The Philosophy of War in Conceptualizing the Phenomenon of War and Peace

War is one of the oldest phenomena of human history, which is so inseparably connected with it that it is difficult to imagine the existence of human society without it. Many treatises have been devoted to “eternal peace,” the problem of war and peace in the works of Friedrich II, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz and others. German authors have shown a variety of approaches to the problem of war and peace. Some adhered to the view that the development of history inevitably leads to universal peace, while others have insisted on the inevitability of wars and conflicts. Thus, Kant, in raising the question of the correlation between eternal peace and eternal rest, unlike Frederick II, who assumed the possibility of establishing “eternal peace” in the conditions of monarchical rule, associated the establishment of “eternal peace” with the conclusion of a universal peace treaty, but necessarily in the conditions of a republican form of government. At the same time, Kant’s “eternal peace” appears to be delayed, and its occurrence is achievable only in the future [Zotkin 2016].

In this regard, it was difficult to hope that in the foreseeable future humanity could find harmony in international relations. To this day, the world continues to teeter on the brink of war and peace; in one region or the other approaching the brink, beyond which Pandora’s box may open. What determines the “periodomorphism” that is manifested in the life of states and peoples? Following Heraclitus of Ephesus, who declared war to be the origin of everything, many philosophers have noted the role of war in the history of human civilization. Plato also considered war as a permanent element in the development of society. In The Laws he wrote: “…what most people call peace is only a name; but in reality, there is an eternal, irreconcilable war between all states by nature” [Plato 1972, 86].

Among European philosophers, Plato was one of the first to speak about the factors determining the emergence of wars. He shrewdly recognized the role of the demographic factor in the emergence of wars between states. Many philosophers of Antiquity considered war as an integral attribute of the existence of the state. This was due to the understanding of war as a way of establishing domination, a source of slave power, wealth, territories, which allowed to reach a higher stage of development of the ancient polis/republic. At the same time, not every war was positively evaluated. For example, the ancient Greeks were against wars between Hellenes, as well as internal wars (called strife), because it could lead to the self-destruction of the Greeks [Plato 1971, 270]. Another criterion of admissibility and moral justification of war was the principle of justice. The causes of wars, political, economic, demographic, social and other consequences were also the subject of philosophical reflection.

For a long time, the comprehension of various phenomena of nature and society remained the monopoly of philosophy. But even the emergence of other approaches for the study of these phenomena has not completely displaced this paradigm, which has been formed over two millennia. The founder of positivism, Auguste Comte, asserted that every science is a philosophy in itself, thus unwittingly assessing the cognitive status of philosophy.

More recent forms of knowledge of war, as compared to philosophy, have set aside their predecessor and claim to have exhaustive knowledge of the phenomenon, using their own tools. As disciplinary approaches to the study of war multiplied, many proponents of non-philosophical approaches had the illusion that it was possible to find exhaustive answers to fundamental questions about war through these approaches. However, as life has shown, these misconceptions were quickly dispelled, as these approaches only partially solved the stated problems.

Where and when does the philosophy of war begin? The works of philosophers that have addressed the issues of war are numerous and diverse. Therefore, it is difficult to draw a sharp dividing line between those works that dealt with the problem of war in fragments and those that had a clear indication of the subject of study at hand, as well as those that were fully devoted to war but were not philosophical treatises. For example, we do not find in Clausewitz a clear indication of the “philosophy of war,” although he is considered one of the main classics in this area. Nowadays, some researchers regard Clausewitz not just as a philosopher of war, but as a political philosopher of war, arguing that Clausewitz was perceived in this capacity within the framework of Carl Schmitt’s concept of the “political” [Belozerov 2018a; Belozerov 2018b].

One of the main merits of the Prussian general is considered to be his ingenious formulation of the determinacy of war by politics. Before him, Navia-Osorio y Vigil, the Marquis of Santa Cruz de Marcenado had written about it [Navia-Osorio y Vigil, 1738]. In an even more precise formulation, the philosophical direction of the study was indicated in the fragment, “Philosophy of War” [Lloyd 1790], from Henry Lloyd’s Military and Military Memoirs, translated as Introduction à l’histoire de la guerre en Allemagne en 1756 … ou Mémoires militaires et politiques du général Lloyd. Traduit et augmenté … d’un précis sur la vie… de ce général (Bruxelles: A. F. Pion, 1784), by Germain-Hyacinthe de Romance, a French officer. In it, even before Clausewitz, he laid the foundations of the philosophy of war and before Antoine-Henri Jomini had substantiated the principles of the doctrine of operational strategy. He divided the science of war into two parts: the first was mechanistic in nature and could be taught to students; the second was philosophical in nature and could not be taught. According to a number of researchers, this dichotomy largely determined the strategic thinking of the British theorist. It also influenced the confrontation between two leading strategists of the 19th century: Jomini, a supporter of purely strategic approaches, and Clausewitz, a proponent of philosophy and dialectics [Chalvardjian 2014, 166]. The period of the Napoleonic wars accelerated the process of synthesis of philosophy and military strategy. In France, a participant of the Napoleonic campaign in Russia, Marquis Georges de Chambre, a general of the French army, published his study, which was the result of deep observations, which he called, Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War). In it, he explained the importance of the philosophical approach to the study of war and his attitude to it [Chambray, 1829, V-VI].

The reason for the interest in the epistemological possibilities of philosophy, apparently, was that religious, in particular Christian, interpretations of the origin and laws of war no longer satisfied either political thinkers or military leaders. Niccolo Machiavelli, in addition to political problems, in his works addressed issues of military development. This was because of his official elected position as secretary of the Military Commission of Ten (Dieci di Libertà e Pace), which was responsible for representing Florence in conflicts, as well as his civic position as a political thinker. In his treatise, On the Art of War, he puts forward the idea of replacing the mercenary army with an army of citizens recruited for service by conscription. An essential feature of Machiavelli’s political philosophy was the transition to a secular political-philosophical model of understanding the power interactions of contemporary Italian society, expanding the boundaries of what was permitted by the Church.

As humanity has evolved, new technical means of violence have emerged, and new ways of armed struggle have multiplied, changing the face of war. This in turn led to attempts to rethink its essence and transformations. Each researcher saw in it specific features, the nature of which he sought to penetrate. In methodological terms, this is the basis for synthesizing the general and the singular, the object and subject of the philosophy of war. Is it possible to destroy the philosophical that is present in knowledge as such? The experience of a magnet with a north and south pole comes to mind. Trying to break the magnet in half does not result in the formation of the north and south poles separately in the resulting fragments. Each new piece will have north and south pole just like the original sample. In the same way, philosophy will be inherent in any knowledge that has reached a high stage of development. Whatever the name of a discipline, there will always be a place for philosophy in it. This understanding of the essence of the question of the presence of philosophy in theoretical knowledge became characteristic in the 19th century. New branches of knowledge appeared, where “philosophy” was a constituent part. It was especially widespread in German scientific and popular science literature, where the literary series Natur- und kulturphilosofische Bibliothek appeared. This applied in full measure to the science of war [Steinmetz, 1907].

The changeability of war has been noted by many thinkers, who used various metaphors to convey this property. Thus, Sun Tzu compared war to water: “… The army has no unchanging power, water has no unchanging form. Who knows how to master changes and transformations depending on the opponent and win, he is called a deity” [Sun Tzu, 2002, 51]. Representatives of the French school of polemology also associated changeability with the water element. They compared war with the mythical hero, Proteus, the son of Poseidon, who (according to Virgil) had inexhaustible abilities of transformations. A classic example of the changeability of war is Clausewitz’s statement about the internal and external sources of transformation of this phenomenon: “Thus, war is not only a real chameleon, since it changes its nature somewhat in each particular case, but also in its general forms in relation to the prevailing tendencies, it is a strange trinity made up of violence as its original element, hatred and enmity” [Clausewitz 1997, 58].

The multiplicity of war has been noted and highlighted by many contemporaries. One of them is the French philosopher Alexis Philonenko, who devoted himself to the study of many philosophical problems, among which the philosophy of war occupies an important place. In his Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre [Essays on the Philosophy of War], (1976), he scrutinizes the philosophical work of various philosophers—Machiavelli, Kant, Fichte, Saint-Just, Hegel, Clausewitz, Prudon, Tolstoy, De Gaulle—in relation to the study of the phenomenon of war. In doing so, he addressed the problem of the plurality of interpretations of war, as well as the problem of the correlation between war and peace. Among the reflections on the contributions of European philosophers and thinkers, Philonenko devotes a significant place to the philosophical reflections of Leo N. Tolstoy. Of the twelve chapters, four are devoted to it: “History and Religion in Tolstoy” (IX), “Tolstoy and Clausewitz” (X), “Tolstoy or Fatalism” (XI), “Logic and Strategy: Differential Calculus in War and Peace” (XII). Comparing the two unlike thinkers in their views on war, Philonenko wrote: “If at times it seemed that Tolstoy prevailed over Clausewitz, it must be recognized that a moment later Clausewitz prevailed over Tolstoy, and that in this way the philosopher of violence sometimes prevailed over the apostle of nonviolence, and vice versa” [Philonenko, 1976, 247]. Attention to the philosophical reasoning of Tolstoy, on the part of the French researcher, testifies to his open-mindedness to the work of one of the representatives of the Russian philosophy of war. Such positive interest for Russian thinkers on the part of foreign authors causes positive emotions, because it is not always so. An example of this is Raymond Aron’s arguments about the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of war and the army (which, in fact, was the philosophy of war in the USSR).

Discussing the multidimensionality of the philosophy of war, O.A. Belkov, a Russian researcher at the Research Institute of Military History of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, notes: “Taking into account these questions, the clarification of which constitutes the content of the philosophical understanding of war, and the problems that need such understanding, we can identify the areas of philosophical study of war: war as a state of society, different from peace, its essence and meaning, properties and signs; the role of war in the life of humanity and individual countries, the impact it has on various aspects of this life; social consequences of war; value-oriented analysis of war; sources and causes of wars and military conflicts; ontology of war, its existential content; the structure of war, the relationships between the various components of its content; the relationship between war and various spheres of public life and types of human activity; the spiritual side and ethics of war; political, economic, social and other non-military determinants and factors of the course and outcome of wars; internal contradictions of the war; the place and role of the army, the military class in the destinies of the homeland; conceptual and categorical apparatus and methodological principles for the study of war, typology of wars” [Belkov 2019, 120]. This once again proves that in the presence of a single object of study (war), the subject can vary to a large extent.

Realizing the multitude of problems facing the philosophy of war, we will limit ourselves in this article to a few topics: the problem of historical truth about wars and the problem of victory and defeat in war. All the more so because they are related to each other.

Uchronia, or Way of Distorting the Truth

We are all familiar with the term “utopia,” which is applied to something that does not exist in reality but is desirable. It is very often used to refer to an ideal social order, most often associated with an imaginary future. Thomas More used this neologism, an etymological derivative from the Greek “topos” and the negative prefix “u.” That is, it is a place that does not exist. In 1857, a book by French philosopher Charles Renouvier (1815-1903) was published, Uchronie. L’utopie dans l’histoire (Uchronia. Utopia in History). In the very title, the author unambiguously indicated, first, the utopian nature of the concept of “uchronia” and, second, its focus on history. The fabula of this work was the imaginary victory of Napoleon at Waterloo and its socio-political consequences for Europe. Renouvier was far from the first in this kind of historical fantasy. As the sources testify, Titus Livius in his treatise, History of Rome from the Founding of the City (Book IX, sections 17-19) develops a hypothesis about what would have happened if Alexander the Great had directed his conquest to the West instead of the East. A later author, the Abbé Michel de Pure (1620-1680), published in 1659 his novel, Épigone, histoire du siècle futur (Epigone, History of the Future Century), which is considered to be in the genre of uchronia.

Why does such a desire arise—to “remake” history? Most likely, because the real results of the historical process are not satisfactory, which do not always coincide with the desires of the participants, even those who did not take part in them and not even contemporaries. This applies to Marie-Pierre Rey’s four-hundred-page book, L’effroyable tragédie : Une nouvelle histoire de la campagne de Russie (A Terrible Tragedy: A New History of the Russian Campaign) [Rey, 2012], in which the author, deviating from accepted historical facts, gives a modified idea of the events of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia. The former President of the French Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, went even further in a book he wrote called, La victoire de la Grande Armée (The Victory of the Grand Army), [Giscard d’Estaing, 2010]. In it he paints a picture of the victory of the French emperor over the Russian army. The triumph of the campaign is the return to the homeland and the acquisition of great power status by France. An example of a beneficial interpretation of real events was Napoleon I himself.

The “rewriting” of history is becoming an increasingly common practice these days. This is the sin of authors for whom the established ideas about the world status quo are an obstacle to changing it and creating a new world order in which a new history will be required to justify it. For this purpose, the historiosophic concept of uchronia, which provides freedom for the most daring distortions of historical facts, is very convenient.

It is quite understandable why history has become a field of struggle for new meanings and values, because it is very profitable to obtain moral, and other, dividends by appropriating what never belonged to the “uchronists” (in the broad sense) and their ideological sponsors, and to take away from those who were the basis for the resolution of crisis situations, especially those of a historical scale. Such attempts are very productive in cases when witnesses of events pass away or when ruling political regimes impose deliberately distorted ideas about real events on society. Sometimes such a desire outstrips and even replaces thoughtful and objective study of factual material. But history is a rather stubborn thing. Sooner or later, the facts of history become the property not only of specialists, but also of the general public.

In the philosophical reflections of the participant of the Patriotic War of 1812 and foreign campaigns of the Russian army in 1813-1814, Fedor Nikolayevich Glinka sounds a futurological warning to posterity: “The present repeats itself in the future as the past does in the present. Times will pass; years will turn into centuries, and there will come again for some of the kingdoms of the earth a decisive period similar to the one that has now covered Russia with ashes, blood and glory.” [Glinka 2012, 132]. Unfortunately, his warning has been repeatedly confirmed in history.

How can we counter the onslaught of unsafe historical “fantasies” and direct distortions of facts? The surest way is to counter it with historical, documentary truth. This is the only way to bring down the lie, no matter what kind of garb it wears.

In the three-volume work, History of the Patriotic War of 1812, according to reliable sources (1859), the talented Russian historian Modest Ivanovich Bogdanovich gave an objective analysis of the scientific works of Russian and foreign researchers who described the events of the past clash of Napoleon’s and Russian armies. He highly appreciated the contribution of compatriots and foreigners in the reliable description of the events. He praised General Dmitry Buturlin, General Alexander Mikhailovsky Danilevsky, Dmitry Milyutin, Smith, Gepfner. At the same time, he noted the not always high enough level of foreign sources on the War of 1812: “none of them corresponds either to the importance of the subject nor to the current state of science” [Bogdanovich, 1859, IV]. Only a few works by foreigners deserve, in his opinion, praise: “Memoires of the Prince of Wurtemberg” (Erinnerungen aus dem Feldzuge des Jahres 1812 in Russland), “Notes of Count Toll” (Denkwürdigkeiten des Grafen v. Toll) and General de Chambre’s “Histoire de l’expédition de Russie” (Histoire de l’expédition de Russie) (see: [Soloviev 2017, 43]).

M.I. Bogdanovich rightly remarks: “When describing the war, one cannot do without comparing the testimonies of both sides, which alone can serve to impartially investigate the truth.” [Bogdanovich, 1859, V]. Thus he emphasized the methodological significance of the event aspect of the military clash in both epistemological and political terms. This kind of inference honors the author not only as a general, but also as a historian and philosopher.

From the point of view of distortion of the real state of affairs, we should note different levels of this process: distortions of historical truth at the level of concepts and theories, and on the other hand, biased interpretation in their favor at the factual level. The techniques of distorting information for military and political purposes are known at all times. The famous historian Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle relates examples of “information warfare” during the Patriotic War of 1812: “The false bulletins of Napoleon’s headquarters made in France, Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy the impression they were designed to make” [Tarle, 2015, 155]. As some contemporary Russian researchers note, the French often used methods of distorting information, which can be considered as prototypes of “information warfare” [Bezotosny, 2004, 190-202]. The subjects of falsification were military losses, battle results, superiority of military strategy, and civilizational ambitions [Zemtsov, 2002, 38-51].

Victory and Defeat

The theme of victory and defeat in historiosophic terms was of interest to many authors. It was addressed by our famous compatriot Nikolay Yakovlevich Danilevsky, the ideologist of pan-Slavism, one of the founders of the civilizational approach to history. The original ideas of this thinker in the field of philosophy of politics brought out ambiguous responses from contemporaries. At the same time, the statement of problems was characterized by thorough elaboration. In January-February 1879 in the journal, Russkaya rech’ (Russian Speech), he published an article “Woe to the victors!” in which he addressed the problem of Russia’s military policy in the Eastern Question. He assessed the geopolitical situation in the region pessimistically: “…we were to achieve by war: the resolution of all the obstacles, both moral and material, separating the north-eastern Slavs, i.e., Russia, from the south-eastern Slavs and from all the Orthodox peoples inhabiting the Balkan Peninsula. And all barriers were destroyed by the bayonets of Russian soldiers—and rebuilt again, and some were even strengthened and created again by the pens of Russian diplomats. The negative results achieved by Russian policy far surpassed the negative ones achieved by Russian military art and Russian military valor! The strange and ridiculous sounding paradox, woe to the victors, Russia managed to turn into a sad but undoubted fact” [Danilevsky, 1998]. Indeed, this problem has an even longer history. This situation is enshrined in the winged expression “Pyrrhic victory,” understood as a victory obtained at an exorbitant price, which equalized the winner and the defeated (there are earlier analogues of this expression).

French polemologist Julien Freund in his work, Sociology of Conflict addresses the problem of the correlation between victory and defeat in war. This philosophical problem is always in the center of attention of philosophers, thinkers and politicians. Who really enjoys the fruits of military victory, and whether military and political victory are identical? Speaking of military victory, he writes: “Victory, which means the defeat of the other, is a conclusion that corresponds to the internal logic of conflict, since it aims to break the resistance of the enemy in order to impose our will on him. In principle, since it is a bilateral relation, only one of the opponents can be the winner. Thus, phenomenologically, the triumph of one and the defeat of the other essentially constitutes the most appropriate outcome to the spirit of the conflict. From this point of view, the victory should even be, if possible, the most complete and the defeat, if possible, the most crushing. C. Clausewitz never tires of repeating this, varying the wording.” [Freund 2008, 58].

Modern Russian scientists are attentive to the problem of victory and defeat. It is not difficult to find an explanation for this. Victory or defeat for the Soviet Union was a problem of life and death not only for an individual, but for the entire nation. The war waged by Hitler’s Germany against the USSR was a war of extermination. The historical memory of the people eternally preserves the events that were a crime against humanity. It is a kind of genetic immunity against national ignorance, which in the 21st century can internally disarm a citizen of his country.

Andrei Afanasievich Kokoshin, a specialist in military-political issues, reacted to the book, Winning Modern Wars (2003), by retired American general Wesley Clark, with a small paper, “On the Political Meaning of Victory in a Modern War,” devoted to the consideration of the political component in a military conflict. The work sounds modern and, in a certain respect, leads us to think not only about the political meaning of victory in modern or past wars, but also about its moral content.

The object of study of the philosophy of war can be various specific wars or wars in their totality. Each source provides the researcher with rich material for study and generalizations. In this sense, the Patriotic War of 1812 is of great interest, because it is, in our opinion, a model that includes the rich experience of past wars, and which also became a prototype for future wars.

When he began the war against the Russian Empire, Napoleon had numerical superiority, vast combat experience, the combined economic potential of France and conquered Europe, etc., but he failed to use these advantages. The explanations for this on the part of the French were irrational (“barbaric customs”, etc.), but the reasons were quite real—at the minimum, the poor organization of supply of the French army. Napoleonic historian, a participant of the French campaign in Russia, Eugene Labaume described the condition of the French troops: “The weather, which was beautiful all day long, became cold and damp at night. The army settled on the battlefield and settled down partly in the redoubts, which it so gloriously captured. This bivouac was severe; the men and horses had nothing to eat, and the scarcity of firewood made us experience all the severity of a rainy and freezing night” [Labaume 1820, 160]. Labaume, who did not question the victory of Napoleon’s army in the campaign, without wanting to, revealed one of its weaknesses—poor logistics.

