratic upbringing, his family ties to the Hapsburg Empire, education, friendships, and his readings of Spengler, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and the anti-Semitic misogynist Otto Weininger, reveal a deep affinity for or consistency with conservative tradition and thought. However, similarly anecdotal evidence pertaining to Wittgenstein's friendships with a number of Communist thinkers and activists, his avowed indebtedness to the radical economist Piero Sraffa, along with his never realized plans to move to the Soviet Union to become a laborer or field hand, could lead to a far different conclusion about is personal politics, as Allan Janik has observed in response to Nyiri's work.xvi

What I wish to account for is the vituperation and slander that often accompanies the charge of conservatism directed at Wittgenstein. The malicious quality of the claims about Wittgenstein's personal politics serves to hide the thinness of the scholarship employed for substantiation. Full biographical studies produced by Ray Monk and Brian McGuinness, as examples, come to no conclusion about Wittgenstein's political views (although Monk tends to highlight radical trends in Wittgenstein's philosophical and occasional remarks). Most often the evidence adduced to back an assertion about Wittgenstein's political and religious proclivities is biographical, circumstantial, associative, and extremely selective.xvii Moreover, these sorts of arguments about Wittgenstein's personal politics, whether approving or disapproving, are as insignificant for shedding light on his philosophy, as they are unsubstantiated. They reveal little or nothing about Wittgenstein and conservatism. Rather, they are expressed usually as part of a larger claim – about philosophy's intrinsic radicalness or conservatism, the political trends that originated in Vienna fin-de-siecle, or the nature of modernity, postmodernity, sexuality, etc. – or an ad hominem attack on Wittgenstein's "temperament."xviii

Finally, the suspicion bred around Wittgenstein in the circles of political and social theory breaks down the ideological line separating Conservatism from Fascism and Nazism. Often, Wittgenstein is made to look more sympathetic to Hitlerian politics than disciples like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, collaborators like Paul DeMan, or attempted accommodationists like T.W. Adorno and others.xix  A particularly vivid example of this tactic of tying Wittgenstein's philosophy (and here the early philosophy of the Tractatus) to Hitlerian politics is included in a study of modernism.

In the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus we see that curious phenomenon of a depersonalized subjectivism that underlies so much of twentieth-century culture. He thought he had achieved the "final solution," as he said in his preface, to the problems of philosophy, just as, though it is extremely doubtful he ever read the preface of the Tractatus, a certain failed Viennese painter and would-be architect, Adolph Hitler, later thought he could achieve a German radical "foundationalism" through a "final solution" of genocide.

Though the author goes on to distinguish the "diabolical" Hitler from the "ethical" Wittgenstein, the latter's nominalism is held up as an exemplification of the twentieth century culture that replaced the active subject capable of political and moral dissent with a passive subject, prone to silent spiritualism, who is incapable of being anything more than a victim of or spectator to atrocity.xx

For political and social theorists (and here Herbert Marcuse and Ernest Gellner figure most prominently) the descriptivism and conventionalism of Wittgenstein's philosophy is held suspect as a relativistic, politically disengaged, passive and uncritical support for the mutilated language of the status quo. At base, Marcuse and Gellner offer a defense for universal foundations supporting theory's claim to judgment. They contended that effective political criticism – philosophical criticism of politics, especially the politics of totalitarianism – is engendered from the epistemologically or dialectically elevated perspective of the epic theorist. Marcuse describes the origin of philosophy in terms of the tension between truth's universality and the fact it is apprehensible by only a privileged minority. This minority of philosophers then seeks to translate this truth into practice. That is, philosophical thought, characterized as abstract, unfolds as a political discourse critical of existing institutions revealed to be oppressive. We are to see abstraction as the source of universality any critical judgment requires to stand apart from the ephemeral and corrupt political realm. "Paradoxically," Marcuse continues, "it is precisely the critical intent in philosophic thought which leads to the idealist purification– a critical intent which aims at the empirical world as a whole, and not merely at certain modes of thinking or behaving within it."xxi

For Marcuse, the hostility of the political world of advanced industrial capitalism to philosophy necessitates an epistemological retreat that both establishes the primacy of thought, and preserves its purity and criticalness from corruption and cooptation. A n ecessary retreat from politics by philosophers, the lived experience of emigre thinkers like Marcuse, engenders the ideal purity that then becomes the epistemologically privileged foundation of political theory's critical relation to politics. This foundation anchors theory as it turns toward the relativism and fetishism of facts that characterize politics. To weaken this foundation, which is what Marcuse claims Wittgenstein is doing quite intentionally, is to naively replicate the anti-philosophical tactics of totalitarianism.

What philosophers, political theorists, and historians focus upon when they label Wittgenstein's philosophy, and by implication his personal politics, "conservative" is this remark from the Philosophical Investigations:

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is.  [PI, 124]

In this, these critics are missing the critical tenor of the remark: It was directed against forms of epistemological hubris embraced by philosophers. To argue that philosophy cannot give language a foundation, nor discover or uncover one, certainly does not leave "everything as it is" for practicing philosophers.xxii The very idea of a First Philosophy, for one, would be affected and transformed. Wittgenstein's remark needs to be contextualized as part of a sustained dispute, within the language-game of philosophy, against the idea that ordinary language can be somehow transcended, purified, or have its underlying logical or pre-Babelian form revealed by philosophers and theologians armed with special techniques or a privileged stance outside of language.

