The following quotations give a sense of Voegelin's unsurpassed literary style and his gifts for penetrating observation, quick summation and wit. Here is a clickable list:
The feature that gives its color to the American phase of the English Revolution, as well as to the later independent American development up to the beginning of the twentieth century, is the fundamental possibility of evasion.
If friction or conflict arises within a social group in Europe, it has to be settled by compromise or fight. In America it could be settled by moving to another place. In its good as well as in its less good consequences, this opportunity has profoundly determined the American national character. Among the good consequences we may count the atmosphere of freedom and independence, of self-expression, self-assertion, and dignity of man on a broad democratic basis; among the more questionable consequences we have to count the evasion of issues and the lack of tragic sentiment that can arise only from collective experiences of insurmountable resistance and the necessity of submission. We may take it as a symptom of the situation that American literature has not yet produced a tragedy of high rank nor a work of profound humor [This is written almost forty years before Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (fjw).].
[William Warburton’ political sermons of 1745 set out a theory of the constitutional nationalist state and included in the new dogma the principle of the balance of power.] In political practice this principle means that, whenever the balance (which we many assume to be established at a given point of time) is disturbed by such factors as growth of population and technological or economic progress within one nation, the only admissible means for the solution of the problem is a world war that reduces the disproportionately growing power to comparative weakness. Alternative solutions, such as a Western hegemonic confederation under the leadership of the strongest power, or a genuine federation that would dissolve the national ossification and produce new supranational communities, are impermissible because they would conflict with the idolatry of national exclusiveness.
The problem of tyranny itself is discussed [by Coluccio Salutati in his De Tyranno (written in 1400)] in a case study of Caesar's rise to power. The question is whether Caesar was a tyrant—as he still was for John of Salisbury and as he would be again for Machiavelli. Salutati's answer is negative. Caesar was no tyrant because the political situation made the principate historically inevitable. The struggle of the civil war did not concern the alternative of republic or dictatorship; the issue was which of the contenders should be the absolute ruler ( uter regeret et rerum summam et moderamen assumeret ).
Who else could have saved the situation? The senate, or the estate of the equites, or the plebs certainly could not do it, for they all were torn by factions and incapable of concerted action. The only outcome to be hoped for was the clemency and justice of the victor; and in this hope the helpless onlookers were not disappointed, for Caesar atoned for the horrors of the civil strife by his wonderful magnanimity. The sequel to Caesar's death showed the criminality of the assassination and the historical justice of the monarchy.
In this analysis of the problem of tyranny, we should especially note Salutati's uncompromising, historical realism; as with Guicciardini, his judgment is never affected by his personal political preferences. Compared with the realism of Salutati, Machiavelli must appear as the "unhistorical mind," as Alfred von Martin characterized him. Only when we see Machiavelli in the context of the Italian tradition do we become aware of how strong the touch of dogmatism and enthusiasm is in his makeup.
One hears frequently talk of the Geneva of Calvin, but it is at least equally justified to speak of the Calvin of Geneva. The reform movement is essentially a town movement and it could unfold its possibilities much better under the conditions of town life than under those of a large, populous, territorial realm.
The Swiss towns, and later the New England settlements, have become the great instances of Calvinist discipline, not because the Swiss or New Englanders were more religious than other people, but because medieval town life, with small communities on a small territory, was conducive to close supervision of the people and enforcement of discipline.
Petty snooping, petty rules of conduct, and their enforcement were features of medieval town life without Calvin—just as today hicktowns are hells of supervision by interested neighbors. . . . Only the peculiarly terroristic atmosphere of a small town permits the tight control of the people that the Reformers intended; . . .
Cosmological cultures are not a domain of primitive "idolatry," "polytheism," or "paganism," but highly sophisticated fields of mythical imagination, quite capable of finding the proper symbols for the concrete or typical cases of divine presence in a cosmos in which divine reality is omnipresent. Moreover, the cases symbolized are not experienced as unrelated oddities, each case forming a species of reality by itself, but definitely as "the gods," i.e., manifestations of the one divine reality that constitutes and pervades the cosmos. This consciousness of divine oneness behind the multitude of gods can express itself in the mythospeculative constructions of theogonies and cosmogonies which compactly symbolize both the oneness of divinity and the oneness of the world it has created. The gods of cosmological culture, one may say, have a foreground of specific and a background of universal divine presence; they are specific divinities who partake of universal divine reality.
You get some funny situations. In California now there is a fight between literalists or providentialists, and biological theorists. And you get in the textbooks both Genesis and Darwinian evolutionism as two "theories" of evolution. You see what that really means? The fundamentalist theologians in California (fundamentalism was well established there at the beginning of the century) don't know what a myth is. They believe it is a theory. They're in ignorance.