Another confirmation of the catastrophic situation of the French troops, who had not yet taken Moscow, is the testimony of Count Philippe-Paul de Ségur, who described the Borodino field after the battle in his memoirs: “…there are soldiers everywhere, wandering among the corpses and looking for food even in the duffel bags of their dead comrades” [Ségur, 1910, 147]. Then he makes a conclusion that diverged from the generally accepted opinion in French historiography, which insisted on the unconditional defeat of the Russians at Borodino: “If the remaining (Russian troops—A. S.) withdrew in such good order, proud and so little discouraged, how important was the mastery of a single battlefield? In such vast areas the Russians will always have enough land to fight on” [Ségur 1910, 148].

But his profound observations and conclusions are disharmonious with other inferences having the character of civilizational superiority: “It is obvious that they (Russian soldiers—A. S.) seemed more resistant to pain than the French; this is not because they endured suffering more courageously, but they suffered less, since they are less sensitive both in body and spirit, which is due to a less developed civilization and to organs hardened by climate” [Ségur, 1910, 149-150]. Similar attempts to belittle the achievements and successes of Russia and its citizens can often be found nowadays in many Western authors.


In conclusion, it is worth noting that the problem of war and peace is still a fundamental one, and addressing it from a philosophical perspective is very important for understanding the origins and essential relations arising in the transition from a peaceful state to a state of war and vice versa. The philosophy of war greatly contributes to this, allowing us to penetrate into the essence of changes in the image of war, and in some cases to anticipate the direction of transformations of modern wars.

In his work “Cherished Thoughts”, the great Russian scientist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, reflecting on war and the possibility of its elimination as a social phenomenon, wrote: “No matter how much people wish to live in good harmony forever, and no matter what alliances the states make, still ahead, i.e., in the not distant future, or more precisely, in the twentieth century, wars cannot be avoided, and if governments make peace, the peoples will not stop fighting and demanding wars” [Kozikov 2018, 221]. And if governments do not contribute to peacekeeping? Unfortunately, the history of the 21st century shows the emergence of wars and military conflicts in one part of the planet or another. This provides food for philosophical reflection, a vivid example of which is the study of the “world-war” cycle of human development [Danilenko 2008a; Danilenko 2008b]. More recently, Indiana University professor and political anthropologist Edgar Illas’ book, The Survival Regime. Global War and the Political [Illas, 2019]. This suggests that the philosophical analysis of the political-economic content of the phenomenon of war has been and remains relevant.

For references, please consult the original:

Alexei V. Soloviev is Associate Professor in the Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov, Moscow.

Featured: Crossing the Berezina River on 17 (29) November 1812, by Peter von Hess; painted in 1844.

Humanism and Humanity

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900—1975), the greatest Russian-American geneticist and evolutionary biologist of the 20th century. He described a non-fixed universe, in which culture is “the actualization of the potentialities of man as the bearer of spirit.”

What follows is an excerpt from his influential work, The Biology of the Ultimate Concern, in which he examined the role of science within culture which together arrive at an understanding of the “Big Questions,” which in turn establish a “credo” for human life.

Dostoevsky makes his Ivan Karamazov declare: “What is strange, what is marvelous, is not that God really exists, the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could have entered the head of such a savage and vicious beast as man; so holy it is, so moving, so wise, and such a great honor it does to man.” This is even more marvelous than Dostoevsky knew. Mankind, Homo sapiens, man the wise, arose from the ancestors who were not men, and were not wise in the sense man can be. Man has ascended to his present estate from one still more savage, not necessarily more vicious, but quite certainly a dumb and irrational one. It is unfortunate that Darwin has entitled one of his two greatest books the “Descent,” rather than the “Ascent,” of man. The idea of the necessity of God, and other thoughts and ideas that do honor to man, were alien to our remote ancestors. They arose and developed, and secured a firm hold on man’s creative thought during mankind’s long and toilsome ascent from animality to humanity.

Organisms other than men have the “wisdom of the body”; man has in addition the wisdom of humanity. Wisdom of the body is the ability of a living system so to react to environmental changes that the probabilities of survival and reproduction are maximized. For example, a certain concentration of salt in the blood is necessary for life; if an excess of salt is ingested, it is eliminated in the urine; if the salt supply is scarce the urine contains little salt. Such “wise” reactions of the body are confined usually to the environments which the species has frequently encountered in its evolutionary development. This built-in “wisdom” arose through the action of natural selection.

The place of the wisdom of humanity in the scheme of things requires a separate consideration. Humanism, according to Tillich (1963), “asserts that the aim of culture is the actualization of the potentialities of man as the bearer of spirit,” and “Wisdom can be distinguished from objectifying knowledge (sapientia from scientia) by its ability to manifest itself beyond the cleavage of subject and object.” This wisdom is the fruit of self-awareness; man can transcend himself, and see himself as an object among other objects. He has attained the status of a person in the existential sense, and with it a poignant experience of freedom, of being able to contrive and to plan actions, and to execute his plans or to leave them in abeyance. Through freedom, he gains a knowledge of good and of evil. This knowledge is a heavy load to carry, a load of which organisms other than man are free. Man’s freedom leads him to ask what Brinton (1953) refers to as Big Questions, which no animals can ask.

Does my life and the lives of other people have any meaning? Does the world into which I am cast without my consent have any meaning? There are no final answers to these Big Questions, and probably there never will be any, if by answers one means precise, objective, provable certitudes. And yet seek for some sort of answers we must, because it is the highest glory of man’s humanity that he is capable of searching for his own meaning and for the meaning of the Cosmos. An urge to devise answers to such “metaphysical” questions is a part of the psychological equipment of the human species. Brinton (1953) rightly says that “Metaphysics is a human drive or appetite, and to ask men to do without metaphysics is as pointless as to ask them to do without sex relations. There are indeed individuals who can practice abstention from metaphysics as there are those who can practice abstention in matters of sex, but they are the exceptions. And as some who repress sex actually divert it into unprofitable channels, so do those who repress metaphysics.

The German word Weltanschauung and the Russian mirovozzrenie have no precise English equivalents. The usual translation, “world view,” subtly betrays the meaning. A world view, like a view from a mountaintop, may be pleasant and even inspiring to behold, but one can live without it. There is a greater urgency about a Weltanschauung, and some sort of mirovozzrenie is felt to be indispensable for a human being. The Latin credo is becoming acclimatized in English in a sense most nearly equivalent to Weltanschauung . It is most closely related to the “ultimate concern” which Tillich considers to be the essence of religion in the broadest and most inclusive sense. “Religion is the aspect of depth in the totality of the human spirit. What does the metaphor depth mean? It means that the religious aspect points to that which is ultimate, infinite, unconditional, in man’s spiritual life. Religion, in the largest and most basic sense of the word, is ultimate concern. And ultimate concern is manifest in all creative functions of the human spirit” (Tillich 1959).

It is the ultimate concern in man that Ivan Karamazov found so strange and so marvelous. Man’s nature impels him to ask the Big Questions. Every individual makes some attempts to answer them at least to his own satisfaction. One of the possible answers may be that the Questions are unanswerable, and only inordinately conceited or foolish people can claim to have discovered unconditionally and permanently valid answers. Every generation must try to arrive at answers which fit its particular experience; within a generation, individuals who have lived through different experiences may, not quite, one hopes, in vain, make sense of those aspects of the world which the individual has observed from his particular situation.

My life has been devoted to working in science, particularly in evolutionary biology. Scientists are not necessarily more, but I hope also not less, qualified to think or to write about the Big Questions than are nonscientists. It is naive to think that a coherent credo can be derived from science alone, or that what one may learn about evolution will unambiguously answer the Big Questions. Some thinkers, e.g., Barzun (1964) dismiss such pretensions with undisguised scorn: “…the scientific profession does not constitute an elite, intellectual or other. The chances are that ‘the scientist,’ from the high-school teacher of science to the head of a research institute, is a person of but average capacity.” And yet even Barzun, no friend or respecter of science, grudgingly admits that science “brings men together in an unexampled way on statements to which they agree without the need of persuasion; for as soon as they understand, they concur.” Some of these “statements” which science produces are at least relevant to the Big Questions, and in groping for tentative answers they ought not be ignored.

The time is not long past when almost everybody thought that the earth was flat, and that diseases were caused by evil spirits. At present quite different views are fairly generally accepted. The earth is a sphere rotating on its axis and around the sun, and diseases are brought about by a variety of parasites and other biological causes. This has influenced people’s attitudes; the cosmology that one credits is not irrelevant to one’s ultimate concern. To Newton and to those who followed him the world was a grand and sublime contrivance, which operates unerringly and in accord with precise and immutable laws. Newton accepted, however, Bishop Ussher’s calculations, which alleges that the world was created in 4004 B.C. The world was, consequently, not very old; it had not changed appreciably since its origin, and it was not expected to change radically in the future, until it ended in the apocalyptic catastrophe. Newton was a student of the Book of Revelation as well as a student of cosmology. In Newton’s world man had neither power enough nor time enough to alter the course of events which were predestined from the beginning of the world.

The vast universe discovered by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton became quite unlike the cozy geocentric world of the ancient and the medieval thinkers. Man and the earth were demoted from being the center of the universe to an utterly insignificant speck of dust lost in the cosmic spaces. The comfortable certainties of the traditional medieval world were thus taken away from man. Long before the modern existentialists made estrangement and anxiety fashionable as the foundations of their philosophies, Pascal expressed more poignantly the loneliness which man began to feel in “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces.” If he worked hard, man could conceivably learn much about how the world was built and operated, but he could not hope to change it, except in petty detail. An individual human was either saved or damned, and those of Calvinist persuasion believed that this alternative was irrevocably settled before a person was even born. This left no place for humanism in Tillich’s sense; an individual man had few potentialities to be actualized, and culture had scarcely any at all.

It has become almost a commonplace that Darwin’s discovery of biological evolution completed the downgrading and estrangement of man begun by Copernicus and Galileo. I can scarcely imagine a judgment more mistaken. Perhaps the central point to be argued […] is that the opposite is true. Evolution is a source of hope for man. To be sure, modern evolutionism has not restored the earth to the position of the center of the universe. However, while the universe is surely not geocentric, it may conceivably be anthropocentric. Man, this mysterious product of the world’s evolution, may also be its protagonist, and eventually its pilot. In any case, the world is not fixed, not finished, and not unchangeable. Everything in it is engaged in evolutionary flow and development.

Human society and culture, mankind itself, the living world, the terrestrial globe, the solar system, and even the “indivisible” atoms arose from ancestral states which were radically different from the present states. Moreover, the changes are not all past history. The world has not only evolved, it is evolving. Now, “In the Renaissance view, the world, a place of beauty and delight, needed not to be changed but only to be embraced; and the world’s people, free of guilt, might be simply and candidly loved” (Durham 1964). Far more often, it has been felt that changes are needed:

“For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration, not by its own choice, but because of him who made it so; yet always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God. Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth” (Rom 8:19-22).

Since the world is evolving it may in time become different from what it is. And if so, man may help to channel the changes in a direction which he deems desirable and good. With an optimism characteristic of the age in which he lived, Thomas Jefferson thought that “Although I do not, with some enthusiasts, believe that the human condition will ever advance to such a state of perfection as that there shall no longer be pain or vice in the world, yet I believe it susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is to be effected.” This is echoed and reechoed by Karl Marx and by Lenin in their famous maxim that we must strive not merely to know but also to transform the world. In particular, it is not true that human nature does not change; this “nature” is not a status but a process. The potentialities of man’s development are far from exhausted, either biologically or culturally. Man must develop as the bearer of spirit and of ultimate concern. Together with Nietzsche we may say: “Man is something that must be overcome.”

Picasso is alleged to have said that he detests nature. Tolstoy and some lesser lights claimed that any and all findings of science made no difference to them. Fondness and aversion are emotions which admittedly cannot be either forcibly implanted or expurgated. One may detest nature and despise science, but it becomes more and more difficult to ignore them. Science in the modern world is not an entertainment for some devotees. It is on the way to becoming everybody’s business. Some people feel no interest in distant galaxies, in foreign lands, exotic human tribes, and even in those neighbors with whom they are not constrained to deal too often or too closely. Indifference to one’s own person is unlikely. It is feigned by some, but rarely felt deep down, when one is all alone with oneself. This unlikelihood, too, is understandable as a product of the biological evolution of personality in our ancestors. It made the probability of their survival greater than it would have been otherwise. Ingrained in man’s psyche before it was explicitly formulated, the adage “Know thyself” was always a stimulus for human intellect.

To “know thyself,” scientific knowledge alone is palpably insufficient. This was probably the basis of Tolstoy’s scoffing at science. To him science seemed irrelevant to the ultimate concern, and to him only the ultimate concern seemed to matter. But he went too far in his protest. In his day, and far more so in ours, the self-knowledge lacks something very pertinent to the present condition if one chooses to ignore what one can learn about oneself from science. This adds up to something pretty simple, after all: a coherent credo can neither be derived from science nor arrived at without science.

Construction and critical examination of credos fall traditionally in the province of philosophy. Understandably enough, professional philosophers often show little patience with amateurs who intrude into their territory. Scientists turned philosophers fare scarcely better than other amateur intruders. This proprietary attitude is not without warrant, but the matter is not settled quite so easily. What, indeed, is philosophy? Among the numerous definitions, that given by Bertrand Russell (1945) is interesting: “between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attacks from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy.” Less colorfully, philosophy is defined as the “science of the whole,” which critically examines the assumptions and the findings of all other sciences, and considers them in their interrelations. Still other definitions claim that philosophy works to construct a coherent Weltanschauung . Under any of these definitions, scientists may have some role to play, at least on the outskirts of philosophy. At the very least, they must be counted among the purveyors of raw materials with which philosophers operate when they formulate and try to solve their problems. With some notable exceptions, modern schools of philosophy, especially in the United States and England, have been taking their cues very largely from the physical sciences; the influential school of analytical philosophy is engrossed with mathematics and linguistics. Biology and anthropology are neglected. Of late, there appear to be, however, some straws in the wind portending change.

The relevance of biology and anthropology is evident enough. In his pride, man hopes to become a demigod. But he still is, and probably will remain, in goodly part a biological species. His past, all his antecedents, are biological. To understand himself he must know whence he came and what guided him on his way. To plan his future, both as an individual and much more so as a species, he must know his potentialities and his limitations. These problems are only partly biological and scientific, and partly “theological.” In short, they are philosophical problems in Bertrand Russell’s sense.

Since I am a biologist without formal philosophical and anthropological training, the task which I set for myself is quite likely overambitious. I wish to examine some philosophical implications of certain biological and anthropological findings and theories. This small book [The Biology of the Ultimate Concern, 1967] lays no claim to being a treatise either on philosophical biology or on biological philosophy. It consists of essays on those particular aspects of science which have been particularly influential in the formation of my personal credo. This is said not in order to disarm the potential critics of these essays, but only to explain what may otherwise appear a rather haphazard selection of topics discussed and of those omitted in the pages that follow. Together with Birch (1965) I submit that:

My scientific colleagues might well say, “Cobbler, stick to your last.” But we have been doing that in science for long enough. I have attempted what is not a very popular endeavour in our generation. It is to cover a canvas so broad that the whole cannot possibly be the specialized knowledge of any single person. The attempt may be presumptuous. I have made it because of the urgency that we try, in spite of the vastness of the subject. I would not have written had I not discovered something for myself that makes sense of the world of specialized knowledge in which I live.

Featured: Theodosius Dobzhansky demonstrates the Hirsch index, 1966.

A Student of Rhetoric. The Field of Art History: From Curtius to Panofsky

Marc Fumaroli (1932–2020) was a leading French historian who greatly advanced our understanding of art, rhetoric, culture and all those by-ways of culture which gird Western civilization. He taught at the Sorbonne and then at the Collège de France and was member of the French Academy. He was the recipient of the famed Balzan Prize, as well as many other honors. This paper was delivered at the Panofsky Symposium, Princeton, on October 2nd, 1993. Philippe-Joseph Salazar introduces us to the master himself, whom he knew well.

It is sometimes necessary to come back to the original and seminal texts. It is a principle of philological wisdom which may be welcome in a Panofsky symposium. I shall therefore begin this tribute to the Princeton master with two quotations from very famous texts, whose literal meaning is often obscured or forgotten. The first one is the main source of 20th century modern Art theory: Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Peintres cubistes, 1912. We read there:

“Avant tout, les artistes sont des hommes qui veulent devenir inhumains. Ils cherchent péniblement les traces de l’inhumanité, traces que l’on ne rencontre nulle part dans la nature. Elles sont la vérité, et en dehors d’elle nous ne connaissons aucune réalité.”

This sort of sublime and compelling utterance, which has thrilled several European generations, has today lost its immediate power. But I want to quote in chronological disorder, an even more famous text, dating back to 1637, which is found in Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode:

“Ceux qui ont le raisonnement le plus fort, et qui digèrent le mieux leurs pensées afin de les rendre claires et intelligibles, peuvent toujours le mieux persuader ce qu’ils proposent, encore qu’ ils ne parlassent que bas-breton et qu’ ils n’eussent jamais appris de rhétorique”.

Both these texts may be superposed. They have, each on their own level, a common summoning content. The tabula rasa presupposed by the Cartesian Ego is no less radical than the methodic inhumanité Apollinaire required of the creative self. Cartesian or Apollinarian modernity supposes the elimination of memory, and of rhetorical invention founded upon a shared sensus communis. This superposition has abrasive potentialities which are today all around us. I dare to say that “we” (in a commonsensical meaning alien to the “nous” of Apollinaire in 1912) are more inclined to agree with the scholar who published in 1940 The History of Art as a Humanistic discipline, than the imprudent, if great poet, who invited artists to become inhuman before the two world wars had taken place!

It took thirty years before The Meaning in the Visual Arts reached the French public, in Bernard Teyssèdre’s translation, in 1969. When I read it for the first time, I was struck by footnote 18. There Panofsky quoted at length a Letter to the Editor published in the New Statesman and Nation, in June 1937. Written by an English Stalinist, this letter considered that it was morally sound that Stalin should fire from Russian Universities professors who insisted on teaching Plato and the classics of Western philosophy. This sort of teaching according to this moralist, was aimed at barring students an immediate and fresh access to the study of Marxism, the modern scientific truth. Panofsky contented himself with the following brief comment:

“Needless to say, the works of Plato and other philosophers also play an antifascist role in such circumstances, and Fascists too recognize this fact.”

Twelve years earlier, there appeared the French translation of a book which, in the field of literary studies, has had a decisive impact upon my generation: European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, by Ernst Robert Curtius. In the Preface to the 1953 German edition (the second one) Curtius wrote:

“This book doesn’t content itself with scientific purposes; it attests a concern for maintaining Western civilization.”

And further, the great German Romanist, Curtius, quotes Georges Sainsbury’s sentence:

“Ancient without Modem is a stumbling block; Modern without Ancient is utter and irremediable foolishness.”

Recently I happened to read the unpublished, pre-World War Two correspondence, between Curtius and a French lady poet, Catherine Pozzi. It throws an extraordinary light upon the genesis of the Curtius’ masterwork, and its philosophical significance. Curtius, who did his best since 1918 to awaken the French from their own nationalist conceit, is just as indignant about the so-called Nazi national revolution in Germany. He describes with a stern lucidity the budding lawlessness of the new regime and its cynical violence. But he is a scholar, not a hero, and he wrote in 1933:

“Je fais un cours sur la littérature latine du Moyen Age qui mt intéresse passionnément… Je suis lassé de toute modernité. Les siècles obscurs me reposent… Je me tapis dans mon coin. Le présent me dégoûte. Je ne désespère pas de l’avenir. Il nous apportera de nouvelles révélations de beauté et de bonté. Mais vivrai-je pour les voir? La beauté incréée ne vaut-elle pas mieux? Mais comment y atteindre?
      A spark disturbs our cloud. But at
      present I realize more the cloud
      than the spark.”

