Power in the current conception: finitude

22 Feb

Undoubtedly one of the most enlightening books on the issue of power was written by Byung Chul Han, not only because it is in the current context but also because of the excellent philosophical review it does.

Although he passes through several other authors: Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger and Lehmann, among others, it is his opposition to Foucault that establishes the best relationship, his psychopolitics is opposed to Foucault’s biopolitics, there is no doubt that today’s society (through media propaganda) ) strong pressure.

However, at the beginning of the book he uses a definition by Max Weber that I think is more accurate, and develops it like this: “power means the opportunity, within a social relationship, to impose one’s will also against resistance, not important on which such opportunity is based” (Han, 2019. 22, quote from Weber’s Economics and Society).

After this, he concludes that the concept of power is sociologically “amorphous”, so he replaces it with the concept of “domination” (we already posted something about this here), which is “obedience to an order, which is sociologically “more precise”.

However, it will be when the concept of “spatial” (or territorial) and “temporal” (a mandate for a certain time) is recovered, that in fact this precision is, in our view, really achieved.

To enter the question of power from the point of view of religion, he takes it from Hegel, and what he considers as “spirit”, and which in the philosopher’s conception is totally dominated by the question of power: “God is power” (pp. 121), and what defines as spirit is nothing other than human subjectivity (comes from idealist dualism) and thus is also enclosed within the finitude of man himself, there is nothing beyond and greater than time-spatial finitude human.

Hegel says that religion is based “on the desire for an absence of limits, for an infinity that, however, would not be infinite power” (p. 123), and what removes the sin of ignorance from him is that he affirms, saying of its true limits is not an unlimited will to power: “Religion is fundamentally profoundly peaceful. She is kindness” (p. 124).

However, he sees this as a “pure concentration of power”, when it is the opposite, remind several biblical readings “Remember that you are dust and to dust we shall return” (Genesis 3,19) and so it is not difficult to see that God made man of clay (of course, they were metabolic structures capable of duplication, but water is a vital element) and it is not difficult to know that when we return to another physical plane we return to inorganic dust.

Ash Wednesday, in the Christian rite, is to remember this human finitude and to humble the power that man thinks he has, he will always be finite and spatial.

Han, Byung-Chul. (2018) What is power?. NY; Wiley. (2019 portuguese version)


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