Why Cosmic Horror is at the root of post-modern nihilism.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of thehuman mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction,have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from therevelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a newdark age .”

  • H.P. Lovecraft

Thomas Hobbes and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, two names that one would rarely if ever find in the same sentence. As thinkers, they are separated by centuries and an ocean, and yet, it can be argued that the Leviathan of Hobbes and the Great Cthulhu of Lovecraft, are two sides of the same coin. Hobbes’ work The Leviathan or the Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth (“the Leviathan”) published in 1651, attempts to grapple with the chaos of the civil wars raging in England and the revealed fragility of institutions of church and state which those wars revealed. In it, Hobbes envisions a world of “all-against-all”, in which there is no greatest good (summum bonum) but instead, only a greatest evil (summum malum) which he postulates is the State-of-Nature for humanity. He envisions a world outside of the social contract of civilization/statehood as succumbing to that greatest evil, and relies on mankind’s reason and sense of self-preservation in order to secure a social contract and form a State. He describes the world outside of such a commonwealth structure in bleak terms indeed:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[1]

In February of 1928, Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (“CoC”) is first published in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. Lovecraft was a native of Massachusetts, and wrote so-called “pulp” horror fiction in the early part of the 20th century. Although he would live his entire life ignorant of his impact on horror fiction and philosophical thought, he introduced with CoC a seminal work in the new genre of cosmic horror. In his tales of dark places and dark knowledge, Lovecraft envisions a new sort of horror, where the terror does not merely lurk in the unknown, but rather is the unknown itself. A type of horror induced by exposure to the infinite strangeness of the cosmos, and by the reader’s vast insignificance in the face of a hungry absence of reason/humanity. It is a horror of scale, where the monsters are not evil, but rather so utterly alien as to view humanity as we might a microbe or amoeba. For this reason, in CoC Lovecraft’s narrator is only capable of describing the entity he calls Cthulhu obliquely, due to its very nature as an indescribable, indifferent, cosmic horror. However, Lovecraft, by speaking through a character who had dreamed of Cthulhu’s rise, describes the conditions of his “return” in a manner that Hobbes would certainly have found familiar:

“The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy…and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom,” [2]

When the Leviathan and Cthulhu are placed in juxtaposition in this way, it appears that Hobbes and Lovecraft are both describing the summum malum in their own way, each describing different aspects of the absence which begins where man-kind’s self-imposed structures end. For Hobbes, self-imposed structures are civilization, whereas for Lovecraft the structures are the twin conceits of a knowable reality and a knowable place within said reality. Where Hobbes views the fear, violence, and horror which waits outside of civilization as both natural to humanity and the summum mallum, Lovecraft takes an inverse approach and places humanity’s darkest impulses not at the limit of horror but at the shallow end of a limitless ocean. In his notes to the editor of Weird Tales upon submission of The Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft states “when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown — the shadow-haunted Outside — we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.”

In other words, anything involving humanity’s nature/culture is still on the Inside (within the limits of perception) and anthropocentric views like those of Hobbes, fail to acknowledge the true horror; that humanity’s very existence is radically contingent on forces of which we have no possible control or even comprehension. Hobbes and Lovecraft do seem to concur on this point: this thing we call civilization is only a fragile circle of campfire light in a vast darkness. They differ only on how small the fire, and how deep the darkness.

In the following few pages we will discuss how Cthulhu can be seen as the “nested opposite”[3] of the Leviathan. How, by employing a deconstructive analytical framework, the Lovecraftian version of cosmic horror can be used to explode the Hobbesian summum mallum, by replacing the anthropocentric version of the cosmos with a version where humans are a cosmic accident signifying nothing. We may then unpack how this distinction parallels the decline of the anthropocentric model[4], along with its comforting presumptions regarding transcendental Truths, and how this shift in view affects the reasoning and application of the Law in the United States. And finally, how dangerously close to the “Time of Cthulhu” we are as a nation if all we have left to combat gibbering night is a social-contract, with our own self-interest as the sole guarantor.