The reading of this correspondence makes clear what an immense labour of hope and love this European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, started as an University course in 1928-1929, had been until the end of World War Two. When it appeared in German, in 1948, dedicated posthumously to Aby Warburg and to the great Romanist Gustav Grober, it looked like a dove above the ruined landscape of Europe. In his correspondence with Catherine Pozzi, Curtius mentions on several occasions their common friend James Joyce, then working on Finnegan’s Wake. He says to his correspondent that this new novel in order to be correctly understood, will require a full acquaintance with Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova. This first-hand information is retrospectively illuminating for me. When I first discovered Curtius’ masterwork, at the beginning of the Sixties, I was engaged in reading Vico’s Opening Lecture, On the Study Method of Our Time (1699), where the Napolitan humanist launches his first fierce attack against the excesses of Cartesianism, and defends the traditional primacy of rhetoric in the teachings of the humanities. Without being fully aware then of the issues at stake for us in these 17th century debates, I was nevertheless struck by the correspondence between Vico’s thesis, and the role a philologist like Curtius attributed in his masterwork to rhetoric as the frame for the correct reading and understanding of Western Literature. And when at last I had the opportunity to read, in the early seventies, Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts, I was ready to recognize the methodological kinship between the two German scholars—Aby Warburg’s disciple and Aby Warburg’s friend—who since the thirties had worked on both sides of the Atlantic, and Vico, whose Scienza Nuova is after all the Italian seed of German romantic historicism. I am personally convinced since then that this alliance between the Warburg school, the best of German Roman philology, and the most able spokesman for the Ancients in the 18th century, has been in our century the only spiritual home and pledge against the dominant anti-humanist trends at work in the modernist poetics of Apollinaire, as well as in the Cartesian Cogito. I should like to ponder upon this alliance today. There is more here, I think, than a nostalgic and respectful glance to the past and its scattered achievements: I see there a living moral and scientific force, a spark illuminating our own clouds.

So, before assessing how Panofsky’s method may be fused, without losing its own sharpness, with the same field of reunified and enlarged humanities as that of Curtius, I should like to recall briefly the latter’s originality and enduring contribution to literary studies. I hope that this suggestion of synthesis will be attuned to this symposium, and to our guest’s expectations, Professor Irving Lavin. I cannot forget that he has himself pointed out the same direction in his excellent Washington lecture: Art History as a Humanistic Discipline.

Nineteenth century positivism, the radical heir of Cartesianism, has split academic literary studies and teaching between res and verba. Res, related to the outside world, was left to biorgaphical and referential research; verba, related to the subjective talent of the author, was left to stylistical and philological scrutiny. This split reflected the Cartesian division between the knowing subject, related to positive science, and the sensitive or irrational one. The task of the literary historian was therefore to separate the expression of the subjective self, from the objective facts to which this expression may be related. Rhetoric was rejected from literary studies on the double grounds of a formalist hindrance to free subjective expression, and of an archaic cloud obscuring scientific truth. Curtius took a contrary stance, following the path opened up by Norden and Dilthey. He discovered—or rediscovered—that the Cartesian division between res and verba was not applicable to the res literaria. In the rhetorical regime of literature, res and verba, invention and style have been, in the Western past as in the contemporary most self-conscious writer, James Joyce, a continuum, not two ontologically different realms. Res were themselves language constructs in time, which have their home in collective memory, their kernels in classical texts, and their structure in the “places” among which rhetorical-literary invention moves in order to find the proper contours of the thing it has to say or write; order and style gave to the matter thus gathered the appropriate form in order to exert an effect upon the auditor or the hearer. Res, res literaria, were therefore forms of human experience accumulated and ordered by a collective and proleptic memory; it was there that the inventive ingenium had to journey before finding the right response to its own challenge, in prudent agreement with contemporary commonsense. This rhetorical artistic ingenium is not alienated, as the Cartesian raison or the Apollinarian génie, from its natural and social embodiment: it possesses the mnemonic resources to shape itself into a human form. Literature is the most complex and complete use of the rhetorical ingenium.

A friend and client of Carl-Gustav Jung, Curtius became a friend and admirer of Aby Warburg in 1928. He attended in the winter of that year, in Rome, at the Hertzian Library, the famous Warburg’s lecture about the great project Mnemosyne. Warburg died the next year. But Curtius, who had been enthusiast of the project, never forgot this decisive meeting. He found in the topoi re-used often with striking originality by medieval and Renaissance writers, the equivalent of Jung’s archetypes, of Warburg’s mythical places of memory, and of Vico’s universali fantastici, a vast and relatively autonomous frame of symbolic forms where the poetical, philosophical and social experience of the West, has been treasured and ever renewed since Antiquity. Even style, the persuasive new form that this mnemonic fount of accumulated wisdom has to receive in order to find new effectiveness, had its own objectivity and relative transcendence from circumstances and whims. Curtius enucleated in the medieval “longue durée,” what Vico called corsi and ricorsi of classic and mannerist styles, the first moulded on a few models of naturalness, the second eclectic and above all virtuoso, up to the point of ostentatious artificiality. Why can this rhetorical tradition be called humanist? Curtius hated the insipid and goody-goody abuse of the word. He insisted that humanist literature deserved this name because it was founded upon well-tried precedents crystallized in symbolic forms and classical texts, and confronting through them the past experience of humanity with the new, contemporary one. Time transfigured in Space was the compass of European wisdom. Antihumanism, either in the Cartesian school of modernism, or in Apollinaire’s, abstracted human reason or unreason from any reliance on the scale of wisdom summarized and symbolized in the literary tradition.

Far from being limited to medieval Latin Europe, this rhetorical approach, and the method of study it implies, could, and has been since Curtius, extended to Early Modern and Modern literature. If today we expect a renewal of literary studies in France, after the failure of the so-called sciences humaines, it will obviously be in the Curtian line. I am happy to say that I work in perfect intellectual agreement with Curtius’ best pupil, Harald Weinrich, who is German, and despite his nationality, if I may use that very inappropriate clausula, my full-time colleague at the Collège de France.

Why does Art history, as exemplified by Panofsky’s Meaning in the Visual Arts relate so naturally with literature history as exemplified by Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages? This is the question which haunted me since my first reading of Panofsky, and it is, I think, a good question to raise today if we agree that, at the end of this century, when the modernist credo has become less credible, the future lies in a wise reunification and renewal of the humanities.

It is not so much, in my view, their common philological and critical exactness, nor their common use of definite concepts, like classic and mannerist, that resume the kinship between Panofsky as Art historian and Curtius as a historian of Literature. It may be correctly assumed that this common ground of textual acribia was the general heritage of European and German Roman philology. What brings them so close, in spite of their specialized fields, visual images and literary texts, is their common rupture with the positivist assumptions of modern history and philology. This positivist rationalism could easily be associated with nationalism, which is absent in the generous Romanist Curtius and is subtly derided in Panofsky’s polemics, for example when he stresses the indebtedness of Albrecht Dürer’s classicism to Quattrocento Italian artists. The anti-positivist stand, in both Panofsky and Curtius, is manifest above all in their common reliance upon rhetorical notions in describing and understanding the working of the topical and inventive imagination. Both, before any theory, were magnificent performers of what they tried, as historians, to resurrect. Curtius, not only in his correspondence and essays, but in his scientific work as well, is a foremost and virtuoso writer. Panofsky’s own humanity combines moral insight and literary grace: he knows not only how to prove, but how to revive the contradictory human facets of his subjects, their natural evidence. In his magnificent piece about Suger, Panofsky exposes the elusive personality of the Abbot of Saint-Denis to the proof of the different places of human experience, character, temperament, national type, social persona, culture, taste, and his narrative synthesis, imbued with humour and sympathy, equals the art of the best novelists by its power of bringing alive a superb example of balanced and ogival humanity. It is a scientific, literary and moral portrait, it is history, it is history of art, at their best at one and the same time. But Panofsky’s rhetoric was inseparable, like Antique and Renaissance rhetoric he understood as few other did, from the philosophical quest for truth. This philosophical background, far from being impaired by literary skills, is serenely asserted in the concluding chapter of The Meaning in the Visual Arts. Cassirer’s friend quotes Goethe and Kant, and locates himself in a tradition of thought which goes back to Cicero’s New Academy. This tradition allows him to relate artistic and literary invention to the same memory. This memory, vital and ideal at the same time, harbours symbolic forms which may be mirrored in texts as well as in visual works, and generate plastic or literary eloquence. Humanistic emblematic language combined both regimes of expression. The memory-imagination is a store of “universals” which are not deduced from reality, by discursive abstractions, but give form and meaning to nature, through intuitive synthesis. This harvest of mnemonic forms allows a mutual understanding and a reciprocal stimulation between inventors of texts and inventors of images. It implies, between literary texts and visual images, rhetorical operations such as transposition, interpretation, variation and combination.

The description Panofsky gives of the genesis of Dürer’s etchings or drawings does not rely only upon logical deductions: it reconstructs the poetic logic of imaginative invention, according to the four major rhetorical figures: metaphor, metonymy, catachresis, and irony-allegory. The last chapter of The Meaning is the birthplace of Panofsky’s major achievement as a philosopher-historian of art: Idea, a book that fortunately reached France much earlier than its belated translation, in 1983, may let us to believe this. The influence of this book on French literary studies cannot be overstated. It has merged with the influence of the Latinist and Romanist Alain Michel, who has renewed Ciceronian studies along the same line as Panofsky. Since the 19th century the major role of Cicero in the Western tradition has been generally understated, notably in France. Cicero has been viewed as a rhetorician and a translator: he could not be an original thinker. Michel has shown that the Ciceronian synthesis of rhetoric and philosophy, of Aristotle-ism and Platonism, was an original Roman achievement, and a fertile and enduring one. We may now trace, through Renaissance and Renascences, corsi and ricorsi, the seminal and central function of Cicero in the development of Western thought, literature and arts. Vico’s Scienza Nuova has been, in full Quarrel between Ancients and Moderns, the most powerful re-assertor of this humanist tradition. What Panofsky’s Idea revealed to us, was the pregnancy of this tradition and its fertility in European Renaissance Art. Aristotelian pragmatism combined with Platonic idealism, according to the liberal Ciceronian synthesis, allowed experience of the phenomenal world to be enlightened and shaped by proleptic Forms, themselves inherited from the collective experience of Western humanity. These Forms are not a logically deduced system, but a Theater of memory where ingenious invention may find the matter and the models of new ideas, responding accordingly to time, person and place, in the everchanging world of human history. Panofsky insisted upon the aesthetic flexibility of the Ciceronian philosophic rhetoric, able to sustain as well classicism as mannerism. He showed convincingly its liberal and shifting fecundity, capable of thinking unity and multiplicity at the same time. But what emerges from Panofsky’s Idea, as well as from recent French studies on rhetoric, is the common ground that this new understanding of Ciceronism offers for literary and artistic studies. Modern Art theory, in spite of its debt to a poet, Apollinaire, has insisted upon the unbridgeable gulf between plastic and literary forms, between the visible and the word. This view, in a less systematic version, was not unknown to the rhetorical tradition. It is a founding presupposed principle of Ciceronian rhetoric, reasserted by Vico, that human experience ranges well beyond language, and that by its multifaceted and ingenious figures rhetorical invention essays what escapes unilateral words. The visual arts therefore offer another order of figures able to mean what is beyond the reach of words. But artistic invention, unless it claims to be creation ex nihilo, is no less rhetorical than that of the orator or the poet. Their invention draws upon a common mnemonic world of “places,” and symbolic forms, mapping the multiple richness of human experience. And their style, through metaphorical transpositions, may be tasted and evaluated according to analogous standards. At least if we intend to reconstruct the meaning of works, literary or visual, invented according to these rhetorical assumptions, we may and we must learn again how a Rubens painting could resound with Seneca’s Stoic amble or Ovid’s Epicurean savours. Panofsky’s own literary learning and sensitivity plays a major part in his reconstructing the full intended meaning and aesthetics effects of Old Master works.

There are, in the Western tradition, departures from the main Ciceronian line. Panofsky, like Curtius, was perfectly aware of this. Curtius has devoted brilliant pages to the theological domination of 12th and 13th century learning. Panofsky has devoted a major book to the scholastic background of the invention of gothic style. The Cartesian Ego, which pretends to do away with rhetoric, has been the cornerstone of a new rationalist rhetoric, which has been immensely productive, and which is the background of neo-classical aesthetics. The Rimbaldian Je est un autre is no less rhetorical, as Apollinaire’s Peintres cubistes, a topical and tropical text, shows abundantly. But even these departures and ruptures can be measured and understood in relation with, or in reaction against, the main liberal tradition of the West, which after all is best qualified to understand the whole gamut of the human experience, since its central assumption is the infinite variety of humanity and of its access to form in different times, places and persons.

I apologize for this rather too allusive apologetics for a prospective Scienza Nuova of which Panofsky and Curtius have been the forerunners in this century. I would have preferred to content myself with listening to the discourse that the greatest French Warburgian, the late André Chastel, should have delivered today in this room. I hope I have been faithful to the living and burgeoning legacy of these Masters.

(last corrections made on September 22, 1993)

Marc Fumaroli: A Reminiscence and Prologue

On October 2nd, 1993, Marc Fumaroli, first citizen in the Republic of Letters, delivered a paper at Princeton on the subject of rhetoric. Philippe-Joseph Salazar was his student and worked closely with him. He “sets the scene” for this paper.

Marc Fumaroli was a master, yet one without disciples. In fact he scorned the idea of having “groupies,” a word he used with gusto well before French intellectual moeurs were impregnated with Americanisms of all sorts.

I knew him well, and over a long period of time, indeed. In fact, in 1979, he set me on the path of rhetoric, after proofreading pen in hand my first book, on opera, and quipping: “And now, after ce tour de piste, onto the real stuff.” I was barely twenty-four, it was my first book, and he spared no time and effort to guide me so that I would not mess up my début at the (then) sanctum of Presses universitaires de France. He was generous, but in his own way, which never was devoid of “raillerie.” Then he supervised my Doctorat d’Etat, a hallowed and now defunct degree thanks to the Plan-Organize-Lead-Control system imposed by Brussels (and Bologna) managerial bureaucracy on academic outputs. I can hear him punning on “output.” We are only a handful to have had him as a directeur de travaux for that recondite degree.

He was a laconic supervisor. My last supervision meeting took place over dinner in a dark restaurant in Göttingen—a side event to some colloquium he left half-way through it as it was his custom when “les cafards” (his word) started taking, and talking, over. He gave me sparse advice, but always cutting to the quick. Odd supervisor he was who mocked the routine rhetoric of academia, yet an adroit player in the cursus honorum game. One day, to my bewilderment, he took a school edition of Les Fourberies de Scapin, jumped into a large office cupboard, and burst out reciting with a high pitched voice the famous tirade when the imposter defines himself:

“Heaven has bestowed on me a fair enough share of genius for the making up of all those neat strokes of mother wit, for all those ingenious gallantries to which the ignorant and vulgar give the name of impostures; and I can boast, without vanity, that there have been very few men more skilful than I in expedients and intrigues, and who have acquired a greater reputation in the noble profession.” He added: “Tout est là!

I remember sitting there, next to his desk, aghast at his comedic skills. He admired and knew Grotowski. Whenever I attended a colloquium where he spoke, that impersonation of his came back—not for its content, of course, but for the performance itself.

His preferred eloquent mode however was the Voltairean causerie, the off the cuff (but on target) erudite comment, to sum the supple exercise and witty display of intelligence in a conversation between peers or meant to educate novices. Formalities were not his forte. Once, upon returning from England, while dropping his leather duffel bag with a loud plonk, he exhaled: “Ah, ces pompeux emmerdements d’Oxford.” Translation needed?

Nonetheless Fumaroli had a following, of students and colleagues, whom he did not always treat very kindly as the man could never resist un trait d’esprit, at their expense of course. Victims would usually succumb in silence. All his witticisms and actes manqués and antics would fill up a Fumaroliana—a book of ana, that exquisite literary genre of the Republic of Letters that has disappeared from intellectual life. Nothing more unwoke than a book of ana. You’ll get sued.

Nevertheless in September 1993 his (non) disciples together with his peers congregated in the redoubt of trendy intellectualism at Cerisy-la-Salle manor house. It is hard to imagine today what a shock it was to have a Fumaroli colloquium there. Imagine Derrida being feted at Davos. Or the Che at the RAND corporation. He told me, the moment he arrived from the tiresome rail and road journey to that gentilhommière in the Western Normandy countryside: “Well, merci, you put me a foot in the grave” (he died in 2020, though). The Cerisy colloquium had a provoking title, he chose: “Les Lettres: un gai savoir,” an ironical, rhetorical clin d’oeil to the fashionableness of Cerisy’s dedication to avant-garde in all its forms. But the actual theme was of course the dignity of Ciceronian otium, the joys scholarship affords to free minds—as in Nietzsche’s Fröhliche Wissenschaft—while paying homage to the poetic inventiveness of medieval gay saber. Two years later he was elected to the Académie française while the transactions, Le loisir lettré à l’Age Classique (Geneva, Droz) came out at about the same time.

About ten years after Cerisy, his epigones congregated again, this time by way of a special issue of XVIIe Siècle, the apex journal of erudite studies on “Age classique” (in the French sense of classical) to reflect on “Trente ans de recherches rhétoriques” (vol LIX, No 3, July 2007). We took stock of Fumaroli’s influence in shaping an entire new generation of rhetoric scholars in Europe.

Fumaroli is now nearly forgotten. I tested this on a young man who has just entered my college, Ecole normale supérieure. This Telemachus of France’s intellectual elite had only a vague idea of who Fumaroli was. If not forgotten altogether, he remains “sulfureux” with those who were part of the cultural and political struggles of the 80s. Significantly, after his death, a leading literary magazine of probing intelligence turned down a suggestion to highlight his contribution to French intellectual life: “Too toxic.” Buried or toxic, like nuclear waste. His staggering erudition and sharp pen were feared by his opponents on the left and, I suggest, misunderstood by his political supporters on the right. In fact, Fumaroli admired intelligence, including that of his intellectual opponents like Bourdieu (I know that first hand). He helped careers of junior academics of great scholarly promise, while deriding in private their political certainties, and vanities.

Here is a key to his temperament: his favourite American writer was Gore Vidal. To this day I regret having turned down his invitation to go to Italy with him, and meet Vidal—confirming the dictum that youth is wasted on the young. He admired Vidal’s ability to use his first-hand knowledge of the American patriciate, a form of erudition and, armed with it, paint compelling historical frescoes, composed with wit, elegance and a light touch. Fumaroli was the Gore Vidal of French erudition. This comparison goes further: when he wrote eloquently about the Tridentine rhetorical aggiornamento and the Roman Church as the power of oratory, his mind and taste were not religious or devout, they were cast in the mould of his beloved Poussin and “paganism.” He was, in effect, a radical sceptic in the great tradition of French libertinage.

His skepsis distrust of ideas for ideas’ sake (“la peste des intellectuels!” one of his favourite sayings) is something his intellectual opponents on the left and his fans on the right never quite fathomed about him. That is why, I believe, he felt at ease in Italy where intellectual life is far less compassé. For instance, I recall an episode in Rome when, at a bus station, someone shouted at him, “Fumaroli, vieni qui,” and then began an animated chat, at the kerb, on Castiglione’s Courtier. The bus stop became a salon, nay, an academy. And, dear me, how long that conversation lasted. Buses came and went, and were missed while they talked, like in a Bertolucci movie.