Neither Wittgenstein's personality and his personal history nor his philosophical efforts to break the epistemological and metaphysical escapist habits of philosophers are intrinsically conservative. That Wittgenstein's philosophy "leaves everything as it is" would be thought impossible to take literally if not for the example of Marcuse. In the remark, Wittgenstein signals a transformation of the practice of philosophy to respond to the events of the twentieth century that distorted the justness of Western collective existence and shattered the culture.  Although it is true that Wittgenstein tended to express these transformations using the imagery of Spengler – i.e., the decline of a vibrant, creative culture marked by great music and art toward an increasingly tame civilization beholden to the authority of science – versions of these views taken to be proof positive of conservatism were actually shared by many of his critics, including Marcuse, with radical political pedigrees.

IV. Wittgenstein's Non-Conservative Theorizing

My contention is that Wittgenstein's challenges to the fixed and privileged perspective so central to the self-image of the epic theorist is one strong reason behind attempts to exclude his work from social and political theory. As I have noted, a common element animating the charge of conservatism is the "passive subject" he purportedly created. To me, this criticism is a form of projection. Wittgenstein is accused of fixing people within the confines of language-games and their traditions. This condition, so the criticism goes, renders them hopelessly relativistic and incapable of making judgments and criticisms of perceived injustices that occur both within their particular language-game and in other language-games or cultures.  This criticism of Wittgenstein is a kind of projection because it is designed to preserve the putative and privileged fixity of the epic perspective.  That is to say, the entrapment of theorists to their fixed, epic self-image is expressed in the inability to see the motion or horizontal freedom of the Wittgensteinian theorist.  From the other direction, the travel between language-games enjoyed by Wittgenstein in the pages of the Philosophical Investigations serves to illuminate, by contrast, the orthodoxy of the epic theorist wedded to a selective and overly romanticized historical tradition that might appear conservative to some.

Wittgenstein signals a return to the Socratic. This new take on the pre-Platonic is necessary if the activity of theorizing politics is to survive as something other than a historical enterprise. The Socratic image of theorizing is immanent. That is, it occurs within the city with no pretense to a transcendent or untimely perspective apart from the life of other citizens. It is peripatetic. In returning to Socrates, the fixed Olympian height presented by Plato as a way of preserving the Truth of philosophy is traded in for a mobile existence that accentuates the perceptual basis of theorizing.xxiii And, finally, the Socratic image of theorizing is critical. The task is to provoke thought in others and reawaken their intellectual powers.  For Wittgenstein, the sleep inducer of the twentieth century is Science and the notion of ineluctable progress associated with science's authority.xxiv

If there is a neglected aspect of Wittgenstein's work, then it must be the place of science in his philosophical and cultural perspective. Wittgenstein trained as an engineer prior to coming to philosophy. When he first met Bertrand Russell he identified himself as an "aeronaut." The relationship between science and philosophy was a theme that united the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations, the early and latter Wittgenstein.xxv

Indeed, one way of gauging the turns in Wittgenstein's thinking between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations is by foregrounding the remarks on science. While under the influence of Spengler's Decline of the West, an influence exhibited in the remarks from the early 1930s, Wittgenstein conceived of philosophy's role in relation to science as one of writing "the synopsis of trivialities." These trivialities were any new facts discovered by scientists that were then reported to the public in simplistic, journalistic form. For Wittgenstein, following Spengler, a sure sign of culture's degeneration is when the importance of the arts and the idea of cultural genius were defined reductively in terms of their service to science, mechanics, and mathematics.xxvi It is important to note that Wittgenstein never accepted the scientism of Logical Positivism. He contended consistently that although philosophy may serve to set the logical limits of the world of facts and offer a coherent picture of reality useful to scientists, philosophy could never adopt the methods of science. Nor should it. Science seeks answers to questions like: "What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?" Philosophy is concerned, by contrast, with grammatical investigations of the sort presented by Augustine in his reflections on the nature of time. "Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, and is something we need to remind ourselves of." [PI,89] xxvii Over the two decades of work that culminated in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein turned away from this conception of philosophy as the logical clarifier in service to science and toward an ethical attack on the alliance between the scientific establishment and the military. His hope was that the realities attending the development and use of atomic weapons might break the public's quiet and unquestioning romance with the promise of science. [CV, p. 49] If science were to remain on a pedestal free from ethical and political scrutiny, humanity would be left with a "truly apocalyptic view of the world."xxviii

Significantly, Wittgenstein conceived of science critically as a conservative force in the culture.xxix Its conservative character, he believed, had large and dangerous consequences. In a remark from 1930, Wittgenstein observed, "Man has to awaken to wonder – and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again." [CV, p. 5] For philosophy to diagnose this danger, it had to remain free from the seductions of science. Resisting science is an element common to the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. The Tractatus was a work honored by members of the Vienna Circle as a model of how philosophy should function to divest science of any metaphysical tendencies. But Wittgenstein maintained a clear division between science and philosophy throughout the Tractatus; they were presented as logically distinct orders of discourse where philosophy, a second-order enterprise, perceives the limits of natural science. Philosophy does not affect or circumscribe the actual activity of science. Rather, in a claim reminiscent of Kant, what philosophy does is observe the logical disjunction between the propositions of science, on the one hand, and the metaphysical realm "whereof one cannot speak," on the other. [TLP, 6.53-7]