Mankind’s Relationship with the Abyss

Lovecraft intimated in his writing and correspondence a belief that there is a yawning abyss of the unknown over which our civilization is a thin veneer. “ …All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large” [5] The path leading from a world view which would have seemed clear and obvious to both Hobbes and his medieval predecessors into the precarious world view of Lovecraft, is the transformation of a “known” transcendental quantity into an unknowable abyss. In the face of this trajectory, our subjective versions of transcendental truth may appear as paltry, childish things. It is a path to the “Time of Cthulhu.”[6] A time when transcendental morality is replaced by nihilistic self-interest, in the face of the absurdity of scale, which had previously been obscured by belief in a benevolent unknown.

The version of existence which acknowledges the horror of an unknowable cosmos has been called “weird realism” or “speculative realism”[7] and it undermines all anthropocentric belief systems (religious or humanist). There is a tendency, even nowadays, to think of the world in which we live as a product/representation of mind or language: a human construct[8]. As John Gray of The Atlantic put it: “For Lovecraft, human beings are too feeble to shape a coherent view of the universe. Our minds are specks tossed about in the cosmic melee; though we look for secure foundations, we live in perpetual free fall.” [9]

Conversely, in medieval thought God filled the abyss, His presence was total (omni) and therefore the abyss was understood to be benevolent. The absence of all things knowable was where mankind encountered the divine and was described by Catholic Mystic St. John of the Cross in his 16th century work “The Dark Night”[10] . The unknown was a loving father/creator and human experience was grounded in preconditions which did not rely on the existence of individuals or cultures, and were therefore thought to be inviolate. These “ideals” included the concepts of good and evil, and the immortal soul (existence before and after earthy experience), both of which were truths given shape by God, Thus they were absolute and seamless within creation, while simultaneously giving shape to said creation.[11] Humans saw the world around them as it “really was”, and the nature of objects could be known by observation, and any unknown quantity was understood to be the caring hand of the divine. This view is now known collectively as naïve realism.

By the mid-17th century, Renee Descartes had come to a different conclusion. Namely, that our perception of the world was not actually the world-as-it-is, but rather, at least as we are able to perceive it, a subjective construct.[12] This was the end of naïve realism, and the beginning of philosophy’s “subjective turn” as well as the period known as the Enlightenment. Descartes and others introduced the idea that there is in fact a subjective aspect to perception, that the viewed object was fundamentally different for each viewer. Cogito Ergo Sum “I think therefore I am.” [13] In this way God’s place as creator of a reality which is as we perceive it to be, was usurped by Man who created his own world through sensual observation. Thus began in earnest the secularization and deanthropocentrizing of the world, and the benevolent presence which filled the chasm became a little less certain, the ring of firelight a little smaller and more dear.

More than a hundred later, in the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant would attempt to patch the peeling veneer of a knowable universe with math and the newly minted scientific method. Kant asserts that experience is based both on the perception of external objects, and a priori knowledge of space and time. The external world, he writes, provides those things that we sense. However, it is our mind that processes this information and gives it order, allowing us to comprehend it. That is, he argues that the possibility of experience depends on certain necessary conditions, and that these conditions both structure and hold true of the world of experience. This would come to be known as transcendental idealism.[14] This was not a true return to naïve realism but still, contained an appeal to the “real” in terms of a knowable[15] empirically verifiable cosmos. This worldview, like the world proposed by Descartes, still places man at the center, or genesis. Observing that humans can still know the world through “analytic propositions”. These propositions are true based on mathematical principles, and thus in turn based on those a priori conditions or truths[16] concerning space and time. This version of the world was still solid, still affirmable if only through the cumulative input of multiple learned observers. But the center could not hold.

