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Verlichting en Romantiek

Voorkant Voegelin 'From Enlightenment to Revolution' Eric VOEGELIN
From Enlightenment to Revolution (Edited by John H. Hallowell)
Durham, NCar.: Duke University Press, 1975, 307 blzn.
ISBN: 08 2230 4873

(vii) Editor's Preface

[Blijkbaar religieuze achtergronden bij Voegelin]

"Accordingly Professor Voegelin put aside the history of political ideas and embarked upon a much more ambitious undertaking. He became more and more convinced that it was societies and not ideas that were the real entities and that societies express themselves in history through a variety of complex symbols. More and more he has turned his attention to the role of myth in history and to the relationships between myth, philosophy and revelation."(vii)

Vergelijkingen van Voegelers werk met Hegel, Spengler en Toynbee. Basispositie:

"Dream life usurping the place of wake life is the theme of this volume when reason torn loose from its moorings in the ground of being seeks to create man-made constructions of reality in place of the mysterious reality of God's creation. It is for some, perhaps, a comforting but nevertheless dangerous illusion of the modern world that man can create a reality more to his liking and a human "nature" unflawed by the defects which an earlier tradition assumed it was necessary to live with. With increasing emphasis upon the self, and what some have praised as the "liberation" of selfish passions and desires from noetic control and restraint, the self-proclaimed autonomy of reason ends in the enslavement of reason to passion. What starts out in the so-called Age of Enlightenment as nothing more formidable than a dream, even an absurd dream, turns out in the twentieth century to be a living nightmare. Professor Voegelin in the pages which follow traces step by step through a detailed analysis of the works of a number of representative thinkers of the modern age how this eighteenth-century dream of immanent progress turns into the Gnostic political mass movements of contemporary times. What many regard as the political crisis of our times is shown to be a deeply rooted spiritual crisis that challenges the very substance of our humanity."(ix)

[De droom staat hier voor het utopische denken, voor dat de mens zijn wereld zelf gestalte wil geven en zich los wil maken van / zich wil bevrijden van religie. Je voelt het religieuze heimwee in de formuleringen van Voegelin. Volgens hem leidt de autonomie van de rede dus direct tot de moderne massabewegingen van fascisme en stalinisme. Dit boek zou dat aantonen. Interessante vraag: wat wil hij dan zelf? Dat de rede zich weer laat sturen en inperken door de religieuze dogma's en irrationele motieven van het Christendom? Het lijkt er op. Veel kritiek op de Verlichting zal natuurlijk komen van al die behoudende denkers die vinden dat mensen juist niet 'de moed moeten hebben zich van hun eigen verstand te bedienen' maar zich moeten onderwerpen aan priesters en de bestuurders uit de 'hogere' klasse, de conservatieve elite. Ik vraag me ook af hoeveel anders Achterhuis' ideeën over de utopie zijn en of hij niet hetzelfde 'reactionaire' heimwee heeft. Peter Gay daarentegen wil juist de omgekeerde beweging maken en met zijn twee boeken laten zien dat al die kritiek op de Verlichting nergens op slaat.]

(3) I. The emergence of secularized history: Bossuet and Voltaire

"The eighteenth century has been variously characterized as the century of Enlightenment and Revolution or alternatively as the Age of Reason. Whatever the merit of these designations, they embody a denial of cognitive value to spiritual experiences, attest to the atrophy of Christian transcendental experiences and seek to enthrone the Newtonian method of science as the only valid method of arriving at truth. The apostatic revolt, for such it was, released a movement of ideas which would shape decisively the political structure of the West. With the formal abolition of Christiariity as the authoritatively unifying spiritual substance of mankind, the particular community substances could move into the vacuum. The mystical bodies of the nations which had been growing ever since the high Middle Ages had achieved by the eighteenth century a considerable coherence and articulation and now they could begin to substitute with increasing effectiveness for the mystical body of Christ."(3)

[Dit citaat laat dat heimwee goed zien.]

