HOWARD H.

HILLMAN (1929-1999) The strange case of As is the case with music and the arts, for every famous foresighted thinker, whose thoughts define the outline of the future, there are a host of attendant philosophers who, while virtually unknown, make the major thinker possible. Such is the case of Howard H. Hillman, whose works were purposefully kept (by himself) from the market mechanisms and survive only in tattered copies of the Soviet academic “samizdat” of the mid-1980s. How a bunch of then-young Soviet (two Russians, one Latvian, one Jewish) philosophy post-grads got hold of the Hillman texts is to remain a mystery, all the more so that the leader of this group, called “the Salmin bunch”, Alexey Salmin himself, recently passed away before reaching 55. The Hillman legacy survives patchily, primarily through (increasingly occasional) citations in Central / East European political-philosophical literature. Apparently Howard H. Hillman was born at the height of the Depression, in 1929, to a Tennessee factory worker family. Aged 17, Howard volunteered for the Army to escape the drudgery of working-class life. He served in Korea and Vietnam, where he became intensely interested in Buddhism, spending much of nhis tours of duty visiting temples and talking to priests. In 1968 he returned to the USA, with the manuscript of his first book ready, and settled in “Flower Power” California. The book, “Shapes of Things”, published by Hillman and some friends as a semiunderground title, started circulating around 1969-70. It was a forerunner of later attempts to fuse Buddhism and “Western philosophy”, while trying to base the fusion firmly on the terrain of rational, Western-style thought. “Blind Faith”, the follow-on volume, came out around 1974 and provides a dissection of theological thought very similar to the dissection of philosophy, provided around the same time by Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. “Power”, a political treatise in the Locke tradition, but specifically aimed against the helplessness of theories coming out of France (eg. Foucault’s ideology of the allpervasiveness of, and inescapeability from, power) surfaced in the late 1970s. This turned out to be the most translated (into Soviet samizdat) Hillman work. The reason was his argument, clearly heard in totalitarian societies, that there are in fact a number of ways that “a dignified individual” can escape from the spider’s web of power. Also attractive was his argument relating to the centrality of “marginal” individuals. Unlike Marcuse, Hillman argued that such individuals were not only a force for destructive change, but also – a force for later reconstruction. If a “marginal”, argued Hillman, manages to move along the margins of neighbouring worlds, he becomes more central (and can have a greater impact) to the overall picture than the individuals central to those worlds, which are mere sections of the general picture. During the 1980s and early 1990s Hillman retired to a cabin on the slopes of Portland (Oregon), part-time teaching (English literature) and a full-time preoccupation with reconstructing vintage motorcycles and selling them to various biker communities. He resurfaced briefly in New Age circles in the mid-1990s, but was more or less hounded out because of his last book, “21st century Schizoid Man” (presumably a conscious lift of the King Crimson song). In the book Hillman argued that, rather than bringing in the harmony of “the Age of Acquarius”, the coming century would bring in a sharp relapse of societies into fundamentalist collective identities, as (for various reasons, mostly to do with the fear of freedom) people would run for the shelter of collective religion. In the post-9/11 world, this analysis survives better than its contemporary thesis (Huntington) of the “clash of civilizations”.

In the late 1980s I had the honour of being included into the perpiphery the Moscowbased “Salmin bunch” and of being thus exposed to the Hillman manuscripts circulating around progressive academic circles. The impact of those, as well as of the discussions within the Salmin bunch literally saved my soul – i.e. led me to conclude that: a/ it was possible to not compromise totally with totalitarian regimes, because avenues of dignity were available; and b/ that these regimes were more or less guaranteed to fizzle out, as long as enough people decided to take up the avenues leading to the preservation of dignity and, therefore – the possibility (indeed, probability if not inescapability) of freedom. Evgenii Dainov Professor, Political Science and Philosophy Sofia Bulgaria