And the biological theorists don't know that Kant has analysed why one cannot have an immanentist theory of evolution. One can have empirical observation but no general theory of evolution because the sequence of forms is a mystery; it just is there and you cannot explain it by any theory. The world cannot be explained. It is a mythical problem, so you have a strong element of myth in the theory of evolution.
So both the theoretical evolutionists and the fundamentalist theologians are illiterate. That level of illiteracy is taught in the text books as "two theories"—neither one of which is a theory.
The theological training that a man like Erasmus underwent must have been highly unsatisfactory: an epigonic scholasticism, degenerated into hairsplitting distinctions of peripheral, irrelevant problems, and administered by masters who were quite frequently ignorant of the biblical texts, whose active intellectual penetration of the great scholastic systems was practically nonexistent, who were unable to make the conceptual distinctions of doctrine intelligible in the light of spiritual experiences or historical circumstances, in brief who were most likely to convey the impression to an intelligent, sensitive young man that Christianity could be found anywhere in the world except in the stuff that they dished out.
In order to degrade the politics of Plato, Aristotle, or Saint Thomas to the rank of "values" among others, a conscientious scholar would first have to show that their claim to be science was unfounded. And that attempt is self-defeating. By the time the would-be critic has penetrated the meaning of metaphysics with sufficient thoroughness to make his criticism weighty, he will have become a metaphysician himself. The attack on metaphysics can be undertaken with a good conscience only from the safe distance of imperfect knowledge.
When doctrinal truth becomes socially dominant, even the knowledge of the processes by which doctrine derives from the original account, and the original account from the engendering experience, may get lost. The symbols may altogether cease to be translucent for reality. They will, then, be misunderstood as propositions referring to things in the manner of propositions concerning objects of sense perception; and since the case does not fit the model, they will provoke the reaction of skepticism on the gamut from a Pyrrhonian suspense of judgment, to vulgarian agnosticism, and further on to the smart idiot questions of "How to do you know?" and "How can you prove it?" that every college teacher knows from his classroom. . . .
It is not easy to understand the personality that emerges from the Relectiones de Indis . In following the analysis the reader will have asked himself: Who is this man Vitoria? Is he a smooth rascal who writes his lectures tongue-in-cheek? Is he a professional lawyer who defends a racket for a fee? Or is he an egregious example of the human capacity for self-deception? The questions impose themselves, but they can find no simple answer. . . .
. . . .We have in our time a very peculiar generation of scholars who all are clear about it: ideologies are finished. Each one in his way has taken this or that ideology and criticized it so that nothing is left of it. Nevertheless, he does not quite see what to do afterwards, so we have a peculiar fence-straddling generation. These people are very serious; but their having seen that all is wrong still doesn't mean they know what is right. . . .
[Take] a case like Philip Rieff, who has written a splendid book, The Mind of the Moralist [Fn] . If you read that book on Freud and psychoanalysis you know psychoanalysis is finished. After that book nobody can by a psychoanalyst with a decent conscience. But Rieff doesn't know what to do now.
Excuse my rough words—I don't mean to be disrespectful to the psychological analyses of Sartre (late in L' Être et le Néant, for example)—but he is a vulgarian and an epigone. He's not interesting. He's not to be compared with Camus; he was a thinker! Sartre is not on that level.
. . . . The author, in fact, adopts the immanentist ideology; she keeps an "open mind" with regard to the totalitarian atrocities; she considers the question of a "change of nature" a matter that will have to be settled by "trial and error;" and since the "trial" could not yet avail itself of the opportunities afforded by a global laboratory, the question must remain in suspense for the time being. . . . . We suggested previously that the author's theoretical derailments are somtimes more interesting than her insights. . . .
[The Origins of Totalitariansim] as a whole must not be judged by the theoretical derailments, which occur mostly in its concluding part. The treatment of the subject matter itself is animated, if not always penetrated, by the age-old knowledge about human nature and the life of the spirit, which in the conclusions, the author wishes to discard and to replace by "new discoveries."
Let us rather take comfort in the unconscious irony of the closing sentence of the work, where the author appeals, for the "new" spirit of human solidarity, to Acts 16:28: "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." Perhaps, when the author progresses from quoting to hearing these words, her nightmarish fright will end like that of the jailer to whom they were addressed.
The term here at Harvard is drawing toward its end. This is a funny place. I knew that before, but not so well in detail as one does, if one is part of the crew. The Dep. of Government is loaded with second- and third-rate people; and there is not a single one whom one could say to be really first-rate. They are not behaviorists or anything else seriously reprehensible, but they are all caught in the changing winds of the time and do not know what to do.