Where the later Wittgenstein refers to natural science it is to distinguish it from other language-games (ethics, aesthetics, etc.). Science is demarcated as a neighborhood in the city of languages whose effects bleeds across its edges and color the entire culture in dark hues. For Wittgenstein, science is a coercive, pacifying force in the culture. The Socratic tenor of Wittgenstein's work is especially pronounced here. If science puts us to sleep, then philosophy must serve to wake us up. But first philosophy must resist the sedating cup offered by

Philosophy's relation to science remains diagnostic in the Philosophical Investigations. Philosophy can distinguish between good science (represented by Michael Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle) and bad science (works that popularize and simplify scientific discovery, acknowledge and make visible science's inner conservatism, as for example in the historical pull of science away from the "abnormal" and toward the "normal" observed by Thomas Kuhn), but cannot reform the activity. [CV, 42]xxxi  Although philosophy possesses neither an epistemologically privileged nor culturally authoritative vantage in relation to science, it can make visible science's limitations and the conventional foundation it shares with all other human practices. The leveling effect of this idol destruction is unmistakable. The critical character of philosophical observation and description is exposed in this relation between philosophy and science. It is a point of convergence between the philosophical project of Wittgenstein and that of his harshest critic, Herbert Marcuse.

V. The Language of Bureaucracy

There is a relation between science and bureaucracy that Wittgenstein addresses critically, though indirectly. This relation is achieved through a common attenuation of language and meaning. That is, all that is language is reduced to communications establishing clear ties between words and objects. There is also a common goal or consequence of scientific and bureaucratic activities and that is the acceleration of the pace of everyday life. The word-object relation that is the focus of the philosophy of language animating science and bureaucracy facilitates this speeding up of things. That is, language is conceived in science and bureaucracy as a tool designed to re-present and communicate features of the physical world. The sinews of definition accomplish the attachment of language to reality: The meaning of a word is derived from the object it re-presents. Meaning is only obscured and distorted when language is used creatively to express things not found in physical reality. Expressions pertaining to time, God, or love, as examples, lead science, philosophy, and organizations away from reality and toward metaphysics, away from things and toward chimeras, and away from the straight line from sign to signified and toward inefficient meandering.  As we know from Hannah Arendt's analysis of Adolph Eichmann's language and its dearth of categories and room for ethical reflection, the distance between word and object, and the speed of life, are not a benign feature of an "objective" or "professional" science and bureaucracy; rather, they are malignancies that efface the ethical regard for others and then create the conditions necessary for efficient killing by factory methods or by the flash, heat, and fallout of nuclear weapons.

There is no space to recount the analyses of bureaucracy and science presented by Weber, Arendt, Marcuse, Habermas, Levinas, Bauman, and others. What I need to show here is Wittgenstein's critical powers at work against a view of language and philosophy that can lead to and justify inhumanity by degrading thinking and obscuring vision with distance.  Bureaucracies supplant the transparency of conventions –a quality that permits travel through language-games – and posit in their place formalized, opaque rules. As a consequence, paths to thought, sight, and wisdom are closed off. Hermeticism prevents the wider view sought by Wittgenstein through travel by enforcing regulated paths to defined goals that enhance speed and efficiency, the core values of modernity. Bureaucracies, then, can be thought of best as language-games that succeed by reducing improvisational play within its boundaries and mobility to an outside where the value Wittgenstein thought central to the philosopher's way of life, slowness, could be cultivated and serve as a contrastive perspective.xxxii The creeping of bureaucracy into philosophy is an undercurrent of Wittgenstein's critical responses to the stultifying effect of Logical Positivism's program to disenchant philosophical language by reducing meaning to the logical symmetry of word to object relations. In this, "philosophers use a language that is already deformed as thought by shoes that are too tight." [CV, p. 41]

A second point to be raised, then, is that these critical encounters between Wittgenstein and science and bureaucracy can be framed as an exercise in self-criticism. But such exercises have themselves been taken as indication of Wittgenstein's conservative proclivities. In condemning the soporific effects of faith in the inevitability of scientific progress and the values of speed and efficiency attendant to bureaucratization, Wittgenstein also encounters the simplistic, static picture of language presented in the Tractatus. As mystical as portions of that work were, it was nevertheless held up by proponents of Logical Positivism and Empiricism as an exemplar of the worldview they embraced.  As noted, many of the criticisms of Wittgenstein expressed by those who see him as conservative turn on the remarks that feature individual transformation and improvement as conforming responses to forces in the world. The changes I make, according to this view, are designed to make myself fit in and become more acceptable to the world. The self-criticism Wittgenstein performs in the Philosophical Investigations, together with his desire to have the new book published with the Tractatus, is not an act of conformity, however. Rather, it should be read as part of a defense of eccentricity philosophy must embrace and live. This defense is similar to the argument of J.S. Mill, but Wittgenstein conceives it as mode of awakening from a sleep induced by science that occurs both personally in the philosopher opposed to the pandering to science by fellow (Positivist and Empiricist) philosophers, and also in a newly enervated civilization that creates a culture.

