View this article at Policy Review, October/November 2001

The terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, invited, if it did not indeed compel, wholesale reconsideration of the times we live in and the way we live in them. What once seemed to most Americans like a period of unprecedented prosperity and peace, now — with the towers collapsed, the Pentagon scarred, and more than 6,000 dead — seems more akin to a period of sustained illusion. We are thoroughly alienated from the point of view that was our very own September 10 and before: namely, that things were pretty good in and for the United States of America. Now — standing as the United States does between the opening salvo and the final volley in a war that is both necessary to win and entirely a matter of conjecture as to its course, duration, dimensions, and lethality — most everything we thought September 10 has been superannuated.

Some have said that this is not the same country it was September 10, or that the world changed forever September 11. But that amounts to an exercise in displacement. The world on September 10 was exactly the one in which the forces leading up to the next day’s events had long been gathering. The country September 11 was the one whose history in its entirety shaped the response to that day (and an encouraging response it was). No, what has changed is each of us, in a universal reaction taking as many particular forms as there are people — anger, sadness, fear, gratitude, love, restlessness, and more, in every imaginable combination, having in common only that each was real not just in itself but also in the gulf separating it from what one felt September 10. It is as if the frame of mind of September 10 was negated as decisively as the lives of the victims — repudiated with finality. Whatever we might have been thinking September 10, we were wrong.1

Of course, some people emerged, with varying degrees of insistence and taste, to say that they had told us so. Some suggested that if only we had listened to them, we might have prevented this attack, or that if only we had pursued a different policy course, we might have fared better, or, at a minimum, if only we had truly heard them, we would at least have been prepared in our own minds with a better understanding of the true character of the world in which we live. A few of them had genuine insights to offer, but in the main, these claims to the gift of prophecy were overblown. Once something catastrophic happens, we can see with perfect clarity what we “should” have done. But not necessarily before the catastrophe, when the very things that it will turn out we should have done are competing with all the other things we might do or not do. This is not intended as a counsel of fatalism or passivity; one does one’s best to anticipate and ward off trouble on the strength of one’s convictions about which possibilities are more likely than the others. But one’s best may not be good enough. The Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” is both good advice to follow and an impossible standard to meet. And it is only when we turn out not to have been prepared, by the arrival of something for which we were unprepared, that we become fully aware of our condition of unpreparedness.

The highly particular exercise in recriminations undertaken at the direction of the soothsayers who were correct in this case is, I think, petty in comparison with the massive recriminations under way within the breast of most of us, the soothsayers included. This is a far larger matter than what more we could or should have done to prevent the attack or mitigate its effects. It amounts to a change in the totality of our sense of ourselves, a full-scale revision of the opinion we ourselves had of ourselves as recently as September 10. How could we have been so wrong-headed? How could those have been our preoccupations, those our grievances and complaints and sorrows, those our desires, those our expectations, those our priorities?

Well, we have indeed changed. And it is undeniably useful to engage in serious self-scrutiny, to be a little hard on one’s self (for a change?) — even if, alas, the prod to self-scrutiny was a horrendous terrorist attack, raising the unpleasant prospect that it takes no less to shake up complacency. But I think that in taking a look at ourselves, we would not do well to repudiate and try to forget our September 10 preoccupations, grievances, desires, expectations, and priorities. If they were petty by comparison with our concerns today, they were not merely petty. Collectively, they also constitute, I think, a vision — a glimpse of the world we want to live in, how we will live in it, how it will feel to live in it. That this glimpse turned out to be fleeting — that we are, demonstrably, a long way from the world we want — ought not to discredit our vision of that world. We must fight now, but not only for survival: also to take a step closer to the world of our imaginings September 10.