They are basically conservative in the sense that they want to conduct political science on the level of tradition—Federalist Papers, constitution, supreme court—quite laudable in itself, but no longer feasible, as the field of problems has enlarged into world-politics, foreign civilizations, ideologies, etc. which all cannot be mastered by the categories of the Founding Fathers.
The way out would be to start seriously philosophizing, and to rebuild political science with proper regard to the new materials and the new theories necessary for handling them. But that is quite beyond their range. The oddest people are the political theorists. There is a man named L. H. who considers political theory a sort of literary criticism, applied to the works of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. And there is a woman named [J.N.]S. who considers political theory an antiquarian interest, to be indulged in by queer people like herself—she pleads for excluding political theory from the exam requirements.
A quite different climate prevails at the Divinity School. There is a collection of first-rate scholars: [Krister] Stendahl in New Testament, [Thorkild] Jacobsen for the Ancient Orient, [Frank Moore] Cross for the Old Testament, [Gilles] Quispel for early Church History, and [Preston N.] Williams for the Reformation. I call them the alibi professors—Harvard has a lot of money, it can afford to hire these scholars (three of them from Europe); they give prestige, but have no influence whatsoever on the student body. They are appointed by the President [Nathan Pusey] against the will of the Faculty and are studiously ignored by the other Departments.
Quispel, who is an old friend of mine (I know him from Utrecht; he is the editor of the Nag Hammadi finds), says frankly he feels like [he is] living in a ghetto. They have him here this year on trial and want to offer him the professorship formerly held by [Paul] Tillich. He is very doubtful whether he should take it, especially since Tillich never had more than ten students, thanks to the boycott methods of the "Yard" faculty.
If you set aside the Divinity ghetto, the place is depressing. Especially since the philosophy department is a joke—all filled up with British analysts, semanticists, and similar fauna. I always say that this department is proof that the paperbacks have no cultur[al] influence whatsoever. There is Plato and Aristotle available in paperback for the last ten or twenty years, and the Harvard Department of Philosophy still does not know what philosophy is all about.
The students are more refreshing. There is, of course, the contingent of hard-boiled ideologues who dropped my course before the date of final changes. But the rest, about one half, are enthusiastic and most touching. They have given me a dinner, what seems to be unheard of in the Annals of Harvard; and they assure everybody that at last there was an interesting course in government. From what I hear myself from fugitives from other courses, the chief sentiment among the students seems to be one of utter boredom and frustration, a feeling that their time is being wasted.
In sum: This place is coasting on the momentum of the past. There is nothing going on here; even more, there is hostility against anything new. As they have just built a William James Hall for the behavioral sciences, I make myself popular by assuring people that William James could not get a job at Harvard today. In the Government Department this situation is sensed, if not clearly understood; the mood is, therefore, defeatist. They feel doomed to be overrun by the behaviorists.
The interaction of the three strata [philosopher, spiritualist, system builder] in Hegel’s existence makes him a characteristically modern thinker. There is a sensitive philosopher and spiritualist, a noetically and pneumatically competent critic of the age, an intellectual force of the first rank, and yet, he cannot quite gain the stature of his true self as a man under God. From the darkness of this existential deficiency, then, rises the libido dominandi and forces him into the imaginative construction of a false self as the messias of the new age. The interaction of the strata, thus, cannot be brought on a simple formula. In the construction of the system, it is true, the Second Reality of the third stratum prevails and badly deforms the existence of the philosopher and spiritualist.
But Hegel does not always construct his system. He can write brilliant commonsense studies on politics, as well as literary essays which reveal him as a master of the German language and a great man of letters. Moreover, the systematic works themselves are filled with excellent philosophical and historical analyses which can stand for themselves, unaffected in their integrity by the system into which they are built.
Hence, the modernity of Hegel can be characterized as the coexistence of two selves, as an existence divided into a true and a false self holding one another in such balance that neither the one nor the other ever becomes completely dominant. Neither does the true self become strong enough to break the system, nor does the false self become strong enough to transform Hegel into a murderous revolutionary or a psychiatric case.
[We would not be worried by the claim that Greek philosophy is "historically determined" and only accesible to factual description and not to an examination of the truth or faleness of propositions except for the fact that historical relativism is a social force for quite different reasons.]
In determining these other reasons, one may well follow the Roman question: cui bono? Who profits by the assumption that works of the mind are so thoroughly determined by historical circumstance that the pursuit of truth about the nature of man is not recognizable in them?