In the days following Cerisy Marc asked me to go over a lecture he was to deliver at Princeton, in October. I did not alter his style, I merely tried to shorten sentences and wipe off some Gallicisms. He gave me the revised version he had typed up—the text presented here. Typos are his. He actually typed his books and papers himself, sat at his gothic desk framed by two heavy Venetian damask curtains on the second floor of a XVIIth century building where he lived, quite derelict at the time as most of the hôtels particuliers in the Marais—before gentrification and then globalisation by various means. A mutual friend, and descendant of Marinetti, would help him sell it later when he moved to illustrious Left Bank quarters, rid of the sight of leathermen in chaps gathering at a gay bar round the corner.

Before that time, when he was writing, one could hear, at night, the morse-like tac-tac-tac (with longer Typex pauses) of his typewriter from the corner of rue des Mauvais Garçons (the name amused him) and rue du Bourg-Tibourg. An Italian trattoria owner across the narrow street was worried sick about his late night typing, and tried to make sure he ate properly. When Age de l’éloquence came out, she asked him for a signed copy. He sighed: “She thinks it is a novel, imagine un peu! (go figure!).” That summed up for him the difference between les Lettres and literature, one of his pet topics.

The text presented here is emblematic of the utterly French style of lecturing, light yet profound, a sprezzatura of the mind that has always been misunderstood in Anglo-American academic circles (with some notable exceptions)—to wit, and this is my last ana, it led him once to refuse adding footnotes to an invited article by a leading English-speaking Renaissance journal, and to exclaim in sheer exasperation: “What a nerve! If their readers don’t know what my references are, then est-ce vraiment une revue savante?” Rich from a scholar whose hermeneutic skills were astounding and whose juggernauts of technical footnotes and primary sources (at a time when one had to go into archives and special collections; one book at a time, four a day only, and “make sure you only use a pencil”) are so intimidating that they prevent his monumenta from being translated. This Princeton lecture is therefore without notes. Caveat emptor. Or cave canem. Take your pick.

French philosopher and essayist Philippe-Joseph Salazar writes on rhetoric as philosophy of power. Laureate of the Prix Bristol des Lumières in 2015 for his book on jihad (translated as, Words are Weapons. Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, Yale UP). In 2022, the international community of rhetoricians honoured him with a Festschrift, The Incomprehensible: The Critical Rhetoric of Philippe-Joseph Salazar. He holds a Distinguished Professorship in Rhetoric and Humane Letters in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The Light of God in a New Light

Reflections on the Divinity of Jesus, Formless Matter, and Conceptualization in the Human.

Here, I will endeavor to try to grasp the way in which the symbol of light is deployed on several levels of meaning, which are themselves linked to correspondent levels in the architecture of reality. Namely: those levels of meaning that are God considered in His ideality, God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness, God considered in His incarnation into the universe, and the consciousness of God considered in its incarnation into the consciousness of Jesus. On that basis, I will endeavor to overcome those three philosophical cleavages that are the opposition between radical Arians and the Trinitarians on the issue of whether Jesus is divine; the opposition between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether there was formless matter instead of a temporal beginning of matter; and the opposition between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether the mind of God (rather than the human mind) is what conceptualizes in the human mind.

I understand God, let us recall, as follows: an infinite, eternal, substantial, volitional, and conscious field of singular ideational models which is completely incarnated into the universe while remaining completely external to the universe, completely ideational, and completely subject to a vertical (rather than horizontal) time; and which is not only completely sheltered from any forced effect (whether ideational or material) with one or more efficient causes in its willingness, but which, besides, is traversed, animated, efficiently-caused, and unified by a sorting, actualizing pulse which stands both as the active part of God’s will and as the apparatus, the Logos, through which God incarnates Himself while remaining distinct from His incarnation.

Considering some entity from the angle of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering how the property in question is inscribed within the whole of the entity’s (present at that point) properties. Considering some entity independently of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering what are the other (present at that point) properties in the entity when the property in question is ignored. In the majority of ideational entities and of material ones, the fact of ignoring some property lets all the other properties apply. In the case of that material entity that is the universe, some of its properties present at some point apply depending on whether the universe is considered from the angle (or instead independently) of that substantial relational property that is the incarnation relationship of the universe with respect to God.

Neantial, Ideational, and Material Conceptual Objects

A concept is a unit of meaning: it signifies a certain object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties (rather than from the angle of all of its properties). The properties (including constitutive) of a conceptual object coincide with the properties (including constitutive) that are imputed to the concerned conceptual object depending on whether material or ideational reality validates the imputation of the imputed properties. In a material or ideational conceptual object, its existential properties of (i.e., those of its properties that are relating to whether the object exists, and to how it exists or inexists) rank among the constitutive properties of the conceptual object in question. A neantial conceptual object is a conceptual object that contains no existential properties; just as every neantial conceptual object is contra-material or contra-ideational, no neantial conceptual object is material nor is it ideational.

Just as every conceptual object is material or ideational or neantial, every conceptual object is fictitious (in a weak or strong mode) or matching (in a weak or strong mode). Just as a fictitious material conceptual object and a matching material conceptual object are respectively a material conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the material field) and a material conceptual object which happens to exist (in the material field), a fictitious ideational conceptual object and a matching ideational conceptual object are respectively an ideational conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the ideational field) and an ideational conceptual object which happens to exist (in the ideational field). Just as a fictitious neantial conceptual object and a matching neantial conceptual object are respectively a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having not actually preceded the universe and a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having actually preceded the universe, a contra-ideational neantial conceptual object and a neantial contra-material conceptual object are respectively a type of nothingness substituted for the field of the Idea and a type of nothingness substituted for the field of matter.

A concept and its linguistically accepted definition (i.e., its definition accepted in a certain language) are considered synonymous in the considered language; that synonymy, instead of being true or false independently of reality (whether ideational or material), is nevertheless true or false according to ideational reality (in the case of the ideational objects and of the contra-ideational neantial object), or according to material reality (in the case of the material objects and of the contra-material neantial object). Just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between an ideational object (for example, God) and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned ideational object are those alleged by the accepted definition, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a material object (for example, Chi) and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned material object are those alleged by the accepted definition. As for the neantial objects, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-material neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition; just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-ideational neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition.

The object of the concept of light is a matching material conceptual object, i.e., a material conceptual object that happens to exist in the material field. The concept of light means light taken from the angle of its constitutive properties; the linguistically accepted definition of light, which evolves as language evolves, must be judged true or false in the light of material reality. The currently accepted definition of light is as follows: “electromagnetic radiation whose wavelength, between 400 and 780 nm, corresponds to the sensitivity zone of the human eye, between ultraviolet and infrared.” Our knowledge of reality remaining irremediably perfectible, that definition is subject to a hypothetical revision one day or another (under the hypothetical progress of physics on that level); we will start from that definition, which we know is “true” until further notice.

Light: Symbol of the Ideality of God

Every light has: its source (i.e., what it emanates from), and its object (i.e., what it illuminates). We cannot correctly grasp what the symbol of light refers to without focusing on that conceptual trio—luminaire (i.e., source of light), illuminated object, and light. The light of a candle manifests itself via the flame which envelops the wick, and via the wax which the light of the candle illuminates; however the light of the candle is not visible itself. More generally, light manifests itself without making itself visible: in other words, it manifests itself in a mode other than that which would consist for it of making itself visible. In order for light to manifest itself via its source, a necessary, sufficient condition is that light manifests itself via the illuminated object; it is by illuminating its object that light manifests itself via what it illuminates, but it is, besides, by manifesting itself via the illuminated object that light manifests that it emanates from a certain luminary (and manifests which is its luminary). In other words, just as it is by illuminating that object it illuminates that light manifests itself through the illuminated object, it is by illuminating that object that light manifests itself through the luminaire.

A symbol is a concept that allows one or more other concepts to be glimpsed while leaving them in obscurity; it is both an incomplete path towards those other concepts, and a completely hermetic enigma about them. Let us endeavor to see what the concept of light opens up to: to begin with, the ideality of God. Just as matter is that which exists in a consistent, firm mode, the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness. Just as materiality is what a material entity is composed of, ideality is what an ideational entity is composed of. Reality is subdivided into a material field and an ideational field; the universe occupies (and summarizes) the material field, but God occupies (without summarizing) the ideational field. The supramundane field is to be not confused with the ideational field: the supramundane field, in that it encompasses everything that is beyond the world, encompasses the ideational field as well as the neantial field (i.e., the field of the nothingness prior to the temporal beginning of the material field).

Interstellar vacuum, energy, or thought are modes of matter: they are as consistent as is wood or fire, but consistent in a different way. Light is a certain mode of matter; but it is a mode of matter which is so “fine” in its consistency that it evokes the ideality of which God is made. Let us specify that the Idea (which Plato and Pythagoras deal with) must be distinguished from the idea: the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness, but the idea is a material entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of a material entity) or an ideational entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of an ideational entity). God is an Idea; but the concept of God in the mind of a certain human is an idea lodged in the mind of said human. Let us also clarify that physics only deals with a certain mode of matter: namely that mode of matter which has mass and extent. Thought (which has neither mass nor extension), as well as the void (which has extension but is devoid of mass), are both excluded from the field of physics; they nonetheless remain modes of matter. Light, although it falls within that mode of matter which occupies physics, evokes a mode of being which is beyond physics; although light is material, it evokes a mode of being that is truly immaterial.

Light: Symbol of God Considered in His Relationship to Contra-Material Nothingness

The light which crosses the void where the celestial bodies “float” barely manifests itself because it barely illuminates the celestial bodies; in other words, the void is black because the light emanating from the stars barely illuminates the celestial bodies. In that regard, light is a symbol of God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness. Namely that God—just as starlight barely illuminates the black of the interstellar void that it travels through—does not dissipate at all the contra-material nothingness that it overhangs.

Every conceptual object is either supramundane or intramundane. Just as every supramundane object is ideational or neantial, every intramundane object is material. Just as every conceptual object is intra-mundane or supramundane, every intra-mundane conceptual object is: either fictitious in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or matching in a strong mode; the same is true of every supramundane conceptual object. A fictitious object in a weak mode is a fictitious object which could have been a matching object had this world been different or had another world existed; a fictitious object in a strong mode is a fictitious object which would have been fictitious even if this world had been different or if another world had existed. A matching object in a weak mode is a matching object which could have been a fictitious object had this world been different or had another world existed; a matching object in a strong mode is a matching object which would have been matching even if this world had been different or if another world had existed.

Every intra-mundane object matching in a strong mode is a material object; but a supramundane object matching in a strong mode is either ideational or neantial. Every matching intra-mundane object is a material object matching in a weak or strong mode; but a matching supramundane object is either an ideational object matching in a strong mode, or a neantial object matching in a strong mode. Every fictitious intramundane object is a fictitious material object in a weak or strong mode; but a fictitious supramundane object is either an ideational object fictitious in a strong mode, or a neantial object fictitious in a strong mode. A supramundane object of an ideational type is either matching in a strong mode, or fictitious in a strong mode; the same applies to every supramundane object of the neantial type. Every intramundane object (and, thus, every material object) is either matching in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or fictitious in a weak mode.

Two modalities of the concept of nothingness are valid: a matching modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-material nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of matter; a fictitious modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-ideational nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of the Idea. Of those two modalities of the concept of nothingness, the former has as its object the contra-material nothingness (i.e., the absence of matter) which effectively preceded (chronologically) matter: at least, matter considered independently of the incarnation relationship of matter with regard to God. The latter modality has as its object contra-ideational nothingness (i.e., the absence of any ideational entity), which is fictitious. That the absence of matter was chronologically prior to matter (at least, matter considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) is a fact which would have occurred even if our world had been different or if another world had existed; thus, contra-material nothingness is a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is matching in a strong mode. God exists from all eternity (whether matter is considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), and His existence would be eternal even if our world were different or if another world had existed; contra-ideational nothingness is thus a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is fictitious in a strong mode.

Matter, in that it had a temporal beginning (if we consider it independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God), was preceded by contra-material nothingness. By Himself, however, God cannot dissipate contra-material nothingness; no more than starlight can dissipate the black of the interstellar void. Precisely, the black of the interstellar void symbolizes contra-material nothingness. By itself, the ideality of which God is made cannot dispel that darkness; what is ideational cannot get substituted for the absence of what is material, no more than it can generate ideational effects substituted for the absence of what is material. The only way God can dispel that darkness, and introduce matter in place of darkness, is for Him to change Himself into what He is not: matter.

Light: Symbol of the Incarnation of God into the Universe

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the Gospel of John tells us. The sorting, actualizing pulse which unifies, animates, and traverses the field of ideational essences present within God, and which operates the incarnation of God into the world (while allowing Him to remain external to the world which is His incarnation), is that “Word” whose mystery occupied the apostle John (or the Johannine community). It is inaccurate to say of God that He is His Word; the Word of God is nevertheless the active part of His will, as well as the apparatus of His incarnation. The Word, although it unfolds in a time that is eternal (i.e., which has neither beginning nor end) and vertical (i.e., where past, present, and future are simultaneous rather than successive), does unfold; in other words, the Word operating in the ideational field is gradual as is every speech formulated in the material field. Just as God creates (by incarnating Himself) in a gradual mode, the universe exists in a gradual mode; like a discourse that is being held, the universe is unfolding. That joint gradualness in the creation on the part of God, and in the existence of the universe, lets itself be glimpsed in these terms in the Koran: “And, with Our powers, We have built the sky, and assuredly, We continue to extend it.” For its part, the fact that God creates through His Word lets itself be glimpsed here as follows: “When He decides a thing, He simply says: “Be”, and it is immediately!”

What light is a symbol of is not only God considered from the angle of His ideality or of His relationship to contra-material nothingness; it is also God considered from the angle of His incarnation into the universe. Light, let us recall, does not manifest itself in the way that would consist for it of making itself visible. Instead of making itself visible, it manifests itself through its source (what illuminates), and its object (what is illuminated); and it is by illuminating its object that it manifests itself both through its object and its source. Let us see how the symbol of light illuminates the creation by God through incarnation. God is (symbolically) a light that stands out in three ways from the light of this world. In the first place, that light is its own source; it is both the lighting and the light that illuminates, the luminaire and what emanates from it. In the second place, that light that is God does not manifest itself by what it illuminates; God certainly enlightens the universe, but the universe does not manifest the presence of God who enlightens it. In the third place, the light that is God engenders what it illuminates; the light of God brings the world into being by illuminating it. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of God incarnated into the universe correspond three properties of the incarnation of God into the universe. In the first place, God is substance, i.e., exists from all eternity and without having any efficient cause. In the second place, God remains external to the universe; that exteriority of God with respect to His own incarnation, that independence of God with respect to His own creation by incarnation, it follows from it that the universe does not manifest the presence of God. In the third place, God remains that which created (and is incarnated into) the universe; God is certainly external to His creation, the universe nonetheless remains what God created by means of His incarnation.

Light: SDymbol of the Incarnation of the Consciousness of God into the Consciousness of the Son of God

It is useful to remember that the light of God is ideational, whereas the light of our world is a modality of matter. God, who hardly manifests Himself through His creation by incarnation that is the universe, nevertheless inspired the words of the prophets; that inspiration, although it did not manifest God through the speech of the prophets, allowed the prophets to express themselves about God. God inspired what was said about Him; His inspiration, however, was not His manifestation. The Gospel according to John, however, says of God that while “no one has ever seen God [until then],” “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, is the one who has made him known.” That inspired symbolic language can be deciphered in these terms: God, who until then had no more manifested Himself (were it partly) in His creation than His consciousness had been incarnated within the world, saw His consciousness become a human consciousness (i.e., the consciousness of the earthly soul of a certain human), but neither His consciousness nor anything of God manifested itself on that occasion.

Just as in any novel the plot can be considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation, a same statement with respect to a novel’s plot can be true or false depending on whether the novel is considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation. Let’s take a novel whose plot ends on a cliffhanger: in the novel considered from the angle of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot ends on the cliffhanger in question; but, in the novel considered independently of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot continues after the cliffhanger (instead of stopping at the end of the novel). The universe is a novel whose author is God, which He writes by means of his Word; but it is a novel whose words are incarnated into what they say (while remaining external to that material incarnation). Just as God’s words are those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes, the respective incarnation of God’s words is the respective incarnation of those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes. Jesus, in that he is the incarnation of the ideational essence of Jesus, is the incarnation of a certain part of God; but, in his consciousness, Jesus is also the incarnation of a certain (other) part of God in that the consciousness of God is incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus.

The consciousness of Jesus is symbolically a light, but it is a light that stands out in three ways from the non-symbolic light. In the first place, that light is its own object; it is both what illuminates and what is illuminated, the light and what the light illuminates. In the second place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus illuminates its object while nevertheless leaving it in the shadows; that light illuminates itself without making itself visible. In the third place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus does not manifest the source from which it emanates, no more than it manifests that it is an emanation. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of the consciousness of Jesus correspond three properties of the consciousness of Jesus. In the first place, the consciousness of Jesus is at the same time the incarnated consciousness of God (regarding his consciousness in the universe considered from the angle of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God) and the consciousness of the soul nestled in the human Jesus; thus the consciousness of Jesus is both a property present in God (regarding the consciousness of Jesus in the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) and a property present in that non-divine entity that is the soul of the human Jesus. In the second place, the consciousness of Jesus, although it existed in the world, was no more manifested in the world than the consciousness present in some conscious material entity is in a position to manifest itself in the world; what is ideational and nevertheless in the world cannot manifest itself alongside any material entity. In the third place, the consciousness of God taken in its exteriority with regard to its own incarnation into the consciousness of the earthly soul of the human Jesus was not manifested in its incarnation; it was incarnated without that incarnation being manifestation.

Grasping what, of Jesus, is of God requires that we go beyond what John (or the Johannine community) seemed to understand from his own symbolic language when he expressed himself in these terms in his Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” What, of God, became flesh is not His word, but it is the respective ideational essence of those entities endowed with flesh (including the entity Jesus); what makes Jesus a Son of God is that are respectively incarnated a certain ideational essence into Jesus, and the consciousness of God into the consciousness of Jesus. The word of God is what operates the selection and actualization of some ideational essences; the ideational essence of Jesus, in witnessing its selection and actualization get carried out, witnesses Jesus come into the world with a substantial essence that includes the property (that is itself inscribed in the ideational essence of Jesus) of the incarnated consciousness of God. The universe is indistinct from God (although distinct from God who remains external to His own incarnation that the universe is); for his part, Jesus is indistinct from the ideational essence of Jesus and, thus, from a part of God (although distinct from his ideational essence which, while incarnated into Jesus, remains external to Jesus), but the consciousness of Jesus is indistinct from the (totality of the) consciousness of God (although distinct from the consciousness of God which, while incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus, remains external to the consciousness of Jesus).

Overcoming the Divide between Radical Arianism and the Trinitarian Doctrine

The entire universe, not just Jesus, is the incarnation of God; but, although God is entirely incarnated into the entire universe, the consciousness of God is only incarnated into the consciousness of one or more human individuals precisely elected so that their respective consciousnesses be the incarnated consciousness of God. The consciousness of God, while incarnating itself into one or more human consciousnesses, does not see the object of the consciousness of God incarnate itself into the object of those human consciousnesses in which the consciousness of God gets incarnated. The object of God’s consciousness is (at every point) one’s existence and the entire field of the ideational essences and the (simultaneous) past, present, and future of the operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, as well as the entirety of the (successive) past, present, and future of the universe; but the object of the consciousness of the one or those in whom the consciousness of God is incarnated is (at every point) one’s existence and a certain part of the universe, and hypothetically (and in a mode which is, at best, approximative) a certain part of the field of the ideational essences. Only a handful of humans (rather than all or the majority of humans) or a single human (rather than several humans) sees the consciousness of God incarnate itself into theirs; Jesus was either the only human whose consciousness was the incarnated consciousness of God, or one of those few humans (through the ages) whose respective consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God.