By the latter half of the 19th century, one titan of philosophy seemed to arrive on the heels of the last. Each great thinker attempting to find through logic and reason, a way back to the solid foundation of truth which does not require experience, and each ultimately failing. Next in the line of mathematician/philosophers known as “logicians” was Edmund Husserl whose phenomenology saw observed objects not as the things-in-themselves, but rather as bundles of attributes which form in the aggregate a concept which we know as a certain type of object. Objects were defined/described by the observable/expressible phenomena they exude, thus “phenomenology”. Observation of an apple did not permit access to a thing-in-itself but rather a red, shiny, juicy, grown from a tree, vaguely spherical thing which, when taken as a whole, corresponds to what is nominally accepted to be an apple. In this way the observer actually constitutes the object, by being the aggregator of phenomena observed[17]. This view however[18] also presumed certain a priori structures of space, time, and relations[19].

This was also true of the hermeneutics of Husserl’s most famous student Martin Heidegger. The primary difference is that Heidegger replaced Husserl’s “purposeful intention”[20] with the idea of care. Despite this difference, Heideggerian theories possess the same flaw as his teacher’s and all the ontological theories discussed up to this point, it fails to resolve the logical gap created when transcendental assumptions are removed. The same gap which causes each subsequent theory on being in reality which makes those assumptions to beg the question: “yes, but why?” Thus the terrible maw of that Lovecraftian abyss gaps wider, as it became more and more clear that logic and reason could not support transcendental assumptions which had previously granted humans a place of preeminence in the universe, any more than science could, in Heidegger’s time, support the now defunct geocentric view of the cosmos.

The continued frustration of philosophical efforts to resolve the metaphysical dissonance of a subjectively constructed cosmos and the idea of objective truth eventually gave rise to Frederic Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Nietzsche recognized the “death of God” (read as: the end of belief in transcendental signified) would logically conclude with the failure of any universal perspective on things-as-they-are, and along with it any coherent sense of objective truth. Nietzsche himself rejected the idea of objective reality arguing that knowledge is contingent and conditional, relative to various fluid perspectives or interests[21] . This leads to a constant reassessment of rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives and context. Nietzsche also pointed out that when philosophers like Kant (as well as Hume and others) purportedly based their claims on objective moral truth, they were in fact based on subjective psychological motivations. Among his critiques of the traditional philosophy of Kant, Descartes and Plato in Beyond Good and Evil[22], Nietzsche attacked the thing-in-itself and cogito ergo sum as unfalsifiable beliefs based on naive acceptance of previous notions and fallacies. This was the beginning of the replacement of Man at the center of experience, with Language. Essentially the narrowing of what we understood ourselves to be capable of observing to the limits of the tools we use to describe them. Things fall apart.[23]

Close behind Nietzsche comes Jean Paul Sartre, who wallows in the pain of the seemingly un-mendable transcendental wound in western thought, split wide by Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Like a child whose friends won’t play the game he wants to play, he takes his ball and goes home. In this case, the game is a cosmos with transcendental verifiable truths about good and evil, the ball is his contribution to western thought, and home is a complete denial of all things foundational/transcendental. This denial took the form of an assertion that since one cannot explain one’s own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. “We are left alone, without excuse.” “We can act without being determined by our past which is always separated from us.”[24] He asserts that objects are indifferent to our existence and thus fully defined by the observer who stamps the mark of his choices on the world as he encounters it. Sartre states emphatically that there is no creator. Indeed, this is a cornerstone of existentialism which asserts that there is no essence before existence.

Thus far in philosophical history[25], we have traveled from “God created objects” to “Man constitutes objects” to “Language[26] creates Man”. Man is by this time well and truly understood to be a sociocultural construct which is always-already interpolated by the culture into which she is born. The veneer has not merely cracked, it has shattered, and the implacable roiling chaos which is the unimaginable insignificance of culture, the absence of foundation, the utter lack of objective meaning or structure, is a naked horror before humanity. The void is now empty of benevolence, it lies before the world in all its hideous and unfathomable starkness. God is dead, Man is a slave to his limitations, and language is a paltry and laughably inadequate shield behind which we cower. The time of Cthulhu, in other words, grows nigh.