The answer is obvious: the spiteful mediocrity which hates excellence. The argument of historical relativism is the defense of the little man against recognition of greatness. If Plato is encased in the circumstances of the 4th c. B.C. and Mr. Jones in the circumstances of the 20th c. A.D. the community of the psyche is interrupted; no confrontation from man to man is possible; the discomfort of discovering and admitting one's own smallness before the great is averted; and above all, the obligations arising through confrontation with greatness have disappeared.
All men are on the same level of circumstanced equality. Behind the personal viciousness that puts social strength into historical relativism, there lies the much larger issue of the revolt against God and the escape into gnosticism. For "the measure of man is God," and the life of the psyche is the life in truth.
By interrupting communication with those who live in truth, the life in truth itself is avoided. Historical relativism is the radical attack on the communication of truth through the dialogue in history.
The phenomenon of Hitler is not exhausted by his person. His success must be understood in the context of an intellectually or morally ruined society in which personalities who otherwise would be grotesque, marginal figures can come to public power because they superbly represent the people who admire them.
[....Locke's] obsession of constructing an ideal system of government [ gave way in Montesquieu] to the recognition of the infinite variety of peoples who require governmental orders in accordance with their historic individualities. If a system of institutions is well adapted to the general spirit of a people, it has become so strongly individualized, in the opinion of Montesquieu, that it is unusable for any other people. (Montesquieu might be read with profit by the incurable provincials who believe that a system of government that has worked in one country is a panacea for the evils of the world.)
Ideologies, whether Positivist, or Marxist, or National Socialist, indulge in constructions that are intellectually not tenable. That raises the question of why people who otherwise are not quite stupid, and who have the secondary virtues of being quite honest in their daily affairs, indulge in intellectual dishonesty as soon as they touch science.
That ideology is a phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty is beyond a doubt, because the various ideologies after all have been submitted to criticism, and anybody who is willing to read the literature knows that they are not tenable, and why. If one adheres to them nevertheless, the prima facie assumption must be that he is intellectually dishonest.
The overt phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty then raises the question of why a man will indulge in it. That is a general problem that in my later years required complicated research to ascertain the nature, causes, and persistence of states of alienation.
[The ideologue’s] problem will become clear, as soon as we state the alternatives to persistence in his dream. In order to accept reason, he would have to accept truth experienced–but the reality of existential tension is difficult to revive, once it has atrophied. If the prison of his dream, however, were broken in any other manner than by a return to reality, the only vista opening to him would be the bleakness of existence in a world-immanent time where everything is post-everything-that-has-gone-before ad infinitum.
The second alternative would release a flood of anxiety, and the dread of this flood keeps the doors of the prison closed. We should be aware of this horror, when sometimes we wonder about an ideologue’s resistance to rational argument. The alternative to life in the paradise of his dream is death in the hell of his banality. His self-made immortality is at stake; and in order to protect it, he must cling to his conception of time.
For the time in which the ideologue places his construction is not the time of existence in tension toward eternity, but a symbol by which he tries to pull the timeless into identity with the time of his existence. Though the reality of tension between the timeless and time is lost, thus, the form of the tension is preserved by the dream act of forcing the two poles into oneness. We can characterize the ideologue’s “post-Christian age,” therefore, as a symbol engendered by his libidinous dream of self-salvation.
The time had not yet come [i.e: while Max Weber was still working in the 1920's] to state flatly that "historical materialism" is not a theory but a falsification of history or that a "materialistic" interpreter of politics is an ignoramus who had better bone up on elementary facts. As a second component in the "demonism" of values there begins to emerge, not acknowledged as such by Weber, a goodly portion of ignorance. And the political intellectual who "demonically" decides himself for his "value" begins to look suspiciously like a megalomaniac ignoramus. It would seem that "demonism" is a quality that a man possesses in inverse proportion to the radius of his relevant knowledge.
A plant is a plant. You see it. You don't see its
physical-chemical processes, and nothing about the plant
changes if you know that physical-chemical processes are
going on inside. How these processes will result in what
you experience immediately as a plant (a rose or an oak
tree), you don't know anyway. So if you know these
substructures in the lower levels of the ontic hierarchy
(beyond the plant which is organism) and go into the
physical, chemical, molecular and atomic structures, ever
farther down, the greater becomes the miracle how all that
thing is a plant. Nothing is explained. If you try to
explain it in terms of some mechanism, you have committed
the fallacy of reduction.
If you deform your experience by trying to explain what you experience by the things which you don't experience but which you know only by science, you get a perverted imagination of reality—if you see a rose as a physical or atomic process.