How does bureaucracy, described by Weber as the embodiment of goal-oriented rationality, use language? The language of bureaucracy gives shape to and then reflects discipline and hierarchy. It engenders distance as a tool for administrative efficiency (and here we think of the distance between state bureaucracies and citizens, between professionals and clients, or even in the clinical gaze of the physician).xxxiii Bureaucracy's language as the expression of instrumental reason, for Marcuse, turns citizens into "objects of administration." It feminizes the public realm by cultivating "qualities of dependence, submissiveness, and attentiveness" in men and women, bureaucrats and clients.xxxiv The goal of bureaucratic organizations is to create a stable and efficient state in service to a capitalist economy. For Arendt, following Weber, this stability is achieved by a rational-legal system that eliminates the unpredictable element of tradition or convention-based political life with organizations designed to enforce laws.  The police and legal professions designated as their enforcers, in turn, distinguish laws from conventions.

Bureaucratic language is performative and the effect is to eliminate public space and domesticate or tame what counts as public action. In this, bureaucracies possess linguistic mechanisms that render occupants, even political theorists, blind to their pervasiveness and insensible to their coercion. As Kathy Ferguson has noted, bureaucracies in the form of administrative discourse disarm political theory by attacking speculative thinking as time consuming and unremunerative, eschewing the language of critical self-reflection as an anti-managerial lexicon and activity, and "rebuffing" political change by making its own conventions appear natural, necessary, and scientific.xxxv

Marcuse accuses Wittgenstein and ordinary language philosophy in general of complicity in achieving the bureaucratic goal of emasculating the public and leading philosophy into political quietism. Marcuse characterized this silence memorably as a brand of "academic sado-masochism, self-humiliation, and self-denunciation of the intellectual."xxxvi However, as in the area of criticism of the authority of science in the contemporary age, there are points of deep affinity between Wittgenstein and Marcuse that escaped the notice of the latter. The effect of bureaucratic language on citizen/clients is immobilization by formalized domination and the regulation and reduction of the space available for action. The thrust of Wittgenstein's work is to show philosophy to be an anti-bureaucratic language-game and a way of life that is a marked contrast to the disciplinary constraints and objectifications lived by bureaucrat and client alike. But therapy needed to be performed for this contrast to be fully realized by philosophers trapped in a conception of language and truth as merely representational. Most often in treatments of Wittgenstein's work, his criticisms of metaphysical philosophy as "a house of cards," his willingness to dissolve philosophical problems to achieve personal peace, and the advice he gave students to resist the temptation to become professors of philosophy are emphasized. But the larger effect of these insights and admonitions of Wittgenstein for philosophizing and theorizing is that they evince or disclose language as a varied, traversable, changing landscape that can be neither transcended nor burrowed into. These criticisms, therapies, and the enlarged conception of language they presume give way to a deep passion for the freedom or anti-dogmatism and the humanizing effects the philosophical style of life afforded the practitioner. This point can be developed through remarks that feature what Wittgenstein approved of in philosophy and what, we can surmise, drew him back to his philosophical writings even as the hope to publish the Philosophical Investigations faded.

"Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us." [BB, p.27]  As we travel through the city of language, we confront inequities among conventions. Some conventions are, for us, more rigid than others; still others are presented as authoritative and contain elements of coercion. There are language-games that restrict mobility and hold us captive. Bureaucracy can be taken as such a language-game, but we also need to see the effect of bureaucracy on other games. The stability and instrumental rationality celebrated in bureaucracy colonize or have resonance in other language-games. This force of homogenization across the language landscape is difficult to measure, but it can be gleaned in the postmodern/post-structural response that emphasizes play and the indeterminacy of conventions (rules regarding signification, for example).  If we take postmodernism as a philosophical expression of resistance to bureaucratization, one effect is to highlight Wittgenstein's role as a progenitor of this orientation and the anti-bureaucratic tenor of his remarks on conventions.xxxvii Indeed the ability to travel and to cultivate disagreement not only runs against the goal of bureaucracy, but it is the very form of politics today.xxxviii

There is an internal and external dimension to Wittgenstein's response to the bureaucratic spirit of the age. The internal response is coordinated with remarks critical of the limited view of language as propositional in form and representational in effect. Here Wittgenstein presents a more expansive and active view of language as composed of various uses and games. The external response is perhaps described best as the anti-bureaucratic character of philosophy itself. Philosophy/theory stands as an alternative to the static, regulated form human life takes when bureaucratization is successful. To retain the character of this alternative style of life "our only task is to be just. That is, we must only point out and resolve the injustices of philosophy, and not posit new parties – and creeds."xxxix


Wittgenstein's critical assessment of the role of science, and, by extension, bureaucracy, in contemporary culture does more than signal the non-conservative character of his philosophy, and, by implication, the non-conservatism of his impact on theorizing politics.  It also raises the question: Where in the world (since there is no stepping out of it, no transcendence from it) does criticism come from? Those like Nyiri claim that Wittgenstein's conservatism is of both the existential and philosophical variety. That is, the argument goes, Wittgenstein was personally predisposed to, and philosophically invested in, the avoidance of criticism, the acceptance of what is before us, and an overemphasis on the agreements that underlie and give shape to forms of life. This focus on agreement, then, renders Wittgenstein's philosophy blind to disagreement and incapable of conceiving of criticisms of social practices while we are engaged in them.xl

Wittgenstein locates himself and humanity in the hurly burly of language. Philosophers have been unique in their mistaken belief that they have a privileged place hovering above language, but all they have actually managed to do is extrapolate static pieces of language and equally static examples to illuminate the putative stability of these pieces. Since the source of criticism cannot be the contrast between the absolute and the relative, the general and the particular, the privileged and the unprivileged, the truthful and the opinionated, and since criticism does exist in the world, the source must lie elsewhere.  Wittgenstein finds it in motion among language-games. This motion is made conspicuous by its absence from the philosophical views of those who claim Wittgenstein conservative.

