“Where there is no vision, a people perish….” Proverbs 29:18
I was once involved in an exchange with political scientist Corey Robin about his book The Reactionary Mind, which soon descended into nastiness. For one thing, I took issue with the book’s reductionist thesis that equated conservatives with reactionaries. Robin’s logic seemed to be that a) modern conservatives are descended from Edmund Burke and his Reflections on The Revolution in France, (the liberal revolution) and b) Burke was a reactionary who sought to roll back the revolution in France and the Age of Revolutions more generally, ergo conservatives are reactionaries and backward looking. By contrast, Mr. Robin identified with the Jacobins, and is also associated with the journal by that name.
Things got rather tense between us when Robin began to lump Nietzsche in with the reactionaries too, but also any “visionary” whatsoever, which is a very strange thing for a revolutionary to argue. I began to suspect Mr. Robin was afflicted with a large dose of cynicism and of post-modern nihilism. Apparently, he hadn’t entertained the meaning of the proverb that without vision the people perish. It was the first thing that popped up in my mind as a response to him.
But if “vision” is so important to a people’s survival, we ought really to understand what it is.
Experimentum crucis means the “crucial experiment”, the decisive experiment — the crux of the matter — that ultimately decides between two or more different hypotheses to account for some phenomenon or other, and usually sets the course for any further research and development in that area. So a crucial experiment is also a crossroads experiment, and “crossroads” is pretty much what the word “crux” means — the hinge point, the pivotal juncture.
This is also quite meaningful when everyone today speaks of “humanity at the crossroads” (or in Mr. Fukuyama’s case America at the Crossroads). There is a widespread sense that we are at a global crossroads. This is what Rosenstock-Huessy also wants to be understood by his “cross of reality” and grammatical method as the “crucial method”. Everyday of our lives, we are at a crossroads, having to decide between continuity or change, past or future, individually and socially. In that sense, every day of our lives, and the life of society too, is an experimentum crucis.