Finally, some forty years after Lovecraft contemplated the horror of our cosmically precarious position, we arrive at Jacques Derrida. Derrida attempts to deal the coup de grace to the very heart of the western intellectual tradition, characterizing this tradition as “a search for a transcendental being that serves as the origin or guarantor of meaning”, and “ground the meaning relations constitutive of the world in an instance that itself lies outside all relationality”[27]. He posits that Western thought has chained itself to these metaphysical assumptions and his method, “Deconstruction” is an attempt to expose and undermine such metaphysics.

One of Derrida’s most famously attributed sayings “there is no out-of-context” (il n’y a pas de hors-texte)[28], neatly sums up this proposition. Deconstruction involves the idea of reciprocal determination taken from structuralism, which proposes that language itself is not positivist but rather a carving out from a vast absence of the term expressed. This is an idea which Lovecraft would have surely found to be an obvious one, as he believed language itself was merely a story we tell ourselves to hold the horror at bay. In this system, an object is signified by its being Not-another-object, and is therefore indexed by its absence in all related terms. This is an idea than constitutional law scholar Jack Balkin would eventually employ in his theory of “nested oppositions.”[29] That is to say; opposed ideas or concepts that may turn into each other over time or otherwise depend on each other in novel and unexpected ways. These relationships are often foregrounded by changes to the context, which may have allowed their initial relationship to be naturalized (become invisible), and thus be practiced-as-if-not-practiced.

By juxtaposing ideological structures in order to reveal the way in which terms thought to be in opposition actually contain and define each other, and may even become each other in alternative cultural contexts, deconstruction seeks to explode the naturalized assumptions upon which these binary systems rest. Needless to say, this approach quickly proved extremely problematic (some, including Derrida himself, would say terminal) for binary/dualistic systems which rely on transcendental concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, order and chaos, Self and Other, and other nested oppositions to define their formalistic/structuralist version of the cosmos. Systems like the American Justice system.

A Moment to Contextualize

At this point we must take a breath, and ask a question: if the history of philosophy, ontology, epistemology, etc… has been nothing more than a steady and unbroken slide into the abyss of the unknown and unknowable, then why haven’t we long since arrived in the “Time of Cthulhu,” with the fire and the amorality, and the rest? In other words, this can’t be the whole story can it? The short answer is of course: no. For every thought movement which tore down the transcendental assumptions of mankind, there has been a counter movement. The Enlightenment had the Romantics, the Existentialists had the Positivists and the Rationalists and so on.

Neither was this always a provocateur/reactionary dichotomy. Those with even a basic knowledge of history will surely know that it is never that clean, simple, or easy. These voices often spoke over or past each other, and it is only in retrospect that we can attempt to draw a narrative thread through those cacophonous philosophical frays. This is not to say the narrative version we present of the progression of thought here is True or Correct, it is merely another lens which we may find useful in the topic of legal thought, and the effects of the degradation of structuralist, positivist, formalist thought on the law today.

Fine, so how does all this relate to the Law?

The Law has, overt the span of human history, taken many forms and had many masters, but it nevertheless stands today as it has for thousands of years, with the power of life and death (corpus) it its hands. It is for this reason as much as for any other, that transcendental notions of morality have been a pivotal belief to the foundations of jurisdictional authority. If we did not believe in Real and unassailable concepts of Right and Wrong, or at the very least defensible positions on virtue or the greater good, then how could we possibly consider death or extended incarceration as punishment for violating these concepts to be justice? Furthermore, how could the very inception of law have ever occurred without an initial concept: that certain behaviors are inherently virtuous or vicious?

Thomas Hobbes, upon whose social-contract theory the founding fathers leaned heavily, claims to have an amoral and clinical approach based only on materialistic concerns. Nevertheless, he bases his reasoning for proposing the Leviathan as sole arbiter of sovereign authority, upon an idea of human nature which precedes/transcends culture and experience. It is the need to suppress of this violent, savage State of Nature that leads him to promoting censorship, repression, and willful sublimation of individual will as necessary means to that end.