Those forces in the soul that disturb the attunement of the person with the order of being are as essentially human as the experience of order and the desire for attunement. Every man has to carry the burden of his all-too-human passions—of his pride and inertia, his aggressiveness and lack of courage, his righteous indignation and lack of wisdom, his dullness and lack of imagination, his complacency and indifference, his ignorance and folly. In brief: the nature of man is not all personal. On the contrary, it contains a powerful sector of urges, passions, concupiscences that not only are impersonal but even obstruct the formation and action of the personal center in the soul. Hence, the use of force in society is not necessary for imposing a true order on the person of man—that matter would take care of itself if man were all person. It is necessary for imposing an order bearing the marks of human personality on the impersonal nature of man. In particular, the use of force is necessary to break the impersonality of man when it tends to disrupt the order of human existence in society.
Those who have had the privilege of Huizinga's company in conversation will find his last work [ Homo Ludens ] a mirror of his personality. They will hear again the voice of the sensitive spiritualist and cultivated humanist, of the man in whose refined erudition could be felt the tradition of Erasmus, and whose sense of humor and awareness for the importance of play made one inevitably think of the earthiness and wit of Brueghel. He was one of the rare figures in our time who imparted the impression of a fully developed man. History was for him the field in which the nature of man unfolds, both in its glory and its baseness.
The English constitution attracts [Montesquieu's] interest as a form of government that assures liberty and the rule of law and can serve as a model for the French reform. In this context Montesquieu (1689-1755) has given what may be called the classic rational idea of liberty, in contrast with our modern emotional idea of liberty. "Political liberty," he defines, "is the tranquillity of mind that results from the conviction that everybody has his security"(XI.6) [ Fn 1 ]; but this liberty is not a liberty to do what one wants to do. Under a rule of law liberty consists in "the power to do what one should will, and not to be compelled to do what one should not will to do"(XI.3). [ Fn 2 ] Or, to bring the contrast with the modern idea to the point: for Montesquieu a free government is given when everybody can safely do what he should do according to moral rules, while today we conceive of a free government as a state where people can do what they want to do whether they should do it or not. . . .
The furious concentration on the evil book has created the illusion that its author was a solitary figure, something like a moral freak, perhaps created with the sinister purpose of making life miserable for historians of the sixteenth century who could [otherwise] begin their story so wonderfully with the Reformation unless the "enigmatic figure" stood in the way. That, of course, is not so. There is nothing solitary or enigmatic about Machiavelli. His ideas, like everybody's, have a solid prehistory stretching over generations, and they were shared in his time by others.
What is historically unique is the genius of Machiavelli as well as the peculiar constellation of circumstances that bent his genius toward crystallizing the ideas of the age in the symbol of the prince who, through fortuna and virtù, will be the savior and restorer of Italy.
[Milton writes in Of True Religion , 1673:] Catholic worship cannot be tolerated "without grievous and unsufferable scandal giv'n to all consciencious Beholders." And he leaves it to the civil magistrate to consider whether Catholics in England can be tolerated at all, even without public worship. If Catholics should complain that their conscience is violated if the celebration of the mass is not permitted to them, he replies that "we have not warrant to regard Conscience which is not founded on Scripture." . . . . Radical scripturalism has become, in the field of social technique, the instrument through which the conscience of man can be kept within the limits of national jurisdiction.
Milton goes even further in his scripturalism: he expects everybody to do his duty and to use the opportunity offered by the English Bible translation for becoming thoroughly acquainted with Scripture. "Neither let the Countryman, the Tradesman, the Lawyer, the Physician, the Statesman, excuse himself by his much business from the studious reading thereof. . . ."
Using a modern category, we might say that Milton was a totalitarian National Scripturalist. . . .
What you say about "humanism" is most suggestive. You are quite right, when you say that the creations [sic] of gods has something to do with true humanity. As a matter of fact, the meaning of humanity was fixed in the process of separating the human from the divine; and as soon as the meaning of the divine becomes unclear again, the meaning of humanity becomes correspondingly confused. (In my second Volume [of Order and History, II, Collected Works vol. 15] you will find quite a bit on this subject, in Homer and Xenophanes.)
For modern humanism this question has been worked through by Henri de Lubac in his Drame de I'Humanisme Athée (it is translated, under some title, into English). Whether one should recapture the term from the humanists, is a question of intellectual politics. One would have to coin a new formula like "true humanism," in order to distinguish it from the "atheistic humanism."
I have tried to get along with the terms "philosophy" and "Christianity," in order to avoid this dilemma. But I could well imagine, that in the context of literary criticism, the term "humanism" is so useful that one should make an effort to keep it.