"The trend towards a new order of substances, thus, has a considerable breadth and momentum. Nevertheless we do not find before 1700 a comprehensive interpretation of man in society and history that would take into account the constituent factors of the new situation, that is: the breakdown of the Church as the universal institution of Christian mankind, the plurality of sovereign states as ultimate political units, the discovery of the New World and the more intimate aquaintance with Asiatic civilizations, the idea of a non-Christian nature of man as the foundation for speculation on law and ethics, the demonism of the parochial, national communities and the idea of the passions as motivating forces of man. Only after 1700 does the cumulative effect of these various factors make itself felt in the acute consciousness that, in the aggregate, an epoch has come to an end and that the new situation requires a gigantic effort of interpretation in order to recover for the existence of man in society and history a meaning which could substitute for the lost meaning of Christian existence. This problem is, indeed, of such a magnitude that even today it is not realized in all its dimensions.But in the eighteenth century we find at least the first clear consciousness of its outlines and the first efforts at its formulation."(5)

De kritiek van de (18e eeuwse) Marquise du Châtelet op Bossuet en zijn interpretatie van geschiedenis vanuit een Christelijk perspectief is typisch. Ze wil een wereldlijke interpratie van de geschiedenis.

""History" is in this remark a realm independent of the providential plan; its meaning and order, if any, cannot be derived from the drama of fall and salvation."(6)

[Ik kan me niets voorstellen bij een geschiedschrijving gebaseerd op één particuliere religie. Die kan hoe dan ook nooit universeel zijn. Wanneer je dit leest zie je hoe sterk de ideologie van het Christendom - en elders van andere godsdiensten - de kijk op de feiten bepaalde. Geen wonder dat iedereen daar van af wilde die niets in religie zag. Religie onderwerpt mensen, religie onderwerpt ook de interpretaties van mensen, controleerbaarheid en kritiek zijn onmogelijk bij een dergelijke stand van zaken. Uiteindelijk roept er dan natuurlijk iemand dat het Gods wil was of zo.]

"The note becomes revolutionary by its implication that the sacred history, the "theology," is unimportant and that profane history has the monopoly of determining the relevance of peoples and events. The center of universality is shifted from the sacred to the profane level, and. this shift implies the turning of the tables: that the construction of history will, in the future, not be subordinated to the spiritual drama of humanity, but that Christianity will be understood as an event in history."(7)

[En goed dat die omslag er kwam.]

Voltaire nam - met zijn Essai sur les moeurs et l'esprit de nations en andere werken - de uitdaging van de Marquise du Châtelet aan en schreef een wereldlijke 'universele geschiedenis'.

"But it is also true that it reveals the weakness of all universal histories since Voltaire: the impossibility of finding a meaning that could substitute, on the larger scene, for the providential meaning of Western history under the Christian interpretation. The meaning, of course, cannot be found, since a meaningful construction of history from a secular, intramundane position presupposes that history is known as a whole."(8)

[Wat een gemakkelijke stelling! Was die Christelijke interpretatie - die gemakkelijk alle historische feiten kon negeren als het zo uitkwam - dan zo geweldig? En waarom moet je de hele geschiedenis kennen om er een zin aan te geven die 'intramundaan' is? Zin is een waarden en normen-kwestie. Ik hoef maar vast te stellen wat wenselijk is en bereikt moet worden en kan dan proberen te onderbouwen of de geschiedenis zich wereldwijd in die richting ontwikkelt. Een humanistisch perspectief bijvoorbeeld is mogelijk. Hoe kan iemand als Voegelin ook maar geloven in de objectiviteit van een Christelijke interpretatie? Hij is daar eindeloos positief over. Maar wat moet iemand die niet hetzelfde gelooft als hij daar mee? Voltaire's humanistische perspectief is in ieder geval niet alleen maar iets van geloof.]

"Since human history has no recognizable structure of meaning, the historian has to resort to an ingenuous device, for which Voltaire has set the model: the historian selects a partial structure of meaning, declares it to be the total, and arranges the rest of the historical materials rnore or less elegantly around this preferred center of meaning."(11)

[Tja, dat deed het Christendom dus net zo goed. Dat de zingeving daar universeel en totaal zou zijn is alleen maar wat Christenen zelf geloven. En inderdaad: ze arrangeren er daarna allerlei historische materialen omheen die hun gelijk moeten aantonen. Maar het wordt nooit als maar één perspectief gezien. Waarschijnlijk zag Voltaire veel meer de beperkingen in zijn aanpak dan zo'n Voegelin wil accepteren. Voor hem mag relativisme simpelweg niet bestaan.]

"The insight into the type of secularistic construction created by Voltaire permits the formulation of a few rules for the interpretation of the historico-political conceptions that have arisen in its wake. A historical conception like the Voltairian, Comtian or Marxian is unacceptable at its face value. Its claim to offer a valid interpretation of universal history or, in the nineteenthcentury, of a sociological "law" is untenable."(11-12)

"Comte's law of the three phases is no more a law of universal history than the Marxian scientific conception of an evolution tending toward ultimate communism or Voltaire's three phases of enlightenment. But the general thesis is based on a particular meaningful structure of history which may have been observed correctly."(12)

[Nou dan ...]