The charge of conservatism leveled against Wittgenstein's philosophy relies on an image of the philosopher as existing within a language-game that resembles a prison. Criticism is considered inconceivable because, so the charge continues, Wittgenstein eliminates those higher levels of conceptualization that distinguish philosophical heights from the ordinary. This is accurate only if a philosopher finds herself or himself anchored in one language-game for a lifetime. This fixity is almost impossible in the world Wittgenstein describes. He posits a plurality of language-games, themselves expanding and contracting, abutting and overlapping, whose rules – even those that distinguish one language-game from another – are permeable. The peregrinations of philosophers, as well as others, engender notice of differences between language-games. These differences among the constellation of language-games one travels throughout life are both the source of criticism and what we might call individuality.

The implication of Wittgenstein's perspective for political theory is that he exposes conservatism, a celebration of a form of nationalism or disciplinarity, in the fixity of the political theorist.  Of course the image of the theorist on the mountaintop, on society's periphery, as an exile, as well-fed and clothed homo sacer, is a metaphor or allegory for the uniqueness of the theorist's perspective in comparison to that of the citizen.  Wittgenstein's criticism of the epic self-image of the theorist responds to the ethical blindness encouraged by the fixity and transcendence this image rests upon.  He counters with a traveling image that is immanent, picture-shattering, and certainly not conservative.


i Abbreviations of the works of Wittgenstein cited in this paper are: BB = The Blue and Brown Books ed. Rush Rhees (N.Y.: Harper, 1969); CV = Culture and Value ed. G.H. von Wright, trans. Peter Winch (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1980); OC = On Certainty, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright (N.Y.: Harper, 1972), and PI = Philosophical Investigations tr. G.E.M. Anscombe (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1958). I wish to thank John G. Gunnell for all his help and encouragement.

ii Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (N.Y.: Penguin, 1982), pp. 164-71.

iii There are many ways to measure the absence of Wittgenstein in Political Theory. One I will mention here is the neglect of Wittgenstein in a chapter devoted to ordinary language philosophy by the usually thorough Fred R. Dallmayr in his survey, Language and Politics: Why Does Language Matter to Political Philosophy? (Notre Dame: University Of Notre Dame Press, 1984).

iv For an assessment of Wittgenstein's influence on legal theory, see Dennis M. Patterson, Wittgenstein and Legal Theory (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992).

v Despite Wittgenstein's remarks leading us to see the surface character of both language-games and forms of life, surface and depth grammar, Hilary Putnam, for one, contends that in Wittgenstein you find a philosopher who is dismissive of the importance of conventions for understanding language and action. What is important, according to Putnam's reading, is the older and deeper regulative and logical role played by the Natural limitations on human life embodied in the very idea of a form of life. My response to Putnam is that his is a reading of the Philosophical Investigations overly influenced by the Tractatus's search for the logical form underlying all propositions. Here, in Putnam (and other analytic philosophers responding to Wittgenstein's later work), logical form is presented as synonymous with form of life. As I will show, forms of life have a multiplicity and relative impermanence and fluidity when compared to logical form. See, Hilary Putnam, "Convention: A Theme in Philosophy," New Literary History 13 (1981): pp. 1-14. Richard Schusterman responded to Putnam in "Convention: Variations on a Theme," Philosophical Investigations 9,1 (Jan., 1986): pp. 36-55.

vi Cited in Peg O'Connor, Oppression and Responsibility: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Social Practices and Moral Theory (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002), p. 33. What we are looking at when we get to the hard riverbank are the "frame conditions" of language. These "include (a) general regularities concerning the world around us (b) biological and anthropological facts about humans, and (c) sociohistorical facts," O'Connor notes. Frame conditions are features of our language, life, and world that are so familiar and general they go unnoticed, much less questioned. "The facts of human natural history," writes Wittgenstein, "that throw light on our problem, are difficult for us to find out, for our talk passes them by, it is occupied with different things. (In the same way we tell someone: 'Go into the shop and buy...' not: 'Put your left foot in front of your right foot etc. etc., then put the coins down on the counter etc. etc.'" RPP I, 78 Cited in O'Connor, pp. 31-32. Frame conditions have been observed as the area of affinity between Wittgenstein and Phenomenology where the latter seems to be arguing for a philosophical method that would permit philosophers' access to this deep, underlying bedrock of things themselves. See, for example, Nicholas F. Gier, Wittgenstein and Phenomenology: A Comparative Study of the Later Wittgenstein, Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty (N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1981). But Wittgenstein's remarks on how to see what is ordinarily so familiar as to be invisible are a simple matter of "rearranging particulars." This is accomplished not through phenomenological processes of bracketing and reduction, but through ethnomethodological "breaching experiments" that lead us to reflect on what we assume when we say something or engage in the "artful techniques for creating meaning" in ordinary circumstances like the breakfast table. Harold Garfinkel, Studies In Ethnomethodology (N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967).