—I admit the dictum "There are no gods, but we must believe in them." You are right, the gods are the symbols by which transcendence is articulated. A good deal of the fundamentalism of enlightenment is due to the fact that the symbolic meaning, the analogia entis, of the gods (which was quite clear to the Greeks, and the medieval Scholastics) was lost. When the faithful become fundamentalist, one cannot blame the intellectuals if they take them [at] their word and make nonsense of God or the gods. One of the great tasks ahead of us is a renewal of the analogical meaning of symbols, a new philosophy of myth and revelation.
The acquisition of [Greek] was of course fundamental for my later work, not only so far as my knowledge of Greek philosophy was concerned, but: for understanding fundamentally that one cannot deal with materials unless one can read them.
That sounds trivial, but as I later found out it is a truth not only neglected but hotly contested by a good number of persons who are employed by our colleges and who, with the greatest of ease, talk about Plato and Aristotle, or Thomas and Augustine, or Dante and Cervantes, or Rabelais or Goethe, without being able to read a line of the authors on whom they pontificate.
Notre Dame is a peculiar place. I have never before lived in a concentrated Catholic environment like this. An advantage is the very high degree of philosophical education that one finds with practically everybody. A disadvantage is the peculiar provincialism of seeing nothing but the Catholic party line.
That expresses itself especially in the composition of the library; magnificent stocks in Thomism, scholastic sources, and medieval history. Next to nothing on such infidel subjects as China, India, or archaeology; also the Protestant literature is completely neglected.
Still, there is considerable life in the place. They have emerged about ten years ago from the status of a hick college and are struggling valiantly to become a university. The place is humming with projects and actual expansion.
Political Science is in fairly good shape. The chairman is a Father who in spite of his clerical garb is a merry soul and has his Ph.D. from Yale.* And there is [Gerhart] Niemeyer, who is the head of a research institute for Communism, a first-rate specialist in his field. They are very kind to me and do not ask more than a three-hour course and a seminar.
* Stanley Parry, C.S.C.
Symbols don't just develop. Every word that we use in our language, that is now part of our language, was not lying around somewhere but was created by somebody—even terms like"quantity" and "quality." We ask: who invented quantity and quality? Cicero. There wasn't any quantity or quality before him. Every such instrument of thought—even such elementary things—has been created, as far as the intellectual and spiritual origin is concerned, by certain people on certain occasions of experiences; and we usually are in possession of the early document.
As I said, the term "theology" begins in the Republic of Plato—that is an early example.
The term "metaphysics" was introduced by Thomas for the first time in his proœmium to the Metaphysics of Aristotle. You can trace it back: "metaphysics" is an Arabic deformation of the Greek letters meta ta physica (which mean nothing of that sort) and was taken over as a convenient term. In the seventeenth century "metaphysics" was replaced by the term "ontology" and that has become fashionable to a certain extent. . . . For every term you can say who, how, when and why that piece of language was produced. One has always to go back to that. So symbols don't just happen.
"A further reason for my hatred of . . . ideologies is
quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people
for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite
understand at the time, but in the intervening years the
ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast
some light on this matter.
The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one's power, optimally by killing somebody—a pseudo-identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost. . . . A good example of the type of self that has to kill other people in order to regain in an Ersatzform what it has lost is the famous Saint-Juste, who says that Brutus either has to kill other people or kill himself.
. . . . I have no sympathy whatsoever with such characters and have never hesitated to characterize them as "murderous swine."
A reader, while being a little envious of the happiness that such assurance [that Anglo-American governments are the best in the world] must confer on its possessor, will also feel a little uneasy about a philosopher in such harmony with his environment. He will remember Plato and Aristotle, who did not hesitate to rank Hellenic political culture higher than any other but found enough of a gulf between standards and reality to make them despair that a well-ordered polis could ever be realized in Hellas.
The Oxford political philosophers do not adopt the classic philosophical attitude that reality at its best is still far from conforming with principles. Their arrangement of mankind in outer circles of the "condemned" [J.D.Mabbott] or "barbarians" [R.G.Collingwood] and inner circles of Western civilization, with a further more concentric ring of the Anglo-Saxon democracies, and a distinction between "radical" and "individualist" democracy that will confer a slight edge on England over the United States [T.D.Weldon], is reminiscent of Bodin's arrangement of mankind, under a theory of climates, in outer sectors of partial goodness and a center of political virtue in France, with a concentration of this virtue in the French constitutional lawyers, and an ultimate concentration of political wisdom in the principles laid down by Bodin.