These absolute and inviolate structures, whether you call them sacred or materialistic, allow us not merely to submit to the law as a requirement of a social contract, but to feel righteous in upholding the law. The idea of righteous justice comes from a time when the Law was God’s law, and the church, speaking for the transcendental signifier (God) was the final arbiter or right and wrong. Hobbes’ Leviathan was a sovereign (king or body of men) who held the power of both the law of God and of man. Since God’s law had no earthly enforcement structure, Hobbes concluded that it was right that the civil-state decide when and how God’s law should be applied. In this way, although he would no doubt have described himself as a godly man, Hobbes seems to view religion as simply another form of control which must be monopolized by the Leviathan in order to maximize its power and cohesiveness. In other words, despite writing during the early decades of the Enlightenment and therefore being contemporaneous with the “subjective turn” thinkers, Hobbes was unwilling to fully relinquish the prevailing ideas of naïve realism which had up until that time been dominant. This tendency of thinkers to cling to (or even fail to acknowledge) transcendental assumptions would persist in philosophical circles even into the 20th century (and in less erudite camps until modern day). The cognitive dissonance which has arisen from this foundational disparity is currently a cause of tectonic unrest in the legal field. Some might call it a crisis of faith.

Transcendent Assumptions and the Founding of a Nation: Hobbes v/s Locke

After the Enlightenment, which most historians agree ran from the early 17th to the late 18th centuries, and brought with it the Protestant Reformation, the decline of serfdom, the rise of Hobbes’ Leviathan, and both the French and American Revolutions, the Law of Man (secular law) became ascendant. The Law became more and more concerned with equity and justice, with secular and terrestrial matters. As indicated in Hobbes’ writing and as several running civil wars in Europe had made abundantly clear, the sovereign’s authority was not unassailable. This realization was the first tremor to unsettle the transcendental foundations of la ancien régime. However, despite the revealed vulnerability of the crown to the will of the people, the authority of law still lay with the king or queen, who in turn ruled by divine right. It was not until the rise of democracy in the New World that a more complete severance from reliance on authority of the divine for sovereign power began. The newly formed US government would take on the mantel of royal sovereignty, but with the power vested in the people (polity). In addition, and of the utmost importance is a specifically enumerated tenant of the constitution which prohibits the establishment of a state religion, or the blending of the powers of church and state.[30] The founders had simultaneously taken up the authority of the sovereign, which in turn was based on divine right, and severed ties with the divine as a voice emanating from the State.

With the hubris common to great and educated men throughout history, the founders assumed (because they believed in transcendental truth), that their cultural/ideological lens would endure, regardless whether they institutionalized those values in a state religion, that the cornerstones upon which they built their vision of a republic would remain sacrosanct, impervious to attempts to undermine or assail. This is the secular transcendence of the Enlightenment; a transcendence which straddles reliance on a transcendental signified and reliance on an empirical/scientific idea of nature. This is in no way a critique of the founding fathers; we leave that to others. The founders were no more immune to the human condition than we are today, and as Althusser states in his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, “ it is in the nature of ideology[31] to conceal [its] basically artificial and imposed nature.

This is therefore, is in no way meant to imply that the idea of transcendental “natural” law, or the authority of the divine was thrown out with the founding of the nation, quite the contrary. It is merely to say that in building our city on a hill “of the People, by the People, and for the People,” we made the will of the polity and transcendental morality co-terminus, and opened the door for deconstruction of our “traditional values.” By removing those traditional foundations from the realm of the ethereal, the framers made them mundane and vulnerable. It was for this very reason that Hobbes rejected outright the idea of separation of powers and democracy. He concluded that a monarchy, in which the will of the people and the sovereign were one, was far superior to a representative government where the private interests of individuals would trump the interests of the polity at every turn. Hobbes based this conclusion on his theory of the amorality of the State of Nature, which led naturally to the conclusion that any means by which peace and freedom from the State of Nature could be achieved was not just necessary but good. Furthermore, the union of church and state as a singular authoritative voice of control, ensured the most comprehensive protection from violence and death, and was therefore the most-good (summum bonum) or as he would say the least most-bad (summum malum).