The past century has been a time of terrible wars and strife, but also of what most of us would call progress — which is to say, motion in a particular direction, and a desirable one. World War I marked the end of the pretensions of monarchical rule in Europe; World War II saw the defeat of Nazism and Japanese militarism; the Cold War ended with the collapse of Soviet communism. Francis Fukuyama’s famous argument in The End of History and the Last Man described a world in which democratic capitalism had emerged as the single answer to the question of how human affairs should be ordered. That much of the world was and is still “in” history, and therefore engaged in violent struggle of all kinds, including with the parts of the world ordered according to the principles of democratic capitalism, did not diminish the irreversible character of the final answer. No other system, historical or imaginable, could satisfy the requirements of a human spirit now conscious of its own freedom. The philosopher G.W.F. Hegel believed he had seen the end of history in Napoleon’s march across Europe, the start of the spread of the universal consciousness of freedom. The apparently new forms of tyranny that would come later, for example national socialism and communism, were doomed to fail on the grounds that they were erected in violation of — and in order to violate — the freedom now conscious of itself as free. For the post-historical world, there was simply no going back to feudalism, slavery, despotism.

More than “merely” democratic and capitalist, this world is also an ethical community — and its democratic and capitalist aspects do not precede but rather derive from this ethical community. To Hegel, the essential characteristic of this community is “recognition.” When two people from it meet, each sees the other as fully human and free. Each wants to be recognized as free by another person who is free and equal, and in turn each recognizes the other as free and equal. Hegel’s first ethical precept is, “Be a person and respect others as persons.”2

This is relevant to the consideration of the idea of progress, in that this ethical community is in potential the totality of mankind — but in actuality, i.e., at present, a subset of mankind. It is, however, an expanding subset, and its expansion is the essence of “progress.” That the world is far more democratic today, that it is far more liberal in terms of its political economy, that the desire for freedom is manifest in certain areas that remain unfree, that the ability to participate in the liberal political economy is often eagerly sought by people whose own national economies are not especially liberal — all of this is an indication of the expansion of the ethical community of mutual recognition. That those in democratic countries do not wish to change their form of government and only rarely produce revolutionaries prepared to risk their lives to overthrow democracy; that people who participate in generally liberal economies show no enthusiasm for any choice that might seriously jeopardize their material prosperity — here are indications that de-recognition and the contraction of the ethical community do not much take place. The world, or in any case the part of the world “in” history in conjunction with the post-historical world — leaving aside, that is, the parts of the world that do not even seem to have “entered” history, on account of the absence of any consciousness of human freedom — does not in general fluctuate randomly between consciousness of freedom and obliviousness toward freedom, or therefore, between democracy and despotism. The movement is one way only.

And there is an endpoint: the actualization of the potential of the ethical community, which is to say, mutual recognition of all persons by all persons. This is what “progress” points toward.

Now, this may be wrong, indeed, all wrong. Radical contingency may be the true condition of man, and all that looks to us like progress may be illusory, our current condition a way station to future oblivion — in which case, nothing matters in any permanent sense. On the other hand, this account, though entirely secular, also has resonance with Biblical and other accounts of an “end” to which the human condition aspires. As Kenneth Anderson of American University’s law school, himself a strong critic of what he sees as unvoiced eschatological assumptions behind much of the current thinking about international law, noted in the Times Literary Supplement the week after the attack:

Inevitably the preachers reached, as in other churches across the land, for the words of Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It is curious how infrequently this exemplar of eschatological peace is connected with the conditions which the prophet specifies for it to come about: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’ . . . For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

The prophecy of the Hebrew Bible is revisited in the New Testament: Christ, having in his time on earth taught people all that they need to know about how to live, will return to reign over them in peace.

The question of whether these eschatological visions are true — while it is somehow an ultimate question, the question of the collective destiny of humanity — does not exhaust the interest of these visions. Would anyone deny their beauty? Or that they are, in some sense, good? If a universal ethical community of mutual recognition is the end-state to which human beings aspire — or a world in which the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is the practice of everyone — might not the awareness of this aspiration improve behavior along the way? Might we not be more rather than less inclined to see the humanity in the Other?

What would it be like to live at a time when “all nations shall flow unto” the Lord’s house, when all are brothers and sisters, when an ethical order of intersubjectivity shapes the relations of all to all? Well, to begin with, it is a time in which we are all equal in our complete satisfaction. In the Marxist extension of Hegel, this required the familiar principle of distributive justice: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” John Rawls in A Theory of Justice offers a distributive principle from a liberal perspective. Surely there is a material component to this satisfaction. Yet there is no certain reason to think that the sense of complete satisfaction common to these visions is primarily material. People can be different in their particularity — indeed, they must be, to be conscious of themselves as distinct from others; intersubjectivity implies a sense of oneself as subject in distinction from another subject — while at the same time satisfied in their recognition by all other human beings as free and equal in that freedom (or as equal in sharing God’s law or watchful love).