The doctrinaire segmentation of history has found its climactic expression in the formula: "We are living in a post-Christian age." Every style, even the doctrinaire, has its beauties of perfection—and the philosopher cannot suppress his admiration for the neat trick of turning the "post-Christ" of the Christians into the "post-Christian" of the ideologues.
Thanks to existential assent, the formula has become widely accepted in our society. Thinkers who otherwise rank above the level of ordinary intellectuals propound it with a serious, if sorrowful, face; and even theologians, who ought to know better, are softening under constant pressure and display a willingness to demythologize their dogma, to abandon the most charming miracles, to renounce the virgin birth, and glumly to admit that God is dead. The attitude is regrettable; for a truth whose symbols have become opaque and suspect cannot be saved by doctrinal concessions to the Zeitgeist , but only by a return to the reality of experience which originally has engendered the symbols. The return will engender its own exegesis [and] the exegetic language will make the older symbols translucent again.
[ Schelling observed that those] who strive for freedom of action in the world (in the Christian sense) will lose it; the point for which they strive, the harmony of freedom with necessity, recedes from them in action. This point does not lie ahead of them, it is behind them. "In order to find it, they would first have to come to a stop. Most people, however, never come to a stop." [ fn 40 ]
This return is, furthermore, everyone's most personal
affair. The sanctification of the individual life has
nothing to do directly with the salvation of mankind; the
destiny of man is not absorbed in the destiny of mankind.
Every man has to try for himself to represent the highest.
"Nothing is remoter from this sentiment than the restless
striving to improve or advance others in direct action,
that philanthropical addiction of so many people who
permanently talk about the weal of mankind and want to
accelerate its progress, thus taking the place of
Providence; usually they are people who do not know how to
perfect themselves and want to make others enjoy the fruit
of their boredom."
I want to stress that Gnosticism, as well as its history from antiquity to the present, is the subject of a vastly developed science, and that the idea of interpreting contemporary phenomena as gnostic is not as original as it may look to the ignoramuses who have criticized me for it.
. . . . if I had discovered for myself all the historical and philosophical problems for which I am criticized by intellectuals, I would be without a doubt the greatest philosopher in the history of mankind.
[I should like to mention the great work by Ferdinand Christian Baur on Die christliche Gnosis; oder, die christliche Religionsphilosophie in ihrer geschictlichen Entwicklung of 1835. Baur unfolded the history of Gnosticism from the original Gnosis of antiquity, through the Middle Ages, right into the philosophy of religion of Jakob Böhme, Schelling, Schleirermacher, and Hegel.]
Before publishing anything on the applicability of gnostic categories to modern ideologies, I consulted with our contemporary authorities on Gnosticisim, especially with Henri Charles Puech in Paris and Gilles Quispel in Utrecht. Puech considered it a matter of course that modern ideologies are gnostic speculations; and Quispel brought the Gnosticisim of Jung, in which he was especially interested, to my attention.
. . . . Not the least grotesque feature of a grotesque age is the speed at which standpoints roll off the production line of consciousness. In fact, the public scene has become so crowded with them that, in the twentieth century, the Open Society—Popper's, not Bergson's—had to be invented, in order to prevent public collisions between private opinions. Regrettably, however, the device for securing peace among opinions, if not of mind, is not foolproof. For every now and then, there happens a standpointer who takes himself seriously and faces everybody else with the alternative of either joining him in his intellectual prison or being put in a concentration camp.
When [John Locke] approaches Christianity he makes a tabula rasa of Western history. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding he had swept aside all earlier metaphysical efforts and started philosophizing from scratch. In [his Reasonableness of Christianity] he makes a similar sweep of all Christian tradition, including the patres and scholastics, and starts on an analysis of the New Testament as if it were a book that had been published yesterday. The mind of the Essay is a blank paper ready to receive the impression of the Gospel.
You can see best what you call today's craze for Eastern
mysticism if you go to any college bookstore. . . . I'm
skeptical because none of my students [at Stanford] who
suddenly go out for Eastern mysticism, does any serious
work. They talk about it. But when I say: "How about
reading about the relations, the parallels, of Eastern and
Western mysticism, e.g., Rudolf Otto's
?"—that is the last you hear of them.
They would have to work when they read a book and they
don't do it. That's why I'm skeptical. There may be one
or two somewhere who are seriously interested. . . .
You can escape from the tension [of existence in our Western tradition] just as well if you read The Cloud of Unknowing —so there's something fishy about it. Or by reading one of the Upanishads ; but they don't like that because it's too intellectual, too rational. They want the I Ching which is difficult to understand and perhaps not intelligible at all in certain sections. The prevalence of the I Ching in the fantasies of these persons makes me very suspicious. And when you say: "Perhaps you should read Marcel Granet, the greatest authority on the early Chinese culture," not one of them is willing.