vii O'Connor's treatment of this material is quite good. See Oppression and Responsibility, pp. 29-34. As O'Connor notes, Hans-Johann Glock's entry on "framework" in his A Wittgenstein Dictionary (Malden: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 135-39, is essential reading.

viii The idea that Wittgenstein evades idealism is a contentious point in the literature that cleaves into two readings of his Philosophical Investigations: the transcendental/Kantian reading and the conventional/post-Kantian reading. I fall into the second camp that contends that the institutions, behaviors, language uses are not regulated by rigid, underlying "hardness of the logical must." PI437 Rather, these features of our world are shaped by an interaction between arbitrary and contingent conventions, lessons of upbringing and natural history, and our very human need and agreement for order. "It is in language," after all, "that an expectation and its fulfillment make contact." PI 445 I am indebted to Kathy Emmett Bohstedt, "Convention and Necessity," Essays in Philosophy 1,2 (June, 2000), for raising this psychological or Humean dimension in Wittgenstein's treatment of conventions and grammar.

ix Chantal Mouffe develops this point suggestively in the direction of constructing the democratic citizen. "Democratic individuals," she writes, "can only be made possible by multiplying the institutions, the discourses, the forms of life that foster identification with democratic values." Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (N.Y.: Verso, 2000), p. 96.

x"Solipsism," notes Louis Sass, "was one of Wittgenstein's most central examples of a metaphysical or philosophical disease, a disease born not of ignorance or carelessness but of abstraction, self consciousness, and disengagement from practical and social activity." See, The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 8-9.

xi Through the therapy of returning to ordinary language, Wittgenstein "combats the professionalization of philosophy, that is, its reduction to the technical (i.e., positivist) discourse of a specialty. More generally, he rejects the purifying process that, by eliminating the ordinary use of language (everyday language), makes it possible for science to produce and master an artificial language ... He attacks the presumption that leads philosophy to proceed "as if" it gave meaning to ordinary use, and to suppose that it has its own place from which it can reflect on the everyday." What philosophers lose in expertise (the illusion of domination over language) they gain in mobility (a freedom from fixity). Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 8-12.

xii Theory, in Wittgenstein, is a problematic term that I will address further.  At this point, however, I want to note that conventionalism or anti-foundationalism in Wittgenstein is a liberating prelude to critical political thought. Once the order of things is revealed as artifact, then structural or behavioral change is neither unnatural nor humanly impossible. To be sure, one of the great difficulties of describing a conventional world, Wittgenstein shows, is capturing the malleability of order while avoiding the seductions of static representations. A vocabulary has to be fashioned for this work that needs to be sufficiently ordinary to avoid becoming another excuse for philosophical hermeticism in which "language goes on holiday." I think Wittgenstein succeeds in this therapeutic project by carefully combining technical vocabulary – "perspicacious representation," "changing aspects," "continuous seeing," etc. – with a health diet of examples. For theory, the Wittgensteinian effect is one where the activity is released from epic fixity by severing its onto-theological moorings and heroic self-image as earthly surrogate for the Divine. Theory becomes theorizing, and it is freed to do things other than try to uncover hidden sources of unity beneath the surface of political orders. See the discussion of the theological roots of theory offered by Mark C. Taylor, "The Politics of Theo-ry," in About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

xiii Terence Ball, for example, sees Wittgenstein's significance for political theory as "more meliorist than conservative," but his characterization of ordinary language philosophy in general and Wittgenstein in particular emphasizes the sanguine or "humble task" of clarifying the language of politics. And this task leads political theory in an apolitical direction. "This narrowing not only blinded political theorists to the fact that meaning and usage change from one age and generation to the next, but it also led them to believe their enterprise to be a politically neutral one." Terence Ball, "Political Theory and Conceptual Change," in Political Theory: Tradition and Diversity ed. Andrew Vincent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 32-3.

xiv Franz Neumann, "The Concept of Political Freedom," in The Democratic and the Authoritarian State ed. Herbert Marcuse (N.Y.: The Free Press, 1957), p. 162.

xv Ernest Gellner, Words and Things: A Critical Account of Linguistic Philosophy and a Study in Ideology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959); Ernest Gellner, Language and Solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski and the Hapsburg Dilemma (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998); J.C. Nyiri, "Wittgenstein's New Traditonalism," in Essays in Honour of G.H. von Wright, Acta Philosophica Fennica 28 1976): pp.501-12; J.C. Nyiri, "From Eotvos to Musil: Philosophy and Its Negation in Austria and Hungary," in Austrian Philosophy: Studies and Texts ed. J.C. Nyiri (Munchen: Philosophia Verlag, 1981), pp. 9-30; J.C. Nyiri, "Wittgenstein's Later Work in Relation to Conservatism," in Wittgenstein and His Times ed. Brian McGuinness (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982), pp.44-68; G.H. von Wright, "Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times," ibid., pp.108-120; J.C. Nyiri, "Wittgenstein 1929-31: The Turning Back," in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments, Vol. 4, ed. Stuart G. Shanker (Australia: Croon Helm, Ltd., 1986), pp.29-59; Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideologies of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), chapter 7. See the assessments developed in: Alan Wertheimer, "Is Ordinary Language Analysis Conservative?" Political Theory 4,4 (Nov., 1976): pp. 405-422; Colin Lyas, "Herbert Marcuse's Criticism of 'Linguistic Philosophy'" Philosophical Investigations 5,3 (July, 1982): 166-89; Andrew Lugg, "Was Wittgenstein a Conservative Thinker?" Southern Journal of Philosophy 23,4 (1985): pp. 465-74; Joachim Schulte, "Wittgenstein and Conservatism" in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments, Vol. 4, ed. Stuart Shanker (Australia: Croon Helm, Ltd., 1986), pp. 60-69; K. Jones, "Is Wittgenstein a Conservative Philosopher?" Philosophical Investigations 9,4 (Oct., 1986): pp.274-87; Michael Hymers, "Wittgenstein, Pessimism and Politics," The Dalhousie Review 80,2 (2000): 187-216;  and David R. Cerbone, "The Limits of Conservatism: Wittgenstein on "Our Life" and "Our Concepts"," in The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy ed. Cressida J. Heyes (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), pp. 43-62.