In the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is both the incarnated consciousness of God and the consciousness of the soul of Jesus; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is only the consciousness of the soul of Jesus. Likewise, in the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is at the same time a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God (in that his consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God) and a human who in his consciousness has nothing divine nor anything of God; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is in his consciousness only human (instead of being endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God). In that the consciousness of God is co-eternal with God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with God in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; but, just as much in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God as in the universe taken independently of said relationship of incarnation, Jesus (instead of being co-eternal with God) has a temporal beginning and end.

The soul, as I expressed myself on that subject in a previous writing, is an Idea which, like the ideational essence, is eternal although endowed with an efficient cause (through God); but which, unlike the ideational essence (which remains within God, and which sees God communicate to it His consciousness and will), is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God, and with an existence external to God. The soul retains its consciousness both when the soul is supramundane (i.e., located in the ideational field) and when it is earthly (i.e., located in a living entity within the material field); but, whereas the earthly soul is without any willingness and without any mind (although every terrestrial soul is nested in an entity that is, if not endowed with a mind, at least endowed with a willingness), the supramundane soul has a willingness and a mind respectively distinct from the willingness of God and from the mind of God. The (supramundane) soul rises to the rank of a god in the ideational field by having experienced, during its stay or stays (as an earthly soul) in the material field, a heroism that is sufficient in order for God to grant it a divine rank. Every divine soul is supramundane; but no earthly soul is divine, just as not every supramundane soul is divine. Although the soul of Jesus became divine at the end of the earthly stay it effectuated in the biological entity that Jesus is, the soul of Jesus had nothing divine during the stay in question.

Heroism and exploit, as I expressed myself on that subject in the same previous writing, must be taken respectively in the sense of the accomplishment (as a conscious material entity) of one or more exploits; and in the sense of an act that is jointly exceptionally creative (i.e., characterized by the mental creation of one or more exceptionally creative ideas), exceptionally successful (i.e., characterized by the complete achievement of an exceptionally difficult goal), and exceptionally endangering for one’s material subsistence. The (earthly) soul of Jesus rendered itself divine (on its return to the ideational field) by experiencing an earthly stay (as Jesus) which saw Jesus accomplish an exploit great enough for that stay to be sufficient to render divine the (supramundane) soul of Jesus. That exploit is that of having created a new, semi-worldly, and multi-millennial religion by dying on the cross. Each supramundane soul knows perfectly the content of each ideational essence; thus each supramundane soul pre-knows perfectly what its earthly stay will be when it opts for a certain earthly stay. God, although each supramundane soul makes use of a self-determined willingness in its decision to opt for some particular earthly stay rather than for another one, perfectly pre-knows the decision of each supramundane soul on that level. God, although He elected the (supramundane) soul of Jesus so that his (earthly) soul be the earthly soul (or one of the earthly souls) whose consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God, saw the (supramundane) soul of Jesus make use of a self-determined willingness in its choice of an earthly stay characterized by the incarnation of the consciousness of God into the consciousness of the (earthly) soul.

God, while incarnating Himself in the world, remains external to the world which is His incarnation; but the world, for its part, remains indistinct (rather than distinct) from God whose incarnation it is. A same statement can nevertheless be true or false depending on whether we consider it in the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or in the world considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God. In the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness that is both indistinct from the consciousness of God and distinct from the consciousness of God; but, in the world taken independently of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God (rather than indistinct from all or part of the consciousness of God). Accordingly, the overcoming of the cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine is constitutive of a correct answer to the question of the divinity of Jesus (i.e., the question of knowing whether Jesus is divine). Moderate Arianism considers Jesus as a human who, in that he is the incarnated Father, was both created by the Father and created as indistinct (though distinct) from the Father; and who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father whose incarnation he is. For its part, radical Arianism envisages Jesus as a human who has nothing divine and who, in that he was created by the Father in a mode other than a creation by incarnation, is human (rather than God) and distinct from the Father (rather than indistinct from the latter); and as a human who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father. Whereas, according to moderate Arianism, Jesus is (incarnated) God without being co-eternal with the Father, Jesus, according to radical Arianism, is neither God nor endowed with anything divine nor is he co-eternal with the Father (although he is created by the Father).

Intermediate positions are found between radical and moderate Arianisms; but all modalities of Arianism have in common that they are opposed to the Trinitarian doctrine, for which Jesus is both the incarnation of God (instead of being a creature without anything divine nor anything of God) and an entity co-eternal with God. Knowing which modality of Arianism was the one that Arius actually defended is a problem on which I will not take position here. The cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine sees my position on the question of the divinity of Jesus operate an overcoming in these terms. The entire universe (and not only Jesus within the universe) sees God incarnate Himself into it, what is beyond the understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine and of radical Arianism (as well as of all modalities of Arianism). The assertion (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is both human and indistinct from God (rather than a part of God) is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation of God (rather than in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), Jesus is his incarnated ideational essence (and thus an incarnated part of God), and a human endowed, besides, with a consciousness which is both the consciousness of the (earthly) soul of Jesus and the incarnated consciousness of God. For its part, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus has nothing divine is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is a human who is no more an incarnated ideational essence than he is a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God.

In the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with the consciousness of God; but (whether the world is taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God) Jesus himself does have a beginning and an end in (horizontal) time. As such, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus is not co-eternal with God is true; but the affirmation (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is co-eternal with God retains a part of truth in that the consciousness of Jesus in the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

Overcoming the Divide between Gersonides and Saint Thomas Aquinas

The question of formless matter (i.e., the question of whether the universe, instead of having known a temporal beginning from contra-material nothingness, experienced a formless matter that was without any temporal beginning) is another question which demands the overcoming of a certain philosophical cleavage: here, the cleavage between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas formless matter is matter that exists without entering into the composition of any material entity, arranged matter is matter that enters into the composition of a certain material entity (within which it coexists with formal properties). The Gersonidean position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter (which had always been) from which God operated to create a universe which be endowed with form and not only matter; for its part, the Thomist position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a formless matter (without any temporal beginning), had a temporal beginning which saw the universe begin with an already arranged matter.

Each of those two positions has a part of truth (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship), and a part of falsehood (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship). The relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God is co-eternal with God; but the relation of incarnation of a given entity within the universe with regard to its own ideational essence is no more co-eternal with the ideational essence in question than a given entity within the universe (whether the latter is considered independently of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God or from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) is co-eternal with its own ideational essence. The universe is nevertheless co-eternal with God when it comes to the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; regarding the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation, the universe, instead of being co-eternal with God, is endowed with a temporal beginning. The universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God certainly saw arranged matter begin temporally; but, whereas the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God sees the temporal beginning of arranged matter follow a phase (without any temporal beginning) of the universe that was characterized by formless matter, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God saw the universe begin temporally (from contra-material nothingness) and begin with an already arranged matter.

What renders partially true the Thomist affirmation of the temporal beginning of the universe (from contra-material nothingness) is that the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God is (unlike the universe considered from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) effectively endowed with a temporal beginning. Likewise, what renders partly true the Gersonidean assertion that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter is that the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God has (unlike the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation) actually passed through the phase (without any temporal beginning) of a formless matter rather than through the phase of an arising from contra-material nothingness. Every entity (whether ideational or material) is a compound of form and composition: the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was therefore a semi-entity so long as the matter which composed it was a formless matter. For its part, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was an entity as soon as its existence began temporally.

Overcoming the Divide between Averroes and Saint Thomas Aquinas

Conceptualization consists of producing a concept or a definition of said concept or a description of all or part of the object of said concept; conceiving a concept consists of conceptualizing, or judging that a concept or a certain definition of said concept or a certain description of all or part of the object of said concept are valid. The question of conceptualization in the mind of God (i.e., the question of whether it is the mind of God, not the human mind itself, which conceptualizes in the human mind) has been the subject of a cleavage between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas the former conceives of the human mind as incapable of conceptualizing, and the mind of God as that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind, the latter conceives of the human mind as capable of conceptualizing (just like the mind of God), and the conceptualization in the human mind as the work of the human mind itself.

Every concept (i.e., every unit of meaning) is an idea; but every idea is either a concept or an association of concepts. Every definition is an association of concepts; but not every association of concepts is a definition. The willingness (i.e., the pursuit of one or more ends) is either acting (i.e., employing one or more means for the purpose of an end), or non-acting (i.e., pursuing an end without employing any means for the purpose of that end); in God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, the Word, is the acting willingness. An object of willingness (i.e., an end that a willingness pursues, or the means or the various means that it employs for the purpose of an end) is never an idea; in every conscious volitional entity, willingness (whether it is acting or non-acting) is nevertheless accompanied by the idea of the object of willingness. Just as a volitional idea is an idea that accompanies an object of willingness (without causing the object in question), an actional volitional idea and a non-actional volitional idea are respectively a volitional idea that accompanies an end or means present in an acting willingness; and a volitional idea which accompanies an end in a non-acting willingness. In God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, in that it merges with acting willingness, is distinct from volitional ideas; each operation of said pulse is nevertheless accompanied by a correspondent idea in the mind of God. Just as an actional volitional idea in God is a volitional idea which corresponds to a certain operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, an actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to a means in acting willingness and a non-actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to an end in acting willingness are respectively a volitional idea which corresponds to a selection and actualization; and a volitional idea which corresponds to an incarnated ideational essence. From an ideational entity present in the material field, nothing can be the object of an experience by a material entity; but it is possible for a human material entity to have an experience (which nevertheless is, at best, approximative) of all or part of an ideational essence, as well as of the consciousness of God or of a supramundane soul, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the ideas in the mind of a certain supramundane soul.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.


Genesis distinguishes between primordial light and the light of the sun and the moon; the primordial light was created before the first day, with “the heavens and the earth,” but the sun and the moon were created only on the fourth day. Genesis tells us of God that He creates by “speaking,” and that the primordial light is His creation. As God invites humans to complete His creation that is the universe, the word that He inspires invites humans to deepen the symbolism it contains. The primordial light, we think, is a symbol of God envisaged in that ideality that is evoked by the finesse of the mode of matter that is light; a symbol of God envisaged in His inability to replace contra-material nothingness so long as He is only a light in the darkness; a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that He incarnates Himself into the world as a light which would create, by illuminating it, the illuminated object itself; and a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that His consciousness, while seeing itself incarnated in the consciousness of Jesus, remained hidden in that incarnation like a luminaire that its light would not manifest.

The “beginning” with which Genesis and the Gospel according to saint John open is no chronological beginning, but a pre-chronological one. In other words, the time of origins, instead of being the beginning of the time of this world, is that time without beginning and without succession from which the beginning of the succession of time in this world stems. Saint John, who symbolically identifies “the Word” to “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man,” adds that this light “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” The deciphering of those inspired symbolic words involves the overcoming of these three ancient philosophical cleavages: the cleavage between radical Arians (for whom Jesus is a creature with a temporal beginning and end, and a creature who is God-created without being incarnated God) and Trinitarians (for whom Jesus is a creature co-eternal with God, and a creature who is incarnated God) on the question of the divinity of Jesus; the cleavage between Gersonides (for whom a formless matter without temporal beginning, not contra-material nothingness, was prior to the compound of form and matter in the universe) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom the universe had a beginning in time and began as a composite of form and matter) on the question of formless matter; and the cleavage between Averroes (for whom it is the spirit of God which conceptualizes in the human spirit) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom it is the human spirit which conceptualizes in the human spirit) on the question of conceptualization in the mind of God.

It is false that God is entirely incarnated into Jesus; it is no less false that there is nothing of God that is incarnated into Jesus. Jesus sees a part of God incarnate itself into Jesus, and an (other) part of God incarnate itself into a part of Jesus. What, of God, is incarnated into Jesus is a certain ideational essence; but what, of God, is incarnated into that part of Jesus that is the consciousness of Jesus is the consciousness of God. Jesus (whether the world is taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or independently of said incarnation relationship) has a beginning and an end in time; but the consciousness of Jesus in the world considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

The universe considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God has experienced—instead of a temporal beginning which would have seen it begin with an already arranged matter—a formless matter which never began temporally, but from which God operated to create a universe which be veritably a composite of form and matter. Concerning the universe considered independently of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God, the latter—instead of having passed through a formless matter whose phase would never have begun in time, but would have temporally preceded the phase of a universe composed of arranged matter—has effectively begun in time with an already arranged matter which temporally began from contra-material nothingness.

The human mind (rather than the mind of God) is what conceptualizes in the human mind; the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is nevertheless in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God. Besides, the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of the consciousness of God and of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in the mind of God. Precisely, the mystical experience is the suprasensible experience a conscious material entity makes of the consciousness of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field), or of one or more ideas contained in the mind of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field). To humans, God allows the grasp (in a mode that is, at best, approximate) of all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas; of His mind, it prevents him from grasping (even in an approximate mode) the slightest idea other than a non-actional volitional idea.

The Word, which incarnated the consciousness of the ideational entity that is God into the consciousness of the soul of the human entity that is Jesus, made himself the object of the symbolic discourse inspired to Jesus; thus it can be said symbolically of the Word that he is “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Jesus saw his consciousness incarnate the consciousness of God in the world, and the (global) incarnation of God into the universe, while having formless matter precede the universe considered as incarnation, caused the beginning in horizontal time of the universe considered independently of that incarnation, and the consciousness of God, although it manifests itself in the mystical experience of the consciousness of God, was not manifested in its incarnation; thus it can be said symbolically of God that He is a light which “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” God, who no more manifests Himself in His incarnation into the world than He manifests Himself in the incarnation of His consciousness into the consciousness of (the earthly soul of) the human Jesus, manifests in suprasensible experience (which is carried out in a mode which is, at best, approximative) all or part of the ideational essences contained within Him, as well as all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind. Suprasensible experience—when it has as its object all or part of the field of the ideational essences in God, or all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind—is that through which God illuminates us; the grasp of what are (at a given moment) all or part of those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God (at the concerned moment) is that by which God reveals to us the content (at the concerned moment) of that which is sometimes considered His heart.

The fact that a certain human entity, at a given moment, is grasping in an approximative mode all or part of what the non-actional volitional ideas are at the moment in the mind of God is inscribed in the ideational essence of the human entity in question, just as is inscribed in the ideational essence in question what are those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God at the moment of the grasping. The same applies to a grasping whose effectiveness is less than approximative. God is not constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some non-actional volitional ideas in mind at a given time; He nevertheless ensures in the operation of His Word that, when a certain actualized ideational essence states what all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas are at a given moment, what His non-actional volitional ideas are effectively at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. Likewise, no supramundane soul is constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some ideas in mind at any given moment; but God, in the operation of His Word, ensures that, when a certain actualized ideational essence declares what all or part of the ideas are at a given moment in a given supramundane soul, what the ideas are effectively in the soul in question at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. If the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of God at a given moment and the content of the mind of God at the moment in question were to fail, then the universe would not fail to implode and to experience a reset; the same is true of the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of a certain supramundane soul at a given moment and the content of the concerned supramundane soul at the concerned moment. Although God makes Himself capable of errors in His quest to make the universe evolve towards ever-increasing order and complexity, He is (and forever remains) incapable of errors in His approach to ensuring that never any of those parallels fails.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website.

Featured: God separating the water from the land; engraving, Nazerene Brotherhood, 19th century; published in 1937.

Artists as Intellectuals?

In a society like ours, of consumption, opulent for the few, whose god is the market, the image has replaced the concept. We stopped reading to look, even when we rarely see one.

And so artists, actors, singers, announcers and TV hosts have replaced intellectuals.

This replacement comes from a deeper one; when intellectuals, especially after the French Revolution, came to replace philosophers. It is true that philosophers continued to exist, but the general tone of these last two centuries marks their public disappearance.

Progressivism, that infantile disease of social democracy, is characterized by assuming the vanguard as a method and not as a struggle, as was the case with the old socialism. The old newspaper La Vanguardia still exists in Barcelona.

The vanguard as a method means that for the progressive it is necessary to be, against all odds, always on the crest of the wave. Always ahead; in the vanguard of ideas, fashions, uses, customs and attitudes.

The progressive man always places himself in the temporal ecstasy of the future, neither the present, much less the past, has any significance for him, and if it does, it is always in function of the future. He is not interested in the ethos of the historical Nation, and even goes against this historical-cultural character. And this is so, because the progressive is his own project. He is always installed in the future because he has adopted the avant-garde as his method. No one and nothing can be in front of him, otherwise he would cease to be progressive. This explains why the progressive cannot give himself a project of country or nation because it would be placed in front of him, which implies and creates a contradiction.

And as no one can give what he does not have, the progressive cannot give himself nor give us a political project because he himself is his political project.

The progressive man, being the one who says yes to every novelty that is proposed to him, finds in artists his intellectuals. Today, in our consumer society where images have replaced concepts, we find that artists are, in the end, those who translate concepts into images. And the formation of the progressive consists in that, in a succession of truncated images of reality. The homo festivus, the emblematic figure of progressivism, of which thinkers such as Philippe Murray or Agulló speak, finds in the artist his ideologist.

The artist frees him both from the effort of reading (a habit that is irremissibly lost) and from the concrete world. The progressive does not want to know but only to be informed. He is greedy for novelties. And the world is “his world” and he lives in the glass bell of the old neighborhood stores where the flies (the people and their problems) cannot enter.

Porteño progressives live in Puerto Madero, not in Parque Patricios.

The tactic of the progressive governments is to transform the people into “the public;” that is, into a consuming public, with which the people cease to be the main political agent of any community, to cede that protagonism to the mass media, as ideologists of the masses, and to the artists, as ideologists of their own elites.

This is a mechanism that works at two levels: a) in the mass media, hundreds of journalists and broadcasters, those loquacious cultural illiterates, according to Paul Feyerabend’s (1924-1994) apt expression, tell us what we should do and how we should think. They are the messengers of Heidegger’s “anonymous one” that through the dictator “is,” says, thinks, works, dresses, eats, plunges us into improper existence; b) through artists as translators of concepts into images in theaters and cinemas and for a more restricted public with greater purchasing power: for those who are satisfied with the system.

The artist fulfills his ideological function within progressivism because he sings the infinite themes of vindication: gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, adoption of children by homosexuals, consumption of marijuana and cocaine, the fight against imperialism, the defense of indigenism, immigrants, the reduction of sentences for criminals, a nod to marginality and a long etcetera. But he never sings about the insecurity in the streets, prostitution, the sale of children, pedophile tourism, the lack of employment, the increasing murder and robbery of people, gambling for money, etc. No, that is not what Mastroiani’s film talks about. In short, he does not see the sufferings of society but its joys.

The artist as an actor represents all those plays where political correctness is represented. And in this sense, as Vittorio Messori says, in the first place is to denigrate the Church, to criticize the social order, the bourgeois virtues of moderation, modesty, thrift, cleanliness, fidelity, diligence, reasonableness, making the apology of their opposites.

There is no actor who does not rend his clothes talking about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, although no one represents the Christian or gypsy women in those same concentration camps.

Thus, if they represent Heidegger as a Nazi and Stalin as a master of humanity. The Pope always as an executioner and the nuns as perverts, but the moneylenders as needy and the pimps as liberators. No more depictions of the Merchant of Venice, nor of Martel’s La Bolsa. The conductor who dares to touch Wagner is excommunicated by the thought police of Jewish aesthetics in classical music.

In the local order, if they represent Martin Fierro, they remove the payada and duel with Moreno. General Belgrano is portrayed as a doctor. Perón as a bourgeois and Evita as a revolutionary. Even when the emblematic figure of every actor is Che Guevara.

All the theatrical hermeneutics is penetrated by psychoanalysis tinged by the logic of Freud and his hundreds of disciples. Logic that is resolved in the rescue of the “other” but to transform him into “the same,” because in the heart of this logic “the other,” like Jehovah for Abraham, is lived as a threat; and that is why in the supposed rescue I have to transform him into “the same.”

The artist is educated in difference; we see it in his outlandish clothing and behavior. He thinks and looks different but his product ends up being one more element for the homogenizing cohesion of all differences and otherness. He is one more agent of cultural globalization.