Since there is only one state, and everyone in it is satisfied, there will be no war and no revolution. In point of fact, it is not entirely clear that this universal entity is a “state” properly so-called, precisely because it has no enemies and cannot have any enemies. It is the irresistible sovereign. Yet no one resists. There is no politics because the problems of politics have been solved. All individual relations within the state (under the law of Zion) or with the state (with the Lord) are relations of right. The state is a disinterested third party capable of enforcing rights or law in all interactions — or put another way, God will dispense perfect justice.

And there will be no crime. Human beings will not murder human beings, because each will see herself in the other — as free and equal only insofar as all others have an equal claim to their own freedom and equality.

Finally, then, human beings will have nothing to fear from each other. Will they fear death? Yes, insofar as death is the one human thing unknowable to humans. But they will no longer fear violent death at the hand of another. People will no longer, in short, be bourgeois as Thomas Hobbes breathed life into the bourgeois in an attempt to create a politics different from its natural state of all against all. The bourgeois fears violent death, and so will not risk his life in an attempt to obtain satisfaction. There is still politics in Hobbes’s state, but not a life-and-death politics. Yet the fear of violent death remains close because of a fear of rebellion against the law of the state, in the form of crime or revolution, and especially on account of the possibility of the clash between states: war.

In the absence of the possibility of war, revolution, and crime — His kingdom come, or within the universal ethical community of mutual recognition — the essential attribute of the bourgeois is no more. Human beings need not fear violent death because no human beings will want to visit violent death on others. The world in which they live is a well-ordered place in which they are fully satisfied, either by each’s recognition of each as free and equal or by serving a God Who created each in His image.

What will they do, the people in this world? Work, play, love, pray — or, in the secular vision, perhaps contemplate the beauty of the end-state of human beings in the universal ethical community of recognition of the freedom and equality of each.

Who are these people? We are.

Or at least, we acted as if we were — until the morning of September 11, when violent death reimposed itself upon reality and our consciousness and we rediscovered our bourgeois selves. Perhaps from the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the “sole superpower,” perhaps from the end of the threat of global thermonuclear war, perhaps from the tenacity with which democracy took hold in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, perhaps from the extraordinary period of economic growth during the final two decades of the twentieth century and the unimaginable accumulation of wealth worldwide, perhaps from the convergence of the policies of the two American political parties in support of market economics and a social insurance system and the convergence of the platforms of democratic parties around the world on similar agendas, perhaps from the widespread success of market economies throughout the world and the relative ease with which shocks to the economic system were absorbed, perhaps from the sense of the seemingly infinite promise of technology and the information economy, perhaps from the promise of “globalization” as an engine not only of worldwide prosperity but also of political stability and democratic reform as more and more people became stakeholders in the world political economy, perhaps from the stunning military victories driving Iraq out of Kuwait with minimal allied casualties and 10 years later waging an arm’s-length war over Kosovo that would bring down Europe’s last tyrant, perhaps from the experience of mid-year 1991 to mid-year 2001, during which there was arguably less conflict and mayhem and violent death than in any previous decade in human history — perhaps from any combination of these reasons and probably from all of them, we forgot, almost, that we could still be afraid. For us, there was no Other, no enemy, at least not one that could reach us with violent death.

Instead, there was an ethical community of us and those like us, each recognizing the freedom and equality of all the other members of the community, situated in a world presumed to consist in large measure of people who wished to join this very community. And join they did — often whole regions at a time in the case of Central Europe.

This is not to say that there was no conflict between individual members of this community, nor between the political communities, the nations, that were part of it. But these conflicts were radically attenuated compared to past conflicts. There were still crimes by individuals against others, of course (though in the United States in this period even crime rates sharply declined). But there were no revolutions, nor really attempted revolutions (not counting the sometimes violent removal of the vestiges of communism or dictatorship in many states, because these amounted to efforts to find a permanent place in the larger ethical community). And there was not much war.