It may have occurred to an attentive reader at this point, that some of Hobbes’ ideas seem familiar, warm and fuzzy, and that some feel like anathema to the American values of freedom. In fact, many of the lengths which Hobbes was willing to go to provide for an end to the State of Nature, may seem downright tyrannical. To this objection Hobbes would no doubt reply that (a) tyranny is just a word for an unpopular sovereign; and (b) the Leviathan knows that if it trespasses too greatly on the will of the people, they will rise up and unseat him, and death and suffering will ensue with that return to the State-of-Nature. Nevertheless, one might assume that Hobbes could not have been the only voice of influence to the founders.

Because the founders of the U.S.A. were idealistic, had just concluded a revolution against a crown, and preferred a more charitable view of human nature, they augmented their Hobbesian political structuring with the works of another social contract thinker, John Locke (a staunch anti-monarchist).

Locke was born in the first half of the 17th century, around the time when Hobbes was writing Leviathan, and is widely viewed as the counterpoint to his version of social-contract theory. Locke postulated a counter-Cartesian viewpoint that the mind is a blank slate at birth (tabula rasa), with no innate ideas, or a priori experiences and that knowledge is based on sense perception. Unlike Hobbes, Locke based his thoughts on the state of nature on the idea of freedom and the social connectivity of family and community, stating that the state of nature is not necessarily good or bad. It is chaotic. Therefore, men must give it up to secure the advantages of civilized society.

Because of this alternate starting point, Locke advocated a representative government, a separation of church and state, and role for the government to protect the people from the government, and preserve their natural rights. Those natural rights were liberty and property which is earned through person-hood gained by labor, and limited only by a prohibition on wastefulness. All of these ideas played a key role in the formation of the infant United States of America, and the Declaration of Independence even includes a line from Locke’s Second Treatise referencing “long suffered abuses.”[32]

Due to Locke’s historical reputation for tempering Hobbes absolutism with the separation of powers, and of redirecting the goal of civilized society from the mere avoidance of war and violence to the protection of the people’s liberty and property, there is a temptation to read Locke as the founder of Liberalism. And to a certain degree this reading is accurate, however, it cannot be understated that Locke was a moral absolutist. He may not have believed in a precondition of violence in humanity, but he denounced a priori concepts only reaffirm in the same works, transcendental ideas of right and wrong. In addition, whereas the founders may have adopted a government of checks and balances based on Locke, it was Hobbes’ all-against-all version of capitalism which defined the newly minted nation economically. A version of economics based on an exclusive, rather than an inclusive version of humanity’s state of nature.

Nevertheless, the world did not stop spinning on that faithful day in September of 1787. Certain schools of thought which have continued to take metaphorical sledge hammers to the concepts of a priori truth, and shine spotlights on things practiced-as-if-not-practiced. This “deconstructive turn” if you will, must be reconciled with our national narrative and the cultural presumptions which support that narrative, or risk a system of laws with no moral foundation.

Deconstruction: The Call of Cthulhu?

What has the long and painful degradation of transcendental truth left us with in the 21st century? Does the exposed face of an unknowable abyss contain the promise of Lovecraftian madness, or is there some version of virtue which can still support a post deconstruction rule of law? After the work of deconstruction has been done on our system of Justice, we are after all left with one final truth: we all suffer, and we flatter ourselves that the law may act to prevent some suffering that would have occurred in its absence. This is a foundational presumption of the concept of the Rule-of-Law whether you approach it as a Hobbesian social-contract, a moral absolutist Truth, or a Lovecraftian weird reality. However, the horrifying correlative that is exposed by post-structural (deconstructive) thought, is this: the law may not prevent anymore suffering than it causes. Once morality is framed (Derrida might say exposed) as a mere cultural moment, not relative, but fluid and subjective, the law begins to appear not as a bulwark but rather as a channel for suffering. A channel whose purpose is to direct suffering towards peoples and groups than we as a collective (whether by action or acquiescence) have deemed an acceptable sacrifice. Where do we turn when tradition is shown to be nothing more than a re-presentation of institutionalized prejudice, and time-worn distrust?