"The rapid descent from reason, through technical and planning intellect, to the economic, psychological and biological levels of human nature, as the dominants in the image of man, is a strong contrast to the imposing stability of the Christian anthropology through eighteen centuries. Once the transcendental anchorage is surrendered, the descent from the rational to the animal nature, so it seems, is inevitable. The instability of the intramundane "sacred histories" is the characteristic trait of the new age: the great dogmatisms after Voltaire hardly outlast the generation in which they were created. Where does this curious instability of sentiment originate? What are the antecedents of the religious disorientation which expresses itself in the frantic creation of new gods?"(13)

[Stabiliteit is dus goed en wenselijk, verandering is slecht en onwenselijk? Traditie en gezag zijn goed en autonomie en vernieuwing zijn slecht? Let op het waarderende taalgebruik hier.]

Bossuet wordt er bij gehaald om dit te onderbouwen.

"Bossuet does not rely so much on the contrast between the truth of faith and the falsehood of heresy, but rather on the circumstance that the truth of faith is to be found in the collective wisdom of the Church and of the Fathers, while the innovation is a source of falsehood because it is the product of an individual.(...) The intellectual powers of the individual cannot substitute for the accumulated wisdom of the collectivity. In these reflections Bossuet has touched upon a fundamental problem of the function of ideas in modern history: the impossibility of creating a spiritual substance and an intellectual style for a community under the condition of free competition between individual intellectuals. The problem appeared to him still under the special form of the tension between the authority of the Church and the individualism of the reformers, This special form, however, is the first instance of the general phenomenon: that established community substances, or incipient communities, are continuously dissolved and broken by the competition of new foundations until the chaotic multiplicity of sects, schools, parties, factions, movements, grouings, associations, communes, is reached which characterized the European social situation before the outbreak of violence in our time."(14-15)

"One must not question the tradition at any point for such questioning inevitably will lead to the ultimate questioning of Christianity as a whole: what guarantee do we have of the sacredness of Scripture unless we receive it on the authority of the Church - this is Bossuet's decisive argument. (...) Hence he is inclined to accentuate the claims of the majority against the rebelliours individual."(16)

[Maar als je dat vindt, dan vind je dus ook dat het collectief het individu mag sturen. En dat is precies de ideologie die leidt tot fascisme en stalinisme en zo verder, en niet het gedachtengoed van de Verlichting die een individu zou toestaan vraagtekens te plaatsen en in verzet te komen en alternatieve wegen te kiezen.]

Wat laat deze analyse nu zien? Dat tijdens de 18e eeuw de balans tussen geest, rede en imperium doorbroken werd.

"With the fragmentation and particularization of ttre imperium through the national realms a substitute order had to be found for the world of Western political units, and we see it in formation with the rise of international law by the time of Grotius. The establishment of a secularized, autonomous sphere of politics outside the spiritual-temporal unity of Christian mankind has moved the spiritual order into the position of the Church in the modern sense, of the religious organization as distinguished from the autonomous political organization of the state. The second component factor to move away flom the combination was reason.The tendency became noticeable in the nominalism and Averroism of the Middle Ages. It received its social support from the increasing numbers of lawyers, royal administrators, philosophers and scientists outside the ecclesiastical order, and it reached the stage of autonomous secular reason in the natural science and natural law of the seventeenth century."[18-19]

[Kerk en Staat werden dus gescheiden van elkaar - nou ja, theoretisch dan, want die scheiding is zelfs vandaag de dag nog niet op alle punten gerealiseerd. En intussen maar ageren wanneer er in Islamitische landen groepen opstaan die roepen dat ze voor het hele land de Sharia willen invoeren - wat dus de scheiding van Kerk en Staat zou opheffen. En wat voor Rede werd er eigenlijk losgelaten? De dogma's van de Kerk, neem ik aan. Maar wat heeft dat Christelijke denken met de Rede te maken? Niets. Wat verdwijnt er eigenlijk als de Christelijke spirituele traditie verdwijnt? Niets. Want wat is spiritualiteit? Wat is een spirituele traditie? Wat is een transcendentale realiteit? Niets.]