Much has been made of the apparent fact that democratic countries do not go to war with each other. Francis Fukuyama has called it one of the few nontrivial generalizations one can make about international relations in the past century. Some have described a supposed “zone of democratic peace.” Yet one wonders whether it is adequate to see this phenomenon solely as a product of the internal political arrangements of states. If this is solely a matter of state relations, it is difficult to overcome the problem Immanuel Kant identified and tried without success to solve in “Perpetual Peace”: There is no binding authority on states. Anything a sovereign state does, a sovereign state can undo.

Unless, of course, there is an authority that can bind even states — in this case, a nascent transnational ethical community whose members are not states but the citizens of states. Their citizenship in democratic states — based, as the governments of these states are, on the equality of each citizen and, increasingly, on each citizen’s recognition of all other citizens as free and equal — poses no conflict with their simultaneous membership in a larger, non-state ethical community based on the same principles. To the extent that these citizens, as citizens of a state, constitute the group that makes the political decisions of the state itself, they will cause the state’s actions to conform with the ethics of mutual recognition shared in the transnational community. This distinction also rescues us from the inconvenient fact that, as Columbia University’s Kenneth N. Waltz has noted, the Germany of World War I was, by most measures of the day, “democratic.” In order to save the proposition that democracies do not fight each other, it is sometimes necessary to revise one’s opinion of a bellicose state’s “true” political character. Better to say that a state will not go to war with another state if the political decision-making group of each, each characterized by an ethics of recognition of people as free and equal in their freedom, also considers the political decision-making group of the other as free and equal in their freedom — therefore, as members of the same transnational ethical community.

So it is that the political disputes between the United States and Europe are about the importation of bananas. And if this is the character of international relations, what can one say about domestic policy? That in the world of September 10, Congress was bitterly divided between those partisans who believed patients should be able to sue their health maintenance organizations only in federal court and those who believed they should also be able to sue in state courts. Americans thought, in the world of September 10, that their biggest priorities were education and health care. How to raise children and how to live a long and healthy life will indeed be the biggest concerns of the actualized post-historical world; needless to say, Americans became acutely aware September 11 that their biggest concerns were actually very different.

There was, at the time, a noticeable and growing tendency among commentators and critics to disparage the world of September 10 (although never to cease to participate in it, not even among the anti-globalization protestors). One of the strands of criticism was along these lines: Now that market economics was all but universally accepted, even if one viewed this as a positive historical development, was it really so necessary to defend capitalism, capitalists, and the wretched excess of consumption? And what about the absurd market valuations for tech firms? Likewise, there was a creeping contemptuousness toward politics: This was the difference between Democrats and Republicans? They hated and despised each other over this? And really, were there no serious issues worth debating, nothing vital about which to contend? Nothing more important than the “Patients’ Bill of Rights”? Consider just the name of that particular piece of legislation: In the late eighteenth century, the United States adopted a bill of rights guaranteeing free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press — and that was only part of the first of 10 amendments. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Congress will pass legislation to settle the question of whether one may sue one’s hmo in federal or state court and call it by the same name.

How different were our preoccupations of September 10? Consider this: A young woman disappeared without a trace in Washington in spring 2001. Soon thereafter, she was linked to a member of Congress named — oh, it doesn’t matter. In any case, he first denied that he was romantically involved with her. But soon stories began to surface of other women with whom he had had affairs — and that the congressman had tried to persuade these women to remain silent, lest his political career be damaged. Finally, under mounting pressure from police and the suspicious parents of the missing woman, he admitted to the affair. Speculation swirled about the possibility of his involvement in the disappearance. And night after night after night, the very same cable news programs soon to be filled with the images of the collapsing trade towers and the grieving families of the dead gossiped and speculated and contemplated the political implications of the congressman’s dalliance. Through September 10, it was the biggest news story of 2001.

The contemporaneous critique of the world of September 10 never became especially serious, however — not, that is, until September 11, when, looking back, much of what was there seemed to be triviality, absurdity, or even inanity.