The pluralism preached and represented ends up in the apology of the sweet totalitarianism of the social democracies that reduce our identity to that of all equally.

Finally, the political mechanism that is at the base of this dissolution of the other, as the distinct, the different, is consensus. In it functions the simulacrum of the Kantian “as if.” Thus, I lend an ear to the other but I do not listen to him. A delayed negation of the other is produced, because, in the end, I seek to bridge the differences by reducing him to “the same.”
This is the ultimate reason why we have been proposing for years the theory of dissent, which is born of the real and effective acceptance of the principle of difference, and has the requirement of being able to live in that difference. And this is the reason why it is necessary to practice metapolitics: a discipline that involves the need to identify ideological diversity in the area of world, regional or national politics, trying to turn this diversity into a concept of political understanding, according to the wise opinion of the political scientist Giacomo Marramao.

Dissent should be the first step in making genuine public policy and metapolitics the philosophical and axiological content of the political agent.

Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles. His website is here.

Featured: The Serenade, by Jacob Jordaens; painted ca. 1640-1645.

The Archimedean Point: The Political and the Legal Sphere

The distinction between “political” and “legal” is particularly difficult because the scope, purpose, and assumptions of one and the other are the same, or similar, or, at least in part, coincident.

If, for example, one asks “what is the purpose of politics?” the prevailing answer is the “common good,” understood as security (and protection) from (internal and external) threats, as (internal) concord, and as well-being. If one asks the same question for the law, the prevailing answer will be to justly and surely regulate social relations; which coincides, in part, with the “common good” understood as concord in the community, given the need for rules on the one hand, and for them to be shared and accepted (predominantly) by the members on the other.

If, likewise, we start from the ambit, while the “social” character of politics is taken for granted, that of the law, it has given some problems: this does not detract from the fact that for a legal norm or command to exist there must always be a society, though of only two people. A norm that, like the moral norm, is only internal and has the individual and God (or conscience) as subjects, is not juridical. Further, it is juridical only if it is concretely enforceable (and violable); and—at least to some extent—enforced.

Which leads to the other problem of the effectiveness of the law, which necessitates the use of coercion, that is, force, itself a (typical) means of politics. And thus, it could go on for a long time.

On the other hand, there are the differences and irreducibility of one to the other.

An example for the enduring relevance (and rightly so) of an essential difference is the one made by Max Weber about the different attitude of the politician and the official: “To take a stand, to be passionate—ira et stadium—is the politician’s element, and above all the element of the political leader. His conduct is subject to quite a different, indeed, exactly the opposite, principle of responsibility from that of the civil servant. The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction. This holds even if the order appears wrong to him and if, despite the civil servant’s remonstrances, the authority insists on the order. Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces. The honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman, however, lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer. It is in the nature of officials of high moral standing to be poor politicians, and above all, in the political sense of the word, to be irresponsible politicians. In this sense, they are politicians of low moral standing…”

In this passage the distinction is formulated between the political attitude and function (which is to give commands) and that of the official (of the bureaucracy) which is to execute them. That being said, in order to understand and demarcate the different spheres of the political and the legal, it is necessary to identify the points of contact, as well as the differences between them.

As for those, the first is given by the character and social sphere in which they are necessarily carried out. As mentioned, the rule ubi societas ibi ius applies, as does the specular ubi ius ibi societas. The assumption of the sociality of the legal, as well as the political, is evident. As has been written, even on Robinson Crusoe’s island, the law came into being only with the presence of Friday: before that it would have been absurd. For politics (and the political) no one, to our knowledge, has ever questioned the presupposition of the social rapport (relation), since politics is always the activity of human groups.

Another common character is that of the preservation of society; a given also, for the most part, taken for granted for politics, somewhat less so for the “legal.” In reality if the law carries within itself, more prominently than politics, the idea of justice (with the extreme consequence, expressed in the saying, fiat justitia pereat mundus) it is also true that for a legal command (norm) to be (mostly) enforceable (hence effective) it is necessary for it to be shared, at least in prevalence, in society: a certain degree of concord must support it. More generally, it must be remembered how one of the prevailing conceptions of the law is that it is a social technique: a good “technique” must achieve the specific and assigned purpose of preserving society. Only commands on which a large proportion of associates agree are likely to be executed with a minimum of force and a maximum of consensus. And the same argument, mutatis mutandis, applies to welfare: the “good” technique must achieve goals of “good” (i.e., effective and positive) management.

As for the points of difference, the main one is the autonomous character of the political, which is contrasted with the heteronomous character of the legal. It is necessary to clarify these concepts, and the relationship between the autonomy of the political and the heteronomy of the legal.

First, the autonomy of politics (and the political) should be understood not only in the traditional sense, as independence from moral (and legal) precepts, but also in the literal sense, of that which gives goals, rules, to itself; that is, in the positive sense, before the negative sense, of possibility/ability of before freedom from. Valid for politics (and the political) is Spinoza’s consideration that the limits and rules to be observed by the state are those of nature and not of civil laws, and that being autonomous consists for man in being “able to reject all violence, to demand in his own judgment compensation for the harm he has suffered, and, in a word, to live at his own pleasure (Political Treatise, II.9);” and for states, being “together are to be considered as a man in the state of nature” (Political Treatise, VII, 22.), the situation is the same. Hence the character of politics is to be autonomous, in the sense of giving law: either to subjects, (in and with) peace, or, to (possible) enemies in (and with) war. The connection that the Roman spirit had identified between hostis and auctoritas and expressed in the Twelve Tables—adversus hostem aeterna auctoritas—can be explained thus.

Thus, character of politics (and the politician) is not to recognize laws (commands) other than those that (the community) chooses to give itself; if one obeys the commands of others, it means one is in a pathological situation. Like that of a protected state versus the protecting power.

Conversely, the “juridical” is unthinkable except within a framework of heteronomy: Autonomous is, in man, or can be, the conscience (moral or religious); but the command, the juridical norm, never. The most that can be done to increase the degree of “autonomy” is to participate in the formation of public norms (commands), as advocated by Hobbes and Rousseau. But even in a democracy as close to the “ideal type” of democracy as possible, the subject who commands (i.e., the assembly of citizens) is distinct from the “commanded”—thus as Hobbes wrote—there “passeth no covenant, between the sovereign and any subject” (De corpore politico, XXI, 2).

Thus, if autonomy is connoted by the political—understood as an attribute of collective unity (obviously not of the individual)—heteronomy is of the legal.

In this sense Kant’s principle that “the sovereign has only rights against his subjects and no duites (that he can be coerced to fulfill), (The Metaphysics and Morals, p. 95),” fully expresses both the heteronomy of the juridical and the autonomy of the political, obviously in relation to the modern state. Having only rights and no duties means both being able to give commands (laws) and (in an emergency) not having to comply with any (not even those autonomously assumed). Moreover, that coactive in parentheses indicates precisely legal obligation and duty, i.e., enforceable by resorting to force (that the sovereign has duties of other kinds—not legal—is conceivable and argued, with reason, by many). Thus, on the one hand the law, even that produced by private autonomy, rests in every case on a political decision and will (even to allow and support autonomy; that is, it is a rare example of heteronomous autonomy); on the other hand, the political, that is, the essential character of sovereign power is to be free from all legal conditioning and limitations.

The “heteronomous” character of the law, with regard to legal decision, also results from the structure of the same, which is based on the authorization/application of commands (norms) that have already been decided (elsewhere); so that a measure or judgment can be reviewed and qualified as valid (or invalid) on the basis of a check of conformity with respect to the norm or commands that support them. This is so whether these have normative content (as is, for the most part, the case in the modern state) or consist of mere commands (i.e., lacking generality and/or abstractness). A policy decision is, conversely, not reviewable with respect to a norm. While a ruling is good (valid) if the Judge has correctly applied existing law, the policy measure is good insofar as it is congruous in resolving a situation, at the limit breaking the law, including constitutional norms. While the above saying, fiat justitia pereat mundus (meaning by justitia the applicable law) applies to the Judge, the other salus populi suprema lex applies to politics (Hobbes writes that law, duty and profit of the Sovereign “are one and the same thing, contained in the sentence, Salus populi suprema lex,” De corpore politico, XXVIII, p. 177). And the salvation of the state is not properly a matter of the law, let alone of norms.

The same thesis was espoused by Thomasius and Kant regarding the distinction between the law and morality. For the former, all law consists of external and not internal commands; Kant then argues that “The pure agreement and disagreement of an action with the law, he says, without regard to the motive of the action itself, is called legality (conformity to the law) while when the idea of duty, derived from the law, is at the same time motive of the action one has morality (moral doctrine). Duties imposed by legal legislation can only be external duties, because this legislation does not require that the idea of duty, which is wholly internal, be in itself a determining motive of the agent’s will, and since it needs motives appropriate to its laws, it can only admit external motives. Moral legislation, on the other hand, although it erects internal actions to duties as well, does not exclude external actions for this reason, but refers in general to everything that is duty.” Hence it follows that “to the right is thus immediately connected, according to the principle of contradiction, the power to compel the one who undermines it,” and “a narrow right can therefore only be called that which is completely external;” whereby “it right rests solely on the principle of the possibility of an external compulsion which may consist with the freedom of everyone according to general laws.”

From this it follows that the rules (laws) of politics, that is, those against which the appropriateness of political behavior (and political institutions) is assessed, have as a common feature precisely that of not being juridical; that is, of not being able to appreciate (and coerce) those behaviors with respect to rules of law (particularly positive law, or to, depending on the meaning one gives to the latter, natural law). One may or may not agree with Hobbes’ view that “natural law is, to define it, a dictate of right reason as to what is to be done or not done in order to preserve, as long as possible, life and limbs,” from which it follows that the relevant behaviors are true or false, and not like those, evaluated from the legal aspect (as well as the rules) lawful or unlawful, valid or invalid; or that of Spinoza, according to whom the state must observe only the rules, not of civil law, but of natural law; but it is certain that on the “effected” plane, this appears to be true.
On the other hand, if one starts precisely from the “presuppositions” of the political, as defined by Freund, it is not clear how the choice between peace and war could be formulated in terms and on the basis of legal presuppositions (preventive and general), nor whether an action should be commanded and by whom, or whether an activity should be public or private.

The first, moreover, does not depend (except partially) on one’s own will, because choosing to be an enemy of a given political unit is another unit’s decision; as for the other two assumptions to claim to codify what must be public or who must be obeyed (including the form of state) is to want to plaster history. Even if in the Enlightenment and among the revolutionaries of 1789 the conception of the legislature (and of the law, including constitutional law) destined to last was widespread, nevertheless the conviction that one generation cannot bind (eternally) future ones was equally widespread; and, on the other hand, saving them from the “legal” drift was the concept of constituent power which, in any case, stands above (and before) the Constitution itself, by the same amendable, even integrally.

The other presupposition of “legal” is, according to Freund, the relationship between permitted and forbidden. Like that between social and individual it is not exclusive to the law but common to many other areas of human activity, especially morality. However, it is the condition of (thinkability and) existence of a command, since commanding something presupposes the freedom to choose and thus the prohibition of something else. Neither in a society in which everything is permitted, nor in one in which impossible things are commanded (ad impossibilia nemo tenetur) is an executable command (in general) conceivable, and therefore neither is a legal rule. Certainly, a society whose Grundnorm consists in “everything is permitted” is conceivable, but this, as well as never seen in history, would not need the law, understood as an apparatus of coercion (hence institution), since it would not be possible to compel anything. Such a society, without institutions and prohibitions, is ultimately the exact representation of the Hobbesian state of nature.

It follows from the above that the essential character of the rules of politics is precisely that they are not legal, that is, susceptible to external command and coercion. It could be argued that politics has no rules (laws); but this consideration is not supportable. In fact, politics has the rules it wants to observe (this is the first face of the autonomy of the politician); the other consists of those rules that determine its end (the Hobbesian salus rei publicae suprema lex); or the “technical” rules for the protection of the community and the exercise of power. Philosophy and political thought have elaborated many of them. From the one (De Benoist) of reducing the number of enemies, which has had the most varied formulations and expressions throughout history (from the Roman divide-and-rule to the “never war on two fronts” of the Germanic HQ of the last century). Machiavelli, but also Hobbes and Spinoza have indicated several—whose common (prevailing) connotation is to depend on the purpose of political activity. That is, on the protection of communal existence and the order it ensures, to which they are instrumental as means to the end.

The other character of the “political” and its rules is to be “superordinate” to the “legal” (and its norms). This is not only because of sovereignty—a key concept because it is the junction point between politics and the law—and which has (also) the function of guaranteeing/protecting order through the exercise/discipline of coercion; and not only because the purpose of politics, in the case of emergency (and sometimes not only in that) prevails over that of the law (justice, or rather equity), so that, as Jhering wrote “force will sacrifice law to save life,” i.e., according to Santi Romano, necessity is the source of law; but also because in following legal (or, in a different respect, moral) rules rather than those of “reason of state,” a community prepares, as Machiavelli wrote for The Prince “more quickly ruin than its preservation.”

If, for example, the Western powers had militarily come to the aid of Finland, which was attacked in 1939 by the Soviet Union (as demanded by much of the public), they would have had international law on their side (the Geneva Protocol of 1924 condemned war of aggression, and the war on Finland was such) but would have made a very bad political choice—both because, in addition to the war with Hitler, they would have found themselves in another one with Stalin, and because they would have consolidated the recent (and tenuous) alliance between their enemies. Quoting Odilon Barrot, since sometimes la legalité nous tue, in order not to die one must “break” or “derogate” from legality.

On the other hand, it is precisely the positive law, with its large casuistry of derogations and exceptions to constitutional and ordinary law that demonstrates the character and structure of this relationship: constitutional ruptures, states of exception, states of necessity, derogations and extenuating circumstances to criminal legislation.

Hence, Santi Romano correctly held, in the passage quoted above, that even in case it is forbidden to make use of exceptional powers, necessity legitimizes the violation of existing right (or rather law).

In other words, in every order (that is viable) there is a “general clause” (even if unwritten, even if prohibited) by virtue of which the protection of (collective) existence prevails over legality. Coinciding, according to Santi Romano, the concept of institution with that of order, this clause is juridical, because it is constitutive-conservative of collective existence. Together with sovereignty—and from an objective standpoint—it is the connecting point between the end of the political and the purpose of the law. It follows from this that the political institution (in modernity, and par excellence, the state) has the task of bringing together the demands of politics and law, sein and sollen. Precisely in institutionalist (legal) thought, and in the concept of institution, this is felt most sharply; according to Hauriou “power is a free energy of the will that takes on the enterprise of governing a human group through the creation of order and law.” Thus, in the beginning, there is power; this creates order through institution; power (and government) in fact is thus transformed into power (and government) in the law. The relationship between power, order through the law (i.e., the institution) and coutumier consent means that the institution must take into account both power and consent and order, and thus the “two” poles, political and legal.

The relationship of “superordination” or “decisiveness” between politics and the law, and of the prevalence-precedence of the former over the latter, to which Hauriou’s thesis on power and order has brought us closer, is particularly evident in the moment of foundation (or re-foundation) of the institution, and, in particular, of the institution-state.

Santi Romano has been very attentive to this, both in his early and later writings; the same problem is, however, usually neglected by jurists, partly with the extenuating circumstance that the jurist interprets the law that is, and does not investigate the genetic moment of the institution. But the very latter shows the essence and modes of the relationship: Sieyès’s theory of constituent power comforts him (and is its clearest expression). Sieyès bases it on three distinguishing features of such power: the first negative, of being freed from all forms, “une nation est indèpendente de toute forme.” In contrast to constituted powers, which are bound by legality (“il n’est legal qu’autant qu’il est fidèle aux lois qui lui ont été imposées“), the national will (i.e., constituent power) “au contraire n’a besoin que de sa réalité pour être toujours lègale, elle est l’origine de toute lègalité.”

The nation is not subject to a constitution, and cannot (nor should) be; not only is it independent of all forms, but it needs no legal justification (support). In it, reality and legality coincide: the latter is the development-emanation of the former. Lastly, “De quelque manière qu’une nation veuille, il suffit qu’elle veuille: toutes les formes sont bonnes, et sa volonté est toujours la loi supreme;” whereby it is it that determines (and institutes) the form(s) in which the institution will be organized and articulated. The politician thus does not have a given form, but is the creator of (his own) form. The fact that this form(s) is viable (i.e., effective, capable of causing command to be exercised with success and consensus) is due to the degree to which it is accepted by the consociates, which is expressed in essentially political (and “factual”) categories (and concepts), such as authority and legitimacy. Thus the “political” and the political will (both of the “creator” of the order and of the governed) is the Archimedean point of the (state) legal order: by taking away, modifying, or replacing that, it changes this; whereas the reverse is not true; for the change of one, or several (even most) norms, nor that of institutions, changes the constitution (understood in the Schmittian sense of fundamental decisions about the modes and forms of political existence), much less constituent power.

In this regard, it should be recalled how many jurists have noted that there are original and derivative institutions. The former are “those in which a legal order is embodied which is not posited by other institutions and which is therefore, as to its source, independent. Conversely, there are derived institutions, whose order is, that is, established by another institution, which thus asserts, in this respect, its superiority over the first, which thus remains subordinate to it;” just as the state has, according to Rudolf Smend, the character that “its functioning is not maintained by an engine or judge external to its structure, is not supported by a heteronomous cause or guarantee, but is integrated, through objective legislativeness with respect to value, exclusively in a system of integration gravitating on itself.” whereby “in a sense quite different from the constitution of an association, the written constitution of a state can therefore only stimulate and limit that constitutional life which gravitates on itself and which cannot be guaranteed heteronomously.” In sum, the political (and original) character of the state institution means that it is the political—and sovereign—power inherent in it that guarantees unity, stability and enforcement of law; for others, it is a power external to the institution (i.e., mostly another institution), precisely because it lacks sovereignty.

One could with a bold comparison, adapt to the law Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, for which there are points that the system cannot decide or prove independently. Conversely, the political, as Sieyès wrote in the passage quoted above, has no need for legitimacy or to conform to a legal norm or procedure.

The point of junction (and friction) between the juridical and the political is provided by public law, by which is meant what—in other Romance languages, as well as in Italian in Romagnosi’s time—is also called “political law.” In its higher branches, but sometimes also in its lower ones, several points of junction (and conflict) between the needs of politics and legal principles and institutions can be discerned.

The very positive law (positive rights) of modern states concurs in proving how the political (and politics) are irreducible to the juridical; in particular, if one understands this essentially as a rule, as a norm applicable exactly by a judge or official. The forms of this irreducibility are various. We recall the main ones:

1) First, there is no need to have law in order to create law. This is implicit in Sieyès’ assertion that the Nation, by the mere fact of its existence is all that it wants to be; that is, that it needs no legal legitimation. This, as well as by others, is taken up (and in a sense, expanded) in the well-known thesis of Santi Romano, whereby even without legislative authorization for the use of “exceptional and extraordinary powers, these may be assumed and exercised by virtue of necessity. As is customary, indeed all the more so given its greater energy, necessity is an autonomous source of the law, superior to the law.”

2) Even without wishing to recall the protective-conservative function of political authority, which is particularly clear and evident in the ” state of exception,” not even in relationships and situations not connoted by emergency, but, in a sense, normal, the scope of the “political” coincides with the “normative.” In fact, particularly relevant acts are removed from judicial review, even in liberal democracies, where control is, conversely and usually, penetrating and general. Thus, in Italian law, political acts; in French law, actes de gouvernement are not appealable before the judge. In this regard, it has been argued that “political activity cannot be defined solely as a free activity, but a free activity because it is political,” and that acts expressing the function of government are “institutionally subtracted from any judicial review. They are subtracted by nature, not because there is Article 31 T.U. on the Council of State.”

Even in the presence of Article 113 of the Italian Constitution (which prescribes the general reviewability of administrative acts), the category of political acts has “survived” the Republican Constitution; hence, the argument that such acts are not justiciable by “nature” is reinforced.