xvi Allan Janik, "Nyiri on the Conservatism of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy," in Style, Politics and the Future of Philosophy (Boston: Kluwer Academic Pubs.,1989), pp. 40-58.

xvii See, for example, John Moran, "Wittgenstein and Russia" New Left Review 73 (May-June, 1972): pp. 83-96; Albert W. Levi, "The Biographical Sources of Wittgenstein's Ethics" Telos 38 (Winter, 1978-9): pp. 62-76; Terry Eagleton, "Wittgenstein's Friends" New Left Review 135 (Sept.-Oct., 1982): pp. 64-90; and in a parody of this sort of scholarship, Allan Janik, "Nyiri on the Conservatism of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" in Style, Politics and the Future of Philosophy (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), pp. 40-58.

xviii This name calling that then degenerated into amateur psychological evaluations of Wittgenstein was begun by Bertrand Russell who called Wittgenstein "mad," but in an admiring way. Later, after the friendship between Wittgenstein and Russell deteriorated, Russell settled on "schizophrenic" as the apt descriptive term. More recently, in an interesting and insightful article on creativity and obsession, Oliver Sacks speculated on Wittgenstein's "autism" and Ernest Gellner then adopted this designation, though with far less neurological insight.

xix There is a book, touted as "historical research," that claims the anti-Semitism leading to the Final Solution was the consequence of a schoolyard squabble between Hitler and Wittgenstein. The work goes on to claim that Wittgenstein was a Stalinist spy, and that both Hitler and Wittgenstein shared a common philosophical interest in occultism. As absurd and conspiratorial as this argument is, I think some of the assertions are unvarnished renditions of claims put forth by various scholars regarding Wittgenstein's philosophy and politics. This particular line of argument is built upon one historically accurate anecdote: Hitler and Wittgenstein were both born in 1889, and attended the same high school. Kimberly Cornish, The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler, and Their Secret Battle for the Mind (Australia: Century Hutchinson, 1998).

On the subject of Adorno, see the discussion of a review he wrote for a monthly journal, Die Musik, that Hannah Arendt described as part of "his unsuccessful attempt to align himself with the regime in 1933..." In Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, Correspondence, 1926-1969 (N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992), letters 395 and 399, pp. 633-46; and the corresponding footnotes 3 and 4, pp. 793-4.

xx Eugene Rochberg-Halton, Meaning and Modernity: Social Theory in the Pragmatic Attitude (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 242-3.

xxi Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, pp.134-5.

xxii See Richard Shusterman's useful comparison of Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Foucault on "philosophical living as somatic." The effect of the comparison is a highlighting of Wittgenstein's remarks on philosophy as a style of life where the goal is the happiness of the philosopher, as opposed to some notion of Truth. Richard Schusterman, Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life (N.Y.: Routledge, 1997), p. 47.  Also see the Wittgensteinian shape of Pierre Hadot's reading of ancient philosophy in Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault ed. Arnold I. Davidson (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1995).  Hadot describes the influence of Wittgenstein on his reading and thinking in the volume's "Postscript."

xxiii It is worth recalling that Wittgenstein was taking this Socratic path without the philo-tyrannical ambitions that arose with what Arendt described as Heidegger's temporary "change of residence" from the philosopher's mountaintop to the ranks of the Nazi Party. Wittgenstein's example is, at the very least, an antidote for the tendency of theorists and philosophers to "tarry with the negative" of Heidegger's example by reifying the putative purity of epistemological heights in relation to the corruption of politics. Arendt is guilty of this kind of mirroring response to trauma described by Hegel. See Slavoj Zizek, On Belief (N.Y.: Routledge, 2001), p. 47.

xxiv"The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn't absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value ed. G.H. von Wright and trans. Peter Winch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 56e.

xxv The consideration of philosophy's critical relation to the cultural optimism invested in science's promise ("scientism") unites Wittgenstein with his predecessor Nietzsche and his contemporary, Heidegger. Like Nietzsche, Wittgenstein believes philosophy can expose "the unshakable faith that thought, using the thread of causality, can penetrate the deepest abysses of being, and that thought is capable not only of knowing being but even of correcting it.” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann (NY: Vintage, 1967), p. 95. See also Gordon C.F. Bearn, Waking to Wonder: Wittgenstein's Existential Investigations (NY: SUNY Press, 1997), pp.23-4.

xxvi See Ray Monk's treatment of Wittgenstein and Spengler, pp. 298-301.

xxvii "In the natural sciences, the nature of one's subject is often not expressed by grammar," observes William Brenner. "For example, when a science teacher asks about the nature of gold, she wants to be told not about how the word gold is used, but rather about the hidden atomic structure of the stuff called "gold." In philosophy, however, the subject in question will never be a kind of stuff. Never hidden, the essences investigated by philosophy will always be expressed by something already in plain view, namely the "grammar" (as Wittgenstein calls it) of the language we speak." See his Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (NY: SUNY Press, 1999), p. 5.