"In the course of this "de-divinization" (Entgötterung) of the world, sensual symbols have lost their transparency for transcendental reality; they have become opaque and are no longer revelatory of the immersion of the finite world in the transcendent. Christianity has become historized in the sense that a universe of symbols that belongs to the age of the myth is seen in the perspective of categories which belong to an age of rationalism. In this perspective only, when symbols and dogmas are seen in a "literal," disenchanted opaqueness from the outside, do they acquire the "irrationality" which brings them into conflict with logic, with biology, history, etc. For a modern man who has grown up outside Christian traditions and institutions, it is extremely difficult to regain the original meaning of ancient symbolisms, be they Hellenic or Christian, but he can gain an understanding of the problem when he observes the symbolisms of modern spiritual perversions which are quite as far beyond the sphere of rational critique as are the ancient symbolisms."(21)

[Voegelin bedoelt dat er met aanhangers van het Marxisme en zo evenmin op een rationele manier gepraat kan worden. Dat is ongetwijfeld in veel gevallen waar, de ideologie wordt een geloof dat met geweld wordt opgelegd als aanhangers ervan de macht krijgen om dat te doen. Toch gaat de vergelijking met de religieuze mythen van de kerken mank, niet elk geloof is hetzelfde, het maakt voor rationele kritiek uit of het gaat om de spirituele dimensie of om een maatschappelijke ideologie gebaseerd op realiteiten. Maar vraag Voegelin niet om nuances ... Lees maar eens hoe hij over Voltaire schrijft op p. 23 ev.]

"What is reason? And when is man enlightened? -the answer to these questions cannot be simple."(24)

"The spiritual obscurantism of Voltaire makes it impossible for him to center a philosophy of morals in the idea of the spiritually integrated personality. The problems of ethics are dealt with under the title of "natural religion": "I understand by natural religion the principles of morals which are common to the human species." Such common rules are supposed to exist because they have their source in the biological structure of man and serve the purpose of making possible life in society. The fundamental rule is, therefore, a collectivized version of the Golden Rule: that you should act towards others as you would wish them to act toward you. The rule is not founded on the assumption of a spiritual person or of the recognition of the spiritual person in fellowman; rather it is founded on the utility for society of a conduct in accordance with the rule."(27)

"The transcendental constitution of mankind through the pneuma of Christ is replaced by faith in the intraworldly constitution of mankind through "compassion.""(28)

[Dat bevalt me wel.]

"The sphere of the socially valuable is restricted to the procurement of animal comforts and to scientific discoveries which may serve this purpose. Behind the phrase, that a man who is not socially useful in this restricted sense does not count looms the virtuous terreur of Robespierre and the massacres by the later humanitarians whose hearts are filled with compassion to the point that they are willing to slaughter one half of mankind in order to make the other half happy."(28)

[Even de Inquisitie vergeten blijkbaar. Voegelin is wel heel gemakkelijk in zijn oordelen.]

"The protest against the world and the cry for the light are futile if we expect to find the light in the world, but even this futility and illusion are still ennobled by the contemptus mundi, by a glimpse of the light and a sincere desire for deliverance from the evil. The child-of-the-world's dream of a terrestrial paradise of compassion and humanity is only a shadow of the heavenly city, but still it is a shadow cast by the eternal light. (...) .However dubious his anthropology may appear as a systematic achievement, there can be no doubt that his compassion with the suffering creaturewas sincere. The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the innumerable individual persecutions perpetrated by the Catholic as well as the Protestant churches of all persuasions, were a stark reality. (...) The compassion with the suffering creatunr which is trampled underfoot by historical forces beyond its understanding and control is the great positive quality in Voltaire. And if his compassion had been less passionate and more spiritual, one might almost recognize a Franciscan in him. (...) It may be considered unfortunate that the institutions of the spirit had sunk so low at the time that a Voltaire had. to devote himself to the task and to act with authority as the defender of man in historical society, but one cannot deny that he acted with grandeur the role of a defensor humanitatis against the professionals of the faith." (33-34)

[Maar maar, zo waar iets positiefs over Voltaire en enige kritiek op de kerk.]