If anything is characteristic of ideologies and ideological thinkers, it is the destruction of language, sometimes on the level of intellectual jargon of a high level of complication, sometimes on a vulgarian level.
From my personal experience with various ideologists of a Hegelian or Marxist type, I have the impression that a good number of men of considerable intellectual energy who otherwise would be Marxists prefer to be Hegelians because Hegel is so much more complicated.
This is a difference not of any profound conviction but of what I would compare to the taste of a man who prefers chess to pinochle. Hegel is more complicated, and one can easily spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities of interpreting reality from this or that corner of the Hegelian system, without of course ever touching on the premises that are wrong—and perhaps without ever finding out that there are premises that are wrong.
True materialism is rare, and the philosophers who turn toward it are among the most distinguished minds of their age. In our time the great materialists are George Santayana and Paul Valéry, both strongly under the influence of Lucretius.
Materialism does not imply a negation or even a contempt of the spirit. On the contrary, a great spiritual sensitiveness alone can induce the fatigue of spiritual existence, disillusionment with its symbols as substances, and their acceptance as aesthetic expressions of the substantial mystery of life. We may even suspect that the materialist who expects and desires life to end in depersonalization, that the mystic who lives in the insight that "Tout va sous terre et rentre dans le jeu!" and nevertheless can accept the game of life with courage and a smile— "le vent se lève! . . . Il faut tenter de vivre!"— has sensed more acutely the tension of substance and accidence in the life of the spirit than many a spiritualist. 1
. . . . The virtù of the conquering prince becomes the source of order; and since the Christian, transcendental order of existence had become a dead letter for the Italian thinkers of the fifteenth century, the virtù ordinata of the prince, as the principle of the only order that is experienced as real, acquires human-divine, heroic proportions.
This is the situation of Machiavelli. The misery of Italy is not a fact to be accepted; on the contrary, the depth of political humiliation is an invitation for a man of semidivine, heroic qualities to eject the barbarians and to restore an Italian order through his virtù , which will overcome the adverse fortuna , as so often a hero has risen from private insignificance to become the founder of a people and its order.
The evocation of the mythical hero is the center of Machiavelli’s work in the same sense in which the evocation of the philosopher-king is the center of Plato’s work. Machiavelli has created a myth; this fact must be the basis of interpretation if we wish to avoid misunderstanding his theory of politics as the insight that foul means are frequently more helpful in acquiring political power than fair ones.
It is extremely difficult to engage in a critical discussion of National Socialist ideas, as I found out when I gave my semester course on "Hitler and the Germans" in 1964 in Munich, because in National Socialist and related documents, we are still farther below the level on which rational argument is possible than in the case of Hegel and Marx.
In order to deal with rhetoric of this type, one must first develop a philosophy of language, going into the problems of symbolization on the basis of the philosophers' experience of humanity and of the perversion of such symbols on the vulgarian level by people who are utterly unable to read a philosopher's work. A person on this level—which I characterize as the vulgarian and, so far as it becomes socially relevant, as the ochlocratic level—again, is not admissible to the position of a partner in discussion but can only be an object of scientific research.
These vulgarian and ochlocratic problems must not be taken lightly; one cannot simply not take notice of them. They are serious problems of life and death because the vulgarians create and dominate the intellectual climate in which the rise to power of figures like Hitler is possible.
I would say, therefore, that in the German case the destroyers of the German language on the literary and journalistic level, characterized and analyzed over more than thirty years by Karl Kraus in the volumes of Die Fackel, were the true criminals who were guilty of the National Socialist atrocities, which were possible only when the social environment had been so destroyed by the vulgarians that a person who was truly representative of this vulgarian spirit could rise to power.
. . . In order to be representative, it is not enough for a government to be representative in the constitutional sense (our elemental type of representative institutions); it must also be representative in the existential sense of realizing the idea of the institution. And the implied warning may be explicated in the thesis: If a government is nothing but representative in the constitutional sense, a representative ruler in the existential sense will sooner or later make an end of it; and quite possibly the new existential ruler will not be too representative in the constitutional sense.
When [Max] Weber built the great edifice of his "sociology" (i.e., the positivistic escape from the science of order), he did not seriously consider "all values" as equal. He did not indulge in a worthless trash collection but displayed quite sensible preferences for phenomena that were "important" in the history of mankind; he could distinguish quite well between major civilizations and less important side developments and equally well between "world religions" and unimportant religious phenomena. In the absence of a reasoned principle of theoretization he let himself be guided not by "values" but by the auctoritas majorum and his own sensitiveness for excellence.