   We can also conceive of the difference between philosophy and science logically and in their respective relations to reality. John G. Gunnell provides a careful taxonomy of the differences between "first-order practices" like science, and "second-order" practices like the philosophical reflection on science in The Orders of Discourse: Philosophy, Social Science, and Politics (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).

xxviii Monk, pp.484-8.

xxix As his friend Rush Rhees recalled, Wittgenstein contended that "nothing is more conservative than science. Science lays down railroad tracks. And for scientists it is important that their work should move along those tracks." Recollections, p. 202.

xxx"Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness." BB, p.18

xxxi See Hans-Johann Glock's entry on "science" in his A Wittgenstein Dictionary (Boston: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 341-5.

xxxii Wittgenstein's celebrations of slowness take the forms of advice to prospective philosophers and those who will try to read his works. "In philosophy the winner of the race is the one who can run the most slowly. Or: the one who gets there the last." CV,p.34 "Sometimes a sentence can be understood only if it is read at the right tempo. My sentences are all supposed to be read slowly. CV, p.57 "This is how philosophers should salute one another: 'Take your time!'" CV,p.80

xxxiii "Citizens entitled to services relate to the state not primarily through political participation but by adopting a general attitude of demand – expecting to be provided for without actually wanting to fight for the necessary decisions. Their contact with the state occurs in the rooms and anterooms of bureaucracies; it is all unpolitical and indifferent, yet demanding. In a social-welfare state that above all administers, distributes and provides, the 'political' interests of citizens are constantly subsumed under administrative acts." Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992).

xxxiv Nancy C.M. Hartsock, "How Feminist Scholarship Could Change Political Science," in Contemporary Empirical Political Theory ed. Kristen Renwick Monroe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. 242. See also, Kathy E. Ferguson, The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy (Philadephia: Temple University Press, 1984); and Eva Kreisky, "Bureaucracy and Women" (unpublished paper).

xxxv Ferguson, pp. 81-2.

xxxvi"In the totalitarian era," writes Marcuse, "the therapeutic task of philosophy would be a political task, since the established universe of ordinary language tends to coagulate into a totally manipulated and indoctrinated universe. The politics would appear in philosophy, not a special discipline or object of analysis, but as the intent of its concepts to comprehend unmutilated reality. If linguistic analysis does not contribute to such understanding; if, instead, it contributes to enclosing thought in the circle of the mutilated universe of ordinary discourse, it is at best inconsequential. And, at worst, it is an escape into the non-controversial, the unreal, into that which is only academically controversial." One could imagine Wittgenstein accusing Marcuse of a similar kind of escapism into metaphysical escapism. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, p. 199.

xxxvii This tenor or spirit can be seen in Wittgenstein's work as early as the pivotal year of 1930 when, as David Stern has noted, the turn away from logical form internal to language and toward the way meaning is produced was realized. In that year, Wittgenstein produced a "sketch for a forward" for his Philosophical Remarks. This short essay emphasizes Wittgenstein's antipathy toward the "main current of European and American civilization" that is "manifest in the industry, architecture, and music of our time, in its fascism and socialism." Reflecting Spengler's influence, Wittgenstein goes on to not how this spirit of the age is one where civilization tames culture leading to a denigration of the arts as a form of human expression. "High" culture is replaced by "low" culture. This is where Wittgenstein finds himself: He is responding to a civilization where what passes as culture resembles a bureaucracy and the role of the artist or philosopher is not one of producing great works of expression, as the role would be in high culture, but in producing friction, the visible consequence of resistance. "A culture is like a big organization which assigns each of its members a place where he can work in the spirit of the whole; and it is perfectly fair for his power to be measured by the contribution he succeeds in making to the whole enterprise. In an age without culture on the other hand forces become fragmented and the power of an individual man is used up in overcoming opposing forces and frictional resistances; it does not show in the distance he travels but perhaps only in the heat he generates in overcoming friction." CV, p.6

xxxviii Allan Janik explores this characterization of politics as conceptual conflict in his Wittgensteinian reading of William Connolly's The Terms of Political Discourse, which rests, in turn, on W.B. Gallie's study of "essentially contested concepts." Allan Janik, "Notes on the Natural History of Politics," in The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy ed. Cressida J. Heyes (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), pp. 99-116.  As Max Weber observed, "Politics means conflict." Weber, "Parliament and Government in a Reconstructed Germany," in Economy and Society, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), vol. 2.

xxxix Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Philosophy," in Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, eds. James Klagge and Alfred Nordman (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), p. 181.

xl Stanley Cavell labels this kind of reading of Wittgenstein's forms of life as "Manichean." See, "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" in Must We Mean What We Say?: A Book of Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 44-72.  Also, Naomi Scheman, "Forms of life: Mapping the Rough Ground," in The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 386-7.

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