Conclusion: The Future is not Relative

One option is to fall back on fundamentalist belief systems, to throw cultural weight behind the belief in the transcendental signified of your choosing. Or, even to construct a support for absolutist morality using the secular tools of bio-evolutionary imperatives, neuroscience, and psychology (this is also a fundamentalist approach). To choose to believe that, either as a result of (Transcendental Signified)’s Will, or biological hard-wiring, the choices you make all have their place on a Real spectrum of Good and Evil. Both Hobbes and Lovecraft would no doubt view this as folly. Hobbes, because he viewed fear of punishment by the state as sufficient to hold back a state of anarchic violence (and indeed the only real limit on that natural condition), and Lovecraft because he viewed both man’s gods and their science to be paltry thing in the face of the vast hungry cosmos.

A second and perhaps better option, is a legal realist approach. This would involve affirmatively embracing the failure of all appeals to transcendental authority, and having acknowledged that failure, become free to acquire a nuanced and context driven approach to law. This approach would involve value statements based on pluralistic cultural concerns which would in turn be supported by the law not because of some intrinsic value, but because the cultural value given to them by our fellow humans is sufficient. It would also require a re-framing of our foundational and historical mythos to allow for acknowledgement of mistakes which are contrary to an idealistic national identity as “the good guys.” Admitting the potential for damage that any absolutist view contains. And finally present the flaws and failures of our democratic experiment virtuous as necessary moments of learning, and hold them up, not as things to be sought per se, but as lessons that once learned need not be repeated.

The legal realist approach has its own drawbacks and pitfalls however. It is likely that both Hobbes and Lovecraft, being privileged white males in time periods where all other human were viewed as “less-than”, would view this as an insupportable indignity. This is perhaps an unsurprising position for Hobbes, but the idea that despite his writing on the vast insignificance of human civilization, Lovecraft would still be such a reflection of the cultural limitation of his time, serves to emphasize the need to face the shift away from anthropocentrism head-on. If the father of Cthulhu is vulnerable to granting virtue to man-made prejudices, then any examination of nominalist values must be as pluralistic as possible to avoid the drowning out of historically subjugated voices. Therefore, is replacing the aesthetic choices of the few with those of the many beneficial to society?

The move from a Hobbesian version of Law to a system based on the limit of our collective tolerance for horror as a society, parallels the move from formalism/moral absolutism (revealed by deconstruction as a codification of a cultural view point, practiced as if natural) to legal realism. This then, is the problem that immediately confronts the legal realist approach; despite the laudable motive of introducing marginalized/actively suppressed or sublimated voices into the discourse on law; there is still the nagging fact that justice itself is an aesthetic/cultural choice.

Legal realism as a method of law, claims to dismantle natural law assumptions, but typically just replace natural law with an aggregative sense of horror. The risk of moving forward without the unshakable foundation of transcendental morality then becomes, how easy it is to fall back on the lowest common denominator of societal horror; to allow the standard for legal/government action to be the point at which the aggregate sense of horror is intolerable to the majority. This version of post-deconstruction law appears to be a recipe for a reactionary and unstable State which is in no way desirable.