But it was not trivial, absurd, and inane — or rather, the triviality, absurdity, and inanity we now see were themselves merely the trivial, absurd, and inane byproducts of something very serious and wondrous indeed: the conditions of peace and prosperity that characterized this period and that the events of September 11 do not, in fact, refute.

A nation obsessed with a congressman’s dalliance is a nation with few other serious concerns. A politics capable of selecting the venue for hmo lawsuits as the principal subject for partisan rancor is a politics that reflects an immense degree of consensus about how the nation’s affairs should be organized (a consensus that continued after September 11, one should add, only with the partisan rancor lanced as an angry boil for the duration). Politicians may have agendas they prefer to this centrism, but they are unwilling to act on them lest they jeopardize their chance of winning elections. True disagreement with a consensus is, by definition, rare; agreement is what makes a consensus. And its existence makes for imposing social stability. For a look at different conditions, consider the United States of 1975 or the Western Europe of 1981.

We often talked about the “politics of personal destruction” in the 1990s, especially who was practicing it upon whom. But when we talked about it, we were precisely not talking about “destruction” in any sense in which that word bears using in the world of September 11. What we were talking about was saying bad things about mostly very famous people, people who had immense resources behind them as they endured this supposed “destruction” and who have by and large done pretty well for themselves since. Nor, for that matter, was their treatment really “personal” — surely not in the sense in which the afflictions were personal for Job. These were mostly seekers of high office, hardly a conscript corps, and they became controversial not for who they were but for the office they sought. It was over the offices that the partisans were clashing, not the lives in question.

If the “politics of personal destruction” was neither “destruction” nor “personal,” it was, however, the worst of our politics. And it is good that that is the worst we do to each other. Not all politics in the United States is mainstream politics, of course. But here, the message is much the same: The fringes are not noteworthy for the extent to which they threaten to bubble up in violent action that will threaten the center; they are noteworthy for how quiet they are, how few people feel discontented enough to rebel in any but the most bourgeois fashion. Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and his motive was political; some, though not many, of the anti-globalization protesters are willing to commit property crimes and even assault. But these are, on the whole, rare instances.

The United States has mastered bourgeois politics domestically and has even seen the beginnings of the circumscription of the bourgeois political space by an ethics of mutual recognition. Internationally, much of the world has equally mastered bourgeois politics and likewise begun to circumscribe it. As for the parts of the world where this is not the case, in the world of September 10, they seemed far away. Geographically, most are remote. The power of the United States serves as a mighty deterrent. And in many cases, the people there are fully engaged in local struggles of a complexity unfathomable to outsiders.

The peace and prosperity of September 10 were, to be sure, our peace and our prosperity. These are not the same as world peace and global prosperity. And yet they are surely a component of worldwide peace and prosperity, a part of the whole. We take the part for the whole at the risk of being disabused of this folly as thoroughly and horribly as we were September 11 — and also with an indifference, not even conscious of its indifference, to the fate of the rest of the human beings on the planet. Yet in doing so, we also achieve something: the imagination of a politics beyond violent death, an order in which, not out of the fear of risking one’s own life but out of respect for the human person — in the form of the mutual recognition by each of the freedom and equality of all — no one kills. This is powerful, however premature. Even though it is not something we can be sure will exist anywhere but the imagination, it is something to which we should aspire.

What happens when the desire for recognition as a free and equal human being, which implies the desire to recognize others as free and equal human beings, this being the condition of one’s own recognition, meets not a similar desire but a suicide bomber? Then what?

Then we fight. But what does it mean that we fight, and what does the fight do to our claim to want the things we say we want: a universal ethical community of free and equal human beings? In the world of September 10, we have no desire to deal death to an enemy. We are at peace; we have no enemy. Concurrent with the remission of the fear of violent death is an unwillingness to inflict violent death. (The nations of the European Union urge the United States to do away with the death penalty; this is surely a reflection of the eu’s sense of itself as the avant-garde of a universal ethical community.)3

The essential problem is that we are confronted by people willing to risk death in order to kill us (or even to go to certain death in order to kill us). If we do nothing, they succeed. The prospect is, precisely, oblivion — not only for ourselves but also for the idea of progress we harbor and the end toward which it points. Here is a world, again, of slaves and tyrants, subjects and warlords. Here is a world in which life itself is nothing next to glorious victory. Friedrich Nietzsche described it approvingly. Perhaps a new bourgeois order would emerge from it, and perhaps a new flowering of consciousness of freedom. But there would be no reason to think it would last.

