On Turgot and the Invention of "Humanity"
(the "Masse Totale" )

Turgot [1727-1781] transposes the Christian dichotomy of [sacred history, which does have meaning] and profane history [which can have no meaning because its whole is not yet known] into the context of intramundane thought through his dichotomy of the “thread of progress” [softening of the mores, enlightenment of the mind and the intensification of world trade] and the vast ballast of historical ups and downs and asides that have no meaning in themselves. However, he cannot extract from the “sacred” thread of progress a meaning for the spiritual destiny of the concrete person [man in the fullness of his dimensions, including the intellectual and spiritual].

. . . . Since the finite lines of meaning, which can be found in the civilizational process, can have no meaning for man as a spiritual person, man and his concrete problems have to be brushed aside; since concrete man cannot be the subject for whom history has a meaning, the subject has to be changed; man is replaced by the masse totale. The masse totale, however, has no concrete existence, nor is the masse given to human experience; it is the evocation of a carrier of meaning, of a new divinity, into which a man who has lost his openness toward the transcendental realissimum has projected his desire for salvation. The masse totale is not a reality in the experiential sense; it is the tentative evocation of a new intramundane divinity. . . .

. . . . The Christian idea of mankind is the idea of a community whose substance consists of the Spirit in which the members participate; the homonoia of the members, the likemindedness through the Spirit that has become flesh in all and each of them, welds them into a universal community of mankind. This bond of the spirit is timeless; the Spirit is not more present today than it was yesterday, and it will not be more present tomorrow than it is today. Only because the Spirit is transcendentally out of time can it be universally present in time, living in each man equally, irrespective of the age or place in which the man lives; only because the course of the community is out of time is mankind a universal community within historical time. . . .

. . . .[ Turgot’s concept of humanity (the masse totale )] can have no appeal to a humanist and Christian; and whenever Positivist ideas spread in a socially menacing form, the clash with the traditions of Western high civilization is inevitable. . . . The idea of being in substance a member of a masse totale can appeal only to a man who has not much substance of his own. His personality must be sufficiently underdeveloped, that is to say it must be deficient in spiritual organization and balance to such a degree, that the anxiety of existence cannot be controlled and absorbed by the normal processes of the mature, meditative life. As a consequence he will be plagued by insecurities, frustrations, fears, aggressiveness, paranoic obsessions, uncontrollable hatreds, and so on.

The great escape for the man who cannot extricate himself from this state through the personal solution has always been, and will always be, to submerge himself in a collective personality that he either will find ready at hand in his environment or will evoke for the occasion. Tribalism is the answer to immaturity because it permits man to remain immature with the sanction of his group.

A man who is not much of a person can still be quite a useful individual. Hence a tribe of immature utilitarians can be highly efficient and a very powerful community, and at the same time a very dangerous one if its insecurities, its provincialism, its xenophobia and paranoia turn, for one reason or another, aggressively ad extra . . . .

CW Vol 26 (HPI-VIII)
Chapter 2 Positivism
§ 2. The Historicism of Turgot, pp 111,113-116.







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