3) Representative powers (and sometimes not only those) are immune from criminal jurisdiction. The first modern European constitution, that is, the French constitution of 1791, already provided for this (Title III, ch. I, art. 3) prescribing that courts could not interfere in the exercise of legislative power or suspend the implementation of laws: similar prescriptions, and those on the immunity of parliamentarians (of heads of state and ministers) from arrests and trials were carried over into practically all subsequent European constitutions, of first liberal and (later) democratic-liberal states; as were the exceptions to ordinary powers and forms in the case of political trials.

The decisive argument for explaining immunities (and exceptions) for certain “supreme” organs of the state is the one expounded, in the wake of a tradition of thought about (or of) the state going back to Bodin and Hobbes, by Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, in a 1933 essay. In fact, he wrote: “That among the organs whereby the State manifests its will and implements it, there is one that towers above all others, superiorem non recognoscens, and that precisely because it cannot admit a superior (for then supreme power would be transported to this other), it must be removed from all jurisdiction and becomes, for that very reason, inviolable and unaccountable, is well known” (italics are ours).

The above brief excursus I hope has served to clarify of what is political and what is legal. The interpenetration of which—in the constituted forms—creates multiple types of interaction and relations, of which positive law is the testimony; and from which the distinctive criteria are recorded.

The fact remains that the law is by nature heteronomous, and form and procedure are essential (and “given” to it; whereas the political is autonomous, is morpho-poietic, and (ultimately) does not need to observe legal procedures or legitimations to impose its will.

When one tries to forget—or belittle—such characters, there are two reasons: either one tries to use the law as a support in a political battle ( as, for example, the Leninist use of legality), cloaking oneself in the “added value” of the law, aimed—as an extra weapon—against the enemy; or one confuses legality and legitimacy, forms and procedures, subordination and coordination, being and ought-to-be, command and obedience, public and private, in a chaos, which the lack of a visible and recognized (“public”) Archimedean point makes enduring (as much as harmful). Which may be the ideological form of a polycratic moderatism, in which the moderation of words covers the particularized ends of an (irresolute and) tendentially anarchic congeries of private powers, though not always in object, mentality and function.

Teodoro Katte Klitsche de la Grange is an attorney in Rome and is the editor of the well-regarded and influential law journal Behemoth.

Featured: Study for Divine Law, by Violet Oakley; painted ca. 1917.

1968 and 1989: The Two Fundamental Dates of Turbo-Capitalism

Capitalism dialectically overcomes the antagonistic demands of the proletariat (class struggle, spirit of splitting, partisan organizations, revolutionary passion); and it does so by anesthetizing its consciousness in a consumerist sense, but also by “economizing” the conflict (since the 1970s, the proletariat fights for higher wages and not for overcoming the mode of production, thus metabolizing the ideology of capital as an ineluctable horizon). Simultaneously, capitalism overcomes the bourgeois “unhappy consciousness.” In fact, this also represents, no less than the vindicatory and potentially revolutionary antagonism of the proletariat, a contradiction within capitalism; and this above all, if we consider that the bourgeoisie: a) presents its own universalist vocation which can lead it—as in the case of Marx—to contest the historical capitalist world in which it is still the dominant class; and b) has a non-marketable valuational and ethical sphere and, therefore, ultimately incompatible with the processes of omni-mercantilization proper to absolute capitalism.

The bourgeoisie is, consequently, incompatible with absolute capitalism, just as the latter is, by its essence, irreconcilable with the bourgeois class, both on the immaterial plane (unhappy consciousness) and on the material plane (properties of the middle classes). In reality, turbo-capital presupposes the happy unconsciousness of the resilient, post-bourgeois and post-proletarian consumers, and the destruction of the material bases of the very existence of the bourgeois middle class by the work of the auri sacra fames of cosmopolitan finance and its cynical managers. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat, in their dialectical conflictuality, had developed within the framework of eticity in the Hegelian sense; that is, in the real and symbolic space of the solid and solidary “roots” of community life, linked to the family and the school, to the trade union and the sovereign national State.

By making the world of life precarious, mobilizing, uprooting and completely commercializing it, absolute-totalitarian capitalism provokes the “dejectification,” the annihilation of the sittlich element. It deconstructs any residual community other than the intrinsically anti-communitarian one of the ephemeral do ut des of the market. It neutralizes the family and the unions, the school and the sovereign national state. And it produces the open space of the world reduced to a market and inhabited only by uprooted and homologated consumers, without proletarian antagonistic consciousness and without bourgeois unhappy consciousness.

The post-traditional society, according to Giddens’ expression, becomes a deregulated market, in whose borderless spaces social classes dissolve in the false interclassism of “homologated consumers,” who have as many rights as they can buy. The 1968 ideology—confusing the struggle against the bourgeoisie with the struggle against capitalism—acts as a symbolic order of reference for the new absolute-totalitarian capitalism, itself 1968-ist in its struggle against any legacy of bourgeois ethical life and in its anarcho-deregulating essence. For this reason, as Michéa suggests, since 1968, the Left has been transformed into “a simple political machine destined to culturally legitimize, in the name of progress and modernization, all the forward escapades of liberal civilization.”

With 1968 came the divorce between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The latter, from ascetic and disciplinary (i.e., bourgeois), became permissive and transgressive (i.e., post-bourgeois), along the inclined plane that leads from the rebel to the narcissist and from the revolution to the new age. The formal subsumption of the adversarial couple under capital is verified: Right and Left advance more and more towards the horizon of capital, mutually accepted as natural-eternal destiny. De-anticized and precarious, society becomes a simple consumer society, a planetary “system of needs” (Hegel) and an unlimited “commercial society” (Adam Smith); a cosmopolitan market populated no longer by citizens of nation states and by fathers and mothers, but only by competitors; competitors who, in the absence of any community spirit, relate only on the basis of the principles theorized by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations—the omni-lateral dependence of necessity and acquisitive egoism—in relation to the brewer, the butcher and the baker. Following the Hegel of Elements of the Philosophy of Right, a society stripped of the elements of “eticity” (Sittlichkeit) decays into a mere and competitive “system of needs” (System der Bedürfnisse); that is, a simple place of mercantile exchange, governed by the “unsociable sociability” of conflictual atoms that relate only to compete and exchange goods, according to what Alain Caillé has called the axiomatique de l’intérêt.

On the side of intellectual production, the “unhappy consciousness” has dissolved. And, in place of the dialectical class of the bourgeoisie, a global class has taken over that is no longer bourgeois but ultra-capitalist, inclined to frivolously accept the “polytheism of values” and consumerist lifestyles within the “iron cage” of the idolatrous monotheism of the market. It is what, in Historia y conciencia del precariado, we have called the new post-bourgeois, post-proletarian and ultra-capitalist “financial aristocracy;” it is, in short, a class that, bearer of postmodern happy unconsciousness, lives in a parasitic and usurocratic manner, exploiting the slave labor of the dominated class.

For its part, the dominated class (so far not “per se”) coincides with the aforementioned precariat, dynamic fusion of the old bourgeois middle class and the old proletarian working class. The dissolution of the alliance between the unhappy bourgeois consciousness and the struggles for the recognition of menial labor is dialectically reversed in the passive acceptance of the capitalist world frame as irreversible horizon, making its own the “sad passion” of resilience. The planetarized market society of capitalism absolutus no longer knows any social resistance (it lacks a class that contradicts its project), nor political opposition (Right, Left and Center share the same ultra-capitalist vision of the world), nor philosophical delegitimization (with rare exceptions, intellectuals, devoid of “unhappy consciousness,” are today “organic”—in the Gramscian sense—to the system in force, to its relativistic nihilism and its competitive individualism).

The proletariat was dominated but not subdued. In fact, it had its own conceptual maps, largely coinciding with those of the Left in its various historical figures, capable of unmasking class domination and proposing paths of emancipation that would lead to making the cosmos transcend capitalist morphology. On the contrary, the precariat (national-popular servant) is both dominated and subjugated. And it is so to the extent that, in addition to suffering material domination (id est, exploitation and its economic-political organization), it also endures the immaterial and ideological, guided by the same maps provided by the dominant plutocratic groups. In them, the figure of the conflict—now only apparent—between Right and Left plays a role of primary importance. In short, if in dialectical capitalism the Right was theoretically the part of the master and the Left was primarily that of the servant; in turbo-capitalism Right and Left are equally the parts through which the dominion of the master is legitimized. The servant is now represented neither politically nor culturally; i.e., he is dominated in politics and culture as well as in economics.

According to the maps of domination outlined above, “progress” is the name that the pedagogues of the new mental order of culmination of power relations assign to everything that favors the dominant pole. On the contrary, “return” (or “regression”) is the infamous qualification with which the order of the dominant discourse delegitimizes any figure of the limit or, even simply, of non-alignment with respect to the omni- enveloping advance of the commodity form and the reification of the world of life.
According to what we have explained in Minima mercatalia and in Glebalizzazione, 1968 and 1989 mark, successively, two nodal stages of the evolutionary dialectic of capitalism in its transit from the dialectical phase to the absolute. It is from 1960 onwards that we witness the mise en forme of the diverse but equally expressive processes of the Zeitgeist of the new spirit of capitalism: (a) of the eclipse of the unhappy bourgeois consciousness; (b) of the neutralization of the anti-capitalist utopia of the proletariat, now “economicized;” and (c ) of the new anti-bourgeois and ultra-capitalist physiognomy of a new Left which, abandoning Marx and Lenin, has gradually become a “radical mass party” and accepting the reasons of the new order of power relations, which has finally ended up reabsorbing it. The hodierna speculative phase is ultra-capitalist precisely because it is anti-bourgeois first (1968) and post-bourgeois later (1989).

Beyond the irreducible prismatic heterogeneity of the events that have characterized 1968 on a planetary scale, we believe—following in the wake of Preve and of what we have examined in more detail in Minima mercatalia and in Il futuro è nostro—that it is possible to identify a common expressive function. Illusorily hailed as a revolutionary process of opposition to the capitalist structure, 1968 asks to be interpreted, in a diametrically opposed way, as the foundational myth of post-bourgeois and post-proletarian absolute-totalitarian capitalism; and more precisely as the decisive transit point from the dialectical to the speculative phase. The latter is characterized by the eclipse of the two instances (as well as of their alliance) of the anti-capitalist struggle of the servant and of the unhappy conscience of the bourgeoisie and, as a whole, by the substitution of the patriarchal and authoritarian dialectical capitalism for citizen-subjects, by the current turbo-capitalism of the new liberal-libertarian power for consumers with total deregulation (the gauchiste capitalism of the “forbidden to forbid” and of the plus ultra). Exemplum sui generis of the “color revolution,” 1968 was a decisive moment of emancipation not from capitalism, but for capitalism. This was aimed at overcoming the oppositional dichotomy between bourgeoisie and proletariat, and certainly not in the direction of the “sun of the future” of a post-capitalist society governed by relations between equally free individuals, but in the direction of an individualistic liberalization of consumption and customs; and this in the framework of a new capitalism no longer inhabited by bourgeois and proletarians, with their “eticity,” with their non-marketable values and their possible emancipatory anti-capitalism, but only by post-identitarian and Robinsonian consumers, colonized by a commodity form that has now become the new raison du monde.

Since the 1960s, the Left fought against the foundations of modern bourgeois civilization, without realizing that this battle was the same one waged by the new capitalism and its aspiration for the creation of a post-bourgeois space for the unlimited free circulation of commodities, of marketized persons and of the deregulated flows of liquid-financial capital: the struggle against the bourgeois world not only did not coincide with the struggle against capitalism, but finally ended up being identified with the struggle for capitalism itself or, rectius, for its definitive empowerment through the overcoming of the contradictions inherent to the dialectical phase and, therefore, for the transition to the new post-bourgeois and post-proletarian turbo-capitalism, beyond Right and Left.

With 1989, the movement of “naturalization” of capital could be considered complete (capitalismus sive natura): capitalism becomes “speculative,” as humanity sees itself reflected in the speculum of the totalitarian world of commodities. And so it is, more and more, induced to conceive it as the only possible world, in a total desertification of the imaginary. Capitalism then comes to correspond to its own “concept” (Begriff) after having gone through and overcome its own being-other-of-itself with the antithetical-dialectical phase.

As we tried to show in detail in Glebalizzazione, the annus horribilis of 1989 coincided with the epochal date of the imposition of capitalismus sive natura, that is, of economic fanaticism and planetary classism ideologically hypostasized in inescapable destiny or in nature already forever given, neither criticizable nor transformable: there is no alternative. It is the moment of the definitive dissolution of the bourgeoisie-proletariat and Right-Left dichotomies, according to the dynamics initiated in 1968 and culminated in 1989. The subsumption of the Left under capital, which with 1968 was formal and coexisted with fragments of a Left not yet integrated, was transformed into a real subsumption as of 1989, when the Left was completely reabsorbed within the horizon of meaning of capitalism and its progressive neoliberalism. It lives it as a natural and eternal horizon, producing an endless series of anthropological profiles worthy of the “last man” described by Nietzsche and classifiable under the headings of “disenchantment,” “repentance” and “conversion.”

Along with bourgeois culture, the very contradictory presence of the Soviet Union marked a limit for capital. And, as such, it had to be overcome. The Soviet Union and the Weltdualismus it made possible (cuius regio, eius oeconomia) constituted, in fact, a real and symbolic frontier for the market economy: they signaled that this was not the only possible world, nor the only one that really existed. On the other hand, the famous “thirty glorious years” of the West, from 1945 to 1975, with almost full employment and relative prosperity, from which even the less well-off classes benefited in part, were not the gift of a still munificent capitalism with a human face. Rather, they were the necessary effect of the pressure exerted by the reality beyond the Berlin Wall, an alternative model of social justice and existence. The communism implanted behind the “Curtain” was the very image of a possible alternative, or also of the real existence of the Left—albeit in a place other than the West—and the possibility of thinking and being otherwise. With 1989, the total subsumption of the Right and the Left under capital was consummated: both, from that moment on, integrally metabolized capitalism as an ineluctable destiny and the “struggle” between the two parties was fought, from then on, in the form of competition to become worthy of implementing the mere management—sometimes to the Right, sometimes to the Left—of the reforms decided by the global class and by the mercantilist order.

Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre ReturnsThis article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Vademecum of the Beginner Realist

Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) published this essay in 1935, in which outlines the importance of realism to counteract the excesses of idealism. The translation is by Philip Trower and appeared in Methodical Realism (1990).

The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to,; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one’s conversion to realism is all but complete.

Most people who say and think they are idealists would like, if they could, not to be, but believe that is impossible. They are told they will never get outside their thought and that a something beyond thought is unthinkable. If they listen to this objection and look for an answer to it, they are lost from the start, because all idealist objections to the realist position are formulated in idealist terms. So it is hardly surprising that the idealist always wins. His questions invariably imply an idealist solution to problems. The realist, therefore, when invited to take part in discussion on what is not his own ground, should first of all accustom himself to saying No, and not imagine himself in difficulties because he is unable to answer questions which are in fact insoluble, but which for him do not arise.

We must begin by distrusting the term ‘thought”; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows. For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make though the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge. The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds with an object or not. When, therefore, he asks the realist how, starting from thought, one can rejoin the object, the latter should instantly reply that it is impossible, and also that this is the principal reason for not being an idealist. Since realism starts with knowledge, that is, with an act of the intellect which consists essentially in grasping an object, for the realist the question does not present an insoluble problem, but a pseudo-problem, which is something quite different.

Every time the idealist calls on us to reply to the questions raised by thought, one can be sure that he is speaking in terms of the Mind. For him, Mind is what thinks, just as for us the intellect is what knows. One should therefore, in so far as one can, have as little as possible to do with the term. This is not always easy, because it has a legitimate meaning, but we are living at a time when it has become absolutely necessary to retranslate into realist language all the terms which idealism has borrowed form us and corrupted. An idealist term is generally a realist term denoting one of the spiritual antecedents to knowledge, now considered as generating its own content.

The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosophy has to do with the thing itself that is apprehended, and without which there would be no knowledge. Idealist philosophers, on the other hand, since they start from thought, quickly reach the point of choosing science or philosophy as their object. When an idealist genuinely thinks as an idealist, he perfectly embodies the essence of a “professor of philosophy”; whereas the realist, when he genuinely thinks as a realist, conforms himself to the authentic essence of a philosopher; for a philosopher talks about things, while a professor of philosophy talks about philosophy.

Just as we do not have to go from thought to things (knowing that the enterprise is impossible), neither do we have to ask ourselves whether something beyond thought is thinkable. A something beyond thought may well be unthinkable, but it is certain that all knowledge implies a something beyond thought. The fact that this something-beyond-thought is given us by knowledge only in thought, does not prevent it being a something beyond. But the idealist always confuses “being which is given in thought” with “being which is given by thought.” For anyone who starts from knowledge, a something beyond thought is so obviously thinkable that this is the only kind of thought for which there can be a beyond.

The realist is committing an error of the same kind if he asks himself how, starting from the self, he can prove the existence of a non-self. For the idealist, who starts from the self, this is the normal and, indeed, the only possible way of putting the question. The realist should be doubly distrustful; first, because he does not start from the self; secondly, because for him the world is not a non-self (which is a nothing), but an in-itself. A thing-in-itself can be given through an act of knowledge. A non-self is what reality is reduced to by the idealist, and can neither be grasped by knowledge nor proved by thought.

Equally, one should not let oneself be troubled by the classic idealist objection to the possibility of reaching a thing-in-itself, and above all to having true knowledge about it. You define true knowledge, the idealist says, as an adequate copy of reality. But how can you know that the copy reproduces the thing as it is in itself, seeing that the thing is only given to you in thought. The objection has no meaning except for idealism, which posits thought before being, and finding itself no longer able to compare the former with the latter, wonders how anyone else can. The realist, on the contrary, does not have to ask himself whether things do or do not conform to his knowledge of them, because for him knowledge consists in his assimilating his knowledge to things. In a system where the bringing of the intellect into accord with the things, which the judgment formulates, presupposes the concrete and lived accord of the intellect with its objects, it would be absurd to expect knowledge to guarantee a conformity without which it would not even exist.

We must always remember that the impossibilities in which idealism tries to entangle realism are the inventions of idealism. When it challenges us to compare the thing known with the thing in itself, it merely manifests the internal sickness which consumes it. For the realist there is no “noumenon” as the realist understands the term. Since knowledge presupposes the presence to the intellect of the thing itself, there is no reason to assume, behind the thing in thought, the presence of a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing in thought. Knowing is not apprehending a thing as it is in thought, but, in and thought, apprehending the thing as it is.

To be able to conclude that we must necessarily go from thought to things, and cannot proceed otherwise, it is not enough to assert that everything is given in thought. The fact is, we do proceed otherwise. The awakening of the intelligence coincides with the apprehension of things, which, as soon as they are perceived, are classified according to their most evident similarities. This fact, which has nothing to do with any theory, is something that theory has to take account of. Realism does precisely that, and in this respect is following common sense. That is why every form of realism is a philosophy of common sense.

It does not follow from this that common sense is a philosophy; but all sound philosophy presupposes common sense and trusts it, granted of course that, whenever necessary, appeal will be made from ill-informed to better-informed common sense. This is how science goes about things; science is not a critique of common sense but of the successive approximations to reality made by common sense. The history of science and philosophy witness to the fact that common sense, thanks to the methodical use it makes of its resources, is quite capable of invention. We should, therefore, ask it to keep criticizing its conclusions, which means asking it to remain itself, not to renounce itself.

The word “invention,” like many others, has been contaminated by idealism. To invent means to find , not to create . The inventor resembles the creator only in the practical order, and especially in the production of artifacts, whether utilitarian or artistic. Like the scientist, the philosopher only invents by finding, by discovering what up to that point had been hidden. The activity of his intelligence, therefore, consists exclusively in the exercise of his speculative powers in regard to reality. If it creates anything, what it creates is never an object, but a way of explaining the object from within that object.