But, of course, we will not do nothing. We will do what we can to find out who they are and fight them. In the United States as elsewhere, there is no shortage of spirited people willing to risk death — only an overarching bourgeois political order and a broadening ethical order that channels this spiritedness and restricts its expression.

The latter, I think, is the source of a certain current uneasiness about waging war. For example, we do what we can to minimize civilian casualties — because we want to see the enemy’s civilians as persons, potential members of a universal ethical community. Today, while we kill the soldiers of an enemy’s army to the extent necessary, we do not want to cease to view them as human beings — persons who may have been coerced to treat us as an enemy, and therefore need to be treated as enemies, but not persons who reached that conclusion for themselves as did their political leaders. It is therefore not we, their killers, who deny their humanity, but their own leaders. This reasoning is tortured, of course — but we ourselves are genuinely uneasy about this even as we accept the necessity of the killing.

The United States has also long been unwilling to conscript: We will get by with those who volunteer for the military. Here the state arranges by contract what it could compel by force; the opposition to compulsion is of a piece with the revulsion provoked by the thought of the state’s use of force. Once again, this is more than the bourgeois fear of death: It is an ethical distaste for the political, the world in which a state may designate an enemy and wage war; it expresses the hope that one day there will be need for no such designations without insisting that that day has arrived.

The war the United States wages will, I think and hope, be a war in which the United States makes extraordinary efforts to distinguish “enemy” from “person.” The former has crossed a threshold the latter has not, no matter where such a person lives. We designate an enemy only insofar as someone designates himself our enemy by his actions as an enemy. Others we treat as persons, or at least we hope to treat as persons, in the hope that they will treat us as persons. In principle, I suppose, we can ensure that we have instilled the fear of violent death in the living by killing all those who are unafraid to die. But there is no solution to our problem here short of also doing what we can to give people reason to value their own lives out of the knowledge that when they do, they will have taken a step toward valuing ours as well.

Our ethical sense of human beings as free and equal in their freedom constrains and shapes the political sphere in ways that will, we hope, broaden the ethical community of persons who treat each other as persons — until we are all part of “we.” But, of course, our ethical sense cannot and does not obliterate politics. As long as we face people who are willing to risk death to kill us — to treat us as enemies — we will treat them as enemies. Only by doing as much can we take another step toward the world we caught a glimpse of September 10.


1 Like most commentators, I write from the particular perspective of a fortunate position within American society and as a partisan in a nation at war. There will be times in which my use of “we” will be subject to the criticism that it is inclusive only insofar as one is similarly situated. For example, it is clear that the experience of prosperity is hardly universal. Readers should approach the “we” in this piece in the context in which it appears, deciding for themselves whether the generalization is meaningful.

2 Philosophy of Right (OxfordUniversity Press), sec. 36. Francis Fukuyama began this reexamination of historicism in The End of History and the Last Man (Avon Books), drawing heavily on the philosopher Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (Cornell University Press) and standing Kojève’s Marxism on its head. Also very useful is Kojève’s Outline of a Phenomenology of Right, now available in an English translation by Brian-Paul Frost and Robert Howse (Rowman and Littlefield), whose introductory essay is compelling in its claims for the insight Kojève’s thought provides into current affairs. Also invaluable is Robert R. Williams’s Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition (University of California Press) for establishing the centrality of “recognition,” what Williams calls an “ethics of intersubjectivity,” in Hegel’s thought.

3 I think this eu self-image is questionable. The nato treaty, which the United States is chiefly responsible for enforcing, binds members not only to unite against an external enemy, but also to live peacefully among themselves. The conditions in which the eu was born and matured included not just a postwar desire on the part of the nations of Europe to get along, but also state power in the form of an outsider, the United States, insisting that European countries get along. It is at least possible that the latter was necessary for the eu to come together and that the eu still rests to some degree on U.S. power. In that sense, this ethical community of universalist aspirations may not have been self-generating, and its avant-gardism would therefore be ahistorical, not post-historical.