Radical change in the era of the perpetual present

Abstract of Talk by George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nicolacopoulos at “Hegel and the Clash of Ideals” Seminar, 21st February 2003.


Our discussion will focus on the following question. ‘In the world of the perpetual present how are we called upon to (re)frame our thinking about the future as an opening for radical social change?’ We will start from the observation that the modern west has created for itself the myth of the perpetual present. This is the illusion that the western ideals of freedom, equality and justice, ideals that had traditionally positioned the western world as a site of reflection and vision, are already here for our full enjoyment and, as paradigmatic social ideals, they are themselves situated beyond history and, hence, beyond criticism. The myth of the perpetual present has succeeded in undermining the power of ideas to generate vision and continuous openings for reflection upon practical life. What is the significance of this for people and social movements aspiring to overcome the forms of domination engendered by global capitalism? Our suggestion will be that under the current conditions of modernity we are, in a sense, forced back to reflect upon the fundamental nature of our being in western modernity understood as a self-determining whole. Jurgen Habermas credits Hegel with the realisation that

Modernity can and will no longer borrow the criteria by which it takes its orientation from the models supplied by another epoch; it has to create its normativity out of itself. Modernity sees itself cast back upon itself without any possibility of escape (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity).

We will suggest that Hegel’s insights into the logic of modernity draw our attention to the structuring power of what we call ‘the formal universality of particularity’. An understanding of this basic idea and its operation in contemporary life is indispensable to the thinking of radical politics.

Some references

Hegel, Philosophy of Right, paragraphs 34-70. Reason in History, Part III;
Hegel, Science of Logic, Disjunctive Syllogism.
Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Ch 2.
David Kolb, The critique of pure modernity, University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 20-37