The way forward is far from transparent, but regardless of which path we choose, humanity must hope that we survive these growing pains of this shift in perspective, because the net effect of Lovecraft’s weird realism is one of the exponential increase of scope. Thinkers like Hobbes viewed war, murder, and chaos as the worst case-scenario because in an anthropocentric paradigm mankind is the limit of both good and the evil. The result of the acknowledgement of the failure of that paradigm is a simultaneous acknowledgement that there is so much more at stake than if humanity were still the center of the cosmos. In Lovecraft’s weird reality the summum mallum is revealed to be not merely an antagonistic State-of-Nature, but rather something infinitely more horrifying; a cosmos which is wholly indifferent to human suffering. We must not fail to preserve the circle of firelight, because as Lovecraft reveals; once the fire is extinguished the odds against re-ignition are monstrous.

[1] Hobbes, Leviathan, XIII, 9

[2] Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu, 77

[3] Nested Oppositions Jack M. Balkin Yale Law School 1–1–1990

[4]We are choosing to classify dio/theo-centric models as also anthropocentric for the purposes of this paper.

[5]H. P. Lovecraft, in note to the editor of Weird Tales, on resubmission of “The Call of Cthulhu”

[6]Time of Cthulhu: an absolute succumbing to our own insignificance, characterized by a descent into madness.

[7]Speculative Realism was begun by the philosopher Graham Harman and is also known as Object Oriented Ontology (Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2013))

[8]A remnant of the logocentric theories which to formed as early as Hobbes’ time in the 17th century

[9] John Gray, The Atlantic, H.P. Lovecraft’s Philosophy of Horror

[10]”The Dark Night” in part because darkness represents the fact that the destination, God, is unknowable (as in the 14thc. mystic classic The Cloud of Unknowing — which goes back, as does John’s poem, to the 6th century writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite )

[11]For our purposes it is important to note that God is what Derrida (father of Deconstruction) refers to as a transcendental signified; a signified (object) which transcends all signifiers and is a meaning which transcends all signs.

[12] This idea had already been proposed by the Spanish philosopher Gómez Pereira a hundred years before in the form: “I know I know something. Everything that knows is: thus I am” (Nosco me aliquid noscere: at quidquid noscit, est: ergo ego sum). See: Gómez Pereira, De Inmortalitate Animae, 1749 [1554], p. 277; Santos López, Modesto (1986). “Gómez Pereira, médico y filósofo medinense”. In: Historia de Medina del Campo y su Tierra, volumen I: Nacimiento y expansión, ed. by Eufemio Lorenzo Sanz, 1986.

[13] Part IV of Discourse on the Method (1637; written in French but with inclusion of “Cogito ergo sum”) and §7 of part I of Principles of Philosophy (1644; written in Latin)

[14] Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788

[15]Although not directly observable; Kant postulated that human were unable to transcend the limitations of our minds to perceive the “thing-in-itself”

[16]“truths” here may be read as common structures.

[17] Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations) 1900–1901

[18] Despite Husserl’s attempts to sidestep the problem of underlying assumptions by “bracketing” them from consideration of essences.

[19]What Husserl refers to as the “natural standpoint” which is characterized by a belief that objects exist distinct from the perceiving subject and exhibit properties that we see as emanating from them.

[20] Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations) 1900–1901

[21] Cristoph, Cox. Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation

[22] Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future 1886

[23] Keane, Seamus (1998). “Boredom and Apocalypse”. Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing Since 1790. Clarendon lectures in English literature. Clarendon Press. p. 179

[24]Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1943

[25]Sometime in the mid-20th Century

[26]Language here is mean to include all the signifiers with which we frame the sensual qualities of objects in the world.

[27]Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, (1967)

[28] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology(1967)

[29] Nested Oppositions Jack M. Balkin Yale Law School 1–1–1990

[30] Scarberry, Mark S. (2009). “John Leland and James Madison: Religious influence on the Ratification of the Constitution and on the Proposal of the Bill of Rights”. Penn State Law Review. 113 (3): 733–800.

[31] a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy

[32] Locke, John. Two Treatises on Government. London: Printed for R. Butler, etc., 1821

Lawyer. “If it feels warm and fuzzy, question it!” -CRM

Lawyer. “If it feels warm and fuzzy, question it!” -CRM