(35) II. Helvétius and the genealogy of passions

"What is perhaps best known today about Helvétius is his dependence upon Locke and his influence on Bentham. One may sey, indeed, that Helvétius did what Locke failed to do, that is to apply the principles of the Essay concerning Human Understanding to the problems of politics, and there is no doubt that certain formulations of the Esprit suggested the principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number both to Beccaria and Bentham. This historical function of Helvétius as the transmittor from Locke to Bentham should by no means be slighted; nevertheless, there was more substance to the French thinker than can be absorbed by this view."(35)

"We see emerging an image of man of impressive simplicity. The content of the mind is a transformation of sense impressions and a complicated structure is conceived as reducible to one explanatory principle, to physical sensibility. And this sensibility is not a faculty of man, but is man himself."(38)

"The Lockeanism of Helvétius, thus, is a somewhat confused pattern of symbols with convergent meanings. From Locke directly stems the aversion against innate moral ideas, and consequently the necessity to search for a new basis of morals. When the immediate spiritual experiences have dried up, and when the tradition of faith and morals has lost its hold, the refoundation of morals is dominated by the symbol of an inversion of direction. The orientation toward a transcendental reality is inverted and a new foundation is sought in the direction of the somatic basis of existence."(42)

"Helvétius, when speaking of accepted belief, has his eye specifically on Christianity. But his remarks on the subject are of general importance as an approach to a class of much neglected phenomena which constitute the ground-texture of all social life: the phenomena of conservative belief, credulity, semi-education, enlightened stupidity, resistance to knowledge, cleverly preserved ignorance, for which our awareness has been sharpened by contemporary events."(44)

[Helvétius heeft een theorie over de désir du pouvoir wat bij Nietzsche wil tot macht genoemd wordt. Wist ik niet. Zou Nietzsche zich hebben laten inspireren door Helvétius?]

"It would be the elemental force which overcomes inertia and assuages the uneasiness of ennui by creating through action an acute awareness of existence. This course, of interpreting the will to power as the elemental force of existence in expansive action, was later taken by Nietzsche."(46)

"The elevation of the empirically correct observation into a general theory of power, however, belongs to the same class of phenomena as the Voltairian identification of ecclesiastical abuses of the time with the essence of the Church, or the Marxian identification of the misuse of religion as an opium for the people with the essence of religion. In an earlier chapter we discussed this problem under the aspect of Voltaire's spiritual obscurantism. Now, in Helvétius, another aspect of the problem becomes visible: the willingness to mistake the abuse for the essence in order to continue the abuse, with the best of surface intentions, for a different purpose."(50)

"In Helvétius's analysis of power we can discern the origin of phenomena which pervade modern politics and are still increasing in importance, the origin of the artificiality of modern politics as engendered through propaganda, education, reeducation, and enforced political myth, as well as through the general treatment of human beings as functional units in private enterprise and public planning. The actual decadence of Western society which occupied the thinkers of the eighteenth century has become the model of social and political practice. The disorder which expresses itself empirically in spiritual obscurantism and the instrumentalization of the life of passion is accepted as the nature of man by the analyst - for others. In Helvétius's analysis we meet a classical instance of the destruction of the integral human person by positing as normal the disorder of the person while denying to man the remedial powers which might restore the order. The possibility of spiritual regeneration of the person, the existence of man in communion with God, the possibility of the renovatio evangelica in the Christian sense, are denied (...) Helvétius has dreamt the dream with radical perfection: in most instances the thinker of this type is satisfied with a Pelagian assumption about the goodness of man, but Helvétius conceives man as a morally neutral force, neither good nor bad. Man is emptied of moral substance, and the forces of good and evil are transferred in their entirety to the analyst-legislator."(50-51)

[Merkwaardig verhaal. Wat is de kerk anders dan zo'n systeem? Voegelin verwijt Helvétius ruimte te maken voor de politieke structuren van het fascisme en zo terwijl die politieke structuren juist altijd al bestonden in de vrogere eenheid van Kerk en Staat - het feit dat je er woorden als god en ziel en zo bij haalt maakt dat niet minder waar.]

"The inadequacy of a pleasure-pain psychology, the poverty of utilitarian ethics, the impossibility of explaining moral phenomena by the pursuit of happiness, the uselessness of the greatest happiness of the greatest number as a principle of social ethics - all these have been demonstrated over and over again in a voluminous literature. Nevertheless, even today this complex of ideas holds a fascination for a not inconsiderable number of persons. This fascination will be more intelligible if we see the complex of sensualism and utilitarianism not as number of verifiable propositions but as the dogma of a religion of socially immanent salvation. Enlightened utilitarianism is but the first in a series of totalitarian, sectarian movements to be followed later by Positivism, Communism and National Socialism."(52)

[Voegelin is een boosaardige criticaster met wel heel gemakkelijke stellingen en met maar één alternatief: het Christendom.]

(53) III. Helvétius and the heritage of Pascal

[Wordt vervolgd]

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