This is also why the realist never expects his knowledge to engender an object without which his knowledge would not exist. Like the idealist, he uses his power of reflection, but keeping it within the limits of a reality given from without. Therefore the starting point of his reflections has to be being, which in effect is for us the beginning of knowledge: res sunt . If we go deeper into the nature of the object given us, we direct ourselves towards one of the sciences, which will be completed by a metaphysical of nature. If we go deeper into the conditions under which the object is given us, we shall be turning towards a psychology, which will reach completion in a metaphysics of knowledge. The two methods are not only compatible, they are complementary, because they rest on the primitive unity of the subject and object in the act of knowledge, and any complete philosophy implies an awareness of their unity.

There is nothing, therefore, to stop the realist going, by way of reflective analysis, from the object as given in knowledge to the intellect and the knowing subject. Quite the contrary, this is the only way he has of assuring himself of the existence and nature of the knowing subject. Res sunt, ergo cognosco, ergo sum res cognoscens [Things exist, therefore I know, therefore I am a knowing subject]. What distinguishes the realist from the idealist is not that one refuses to undertake this analysis whereas the other is willing to, but that the realist refuses to take the final term of his analysis for a principle generating the thing being analyzed. Because the analysis of knowledge leads us to the conclusion “I think,” it does not follow that this “I think” is the first principle of knowledge. Because every representation is, in fact, a thought, it does not follow that it is only a thought, or that an “I think” conditions all my representations.

Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough. On the contrary, it is a doctrine which lives by logic, and only by logic, because in it the order and connection of ideas replaces the order and connection between things. The fatal leap (saltus mortalis ) which catapults the doctrine into its consequences precedes the doctrine. Idealism can justify everything with its method except idealism itself, for the cause of idealism is not of idealist stamp; it does not even have anything to do with the theory of knowledge; it belongs to the moral order.

Preceding any philosophical attempt to explain knowledge is the fact, not only of knowledge itself, but of men’s burning desire to understand. If reason is too often content with summary and incomplete explanations, if it sometimes does violence to the facts by distorting them or passing them over in silence when they are inconvenient, it is precisely because its passion to understand is stronger than its desire to know, or because the means of acquiring knowledge at its disposal are not powerful enough to satisfy it. The realist is just as much exposed to these temptations as the idealist, and yields to them just as frequently. The difference is that he yields to them against his principles, whereas the idealist makes it a principle that he can lawfully yield to them. Realism, therefore, starts with an acknowledgement by the intellect that it will remain dependent on a reality which causes its knowledge. Idealism owes its origin to the impatience of a reason which wants to reduce reality to knowledge so as to be sure that its knowledge lets none of reality escape.

The reason idealism has so often been in alliance with mathematics is that this science, whose object is quantity, extends its jurisdiction over the whole of material nature, in so far as material nature has to do with quantity. But while idealism may imagine that the triumphs of mathematics in some way justify it, those triumphs owe nothing to idealism, they are in no way bound up with it, and they justify it all the less, seeing that the most mathematically oriented physics conducts all its calculations within the ambit of the experimental facts which those calculations interpret. Someone discovers a new fact and what happens? After vain attempts to make it assimilable, all mathematical physics will reform itself so as to be able to assimilate it. The idealist is rarely a scientist, more rarely still a research scientist in a laboratory, and yet it is the laboratory that provides the material which tomorrow’s mathematical physics will have to explain.

The realist, therefore, does not have to be afraid that the idealist may represent him as opposed to scientific thought, since every scientist, even if philosophically he thins himself an idealist, in his capacity as a scientist thinks as a realist. A scientist never begins by defining the method of the science he is about to initiate. Indeed, the surest way of recognizing false sciences is by the fact that they make the method come first. The method, however, should derive from the science, not the science from the method. That is why no realist has ever written a Discourse on the Method. He cannot know how things are known before he knows them, nor discover how to know each order of things except in knowing it.

The most dangerous of all the different methods is the “reflective method”; the realist is content with “reflection.” When reflection becomes a method, it is no longer just an intelligently directed reflection, which it should be, but a reflection which substitutes itself for reality in that its principles and system become those of reality itself. When the “reflective method” remains faithful to its essence, it always assumes that the final term of its reflection is at the same time the first principle of our knowledge; as a natural consequence of this it follows that the last step in the analysis must contain virtually the whole of what is being analyzed; and, finally that whatever cannot be discovered in the end point of the reflection, either does not exist, or can legitimately be treated as not existing. This is how people are led into excluding from knowledge, and even from reality, what is necessary for the very existence of knowledge.

There is a second way of recognizing the false sciences generated by idealism; in starting from what they call thought, they are compelled to define truth as a special case of error. Taine did a great service for good sense when he defined sensation as a true hallucination, because he showed, as a result, where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation becomes what a hallucination is when this hallucination is not one. So we must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous “errors of the senses,” nor startled by the tremendous business idealists make about them. Idealists are people for whom the normal can only be a particular instance of the pathological. When Descartes states triumphantly that even a madman cannot deny his first principle “I think, therefore I am”, he helps us enormously to see what happens to reason when reduced to this first principle.

We must, therefore, regard the arguments about dreams, illusions, and madness, borrowed by idealists from skeptics, as errors of the same kind. The fact that there are visual illusions chiefly proves that all our visual perceptions are not illusions. A man who is dreaming feels no different from a man who is awake, but anyone who is awake knows that he is altogether different from someone who is dreaming; he also knows it is because he has had sensations, that he afterwards has what are called hallucinations, just as he knows he would never dream about anything if he had not been awake first. The fact that certain madmen deny the existence of the outside world, or even (with all due respect to Descartes) their own, is no grounds for considering the certainty of our own existence as a special case of “true delirium.” The idealist only finds these illusions so upsetting because he does not know how to prove they are illusions. The realist has no reason to be upset by them, since for him they really are illusions.

Certain idealists say that our theory of knowledge puts us in the position of claiming to be infallible. We should not take this objection seriously. We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error abnormal; this does not mean it is any easier for us to reach the truth than it is to achieve and conserve perfect health. The realist differs from the idealist, not in being unable to make mistakes, but principally in that, when he does make mistakes, the cause of the error is not a thought which h as been unfaithful to itself, but an act of knowledge which has been unfaithful to its object. But above all, the realist only makes mistakes when he is unfaithful to his principles, whereas the idealist is in the right only in so far as he is unfaithful to his.

When we say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is, we are by no means saying that the intellect infallibly so grasps it, but that only when it does grasp it as it is will there be knowledge. Still less do we mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in a single act. What knowledge grasps in the object is something real, but reality is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details, it would still be confronted by the mystery of its very existence. The person who believed he could grasp the whole of reality infallibly and at one fell swoop, was the idealist Descartes. Pascal, the realist, clearly recognized how naïve was the claim of philosophers that they could “comprehend the principles of things, and from there – with a presumption as infinite as their object – go on to knowing everything.” The virtue proper to the realists is modesty about his knowledge, and even if he does not practice it, he is committed to it by his calling.

A third way of recognizing the false sciences which idealism generates is by the fact that they feel it necessary to “ground” their objects. That is because they are not sure their objects exist. For the realist, whose thought is concerned with being, the Good, the True and the Beautiful are in the fullest sense real, since they are simply being itself as desired, known and admired. But as soon as thought substitutes itself for knowledge, these transcendentals begin to float in the air without knowing where to perch themselves. This is why idealism spends its time “grounding” morality, knowledge and art, as though the way men should act were not written in the nature of man, the manner of knowing in the very structure of our intellect, and the arts in the practical activity of the artist himself. The realist never has to ground anything, but he has to discover the foundations of his operations, and it is always in the nature of things that he finds them: operatio sequitur esse .

So we must carefully avoid all speculation about “values,” because values are simply and solely transcendentals that have cut adrift from being and are trying to take its place. “The grounding of values” is the idealist’s obsession; for the realist it is meaningless.

The most painful thing for a man of our times is not to be taken for a “critical spirit.” Nevertheless, the realist should resign himself to not being one, because the critical Spirit is the cutting edge of idealism, and in this capacity it has the characteristics not of a principle or doctrine but of zeal for a cause. The critical spirit expresses, in effect, a determination to submit facts to whatever treatment is necessary so that nothing in them remains refractory to the mind. To achieve this, there is only one policy; everywhere the point of view of the observer must be substituted for that of the thing observed. The discrediting of reality will be pursued, if necessary, to its most extreme consequences, and the harder reality resists, the more determined the idealist will be to disregard it. The realist, on the other hand, should always recognize that the object is what causes knowledge and should treat it with the greatest respect.

Respecting the object of knowledge means, above all, a refusal to reduce it to something which complies with the rules of a type of knowledge arbitrarily chosen by ourselves. Introspection, for instance, does not allow us to reduce psychology to the level of an exact science. This, however, is not a reason for condemning introspection, for it seems probably that, the object of psychology being what it is, psychology ought not to be an exact science, not at least if it is to remain faithful to its object. Human psychology, such as a dog knows it, ought to be at least as conclusive as our science of nature; just as our science of nature is about as penetrating as human psychology as known by a dog. The psychology of behavior is therefore very wise to adapt the dog’s outlook on man, because as soon as consciousness makes its appearance, it reveals so much to us that the infinite gulf between a science of consciousness and consciousness itself leaps to the eye. If our organism were self-conscious, who knows whether biology and physics would still be possible?

The realist must, therefore, always insist, against the idealist, that for every order of reality there is a corresponding way of approaching and explaining it. He will then find that, having refused to embark on a critique preliminary to knowledge, he is free – much freer than the idealist – to embark on a critique of the different branches of knowledge by measuring them against their object; for the “critical spirit” criticizes everything except itself, whereas the realist, because he is not a “critical spirit,” is continuously self-critical. The realist will never believe that a psychology which in order to understand consciousness better starts by placing itself outside consciousness, will give him the equivalent of consciousness; nor will he believe with Durkheim, that the real savages are those found in books, or that social life consists essentially of prohibitions with sanctions attached, as though the only society we had to explain were the one described in Leviticus. Nor will he imagine that historical criticism is in a better position than the witness it invokes to determine what happened to them or discern the exact meaning of what they themselves said. That is why realism, in subordinating knowledge to its objects places the intelligence in the most favorable position for making discoveries. For if it is true that things did not always happen exactly as their witnesses supposed, the relative errors they may have made are a trifling matter compared to those our imaginations will embroil us in if we start reconstructing facts, feelings and ideas we never experienced, according to our own notions of what seems probable.

Such is the liberty of the realist. We can only choose between deferring to the facts and so being free in thought, or being free with the facts and the slave of thought. So let us turn to the things themselves which knowledge apprehends, and to the relationship between the different branches of knowledge and the things which they apprehend, so that, conforming itself ever more closely to them, philosophy can progress once more.

It is this spirit, too, that we should read the great philosophers who have preceded us on the realist path. “It is not in Montaigne,” wrote Pascal, “but in myself that I find everything I see within.” And we can equally say here; “it is not in St. Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees.” So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides towards reality itself. And if the idealist reproached him, as one of them has just had the kindness to do, with “decking himself out in hand-me-downs taken for truths,” he will have his answer ready: much better to deck oneself out in truths which others have handed down, as the realist, when necessary, is willing to do, rather than, like the idealist, refuse to do so and go naked.

Featured: October, by Jules Bastien-Lepage; painted in 1878.

Nowhere Fast. Democracy and Identity in the Twenty First Century

The latest book by Brian Bolger has just been published. Nowhere Fast. Democracy and Identity in the Twenty First Century is a close and thorough analysis of the structural and cultural decline of western democracies, particularly the UK. The book examines the economic crisis of globalization, the emergence of a new “knowledge class,” and the phenomenon of populism. We are happy to bring you an excerpt from it.

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There seemed to be an inevitability in the talk of globalisation and the ‘end of history’ which ushered in the twenty first century.  This emanated from the post World War 2 era of New Deals and free trade, and of a dollar hegemony supposedly built on a dichotomy of liberalism and democracy. There was a broad consensus amongst academics and liberals, combined with a myopic belief in the progressive benefits of technology, that a brave new world consensus was forming and that war and discontent was ebbing away like the tide from an old broken Empire. 

Economists tend to measure globalisation in ‘Trade in Goods’ and FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) flows across borders. Yet this is like sailing a passenger ship in the North Atlantic with ‘Icebergs’ disabled from the navigation system. There are Icebergs floating around… and lots of them. ‘Trade Openness’ (calculated as Exports plus Imports as a % of GDP) grew steadily from 1945 onward. It reached its peak in approximately 2005 and has since begun to tumble.  There is now a trend to onshoring with the dual impacts of Covid and Ukraine. There are declining rates of return on investments  and the problems of geopolitical uncertainty. The world, effectively, is splintering into blocs (Grossraums, ‘great spaces’) and the result is chauvinistic assertion manifested in military conflicts. But the reasons for the collapse of interrelated economies goes deeper. It is not purely economic. There is an underlying shift in what Carl Schmitt called the ‘Nomos of the Earth’.

Whilst the twentieth century may have been one of globalisation and trade, it was also one of a ‘total mobilisation’ of resources and human resources for a system of capital accumulation – which heaps excessive demands on international relations. 

In political philosophy it often takes a period of nuanced reflection to assess the real ‘telos’ or ‘nomos’ of what occurred before or what is transpiring. At first Colonialism appears as a philanthropic and mercantile escapade. The ‘nation state’ appears to be the solution to the Holy Roman Empire and the despots of monarchical Europe. Democracy appeared to be the solution to the woes of the nineteenth century. However,  when the dialectic unfolds, we are left with the real ‘Nomos’ (law, ‘lex’ in Latin or ‘right to the land’). The ‘Nomos of the Earth’ was the concept which Schmitt outlined which, having begun with the discovery of the ‘New World,’ the Americas  replaced the ‘Old World’ of Europe and Asia. The ‘nomos’ is the real title to land, to a culture, and it is beyond International Law. In this however came the ambivalent nature of US policies of interventionism and isolationism. Establishing an American ‘Grosssraum’, as in the Monroe Doctrine, becomes problematic. The maritime Empire of the British was another ‘Grosssraum’. The nation state, however, works in contradistinction to this reality. It only works out in an international system of agreed law, of equal liberal nation states. When this breaks down, we have the polarisation of ‘Grossraums’ and the casualties of diminutive nation states. So ‘nomos’ means the real original title to land and when conflicts arise, it is usually a consequence of this disputed title, as in the Ukraine or Israel, or in Taiwan.

From the Middle Ages there developed a code of civil and ecclesiastical law to regulate conflicts of Church, Republic and Prince. The Holy Roman Empire acted as a type of ‘Katechon’ or protector against the antichrist. It was therefore more of a guiding ethos, or telos regarding Empire, an ideology even. The ascendancy of nation states in the nineteenth century sees the demise of the ‘Katechon’ or ethos. As in Washington’s final address the emblem of the modern era becomes ‘As little politics as possible, as much trade as possible’. So, nation states become largely conduits for trade, for globalised trade. Such a myriad of conflicting interests, mostly economic, has resulted in a ‘forgetting’ or rational/technical society without an underlying ethos. Now civilisational states, such as Russia’s ‘Holy Rus’, Chinese ‘Tianxia’, or Islamic states see themselves as unified (however corrupt). The American ‘Grossraum’ on the other hand, consists of liberal contradictions, the weakness of representative government, a confusion of foreign policy and an anarchic domestic world of anomie. Yet the liberal elites act as though they hold some higher moral ‘progressive’ framework. Hegel had said that there was no real American ‘state’, that it lacks a commonality of culture. 

It is not in effect a process of deglobalisation which is occurring, but the fundamental dissolution of the de facto independence of nation states and its replacement with regional Grossraums, akin to Empire. The current dying pains of economic globalism are ringing around the world.  Notions of International Law break down when its implementation is unequal and sporadic or when the civilisational states and empires resent encroachment. Schmitt envisaged, presciently, a world, not of globalisation, but one of differentiated ‘Grossraums’. He contrasted fixed ‘culture’ states such as Germany with flighty mercantile sea empires such as Great Britain. Land based realms, close to the soil, to nature are more stable. Again, there is a contrast between Kantian notions of universal international states based on a system of International Law and its opposite in civilisational Eurasian states who emphasise local and particular cultures. The Westphalian   world, which ushered in the modern notion of nation states is under threat.  The problem for modern nation states is that the sovereign no longer is able to wield the ‘exception’, to secure the safety of the state. This is due to the decadent form of liberalism which runs amok inside nation states. The absolutely sovereign Hobbesian state is in abeyance. The liberal state, based on economy, rationalism and progressive universality is unable to defend itself. The Katechon is under threat, not ostensibly from warring civilisational states, but from inside. 

The liberal and Marxist world envisaged an unfolding progress to a Utopian end of history schema and its naivete is now visible. It is more akin to Hegel’s development of spirit but one rooted in nature and culture. The liberal world must accept the particularity of cultures and their equal jurisdiction; there is no universal human rights, no good and evil. Man has moved from land to sea to air, to space. Yet we need to return to the land and a ‘jus gentium’ (law of nations) based on natural law rather than positive law which protects peoples rather than land borders. This, in itself, involves a sea change to real democratic participation in the polis and a move away from nationalism to community. In the middle ages there was a recognition of an authority that existed, be it the Emperor or the Pope,  and an informal common law. There were no wars between states, only competition between nobles. They largely concerned the pushing out of terrain rather than defending ‘borders’. We are now encompassed by borderlands and all its ensuing strife and war. Modern globalisation only concerns matter rather than spirit. Competition between modern states is delineated by a type of economic piracy. We have a version of maritime colonialism dressed up as globalisation. It is merely the naming which has changed. 

This international sea like empire is rootless. It imagines ownership of titles rather than ownership of culture. It is extractive rather than productive or creative. It provokes ‘ressentiment’ from the poor and disenfranchised. It creates borders and division because it has no underlying theology. The theoretical underpinning of the Chinese’Tianxia’ (all under heaven) of a cultural Chinese empire is its, according to the Chinese, opposite. In this argument the empire must understand the relevant cultures it ascribes to. It is not one off dominion but understanding, however far-fetched that might seem with the present Chinese incumbents. 

War has an economy of its own. When the underlying ‘telos’ to nation states is economic only, then this permeates all aspects of life. It is like a plague of sorts jumping from one realm to another: it invades healthcare, education, and war.  So, war has become Keynesian in an era of diminishing capital rate of returns ( r>g).  Capital follows a pattern of osmosis- seeking any host. Stocks in defence industries are booming. There seems to be no limits on technology and capital. War is not incidental to the modern era – it is a fundamental part of the ‘wealth of nations’. An International Court of Justice should be based on fundamental natural law, not allied to political institutions and particular states. Multicultural states are unrooted and their capital elites unmoored. There is in essence a dysfunctional quality to modern occidental states. Economy must be subservient to theology and telos.

Much of modern and late modern conceptions of Democracy and Identity are general, universal assumptions about how scientific research is done. Scientists and liberal philosophers start from the premise of how things ‘should’ be, not about what they, in fact, are. Our quest, then, is to find this dominion and how ‘Being,’ as an ontological concept, is not objective or fixed, but phenomenological, that is it is local and particular, in flux all the time. This conception nullifies any universalist attempts to ‘categorise’ or objectify other cultures. It therefore renders invalid much of the liberal assumptions on universal law, democracy, human rights and identity.

The map of the dominion, I believe, can be travelled in four domains, that of Political Economy, the ‘Polis’ (Democracy), Elites and Identity, although they all share common terrain. We follow Clifford Geertz in ‘believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.’ Therefore, I approach these subjects from the position of phenomenological description and hermeneutics to give access to meaning. Since Plato, philosophers have established forms, or categories, noumena or Gods, as a framework of usurping nature. These ‘systems’ have imprisoned culture in artificial reason or metaphysics, divorced from nature, from the reality of good and evil. By analysing a ‘forgetting’ of the underlying assumptions of morality (and how they have been overtaken by reason), democracy and identity can be removed from obscurity, from a hermeneutical hiding since the Enlightenment.